Welcome to my Recovery Blog.
Whether you’re thinking about giving sobriety a shot, are new to recovery, or you’ve been sober for a while, you’re bound to find a posting pertinent to your current experience. I’ve tried to write about every situation and feeling you’re likely to come up against.
I’ve been posting announcements for SEX TALK (a free live video event I host) in this space so keep scrolling to get beyond all the sex topics. Don’t give up because there are over 60 blogs covering a variety of recovery-related topics.
You can also sign up for my newsletter to get updates whenever there are new blog postings or recovery/wellness events.
Stay tuned – I’ll be revamping my website and I’m either going to categorize blog topics for easier navigation or throw everything into a free e-book and start using this space to post musings, personal stories, opinion pieces, and news. I’ve lots of ideas but not always a lot of free time.
How does SEX TALK work?
First you must become a member of www.intherooms.com or enter as a guest. Unlike Facebook, this free website does not require your real name or a photograph. You can also download the free phone app to watch the live video meetings. Once you sign up I suggest you take the live video tutorial. When you enter the meeting space your avatar will appear below the video window with other attendees. YOU WILL NOT BE VISIBLE TO THE GROUP UNLESS YOU CLICK “REQUEST TO SHARE’ BUTTON.
Sex Talk is open to everyone in recovery. Whether you attend 12-step meetings or not, you are welcome to participate. The only rule for sex talk is that the participants do not eroticize their share. This is a safe place and not a XXX experience. We also do not use our personal morality to criticize or shame other members.
If you’re uncomfortable being onscreen, direct your camera toward a wall or turn off the lights. If anonymity is of utmost importance create a new profile or attend as an intherooms.com guest.
The group provides the momentum and steers the content. We keep the focus on feelings experienced around sex and intimacy and share our experiences with one another and how they’ve informed or impacted our recovery. It is call and response. Attendees can come into the main box with a question and others can share their direct experience relating to it. You can also instant message questions for me to share with the group.
Sex is a natural healthy part of our lives. Sober sex is an entirely new experience and it can kick up a lot of feelings. Nonetheless, it’s often left out of the recovery conversation. If relapse happens over feelings what happens to the recovering addict/alcoholic who carries a heavy load of feelings related to their sexual behavior, shame, self-criticism, feelings of inadequacy, denial, self-deception? Can things like unsafe sex, deception, infidelity or secretive behaviors become the pain precursor to avoiding meetings and friends? Will they kick up cravings? Sex Talk provides a safe place to let these feelings out. It’s a place where we can learn from others’ experience, strength and hope.
This week I texted a few people asking for topic ideas for SEX TALK. It went out to people who are very different from one another: men and women, gay and straight, 23 – 60, various fellowships. I was amazed when they all sent back the same suggestion. Everyone wanted the topic to be “Getting sexually involved with someone you know you shouldn’t and once you do it’s impossible to stop no matter how much trouble you know is coming your way”. In other words: what’s the allure of forbidden fruit?
How often do you hear (or have you said) that sex is hotter when it’s taboo? For someone in recovery this can mean seducing the newcomer to having sex with someone who is loaded, someone who’s in a relationship, someone who normally has sex with a particular gender, someone who’s breaking celibacy.
I asked New York therapist Carole Gladstone Ramos to explain why some people are sexually turned on by situations that they know will inevitably cause pain. “We tend to go to what’s familiar even if we are aware of the chronic pitfalls because we have an unconscious need to correct what went wrong even though our rational mind knows better. The psychological term is called “Repetitive compulsion”. We keep going back as a way to hold hope (unconsciously) that this time it will be different.”
Wow – now that’s a loaded answer! Join me this Sunday for SEX TALK where we’ll explore our experiences crossing whatever line we’ve drawn in the sexual sand and how we’ve dealt with the emotional fallout using recovery tools to make our way back to sanity. How many times do we have to repeat old behavior expecting different results before we surrender it? When you surrendered, how did things change?
