Walking away from that two legged dope—how sex addiction rattled my early sobriety.
When I told my therapist I fucked a guy in a bathroom at an AA meeting she said to me, “You cant possibly feel good about that.”
“Well, the speaker sucked,” I said.
“Iʼm serious, Amy.”
“No. But I donʼt feel bad about it either if that makes any sense.” I had abandoned shame a long time ago. I had to. We had an unhealthy relationship. It made me feel like shit. I felt remorseful for things I couldn't keep myself from doing and if I couldn't help myself, then why feel remorseful? I decided to embrace my vices. Fuck. Shame. That was my thinking about a year ago, whilst still in drug and alcohol treatment.
Anybody who would be attracted to somebody like me is either fucked up themselves or wants to “fix and save” me.
Since getting sober this time, I've developed a brand new addiction… sex. Sex addiction feels a lot like drug addiction and can get you almost as high. No wonder they call it “two legged dope.” You get an urge, you put something in you and you change your feelings. Itʼs that simple. Until it stops working, which it does and then you have to up the stakes. Fuck more people in weirder ways in more outrageous places. I've had sex with a different guy each day of the week. I've fucked two guys in one night. I've fucked guys in parking lots. I've fucked guys with their girlfriends. I have a little stable of men that I have sex with when the urge hits me. And the urge used to hit me a lot. I fucked when I was sad. I fucked when I was bored. I fucked when I was anxious. I sexualized a lot of my feelings. For somebody who was celibate for seven long years and married for three and a half (and no, they were not the same time surprisingly), it seems weird that Iʼd come to this. I guess you could blame it on a “divorce backlash” or years of repression or an unhealthy enmeshment with my daddy. But if I've learned anything, you just never know and it doesn't really matter. You don’t need to know WHY you do what you do to know HOW to stop.
I was going to Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous meetings for a while. The people in SLAA are the most unattractive crew I've ever seen congregated together in one place. Itʼs astonishing to me that these people are getting laid let alone complaining about it. It was hard for me to take the “disease” of love and sex addiction seriously, as this fatal illness, when I've had a needle in my neck. But saying that, I've tried to kill myself over men multiple times during my life so what the hell do I know?
Just like with drugs, I kept thinking I had a handle on it. I’d get a few weeks or even months without acting out and think, “oh I got this.” What I know now is that the beast of sex addiction takes lengthy naps and during those respites, I thought I was cured. But then it would be on me again, like a possession. It was often triggered by a call from the ex and all the rejection and trauma that that person’s name, let alone voice provoked. Whatever the cause, the urge would build, getting stronger and stronger until it could not be denied and I’d cave in and act out. I can still remember that anticipatory trembling on the way to meet a date which was oddly reminiscent of the rush to meet the dealer. And occasionally…..after…. I would feel empty and shameful. I’d make those meaningless promises to myself. That was the last time. Never again. Until I had a revelation: I did not want to stop yet. It was still working for me. I wanted to WANT to stop which is not the same thing. Eventually, the impulsivity would fall away again. I got bored with it. I got busy… work, a new relationship, whatever.
I knew what I was doing. I can't get high anymore so I check out with sex. Sex with people Iʼm attracted to. Sex with people I'm repulsed by. Sex with people that intrigue me. Sex with people that irritate me. Sex with people I know. Sex with people I don’t know. It doesn't matter. I just need that validation. I just need to lose myself for a few brief moments. I keep my eyes closed. I donʼt want to see them. Fucking has become a drug to me. I want what I wanted from booze and pills: obliteration.
I remember recently being at this guy’s place and all I could think was, “Will you please shut the fuck up and take your clothes off?” My lesbian friends say that I am so much like a guy that the men who sleep with me are pretty much "gay." Why is being free and casual with sex being "like a guy?" Why can’t I just be liberated? “Am I really a slut or am I just a female stud?” Why is consensual recreational sex a “bad” thing? These are the debates I had with myself and concerned friends. I will not deny that as a woman you can and many times do “bond” to the person you sleep with… no matter how empty or bad the sex may be. It’s a biological biochemical thing. So then you you need to sleep with somebody else to break that attachment and then somebody else to break THAT attachment. It can be a horrible cycle.
I did have a few very bad experiences lately that have made me take pause.
During one of my recent romps with a returning repeat offender, a fellow sober sex addict I've known for years, he didn't kiss me. And I was pissed. “I get that this is ‘sport fucking’ but for god’s sake if you’re going to treat me like a whore, leave some money on the table next time. I've had more intimate encounters with the barista at Starbucks.”
