Why not chase the high?

January 14, 2009

I think that anyone who has engaged in some form of sexual activity will understand that it feels good. Even when it is bad it feels good. But I am trying to figure out why looking at pornography is more “pleasurable” than when I have sex with my wife. This is not always the case but there is definitely a noticeable difference. Its not that it isn’t good with my partner but something is definitely different.

Maybe it is because I am completely in charge of my physiological response or whatever preference is driving me that particular evening is met without hesitation. You always share a bed, but not a computer screen and a chair. I am always in complete control when I am by myself.

Finally, when all my physical needs and perverted desires are met, the climax occurs, the endorphins flow, then pass and I am left there. The pleasure is undeniably there, but it rings hollow. The experience is all very intense with little subtly or nuance, like rear ending the car in front of you. A few moments of anticipation, a few moments of impact and then the whole scene grinds to a halt.

When I am with my partner it is a different result. Normally the event is not as intense, but rarely is it hollow. It is less of a high. The only way I can speak about it is like comparing it to the difference between a Manhattan and a cup of tea. After a few Manhattans I will get tipsy and enjoy myself but the tea is pleasurable in its own way. Or maybe it is like drinking with close friends. There is no fear of what might be said, but only good conversation.

To answer my own question, “why not chase the high?” because, there is no afterglow when you are by yourself. The feeling simply slips away…

But this conclusion is not where I wanted to end up at all when I started this reflection. It is not satisfying to say that I don’t chase the high by myself because I should do with other people.

I could coerce some poor eighteen year old girl to meet my needs (not that I have any intention to do so), but that wouldn’t be the same as what I am speaking about. There is an intimacy that is there that fills the void between the high and the moments when I feel most alone. Porn can’t do that and neither can the hypothetical girl.

I have to admit that I am on new ground. During my single years I used girls for my own ends. My whole life I have looked at porn. The intimate side of sex is a relatively new game for me. My time with my wife up until now hasn’t been a waste, like the light that shines through the blinds, intimacy cannot be kept out when two people try to commit to one another. The real dilemma is now that I know it is there, and can feel the difference, how do I tap into it, instead of letting my high eclipse it?

Some of you mentioned that you didn’t like the original image header for one reason or another. How is the new one? Comment and let me know.

Pictures in Context

October 31, 2008

I have taken to heart that some of the people who have been reading this blog have found the picture at the top inappropriate for some of the audience with whom I am trying to speak. I have to admit that I am a bit conflicted.

Part of my personal philosophy around sex addiction is that it is our view of sex that has become skewed. We view or participate in sex that is presented in inappropriate contexts as arousing. I think that a good example is the movie Schindler’s List. In the movie there is a scene where women are taken off the train, made to strip and marched around for the guards to see. Now, no person with a healthy view of sexuality would find this arousing. They should find it abusive and heinous, but addicts could or would find this arousing.

I think that sex addiction is at least in part a failure to see sexuality in context. Obviously there are there are other and more potent factors involved (like the chemical high). But I wonder if contextual clues intervened in our thinking if we would even get to the chemical high. For example, the mere presence of guns in the previously mentioned scene would be a contextual clue, that this is not meant to be a sexually gratifying experience.

If these contextual clues (or the failure to recognized them) is part and parcel to the sexual addiction package then redefining or integrating context back into one’s thinking about sex is important for recovery. By this logic, if a 15th century painting is a trigger for sex addicts maybe it needs to be reframed as “art” meant to cause the viewer to reflect on “beauty” or what have you.

I have been trying to do this mainly in the arena of film. Lots of movies have lots of gratuitous sex in them, but a lot have nudity, sex scenes and the like that aren’t there primarily to arouse, but to convey meaning or forward the plot.

I wonder if recapturing the context of our triggers will cause them not to be triggers and aid us in living healthy lives.

Just a thought.

Having said all this, I am looking to change the header. The new one will be up soon.

