Recovering Online in Canada

Recovering Online in Canada

by Chris W (British Columbia, Canada)

My name is Chris. I’m a sex addict. I’m a relative newcomer to the online recovery group of SCA, but I’m an old hand at addiction. This month (January, 2003) I will turn 50. Today, I can trace my addictive behavior back to when I was seven or eight years old.

How I became a sex addict is a question I have given a lot of thought to over years, much of it expensively assisted by therapists. I have a few insights, but I no longer give it very much thought. It really doesn’t matter very much. What matters to me today is acknowledging that I AM a sex addict and recognizing that no one else can un-make me one.

By the time I was in my early forties, it was certainly clear that no amount of therapy was going to do that. I had spent hours upon hours with a succession of psychologists and psychiatrists from the age of eight (when my parents first took me to one to deal with my ‘anger’ issues) well into my thirties. And I was still helplessly locked in my addictive behavior. For me, that meant mostly compulsive masturbation, often in dangerously exposed places like while driving, acquiring extensive collections of pornography, an accelerating use of phone sex, sporadic obsessive non-sexual romantic relationships and a 24/7 preoccupation with sexual fantasy.

By the time I was 40, I had lost one marriage due in large part to my addictive behavior. I had contracted venereal disease. I had spent thousands of dollars on pornography and telephone sex. I had been involved in a series of destructive relationships with people who were locked into a variety of their own abusive dysfunctions, but I could use them to meet my addictive emotional and/or physical ‘needs’. I had dedicated tens of thousands of hours — days, weeks and months of my life — to emotionally and intellectually stifling acting-out instead of to my career or productive self-improvement. I had had brushes with the police as a result of some of my borderline-illegal behavior (which, miraculously I now believe, had not resulted in criminal charges).

That year, 1993, I very nearly destroyed a second marriage by becoming involved in a romantic obsession (with heavy sexual overtones) by long distance with one of my wife’s best friends. When my wife ‘busted’ me, I swore (yet again) to stop that kind of behavior.

In 1994 I was living in the Pacific Northwest, with a good job that left me a great deal of unsupervised time. I was also living in an addictive haze from the moment I became conscious in the morning until I lost consciousness at night–scheming about when and how I could act out next. I was in a state of permanent despair, resentment, anger and fear about work, money, and my deeply strained relationship with my wife. (Does ‘unmanageable’ come to mind?)

And I was miserable. I felt trapped, driven, fundamentally defective, shame-ridden and doomed. I carried with me at every moment the fear that people could see through my outward guise of good citizen to the slimy, lying, twisted sick pervert I was convinced I really was. During the winter of early 1994, I became convinced that it was only a matter of time — and more likely months than years — before my life as I knew it came to an end. It would at least be discovery and public disgrace, the loss of my job, wife and relationship with my son. It might just as easily end with assault or disease contracted in the course of my increasingly dangerous acting out in public, or the new behavior I had begun of buying time from prostitutes. Or perhaps I would simply give up the effort to hold on to the last shreds of outward sanity and let myself go into mental breakdown and be locked up … or go off one of the bridges in my city.

In what would turn out to be something of an irony in the road that was still ahead, I discovered the first step back to sanity online.

The Internet then was quite new, but I was an ‘early adopter’. I had heard the phrase ‘sex addict’ used in the mid-1980s and had at first laughed at it. Gosh, that wasn’t me! I was just indulging in a ‘drug of choice’ that had the advantage (compared to other people’s) of being natural, legal (well most of the time), always available and ‘harmless’. But by now the denial has becoming harder to sustain. My sexual ‘escapades’ were no longer much ‘fun’. They were more often frightening, shame-filled and depressing. And yet I could not stop doing them. It was perfectly plain to me that I was addicted.

Using the crude text-based browser (window-type browsers hadn’t even come out yet), I searched ‘sex addiction’ online. I found a 30-part questionnaire to help determine ‘if you might suffer from this problem’. I think I scored a hit on about 27 of the questions.

The same site referred to AA-type programs that some sex addicts found helpful. I went to my local phone book and found a number. I called it, and waited. I was still acting out and I think I was actually a bit resentful when someone actually called back! Nonetheless, when I found out that there was a weekly meeting of a group called Sex Addicts Anonymous on Saturday morning at a Gay and Lesbian Center just a few blocks away, I decided, with my wife’s encouragement, to go see what it was about. I can still remember the knot in my stomach as I walked up the hill to that meeting.

I wish I could say that my life changed then and there for the instant better. It did change, and very much for the better, but not instantly. That day was April 1 (April Fool’s Day!), 1994. As I type, I have just 22 months and about ten days of unbroken sobriety from my last day acting out. Do the math.

But I thank my Higher Power that I got to that meeting. If I had not, I am certain I would by now be either living in abject poverty or on the street, incarcerated either in a correctional or mental facility, or quite possibly dead. But recovery did not come quickly or easily. I think I managed to not act out for about a week after that first meeting. Then I broke down and used my pornography (which I had not gotten rid of) to masturbate to. That set a pattern that lasted for months, but I did keep going back to meetings.

Over the next several years, two things slowly changed in my life in somewhat contradictory ways. As I slowly began to absorb the 12 Steps, I began to reevaluate my life and how I approached it. I began to see how I created and maintained the conditions that led to my acting out. I began to get periods of abstinence that lasted longer than a week. I took a one-week chip, then a one-month chip. But always I would have another slip that generally led to a relapse.