And then there was this 30 year old Southern boy who picked me up at community service. “I’m a good man but a bad boy," he said. Trying to keep a straight face I said, “Save the cheesy pick up lines for your little town in Alabama.” Four hours later I was bombarded with pics of his 8 pack … and his other pack and I stupidly, against my better judgment, let him make me dinner two days later. The steak he cooked was good enough but I certainly could have done without the multiple calls from his lady friends before and during the “date." It was interesting to see him lie in action and invite them to “stop by” while I still lay panting in his bed. And you know that scene in “American Psycho” where he’s boning those girls and flexing in the mirror? Well, I’m here to tell you that that type of assholery exists in the real world too. And there is nothing like opening your eyes to realize that you are the unknowing non-compliant star of his own private movie. I won’t shock and disgust you with details but as I drove home that night I have never felt so dismissed, disrespected and violated in my life. I took a shower, trying to wash off the experience but by morning I was crying, traumatized and swearing off men and red meat. I got an oblivious “hope you got home safe. I had fun” text from him. And was struck with a “moment of clarity." I didn't want this anymore.
I had also recently joined the ranks of the online dating world. Tinder and Ok Cupid are proverbial “crack” for sex and love addicts. It was like adding gasoline to the fire of my already crackling addiction. I was shelled with messages. Of course it’s nice to have 25-year-olds wanting to sleep with you but that’s all ego. Nothing real will come of that. One youngin' said, “You seem fun. But you can't keep up with a wild child like moi.”
I just laughed. “Honey, you have no idea who you’re talking to. . .”
These two online dating/hookup sites brought me to my bottom within weeks. I would overshare at the beginning because I was afraid of being abandoned later. “Listen I need to tell you something: I've been in six rehabs, four psych wards and I was arrested for assault two years ago.”
There was a long pause. “But you don’t have any kids right?”
Whether I was trying to “trauma bond” or warn them of my historical lunacy, I don’t know. But nobody needs to know that kind of stuff on a first date. I thought I was being “honest." But the truth is that I was ashamed and was trying to create some instant intimacy. Anybody who would be attracted to somebody like me is either fucked up themselves or wants to “fix and save” me. Otherwise they would have no investment in the beginning to overlook those types of glaring and ominous issues.
What become increasingly clear was that I was lying to myself. I wanted love and companionship and tenderness. Sex was a cheap second prize and the only thing available to somebody with an intimacy disorder like myself. I could have great sex with people I didn’t feel connected to but I couldn't even have decent sex with people I cared about. This was concerning. It felt like sex and love were in two different boxes and never the twain shall meet. I was also the proverbial magnet for other sex addicts. They could smell me through the internet, junkies finding other junkies. But then again maybe everybody on those sites are sex addicts.
A very attractive bi-coastal guy on Tinder hit me up. He was extremely clear about what he was looking for. “Listen here’s the deal. I've got hoes in different area codes.”
“So am I applying for 213, 323 or 310? Is 818 already taken?” (I’m a writer at heart so verbal banter, even if it’s bullshit, is my forte.) I appreciated his honesty and deluded myself into thinking I could handle the situation. But one mind-blowing night with a gorgeous man who was sweet and affectionate and I was fucked. Totally smitten. And I had to pretend that I wasn't.
The most upsetting situations were men who pretended they felt a real “connection” and said they were looking for a girlfriend, only to get what they wanted and disappear. That felt more like a betrayal than somebody obviously and blatantly using you as a fuck toy for the night. And that’s when it became clear to me. I was looking for love…in all the wrong places.
I’m good in bed. I know this. And I fallaciously thought that if I rocked their world, they might fall in love with me, that everything they said they wanted or didn't want, would fall away with the uniqueness and magnificence that was me. But that doesn't happen. Or it hasn't happened. And as much as I didn't want to admit it, men don’t really respect you if you sleep with them right away. In general. They value what they earn. And me in my faux liberation am not going to change hundreds of years of social conditioning.
One guy freaked out in the middle of sex, claiming his back went out. I spent the night at his request which I never do and had that horrible awkward early morning experience where we both pretend we've got things to do. Later he came clean and told me that “your IV drug use scared me.”
“Right… but that was AFTER you decided to have sex with me.” By the way, I wanted to say, that was eight years ago and I've been tested multiple times and married and divorced since then. But what was the point? We would never speak again.
As I drove home, crying, I thought about how I had told him I didn't want a one night stand. He assured me he did not either. A wave of loneliness and shame crashed over me. I deleted all the online dating apps, spent the day in bed and dragged my sorry oversexed self back into SLAA, a year later. I trembled and cried during the entire meeting.
“Are you finally done now?” my old SLAA sponsor asked.
“God I hope so.”
Amy Dresner is a regular contributor to The Fix. She last wrote about her experience with community service.