I was never a fan of saying how long I had been sober. “Hi, my name is Augustine and I am a sex addict. I have been sober for nine months.” It always seemed that they were rather short. Anonymous people would always have sobriety times of twenty four hours, or someone who had been sober for three months would show up the next week with a three day count. The reason I personally don’t do it is because once you make it to about six months the pressure is on to maintain that number even if you have relapsed. It is hard to let go of that number. So you just keep the count going. There have been times when I have looked at porn and kept my count going. You have accomplished something that is now gone. This fact has made me wonder about those super stellar guys who have a count they measure in years. I am not saying they are disingenuous but the pressure at two years must be unbearable. So for reasons of disappointment and an effort to keep humility I choose not to speak about it in those terms.

Another reason I don’t like the sobriety count is because I don’t think that it is an accurate measure of how one is doing. You may very well be five months into sobriety but if you are drinking your weight in beer to overcome the urges or going for walks that last into the wee hours of the night, then you aren’t doing very well.

Why can’t those be the terms in which we communicate the nature of our sobriety? Why not just say, “Hi, my name is Augustine and I am in tatters.” Why quantify that which is more qualitative? Why not just ask, respond and care for? Let recovery and efforts to be healthy stay something that can only be measured by the words we choose to describe it and not by the arbitrary time it takes the earth to spin on its axis or orbit the sun.

On that note,

“Hi, My name is Augustine and I have been better.”

Something on your mind?

September 30, 2008

I recently approve a couple of comments that had been posted on one of my blogs. There were four that were left by a certain individual and I only approved two. I rejected the other two because they weren’t immediately applicable to the post and read like they were pulled from a prepared document of some sort.

I don’t mind if someone post something that they have written before or something that they found inspirational, but I would ask that you at least briefly comment on it and why you felt it was appropriate for the post. I won’t approve anything that has nothing to do with the post to which it is attached. I would also like to take a moment to say that while I will approve almost any comment, these comments don’t necessarily reflect my views or opinions.

My hope in allowing comments (and for this blog in general) is that people express themselves, their struggles and encourage one another through a process that is long, difficult and painful. Keep this idea in mind as you post and read what others have posted.

Peace,

AnonymousAugustine

Paranoia

August 23, 2008

One of the hallmarks of sex addiction is paranoia. I don’t know if other addictions cause this anomaly. I can’t image being paranoid about being drunk, perhaps this is the upside to being an alcoholic, you are either obviously on the wagon or have fallen off it. People can smell the alcohol on your breath or they can’t. With sex addiction you can hide your crime all the way up until you slip up and are discovered. You forget to clear your search history or don’t trash that one file. Then the “recently used documents” menu betrays you and you have been caught.

After you have been discovered once and know the consequences of your actions you either clean up or are more careful. You start image searching phrases like “women’s’ Olympic beach volleyball,” phrases that aren’t inherently bad but yield results that will be gratifying. Eventually this kind of searching deepens to more risqué results. Then you take off the google safe search and from there it is all down hill.
You make sure to clear your history this time, double or triple checking, just to make sure. You vow never to do it again and you step away for the computer. You end up going to work or hang out with friends or maybe run to the store. You eventually get a call from your wife and you start to sweat a little bit. You wonder for a brief second if you have been caught again, and you fear the worst. You take a deep breath and then you answer your phone. The conversation is normal and everything seems pleasant, but you are parsing every nuance of what she is saying, repeatedly asking if she is ok when she is simply tired, or is distracted by the kids. In reality she is just fine and nothing is wrong with her. It is all very much in your mind.

Maybe she doesn’t call, maybe you simply dread going home, all the “what if” scenarios run through your head on the drive there. “What if she found them and left with the kids?” Episodes of Intervention run through your head. “What if my family is there?” You haven’t even pulled into the drive way and everything you see becomes potential evidence for your worst fears. “Her car is gone, she must have found those magazines in the garage.” You walk in the front door and your wife says “Honey, we need to talk.” You turn pale and slowly turn to see your wife holding bank statements and you frantically try to remember which credit card you used to pay for that 900 number.