And the Internet had advanced. It was flowering with porn sites. I still bought magazines, but increasingly I was spending time accessing my ‘fixes’ online, for ‘free’. I began spending many hours at the office looking at Net porn and masturbating in my closed office. I filled my computer hard drive with images. I discovered I could make contact with other people in chat rooms. (Until then I had avoided making personal contacts because of the difficulty and danger of doing so in the ‘real-world’, while preserving a facade of normalcy in a highly public job and without arousing further suspicion in my wife).

But I kept going back to meetings. Even as I failed again and again to STAY sober, my periods of clean time got longer. I took a 90-day chip, then another. I made it to six months. Sometime in the year 2000, I think it was, I got a new sponsor and began calling him every day.

Something was also happening in my head. It was getting harder and harder to get into the ‘bubble’ of the acting-out moment. Instead, it felt simply like slavery, like being forced by some evil power to do things I knew to be dangerous and which I did not really want to be doing. I was also becoming too aware of how unnecessary my behavior was — that I DID in fact have a choice. I realize today that I was also resisting ‘turning my will and my life over to my higher power with complete abandon’.

The last straw came on a dark, wet, cold Friday evening in February, 2001. I don’t know what snapped, but something did. Thank God. I realized, while out in public once again in a compromised, semi-exposed get-up, how much I was tired of this while thing. I became, finally (please God!) ready to do ANYTHING, to ‘go to any lengths’ to be free of this insanity.

The next morning, a Saturday, I went again to my weekly meeting, but this time with a new humility. I began to work Step 4 in a strenuous way. Searching with something like desperation (as close as I could get to ‘searching and fearless’!) for the moral failings and character defects that kept leading me back into the pit. I began putting the program and my recovery ahead of everything else in my day. I called my sponsor every day and when he was unavailable, I called someone else in the program. I worked Step 4, and did a Step 5 with my sponsor and another person. I worked Step 6 and now do a Step 7 prayer every morning. I have done one pass through Steps 8 and 9 in the past but am now back at Step 8 in a deeper way. I try to work Steps 10 and 11 daily. In doing all this, I hope I am working the most important part of Step 12 (‘practice these principles in every aspect of our lives’) although I have also worked the ‘carry this message’ part in 12-Step meetings with people and in taking on two sponsees. Every 24 hours that I did NOT act out, was a victory. Eventually, to my astonishment, those days added up to a year.

Today, I no longer work for the same employer I did, but I am out of debt, my economic life is stable and I am not hounded by fears on that front. My relationship with my wife is truly wonderful: warm, trusting, loving and sexual in an intimate and, yes, very gratifying way. I am closer to my son than ever. I wake up eager to start each day and almost always fall asleep able to look back on a day of productive living. I am still working on staying sober for just THIS 24 hours.

I still put my recovery first in my life, which is how I wound up coming to SCA online. My belief is that I need to maintain contact on a daily basis with the program. When I have traveled in the last 22 months, I made a point of searching out meetings of one or another S-related 12-Step program and attending them. (What a rush it was to speak out in a room with 50 or so total strangers in Houston and say the words “My name’s Chris, and I’m a sex addict”! And then to be overwhelmed with the support and fellowship those strangers showed me!!)

My wife and I are now planning a trip to visit another country for the month of February. In preparation, I went online to look for an S-related 12-Step fellowship. I checked out all the programs I usually do, including SCA whose website I have had bookmarked for some time and have also previously accessed for “The Tools That Help Us Get Better,” “Fourteen Ways to Avoid a Slip,” and “Four Obstacles to Success.” Regrettably, I was unable to find any references to S-group meetings where we are going (I did eventually track down a meeting of another fellowship where I qualify which I plan to attend). However, I also wanted to be able to stay in touch specifically with sexual recovery. I saw the SCA online meetings listed, and sent an email off for the password.

What a gift! I have ‘attended’ the SCA nightly online chat meeting several times already in the ten days or so since I discovered it. I feel that it is going to become a regular source of Experience Strength and Hope that I can tap into daily in addition to my two regular weekly f2f meetings (one each in SAA and SLAA; SCA does not (yet) have meetings in my city). I have also begun to make several visits a day to the Online SCA bulletin board ‘meeting’.

It is funny to be coming as a newby to these meetings with so much time in the program under my belt. But it is very much like every other new unfamiliar meeting I walk into in another city. It quickly becomes very familiar indeed as I realize that I am among people exactly like me: addicts struggling to get through another day free from insanity.

I am very grateful to have discovered SCA online. I know it will help get me through the month away from my regular fellowship. But I also hope it will be part of my recovery long after that as well.

In closing, I have just a couple of thoughts left to share with anyone who has come through the SCA ‘door’ online as their very first step in searching for freedom from addiction. It IS scary to admit that our behavior is an addiction and that we are powerless over it. It may seem hopeless when you slip again. But this program WORKS, IF we work it.

If you can, I urge you to find a face-to-face meeting as well and to attend it. I urge you to work the steps. I beg you to surrender with complete abandon to the care of your Higher Power. There is hope in these rooms, in the steps and in our Higher Power.

And KEEP COMING BACK. There is recovery to be had. I know. I have it. Today. I wish you another 24 hours of recovery.