Posts tagged ‘AA’

Sex doesn’t kill, but sex addiction does

For the past three days I’ve woken from really violent dreams. This morning’s was the worst. You know how dreams are (at least if you’re a human being and not a spider or a spambot, you know how dreams are): they meander. They digress. They make sense in a completely nonsensical way and even the irrelevant bits are relevant. But for you, dear reader, I will place the camera around the dream’s most intense and stays-with-me moment:

I was in a whorehouse and became separated from my companion (he had echoes of Bran about him). The Madame mistook me for a new whore, and hustled me off to a room. There was a man there, a drug lord or gang leader, dark-skinned, lean, with a scar across his left eye. He had a whole posse of folks with him: lean, scary-looking men who began to shoot up on the floor of the room where I’d been placed. The bruises of their track marks stood out against their pale skin.

I kept trying to explain to the drug lord that I didn’t belong here, that I wasn’t one of the house’s whores, but he threatened me with a silver, double-pointed device that looked like a set of brass knuckles on steroids. When I still didn’t shut up he punched me in the eye. I fell to the floor, and one of his posse climbed on top of me. This was not fucking, this was not sex, it was rape — but for some reason, the initial moments of contact seemed erotic. When he spent quickly, though, and I saw from a distance the black eye I’d been given, it was as though a bubble burst. The horror of the situation descended on me then:that I, a woman, liberated, educated, intelligent, had been mistaken for a whore who could be used and beaten.

And it got worse. Laying in the wet spot of that last man’s jism, I saw an impossibly long line of men lined up to fuck me. Not to fuck me, but to rape me. Because there was no pleasure in it for me, I wasn’t really there for them. I was just a thing to be used, like the spoon and the needle and the match they’d all shared moments ago. And no matter how much I tried to convince them otherwise, they wouldn’t ever see me as a human being. In fact, the more I spoke the better the chances that they would hurt me more, give me another black eye, perhaps kill me and fuck my corpse.

The words “beaten and gang raped by junkies” can’t really begin to capture the complete and utter horror of the situation. I was in it. I wasn’t dreaming about it or reading about it on the news or hearing a woman in Iraq describe what happened to her. I was the woman.

In spite of the visceral quality of the dream, I saw most of it from a third-person sort of camera perspective. Just before waking, the camera moved to the door of the room, and down the hallway I saw Bran, oblivious. I was trying to call for him, but he couldn’t hear me. He couldn’t save me.

When I woke, I lay there in the bed still in the horror of the dream, still processing it. Realizing that, in addition to the burden of the experience, those men would probably have given me HIV, or possibly a pregnancy. Understanding for the first time, from the inside, how someone can go right out of their own heads instead of having to experience something like that. I also had a pounding headache; I’d been grinding my teeth hard. Now, 18 hours later, my jaw still hurts.

I discussed the dream with my sponsor. He’s technically my AA sponsor, but both of us deal with issues around food and sex and spending as well. And he made a suggestion about the meaning of the dream that rang true for me. The drug lord and his posse were my addiction. And no relationship, no person, can save me from my addictions.

I’ve confronted a personification of my addiction before, but she was small and skinny and spiky and fit easily into my right buttock. This thing, this horror happening in that room, this was something completely uncontrollable, much more sinister. It wanted to use me up, deny me all my humanity, and kill me if I tried to get it to stop.

It’s a good reminder from my subconscious that no matter how many 24 hours of sobriety I string together, that disease is still there, waiting for me to slip up.

I was going to mention the fourth-step work I’ve been doing for the past nine months or so, but when I tried to find a good link that explains Step Four, I couldn’t find anything worth linking to. It’s interesting to discover some bits of information that you still can’t find on Google. Ayurvedic information, for instance, is hard to come by. And nothing I came across even begins to approximate my personal experience of the 12-step programs. I know there’s some controversy about AA and its sister fellowships. Some people say it’s a cult (although how you can have a cult without a charismatic leader I don’t know), some people say it doesn’t work (I don’t know of any other program with a better success rate for keeping addicts clean and sober).

But I didn’t start this essay to try to convince anyone that AA works. If you want convincing, try attending an open meeting. Or not. The reason I wanted to write about this dream, and on this blog in particular, is because of one of the ways in which my addiction manifests itself: in sex and love addiction.