People make New Year resolutions. “Quit smoking, lose weight, start going to the gym, date more, work less, spend more time with family, give up drugs and alcohol.” I’ve noticed just as many people get sober in December as they do in January. Hopefully a lot of people in early recovery are reading this post (written January 4th). SEX TALK is for everyone in recovery but this Sunday’s topic will speak to the person in early sobriety.
One thing I’ve noticed when I try to talk to women in early sobriety about sex is that many of them dismiss the subject claiming they have no interest in sex or that they’ve never been very sexual. A few weeks later I’ll see them make a bee line toward whatever attractive man shared during the AA meeting and watch them bask in male attention. This isn’t to say I don’t witness the same behavior in men. The difference is that men rarely dismiss their sexual desire outright. There are all sorts of ways to interpret this but I believe when we’re loaded we deny a lot of our needs – from our need for nourishment to the need for shelter – so why would our sexual needs be any different? However, once drugs and alcohol are removed, the body reawakens. If we’ve been isolated, attending meetings provides social interaction. The playfulness of flirtatious intrigue can feel as exciting and nerve-racking at 40 as it did in high-school. We come back to life in sobriety and sooner or later we experience sober sex.
But what is sober sex like?
Drunk and high, we were likely to have sex first and think about it afterward. If there were emotional consequences, we got high to forget them. Hooking up drunk can lead to relationships with people you didn’t choose. But having wasted sex had its perks. It was a way to do something you may have wanted to do without accountability. Sex sober is a decision.
For some people the idea of having sex sober is so terrifying they’ll remain celibate for years rather than seek out professional help to explore the source of this fear. Others discover that sex is the only place they feel powerful and secure. Some people enjoy sex as a physical activity without a need for emotional attachment and others can only have sex if it’s an expression of intimacy. You can count on one thing – a lot of unexpected feelings will surface around sexual desire and desirability. You may experience conflicting emotions. Expect self-discovery to include a lot of trial and error in sobriety. It takes time to discover what your needs are, what you’re attracted to, and what works for you.
But what is sober sex like?
Join me this Sunday at 9pm ET for SEX TALK where we’ll share our experiences with sober sex. SEX TALK is a free monthly live video open discussion on http://www.intherooms.com. Join In the Rooms (a free recovery website) to access this event. Get the free phone app and tune in from anywhere.
December is always a time-traveling month for me. I not only look back over the year (to make sense of where the time went) but December’s also my anniversary month so I get to look back over the 28 years I’ve spent in recovery. You can’t have perspective without time passing. I couldn’t tell you what was on the wish list I wrote during my first year clean. Probably a lot of things I wanted or wanted to achieve. Nowadays when I travel backward over the years what I see are not the outside changes but the inside ones. It’s funny how that happens. The concept of a relationship with myself and personal growth wasn’t even on my radar back then. Why would it have been – I’d felt lost from myself my entire life. I didn’t know this then of course. All I knew was that drugs made me feel right.
SEX TALK is another place I time travel to support each month’s topic. I always remember speaking at a meeting in Hollywood California when I had around 9 months clean. In my filter-less way I started questioning if I’d been presenting a public persona built around my sex life to hide my true self in. It was a weird and embarrassing share to say the least and I was horrified when I finally stopped talking. Ugh – vulnerability! Afterward many people took me aside to thank me and share about their own confusion around their relationship to sex and secrets they feared would get them loaded. I learned that day – unintentionally – the strength in vulnerability and how we heal one another when we expose our own truths.
This brings me to our final topic for 2016: Has Recovery Changed How You Talk About Sex.
When I was thirteen my mom came into my room to have what she called “a talk about the birds and the bees”. Yes – I am quoting her. You can only imagine how uncomfortable she was and how awkward it felt for me to have her in my personal space this way. I put a quick end to her misery by telling her I already knew everything. I said my friends told me and they told us at school. She looked relieved but I don’t have any decades’ old memory footage from that moment on. The memory triggers sadness because by cutting her off like that I cheated us both out of a conversation that may have set the stage for deeper bonding and honest communication into adulthood. It wasn’t until I had several years in recovery that we began learning how to communicate with one another.
