Let's Talk About Sex (In Recovery)
Let’s talk about sex. And love. Specifically, sex and love in recovery. First of all, this is a judgement-free zone. Sex and love are natural human needs. Everyone deserves to have healthy romantic relationships and a fulfilling sex life, whether they’re in recovery or not. Sex and love feel good. But when it comes to sex and love, as with anything that feels good, addicts have a tendency to overdo it and get lost in unhealthy behaviors. The unhealthy behaviors surrounding sex and love can be a destructive force in recovery, leading to feelings of guilt, shame, and remorse, which lead to self-loathing and self-pity, which further drive the desire to drink and drug.
Most programs of recovery suggest abstinence in the first year of recovery. Dating and hooking up are distracting, and can pull focus away from healthy recovery. While I’m not a fan of arbitrary “recovery calendars” that dictate acceptable behavior based on how many days or weeks you’ve been sober, I can say from experience that avoiding sexual and romantic relationships in the first year of recovery is a good suggestion. A suggestion I wish I had followed.
When I first got sober, the absence of alcohol and drugs in my life left a huge void that I didn’t know how to fill. I didn’t just miss the substances, I missed the lifestyle. I craved the chaos and unhealthy behaviors that go along with addiction. The further I got from my last drink, the more I wanted to misbehave. I found myself engaging in any unhealthy behavior that would give me the same dopamine rush as drinking and drugging. I gorged myself on junk food, shoplifted, started drama with friends, and of course, I tried to hook up with anyone and everyone in my general vicinity.
I destroyed a lot of relationships in active addiction. By the time I went to my first meeting, I didn’t have a lot of friends left. I was no longer invited to parties and get togethers. My family didn’t trust me. My exes all hated me (and for good reason). Feeling the shame of being cast out from amongst my friends and loved ones, I craved the approval of other people. I NEEDED people to like me. Hooking up made me feel wanted, made me feel liked. Sex made me feel powerful. And treating people poorly made me feel like I was in control.
While acting out on my own unhealthy behaviors, I also became an enabler of other people’s unhealthy behaviors. To paraphrase Groucho Marx, “I wouldn’t want to join any club that would have me as a member,” and that statement fit me like a glove. I was unhealthy and acting out, so I attracted people who were acting out on their own unhealthy behaviors. I surrounded myself with chaotic people. I engaged in risky behaviors. I wore desperation like a stinky cologne and attracted people with no sense of smell. I made bad decisions and hung around other people making bad decisions. Has anyone ever told you that sleeping with you was their bottom? It doesn’t feel great.
Luckily, I managed to hit my own sexual bottom without relapsing on drugs and alcohol. After a particularly dramatic relationship, I got together with my sponsor and spilled my guts. I talked about the pain and emotional trauma I was experiencing. I talked about guilt, shame, and remorse I was feeling as a result of my behavior. My sponsor listened carefully, and then told me a few stories of their own. I felt the relief of knowing that I wasn’t alone. My sponsor asked me if I thought there was anything I could do to change my behaviors, and of course I knew the answer right away. I’d known the answer all along. Listen to the program. Listen to recovery professionals. Listen to the experience of others. Treat others the way I want to be treated. Do the next right thing.
After that I stopped fooling around and playing grab-ass at meetings. I started attending a few gender-specific meetings, and found that being free from the distraction of the opposite sex had a positive effect on my recovery. Instead of focusing on romantic and sexual relationships, I put my energy into repairing my relationships with my family and friends. I focused on building self-esteem rather than feeding my ego. I avoided unhealthy people. I worked on loving myself, rather than seeking the love of others.
Today, I’m proud of my relationships. I’m a good friend, a trustworthy family member, and a reliable, honest romantic partner. Of course life has its ups and downs and I don’t always do everything perfectly, but I do my best. I think about other people’s feelings before I act. I practice empathy. If I do or say something that hurts another person, I make amends promptly and without ego. If I behave in a way I’m not proud of, I change the behavior and try not to do it again. It’s simple, not easy, but it feels pretty damn good.
-- Anonymous for Life Assurance Recovery 2018
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