This is Don’s story of healing from many addictions. He is honest and forthcoming.
I’m a survivor; at least that’s what I’ve been told. I have no memory of being sexually abused. I just have the pathology.
I’m also a recovering alcoholic, codependent and sex addict. Like many of my peers, I had double-digit sobriety and strong recovery in AA long before ever facing my sex addiction. When I finally did, I was blessed to have a therapist who specialized in sex addiction. [Every week she gave me a writing assignment. At each session, as I shared my assignment, she would say something like, “I know I’m trained to spot this, and I know I sound like a broken record, but everything you have brought points unambiguously to a single thing – that you were sexually abused by a woman, probably your mother.”]
I have many friends in recovery for sex addiction who had no memories of abuse until they got into recovery. Then the memories came, usually in a few weeks or months. I have been sexually sober and recovering for over eight years now and still have no memories, only symptoms and other clues, point the way.
A big clue is my “fear of intimacy.” Now there’s a laugh. How about terror? All I ever wanted was to be married and raise a family, but every time a woman ran the risk of getting close, I had full-blown panic attacks. I felt like I was drowning or being suffocated and it was a matter of survival to break free. After I got free, I would feel shame and confusion over why I did that. But I never returned to a relationship afterwards – just hoped the next one would be better. I have had dangerous jobs (construction, railroad) and spent years in seedy environments as a musician and drug addict, but the only panic attacks I’ve ever had were in intimate relationships with a woman. And they happened every time.
In the homework for my therapist, I mentioned that my mother seemed determined to treat me as neurotic, inept and not fitting in. She did so with seeming humor and acceptance, but there was no option, no alternate view. [My therapist told me] she did this to keep me unattractive – that she didn’t trust her own sexual urges; so I wasn’t allowed to shine or bloom. When the movie “To Sir With Love” came out, I found myself relating to the student who was dashing and a little dangerous. I heard my mother tell a friend that I reminded her of the neurotic, ineffective student. And there were constant comments like, “But you’ve always been a little bit weird.” At least until I confronted her when I was 45. It was over the phone, with my wife listening at my request to help me monitor my cleanness of approach. I was totally unprepared for the initial response. I expected either an apology or defiance, but what I got was the unending, monolithic denial that is my family: “Oh no! I didn’t mean anything harmful by it! You’ve got it all wrong …” My mom no longer says those sorts of things, but now there is a constant awkwardness in our relationship.
I grew up in an alcoholic home. There was never any shouting or physical violence, however, and we always had enough to eat, as well as new clothes each Fall. Heck, the neighbor kids thought my parents were the best – always civil and respectful. Very early on, I surmised that the rule was: as long as everybody acts like everything’s ok, everything’s ok. Almost all emotions and confrontations were dealt with by profound avoidance. Yet, I felt insane on the inside. I figured it must have been me because everybody else was busy acting like everything was ok. Sometimes I wished my dad would die at work. I despised my mom for humming inane melodies when, to me, there was nothing to sing about.
Looking back, I realize there might have been something besides me to my unease. At age 13, my father nearly died of chronic alcohol poisoning. And I learned about keeping secrets. I discovered my dad’s porn collection when I was five and immediately understood two things: (1) this stuff is great! and (2) we don’t talk about this to anybody. Most boys, when they find something that’s really neat, will go out of their way to tell and show it to others. I somehow understood the greatest tool of sexual abuse and sex addiction – secrecy.
My mom’s side of the family is quite close. I am one of four male cousins born within two years – most are the oldest in the families. We’ve all had issues around sex and intimacy in our lives – more so by far than our younger siblings. These include unwanted pregnancies, having to leave jobs and towns because of indiscretions, chronic inability to form lasting relationships, etc. [With the help of hypnosis,] the oldest of the four had a memory of being passed from sister to sister (my mom and aunts) as an infant and each one sexually abusing him. He wrote a letter and sent it to every household in the large extended family. It was collectively received with, “Well, he’s really gone of his rocker this time.” When I started my recovery and therapy around this, and heard what my therapist had to say, I called my cousin, told him about my current recovery, what my therapist was saying, and that I, for one, believed him.
Today, my wife and I are both active in our individual recoveries as well as in couple’s counseling. For the most part, we do not involve ourselves in each other’s recovery – we allow each other to walk their own path. But once my wife mentioned that she saw me as someone with low self-esteem. She said that it seemed I had no idea what a good and talented person I was. I know it was said in love, and I’m not averse to it being the case, but I really couldn’t grasp the truth of it in any totality – there was no ‘gut’ understanding. That is, until I got involved in a feedback group with other recovering sex addicts. As I see and share the struggles of my friends in the feedback group, my wife’s words keep coming back to me. Her words ring true when I think of these friends, who are some of the most loving, kind, smart, fun, talented and good people I’ve ever known. They deserve to be adored, cherished and nurtured. Yet I see them, week after week, volunteering for abuse and degradation. Now I understand what she was trying to tell me.
Most of my friends in recovery for sex addiction have memories of being abused. I don’t know which is preferable – I have no memories and have no events or individuals that I can point to as the source. They can claim their source, but have to live with the memories. I wouldn’t wish either on anybody. In either case, the silver lining is that we have each other to support, honor and love us into wellness, and to hold our hand when we don’t believe it. This is a gift well worth the price of admission.
I am now starting EMDR therapy along with my other care. I hope it will shed some light on my history. Whether it does or not, I will keep going where the path leads me. I know that the loving power of the universe, and your love and support, will grant me what I need for the journey. Thank you for sharing your journey with me and letting me share mine with you. God bless us all.
Don S., Survivor