Characteristic 5

Because of our low self-esteem we used sex to feel validated and complete.

Paul W (NY)
While considering this characteristic, I realized that I have felt incomplete most of my life. I continue to struggle in recovery with negative tapes that tell me I am not enough, have no value and without the attentions of men I am not alive. Prior to actually seeking and having sex with men I endlessly compared myself, especially to men I was attracted to. As I grew up I felt lonely, isolated, different, in danger, and ultimately like a freak. I was afraid of boys my own age. I learned very early on that I had to hide my difference. Hiding myself is how my shame and low self-esteem began. I began a relentless search for a mirror; someone I could see myself in. I was trying to find out who I was, how to live. I hid myself deeper when I realized that I was attracted physically to men. I feared I would be abandoned or killed if this were found out. My shame and self-loathing grew because of my physical attractions. To explain my difference I turned in upon myself and decided I was bad. The whole world could not be wrong there must be something “not right” about me. I became obsessed with this “not rightness” always looking for ways to fix myself, praying to God to fix me. Because I could not change my insides my “lack of fit” I explained this by attacking my appearance and attributes. Therefore, I was unattractive, poorly dressed and unintelligent. I disparately attempted to shrink my low self-esteem with external solutions. I clung to the belief that if I could just move like him, dress like him, talk like him then I would be “right”, I would fit in. Of course no matter what I did, how I changed the outsides, inside I still felt invisible and incomplete. 

I first had sex with a man at age thirteen, and ironically, sex saved my life. I felt power, less alone and attractive even desirable. This “power” felt good, to a budding addict, I returned to the same public place the same day to test my power again; and another man wanted me. Slowly I came to realize that I was as replaceable to these men as they were to me; my denial was long lasting and powerful. I lived on the attention and sex manipulated and demanded out of many men for many years. Nothing lasted although there were times that I attempted relationships. Ultimately it always fell apart because I could not tolerate anyone getting close to what I really thought and felt about myself. I feared I was truly worthless, at the core a bad person. I was increasingly more self-critical and self-centered. I had to act out more to keep feeling powerful and desirable and at the same time my shame and self-loathing grew because of the ways I acting out, how I treated the men I used, and how I was treating myself. I was trapped in a vicious cycle. 

Recovery came slowly, first in Al-Anon as I became conscious that I had grown up in a family populated with addicts. I began to see that I, too, was an addict. I felt less shame because I was not alone and the people in the program accepted and loved me as I was recovering my history and myself. I had taken a first step, I begun to let go of hiding. Twelve-step recovery gave me a safe place to essentially become visible in the context of others. Those early days in Al-Anon planted the seeds for my sexual recovery and nurtured my fragile self-esteem. There were other gay men in the Al-Anon rooms and I usually wanted to have sex with them because I felt feelings of friendship towards them. I learned not to act on my sexual feelings by talking about them and not forcing sex. Having a feeling and not taking sexual action, not needing the other person in order to feel whole, was extremely foreign to me. During this time I continued to go to public restrooms and parks to prop up my ego or when I had feelings. What changed was that I became aware of the pattern of my behavior and took the risk to talk about it in meetings. Higher power through the gentle support of people in An-anon, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous eventually, over six-years, led me to SCA where I have worked on my sobriety and self-esteem for the past nine years a day at a time. 

I continue the slow process of developing self-esteem and breaking the sex power/desirability cycle. My sponsor encourages and supports me making “conscious” choices about how I want to express and meet my sexual needs. He gently helps me become conscious about my sexual desires, needs and motives. Gentle consciousness and willingness to make mistakes have decreased the desperation I sometimes feel about not being good enough. Over time my need to use men sexually to feel validated and complete has become less. I am an addict and old patterns die hard, but I find the more I can sit with what I feel and reach out to others, the better chance I have to stay sober today. Because of the recovery process and the people in SCA, I have been able to accept the low self-esteem I feel, turn it over and realize feeling bad does not mean that I am bad. Recovery has allowed me to take the risk to let other people have caring feelings for me, and me for them. I am growing to love and accept myself, which opens me to love and allows me to love others. It’s a slow process, and all I have to do is show up a moment at a time and be willing to take the next right step.