Yet Strangely Content
I was 42 years old when I first heard the phrase Sexual Addiction. I had just been through the catastrophic collapse of a second marriage, and a second career. In response to this I had fled to a New Age community in the north of Scotland, and was just about to dive headlong into career three and marriage three. The impact of these two words on me was profound. My mind went into a spin. I had difficulty standing upright. Walking in a straight line was impossible.
I had just been comprehensively 12th stepped by a couple who were visiting from London. They shared their experience of sexual addiction, being “sex and love addicts” and introduced me to a novel concept – sexual sobriety. I identified and made the commitment to four self defined “bottom lines” – No pornography, no masturbation, no sex outside a committed relationship, and no relationship for the foreseeable future. We started a meeting in the north of Scotland, I got stuck into step work, went to just about any meeting I could find in any fellowship, got a step sponsor from AA, uncovered some experiences of childhood sexual abuse, spent 6 weeks in treatment in the US, did loads and loads of therapy. And for four years, by the grace of God I was sober.
By the end of my forth year of sobriety, I had become something of an “S” fellowship guru. I knew everything there was to know about my ways of acting out, and why I had sexual addicition. My recovery model was “find out who you are and be that person”, so I spent a lot of time in therapy but, incidentally, found very little of any real worth. I parted company with my first sponsor, and got myself ready for a relapse.
The disease is cunning, so it easily found the chink in my spiritual armour. I came to the conclusion that, after 4 years, it was time to let go of my 4th bottom line – no relationship for the foreseeable future. This then left me free to engage in a self-defined “committed relationship”, which, of course, I promptly did. Within a few months I was in the grip of an addictive relationship with a violent partner and powerless to stop.
After several failed attempts to set and maintain the necessary boundaries, I had an unwelcome insight. I began to suspect that, either I would have to change my sobriety definition to “no sex outside marriage”, or I would remain in the clutches of my disease. Well, I didn’t want to make the change and so, for another week I held out against this horrendous idea. Finally on 10th April 1995, I surrendered and made the commitment. The impact was immediate. I stepped onto good spiritual ground and was able to set effective boundaries with my partner, end my acting out and withdraw from the relationship with sobriety and serenity.
I moved from Scotland back to England eleven days later and rented a flat about 5 miles from where my three children were living with their mother and her new partner. It was surely no coincidence that, two months later, I met a man who told me he belonged to a fellowship called Sexaholics Anonymous, which employed a sobriety definition very like my new one. I went to an SA convention and got an SA sponsor. My new sponsor was very impressed with my experience of “S” recovery and seemed to like the way I used him as an unpaid therapist. But I did not get well. I stayed sober but my physical and spiritual condition began to decline markedly. I began losing weight quite rapidly. I look back on this now as my recovery rock bottom.
After I had shared my arrogant and rebellious mind at a second SA convention, a long sober SA member confronted me with the fact that I was, in his words, “on a different track”. I felt this like a physical punch in the stomach. On the train home that day, I felt very sore, lonely and confused. If I accepted that I was on a different track, then I had to either stick to it and follow it through, or get off it and get onto the SA track. After another struggle I decided to really join the fellowship. A lot of things then seemed to change in a very short space of time. I went onto a prescribed food plan and began to recover my lost weight. I fired my sponsor/therapist and asked my confronter to sponsor me. I rejoined the Catholic Church, which I had abandoned 25 years previously. I came off sickness benefit and got my first job, after 6 years of unemployment. Finally, a major sea change occurred in my thoughts and attitudes, especially as these related to my former wife and our family.
As each one of these changes was very profound I will unpack them a little before moving on.
I had joined Overeaters Anonymous about a year after finding recovery from sexual addiction. For the next four years, my eating disorder responded to a very simple food plan, suggested by another member – three moderate meals a day, with nothing in between, no sugar and no white flour. During my recovery bottom, this food plan stopped working, even though I continued to work it. Visits to the doctor and referral to a nutritionist made no difference. Once I began to lose weight, I seemed to go into free fall. What stopped the fall was going onto a much stricter plan of eating which required me to eat measured amounts of food from a prescribed list. The complete surrender of my right to eat the way I wanted to seems to have been the key to my recovery around food. In the same way complete surrender of my right to sexual activity on my own terms seems to have brought recovery in that area of my life.
My new sponsor helped me to understand that his job was not to listen to my harrowing but beautifully presented “stuff”. His job was to share his experience, strength and hope with me as a fellow traveller with more sobriety miles under his belt. My job was to listen and to try taking the actions that he took to see if they worked for me too. His model was not “find out who you are and be that person” but “Who I am is none of my business. I’m just here to serve”. I tried his model and it worked much better than mine. I came to see that all my knowledge about sexual addiction and why I had become one was actually unimportant. All I needed to know was that there is a “proven reliable method by which I can arrest my addiction”. Once I knew that, then all I had to do was take the necessary actions and recovery was assured.
