There – I said it.
When I speak of sex here, it’s not in the full physical, erotic sense. While that’s a small part of the whole sex thing, sex in recovery terms is more about our relationship with the opposite sex (or the sex that we are attracted to. But I will save keystrokes by referring it to the opposite sex. Adjust yourselves accordingly. Um, and not that kind of adjusting though). Sex – not the way grandma used it to triple score when she slapped the word on the Scrabble board. It’s not the sex that apparently the interweb has one or two sites dedicated to showing folks doing things to each other in their birthday suits. It’s not the sex that permeates societal norms and gives us an unrealistic view of what we should be doing and how often and with who (oh wait, maybe that does plays a part in it)
Sex – the chasing of, the act of, the consequences of, the fallout from, the buzz of…these are the things that we speak of when we talk about sex. Sex as a weapon, sex as an ideal, sex as a drug, sex as a way of living, sex an escape, sex as an equalizer, sex as abuse, and sex as an unhealthy attachment. The way that we view the opposite sex, the way we manipulate them, use them, abuse them, view them, shield them, envy them, resent them, harm them, and love them. It’s the way we view ourselves through them, how we see ourselves in romantic relationships and partnerships, how we see them in the light of expectations and attraction, and how we project our fears and insecurities onto them.
Complicated stuff it would seem, yes?
Sexuality is a basic instinct for us all. Procreation and pleasure are two major benefits or products we get from sex. On a deeper level, sex has also been described as the purest physical manifestation of love and consumption of another, with another. We often consummate romantic relationships with little Benny Hill slap-and-tickle sessions and learn to explore what and what doesn’t appeal to us in the boudoir. We gather experiences until we find ourselves having an eventual and slow building awakening that broadens and deepens our understanding and appreciation for the sensual side of our relationships, including that with ourselves. We place a certain importance on our sexual identity and view many things through the lens of that sexuality. But in the end, it’s first and foremost an urge, a natural propensity of sorts.
So what? What does that have to do with recovery?
Well, like many of the things that are instinctual and innate within, as alcoholics we tend to ramp them to the extremes. We are, as often described, self-will run riot. Moderation isn’t a word in our vocabulary when it comes to certain things. Definitely not when it comes to alcohol. That we can probably come to terms with. Fears – check. Resentments – check. Sex – check? Wait…sex? What, we’re sex maniacs now too? Just because we drank too much for the wrong reasons doesn’t mean we are all pervs now, does it? Isn’t the alcohol enough as it is? It’s not like we’re all running around, knickers flailing about, bras and boxers twirling around our fingers, flailed around with more frequency than at a Tom Jones concert, are we? No, not necessarily, although It’s Not Unusual.
The reason that we look at sexual harms in recovery is that in the realm of relationships and how we treat the opposite sex and how we view them, we weren’t exactly at our healthiest selves. It’s not uncommon for alcoholism and poor sexual behaviours and judgement to go hand in hand. In fact, it’s such a big part of our lives and a damaged part of our active drinking days, that in 12-step recovery we are asked to list the harms we have done to those of the opposite sex, in the romantic realm. These sex / romance based harms can be so warped and be such an impediment to our growth, that it is vital that we observe and explore our patterns, just like we observe and explore the patterns of our resentments and fears and the causes and conditions attached to them.
And considering the importance put upon this part of our primal and civil human print, it’s odd that it’s rarely spoken about – even in meetings. People will talk fear and anger and all the other juicy stuff all day, getting frantically Edward Scissorhands on these hot button topics. But when it comes to sex and relationships…we get frantically Edwardian. We clam up. We’re embarrassed and too polite about it. We get wrapped up in shame and guilt and remorse. Shame being the ringleader of that posse. And that posse has got velocity…to stop the dialogue and hide things under wraps.
