Friday, October 22, 2010

Answering questions

I was recently asked a series of questions by a recovery resource portal site. I thought my answers summarized my story quite well and decided I'd share them here. The interviewer's questions are in bold. Once the interview is published, I'll post a link.

Tell us a bit about yourself. Ironically, a lot of online conversations with potential acting out partners started with this very same question. I am a 43 year old woman living in the Midwest, married, college educated, out of work communications professional. I grew up in a higher-low class family and was sexually abused by my stepfather for 10 years of my life, beginning at age 3.
I am willing to answer specific questions, but that's "a bit" about me.

Do you feel like you have an addictive personality? I don't feel like I have an addictive personality, I know I do. Mosby's Medical Dictionary defines an addictive personality as: a personality marked by traits of compulsive and habitual use of a substance or practice in an attempt to cope with psychic pain engendered by conflict and anxiety.

When did your addiction start? Which one? I am a compulsive overeater, codependent, sex addict. I believe that I began eating for comfort (though I didn't recognize it then) when I was a small child. I have always had a fascination with food, as long as I can remember. My codependency began sometime in childhood as well, though I did not identify it until my 20s. I just thought I was trying to take care of others. I did not recognize it as an obsession that helped me feel safe. As for my sexual addiction, which I assume you are most interested in, I remember masturbating to numb myself as early as 10. As soon as I was introduced to the Internet at age 26, I began to use it to connect with others sexually -- usually for cybersex, phone sex and eventually face to face meetings. The behavior was limited to online contact after I met and married my husband -- until about six years into our marriage. That is when casual chatting with friends and family led me to begin to use online chat programs to connect with married men first to flirt, then to connect offline for physical encounters. What started as one affair quickly went out of control until I could no longer stop searching out men for offline and online sexual encounters.
The basic text of Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous says, "At some time in our lives our behavior began to take on the compulsive hallmarks of addiction. The once rare liaisons became monthly, then weekly. They happened when inconvenient, or when they interfered with work or family obligations. The occasional pleasurable daydream grew into a constant obsession that destroyed our ability to concentrate on more ordinary and more important things. One by one such things as satisfaction in our work, friends and social activities dropped away as we found more and more of our time and our thoughts absorbed by (addictive obsessions)." This is what happened to me.

Was there a quick escalation or did you "dabble?" See the answer above.

What was living with your addiction like? It was like being on a runaway train moving so fast that the thrill and the fear were indistinguishable. I loved the high that came with the pursuit of a man and I had all sorts of tricks for getting him hooked, but once he was hooked and we reached the point of meeting, my high was already waning and I needed more. I once used a hotel three times in a single night and still felt empty, wishing there was someone else to call to help me get high again. At the same time, I wanted to stop more than anything in the world. I knew I was living a life that was incongruous with the person I really was. Before long the addiction became who I was and my real self, though still there, seemed impossible to reach. I promised myself time and time again that I would stop, that I wouldn't go online, that I wouldn't see a particular person again, that I would stop making plans to act out. Inevitably, I'd find myself driving to meet someone on the side of the road, in their office, at a hotel, in a park or anywhere we could be sexual.

How was your personal life affected? I was living one lie after another. I was constantly rushing to through my "real" life to either get back to acting out or to make up for time lost acting out. I would speed down the highway, I would rush through dinner. I was constantly trying to keep all the lies straight. I could hardly sleep. Eventually I reached a level of depression that caused me to want to end my life. I never actually attempted suicide, but I had ideations and longed for death to find me. I could not live with the disease of sex and love addiction and I felt completely empty without it.

How was your professional life affected? I had been a very competent professional, excelling above my peers and taking great pride in my work. Eventually work just became an interference and it wasn't long before I didn't have the concentration to complete any task without becoming irritated and careless. Though I never could understand how, I always seemed to keep one foot in front of the other. I missed a lot of deadlines and frequently missed appointments or canceled them. After some time, the work I had once done became impossible. My low concentration and depression made in-depth projects impossible to complete -- first on time and then at all.

