Today is April 19th and while I was editing Hamster Sprinting on That Wheel, I realized I needed to add more information about my addiction.
Actually, I sensed my ex seething in the corner wanting to speak up against comments I had just made. Her viewpoint is valid, dead nuts on, and I believe it’s necessary to have the full picture of the life I created and the cause of my divorce. Not just the one-sided view that addicts are great to portray.
Unfortunately, when I placed this information into my other post, I felt like it ruined the rhythm of my thoughts this past January. Not wanting to disrupt my processes and the growth I have had over the past three months due to writing these blogs, I have decided to insert this additional one.
I have already expressed my fears in the previous post, so I won’t recreate them here. We will explore what sex addiction is and my personal experience with sex addiction and recovery.
So, Allow Me To Re-Introduce Myself
“Hi. I’m Phoenix, Grateful Recovering Sex Addict.”
Hi. I'm Phoenix, Grateful Recovering Sex Addict. Click To Tweet
What is Sex Addiction?
Sexual addiction involves an ongoing preoccupation and/or obsession with sexual fantasies and behavior. For sex addicts, sex becomes a primary focus in their lives. Sex addicts are unable to quit or curtail their sexual acting out, despite a variety of negative life consequences, including:
Trouble at work or in school, including reprimands or even dismissals
Declining physical and/or emotional health
Loss of interest in hobbies and other healthy and previously enjoyable activities
Legal problems, including arrest
Like other addicts, sex addicts often feel great shame about what they’re doing. In moments of remorse, they tell themselves, “This is the last time I’m going to do X, Y and/or Z.” But then, before they even realize it, they’re back at it, in the same or a very similar sexual situation; this is their “loss of control.” They want to quit and they try to quit, but they just can’t seem to manage it. Sometimes their acting out escalates to the point where their fantasies and behaviors go against their core values and beliefs (such as safe sex, marital fidelity and not hurting others). Because of this, sex addicts find themselves leading double lives, putting a great deal of effort into separating and compartmentalizing their sex life and their work and home lives.
Sex addiction is not driven by a desire for sexual enjoyment. Instead, sex addicts use their addiction to escape from stress and other emotional discomfort, including the pain of underlying psychological issues like depression, anxiety, social inhibition and unresolved early-life trauma. (Alcoholics drink and drug addicts use for exactly the same reasons.) So, as with other addictions, sex addicts are not looking to feel good, they’re looking to feel less. Whereas people who are not addicts reach out to supportive friends and family members when they’re having a bad day or going through a tough period, sex addicts consistently turn to sex as a means of self-soothing and/or controlling what they feel.
As with drugs of abuse, addictive sexual fantasies and behaviors trigger a neurochemical reaction in the brain that feels pleasurable to the addict. This response is fueled mostly by the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, but also by other biochemicals, such as oxytocin, adrenaline, serotonin and various endorphins. Over time, sex addicts learn to abuse this pleasurable neurochemical response in the same way that alcoholics and drug addicts abuse alcohol and drugs, intentionally triggering it with sexual fantasies, pornography or online flirtations. In other words, sex addicts create and use a neurochemical high as a way to avoid experiencing depression, anxiety and other stressors.
As with alcoholics and drug addicts, sex addicts like to stay high for prolonged periods. For that reason, they’re typically much more interested in sustained sexual fantasies than actual sex and orgasm. In fact, orgasm ends the acting-out experience and returns the addict to real life, which is exactly what he or she is trying so hard to escape. As such, sex addicts often spend hours, sometimes even days, in a trance-like, zoned-out neurochemical bubble, thinking about and fantasizing about sexual activity without actually engaging in that activity.
Shame and Guilt
Shame and guilt were two of my most crippling emotions that caused the circular loop in my addiction. Once I returned to “real life” after acting out, the shame and guilt were so overpowering, that I wanted to rid them from my body. The only way I knew how to avoid those painful feelings was to use sex to medicate.
Anyone who has spent hours looking at Facebook, Snapchat, or even watching an entire season of a sitcom in one sitting understands how that trance-like, zoned out state stops the onslaught of life from bombarding you on all sides (well, unless you have kids that constantly interrupt you).
As I’ve peeled back the onion through my own recovery, I realized that childhood trauma kept me stuck and regressing to child-like states when triggered, that I had a lot of repressed anger, that I had a shitload of negative core beliefs that I needed to change, and I had an exponential amount of fear and anxiety that coursed through my body. My fear was that people, especially my ex, would see me as how I saw myself; this horrible beast of a person. I feared abandonment.