Despite what I told mom that day, I didn’t know anything about sex other than that a few of my girlfriends in the drug fueled crowd I hung with were sexually active. Two of them would give birth before their 8th grade graduation. I had boyfriends but no one ever tried to get further than first base. I’m thankful now but at the time I remember thinking “Why doesn’t anyone want me the way they want my girlfriends? What’s wrong with me?” When I finally did have sex at 14 I couldn’t wait for it to be over so I could get home to phone my friends. I hated that virginity had become a thing that separated us and I just wanted to get it over with. My younger brother lost his virginity at 17 to his long-term girlfriend. He told me they planned the evening and he and wanted it to be very special for both of them. It never occurred to me people did this. It seemed so sweet and thoughtful and intimate. Very unlike me seeing virginity as a cross to bear.
Friends in recovery are starting to talk to their kids about sex. I’ve witnessed two things – either they go into the same denial like their parents had and can’t accept the possibility that their kid is sexually active or else they’re determined not to make the same mistakes their parents made. Allowing for privacy while creating a safe judgment-free environment for their kids to talk to them about sex seems to be the winning formula. But even this is not without hitches because kids often hear what they want to hear. I’ll go into more detail on Sunday at Sex Talk.
In recovery we learn from one another how to talk about sex – with our parents, our friends, our kids, and our partners. I look forward to seeing and hearing you this Sunday at 9pm. The flyer will appear on the home page of In-the-Rooms all day Sunday with a link to the meeting.
Last night I sat down to write this blog. With the election underway, my brain was hitting emotional overload. I needed a topic for this week’s SEX TALK but my mind wouldn’t cooperate. Sex and politics were not good bedfellows I lay awake ’til dawn rifling through mental flip cards of sex in recovery experiences (my own and stories that have been shared with me). Numb, exhausted and disconnected. It felt like a closing scene from Clockwork Orange.
It appears we’re living in a country where a large percentage of its people long to return to an idealized 1950s version of America. I’m proud to be part of a recovery community that pushes back against the very taboos and stigmas the 60s began liberating us from. If we want to heal from the ravages of active addiction we have to push back and eradicate societal shame. Ours is a quest for inner peace and self-acceptance and this is achievable by sharing our experience strength and hope, by participating in altruistic acts, and by expanding our capacity for empathy and compassion.
SEX TALK started out as an open-topic forum free for all discussion – a safe space for people in recovery to talk about their relationship to sex and to explore how their sexual behavior, desires, and feelings impact their recovery. A lot’s happened since SEX TALK came on the In-the-Rooms scene. Special interest discussions such as David Weiss’ Sex and Addiction and Rachel Levy’s Healthy Love are now part of the ITR offerings; SA (Sex Addicts) and SLA (Sex and Love) have been added to the 12-Step video meeting list; and Hazelden Books released ITR member Jennifer Matesa’s “Sex in Recovery: A Meeting Between the Covers,” an engaging and excellently researched recovery book. My point here is that once we began talking about sex in recovery a door opened and we walked through it. It starts with courage and willingness to share experience strength and hope. Conversations on ITR make their way into small local groups of recovering friends. Your contribution matters.
Join me for SEX TALK this Sunday at 9pm ET to talk about sex in recovery – our fears, desires, shame, behaviors, confusion, insecurities, our secrets, pleasure and our pain. This week’s topic is Truth or Consequences because once the drugs and alcohol are gone it’s impossible to side-step accountability – even if we’d like to. I want to extend a special welcome to anyone new to recovery because you’ll have your first drug and alcohol-free sexual experience and the people at SEX TALK have been there. You’ll find support and no topic is off limit so feel free to bring it.