What was rock bottom like? What happened? I would like to think that rock bottom for me was when in the midst of a relapse into my love addiction I became pregnant with another man's child. The man was a raging alcoholic and at one point I had to put black curtains on all my windows out of fear of what he would do to me and that he would out me to my husband. I ended up spending thousands of dollars on him out of codependency and fear. I would love to think that was my rock bottom ... but the scary thing is ... I'm not sure if I have hit rock bottom. I came into recovery within a few months of my first acting out episode. I knew something was terribly wrong and I needed to change. I continued to act out even in recovery, but I continued to attend SLAA meetings and try to apply the principles of the program to my life. Unfortunately, trying to work the Steps while you are still "high" doesn't work so well -- so I had periods of sobriety, sometimes long ones, but they always resulted in an eventual slip or relapse. I have had a tremendous time maintaining sobriety in this program -- and some would say that it is because I have a tremendous difficulty surrendering control.

When did realize you needed to be rid of your problem? As soon as things started to get out of control about six years into my marriage. I never ever thought I'd have one affair, much less be unable to stop having affairs.

What recovery process did you find? I entered therapy and even though I saw a lot of therapists who knew NOTHING about sex addiction, I did learn a lot about myself. Luckily my first therapist suggested I might be a sex addict and though I poo-pooed her idea, I made a decision to go to my first Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous meeting. As soon as I heard the stories of the others there, I knew I was in the right place. And, though, as I said, it has been diffcult to maintain sobriety -- I believe the program is the only thing that has kept me sane. I continue to be active in the program and was thankful to eventually find a certified sex addiction therapist who was able to help me in ways no other professional had been able to up to that point.

Have you ever tried to quit before, how, how long did you last, what was it like, did you start again? I believe I've answered this question -- if not please let me know. I've tried a million times to quit and failed. I just have to keep getting back up and trying again. Most recently I have been using a mantra that is working. I remind myself that I cannot try to not act out. I'm either acting out or I'm not. I say that to myself again and again. It helps keep me sober, as does calling upon the God of my understanding to help me accept the things I cannot change and give the courage to change the things I can.

How are you coping with recovery today? They say that recovery is like peeling away the layers of an onion and that is how it has been for me. While at one point, the focus of my recovery was simply to stop acting out -- today I realize that the disease of sex and love addiction is far more deep rooted than just anonymous liasons. I have had to look at the fact that relationships of all kinds are difficult for me. I avoid intimacy at all costs, but constantly want to get as close as possible to people in my life -- only to push them away. I have had to look at my very identity and worth -- since I inherently believed that I was less than everyone else around me and the only thing that gave me value to men was my sexuality.

What advice do you have for people currently suffering from addiction? Begin to seek out resources for help. If you are in an area where are are meetings, go to meetings, find a sponsor, find a therapist, and most of all KEEP COMING BACK. If you are not in a location where there are meetings -- there are dozens of online resources, phone meetings, online meetings and more.

You don't have to be perfect, just keep coming to meetings and working on healing. You did not get to where you are overnight and you won't heal overnight. Don't give up and don't expect perfection. This is not like giving up alcohol or cocaine. Sex is a natural process, which in those of us who are addicts, has become a drug.

For female sex addicts -- sex addiction programs (there are several including SLAA, Sexaholics Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous, Sexual Compulsives Anonymous and likely some I'm not aware of) are dominated by males. I spent most of my time in recovery sitting in a room of men. It has made it difficult if not impossible at times to find a sponsor and female support. My advice to women who live in an area where there are no women in the meetings -- keep going, sharing, and taking your seat at the table. You deserve to recover just like the men who are sitting there and you deserve to do it without being objectified. Learning to take this stand is a part of learning to take care of yourself. I also encourage women to use online and phone meetings to connect with other women in the program.

And last but not least, I will say that there is a solution, it is a spiritual solution. It is not easy, but it works, not all at once, but one day at a time. Just keep coming back and you will see I am telling you the truth.


Mary (MPJ) said...

Great answers, Rae! And good to see you back! :)

Anonymous said...

You have no idea how much your life mirrored mine. I am so glad to see you back.
You gave me hope.
Thank you