Which Sex Addiction Program Do You Belong In? - Page 2

By Morty Finklestein 03/25/13

The range of 12-step sex addiction recovery groups can be dizzying. A 20-year veteran of all five fellowships gives his verdict.

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The many faces of recovery Art: Danny Jock

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Maybe all of the above is too much. Maybe you're not such a pervert. Maybe you just have a problem with intimacy and can't commit, or you keep falling in love with unavailable people. Sure you masturbate with porn to soothe yourself when lonely, but you don't think that's a problem—everyone does that—it's all the money you waste on hookers, the fear of AIDS and arrest and getting caught by your partner that bothers you. Or maybe you're a desperate weirdo sexual anorectic and haven't been sexual in any context whatsoever with another human being for many years. Or maybe, for some reason, even though you swear you're straight, you keep acting out with men. Or maybe, even though you're a good girl, you keep seducing your friends' boyfriends and husbands and fathers and sons and dudes on the subway or, y'know, you just love too much.

Inevitably, I've been inappropriately touched during the coffee break.

Well whatever it is, check out Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, where you define your own sobriety! This is where you may enjoy the sexual equivalent of saying, "I want to stop shooting heroin but continue to drink beer and smoke pot." A roomful of fellows will applaud your success, however you choose to define it.

Finally, there is Sexual Compulsives Anonymous. I've attended these meetings only a handful of times and upon hearing most of the shares I felt humbled, like a youngster encountering a veteran of AA telling me, "Kid, I've spilled more than you drank." The men of SCA gather to escape the brutal merry-go-round of relentlessly pursuing high-risk encounters—such as engaging in unprotected anal and oral sex despite the mounting probability of contracting the virus. Mutually rewarding arrangements typically found in bath houses, sex clubs, rest stops, bus stations, public urinals, parking lots and Craigslist—while undeniably stimulating—all too often end darkly. Especially in this light, the recalibration of one's behavior—as opposed to completely withdrawing from all indulgent pleasures—makes perfect sense. I was under the impression that many of these members would gladly de-escalate their harrowing pursuits to something as relatively innocuous as masturbating home alone in front of the computer with poppers and toys.

I am no tourist. I've gone to over a thousand meetings for sex addicts of one kind or another seeking relief and hope. Like a typical consumer, I have pledged loyalty to—and believed in the superiority of—SA, SLAA and SRA at various times. I would surely have done the same with SAA or SCA if I had given either a regular rotation. All the meetings were kind and helpful, and in turn, I've made good friends and had many positive experiences. I still receive program calls from men seeking help, needing to talk about matters that they couldn't take anywhere else. I know how to be helpful and I'm happy to give away what was so freely given to me.

But. I've also encountered weirdness that is ludicrous relative to AA and NA standards, especially in the realm of sponsorship (perhaps because the meetings are young, and old-timers are in short supply). One clown jotted down notes while I spoke candidly, later saying he needed material for a screenplay. Another sponsor reacted with grave disapproval when I mentioned happily that I'd been out dancing the night before with sober friends, which had felt both innocent and life affirming: "Dancing is very sexual," he admonished. Outside a meeting, in front of our group, he once saw fit to mock me for one of my more humiliating proclivities, revealed to him in confidence. I wondered how he'd feel if I casually mentioned his transsexual prostitute habit to his wife.

In my time, I have sat knee to knee with flashers, pedophiles and other perpetrators and listened with compassion to their side of the story. I've been ostracized for slipping too often. Inevitably, I've been inappropriately touched during the coffee break. And I've witnessed grown men crying and screaming about their mothers.

The meetings can be rather grim. Unlike AA, where we all tend to laugh at our most mortifying experiences, here, where sobriety is less black-and-white, there is a grey earnestness to the proceedings that fails to cheer. The specters of shame and trauma loom large. Protocols regarding boundaries can become so convoluted that interactions display little resemblance to routine social exchanges. In many gatherings I cringed at how easy it was to inadvertently molest someone's inner child.

I've been banging my head against this wall for 20 years, after acting out sexually since the age of six. My final, desperate attempt to attain sexual sobriety was to go down to Pennsylvania where I attended Keystone Treatment Center, as recommended by many from SLAA, SRA and SA. I went full of optimism, recalling the experience of going to rehab for alcoholism at the age of 26. After a few days there, we went out to our first meeting in the outside world, in the facility's unmarked van. And given all the options in the sexual recovery world, our outside meetings were...Narcotics Anonymous meetings. Right back where I started! For many in all facets of recovery, treatment is the beginning of their sobriety. For me, it was the very end.

The things I do to get off are child's play compared to most of those in sexual recovery. I can't say the meetings haven't helped me but I have found that I am unable to comply with their suggestions. I also bristle at the morality bandied about by men who are not qualified to declare what is right and wrong for anyone. AA's co-founder Bill Wilson wrote on page 69 (yes) of the Big Book, "We do not want to be the arbiter of anyone's sex conduct. We all have sex problems. We'd hardly be human if we didn't."

I drifted from the meetings without making a clear decision to do so. I've been in a relationship for over two years and I feel happy, virile and loved. At this point, I am healthier—at least sexually—than they would have me believe in the five sexual recovery groups' rooms. And from what I hear, I'm definitely happier.

Of course that doesn't mean I stopped all the questionable behavior—after all, I still like the high.

Morty Finklestein is a pseudonym for a programmer in New York.
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