And once again, we’re back to the saying, “You create what you believe.” I definitely created my destiny.You create what you believe. I definitely created my destiny. Click To Tweet
As I look back on the magnitude of emotions I battled daily without learning the tools necessary to care for myself as a child, I completely understand how I would turn to addiction to soothe myself. And, due to my career, a substance addiction was never an option (not that I was looking for addictions mind you).
This is not justification, just acknowledgement. I had a choice, but I chose poorly.
I am, but a handful of men in my 12-step groups, that introduce ourselves as a Grateful Recovering Sex Addict. Usually it’s, “I’m so and so. I’m a sex addict.” It takes a long time for a man (or woman) to admit that they are a sex addict, let alone admit they are grateful for their addiction. There is so much shame, guilt, and judgment behind the definition and it takes a while to break through the denial. And there is so much destruction caused by the addiction, that it’s sometimes impossible to even see gratitude in the disease.
Andy Stanley explains culture, shame, guilt, and judgment best in his series, Guardrails:
“Our culture baits us to the edge of disaster and then mocks us when we step over. Everywhere we turn in our culture, we are being baited, baited, baited to the edge. And then, once you step over the edge, culture chastises you.”
-Andy StanleyOur culture baits us to the edge of disaster and then mocks us when we step over the line. - Andy Stanley Click To Tweet
Everywhere we turn, the media is using sex to advertise, movies and TV shows keep pushing sexual limits, and songs (although they have always pushed sex) are becoming more blunt and explicit than ever. Add on top of all that, pornography is a multi-billion-dollar industry that’s available at the click of a button, not only on computers, but on our cellular devices.
Check this out. In January of 2016, Pornhub published a 2015 Year in Review. They are publicly declaring how proud they are that they streamed 75GB of data per second, enough porn to fill the storage of 175 million 16GB iPhones (remember, this is only one porn website mind you) and breaking everything down into categories, porn stars, and search entries for different countries. The amount of data and analysis that’s going on with this site only helps them fine-tune what’s working and what’s not. It’s scary how much we are baited in our society.
[Updated 2017 Year in Review: Now streaming up to 118 GB of data per second, 7,101 GB per minute, 10, 225,205 GB per day, enough data in the year to fill the memory of every iPhone currently in use around the world.]
So why do I add “Grateful and Recovering?”
Recovering is to remind me that I always need to be consciously aware of where I’m at emotionally and how I’m taking care of myself. I need to remember that I must do my daily routines of meditation, phone calls, journaling (or blogging), exercise, healthy eating, etc. I need to keep balance in my life and I need to be aware that when I’m off, I use my tools to take care of myself. Recovery is a life-long never ending journey.
Grateful is to remind me not to focus on the damage my addiction caused my family and my marriage, but to embrace what I’ve learned through the process of recovery. I may not be completely who I want to be and I may have caused chaos, pain, and destruction in my past. But, I have become a better man, father, and someday will be a better partner in a future relationship because I finally chose recovery.
I could never really learn to love myself until I broke the habits that caused me to detest who I was. And I could never break those habits without accepting I was a sex addict first, and then doing the work I needed to do to recover.
There has been a tremendous amount pain on this journey of self-discovery. But through it, I have a level of compassion, empathy, and patience about others that I didn’t have before. I was very self-centered and narcissistic, only caring about my well-being at the expense of everyone else. I have grown to love myself for who I am today; not judge myself for who I was and I am learning how to love others and all their imperfections.
Faulty Beliefs and My Actions
Here’s my comment from my previous blog which I believe would have had my ex squirming in the corner; the main reason for this additional post to begin with…
“My faulty thoughts set me up to believe that if a woman loved her man, she would have sex with him, pretty much whenever “he” wanted it. To not to have sex meant he was not loved and not worthy.”
Let me be open and vulnerable.
By the way, if you remember the Lion King, Rafiki is bad ass with his stick against Scar and the hyenas. He’s standing in front of me ready to protect me from those who prefer to be a naysayer rather than one of Phoenix’s Fledglings.
I kind of like that image. Thanks, Rafiki!
My addiction started with pornography and morphed into numerous extra-marital affairs.
At the time, I sincerely believed that a man expressed his love through sex. I know today that this is untrue. Love is not expressed through sex. Sex can be physical and love does not have to be sexual.
When love and sex are joined between two people who love themselves individually and love each other and all their imperfections, without the influences of our culture baiting us towards other beliefs and they both have the ability to stay present in the Now, not triggered by their past baggage nor worrying about what the future may bring, sexuality can create a deeper, more spiritual connection between them both.
Unfortunately, due to my warped thinking, I fell into this belief that sex=love and if my ex was not interested in me sexually, I was not loved.
