[Originally published in edited form in Essay December 2017]
On July 3rd, 2004, I left a family holiday party early to go to my first meeting. I even changed from shorts to long pants as I knew shorts were not supposed to be worn at meetings. My family assumed I was going to a church meeting, and I did nothing to correct them.
I headed over to the open meeting place, a drug rehab center in a seedy part of town. It was a little unnerving, but I steeled myself and went inside, a little late of course. I arrived to a room full of a dozen men. No women, which I had been warned would probably be the case. The men were introducing themselves and listing all the ways they acted on their addiction. As they did so my eyes got huge, thinking that these guys were totally depraved. What was I doing here?? Could I escape???
While I was silently squirming in my seat deciding what to do I heard someone start to talk about living a double life. I suddenly listened, as this is just what I had done. As a child I had been shy, and my family was religious, going to Mass every week.No one, including my parents, knew that I was sexualized from an early age.In high school, I had no sense of boundaries or propriety when it came to guys. I just wanted attention and affection. I thought I hit the jackpot when a senior took an interest in me. Sex came with the package and I had no idea how to say no, or even that I could or should consider doing so. It became my year of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll. At the end of that year I was at the end of my rope, and I surrendered for the first time, saying, “OK, God, I give up. I’ll try it your way.” After that I figured that I was set. No more problems with sex in dating.
But it wasn’t so easy. Even though I was very involved in church and prayed, I still didn’t know how to say no. I still craved attention and affection. And so it continued, as I would live on the straight and narrow for a time and then go off on a binge like a wild woman. Much of that time I was active in ministry and pursuing theological studies. I was hungry for God and eager to serve. But I still had a hole that I didn’t know how to fill. I completed my M.A. in Theology and landed a leadership job in a church in my hometown. Little did I realize how lonely and isolated I would be.
I was a sitting duck when I connected with my best friend from high school and she convinced me to set up on-line dating profiles. I got immediately hooked on all the attention and it wasn’t long before I had my first sexual encounter since coming back home. I was so hooked that I squashed down any thoughts of impropriety or hypocrisy. Yet, I was absolutely shocked that I had so easily violated my values, even after taking a course in grad school that exposed me to the most beautiful understanding of human sexuality I’d ever come across. I was crushed that I was so easily led astray.
This continued for two years, and by the end I literally thought I was going to crack up from the pressure of living two divergent lives. And, from the pressure of keeping my secret life hidden. So when someone in the meeting started talking about the insanity of the double life he led, I sat up and took notice. That was so me!
I could relate to something in every share that day. It was such a relief to hear what I kept in the dark being brought to the light. By the end of the meeting I was hooked – this time on the claims that recovery was possible, that sex was truly optional. There was hope that maybe I wasn’t morally defective. Just maybe I wasn’t doomed to keep repeating these patterns, these binges of unexplainable, crazy, self-defeating behavior.
One member spent an hour with me on the phone explaining the program to me. When he went over the sobriety definition and asked if I was willing to follow it, I responded with an enthusiastic, “Yes! that’s just what I’m looking for.” I’m sure he fell off his chair!
I asked to talk with a member right after the meeting.There was some debate among the men as to who was able to meet with a woman.There were a couple of men who were able to talk to me and they encouraged me to go to the Saturday meeting, as that was where the other women mostly went. I found out that meeting was at 8:00 in the morning and I reeled. But I had to be willing to go to any lengths, and this was my first test of being willing to do so!
I went the next Saturday and saw just one other woman at first, so I clung to her. I asked her right after the meeting to be my sponsor and she hesitated as she had just returned to the program after a relapse. But, she must have seen the desperation in my eyes, as she agreed to sponsor me. I was so grateful. I called her often when I was squirrely, confused, or miserable. I cried a lot those first few months, going through the intense withdrawal of addictive, codependent relationships as well as the fleeting high of comforting myself. I knew I was making progress when I started to call her BEFORE I did something that endangered my sobriety, rather than after.
We began to go through the Steps. I realized they laid out the spiritual disciplines I always wanted, but which seemed to elude me. I listened and shared at meetings, learning to focus on the solution. My sponsor encouraged me to take on service work and I did, first in my home group, which was that 8 am Saturday meeting, funny enough! My sponsor and I started meeting with the women newcomers, helping orient them to this largely male fellowship.
And I came to experience what my sponsor already knew: that I didn’t lose men at all. Instead I gained a band of brothers. I learned to treat men as fellow human beings, rather than as sex objects to be manipulated. The men in my local fellowship say the same thing about women, appreciating our willingness to be there as the few and the brave. I don’t think bravery has anything to do with it. I was just desperate enough to do whatever it took to stop the vicious cycle I was on and to hope for what my sponsor said every time she introduced herself: that she was “so grateful that I don’t have to live that way anymore.” I say that today.
I have to say, though, that I remember well hearing in those early days the recommendation not to start any new relationships in the first year in order to focus on recovery. I had just come off a two year binge of attention from many, many men, as well as intense codependent relationships with a few of them. It boggled my mind to consider going a whole year without dating! Later I heard a single speaker at my first convention say that for sexaholics, two years was probably a more realistic recommendation. Now I agree! I’m still learning how to have more intimate relationships of any sort. I’ve had some practice at sober dating and realize you need to deal with real issues when you leave sex out of the equation!
SA has made all the difference in helping me make a real, intimate connection with the God of my understanding who has kept me sober for 13 incredible years of amazing grace. I am not two people anymore, but one whole person who is learning to embrace progress, not perfection. Sponsoring women, connecting with women on and offline, and doing service at several different levels of SA’s service structure are ways of giving back in gratitude. I also serve to help ensure that the hand of SA will be there, wherever that may be, for the next poor lost soul who is desperate, but may not realize she’s lost, just as I didn’t. And for that, I am responsible.
Anonymous, Western New York,
Newark “Jersey Strong” convention July, 2017