An addictive personality
I first got clean and sober in 1984. Members of the 12-step fellowships I attended were all sharing the same thing. It wasn’t solely drugs and alcohol they had problems with. Addiction would affect other areas of their lives. They talked about struggles with gambling, overeating, and bulimia. Then, some shared that they were workaholics.
Most of them had a problem with shopping. They were spending money they didn’t have and getting into debt. I sat there and listened. “At least I’m in the right place,” I thought. I could identify with everything they said.
My recovery buddies were also sharing about their addictive, codependent relationships. What no one appeared to be sharing in meetings were their covert sexual behaviors. Casual sex with multiple partners was a taboo subject. Privately, outside meetings, people would admit to being driven by lust. For many of us, it became a serious problem.
Addictions other than alcohol and drugs
Old addictions that began in childhood resurfaced in recovery. I already had a problem with food by the time I was eight years old. Sugar addiction became a problem again.
People were talking about the “pop-up syndrome.” No sooner had they dealt with one addiction than a new addiction would pop up somewhere else. Initially, it was sugar and codependency. Later on in recovery, addiction took me to some pretty dark places.
When I first came into recovery, I was married. My wife and I were both addicts and alcoholics. We started to go to meetings together. Despite loving my wife deeply, shortly after getting clean and sober, lust became an issue. It was an overwhelming compulsion. I felt powerless to stop it. Very sadly, this problem eventually ruined our marriage.
Sexual addiction gathers momentum.
I continued to go to meetings after our separation. Being an agnostic, I refused to go through the twelve steps. Six of the twelve steps mention God and a higher power. The word “God” put me off completely. I went into therapy instead. Soon after we split up, I tried to fix myself with another relationship. So began a long and painful pattern of liaisons with women. If the instant gratification of lust didn’t drive them, they were clingy, unhealthy, and codependent.
After a few years of being on the merry-go-round of one-night stands and dysfunctional relationships, I concluded that I didn’t have any skills in this area. In therapy, I learned that I was frightened of intimacy and, therefore, unable to commit. It became increasingly clear that I could not create something meaningful and worthwhile with another person.
After 25 years of trying, I gave up. No steps, no sponsorship, no program! Being convinced that childhood trauma was the cause of my relationship problems, I continued in therapy. In all honesty, counseling and therapy were not helpful at all.
A sex tourist in recovery
One day, I overheard a conversation at a meeting. Some of my buddies in recovery were talking about their holiday adventures in Thailand. They were saying what a great time they were having. All they talked about were the girls in the bars and massage parlors. They were saying that sex in Thailand was freely available and, compared to the UK, very cheap.
With so many years of dismal relationship failures, I became interested in what they were saying. It wasn’t long before I went to Thailand with my fellowship friends. Very soon after getting off the plane in Bangkok, sexual addiction took off, and I was hooked.
A screenshot of recovery after 25 years
I flew out to Thailand every chance I got. Sex addiction quickly spun out of control. Despite remaining clean and sober, I began to get very unwell. Here is an excerpt from my book.
“There is no denying that sex and love addiction was initially exhilarating, seductive, and ego-gratifying. However, the long-term consequences were utterly soul-destroying. This aspect of my disease became a serious problem in my later sobriety.
As a recovering alcoholic, was I able to stay sober when I was acting out on sex and love addiction? Well, I was certainly able not to pick up that first drink. That said, I became just as mentally unwell as if I had never put down the alcohol. I ended up in front of a psychiatrist in Thailand. I found myself in a very dark place. The doctor gave me a prescription for anti-depressants.”
Sex addiction for a recovering addict and alcoholic
By this time, I had walked away from therapy. In the UK, I got a sponsor and began to work on the steps. After committing to AA’s program of action, I started to feel good about myself. In truth, I saw nothing wrong with having fun with the girls in Thailand. It wasn’t hurting anyone; it was all clean and fun. The girls were happy, or so I thought. I was like a kid in a candy store.
Very quickly, my life spun out of control and became unmanageable. I became very unwell again. As was the case when I first got clean and sober, Once again, I was a total mess. Sexual addiction quickly brought me to my knees. That said, it was a significant learning curve. This experience helped me to see that all my other addictions were not the problem. A gaping hole of emptiness and loneliness was at the core of my being.
Attending my first meeting of SLAA
If I wanted to get well again, I would have to surrender. Yet again, I received the Gift Of Desperation (GOD) and began attending SLAA (Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous). In this 12-step fellowship, I took step one and followed Good Orderly Direction (GOD) from a sponsor working the H.O.W. program in SLAA. It was humbling but well worth it.
H.O.W. “The Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous HOW Concept has been formed to offer the sex & love addict a disciplined and structured approach. There are no absolutes for sobriety in SLAA, as individual patterns of sex and love addiction vary.“
SLAA Virtual Intergroup
A big shock
I went to my first SLAA meeting in London. There were at least 100 people present. I looked around the meeting, and my jaw dropped. I knew most of the people there. They were from the other twelve steps fellowships I had attended. So that’s why people were reluctant to discuss this problem at meetings! They were keeping quiet because they were all acting out on sex and love addiction. What a surprise!?
My recovery buddies warmly greeted me. What a relief that I wasn’t alone with this. I went back to basics and attended 90 meetings in 90 days. I sat and listened. In some ways, it was a good feeling to be a newcomer again.
Working a program in SLAA
For about nine months, I worked through the steps again in SLAA. This time, I was allowed to reevaluate some of the attitudes I had regarding sex and morality. Sex and love addiction was no different from alcoholism. It was “cunning, baffling and powerful. Without help, it was too much for us” (BB ps 58/59)
I managed to convince myself of the most absurd nonsense to justify these sexual excesses. I learned all I could about sex and love addiction while attending SLAA. Eventually, I returned to AA, my spiritual home. The twelve steps work whatever fellowship you are in. They work on all addictions.
I fully conceded to my innermost self that behind all addictions, a spiritual illness was present. Sex addiction was just another symptom. It’s the only thing that made any sense. Despite not believing in a traditional idea of God, one thing became clear. After so many years in recovery, all of my addictive behaviors were different symptoms of the same illness; “the spiritual malady” (BB p. 64)
The three-fold illness: mental, physical, and spiritual
I realized that when Bill spoke about the spiritual illness, he wasn’t only referring to alcohol addiction.
“We are convinced that a spiritual mode of living is a most powerful health restorative” (BB p. 133)
It began to look like a spiritual mode of living was the only way forward. I had tried everything else to resolve my issues, and they failed. I was finally ready to embrace the spiritual solution. It was a compelling realization. I warmed to Bill’s idea:
“When the spiritual malady is overcome, we straighten out mentally and physically. (BB p.64)
Was it possible that despite not picking up the first drink, I had relapsed back into what Bill called “The spiritual malady”?
When I was attending SLAA, I had a moment of clarity. I couldn’t have a meaningful spiritual awakening without having a moral awakening first. Do you agree?
Check out SLAA if you think you may be a sex addict
In memory of Mathew C and Harry K
I dedicate this blog to two close buddies. Both had been in recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction for many years. They both relapsed and lost their lives as a direct result of falling into the snare of sex and love addiction. May they rest in peace.
Tradition six of AA states, “An AA group ought never endorse, finance or lend the AA name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money property and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.”
Please be advised that the fellowship of AA in no way endorses or lends its name “to any related facility or outside enterprise.” In this case, other 12-step fellowships mentioned in this blog are not affiliated with AA. Nor is SLAA affiliated with AA