In early recovery when I shared in 12-Step meetings I was filter-less. There wasn’t a topic off the table in my desperate attempt to stay clean. One night in 1989 I attended a late night meeting in Hollywood California when I probably had 8 months clean and was going through a new layer of painful feelings. I knew I needed to share some risky stuff but the room was filled with terminally hip rock and rollers I was dying to befriend and I didn’t want to be uncool. I went to the podium despite my ego and insecurities and shared that even though I owned my decision to be sexually active in casual relationships, I was questioning whether I was self-servingly open about my history with sex work and current employment as a nude dancer as a way to hide my real self behind the “sexual free spirit” image I put forth in recovery or if some part of me believed I was valueless and sex was all I had to offer. The second my mouth closed I felt the horror of vulnerability and shame. I wanted to evaporate into thin air. When the meeting ended there was a line of people waiting to speak with me. Every single one identified with what I’d shared and they started to tell me things about themselves they’d never told a soul. I realized that night how important honest discussions about sex are to our recovery and also how rare they are. Twenty years later I asked the founders of IntheRooms if I could host an open discussion video event about sex in recovery in the hope that members will bring this conversation to their face-to-face sober communities.
Well the conversation has begun and I’m THRILLED to announce that Jennifer Matesa is my guest for this week’s SEX TALK. We’ll discuss her latest book “SEX IN RECOVERY: A Meeting between the Covers” which will be released on October 4th. I do not say this lightly – this book is a must-read for anyone in the recovery community. It is a well-researched exploration of sexuality through the lens of recovery and is filled with personal stories and questions to contemplate individually, with your recovery community, or “book club” style.
Jen has done a masterful job combining the intimacy of her own story and interviews with a diverse demographic of recovering individuals while exploring big questions about sex, shame, privacy, trauma, sexual health, sexual stigma, and our right to sexual pleasure. I’m dying to quote long sections of the book here – especially the section on the lack of scientific research on the long-term psychological and physical consequences of sexual dysfunction that occurs on replacement drugs such as Suboxone and Methadone – but I think it will be more fun to discuss some of the content on SEX TALK. In the meantime, listen to her I LOVE RECOVERY CAFE interview with Nicola O’Hanlon at http://ow.ly/jiXa304EGVR
Jen’s been a longtime member of IntheRooms who I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know outside of the cyber world. Her award winning blog, Guinevere Gets Sober chronicles her early years and personal experiences in sobriety and has gone onto to explore and comment on current trends in addiction treatment and the politics behind the drug war as it re-brands itself as a war against addiction. Her first recovery book, “The Recovery Body: Physical and Spiritual Fitness for Living Clean and Sober” (Hazelden 2014) provides readers with a fact-based roadmap toward health and spiritual wholeness.
SEX TALK is a free live video event on www.intherooms.com . The website is free but you must join to participate. You can also attend the event from your iPad of cell by using the InTheRooms app. It is open to everyone in recovery. The group provides the momentum and steers the content. We keep the focus on the feelings experienced around sex and intimacy. Attendees can come into the main video box with a question or share their experience. Anyone who’s uncomfortable being seen can step off camera. If anonymity is of utmost importance shoot me an instant message with a question to relay to the group.
Some readers may remember seeing the flyer “Let’s Talk About Sex” turning up on my website and social media intermittently between 2011-2014. This was the original Sex in Recovery event I co-hosted with Dan Griffin. Add another two years of hosting SEX TALK and one thing’s clear – I’ve been instigating dialogue about sex in recovery for a while. Throughout the years we’ve laughed, cried, and shared many intimate moments together on www.intherooms.com. This familiarity creates a place of safety for new arrivals to speak honestly about their sexual experiences and desires in the context of their recovery. Because let’s face it – without drugs and alcohol we feel the impact of our actions. The joy, the emotional fallout, and the self-created drama.
My biggest takeaway from hosting Sex Talk is that one topic’s always a deal-breaker: communicating sexual needs. It seems no one wants to discuss the trepidation, discomfort, and outright fear one experiences when it comes to having an honest conversation with their partner about their sexual needs. I believe this topic is affects the recovery process most profoundly because it ties into self-esteem and codependence.