Perhaps you call your wife one day and she doesn’t pick up. You run through last night in your mind wondering if you left that chat box up. You obsess about trying to reach her, you call her cell, her work phone, you see if she is online, you shoot her a quick text, the silence is unbearable and it turns out her battery died while she was shopping with friends.

The examples are endless, you worry about being arrested by the police for picking up hookers or catching AIDS from those random sexual encounters you set up on craigslist. These thoughts plague you so much that when you finally are caught you know you are in trouble but at least you can sleep at night knowing you don’t have to hide anymore.

You can delete the cache all you want. You can get your own personal laptop that no one else is allowed to use. You can yell at your kids when they get too close to that drawer in your desk. You can be as careful as the man on the high wire act but at the end of the day, even if you are never caught, you will always wonder in the back of your mind if someone has found you out. The paranoia will always be there. What is worse is that instead of enjoying your wife, family, and friends you will always be on the look out for the evidence of their presumed knowledge and that will always dominate your attention. That is the mental siege that will emaciate your relationships with other people.

The paranoia has convinced me that I would rather deal with my addiction than indulge it. It isn’t easy but at least it is easier on my wits.

Power and Control

August 4, 2008

In my last post I discounted the notion that the addict is powerless to their addiction and used some metaphors that were empowering to the addict. I am not being flippant. I really believe this but I think that people who tread over this issue of powerlessness to eagerly are simply kidding themselves.

I once had a conversation with a man who was a former crack addict. He spoke with contempt about the 12 step program specifically the issues of powerlessness and the need of a higher power. He said that he wasn’t powerless to he urges, that with practice and will power one could overcome addiction. Then he finished his third shot of the evening, put a napkin over his beer and went outside for a cigarette.

Another time I gave a hitchhiker a ride to a drug store to fill a prescription. He mentioned that he was a few years sober from heroin. I congratulated him and after we had filled his prescription for vicoden, he began praising the drug for all it has done for him.

Ever since I have become more serious about managing my addiction I have drank more than I ever have in the past.

Knowing you are an addict is knowing your limitations. It is knowing where you are weak. You know the people and the places where you are prone to use and this is the empowering aspect of admitting you have a problem. Now you can not watch these movies, you can put that internet filter in place or you can drive home on a route that doesn’t run past the strip club.

When you finally start your recovery and things start going more smoothly keep your eye on those places that you indulge on occasion. Whether it is pot or alcohol or something as benign as movies, you are simply continuing your efforts to escape the “anticlimax” of life. This is a pace that is hard to maintain and it will eventually become too taxing.

I recently had a conversation with people who attend varying 12 step meetings and the topic of introducing oneself at these meetings came up. “Do you have to say your name and then ‘I am a _______ addict’ to introduce yourself at a meeting.” The consensus of the group was that you should never say anything with which you are uncomfortable. In any case, this is a topic that I have struggled with in the past and it seems worth mentioning here.

When you first go to a meeting you will be entirely overcome by bizarre rituals of all kinds and varieties. This will range from chants (or prayers) to use of key terms not used anywhere else on this planet and of course your name will forever come with the appendix of “I am a sex addict” (or whatever your poison of choice is). All of these have their reason and purpose which are more or less obvious. In this particular case I think they are trying to fulfill the first “step.”

In case you have been in a bomb shelter for the last thirty years, there exist a number of “steps” (specifically 12) which an addict must go through in order to be healthy. Just for the record I am not a huge fan of the 12 step program and this is for a bunch of reason that I may or may not blog about later. At this point I endorse a sex addicts’ meeting for those who need a place to talk about their problem without worry of offending or confounding the people present. These people have heard it all.