Rejoining the Church was perhaps the biggest surrender of all. It was certainly my biggest fear but, as ever, such fears are the beacon light of my growth. The journey was a long one, for 25 years I progressed slowly by way of astrology, stone circles, men’s retreats, sweat lodges, mandalas, meditation, the new age and study of the synoptic and non-canonical gospels. My final bridge back into Christianity was the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and for a while I thought I could hold it there. I could sit in meditation every Sunday and think of myself as “almost a Catholic, not quite a Christian”. However, I did perhaps my most profound 4th Step specifically about my relationships with Catholics and Catholicism. When this was complete, I took the 5th Step with the local Catholic Priest. This was like shifting the accumulated debris of a lifetime. Finally, after a Quaker retreat at which I found my mind completely fed, but my heart dying of thirst, I made another of those now familiar surrenders. I decided to go to the Catholic Church next Sunday, park my brain at the door and go in. I stood when they stood, kneeled when they kneeled, sang when they sang and let God be God. I’ve never missed a Sunday since. When you are home you know it.
And now for the family. When I had abandoned my wife and children in 1990 for a sexually intriguing geographical in Scotland, I had had no difficulty in blaming the whole business on her. She had insisted that she did not want to have sex with me so that was the end of that! In my struggle with the “no sex outside marriage” issue, I had finally seen the depth of my faithlessness and the bankruptcy of my ideas about commitment. For me today, the only true commitment is lifelong marriage, and that commitment does not end just because one partner says no to sexual activity. Repetitive inventory work showed me how my wife and children had born the brunt of my disease and that amends were due in full measure. Once again, a surrender was required as I came to realise that full measure meant rebuilding the family which I had earlier broken. It has not happened yet and may never happen but through this particular wound I am being taught patience, forgiveness, constancy and faithfulness – virtues so sadly lacking in this particular sexaholic.
For my first 5 years in recovery, I did not have a regular job but worked part time in a spiritual community, cleaning floors and lavatories. This gave me time to do my step work, therapy, meetings, treatment, etc. Initially I received a pension from my former business but, when that ceased, I was classified as sick and began receiving sickness benefits. This had a slowly corrosive effect on me, and by the time I had returned to England and found SA, I considered myself unemployable and unlikely ever to work again. My occasional visits to the doctor were mainly about proving that I was still unfit for work so that I could continue to receive benefits. This attitude of helplessness and hopelessness undoubtedly contributed to my recovery rock bottom.
Surrender came when I called a sober member of the fellowship who had recently been helped out of a similar hole and asked him to sponsor me back into work. He gave me some simple instructions, like register with your local job centre. I carried these out and reported back for more. Within two weeks I had job. This allowed be to build up my fitness for work and develop the resilience, which I had lost during my time off. In the next three years I had three other jobs and was made redundant twice before finding myself in a well-paid job specialising in e-commerce.
I have now been blessed with over 19 years of AA sobriety, 15 years of SA sobriety from sexual addiction and 11 years of abstinence from compulsive eating. I’m a practicing Catholic, faithfully holding my family in love. Considering where I have come from this is a miracle, and due entirely to the grace of God. All I have done is work a programme of recovery to the best of my ability. For the record, I will now mention what this has looked like in practice.
I function best when I get to lots of meetings. For the first few years I averaged five meetings a week in different fellowships. For my six weeks in treatment I was doing two or three meetings a day. When I hit bottom in recovery, this had dropped to just one or two meetings a week. I now live in an area where there are lots of meetings and usually do 4 meetings a week. I prefer meetings that study fellowship literature, the steps and the traditions. These really do help me to enlarge my spiritual life.
I have an SA sponsor in the US whom I ring every week. I try very hard to tell him the things I would rather keep secret and act on his suggestions no matter what. I’ve discovered the weird fact that, even when my sponsor suggests something which seems to me to be pretty questionable, if I do what he suggests it always works out and often in a quite extraordinary way. At the moment he is helping me to work through the steps for the fifth time.
Starting new meetings is something I have done on several occasions. There was a time when I could not find another sexaholic, so I just started a meeting anyway. Charlie, (my dog) and I kept that meeting going for about two years. During that time we had just 3 visitors, including one from Ireland and one from Germany. Prior to this I worked as secretary of the SA Net virtual meeting during the early days when it grew from an informal group of half a dozen users to a well-organised list with over 100 members.
I have done a lot of hard repetitive work on the steps. I have used three different workbooks, attended scores of step study meetings, and learnt several different ways of approaching the steps. One method I was taught at a step study workshop run by a man who had himself been taken through the steps by one of the original 100 of AA. It was rather different from the procedure in the big book. It was this method that I used to look at all my issues with religion and religious people. This was probably the most profound and startling bit of step work I have ever done and was a major factor in clearing the way for me to return to the Church. I’ve also done the steps out of the AA Big Book with my sponsor, which brought new material to light.
