I acted out with pornography, masturbation, prostitution, adultery, promiscuity, sexualizing men, women, children, animals and objects, voyeurism and exhibitionism, romantic fantasy, sexual intrigue, and emotional affairs. And by the grace of God and the program of Sexaholics Anonymous, I haven’t had to do any of that stuff for over 27 years and for that I am incredibly grateful.

I actually came into recovery on Dec 10, 1990. I was 12-stepped by someone in another “S” fellowship. Her name was Virginia. One of the things she said to me I’ll never forget. It was “You’ve been out of your body for a long time.” I didn’t know what she meant by that, but as I progressed in recovery, I did come to understand. That I was literally not inhabiting the feeling part of my body. I was somewhere in my head. I was out of my body. I was in my head and all I could feel below my neck was numb, or lust. That was about it. Maybe rage sometimes–rage, numbness, and lust. There was not anything like the kind of spectrum of feelings, the rainbow of feelings, which I can experience today. Why was that?

My earliest memory of the age of two was being hit because I’d hurt myself and I was crying. My earliest sexual memories were at the age of five. I’ve got a number of other memories from my childhood which indicate that I was suffering from post-traumatic stress about several things that had happened. I had a lot of feelings, a lot of stuff going on inside me which wasn’t directly connected to anything that was happening right now but with stuff that happened back in my childhood.

And so once I had come into recovery and put the lust and the alcohol and the food down, I had to start the difficult process of healing the feelings. Sometimes this is called the second-stage recovery. And that’s really what I’m going to be sharing with you.

I spent most of my childhood dodging my feelings in various different ways. I developed techniques for not feeling stuff. Feinting, dissociating, vacating the current reality. Just going somewhere in my head. Going off into fantasy, or thinking about something. Another favorite was just going numb. Particularly helpful to numb out my feelings would be food, sex, and later on alcohol as well. These were all good ways of not feeling whatever it was that I might otherwise have been feeling. Rage was a particular favorite of mine. I was bullied in my home, I was beaten a lot, and when I discovered rage, my father and mother knew that I was going to kill them if they touched me. I had tapped a source of power which I could then use in a very offensive way to protect myself. People would stay away from me at school because it was like the rage was pouring out of me. I was a very very angry person.

When I came into recovery and started to uncover my history of childhood sexual abuse, this rage suddenly came up–huge gushers of rage. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t comfortable. I didn’t know what to do with it. I had no emotional intelligence. I spent six weeks in a Treatment Centers trauma resolution unit. I remember the first group therapy session. I sat down in a circle with the group members and started to shake. Before I knew what, I was down on the floor and they were all piled on top of me and I was actually reliving an experience from my childhood, which I’d had no idea had happened. It’s very likely that as a young child I was shaken by an adult, probably more than once, and that was what was happening at that moment. I was reliving a memory. I remember the group therapist saying to me that I went into a trauma bubble and that there were probably lots more of those down there which was interesting information. It began to explain to me why I would have these strange reactions to things. 

Well, this was a difficult time for me and particularly the whole business of being sexually abused, when that came to the surface. I remember the woman who had 12 stepped me into recovery said, if anything ever comes up about your childhood that’s upsetting, please call me. I had actually tried to call her on a number of occasions. Not that I was upset because I just wanted to say “Hi” to her, and every time I’d call, her phone would be busy. But this time when the memory of the sex abuse came up, I got through immediately. And I think she saved my life in that moment, because I could feel the shame from the sexual abuse coming over me like a tidal wave and pushing me down and I could feel myself going down and down. There was a deep deep bottomless depression and suicidal thoughts. It was like I could feel that pressure, and she told me to get angry, really angry. And so I did. I got angry and somehow that helped me to break through this particular difficult time.

I had two other huge outpourings of rage before that memory was sort of cleansed, and now I can think about that. I can think about what happened, or what may have happened. I can think of my abuser and I can feel complete forgiveness for them. 

So in early recovery, the first few years, especially the first year in recovery, I cried most days. I hadn’t hadn’t really cried at all. I had been an Army officer, and it wasn’t the done thing to cry, so I stuffed it all down and that’s what I’d been doing, stuffing it down, numbing it, stuffing it with food, with sex, or whatever in order to keep it down. And now it’s like I couldn’t do that anymore. Now it’s just coming to the surface. That chaotic phase didn’t last forever, I’m pleased to say, thanks to the process of working the Steps. I once heard it described by an old-timer from Nashville who said it’s like emptying a dustbin.

The process of doing Steps 4-10, the seven key steps in the middle of our program, is like emptying out the dustbin, cleaning it up, sorting through the rubbish and picking out one or two good bits to put back in. Then you’ve got a clean can for when you’re going to need a clean can. When am I going to need one? When something hits me hard emotionally!

I want to just mention the key tool for rage which I found very helpful. It’s not an easy one to use, but it’s like this. Rage is a combination of high level fear and high-level shame and these two things are supporting each other and we go from there into rage. And once there, I don’t think there’s any blue sky. The way to break this is to ask yourself, “What’s the shame?” And when you do that, the whole rage thing collapses. Today I’ve got this clean can, so I can have feelings now.

I also had to learn the difference between a thought and a feeling. You might think that’s pretty obvious? But no, it’s not, because I used to say things like “I feel that it’s a nice day today”, “I feel that you’re being unkind to me”, “I feel abandoned”, ”You made me feel sad”. All of these are lies, they are thoughts, not feelings.

I had to learn that my feelings are things that happen in my body, not between my ears. I had to understand that pain is something I feel in my body. Anger, sadness, fear, shame and guilt are things I feel in my body and I had to learn to identify them and to have a fairly short list of feeling words. The other things that I thought I was feeling, like self pity, loneliness, fear of angry women and lust, are actually going on in between my ears.

I tell my sponsees they are not allowed to say “I feel that ”, “I feel like ”, “I feel anything” with ‘ed’ at the end. Or “you made me feel”, because I need to sort out, and I need to help them sort out, what’s going on in the head, and what’s going on down below. So, a simple list of feelings and getting used to identifying them, and to ban from our vocabulary certain phrases. To say “I feel that you’re a nice person” is actually a lie. “I imagine you’re a nice person”, “I think you’re a nice person”, but it’s not a feeling.

Another aspect of emotional sobriety for me is to understand the difference between a feeling and something like love, which is a choice. So love is a decision. It’s not a feeling once I choose to love somebody, once I choose to give, to take the actions of love towards them. The feelings that I have in the past associated with love fall away.

But if I choose to resent, to be unforgiving, to take the actions of hatred, then the feelings follow as well. And I feel hatred and I feel miserable. So, understanding that some things that I’ve been calling feelings, like love, are actually acts of the will, and therefore, they’re really centered in the heart.

So I have thoughts and defects that are centered in acts of the will and I have these emotions that go on elsewhere in my body. And just being able to differentiate between them is very helpful. I’ve been through this change of emotional childhood and now I’m growing into a sort of emotional adulthood and this is perfect. Thanks for letting me share.


A fellow from the UK