Tangents aside, the first step is admitting you have a problem. There is language surrounding this step that says you don’t have control over your addiction or you are powerless. I have problems with this statement. I don’t agree that you are powerless or out of control when you participate in your addiction, nor do I believe there is nothing you can do about it. Having said that I have been in the place of every addict in which you are desperately fighting the urges and failing at every moment. In light of this I do understand why they choose to talk about addiction in this way.

Admitting that you have a problem is the most important step in an effort to begin your recovery. When you admit that you are in fact a sex addict, you are admitting that you see sex differently then most of the world sees sex. Sex means something for you and that meaning is unique to you. This unique meaning is skewed and is affecting how you think and feel about sexual content. For example, when in Schindler’s List the women are forced to strip down and are paraded in front of the Nazi’s, this is not a sexually pleasing moment for most of the people viewing all though it might be for you. Or a movie with a very graphic rape scene, this is not a moment in which arousal is the goal of the director (typically), but something that is different about you.

I am not trying to be shameful in my description or by my use of language. There are often good reasons that addicts have the problems they do. I am simply trying to communicate that when nudity is used in a film (for example) it means something different to everyone and in the case of the addict that meaning is skewed from the norm.

Admitting that you are an addict is important because you are acknowledging that you are different and unique and this is your particular struggle in life. It is a part of your identity, gifted to you by some collage or constellation of events in your past that have led you to this point. Whether it be past sexual abuse or simply the fact that being a loner you found a destructive activity that coincides with your personal disposition, you are an addict and that is a part of you. Like any part of your identity you must now live with it.

The fact that your addiction is born of your past does not relinquish you of responsibility of your addiction and recovery. Your past is not a set of dominoes in which you are the victim of the final fallen one. Instead your past congregates around you like a routed army looking to rally. It is up to you to form battalions, review them and strategically place them.

It is your past, it is your identity, but they are worthless to you unless you see that they are, in fact, yours. Your ability is limited until you say and believe the words “I am a sex addict.”

I have only admitted to a few people that I am a sex addict. When I was in therapy it was obvious to me that I was an addict. I met all the criteria, I read the books and identified with the stories retold.

Now that I know and others know there is a certain relief. It is relief in the sense that now you know that this will be your battle for the rest of your life. One of the few things I did like about SA is that they taught about a life of recovery. Working toward a cure is futile. I imagine that it is much like someone who has lost a limb or has recently become blind. You will spend the rest of your life navigating the world differently than most people.

The real dilemma is that sex addiction is much more difficult to navigate than that of alcoholism or addiction to narcotics. I am not referring to the severity of dependence but the socially accepted nature of some of the forms that sex addiction can take.

Obviously, if you are picking up prostitutes or flashing people these activities fall outside of the realm of socially acceptable behaviors. When you are looking at porn or going to strip clubs then these activities are more socially acceptable. My personal religious and ethical views aside, what people do to feel good within the bounds of social acceptability is fine. If a person genuinely enjoys looking at porn or using strippers then they do not fall into the category of sex addict. Pretty much any major city after 11:00 pm will become a socially acceptable climate for these activities to take place. The argument that the addict has with her or his self then becomes about whether or not they are doing something wrong or not. The answer to this question depends on religious views, whether or not the person is married, their spouse’s views on the issue and the list could go on. I think that the question of the moral nature or social acceptability of these actions is a distraction away from the real issue of addiction. If a single guy is going to the strip club to get a high once a week and calls it “unwinding,” he is simply hiding behind the social acceptability of the behavior. The group of guys that go to a strip club together to celebrate their buddies bachelor party are not sex addicts. Their are signs to help discern the difference which one can explore in books that can be found online. Ultimately, the sex addict is going to have to ask the question of whether they are (and I am speaking metaphorically) enjoying a cigar now and then or they are simply addicted to Nicotine.