I’m fully aware that it’s paradoxical for a woman writing a blog all about sex (and love and truth and beauty) to identify herself as a sex and love addict. What I’ve come to realize, though, is that while all addictions spring from the same root, they do require different approaches for recovery. Staying clean and sober is hard, no doubt: if you doubt that, just look at the statistics. But once you put down drugs and alcohol, that’s it and that’s all. You can’t do that with food, money, or sex, though. These addictions require moderation, not total abstinence. If you stop eating altogether, that’s called anorexia. And, as I learned during a five-year dry marriage, if you stop having sex altogether, that’s called sexual anorexia. During those five years, I attended SLAA meetings regularly, and they helped me a lot. I got to collect all the shiny little chips saying that I’d not broken my bottom line, which at the time I defined as sex outside my committed relationship. But what about all the crazy drama and the getting kicked out of her house and going back to her and trying and trying to bend myself into pretzel shapes so she’d love me just the way I wanted to be loved? Where’s my chip for that?

When I left her, I went on a spree. There’s no other word for it. It was a fucking spree. Literally: a fucking spree. Thank the gods for Craigslist, because Craigslist gave me my freedom: a succession of short-term lovers, a new apartment, and a CD rack. I’m telling you, that CD rack saved my life.

In the past–the summer I came to realize I liked girls, actually–I had a similar succession of lovers and ended up feeling used and disgusted with myself. But when I left Angie, I didn’t feel like that. I felt free! I felt alive again, like a tulip bulb that had been slumbering for five years and finally burst forth into bloom.

There have been times since then that I’ve tried to use sex to make myself feel better, or to avoid feeling anything except orgasm. And when I do that, I usually end up feeling the same way as when I use chocolate cake to make myself feel better. Well, similarly. Sex doesn’t usually give me fuzzy teeth.

So I’ve had to set myself a different sort of bottom line:

1. I treat myself and my partners with dignity and respect
2. I’m honest

This might sound a little bit more abstract than “no sex except with so-and-so” or “no masturbation.” But, rather like the Wiccan Rede, it’s actually quite comprehensive. It means I can’t cheat on my partners or allow other people to cheat on their partners with me. It means I can’t treat another human being like a dopamine fix or a pacifier. It means I can’t put myself in dangerous situations just so I can get laid.

It’s a hard set of principles to follow, and I do it imperfectly.

But it’s still a hell of a lot better than the alternative.

April 7, 2008 at 2:14 am 4 comments

God: I do not think it means what you think it means

This is the third of a three-part essay about semantics and a quote from The Princess Bride. Read the first part here and the second part here.

So. God. Right. I’ve been having trouble writing this section because I’ve been talking and writing about God for a long, long time. In my parallel existence, I’ve actually been encouraging others to talk and think about God/Goddess/The Universe/The Divine/A Higher Power for quite some time. There are so many angles I could take to discuss this issue. I could talk about my own life and my own arrival at the God of my understanding. I could talk about history. I could talk about organized religion and the ways it works and doesn’t work.

But I think I’ll just give you the short version. In bullet points, even, because people like bullet points. I’ll number them so that it sounds like a logical progression. But you should be forewarned, in case you don’t already know, that God is not a logical thing. Thinking about God, arriving at a concept of God, even deciding to believe in God, is not a logical thing. It is a need that some of us have. Or, apparently, don’t have.

