Just for today is something you hear a lot in recovery. For a person who knows that life is unmanageable while they’re drinking, drugging, gambling, acting out sexually, it’s a no-brainer to know how to make things better: just stop. Unfortunately, just stopping feels impossible when you are an addict.
“Normal” people do those things in moderation, when it’s appropriate. If they over indulge or do something they later regret (a threesome, for example) they decide not to do that again. And then they don’t do it again.
Addicts do those things when they need to, which is all about regulating the inner emotional landscape in order to cope with the stress of daily life.
To help ourselves keep from freaking out at having to live a life without our drug of choice we remember that we don’t have to live this way forever; it’s just for today. That keeps the panic level low enough that we can think rationally. Tomorrow I may make a different decision, but just for today I am a sexually sober sex addict.
That being said; I was diagnosed as a sex addict by a therapist who abused me. While I was under his care, I acted out sexually in ways that I had not ever done before, I became less and less functional in my daily life, and more and more mentally ill. I nearly killed myself. In a last ditch effort to find some way to continue living, I went to inpatient treatment for my sex addiction. I presented myself there exactly as I saw myself, as a sexual predator who had ruined a good priest’s career.
And that’s how I my treatment was structured, until a national expert in the field of sex addiction sat down with my husband and I during family week and listened to the story. He was horrified at the level of abuse I had suffered, which was something my husband had been saying as well. Having a fresh set of eyes made it possible for me to be seen differently.
The good news was that I got better even though I was mis-diagnosed. It was a safe place. None of the therapists were abusing me, and all of them genuinely cared and wanted to help me get better. Parts of my therapy probably would have been gentler if I’d been treated more like a victim, but I don’t regret going there. That treatment facility and those counselors saved my life. The not so good news is the intensive outpatient program I went to after that was not as safe and not nearly as nurturing. But I had sufficient mental health by then to be able to make the decision to leave, even though they told me that I was making a mistake. To tell the truth, I’m beginning to feel more and more angry about some of the things that happened to me in that outpatient program. As I’ve been trying to work through my thoughts and feelings about some of the traumatic events that happened there, I’m struck by just how much I want to go back and tell them how they hurt me. It would be healing for me to accept an apology. But it would also be instructive for them to hear where they made mistakes.
So here I am, 7 years later having been diagnosed as a sex addict by a priest, who was a therapist, who stole money from me, and who helped me get sicker, and who abused me sexually.
I don’t think I’m a sex addict. I think I have Complex PTSD. At times I drink unhealthily. At times I act out sexually. At times I check out mentally and get lost in pornography. What in the hell do I do with this self-knowledge? What does it mean for my participation in recovery?
On the other hand – I do think I’m a sex addict.
Labels that fit can be so helpful but they’re also limiting. And when they’re wrong they can be damaging. Actually when they’re right they can be damaging as well.
It’s a conundrum.