My friend and I were at lunch, and over too much pasta Alfredo, we found ourselves talking about sex. It’s one of our favorite topics. That, and why we can never have it anymore because we have small children. Children have a mission, it seems, when it comes to sex. Somehow, they know it happened, at least once. And thus, they are hell bent on making sure it will never happen again.
My friend described time-management sex, which means having it very, very quickly before the episode of Wild Kratts is over. I complained. “I’m too old for the quickie. I operate more on the slow simmer technique, you know?” And then she said, “Well, just have a drink or two prior. It’ll rev you up.” I took a sip of my Diet Coke. And her eyes widened. “Oh God. I am sorry…I forgot. You can’t really do that, can you?” My friend knows that I am an alcoholic in recovery. It’s not her job to watch every word that comes out of her mouth. But now, over lunch, she was really, really embarrassed. And I was, suddenly, really, really upset.
Sex with alcohol was just easier. And I am pissed off about it. This is when the lunch took a turn that is so typical of two girlfriends talking over pasta. It became a hard-core therapy session about a rather hard-core subject. When I was newly married, my husband and I lived in a college town. Football was kind of a big deal there, and thus I was surrounded by sports bars. I am not really a sports bar kind of girl, as I much preferred something with a bit more sophistication than glowing Jägermeister signs for ambiance. But, I didn’t care. In those loud, dark drinking arenas, I could swiftly down large, cheap glasses of liquor while my husband watched the game, and before he could really discern how much I was putting away.
And so, our first year of marriage was a twelve month pub crawl. Pub crawls are a lot of fun, for a while. But generally (for me) they ended up in a lot of slurring and tears. Needless to say, sex was always heavily laced with wine, vodka, or a Hurricane or two. That was always how I had operated in the bedroom, in fact. Sex meant vulnerability, which was simply unacceptable. For me, sex ended up meaning a lot of other things. It meant power, or control, or an edge. It meant I was desirable. It meant a way to communicate feelings that I could never actually say out loud. Also, sex meant I had to be the Hottest Woman in the World. This was kind of tough to accomplish and the alcohol helped.
I realized my friend was just staring at me, a half wilted salad in front of her. I had been talking solidly for the past twenty minutes. And then she said, “Do you, like, enjoy sex?” I tilted my head. “Sure I do. Yes. I do. I mean, I guess so. Right?” It’s these kind of answers that should merit my friend charging me a huge therapy fee for the rest of the lunch. She silently poked at her salad as I continued my verbal gymnastics.
As I am also an English teacher in recovery, I remember a heated discussion I had with my juniors about Edgar Allen Poe’s poem, “The Raven.” It was sixth period, a warm spring day, and no one wanted to talk about Poe and angst. And then, I proceeded to inform the poor innocents that Poe’s heavily curtained chamber was really a symbol for a woman’s womb. The class fell silent. It was truly a Jumping the Shark kind of teaching moment. One boy stared at me, mouth agape and asked me to clarify. After I provided him with some really in depth literary analysis, he slapped his hands down on the desk and said, “This is why I don’t read!”
My poor husband had no idea that whenever he entered our bedroom, he was entering the symbolic chamber of neuroses, fraught with double meanings and despair. Sex was never just sex. It was so loaded up with so many expectations that I pretty much had to have a drink prior, otherwise I would be crushed by my own baggage. This kind of pattern had been in place for over twenty years. For me, sex and alcohol went together like R-rated cookies and milk. So, really, how would I know if I liked sex or not?
Just pondering the question made me mad. As a sober woman, with a great marriage and a happy, joyous and free existence, shouldn’t I like sex? Doesn’t that come as part of the healthy recovery package? Sober life has a lot of hurdles, and a lot of firsts. There’s the first sober holiday party, the first sober vacation and even the first sober Sunday afternoon when you’re bored and antsy and wanting an out from laundry. The first time I had sex with my husband after getting sober I cried. And no, not in a wonderful, love-fest kind of way.
Nope. I cried because it was really rather awful. And I felt really scared. My poor husband had no clue. He was pretty impressed with the attempt, and I think would have given the whole encounter a solid 3.5 on a scale of 5. This was nicely average, and that was just fine with him. Before I got sober, my disease had me falling asleep on the couch nearly every night with my beloved wine and Netflix for company. So he was content with any action. I just remember lying there and thinking, “I cannot do this sober. It is simply too real. I am not in the mood for reality.” Alas, sobriety does ask for us to deal with reality. And there is always work to be done in recovery, even in the bedroom.
“Can’t sex just be sex?” my friend asked. “You know, can’t a cigar just be a cigar and all that?” I shrugged. Maybe for some. Not for me. It seems that my alcoholism and sex are deeply linked, and for me to get laid, I needed to get over myself. I had to lay down the expectations. I had to stop wanting to be in control and I had to start talking. I had to say things like, “I never have liked it when you do that thing with my ear. It’s icky.” without worrying that he might divorce me over it. And I had to stop trying to be The Hottest Woman Ever. It was exhausting.
And I had to realize that amazing, mind blowing, off the charts sex happens a lot in the movies, but for a married couple with two small boys, nice, comfy, okay sex was good. Besides, I was savvy enough to know that as soon as I got past my expectations, super sex was waiting, like some elusive orgasm unicorn, just around the bend, right?
Sort of. Sex is a constant act of communication between two people. And when one of the people has some brokenness to deal with, sometimes sex can be a bit broken too. There are two ways to feel about this: As an alcoholic: I will never have sex again because, why try? It will never be like it was with Jack and Rose on the Titanic, so I’m doomed. As an alcoholic in recovery: Good God, woman. Get a grip. The Titanic sank, and you have the rest of your married lives to figure this one out. Take your time.
As our lunch ended, I paid the check for us both, since I owed her about $200 in psychotherapy anyhow. We hugged and started to walk to our cars. “Look,” she said, “sometimes sex is fun. It kind of has to be, because, well, it’s so ridiculous. It doesn’t have to be this Big Huge Thing, you know?” I smirked and shot back, “But what if my husband is the Big Huge Thing?” She rolled her eyes. I smiled, “Well, to him, I am kinda the Hottest Woman Ever. So, we are epic. And perfect for each other. Now you’ll have to excuse me. I have to go home now and have totally meaningless sex with my husband.” Later that evening I texted her. “Solid 3.95 out of 5.” And she responded, “Progress! Not perfection!”