Sexually addictive behavior as a defense against loss, grief and pain
“Best start putting first things first. Because when your hourglass runs out of sand, you can’t flip it over and start again. Take every breath that God gives you for what it is worth”……..
– Kenny Chesney
“I was on-line last night cruising around and looking at all my favorite porn sites and next thing I know the sun was coming up. There was no way I could go to work. I was exhausted but I kept on looking”.
“I could feel that urge coming up in my again so I decided to head downtown to some of the video booth stores. The moment I walked in I felt that fog come over me and I was lost for hours”.
“After I called my usual prostitute I feel at ease again and I looked forward to our appointment later that week but the actual experience with her was over in a flash and afterwards I felt uneasy and wondered when I would contact her again”.
The above quotes are from individuals I have worked with in the past two decades. These descriptions of what some have called the “sexual trance” tell us a great deal about the function of sexually addictive behaviors. This trance takes us away from mundane day-to-day activities of life. It helps us travel away from the difficult feelings that we all experience navigating life and relationships. Interestingly the trance does something else that is particularly powerful. It changes our relationship to time. It helps us to deny that time is passing. It helps us ward off the grief we would experience if we were to admit that time is passing. However in robbing us of the experience of time it also steals precious moments. So we may not feel grief, but we also don’t experience life. The experience of love, creativity, imagination and spirituality is blurred. Nothing is in focus.
Part of life is painful and those of us with addictive sexual behaviors have often had an extraordinary amount of pain in our lives. However, we can be very clever. We figure out ways to not feel. We discover early on that sexual behavior can erase our feelings and leave us numb. Numbness becomes preferred over experiencing feelings, particularly considering many of these feelings are imagined to be painful. However, there is one dilemma with this solution. In numbing out painful feelings this strategy is not so selective — it blocks out all feelings. This includes happiness and joy. So the strategy wipes out all feeling states and instead leaves people with a constant low-grade state of anxiety and depression. These states leave us with the need for more escape because the experience of facing historical pain and loss is instead replaced with ongoing dread and emptiness. This creates the progression of addictive behavior. Additionally, it blunts our emotional literacy and we no longer have the benefit of our feeling states. Without our feeling states we cannot sort out what we need and want. We are robbed of important signals. Our emotional GPS becomes defunct and we become aimless.
Fortunately we do not have to stay with this numbing addictive behavior and can instead begin to look at other solutions. An alternative to this addictive behavior is to face our histories, experience grief and begin to let in the myriad of feelings we all have as human beings. Individual and group therapy can often assist people in looking at their past and regaining hope for the future. Often times we were not supported as children to have all our feelings and this set us up for the addictive defense against feeling. Having the opportunity to have our feelings recognized, supported and understood is a key element to recovery. The SAT Project works to help people experience their feelings and begin to use them in productive, relational ways. This process helps us replace emptiness and dread with aliveness and hope.