I am Harvey A, a sexaholic from Nashville Tennessee. My sobriety date is March 8, 1984. I can hardly believe that I am now 80 years old and have been sexually sober for more than 36 years. When I began the SA recovery program, I had a full head of hair that had not yet turned gray. At 80, what hair I have is completely gray. My outward appearance has changed over the past 36 years. But it is the change in my inner self that I want to share with the fellowship today.
My recovery story began when I was 44 years old. I had been married for 23 years. I was the father of four children and I had a successful professional career. Yet, there I was leaving a pornography store, disgusted with myself once again. I felt hopeless. Anonymous sex had become a daily occurrence for me. I knew that I would lose my wife, my children, and my profession – but I was willing to lose it all rather than fight the compulsion one more moment. I no longer could live a double life. I was going to go for it. I would leave my wife and family. No longer care about working in my profession and totally disregard my religious convictions. Within one hour of those feelings of utter defeat and despair, I met the man who had previously, six weeks earlier, informed me about SA. Out of my mouth suddenly came the words “I am ready.”
He handed me the SA brochure. At that time the SA book had not been written. When I read the brochure, I saw myself in it; but I was certain that the stipulation of “no sex with self” could not be accurate. Everyone knew masturbation is a “normal” activity. As I told myself that, I suddenly realized that masturbation was not normal for me. It had become an addiction. This was my moment of clarity. I have remained sexually sober since that moment.
My disease started early. By age 5, I was already masturbating and began playing “Doctor and Nurse” with a neighborhood girl. By age 10, I began fantasizing about my Sunday school teacher and his wife having sex together when I did not even know what “sex” was. At that same age, I attended a day camp, and I remember being mesmerized by naked men I saw in the locker room.
When I was 11 my parents decided to move to another State where I went to school in a neighborhood that was quite hostile to people of my religion. Some boys befriended me and offered me protection but in return I had to be sexual with them. This lasted for about three months and led me to believe that male friendship must include sexual contact.
During my teenage years, I became obsessed with being as sexual as I could with girls I dated . I also had some sexual experimentation with boys my age, especially those who befriended me. From age 14 to 17, I had an incestuous relationship with my male cousin. When I was 15, my bachelor uncle decided I should be initiated into manhood by visiting a prostitute. The experience was a dismal failure sexually for me and added a death blow to my emerging sense of self. I spent the rest of my high school years trying to prove I was sexually adequate with women. The result was sexual obsession with all the girls I dated.
In college, I met my future wife. From the onset, I became sexually obsessed with her. We married when I was 21. I continued to have frequent sex with her to the point that she took me to her gynecologist for medical advice. He told me that I was acting like “a sex maniac”. I thought both of them were crazy to say I was having too frequent sex with my wife. Masturbation in secret continued. I was able to stop masturbating for a few weeks after marriage, but soon after, the secret behavior started again. For the first 12 years of my marriage, there were only a few inappropriate sexual behavior episodes with men, but in fantasy I was unfaithful multiple times. Then one day in the local health club, I discovered promiscuous sex with men. I took to it like a duck to water.
For the next 10 years, my sexual behavior was out of control. I had sex with hundreds of partners, buying sex from both men and women, having multiple “lovers”, practicing group sex, exhibitionism, and voyeurism. I would spend money on my sex partners instead of spending it on my family. This led to financial problems. I was unable to pay for college tuition for two of my youngest four children. This led to tension between my children and myself. I would develop obsessions toward my acting out partners, and I would become possessive, jealous and full of rage. I could not remain faithful to even the people I was being unfaithful with. I put my family and myself in dangerous situations. I brought diseases home to my wife. Time and again, I would cry to my wife, “Never again!” only to succumb once more within hours. I would make oaths to God to stop but soon, I would be acting out again. My addiction took me to the gates of hell, but I could not turn back.
Seven months prior to attending my first SA meeting, I discovered the wonders of 12 Step recovery by attending Alcoholics Anonymous. But, after the AA meeting I would jog down to the pornography shop for anonymous sex. I stopped drinking, but I could not stop acting out. I knew that my acting out would lead to my probable relapse in AA. I could not do my step six and seven, because I was not entirely ready to have God remove all my defects of character. I did not want to stop acting out sexually, but I knew that without progressing in my step work, I could not stay sober from alcohol.
Then one day, after leaving a pornography shop in utter hopelessness, I met, by chance, the same person who had previously informed me about SA and he invited me to my first SA meeting. I was ready. It was just the two of us at that meeting, but I got the message. What has happened since that day is the miracle of sobriety. I really wanted to stop, but stopping the use of my sexual drug was a day-by-day drudgery. We had only one SA meeting a week in Nashville back then. That one night was sacred to me. One day at a time I learned about sobriety. The Sexaholics Anonymous White Book had not been published yet but we had the cherished SA brochure with “The Solution” and “The Problem” – that said it all to me.
