It wasn’t something I was advertising years ago when I realized I had a sex addiction. It wasn’t something I could admit to myself. I thought I had everything under control. Men are not the only ones who suffer from sex addiction and it’s not only about porn. I can talk and write about it now because I’ve forgiven myself for betraying and hurting myself. I know and trust myself better now.
More women are coming out as sex addicts, yet the definitions vary widely. It’s challenging to know what the incidence is for female sex addiction since, according to one survey, 60% of the female respondents never sought help. Over the years I’ve met, spoken with, and worked with many women who suffer from addiction. It’s comforting to know that I’m not alone.
The addiction was insidious and crept up on me over 16 years of serial monogamous relationships. What I’ve come to understand is that it has manifested in all my relationships – friends, family, and clients. I needed people to fulfill my craving for intimacy and community. I became addicted to being “in love” – that intense coursing of chemicals and emotions through the body with every new relationship. I became addicted to chemistry. I understand now that what I wanted desperately was genuine intimacy – the feeling of closeness to all people. Over time I learned that I could use sex to experience closeness. I’m heterosexual but I sexualized all relationships – even those with women. The only way I knew how to express intimacy was through sex, so when I felt close to a woman I began to think of her sexually.
I didn’t know that intimacy involved vulnerability. I wasn’t ready for vulnerability, to shed the armor I built around myself, and to show someone who I really am and have the confidence that I would be accepted. I loved how men loved me and only appreciated them when I was experiencing good feelings. When bad feelings arose, as they do in healthy relationships, I wanted nothing to do with them. Furthermore, I had the false belief that if things didn’t feel good, something wasn’t right and I had to change it immediately. This often meant running away and ending the relationship. There was hardly time to myself between relationships – I was always on to the next guy, the next sexual experiment, the next “high.” This happened with friends as well. I dropped friends when they no longer served me or when they triggered negative feelings.
I was terrified to be alone with bad feelings. I thought I would literally die from having an uncomfortable feeling. For many years I was prone to depression and suicidal thoughts and avoided negativity adamantly. Because I couldn’t rely on myself to manage my own feelings, I sought out others to make negative thoughts and feelings go away. At the same time I convinced myself that being alone was the best solution and that I didn’t need anyone. It was a vicious cycle of needing people and not wanting people because they would inevitably hurt me.
I didn’t know how to handle pain, anxiety, fear, and discomfort. I didn’t know how to value myself and I certainly did not believe I was worthy of much. I had a false sense of self-esteem and lied to myself daily so I could do my work as a therapist. I felt a lot of pressure over the years to achieve something – a career, a relationship that would lead to marriage and kids by a certain age, and compared my life to everyone else’s and it always fell short. I couldn’t handle how much pain I felt daily. I needed an escape and found it in relationships with men, giving everything of myself to men and not knowing how to ask for anything in return.
I realized that I saw my relationships as objects that could make everything better. Relationships and sex were my drugs of choice. They made me feel good for a time. They helped me avoid the personal development work I needed to be doing for myself. I didn’t appreciate anyone for who they were – special and deserving beings. All I cared about was what men, friends, and clients could give me and what pain they could take away.
I also found escape through helping people. When I helped others, I felt worthy and needed. I felt uplifted and “good.” I didn’t have to focus on myself and I lived a double life – miserable in my life and teaching women how not to be miserable in theirs. I was a good therapist and helped many women, but it was wearing me down and depleting my energy. I wasn’t receiving or giving myself what I truly needed. I was giving away everything of myself through work in the same ways I was doing it with men. I wasn’t practicing what I was teaching and the time came when I couldn’t help women any more because I wasn’t helping myself.
I reached a ceiling. I didn’t want to give anymore, and became angry and bitter. My client’s stories were triggering and I’d become frustrated with their lack of progress. Worse, I became triggered by their successes because I desperately wanted a partner of my own. After 12 years of working as a therapist, I left the field of sex and couples therapy. It was my greatest escape from feeling bad. I completely changed my career to avoid feelings that caused me discomfort.