I’ve never had an issue admitting I’m an addict but if someone points out any behaviors leaning toward codependence my impulse is to throw up my armor and explain myself. I’ve been in recovery long enough to know that whenever I get on the defense I start to justify or explain away codependent behaviors because I feel exposed. The knee-jerk (and pointless) response is to judge myself for not being further along in my process. I also know I’m not alone with this. One of the most profound things said to me by a therapist with many years in sobriety is that if you peel away the layers of an addict you will come to the codependent. Recovery in codependence cannot be addressed by anyone actively engaged in addictive or compulsive behaviors. This is why once we put down our substance or behavior of choice many of us experience difficulties with intimacy.
A high percentage of substance abusers, both men and women, enter recovery with untreated trauma. Our history accompanies us into the recovery process. It’s no wonder talking to our partner about sex and our sexual needs can be a terrifying experience – so much so that we do whatever we can to avoid it. I suspect this is why when I introduced it as a topic last year, not one person came into the main video box to share – though the room was packed.
If we want healthy sex lives, authenticity, and greater intimacy in our relationships we have to learn how to engage in honest dialogue with our partners and express our sexual needs without fear of alienating or harming the object of our affection. I’ve enlisted the help of Dan Griffin, my former co-host of Sex in Recovery to bring his wealth of knowledge and experience to this topic. Dan has spent years lecturing on men and trauma and has written numerous books including: A Man’s Way through the Twelve Steps, A Man’s Way through Relationships: Learning to Love and Be Loved, and Helping Men Recover.
I look forward to your questions, your input, and your shared experiences this week on SEX TALK, a free live video event on www.intherooms.com . The website is free but you must join to participate. You can also attend the event from your iPad of cell by using the InTheRooms app.
Last month I posted this blog on sexting which was to be the topic for July’s SEX TALK. Unfortunately ten minutes into my intro, right as I was disclosing some very uncensored personal stories (the kind that fire up an inner voice saying to “reel it in”), dozens of instant messages popped up on my screen saying that no one could hear me. Collectively we began troubleshooting without success. Our back and forth instant messaging continued after the website’s tech person took over. I was amazed at how many people stuck around through this mayhem. Eventually I got back into the main video box to say good-bye and pantomime “We’ll talk about “sexting” next month” (Try to pantomime that one!). A final message appeared on my screen as I was signing off. “I was really looking forward to this meeting but it’s kind of perfect that we spent the hour texting about sexting.”
Due to technical difficulties in July we’ll be revisiting “Sexting to Fill the Void” this Sunday August 7th at 9pm on SEX TALK.
Readers of a certain age may be asking themselves “What’s Sexting?”. It’s the 21st century version of spin the bottle or strip poker but with higher stakes. By sending sexually provocative text messages or sexually explicit self-images, sexual intrigue moves to the forefront of a conversation with immediacy. In most cases it’s replaced flirting as a seduction technique. The main difference between sexting and strip poker is that you don’t even have to be part of the game to experience it. More than once I’ve gotten dick pics mistakenly sent out as a group text and I’ve seen numerous pornographic images of men and women who obviously never questioned what would become of these photos when they hit “send” on their phone.
This past year numerous articles have been written about teenagers (young women mostly) who’ve committed suicide after nude photos they’d sexted someone were shared on social media. It got me thinking about how often impulsive behavior overrides weighing out big-picture consequences. This impulsiveness is a common characteristic of addiction. The conversations we’ve had on SEX TALK have taught me that it’s much harder for people in recovery to discuss negative consequences connected to their sexual behavior than it is to admit emotional pain from almost all other sources. Not to be glib but sexting seems too easy and seductive for addicts in recovery to resist – it’s impulsive; there’s excitement, daring and some risk; it’s accessible 24/7; it’s void of emotional intimacy; it’s a way for someone looking for sex to weed out non-contenders; it’s a way to get off without having to participate in real sex; and it’s a way to hide behind a mask that feels empowering.
