The men and women seated around me, legs crossed and arms folded, draped over orange plastic chairs, would see right through me any second now. Even though I was staring down at the floor, I could feel their eyes burning in to me. They had serious problems, not me.
Who am I kidding? The more I listened to the stories of the people around me, the more I realized that I was in the right place. So what is sex addiction, and why is it so frequently misunderstood? What Is Sexual Addiction? The way that I see it, sexual addiction is more about shame, isolation, and unworthiness than it is about chasing after sexual experiences. Sexual addiction, just like any drug addiction, can have a sliding scale of symptoms — ranging in severity.
The consequences can be fatal. With sex addiction, each addict defines what their acting out looks like and what sexual sobriety means to them. In fact, any addictive or compulsive behaviour could be easily categorized with one simple litmus test… do you find yourself consistently doing something that you do not want to do?
You decided to give up drinking and here you are, alone in your bedroom, half way through a bottle of vodka. You decided to give up having anonymous sex and here you are putting on your pants after a quickie with a total stranger. If the behaviour has control over you, then it has likely become a problem in your life. With substance addictions, like alcoholism or drug addiction, it is possible and often recommended to simply discontinue the use of the substance entirely.
They are interwoven into the fabric of our being and so the goal is to integrate them into our lives in a healthier way. But because sexual addiction and compulsive sexual behaviour is just the mechanism that numbs out the difficult emotions that addicts are unwilling to face and heal their way through, the most sustainable way that a sex addict can overcome their addiction is to work through their underlying emotional turmoil that keeps them stuck.
Deciding To Face My Past And Feel My Feelings After a certain amount of feeling out of control of my behaviour, I knew that the only way out of this pattern was to feel my underlying emotional wounds. And, as fate would have it, as soon as I set the intention of wanting to dig into my past wounds, my answers were revealed to me in the form of a dream.
I woke up sobbing in the middle of the night, lying next to my girlfriend at the time, and the memories of how isolated and unwanted I felt in my childhood came flooding back to me. It took months of journalling, therapy, and other deep healing modalities to come to terms with the pain that I felt. As cliche as it sounds, I had to learn to fully love and accept my wounded inner child. The behavioural antidote, for me, was to reach out to people for help and allow them to be there for me.
And, once again, as soon as I set the intention to do so, a rush of new friendship and community came pouring into my life.
Obviously, healing past emotional wounds is something that must be done on an individual basis. There is no one-size-fits-all model. Here are those insights. The more we keep ourselves away from others, the more we suffer. The more we suffer, the more we downward spiral in a pattern of shame and isolation. One of the best things that addicts can do for themselves is find a trusted person friend, family member, significant other, fellow addict in a 12 step program, etc.
The more you can verbalize the thoughts, fears, and desires in your head that keep you feeling stuck, the more free you can be of them. Go to meetings and get support If picking one person to share with seems too scary, you might want to try going to a few step meetings. By externalizing your fears, you neutralize them to a large degree. If you understand that feelings of unworthiness and isolation are at the root of your desire to act out, then the best thing you can do is connect with someone who cares about you.
This point ties in elements of the first two points. If reaching out for support is too challenging for you when you feel like acting out, another thing that you can do is induce crying. Emotional stress, ultimately, is just a culmination of compounded unfelt feelings. Feel your feelings , and set yourself free from the pattern. This is the same reason that alcoholics will still identify as being alcoholics years after they last had a drink… they know that the substance has a power over them and that it affects them differently than it affects most other people.
I went through an emotionally trying time this year and, during a phase when I would have historically acted out the most frequently, I refrained entirely from my most compulsive behaviours… which was a huge turning point for me. I no longer felt like I was at the mercy of my addiction.
For me personally, the biggest tools I have available to me are self-awareness, self-compassion, and the courage that it takes to reach out to a friend for help aka embracing community. Self-awareness to realize when my mind is leading me in an unhealthy direction, and self-compassion for being able to be gentle with myself when I find myself feeling stressed, anxious, or any other negative feeling that I would historically want to numb out.