  1. In the United States, most people, whether or not they consider themselves Christian, associate the word “God” with the Lord, the Father, the One True God. This notion of a One True God began with Hebrews’ Elohim, or Yaweh (or, more politely, YWVH). A good number of Christians seem to use the words “God” and “Jesus” interchangeably, but according to most Christian theology (and there are many, many versions of Christian theology, just as there are many, many flavors of Buddhism and Islam and paganism and other religious traditions), Jesus is the son of God, not God himself. Mary is not divine. Special, but not divine. A sort of elevated house slave with some pull with the Massa’. Let’s refer to this God, this semantic meaning of the word, as “God the Father.”
  2. God the Father really loved his “thou shalt nots.” In the older books of the Bible, he used to open up a lot of cans of whoop-ass on people who shalted when they should have shalt-not’ed. Jesus was a bit more kind. He said things like “let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Of course, he also busted shit up from time to time. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all stem from this original Abrahamic religion. Admittedly, I don’t know as much about Islam as I do about Judaism or Christianity, and I know a hell of a lot more about Christianity than about Islam. But the fundamental message I find in these three faiths is that the body is bad, the pleasures of the flesh are bad, and they need to be controlled. If you don’t control them–sometimes in ways that look really unnatural to me–God hates you. I know a great many people who grew up thinking that God hated them. Because they were homosexual or bisexual or just slutty or addicts or had parents who hit them or maybe just had a different concept of God than the one in the holy books. I was one of those people, for all the reasons listed above. But I also had some wonderful religious experiences in the Franciscan-flavored Catholicism of my childhood.
  3. I tried going without God altogether. Some folks do it very successfully and it seems to work for them. Most of them believe in personal responsibility and ethics and proving their worth and dignity and stuff to their fellow human beings. That didn’t work for me.
  4. When I was 14 years old, Mom dragged me to Alateen, which had this friggin’ awesome concept that has stayed with me ever since: God as we understood him. Alcoholics Anonymous and the related 12-step programs was influenced to a great extent by the Oxford Movement, which promulgated the necessity of a direct connection to and relationship with God. The Oxford people were Christians, so they assumed that you’d be hanging out with God the Father and maybe Jesus a little bit. But cutting out the middleman of the priests and the saints and whatnot. But one of the original members of Alcoholics Anonymous was a staunch agnostic. He was responsible for insisting that Bill Wilson include those four little words in the 12 steps, which are pretty much the core of the AA recovery program. A lot of the literature has this annoying tendency to assume that God is male, and depending on which meetings you attend, some people have an annoying tendency to assume that everyone understands God as the Christian god. I was pretty fed up with the Christian God by the time I went to Alateen. So after learning this mind-blowing concept, one of my first visions of God was of a great sheet of graph paper (this was way before everyone knew what a pixel was). And that each of us, every thing in the world, people and rocks and trees and cats and dogs and giraffes and cars and books and ideas and orgasms, was one of those little moving squares on the sheet of graph paper. And that God was the totality of that graph paper, but since were right there in the middle of the moving squares, we couldn’t really grasp that totality. Just parts of it.
  5. There is a difference between spirituality and religion. I see spirituality as a direct experience of the Divine, of the thing or things that exist beyond the experience of the five senses. I see religion as a group of people with similar experiences of the Divine, and with beliefs about ethics and behavior and responsibility that extend from their experience of the Divine, coming together to celebrate and study and worship and form a cohesive community of faith. One of the etymological interpretations of the word religion comes from religare, “to bind fast.” A religious community is bound together by common belief. I was born into a religion that told me from infancy what my beliefs were. By the time I got to confirmation classes and realized what they expected me to believe (we’re all inherently sinful, women can’t do the same things as men, sex is bad except for procreation), I was pretty fucking pissed. Eventually, I found a religion system that worked better for me. I did a lot of soul-searching and research to find it.
  6. Now, I see the word God as a variable. Maybe instead of God, we should all just call it X. I think everyone should be forced to remember the basic principles of variables and values, and how the two differ. I mean, most of us who attended at least one year of high school (and that’s most of the folks in the U.S.) learned this concept in Algebra I. A variable is like a pot. The value of the variable is what you put into the pot. You can take things out of the pot and put things into the pot. The variable’s value does not change the variable itself. The two are separate. Of course, not all of us were paying attention or remember what we learned umpteen years ago. But it’s an important concept, expressed beautifully by Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride: “you keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” In another context, he and Vizzini might have been standing at a blackboard, and he might have been saying to Vizzini, “I don’t think you solved for X correctly.” This is where the mathematical analogy fails, however, because unlike in math (at least the sort of math they teach in Algebra I), where there is always a right and a wrong answer, ALL the values for the variable God are correct.
  7. A few more illustrations of this concept: one is from the Vedas: The Parable of the Blind Men and the Elephant. (Hint to n00bs: click on things that are underlined). Another is of my own invention, or at least if I got it from somewhere else, I no longer remember:

    God is a diamond, too large for us to see in its totality. Each of us sees one facet of the diamond, but not the diamond as a whole.

    Or, the tapestry, like the moving graph paper mentioned above, but with echoes of the Greek fates.

    Or, God is the top of a mountain, with many paths up the mountain. Silly humans, fighting over which path is the right one to take. They all get there eventually.

  8. The facet of God I usually like to talk to these days is the Great Mother, the Goddess. Sometimes it’s the Universe. But I like a nurturing Goddess image. I love all the names people have made for her over the years: Isis, Astarte, Diana, Hecate, Demeter, Inanna, Kali, Athena, Ameratsu. Sometimes I talk to the All-Father, too, but he’s a more generous sort of fellow than that jealous old God of the Hebrews. I like the Dagda a great deal. Sometimes I like goaty Pan, or the wild Cernunnos or Herne. I am a daughter of Yemaya, the Yoruban goddess of the ocean. The God/dess I worship in all its various forms gave us physical pleasure as a gift. As Doreen Valiante wrote half a century ago, “All acts of love and pleasure are her rituals.”

March 9, 2008 at 4:19 pm 3 comments


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