Warning – this is a non-sexual post. It’s non-erotic, and not a turn-on at all. If that’s not interesting to you, read no further. On the other hand, if you want to read further, read on….
I found myself increasingly out of control. If you’ve ever read about addiction – whether to drugs or alcohol or behaviors – whatever you’ve read, I did it. There’s a terrific father/son dyad of books on addiction by Nic Sheff and his father, David Sheff. The son’s book, Tweak, is weaker – if more harrowing – than the father’s, Beautiful Boy, but the two together are a terrific read. And both capture the complete distortion of the world that happens inside an addict’s head.
One summer Friday afternoon, I was on my way to meet a woman I’ll call Poison. I had met her twice before, both times in a seedy massage parlor, where she had given me a hand-job. (There’s lots to be written about the universe of “happy ending” massage parlors. Suffice it to say, my tastes ran away from the Asian parlors where prisoners without passports joylessly administer desexualized handjobs to patrons advertised on Craigslist and in the back of every alternative city paper, and toward thehigher-end places where smart grad students earned a few extra dollars by attending to a primarily well heeled clientele.) Poison had agreed to meet me away from the parlor, because we had learned that we enjoyed fucking. I say “we,” because the fucking had been uncompensated – we had graduated to fucking when she begged me to fuck her. So there was at least some mutuality of desire (I told myself). In any event, I was on my way to meet her, and moments before we were scheduled to meet, I got a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. She was going to stand me up.
And stand me up she did. Having reserved a hotel room, and cut out of work early, and positioned myself on a busy corner to wait for her, I stood. And stood. And stood.
And then, I woke up. It had been years that I’d been on this path – acting out sexually with women I paid (typically not to fuck, but rather, for some other set of sexual interactions). I had told myself all sorts of lies about what I was doing, about why I was doing it, about what it meant that I was doing it. But the truth is, I was an addict. I was a person who had lost the ability to withstand even a moment’s discomfort without medicating that discomfort with sex. Although there were some positive aspects of (or rather, outcomes of) my descent into this hell (about which more later), by and large, it was a joyless, compulsive, driven journey. I spent every moment either seeking sex, having sex, or craving sex. Which was a problem, because I had a family, and a job.
So as I stood on this corner, roiled with misery at Poison’s fickleness, I noticed something: I had allowed this woman I’d met twice before, this kid, this girl I barely knew but needed, to render me a complete mess. There was something wrong. I didn’t see clearly what was wrong, but I saw clearly that SOMEthing was wrong.
That weekend, I was in a new kind of hell. I deleted all my Gmail accounts, disconnected my “secret” Google Voice number, and extinguished my former self. I simply knew I had to do this. And, at least at that point, I thought I finally could. I had spent most of the last fifteen years or so trying to “quit,” never with even the tiniest bit of success. But now, I knew, something was changing.
At the end of that weekend – a lonely weekend during which I was, on the one hand, proud of my decision to move on, and, on the other, alone in that knowledge and pride (I couldn’t possibly tell a soul) – I made a decision. I told the one person in the world other than my wife I felt I could trust implicitly. He looked at me and said, “Well, N. That sounds like ‘addiction.’ Have you thought of going to a meeting?”
I hadn’t. I hadn’t conceived of what I described, of what I lived, as addiction. It’s part of the awful disease of addiction that when you suffer it, you often can’t see that you suffer from it. I had a host of stories I could tell, compelling (to me) narratives about my sexual frustration, my sexual adventurousness, my “liberated-ness,” my openness, etc. But all of the sudden, the reality came crashing down on me. I might well be open-minded, adventurous, sex-positive, etc. But I also was totally out of control. And, in the words of the “First Step,” I had “become powerless over my life,” and my “life had become unmanageable.”
Reading those words on the web as I did that night was a revelation. Suddenly I realized that I’d had it all wrong. I’d been trying to “stop.” But trying to “stop” didn’t honor the underlying truth: how could I stop doing something I so desperatelywanted to do?
The next day, I went to my first meeting.