Using Sex as an Escape
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Using Sex as an Escape

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This post was originally published on August 1, 2013.

Sex is a great escape. As an addict, I am hardwired for escape—from reality, from boredom, but mostly from my feelings. The idea that one day words like “healthy sexuality” would ever come out of my mouth would have sent me running. God—how boring and vanilla did these 12-step groups want me to be? How devoid of my edge or my personality would I have to become for these people to be happy? I suspected from the start that this was some sort of far-right conservative religious cult. To think I escaped all the 1970′s airport cults only to wind up here! How did this happen?

Thankfully, I never had a reason to unleash this sort of tirade on anyone. The people I met when I first got clean allowed me to grow and change in my own time—to find my own path in my own life and in my own recovery. Had I felt morally judged, I don’t know if I would have stuck around.

In the area of sex, probably the biggest thing that has happened to me as far as change and recovery growth goes is this: one day I was having sex and it was boring and I couldn’t flip a switch in my brain to make it exciting. But I guess this needs a little backstory.

When I was seven or eight, I looked outside of myself for a signs of life that would excite me: Movies, TV, music. I found outrageous role models in the outsider culture that was filling the big screens of the 60′s and early 70′s. It was like creating a role for myself. I began play-acting my way into my own life. Over time, I became the idealized version of that child’s fantasy. I never really questioned who I was underneath it all. I was the image of a me I wanted you to see. Nowhere did this hologram become as transparent as when I walked into rehab. I had invested my whole life into an idea of myself—my life starring me. And drugs were like the glue that held it together. Getting clean terrified me.  I was so confused and the noise in my head only made it worse.

Sex was a safe place. I knew where I was there and how to play in it. Clean and sober, I became the girl who liked to have fun with no grief attached. I would fuck you and make a connection to you and become friends with you and I didn’t expect anything more. The heart-store was closed. Sex didn’t make me vulnerable; in fact, the opposite. It made me feel powerful and in control. I’d joke about the predator and the prey. I was never the prey. Afterwards, I might become obsessed with you if you didn’t call or weren’t available. I was hurt when you started dating someone seriously. But you never knew. I was playing the role of a good time girl and they don’t get wounded and they don’t get lonely. They keep moving and don’t linger in the feelings. It takes a lot of strength to play this role but I was a natural. And when it was working, it was powerful and the larger-than-life aspect of it seductive. Still, there was some authenticity; there’s a wildness to my spirit and a lust for life and for laughter and for adventure. But this was just a new mask to hide behind. It didn’t exist for you, it existed for me. I felt terror at the thought of not performing. I wasn’t ready to unmask myself and feel everything.

For years, every sexual encounter was as good as I wanted it to be. After all, I was performing for myself. You only factored in as a prop in the sexual landscape of my imagination. You were anyone I wanted you to be because I had very little interest in you once sex entered into the picture. Even if I wanted things to be different, I didn’t know what that meant. I was too lost inside the mad rush of running from myself. Sometimes I worried that this persona had worked itself into the fiber of my being and that when it was time to strip it away, there wouldn’t be anyone left inside. Maybe I’d never been real all along.

And the years passed. Then, like everything else, it stopped working.

As I became more present and less fearful, I stopped leaving my body to play inside my mind. This was the most apparent during sex. If I wasn’t interested in you, if there was no connection, if there was no chemistry, I couldn’t flip the switch in my brain and make the best out of an uneventful situation. You were no longer a supporting player in the story I was writing. If I wanted more intimacy, I couldn’t pretend that sex in and of itself was going to be enough. I developed new needs, new desires and the ability to honor them.

Sometimes I miss the simplicity of checking out of reality, out of my feelings, and out of my body. Drugs and sex did such a good job of annihilating Patty at will. There are days I want to invite the old me back for a fun night but a voice in my head will always first list the pros and cons. And then, as much as I might want to dress myself up in an old idea of myself to alter the discomfort in my current reality, I hold off. I came into recovery wanting relief. Learning how to live with my feelings was how I learned to eradicate the fear that had kept me running from myself. Without that all-invasive fear, all my masks fell away.

I don’t know why I never had the fantasy of finding someone on a white horse to save me from myself. I suspect I always knew that I would have to be the one to do it.

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About Author

Patty Powers is a sober coach, writer, and public speaker on addiction and recovery. She was featured on the A&E mini-series Relapse in 2011 and is currently writing a recovery book. She lives in New York.

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