My Drug of Choice Was Sex

By Africa Jackson 01/08/17

Slut? Maybe. But addict? Was I addicted? Is sex a drug? More importantly, could I stop?

Is Sex A Drug

Nine-year-old me tiptoed to reach the counter at the corner store so I could slide my mother’s note to the cashier. I was a skinny girl with a retainer. He shook his head in disappointment. I gave him the money my mother had shoved into my boot. He looked for her favorite—Kool Mild 100s in the little green box.

I made it to our block, walked up the concrete steps, and opened our screen door. Growing up, there were cigarette ads with happy, young, thin smokers. My mother was the exact opposite. Her hacking cough could be heard from down the street. She was 75 pounds overweight and almost always sad. My mother was also beautiful and kind.

Some people think that addiction is just this unlucky thing people fall into. Others suggest that it’s genetic—that the uncontrollable desire to escape our reality by perpetually connecting ourselves to something that destroys us, is part of our DNA. All I knew for sure was that I wasn’t an addict.

Every night my mother sipped a little something. Her favorite was E&J. The honey colored liquor contrasted beautifully with the teal tinted bottle. Her graveyard of glass containers was tragic. Back then, I never understood why she kept the empty bottles. Why surround yourself with your failures?

By the time I had sex with the tenth guy, I understood. It was cathartic to see all my mistakes and make false promises to do better.

Let’s rewind, though.

The first time I had sex was in middle school. Let’s call him One. We used a condom and it hurt. The second guy was better. Three liked me to be rough. I had Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, and Nine in the same semester. I surpassed Ten in the kinky department.

Eleven was more open. I told him to go down on me and it was exciting to see him do it without hesitation. I felt powerful, but soon I was bored again. Twelve (junior year in high school) had a car so we had sex all over the city. Thirteen would panic and pull out early, so he irritated me.

The next ten were a blur. Sometimes I used condoms, sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes I scared them. I scared myself. I remember thinking: this must be what it feels like when people cut themselves. The only thing that stopped me from going even further over the edge was the resurgence of my father. I got a phone as a graduation gift. During the ceremony, I was playing snake when I got my first text. It was from my mother.

“Please be careful, they try to take your virginity. Don’t get pregnant.”

While I thought about telling her that I was well past a birds and bees discussion, I saw a tall, lanky man arguing with her in the audience.

There my father was, a disappointment in a dingy button-up shirt, spouting inaudible nonsense. I hadn’t seen him in years. My grandfather used to take me to the track to talk trash about him. While my grandfather gambled away the rent money that my mother and grandmother had scraped together, he told me that my father chose dope over us.

There’s this Temptations song called “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.” I think of him every time I hear it.

Papa was a rolling stone

Wherever he laid his hat was his home

And when he died, all he left us was alone

My father still hasn’t died (miraculously), but he was more than proficient at leaving us.

I helped my mother into bed after she drank a whole fifth of E&J to “celebrate the first college student in our family.” That night I went to some club, had sex with some guy, and got some rest. In the morning I thought about seeing my father. I wasn’t worried about ending up like him...I worried about ending up with someone like him.

My grades stayed up in college. I got more scholarships, my family was happy and I didn’t complain, but I was in pain. The only thing that helped me make it to the next day was sex. The freakier, the better, because when it ended, I felt like nothing. The cycle of fucking and fronting like I was fine became exhausting. No one noticed.

Sophomore year in college, my uncle was released from prison. He was in recovery and doing well for about three hours. I left work to pick up my mother so she could collect her brother from an alley. That wasn’t me. No one would ever find me in an alley.

Slut? Maybe. But addict? Was I addicted? More importantly, could I stop?

My father smoked, popped, and snorted anything he could find and destroyed my mother. That was addiction. But I wasn’t addicted. I took care of addicts. I wasn’t an addict.

Conveniently, my vice was never really considered an addiction to most people, so I didn’t confront it. Soon, I fell in love with Thirty-nine. He loved me the way I needed, but he called me out on my issues so I left him. I cried for a month, then found a random guy. Forty was aggressive and dismissive. When we danced, he forced my face close to his. He was my temporary enclave. Our first time was at my place. The second time, he showed up during my night shift without asking. He picked me up from behind the desk. It was sexy. We went to the laundry room. I was turned on, but I didn’t want to lose my job. I smiled and told him “later” before getting down off the washer. Forty put me back on the washer, kissing my neck. I could hear someone coming down the stairs and I asked him to stop. He wouldn’t. I realized how massive his shoulders were and the terror of that revelation must have been all over my face because he backed up for a second. He lifted my skirt to go down on me. It wasn’t good and halfway through, he vomited all over both of us.

There’s no way I could have fought him off if he tried to rape me. I called my mother crying on the drive to her house. In the morning I made her breakfast.

“You ready to tell me what happened?”

I couldn’t hold it in anymore. Everything came out in snotty sobs. I confessed my sins at the altar of my mother’s hands...

“I need help.”

Our remaining conversation was us crying and apologizing to each other. The next week I set up a campus counseling appointment and missed it. I went to church and rolled my eyes at the concept of redemption. I made another appointment and showed up late. I barely listened and I wasn’t honest with the guy about why I was there. The self-inflicted sabotage was real. The next semester I walked in the counseling office with no appointment. A short brown-skinned woman smiled and asked why I was there.

“I’m a hot mess.”

“ long did it take you to become a hot mess?”

I laughed. “My whole life I guess.”

“You didn’t become a hot mess overnight, so it won't change overnight.”

That made more sense than the lies I told myself. The next visit, she asked if I felt like less of a mess. I told her no. She asked me to journal every time I felt like a hot mess. We argued about whether I was evil. She helped me acknowledge what I ignored: using sex to escape was both dangerous and ineffective. My homework was to abstain. No time limit, no judgment. I had sex right after the meeting. And the next day. After that, though, I did fairly well. I read my journal entries to her and she suggested I take an anger management class. In class, I met a woman who swore by yoga, so I did that too. One of the guys in yoga class boxed, and I started training with him. At first, I just wanted to get him naked, but then I went to train without him. I still felt bouts of hopelessness, but the counselor developed coping strategies with me. She was my saving grace.

So what does sex addiction recovery look like? For other addictions, it means completely abstaining from the substance. For me, it’s about reflection. I have to reflect more about why I choose to have sex and catch myself when I’m just doing it to escape. It took moving across the country and having a child with an abusive man, but I’ve been abstinent for a while. I accept myself—past included. After years of therapy, writing, forgiveness, bruises, and tears, I was finally able to sit down with my family and reintroduce myself as the imperfect addict I am.

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