Another reason sex addiction is harder to navigate than other addictions is that sex is natural. By natural I mean that sex is apart of life. If you want to have kids or feel intimate with another person, sex is the mode by which these things are done. Alcohol can be avoided, drugs cannot be purchased, but short of making huge lifestyle change (i.e. becoming celibate) sex can not be avoided. Even things like dating become more difficult, you want your love interest to be attractive and to highlight that attractiveness but eventually for the addict a weird fetishizing occurs of their attractive attributes. I am speculating at this point and I think that I should make clear that I am not trained in this topic but am merely trying to work out the nature of my own addiction.

I have had to navigate my addiction through both of these issues. Regardless of my religious scruples my engagement with pornography is beyond what I imagine the normal person would use. I am assuming the typical person would sit down and watch one video instead of wasting multiple hours chasing a high. Engaging in the activity of looking at porn is an addiction for me and I need to not engage with it in order to be healthy. This fact alone suffices for the decision of not looking at porn, but it is not the only factor that informs it. My marriage and my religious views do as well and that is part of the landscape I have to navigate.

I haven’t done a great deal of work when it comes to how my addiction has crippled my relationship with my wife. I am not talking about the obvious things like how much it hurt her or something of that nature. I am really talking about how I have used my wife to feed my addiction or how I should seek to remedy that. But that is another post for another day.

Desperate and Unsure

July 30, 2008

I started this blog in the hopes that I could find or manifest some relief from the urges I have been feeling lately. I had been fine for a little more than a year but now for some reason unknown to me I have been tricking myself into looking for women on the net while my wife is away. By “tricking” I mean I search (in Google) for things that I know will yield results that will be sexually provocative. I am not intending to relinquish my responsibility in the matter, but I am trying to express the personal conflict that comes with addictions and especially sexual addiction.

This blog will be solely devoted to my sex addiction and will revolve around my experiences at SA as well as my personal religious beliefs and how I am incorporating my recovery into my life.

I think that all addictions arise out of a desire to escape what I refer to as the “anticlimax” of life (taken from C.S. Lewis). Every high that a person chooses to pursue is always at the expense of engaging in the daily grind of life. I would much rather drink than do the laundry, watch a movie instead of do the dishes or look at porn in lieu of doing homework. I feel “good” when I do those things. I am emotionally engaged with the movie, the alcohol mellows me out, the porn…

…the porn… few things on this earth have made me feel like porn has made me feel.

In high school I would spend days on the computer looking at porn. I never kept my room clean, never did chores around the house. I would sit in my basement and hunt for a picture or a movie that would hit the spot. My worst binge lasted at least two full days. 48 hours. I didn’t sleep much, I ate when I needed to, urinated when I had to and spent the rest of the time either downloading or looking at porn. My parents would check on me on occasion and I would restart the computer and wonder to myself if they suspected anything. It was at this point that I realized that something was off. Normal people didn’t do this to themselves. They went outside and played baseball with their friends. They kept their houses clean in order to have company over. They didn’t waste their life in a basement amassing photos of women to consume. Normal people didn’t spend the nights at their friends’ house and wait for their friends to go to sleep so they could look at porn and jerk off as silently as they could manage.

Of course, I didn’t have the language of “addict” in my vocabulary then, I was just doing something that I thought was normal and I was doing it way too much. It wasn’t until a friend of mine was called out on his addiction that I realized that I met all the qualifications of being an addict. This epiphany was hit home when my wife found my downloads on my computer sometime later and I had to scramble to convince her to stay committed to the marriage.

After a little bit of time in counseling, a handful of SA meetings and  confiding in a friend, my wife and I have hit a time of relative peace and joy. Now all of a sudden the urges are back and I am scrambling yet again to figure out how I am going to avoid the end of my marriage.

Like I said addicts are in constant avoidance of the anticlimax and I am seeking to remedy my addiction by engaging in the anticlimax of writing. Now that I have started, I am going to go drink a glass of wine and watch a movie to celebrate the continuation of my on going recovery.

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