One Woman’s Perspective on her Sex Addiction and Recovery

The  following is an interview with a woman who self-identified as being in  recovery from a sex addiction.  She is in her 40’s, professional, and  married with children.  She asked to remain anonymous for the sake of  her privacy; she used the pseudonym “Nora.”  I asked her about her  addiction and about being a woman and sex addict.  I began by asking her  to describe her sexual addiction:

Dr. S: How would you describe your sex addiction?

Nora: At this point in my recovery, many previous problematic  behaviors have dropped away, leaving only the core of my addiction –  which started in early childhoodmasturbation with disturbing fantasy.   So in describing my sex addiction, I would say that I have been able  to let go of all my problem behaviors without great difficulty but  struggled to achieve abstinence with masturbation with those  fantasies.  I am currently sober and have been for some time, one day at  a time.   My addiction started in early childhood, and later was  obscured by the acting-out I was doing with men.  But it was all deeply  influenced by the control and rage-based fantasy world which started in  my childhood.

// Dr. S:  How did you know it was an addiction?

Nora: I was unable to stop my behaviors on my own.  I would  make promises to myself to stop having one-night stands, unprotected sex  and falling in desperation (love) with unavailable men.  I would be in  one desperate relationship, and cheat on that person, intrigue with  other men, or cheat on him in my fantasies, and go from one bad  situation to the next – from my teens until my late 20’s.  I started  therapy because I was terribly unhappy, and early-on in treatment my  therapist told me to go to Al Anon because I had a family history and  relationship history being with others who struggled with alcohol and  drugs.  I began understanding I was a co-dependent but I wasn’t able to  yet accept my own sex and sex and love addiction issues.

Dr. S.: What made you accept that you were powerless over it/that it was an addiction?

Nora: Accepting my powerlessness has come in stages in my sex  addiction recovery.  About a year or so into individual therapy my  therapist, who had already told me to go to Al Anon, next told me I  needed to go to SAA [Sex Addicts Anonymous].  I was angry and refused.   I am surprised that somehow I didn’t quit therapy.  But later I was a  bit more open because I could see my inability to stop acting-out  sexually and with love addiction.  I hit bottom.  Prior to my bottom, I  was sure I had met the love of my life: a seminary student who was  moving out of the country in a week.  I was certain I would be able to  convince him to stay and be with me!  When he left and I never heard  from him again I came crashing down.  I remember looking around and  seeing natural beauty, and happy people, and I was miserable.  I  remember thinking that I had to quit these behaviors and get a grip.  I  went into to therapy deeply humbled and told my therapist I was going to  go to SAA meetings.

Dr. S.: What made you feel like you needed recovery?  What did you do for recovery?

Nora: I went to SAA.  Unfortunately I didn’t continue to go to  Al Anon.  I didn’t understand at the time the struggle I had with  co-dependency was as serious as my sex addiction problem.  I was still  confused and thought that now that I was in SAA that would take care of  everything.  Of course it didn’t and later I realized a lot of my  inability to get completely sober in SAA was because I wasn’t working on  my co-dependency.  After a while I returned to Al Anon and remain in  both programs now.  I am not in AA but I understand from AA friends who  also go to Al Anon they consider themselves “double winners”.  I hope  that is true for me as well.

Dr. S.: What have you come to understand are the origins of your sex addiction?

Nora: I believe that its origin was in my early childhood.  I  was raised by two parents both with significant mental illness.  My  mother had a severe anxiety disorder and my father struggled with  depression and rage.  There was a tremendous amount of tension, rage,  and fear present at all times in my family.  My father had been a war  veteran and it was only later in his life that I suspected he likely had  PTSD.  He was also a high functioning alcoholic.  He was terribly  violent and for some strange reason, I took on the role of standing up  to him and often bearing the brunt of his violence while no one in the  family stepped-in or defended me from it.  So I was an extremely angry,  fearful, and anxious kid.  I think my anger saved me but it became  eroticized and the root of my sex addiction.  I had all this anger  directed at wanting to save my mother and defeat my father.   I was  never going to let a man or anyone have power over me and I was never  going to let anyone’s anxiety intrude on me – at least that was my power  fantasy, which of course isn’t – and wasn’t – reality.  I wanted to  have power over men and women.  And in my mixed up thinking thought I  could do that sexually.  Unfortunately my concern about power was not  just with men but in all areas of my life and these issues kept me from  being close and intimate with family, friends, and my partner.  At its  root, I was terrified of intimacy.  My “savior” anger has probably at  the same time turned out to be my worst enemy.  It remains a central  part of my recovery work today.

Dr. S.: What made your recovery different as a woman than  it would be for a man?  Why do you think more women don’t get help for  their sex addiction?

Nora: I think that some of the differences have been that  there are far more men in [SAA] meetings than women.  There have been  more women who identify with the “love addiction” side of things and  sometimes I feel they don’t recognize that “love addiction” is often  eroticized fantasy of power and that has to do with sex as well.  I  sometimes feel isolated and alone, and that there still is as much  social stigma about women being sex addicts as there has been  historically about women being open about having sex.  “It’s just not  done.”  I see all the statistics that show women are becoming addicted  to internet porn in larger and larger numbers, but I am not seeing these  women in my meetings.  It makes me sad.  I have seen a tremendous  increase in attendance in the conference call, women-only meetings but  perhaps that still suggests we women are afraid to go to face to face  meetings?  I am glad for the support of the conference call meetings.

Dr. S.: Have you had any relapses?  How do you think about relapse?

Nora: If you are referring to my inner-circle, or bottom-line  behaviors, I have had no slips in areas such as sex outside of my  relationship, affairs, and intrigue.  But I have had slips with  masturbation and fantasy.  Sometimes I understand the slips and  sometimes I have to work to get it.  I have done a fair amount of  therapy and work the 12-steps and understand that I have to practice my  program, one day at a time.  I don’t believe I can promise never to have  a relapse, and that is not about having one foot out the door or making  excuses.  But I think with regards to my core sex addiction, if I stop  taking care of myself and/or stop working my program, I can find myself  in trouble.  Sometimes I feel I am in my addiction even though I am not  acting-out.  This is when I have lost my grip on the “here and now,” and  I confuse where I am powerless and where I have power.  If I think I  can deal with my addiction or stress by myself, then I am in trouble.  I  know I am powerless over addiction, so one day at a time makes me more  responsible to do everything I can do to stay honest and work the steps  and choose to bear the hard stuff that I used to act-out over.

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