Essay Newsletter - SA’s Meeting in Print
Deaf, Sober, and Happy
[Originally published in Essay 2014 #3]
My name is Pat and I’m a sexaholic. Last December I celebrated 17 years as a member of the SA Fellowship and 17 years of SA sobriety. I feel so blessed.
As a deaf person, I speak with my hands. American Sign Language (ASL) is my first language, but through SA, I have become comfortable reading and writing in English. Today I’m grateful to be able to share my story with our worldwide fellowship. I pray that my story will give hope to others—and especially to other deaf members like me.
From an early age, I was filled with fear. I don’t know why. Perhaps it was because my dad was away in the military during World War II, and I was the only male living at home with mom and three sisters. Maybe my deafness caused me to be scared—but I’m not the only deaf person in my family. I come from a family of seven kids, and five of us were born deaf. All I know is that I grew up feeling constantly scared.
I remember one time, when I was around four, that I was lying on the living room rug while my mother and her hearing friends were sitting around chatting. I thought all their eyes were looking at me. I thought they were talking about me, and I started crying. I was scared.
As a child, I had a baby blanket that I carried constantly. I carried it everywhere; it became my Higher Power. My mother and sisters would tease me about the blanket, and after a couple of years, my mom hid it. I looked everywhere for that blanket, but I never I found it. I was lost without my blanket.
I grew up in Kansas, in a religious family. We attended church every Sunday and every holy day. At school I was expected to attend a church-related class one evening per week. I thought I knew who God was.
From the age of five, I attended a state-sponsored residential school for deaf kids. It was a boarding school; boys lived in in one dorm and girls in the other. The school had strict rules about things such as making our beds daily, standing properly in line, and following meal etiquette. If we broke a rule, we lost canteen privileges and the right to leave campus. Once I went to a classmate’s home for the weekend without permission, so I lost the privilege to go home for awhile. For some reason, I assumed that God was punitive like my dormitory supervisors, and that’s how I learned to be afraid of God.
I always felt awkward and frightened around the other boys. I felt that I did not fit in. Still, in spite of my fears and the penalties, I still loved my school.
I tried to cover my insecurities with achievements. I was smart and I got good grades, and those accomplishments helped me feel worthy. I was also involved in acting. I must have been pretty good at it, because I was frequently asked to recite poetry, tell stories, or appear in school plays. So that became my niche. I felt good about myself when I was on stage. But in real life I usually felt awkward. I felt especially awkward participating in sports, and my father—who had been a high school track star—was disappointed in my limited sports abilities.
When I was around nine or 10, one of the older boys came to me and asked, “Do you want to play dirty?” I didn’t know what he meant; I thought he was asking if I wanted to play outside in the dirt. I didn’t want him to think that I was a sissy so I said, “Yes.” He said, “Fine. I’ll see you in your dorm room tonight at 10.” I had no idea what he was talking about.
That night, he and two other boys came to me in my bed at ten. They taught me how to masturbate and how to touch them. I was quite uncomfortable at first, but at the same time I thought, “Wow, this feels great!” It was a pleasurable experience and it became my new Higher Power. However, because of my religious training, I also felt terrible guilt and shame. I wanted something to satisfy me, but I believed that what I was doing was wrong. And because this was not something I could be open about, I suffered alone.
After awhile, I began feeling that I had been used by these boys, so I decided it was my turn to use others. I didn’t know how to lust after girls because they were in the other dormitory. So in the dark of night I would find other boys. I began to live a double life. My evening activities left me tired, but I was still a good student; I did quite well in school.
I eventually became so ashamed of my behavior that I had to find boys outside of my school to act out with. I would meet hearing boys at camp and act out with them. I also visited them at their homes. Sometimes I would ride the bus for at least 20 miles just to have my desire satisfied, and then I would ride back home. I felt very ashamed because I could not escape this thing. I think that was the beginning of my depression.
As a teenager, I wanted to leave the school I attended in Kansas and attend a religious school for the deaf in Cincinnati. I assumed that the school was a holy place. I wanted to escape the double life, and I thought that in a new location the struggle would disappear. But my parents said no. They did not know that I was hurting inside.
So I stayed in Kansas. I became valedictorian of my class and passed the college entrance exams. I received many honors and awards. I looked great on the outside, but I did not feel good on the inside. I wanted to be holy; I wanted a different life. I was tired of chasing sexual satisfaction. But I could not stop.
So in 1958 I went off to college in Washington, DC. I was ready for a new start. My addiction was worsening, but I thought that if I was in a new environment, I wouldn’t have this problem anymore. Yet two weeks later I was back to my sane old pattern.
I did not act out on campus, but I would lie to my friends and say that I was going to see a play or a movie. I would actually go see the play or movie until halfway through, and then I’d leave to search for men in parks or department stores. From time to time, a policeman would approach me and tell me to leave. So I would leave, and then 30 minutes later I was back searching for another man. I was insane.
In 1969 I moved to Connecticut to become a professional actor. I thought, “I’ll have a new life now. I’ll start my life over and be holy and pure.” After two or three weeks, however, the insanity returned and I was back to acting out.
In 1979 I moved to Rochester to take a teaching job and to study to become a deacon in my church. I thought that maybe this would cure me, but my acting out pattern continued for the next 17 years. As I became increasingly frustrated with my struggles with lust, I finally reached the point where I was tired of fighting. I went to see a priest as well as a psychologist for help—but it seemed that nobody could help me solve my problem.