I created an unsafe energy around sexuality. It came across as an expectation and a constant necessity to prove her love to me. I depleted her sexually, and the energy I subsequently felt from her was that sex was an obligation, not something that was mutually desired.
Completely understandable today, but back then, I fell back on the belief that men need sex and need an orgasm. On top of that, I continued to shame and blame that all my actions were her fault; “Had you done this and this, I wouldn’t have done that.”
I know, I know. Bullshit and a complete, controlling asshole!
Rafiki lectures, “Blame allows us not to look at our own piece in a confrontation. It’s only job is to protect our precious ego.”
Blame allows us not to look at our own piece. It's only job is to protect our precious ego. Click To Tweet
Through recovery I have learned that my intense, faulty beliefs created painful emotions and physical ailments in my body. This only kept me in the blind and in the dark about how I was treating my ex. Unfortunately, in my addiction, I completely believed I was in the right.
Oh, was I so wrong!
I can’t imagine the amount of pain, self doubt, doubt of body image, broken trust, betrayal, and the multitude of other emotions that I caused my ex. I can still easily get into my own “issues” and my own pain, but I really hurt her. That’s my biggest regret, that I hurt the woman I love.
A few years back, when I made the comment that “sex=love,” my ex’s response was, “So… That means every woman you fucked when we were married you loved?”
Ok, that instantly shut me up! Turned my argument into mush. Because it was definitely untrue.
I do know that my ex has had my heart since before I asked her to marry me. After 17 years, six years of recovery and two years of resisting separation and divorce, she still holds my heart to this very day.
Unfortunately, I lost her heart so many years ago.
Addiction, Warped Beliefs, and Consequences
It is incredibly difficult to explain how I can deeply love one person believing that connection and love is based on physical contact. Then, when I feel distance, lost, and not valuable, try to recreate some sort of connection with someone else. I’m not going to even try to explain it. It would just come across as rubbish. Let’s just say that was one fucked up, warped belief.
Just like alcohol, drugs, food, gambling, work, etc., I used sex to run away and hide from painful emotions and the childhood trauma that triggered those agonizing feelings. Add a shitload of shame and guilt, then trying to juggle and manage lies, compartmentalizing the bad behavior I was doing, and trying to avoid my negative self-talk which only got louder because I couldn’t (I mean I wouldn’t) stop my actions. I was in a downward spiral until I crashed and burned.
And, as Rafiki has said, I needed to protect my precious, little ego. So I pointed my finger at my ex making it all her fault.
My choices from my past are why I’m where I am today. Those decisions are what destroyed my marriage. And I am now facing the consequences of my past actions.
After four years of sobriety, I thought I was doing well. “Look honey, I’m no longer acting out.”
Unfortunately, I was unaware that I still had the same addictive, manipulating behaviors that I had four years prior. The betrayal, the lies, the deceit, coupled with my ex never standing up to her morals and values in our marriage are what finally led us down the path of divorce.
She had tried to make it work. There’s was just too much damage from the past for her to get over and I wasn’t changing.
Grateful, but still Struggling
But, through it all, I am grateful. I don’t want to hang onto the anger and resentment that has had a stranglehold around my neck all these years. I want to live in peace. I want serenity in my life.
I’m now living a life of integrity. I’m not hiding in shame and guilt. I’m not juggling lies. I’m not being deceitful. So much stress and anxiety have dissipated because I am no longer doing the actions that caused me to passionately hate myself.
My only current issue is to reach my goal of peace and serenity. To get there I need to completely let go of my marriage and change the thoughts that always seem to get me thinking about my ex.
I observe how my ex is still triggered by me, still holds onto her anger, and is quick to get annoyed by my imperfections. I watch her non-verbal cues when the past sneaks up like that tiger and pounces on her.
I feel compassion and empathy. I too want her to find peace and serenity. And yet, I want to reach out and help her heal.
I know I’m the last person she wants to heal with.
I must accept that I broke our trust. I must accept that I hurt her more than anyone else in her life has ever hurt her. And I need to stop trying to “prove” myself, my recovery, and my love to her. I just need to accept her choice and move on with my life.
This is the reason for my blogs. To help me process my divorce. To help me accept that my past decisions are what has caused me to be where I am today. To let my ex go so I stop choking myself with my own denial.
I am writing my blogs so I can set her free.
But I also want take what I’ve learned and pay it forward with all of you, my Fledglings.
Pay it Forward Movie Clip
Pay it Forward – Trevor’s Wisdom
I do hope that I haven’t alienated any of you by being this open and vulnerable.
I do pray that we can collectively continue to create a nonjudgmental environment of hope and courage to help us through difficult times.
I want us to remember that there’s strength in numbers.
I want us to remember, that Together We Can Heal