Good question. Here’s a pop quiz:
Which one of these “people” is the sex and love addict?
A woman who is so not over her ex-boyfriend she tracks him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, all day long. On her way home from work, she may drive by his place to see whose car is parked outside. But she really wants to ring the doorbell or at least call. It’s getting harder and harder not to, even though her therapist absolutely forbids it.
A man who is still a virgin in his late 30’s and pretends otherwise.
A woman who would rather stay home with her hot romance novels than try that scary thing called dating.
If you guessed All of the above, you’re right.
While the program of Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA) leaves it up to each individual to decide if they qualify or not, all four of these patterns can be problematic and folks with each of them have used SLAA successfully to make changes in their lives.
What about that virgin guy? Him, too? And the gal afraid to date? Her, too?
You’ve heard of anorexia, the eating disorder. Well, we call the SLAA version of that, sexual and emotional anorexia.
Say what? That’s a thing? Yes, it is. On it’s website, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (S.L.A.A.) offers this definition: “As an eating disorder, anorexia is defined as the compulsive avoidance of food. In the area of sex and love, anorexia has a similar definition: Anorexia is the compulsive avoidance of giving or receiving social, sexual, or emotional nourishment.”
Patrick Carnes, the nationally known author on addiction and recovery, describes sexual anorexia as: “an obsessive state in which the physical, mental and emotional task of avoiding sex dominates one’s life. Like self-starvation with food, deprivation with sex can make one feel powerful and defended against all hurts.”
So, like the eating pattern, there’s the need to control not just what’s coming in but to rigidly control what’s not coming in — in this case, intimacy.
While I don’t identify as a sexual or emotional anorexic, there was a long period in my early recovery where I replaced my cruising behaviors with staying home engaging in an active romantic and sexual fantasy life. It was a way to have my cake and eat it too, so to speak.
In Alcoholics Anonymous, they might say this would be like switching from scotch to wine coolers — it’s still ETOH. My disease was still taking me out of being present in my own life, especially to the feelings I used these behaviors to avoid.
So in that sense, while not using or abusing another person (my so-called excuse), it was still problematic. Once I got that, I was able to use the program to stop fantasizing and get a life.
And no, the solution was not to run out and get laid a.s.a.p. But to use the twelve steps and sponsorship for emotional and spiritual support while moving toward intimacy.
If you would like to see a more extensive list of possible patterns sex and love addiction can take, click here.
The power of stories
If you’re familiar with the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, you know that the last two thirds of the book consists of stories “told” by a variety of folks, all of whom identify as alcoholic. These stories put a human face on the disease and help newcomers understand the diverse patterns the addiction can take.
These stories are by women as well as men, people of various ethnicities including Native American, who share their addictive patterns, what happened and how they changed. Sooner or later, a newcomer finds a story or a real live person they can deeply identify with and healing begins.
Part of the reason for this is we addicts are pros at making excuses. So if we don’t hear about someone who does exactly what we do, when and how we do it, we can say, oh, this is not for me. I don’t do that so I must not be one of them.
Strength in numbers
That’s the disease talking. That’s why I needed to go to a group instead of trying to stop “using” on my own. I knew I needed help six months before I walked into my first meeting. I thought I could stop cruising and affair-ing all by myself, thank you very much.
Even if I went a few days without, sooner or later, I’d get into an argument with my husband, usually about my late nights out. That would be just the trigger to put on a little short skirt, apply make-up and head out for the bright lights and sensuous sounds of the big city.
When you get to a meeting, often there are instructions to newcomers to pay close attention and listen for someone whose story sounds like yours. And who has been in the program longer than you — not hard to do if it’s your first meeting.
In my case, it was another newcomer.
I had been attending for about a month when Cynthia walked in the door crying. Through her sobs she managed to explain the no one could be as “bad” as she was — cheating on her husband and then cheating on the affairs with yet another affair, having many lovers in rapid succession.
My hand went up before I could stop it. “Right here, Honey.” The words gushed out. “You’re telling my story. We could be twins!” No, she wasn’t a salsa dancer but everything else matched perfectly. We bonded and encouraged each other as we found our footing and looked for experienced sponsors to work the steps with.
It’s usually so much easier to see the good in another than our own selves. So being mirrors of each other helped us both release shame and embrace self-acceptance.
Listening for a similar story helps you keep an open mind about whether or not you are in the right place and if this group of “perverts and prostitutes” — as the stereotype goes — can help you heal and recover.
Yep. You are. Yep you can, because yes we can. By listening to stories of experience, strength and hope, one day at a time, we have changed our lives for the better. And you can, too.
Oh, I forgot. Not you — your friend. Well, pass it on. And keep coming back, it works.
Marilyn Flower writes political humor and satire to delight socially and spiritually conscious folks. She’s a regular columnist for the prison newsletter, Freedom Anywhere, where she writes about faith and prayer. Five of her short plays have been produced in San Francisco. Clowning and improvisation strengthen her resolve during these crazy times.