People started coming to the meetings, and then people stopped coming. Even my sponsor, the man who founded SA in our community stopped attending since after six months of sobriety he relapsed. As a result of his behavior, he was arrested and was incarcerated for decades. I will never forget that day when I cried to my wife, saying “what will happen to me now that he is gone from the program?” But, somehow, I was able to stay sober.
How did I stay sober back then with no White Book and only one meeting a week? One day at a time, that is how. I would make a contract each day with God. I promised just for the day that I would stay sexually sober. I told God that I could not guarantee tomorrow. I would then ask him to keep me sober for the next 24 hours. I would then commit to staying sober for the next 24 hours. This two-way contract each morning is still a fundamental part of my morning spiritual routine. I learned how to avoid triggers even though that also included my own body. I learned to pray for those people who were triggering for me. I slowly got better.
The first year, I counted 100 people who came and went. We had only two sober people at the end of that year. Thank God I was one of them. Since then, I have watched our fellowship grow to nearly 50 meetings a week with as many as 70 people attending in a meeting. And, our fellowship now includes many members with over 25 years of sobriety. Three of our members now have over 30 years of sobriety.
But, in my first year, something was still missing. After 11 months of sobriety I began suspecting what it was. Lust was still there, camouflaged as sex in marriage. I realized I needed a period of sexual abstinence from my spouse. I thought about that idea, but finally I asked my wife. She agreed. After six weeks of abstinence, I told her I was ready to resume a sexual relationship. With anger in her eyes and anger in her voice she said, “I’m not”.
Why was this a shock to me? This was a woman I had sexually disrespected for 24 years. In response to my anger over her resisting the end of our abstinence, my sponsor said “You’re an addict. You cannot be the one to know when to stop your abstinence. Let God talk through your wife”. God did, almost two years later. Thus, for me, it took 21 months of total sexual abstinence for that part of my illness to subside.
My sexaholic mentality still would flare up periodically. I would notice people on the street walking together and automatically wonder if they are lovers. I would observe people looking at me, and for a moment, I would think they were trying to seduce me. These thoughts began to happen less frequently and eventually, rarely reappeared. When they do occur, I pray “God, whatever it is I am looking for in that person, may I find it in you”. I thank God when these thoughts appear because they remind me that I am still sick . How dangerous it would be for me to ever think I was cured!
Over time, I have continued to have imperfect victories over my character defects. These include greed, envy, and control, to mention only a few. The miracle today is that I am more aware of them when they appear which permits me to utilize the steps on them. My sponsor would say that I’m better than I used to be, but not as well as I’m going to get. Through SA, I’ve learned new tools that help me deal with my defects. Step 10 always works when I use it. To admit my faults to myself and to another human being brings me an immediate relief and making amends quickly helps dramatically. A shared burden is half as heavy.
Miracles have happened. I no longer have preconceptions about my gender orientation. I came to realize it was not an issue with being gay, straight, or bisexual. It was an issue of addiction. Once I put my drug away, those issues seemed to vanish, one day at a time.
Miracles are also happening in my family. My wife and I are more comfortable with each other than we have ever been. We try not to work each other’s programs. We have traveled a lot together, sharing the message of our recovery with SA groups all over the world. We look forward to these times together and enjoy each other‘s company. Our travels have taken us to people and their families hurting from sex addiction in countries such as Poland, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark, Israel, England, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and all over the United States. Who would have ever thought that God‘s will for me, a low bottom drunk, would be to carry the SA message throughout the world?
A few months ago we left Nashville and moved to a retirement community in Florida. I am making living amends to my wife today with this move. She is so delighted to be here and I have been able to expand my vision of service to others to include the elderly in our building.
This is how I stay sober today. It’s simple. I do the same things today I did when I first came into the program. I get on my knees each morning and evening to give my day to my higher power. I pray for It’s will for me. I speak on the phone with people from the fellowship throughout the day. I do a great deal of sponsorship, and whatever the results are for them I still get help for my program by giving away what has been so freely given to me. I make a two-way contract with God each day. I ask God to keep me sexually sober that day and I tell God I will stay sexually sober that day. I make a gratitude list each day to keep me currently connected to God. Over the years I have increased my list from 20 items each morning to 30 items each morning. I try to attend a recovery meeting at least five days a week. Now it is even easier because of all the zoom meetings we have because of the COVID problems. Over the past few years I have meditated approximately an hour a day. I also try to read at least one page of recovery material a day.
I had to also learn to let go of my secret life. In my active disease I lived a double life. In recovery I can no longer afford to live a double life concerning my recovery. I had to be willing to break anonymity to help other hurting sexaholics. I had to learn what my sponsor taught me – to tell the simple truth. When appropriate, I share that I am in a fellowship for my lust recovery. I do not have to get any more specific than that until further questions are asked and then I can make a decision to answer them or to say I am too uncomfortable at this time to speak about it. I have had to learn how to appropriately share my program with family members. My sponsor would say addicts either lie or they get diarrhea of the mouth by saying too much. I had to learn to just answer the questions I am being asked and maintain appropriate boundaries with what I’m sharing.