I began wondering how people in recovery dealt with the emotional consequences or negative fallout from sexting – since as a subject it’s stayed off the radar. Obviously where there’s opportunity for pain there’s also often opportunity for pleasure so – to be clear – I’m not judging sexting in a moral context. From a recovery standpoint bringing this conversation into the light serves as relapse prevention since undisclosed pain is usually coupled with shame.
A few weeks ago a friend told me about a guy she met at the gym. After being stuck for months in the unrelenting feelings of grief from a recent break-up, this chance meeting filled her with the hope of possibility. She forwarded me a face photo shortly after their initial meeting. I asked how things were going with the new guy a few weeks later when we met for lunch. She said they’d gotten into the habit of nightly texting because their schedules hadn’t aligned yet for a first date. Almost immediately their texts became playful and sexy – which she was down for because it re-awakened her mojo. When dick pics started turning up on her phone she was surprised but didn’t discourage him. My friend then reached across the table, placed her cell next to my plate and began scrolling through all the photos he’d sent – each photo more explicit than the last until we came to the money shot. It was like a male ejaculation flip book. I was stuck for an appropriate response so I stared at her phone nodding, my mouth full of pasta. She explained that the playfulness of their sexy banter was exciting but somehow she failed to notice that sexting had replaced their “getting to know you” texts. At this point in our conversation tears began welling up in her eyes. She added that when they finally met up in person the space between them was filled with awkward silence and sexual tension. She’d been interested in getting to know this man but because of their sexting this date turned out to be nothing more than a hook up. She was devastated but not surprised when she didn’t hear from him again – devastated not because she’d an emotional investment in the new guy (because she didn’t) but because his texts had been filling a void which now felt even bigger.
As a woman in her 40s, she didn’t consider sexting as anything more than sexy playful banter and assumed if they had a connection in real life emotional intimacy would follow. Naively when she impulsively sexted back she had no idea she was signing off on the emotional intimacy she craved nor was she aware of how dependent she’d become on evenings of texting as a way to avoid experiencing the grief of heartbreak and her fear of change. Fixed by fantasy and distraction, she also failed to recognize the need for self-care when she was in HALT.
This story is just one person’s sexting experience. Please join me this Sunday at 9pm for SEX TALK and let’s get this conversation started by sharing your experiences with sexting – the pros and cons.
SEX TALK is an open forum where we talk about sex in recovery. If sexting isn’t your experience feel free to steer the conversation toward issues that do concern you.
Is it finally time to put down that whipping stick and stop policing your sexual desires? The inner-critic has lied to you – negative self-talk isn’t the voice of your moral compass. It’s not serving your highest interests. It’s a trickster insisting there’s a “normal” out there that’s better, shinier, happier and attainable (even for you) but only if you’re hard really on yourself and learn to distrust your instincts (which obviously are F*#*d up judging by your history of damage done). You’ve got to see your entire life prior to sobriety as having been tainted by poor judgment and influenced by low-life companions – if you can do all these things there is hope for you. So pick up that whipping stick. Don’t be too loud. Don’t live too large. Corral yourself inside the parameters of what “normal” people do and you’ll be safe from yourself. Listen to the inner-critic and you’ll learn how to beat yourself into a “new you”.
Does this sound extreme?
I’ve had countless conversations with people who’ve convinced themselves that the answer to their unrest is to be “normal” without giving much thought to what this “normal” is. This approach to life is the antithesis of self-discovery. Self-acceptance comes out of a growth process. First we must discover who we are – stripped away from the past, from the life of active addiction, from who our family insisted we should be. Self-discovery is the fun part the recovery process – especially when it comes to examining our sexuality. If we deny our desires or quash our sexual curiosity, it’s like putting limits on our journey of self-discovery. When our inner-critic judges our sexual imagination and natural desires it’s building a shame-based prison – a place self-acceptance will always remain out of reach.
I’m looking forward to this week’s SEX TALK discussion. It will be an opportunity to examine what parts of ourselves we put in a box marked “unhealthy behaviors” when we got clean and sober without ever having re-opened it to see if our sexual interests ever belonged in that box in the first place.