At the very core of our lives is sexuality. Though, as a society, we are not trained to talk openly and honestly about sex. Nonetheless, we grow up recognizing and knowing, intrinsically, the need we have for sex and the roles it plays; with one of it’s main functions being procreation. And, what is the other function of sex? Well, and pleasure, of course.
If only pleasure were such an easy thing for us to comprehend. As a society, not only are we discouraged from talking about the pleasure that sex brings us, we are also led to recognize the detriments of deriving too much pleasure. The lack of ability to openly acknowledge things which bring us pleasure, may also cause us to abuse those same things.
It is known as hedonistic to throw oneself into pleasure all the way, to be unable to find a happy medium. When we begin to neglect our responsibilities—work, family, friends—in search of personal pleasure, we then call this phenomenon an addiction. And, when someone comes to the end of the rope with addiction, they often recognize that the only way to undo the damage is to go into what we call sobriety, or recovery.
When an alcoholic or drug addict goes through recovery, it is possible that sex is at the core; however, it is one topic that often gets neglected. Much of recovery is spent addressing the relationships, which affected and were affected by the addiction, coming to terms with our addictions and understanding ourselves in relation to our higher spirit. All of these are, indeed, important items on the road of recovery. However, it is not every day that the role sex plays in an addiction is explored.
It is important to mention that drug and drinking problems can be sexual problems in disguise. Sex plays a major role for some individuals who become chemically dependent. And, to break down its walls, it’s necessary to understand the effects of sex addiction.
Sexuality is often one of the most fragile areas of a recovering individual’s torn self-esteem. Many of the issues of love and relationships, that come up for addicts in recovery from alcohol/chemical dependency, have something to do with sexuality, once the walls are broken down.
Sexual fears and insecurities may be the force that drives a user to drinking or use drugs in the first place. For example, many professionals point to early sexual abuse as the place where some anxieties began. It has been recognized that childhood sexual abuse is a risk factor in drug dependence. Research indicates that, of all the people in treatment, about half have been raped or abused, while a third are victims of incest. So, as practitioners, we have to recognize that sexual abuse may be damaging to feelings of self-worth, which, in and of itself, is a risk factor for drug use and abuse.
Not only is sexual abuse is a major contributor to addiction. Sexual and gender stereotypes are another. Some of the tried and true gender roles still hold in our society, even though we are seeing progress and change. Many women are still the primary home caregivers, putting the needs of men and children ahead of their own, neglecting their own need for support and intimacy. And, men are often still expected to be the initiators, the aggressors, and the breadwinners forgetting to express their emotions and feelings. Ignoring needs and feelings are risk factors for addiction.
In treatment we learn that preserving sobriety involves more than merely reshaping the habits of drug or chemical use, it also requires throwing away stereotypes and reshaping old attitudes that have been hammered in over the years. In treatment the addict learns to start taking care of his/her own needs. The addict learns that their recovery depends upon addressing feelings and emotions. The individual in recovery must talk about things like sexual abuse, sexual gender roles and stereotypes. And, likewise, must also talk openly talk about his/her sex life.
The key is to deal with sex after sobriety. Avoiding sex may leave an individual poorly prepared to cultivate relationships that don’t revolve around, for example, singles bars and drinking, causing an addict to lose that hard-earned sobriety within months or weeks. Unless treatment addresses both the dependency and sexuality, recovering addicts risk relapse with every close romantic encounter. Most treatment programs do recognize that it takes two to repair a relationship strained by chemical abuse, and will incorporate the partner of the addict in the treatment process.
Though many addicts may feel like doing so in recovery, running away from sex is not realistic; it’s better to put sex in the context of feelings and factors that make up the whole person. Here are some things for the addict to remember when it comes to sex:
1. Talk about sexual feelings of guilt and anger in order to heal. Addicts need to learn to recognize the patterns of feelings, sexual or otherwise, that drive them to drink or abuse substances. Only then are they ready for new relationships, or of rekindling an old one.
2. A recovering addict also needs to move slowly, whether in a new or old relationship. Concentrate on building self-confidence and self-image, first, before building up a sex life. For many, it may be a good idea to wait six months, or even a year, before beginning a new sexual relationship. Couples should focus, first, on sharing time and feelings together before jumping back into bed and into their old, unstable, erratic sex life. Sex therapy is also a good starting point.
3. Start over by focusing on really learning about your own body and feelings. The goal here is to help ease fears that sexual feelings are abnormal or strange. It is important to take the time to really learn (or re-learn) what one likes, sexually. Couples should focus on sensuality and should take the pressure off of sex and orgasm for a while and, instead, do things like take bubble baths, sensual massage, and mutual masturbation, and openly communicate with each other about sex. It is important to recognize that, just like there’s more to alcoholism recovery than not drinking, there’s more to sexuality than just sex.
An addict will very likely need to rewire his/her ideas about sex. Taking time and talking openly about sex are the keys. The addict who discovers that sex can be a bridge to intimacy, satisfaction, and a strong self-image, is likely to find deeper, more honest and satisfying relationships—sexual and otherwise.
© Copyright 2010 by Mou Wilson. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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