Characteristic 6

We tried to bring intensity and excitement into our lives through sex, but felt ourselves growing steadily emptier.

I suppose, when I first became sexually active (sometime in college), sex was pure fun, but it quickly became serious business. I couldn't relate to people who were able to go out for a social evening, maybe even comment in passing on physically attractive people they saw, then go home when it was getting late, and go to bed. I was never so casual about sex; I would ditch my friends early in the evening, claiming "I was tired", so I could devote myself entirely to cruising, without the distraction of having to be sociable. For nearly ten years, I was basically satisfied with oral sex. Then, after a painful break-up with a guy I was dating for a few months, I discovered anal sex. My sexual behavior escalated quickly after that: within a year, I was exploring SM (sadomasochism), engaging in progressively kinkier activities. Each time I tried something new, it was incredibly exciting, at least the first few times. But the novelty would inevitably wear off, and I would have to try something even more extreme to reach the point of oblivion that I craved so intensely. Like a drug addict, I developed tolerance to sex, and I had to push the envelope to get the same high. Whenever I tried to stop acting out (and I tried many times over the years), I was always confronted by the same dismay: life seemed unbearably dull without sex. I didn't dislike recovery; the fruits of recovery for me, fellowship, career, nature, spirituality, love, even a relationship, were pleasant enough and fulfilling at times. However, they all seemed poor substitutes to what I was leaving behind. I didn't feel truly alive unless I was in the throes of sex. Sometimes I seriously fantasized about answering one of those "24/7" sex ads, so I could escape completely and devote myself fully to sex for the rest of my life!

How have my attitudes changed in recovery? For one thing, I'm getting used to the idea that sex doesn't have to be fireworks all the time, and that's okay. I used to feel cheated if I didn't see stars every time I had sex. Now, I'm in a relationship, and I'm learning that my partner and I go through periods of greater and lesser sexual intensity; although at times I still "get high" on sex, I realize that I don't need to panic if, at other times, it seems more routine. Occasionally during sex, I even experience feelings of real tenderness and intimacy, totally opposite from the addictive rush that used to be the only point. I've also become a little less rigid and serious about the whole thing. Sure, sex can be intense and passionate; but it can also be playful and lighthearted. Finally, I'm enriching my life with non-sexual pursuits, all those activities listed on the "right-hand side of my Plan." I try to take real pleasure in connecting with friends, connecting with my lover, connecting with nature, not instead of sex, but in addition to it.

Recovery is about reclaiming the freedom to choose my sexual behavior, instead of being driven by it. I used to think that SM was by its very nature pathological, that I couldn't be sober unless I swore off kinky sex. I feel the opposite way today. I don't claim to speak for anyone else, but I have come to the conclusion that I need to accept all of who I am, even, and perhaps especially, my interest in intense sexual expression. Other programs I attempted to follow before SCA encouraged me to deny my sexuality. Suppressing my urges never used to work, because after being abstinent for a period through white- knuckling, sooner or later I would erupt unpredictably in a frenzy of acting out. One of the reasons why I love SCA is that it encourages me to celebrate my sexuality, to bring sex back into the fold of the totality of my life. At the same time, I would be kidding myself if I didn't admit that I miss the old days, when I could seemingly engage in all the sex I wanted with wild abandon. Although I have filled my life with all sorts of wonderful pursuits, I know that I will never find anything to compete with the experience of acting out, in terms of sheer intensity and excitement. I feel genuine grief over the loss of those days. I think it's important to acknowledge the grief, rather than pretend that I don't feel it. Getting into recovery was like death and rebirth, the death of my old life and the birth of my new one. It's natural to feel grief associated with the death of my former life, even if I am replacing it with something better.

I think that living, for me, is ultimately about seeking a sense of purpose, maybe even more than seeking happiness (since having a life that feels purposeful leads to feeling happy). At a critical turning point in my life, I had this horrible vision of acting out till I was too old, weak, or sick to continue doing it, of reviewing my life from my deathbed, regretting all the missed opportunities, realizing that my life had amounted to nothing. I resolved that I didn't want to die that way, and my resolution launched me into long-term sobriety. I still haven't found the meaning of life, but I'm certain addictive sex is not part of it! Exploring the paths to fulfillment is the exciting journey of recovery.