The manifestation of our unbalanced sexual lives comes out in so many ways – infidelity (physical and/or emotional), unhealthy porn usage, using prostitutes, improper conduct, improper touching, chasing after others, inappropriate or aggressive flirting (hi, bosses’ husband!), emotional / mental / physical abuse of partner, withholding sex, unhealthy libido (either way), demonizing the opposite sex, emotional shut down, extreme jealousy, etc. That’s just a small sample of how we express our unbalanced and uncontrolled sexual instinct. This is created in our heads. Many of these issues stem from the same places our resentments and anger do – fear. Fear of not getting what we want or fear of losing what we have. This is more than just getting drunk and horny kind of stuff. This goes down further.
I certainly had very unhealthy views towards women (and men) growing up and in my early drinking career, which both solidified and got more distorted as I spiraled in my alcoholism. I despised and envied women at the same time. I resented and adored them. I put them on pedestals and waited for them to disappoint and crumble to the ground. I put them in mental boxes and rebelled when they proved me wrong. I had a true love – hate relationship with them. And I certainly made them suffer. I didn’t have girlfriends, I had hostages. My wife was the biggest hostage of them all. And while I professed to be feminist, pro-women, etc. I was anything but. My actions clearly showed that I didn’t respect or love the way my mouth and brain said that I respected or loved. My selfishness and self-centeredness ran the show. And what a show it was.
I projected a lot of my insecurities and fears onto my relationships. I enjoyed the thrill of the chase, the hunt, but then when things got uncomfortable (that is, she wanted to get close), I bolted. I was uneasy in my own skin. I felt like a fraud. I played an Aw Shucks Dudley Do-Right on the outside but was a frightened Dud on the inside. My sexual ideal was twisted, and predicated on how much a woman could validate what I couldn’t validate for my own self. And that was a recipe for an unhealthy relationship, if you could call them that. Add into the mix the comparisons I had to others who had Caligula-like fornicatin’ escapades, and then toss in my increased emotional detachment (in which my physical detachment promptly followed suit) and it all added up to being a sick puppy in arena of lovin’.
In a nutshell, I was a man with low sexual self-esteem, with an unpredictable wonky libido, living the self-imposed life of a eunuch, wishing he was Hugh Hefner, but afraid and resentful towards all women. How’s that for a Lavalife profile? Throw alcoholic in there and we’ve got a winner baby! Monty Hall needs me as a door prize!
It was in doing the recovery work that I was able to see my part in all the (poor) relationships I had with women. Many of my preconceived notions were created out of fear and out of anger that had nothing to do with women. They were ideas that I unconsciously created so that women could fit into my warped view of the world and of myself. I played the victim and the victimizer in my little one act play. My ill sexual conduct towards women was a reflection of the ill will I felt towards myself. Any attention a woman gave me was amped up in my head as validation and acceptance of my manhood. But like the feeling drinking gave me, it was all an illusion. Another way to get out of myself and hope that I could hate myself less for a few moments.
Sex and romance and alcoholism is a tricky trio. We rarely get it right, especially when active in our drinking. And it’s taken me time to adjust. I am still not the romantic I always thought I was. The one thing I did when I got to my sex conduct inventory and talking to my sponsor about it was write out a sexual ideal. This is a mandate of sorts, or a goal. It’s almost the opposite of how I approached sexuality and dating and marriage and all that stuff. I found it helpful as a general guide, as a way of resetting the clock, of pointing me in the general direction.
My sexual ideal involves many things, including treating women with respect, to not take my wife for granted, to treat her like we were dating, to not see women as objects but as souls, to not show favouritism to someone because they are female, to deflect any attention they may give me (haven’t had to use that one yet), to act appropriately yet kind towards all, to not act less than or better than. Sounds ridiculous even as I type this, but this is what I had to write when I got sober over two years ago. I needed it at the time. And sometimes I need a reminder.
Sex and sexuality and the intimacy it fosters is a groovy thing. And like all groovy things, alcoholics are apt to go over the top with them. Or go sideways on a totally different bent. Or go on benders, period. But when used in the forum of fun and play, of expression of commitment and consummation, of whimsy and healthy seduction, of deeper understanding of self and partner, of just getting down and foxy, well, it’s a pretty cool deal. Or a hot deal…however way you turn that thermostat, Daddy-O or Chicky-O 🙂