I had to learn to let go of shame. To me it is the enemy of the first Step. If I truly believe I have a disease, which I wholeheartedly do believe, then shame has no part in my life. I might have done “bad” things but it does not make me bad in my essence. I have had to learn that I am a sick man getting well, not a bad man getting good. When I lived in the Sin model I could not recover. When I accepted the disease model of addiction I began to have significant recovery. I also had to learn about forgiveness and not let my disease blame people, places and things for my behavior. I have also had to learn that God speaks through members of the program. Therefore, every meeting is important for me, even though I might have the most sobriety at that meeting. I never know who God picked that day to teach me another spiritual lesson.
I have also had to learn to not let lust enter my marriage bed. For me lust is potentially as dangerous whether it’s with my wife, outside my marriage, or with myself. I am not allergic to sex with my wife; but I will be in major problems if I forget that I am allergic to lust with my wife. As my sponsor would say “To thine own self be true”. It has taken many years for my wife and me to work towards a healthier sexual relationship. In our geriatric years, we have finally found a compatible frequency and style for sexual intimacy.
My children and I are getting along so much better. When they were younger they would joke with us, saying “Are you going to one of those ‘lust-buster’ conferences again?” Now my children are older and they are all married. My daughter-in-laws know that I’m in the program. They have even asked us to help friends of theirs who are having problems by sharing our experience, strength and hope.
Last but not least is the miracle of finding the God of my understanding. This God, who watched me indulge in all those lowlife sex activities, and loved me so much that he brought me to this wonderful fellowship of SA. My God is a good friend today and I can talk to him anytime or any place. I occasionally lapse back into the belief of a God of retribution, who is out to get me. When that happens, I ask God to remove that thought from me. I now know that there is nothing I can do to keep God from loving me.
As I have continued to practice the 11th Step, I have gotten a deeper understanding of my relationship to the God of my understanding. I have discovered that this understanding does not stay stagnant. It tends to become deeper within me than I had ever expected. My concept of God today has even changed from the early days of recognizing Its love for me. It has developed into not only a loving relationship but into a much more universal loving relationship. I see my God now, metaphorically, as the ocean and I am a wave. I am totally made of this ocean but I am not the ocean. I have begun to see that other people are other waves of the ocean. When I look at the crest of the wave , each wave looks different. If I look down towards the base of the waves, I see that all waves are made of the ocean. Our crest might look different but our substance is the same. This is for me the core of the 12th tradition of anonymity. We are all made of the same substance of God. We are not different. We are joined not by our race, creed or religion but by us all being “sex drunks” made of the same substance of God. It is much easier for me with this concept to accept that tolerance and love is our code.
Over the past few years another aspect of the 11th Step has been brought home to me. I have realized that meditation is as important for me as prayer. In the past I have only seen the words “sought through prayer” from Step 11 and not seen the other 50 percent of that phrase. I now meditate an hour a day most days. The 11th Step has taught me through meditation about mindfulness. I can now more easily observe my thoughts rather than participate in them.
What is the true test of my sobriety? For me it is not acting out on lust even when people could never find out. The first thought is on God – that is how I was made. The second thought is on me. It is very important that I don’t live with fantasies in my head. If you hang around the barber shop long enough you will eventually get a haircut. Sexual fantasies are a “no, no” in my program. It is very easy, in my opinion, for people to fool them selves about what is sex with self. In my own program I would even consider watching pornography a form of sex with self.
One day I asked our founder Roy K, why he kept the definition so vague concerning the definition of sex with self. I was very surprised with the answer he gave me. He looked me straight in the eye and said “This is not a religion.” How I interpreted this was the same way a sponsor said to me – “To thine own self be true.” Each of us has to learn to be honest with ourselves. In Chapter 5 of the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book there are five paragraphs preceding the listing of the 12 Steps. The first paragraph of the five mentions the importance of being honest with ourselves.
My recovery is like a three-legged stool: the 12 Steps of our program, the God of my understanding, and the fellowship of SA (including meetings and sponsorship). The stool is sturdy and safe on its three legs. If any one leg breaks, the stool will topple. If I use all three legs simultaneously I am on solid ground. When I omit any of the three, my program is unsteady.
I have been sober, one day at a time, since March 8, 1984. One day at a time, I want to continue to stay sober. How else can I get to keep all I have found in the fellowship? I have found recovery in SA. I have found friendship. I have found a loving God. I have truly found my home. Each morning I make a decision to accept the gift of sobriety, and each day I receive it again. And as my sponsor would say,“ It only gets better”.
Harvey A., Florida, USA