For a long time after leaving my life as a therapist, I pretended to be strong and liberated. I didn’t need anyone until the craving reared its ugly head to overtake my senses. For the duration of my addiction, I accepted what I could get and over the years this led to several counts of trauma. In 2013, I hit rock bottom and I experienced the most painful trauma of my life. I vowed to never betray myself again. I began a grieving process that I continue to heal from.
I still have fear of vulnerability and intimacy. However, I have a better relationship with uncomfortable and painful feelings. I have learned powerful ways to invite love and intimacy into my life. I understand my addiction better through honesty and self-exploration, but still feel the craving daily. I acknowledge that the cravings may never go away, yet I can live with them knowing they don’t have to overtake me. I’ve developed practices that give me permission to feel all my feelings – negative and positive:
- I let myself feel all my feelings with the knowing that they will pass. I have found respect for painful feelings as my guides, but they don’t steer my thoughts and beliefs. I face them head on every day.
- I meditate every day, which helps me be aware of thoughts and feelings without needing to attach and react to them.
- I recite affirmations daily to remind me of who I am.recite affirmations daily to remind me of who I am.
- I’ve invited more positive influences into my life and I feed my mind and heart inspiration daily.
- I’m in the driver’s seat and choose what I think, believe, say, and do in relation to my cravings.
I am not in a romantic relationship currently because I choose to get to know, trust, and love myself better. I’m also showing up differently with men by inviting friendship with men into my life. I’m discovering new ways of being intimate with men and sharing joy with them through uplifting conversation and fun activities. I’m experiencing appreciation of the amazing qualities of the men in my life without diving into habitual fantasy patterns that remove me from being present with them. It’s a fulfilling process and I feel close to many people now.
These days when I am vulnerable with someone, I experience genuine intimacy and am rewarded for it every time with feelings of closeness and community. The reward in this case doesn’t come with a cost. I can value myself, be vulnerable, and feel close without the feelings of shame and betrayal. I’ve developed a practice of checking in with myself: “How do I want to show up with this person? How can I be intimate in this situation and still honor my own boundaries?” This practice ensures that I never betray myself and I respect those with whom I’m engaging. I feel close to people without having to manipulate them because everything I need I receive from self-love. Love from others is a bonus.
Professionally, I’m back in the saddle serving women and couples, and loving it. I’m an entrepreneur who founded a sex and intimacy coaching business. Being an entrepreneur has been a profound practice in humility, intimacy, and vulnerability (that’s an article unto itself). I cannot run away from my business because it’s my passion. I am required to face my fears if I am to succeed and I no longer live a double life.
Everything I teach is from experience. I model vulnerability and intimacy to my clients by being vulnerable and intimate with them. I’m transparent about feelings and process as I coach my clients. I encourage them to be vulnerable and I create a safe space to invite intimacy into their lives. I highlight and praise them when they are facing their fears. As they begin to show trust and intimacy with me, it carries over into their relationships. I use discomfort, fear, and anxiety as keys to access deep layers of vulnerability and intimacy for myself and those I serve. I acknowledge painful feelings with my clients and validate their fear around intimacy while gently encouraging them to be vulnerable, to experiment. My clients do the practices I suggest and experience change for themselves. When I find myself triggered by clients I actively seek and receive support to help navigate my feelings so they are not projected onto my clients. My clients inspire me to grow and I inspire them. It’s a positive feedback loop and I’m no longer depleted when I give, because I receive simultaneously.
I leave you with an affirmation that honors who you are, your struggles, and your divine strengths.
I vow to check in with my core, my womb, my deep feminine essence
so that I know where I end and others begin. I will honor my boundaries and those
of others. I am skilled at expanding them to include love and warmth from others. I am also skilled at contracting them when others’ energy is negative.
I will honor myself always and speak, be, and do from love and integrity.
How are your addictions serving you? What feelings are you experiencing and/or avoiding through your addictions? What practices can you develop that will help you sit with your painful feelings?