The priest referred me to a church-based counseling center that used some of the AA Twelve Steps, and they helped people get connected to Twelve Step programs. I started attending a program once a week. After I’d attended faithfully for three or four months, the facilitator cornered me one day and said, “You’re a deacon. Are you practicing celibacy? There’s more to your story. Tell me more.” I answered, “Oh no, I’m just fine.” Then she said, “Your face and body language are showing discomfort. There’s more to this story.” I was in complete denial. I repeated, “Oh no, I’m fine.” But after I left, her words were all I could think about for the next week.
The next week we had a different facilitator—and he asked me the same question! That was a turning point. I decided to tell him and the group the truth about my life-long struggles. So I explained about my sexual activities—all the years since I was a little kid. I thought the group would have a collective faint, but everyone just sat there and listened. The date was December 21, 1996.
After that they called a man from upstairs to come down and talk with me. I wondered, “Who is this strange little man? What is he here for?” Then the two of us went into another room, where we used a computer to type back and forth to each other so we could communicate.
He told me he was part of a group of people who have the same addiction that I have—sexaholism. He asked me, “Do you want to give up lust? Do you want to surrender?” I said, “I cannot imagine how that is possible. Can I do that?” I was full of fear, but I thought that maybe this man could help me, and maybe I could stop the struggle. I thought to myself, “In a few days it will be Christmas. Why not? This will be my Christmas gift to myself.” So I said, “Yes, I’m willing,” And he became my sponsor.
The struggle inside me was not yet resolved, but this man gave me tools. He helped me through the Twelve Steps. This was quite difficult at first because I’m deaf and he could not sign at all, so we had to type back and forth in English (which I had trouble understanding). But even though our mode of communication was awkward, the program somehow worked. This man was quite helpful and I began to understand the addiction.
At first I told him that I struggled when I was driving down a street and would see someone, and my eyes would go to that person. He said, “Then look away, and turn it over to your Higher Power.” I said, “I can’t do that! I’m deaf; I need to use my eyes to look around!” But I took in what he said, and I started to pray whenever I saw a lust object. That’s when I began to surrender voyeurism.
In May 2007 I went to an open SA meeting in Rochester and brought along a friend who is an interpreter. I was amazed to learn that I’m not the only person who struggles like I do. Several men spoke about their struggles with sex, as well as their recovery from the obsession, so I decided that I would share my own story. At that moment I got a bit of freedom like I had never experienced before.
As I gradually withdrew from lust, I became motivated to attend meetings and be part of the fellowship. But the local SA group wasn’t ready for me. Some members were uncomfortable because we would need a sign-language interpreter to facilitate our communication, and the interpreter was not an SA member. They struggled with this for awhile. Then the group had to decide how to pay for an interpreter. That took more time. For eight months I waited. Then on August 15, 1997, I was finally invited to my first closed SA meeting with an interpreter.
My new life of sobriety was a challenge. It was not easy to withdraw from the old life and avoid the familiar places: the bars, the parks, t or the bathrooms. But for the first time I had hope.
I remember looking at the White Book at first and struggling to understand it. It was difficult for me to read because it is not written in sign language! But as I went to meetings and interpreters signed the readings for me, I began to understand. Then I thought, “I’ve got to go to more meetings to get more of that.”
When I first came to SA I thought, “I don’t want to be with these dirty people!” But the more I went to meetings, the more I realized that I was in a room filled with entirely loveable people. Today I feel comfortable with everyone, because no matter what language we use, and no matter what the nature of our addiction is, we all have a common problem.
We also have unity. Unity keeps us together. Without this common understanding we have with one another, I could not survive. SA is the place where I can be myself and express myself, and I can truly listen to the pain of others.
Every morning when I wake up, I say, “Thank you, God! Thank you for this new day of sobriety, and for one more day of my life.” I meditate on Steps One, Two, and Three daily. Step One reminds me that I’m powerless. Step Two reminds me that there is a Power greater than myself Who can restore me to sanity. Step Three reminds me that I can I turn my life and my will over to Him.
For me, Steps Four through Ten are love in action—and this takes practice! It’s not easy, but I’ve learned that when I make a mistake, I can admit it and then apologize. I no longer need to hide. This enables me to keep my relationships healthy.
I’ve become a student of our SA literature. I get together with a friend weekly and we write back and forth to each other on the computer. We read the literature together, sharing, doing the best we can.
That little man who brought me to my first surrender has been my sponsor this whole time. Even though he’s hearing and I’m deaf, he’s helped me develop an in-depth understanding of our literature. I’ve always looked up to him. We’ve become traveling companions, and the more time that has gone by, the more we’ve become equals.
What works for me today is going to meetings, seeing my sponsor regularly, praying and meditating, and doing service. My service has included chairing a marathon meeting, serving as a coffee maker, working with deaf sponsees, attending other interpreted Twelve Step meetings, and sharing my story. These tools have helped me to feel comfortable with myself. Because of SA I can enjoy being a deacon in my church, a college professor (now retired), an actor, a tutor, and—most of all—myself.
I travel frequently and have attended professional conferences all over the country. I would love to attend an SA International Convention one day. At times I feel sad that I don’t have access to SA meetings in other cities, or to regional or international conventions, because there are no interpreters. I pray that one day that will change. I want to reach out to SA members across the nation and around the world, especially to other deaf members.
I feel lucky that I ended up in Rochester. Who knows? This might be one of the few places in the world where an interpreter was available so that I could join the fellowship of SA. I’m so grateful to the groups here who offer interpreted meetings every week or month.
As I begin my 18th year of sobriety I look forward to what will happen next. And I’m happy to be traveling with all of you on the road of happy destiny.
—Pat G., Rochester, NY