Service has helped me to stay sober. I have sponsored a number of SAs. It did not always keep them sober but it certainly helped me. I am reputed to be a bit of a hard liner and favour Clancy I’s “tell ’em what to do” approach. I’m not anxious to preside over the destruction of human life so, if I have not heard from a “baby” for three days, I consider myself fired. I’m always delighted to hear from a lost sponsee again, but like to know what will be different this time before giving it another try. I have held a number of different service positions at group, national and international levels. I have experienced the shift from reluctant to glad server. It took some time, but I just needed to practise harder! I hold a service appointment in nearly every meeting that I attend regularly. I used to consider that all of these were unsuccessful because I did not do them well. Now I try to remind myself that they are all brilliantly successful because I have stayed sober.
I go to any conventions that are held in the UK and have also been several in the US and in Ireland. At first, I disliked them and felt very self-conscious and uncomfortable. Later I found out that getting involved with the organisation really helped. Nowadays I really look forward to being with my SA buddies. I particularly enjoy the traditional entertainments on Saturday evening. The fellowship in the UK remains fairly small but, at each convention, we add up our collective years of sobriety. Every year, thank God, the total keeps on moving upwards.
So these are some of the things I do, but what really keeps me sober? I believe that it is God’s grace. I have seen others do as much if not more than me and still relapse. Somehow God’s grace is reaching me. This is a miracle and a mystery. I often receive phone calls from friends in the fellowship when my head is just beginning to go. Lust has such an immediate, toxic and devastating effect on me that it now acts like permanent, portable aversion therapy. I have become an expert on street paving stones and my favourite mantra, “I’m powerless, please God help me”, is now just as automatic as my rubbernecking used to be.
It seems to me that I am in danger of relapse as long as I have an addiction I will not admit powerlessness over, a secret which I will not declare, a defect which I am unwilling to surrender, or an amend I am unwilling to make. So, in working the steps, I do my best to overcome my denial and watch for these four pitfalls. I am a sexaholic who is also powerless over food, nicotine, alcohol, caffeine, work, money and power. I have done numerous inventories and now have a growing sense of scraping the barrel to find anything as yet untold. When I got to Step 6, I was shocked to uncover a list of over 100 defects of character. Actually, I now thank God it was so many, otherwise I might have tried to deal with them myself. Today, I realise that this task is completely beyond me. All I can do is become willing to let go of them and then humbly ask God to remove them.
My experiences in making amends have been patchy. Things went poorly whenever I had a hidden agenda or when I was temporarily sponsor-less and going it alone. On other occasions I have been able to make a full amend, bring healing into the lives of others and drop a huge burden of guilt. I’ve sat on my father’s grave and had a talk with him. Every morning and evening, I name those on my grudge list and ask God to bring them all that is good. I have made restitution to former employers for theft. Today I am on good terms with my brothers and sisters. (They all came to my 50th birthday. It was the first time we had been together for 14 years, and there was not one cross word.) Perhaps the biggest gap in my amends making is towards the many women who have been harmed by my sexual addiction. When I finally do get round to making amends in this area, I shall need plenty of advice, monitoring and support from my sponsor, as my disease still has an agenda of its own.
I have a prayer life today. Through reading the spiritual classics I have come to see that sexual addiction is not confined to my generation. There are those who have trodden our path before – realising their powerlessness over lust and finding redeeming power in God. The unfashionable virtue of chastity has become a real treasure in my life. Virtue is its own reward, simply because it feels so much better than vice. I’m sober just one day at a time but that does not stop me from wanting a chaste life every day from now onwards.
The last few lines are the most difficult to put into words. Through mists I am beginning to discern the extraordinary workings of a loving and merciful God. How He has shaped and ordered the life of just one lust addict. He began by giving me a romantic heart, always striving for high ideals. As I turned that nature towards lust, I grew up obsessed, isolated and insatiable. Now, He has guided me into recovery, and into a predicament designed to show me His love, His power and His way of life.
For over 15 years I have remained single, chaste and faithful to the mother of my children. I pray every day that God’s will – whatever that may be – will be done among us. There has been no miraculous reconciliation, no rebuilding of our broken marriage and family. Indeed my wife has now remarried, leaving me to guard the narrow bridge which she most desires not to cross.
I have been tempted to remarry too – temptations made stronger because I am free in both law and religion to do so. But I know that would not do – that this “good” would be the enemy of “the best”. The heart that God gave me still strives for its’ ideal and, in it, faith, hope and love live on. I expect that I shall continue living alone, unmarried, on guard and faithful unto death – yet strangely content. Now that is a real miracle.