I’ve often wondered if and when I would hear from a reader, “Dude, you are just a sex addict, and you’re still acting out. Don’t kid yourself.” Last night, I heard it for the first time in a comment on one of my recent posts on safer sex. Winston is outraged by me, by those posts, and he wrote, “You don’t think you’re still acting out and this blog’s followers aren’t enabling you? You’re a sex addict….”
Some wouldn’t. One, in particular – an incredibly thoughtful, intelligent, religiously observant and sexually tortured man – I have talked with about some of this stuff just a bit. (Just a bit so as to avoid triggering him needlessly.) He consistently has impressed me with his interpretation of the twelve-step theology, and his certainty that while it applies lock, stock, and barrel to him, while he finds an absolutist interpretation of the tenets of the program essential for his recovery, there’s no reason in his mind that I might not be different from him, might be able to find a different path to “recovery,” to restoring sanity to my life, to reaching a point where I’m not powerless over lust (or sex, or whatever), where my life no longer is unmanageable.
But many, or most, of my brothers surely would not have a way of understanding my sex life, my organization of my life as described on this blog, as anything other than the life of an addict in full flower.
What brought me to a twelve-step program was the first step. I could recite it and know it to be true: I admitted that I was powerless over sex, that my life had become unmanageable. As I’ve written extensively, I was a miserable fuck at that time, lying, cheating, stealing, spending obscene amounts of money on a bottomless quest for numbness, in the form of more and more frequent, and extreme, sexual experiences. I wasn’t able to work, I was absent from my family, I was, in every meaningful sense of the word, an addict. To use the parlance of twelve-step-land, I hit bottom. Luckily for me, I had what is often referred to as a “high bottom”: I didn’t get sick, lose my house, my job, my family.
Well, not until I “got clean.” Interestingly (and I haven’t written much about this), once I stopped acting out – using sex to medicate emotions, broadly; acting on sexual desires to avoid feeling emotions of any sort, specifically – I found myself increasingly unable to function in the world of work. I’ve often said I was like a jazz musician off heroin. I just was no good any more.
Over the last few years, I’ve assembled a new organization of my life. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have T as my partner in that effort. She stood by me, for her own reasons, but for which I’m infinitely grateful.
And over the last year, in particular, this blog has proven an essential tool in my arsenal for “sobriety,” if you want to call it that, or “happiness,” as I prefer to think of it. Incidentally, Sexaholics Anonymous (SA) has a definition of sobriety to which I don’t aspire, and which I don’t meet (no masturbation, no sex with anyone other than one’s opposite-sex spouse). All of the other fellowships in which I participated – Sexual Compulsives Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous – have more individualized definitions of sobriety, and I would have no problem reporting myself to be “sober” today.
I’ve always been just a little (ok, more than a little) compulsive. What writing has done is to have allowed me to locate many/most/all of my compulsive tendencies in a less destructive (more constructive) arena. Where, three years ago, all of my compulsivity was channeled into lining up my next sexual encounter, today, I’m thinking about all the posts I have to write. Am I “powerless over writing”? Maybe, maybe not. I do occasionally stay up too late writing, or write when I really ought to do something else. But the consequences certainly seem manageable.
There’s an expression in twelve-step-land – “taking another person’s inventory” – which basically means, presuming for a moment that you can know what it is to be me, judging me.
Maybe Winston is right, maybe he’s not, when he takes my inventory. Who am I to say? (Who is he to say?)
What I know is this: I’ve known powerlessness before, and today, I’m not powerless. I’ve known unmanageability before; my life is not unmanageable today.
There’s no question but that I spend a lot of time thinking about sex. I think that’s kinda what it is to be N, for better or worse. I spent a lot of my life confused, twice-over. First, I thought that the fact that I thought so much about the sex I wanted meant I had to have it all. And second, I thought that somehow I was responsible for my thoughts. Both of these are wrong. I didn’t have to have sex all the time (and, for the record, I really don’t have sex all the time – you read about almost every instance of extramarital sex I have – is it really that much, honestly?). And meditating for more than a day or two will teach anyone the truth that our thoughts happen to us, we don’t “do” them. I’ve spent a lot of time trying not to have certain thoughts, trying to have certain others, and it ain’t possible. We can’t possibly be held responsible (or at least, I can’t…) for the fact of our thoughts, for the content of our thoughts.
No, what we’re responsible for is what we do with them. What I’ve done, in recent years, with my sexual obsessions, with my general compulsivity, is to find a way of being that allows me to be present, and of service – to my family, my friends, my community. To uproot the self-centeredness that is at the heart of any addiction. I’m certainly not perfect, and I’m certainly not preaching that anything that works for me should or would work for you.