At the age of five I knew I was different from other boys. I found myself looking furtively at men's magazines and getting an erotic charge from what the men were doing in the personal letters. I also engaged in sex play with boys my age, but always with a tremendous amount of shame. At 18, a high school buddy heard my sexual fantasies and said: "You're a faggot!" Doors slammed in my mind, and I ran from that reality-but then I began wondering why. That high school friend (who suffered from sex addictions and is now dead from AIDS) brought me out. I had been with women sexually, but once I experienced sex with a man, everything fell into place. It felt good, it felt right, and it felt like it was meant to be. But for an ex-Catholic, and a young man facing the condemnation of 80 percent of the world's religions, being queer was no easy walk.
Shortly thereafter I met and fell in love with my partner now of 21 years, who remains a blessing, a teacher, a friend-and the man who forgave me what was to become six years of lying and sexually acting out behind his back.
It began during graduate school, when I walked into a men's room and saw men engaging in sex in a public place. I was shocked, horrified, and repulsed-but also felt a wave of what I can only describe as hormones sweep through my brain. I remember returning home that evening and saying to my partner that I had witnessed this "disgusting scene." Within 24 hours I began acting out sexually in those very same places.
Over the next six years I went to a variety of rest rooms. I knew enough about HIV and AIDS and STDs that I was a bit "bug phobic," so I did not exchange body fluids with others. But I would lie to my partner, telling him I was going to be late home as I was studying or working late. When at home, I'd get angry at the stresses of everyday life and the relationship, so I'd leave to "go shopping," as I would tell him. But I was out cruising again.
Getting into recovery was a miracle. At an addictions conference for the GLBT community in the early 1990s, a therapist attending the conference listened to my anxiety over acting out and asked me: "What's your penis trying to say that your mouth cannot?" A young man stood up during a workshop on GLBT sexuality and said: "Hi, I'm X, and I'm a grateful recovering sex addict." I was stunned by his honesty, and what seemed like his self-esteem, and I learned from him about a sexual addiction recovery program.
That very evening I entered Sexual Compulsives Anonymous (or SCA, a 12-step recovery program founded by gay men) by attending a beginners' meeting. I was scared and did not know what to expect. What greeted me were folks of all races, sexes, genders, identities, ages, and professions who were honestly sharing how they were working to heal from sexual addiction. I was moved and amazed, and remain grateful that I finally found a healing and understanding community.
In the past nine years I have gained the experience, strength, and hope at each meeting to repeat what that young man said at the conference: "Hi, I'm Joe C., I'm a grateful recovering sex addict." And I say "grateful" because the S Programs truly saved my life. I was able to tell my partner in a flow of tears about my dishonesty-and that I had not exposed him to illness. When he said he cared less that I might have given him an STD, but cared more that I had lied to him for such a long period-well, that took me a couple of years to understand as I integrated issues around lying behavior. For so long I had viewed myself as Mr. Honesty. Recovery helped me learn how I had manipulated and schemed in my lies and how soul-destroying lying is. I remain grateful that my lover did not walk away from our then 11 years of love and life together. I know too many stories where individuals, relationships, and families have been shattered by sex and other addictions.
I also learned that in my acting out I had been hunting for body parts. I'd searched for body types, hair colors, awesome pecs, the cute smile, the big appendage, youth-all the while unaware of the bedrock of my own low self-esteem. I had rejected older gay men who had approached me in acting out places. I have since learned the karmic unkindness that dwelling in such a meat market mindset can bring, and how the need for healing of the youth and age disparities in GLBT culture endures. I also learned that this is not just a GLBT addiction. If you're human, you are vulnerable to sex addiction.
I found that antidepressant medication, psychotherapy, and most important, a weekly commitment to getting to as many meetings as I could in the early days were critical to my recovery. I learned that my family and ancestors were wounded by the ravages of World War II, post-traumatic stress disorder, and sex addiction and alcoholism that went back several generations. Now, I'm even out to my family and aging parents about my recovery, because it saved my life. I also no longer blame my family for the past. I am grateful that they remain in my life and that my recovery has touched theirs.
In my first years in recovery I began taking notes in a meeting when someone shared their wisdom, something I do to this day. Those notes are golden. Without mentioning people, places, or specifics, here's a couple things I heard in rooms around America: "Let us love you until you can love yourself." "Let there be no gossip, or criticism, only love, understanding, and companionship." When I was hungry, angry, lonely, and tired (an acronym is HALT), it was at that frequent crossroads of conflicted emotions or situations that I would most likely act out.
The road to healing is seldom straight and smooth. Even after entering sexual recovery, I was carded by security officers in one location during a slip. It happens. I've learned not to crucify myself for those incidents, but remain convinced that sobriety as we each define it for ourselves is hard won, and regaining it remains harder and more painful than maintaining it. All these years later I know the wolf of addiction is still outside the door of my life, doing pushups. Only the other day someone said that an acting-out event is not the end of a slip, it's the beginning. I had to think on that, and then realized that when I have slipped it is usually because I am not working the steps and using the tools of recovery.
The book Answers in the Heart, a daily meditation tool, has been a constant uplift for prayer and support. It has also been wonderful to learn that in the ancient times of my Celtic ancestors we gay folks were sacred and blessed and not condemned. (Some Native American tribes viewed us that way as well.) I appreciate the wisdom of such history that is not often shared or easily found! I am also grateful that no religion or organization on the planet will ever condemn my love for men or human sexuality again and not hear about it.
It is an honor to be able to share my story, to be in recovery for over nine years and to continue to pledge to remain sober for the rest of today. I pray that in a few years sexual addiction will be talked about openly and frankly as but another of the challenges we "humansexuals" encounter. I have truly learned that we are all related and all sacred on this planet. My recovery has brought me back home to my heart. May I have the humility and serenity to never forget that and to remain on the Path.
Joe C. is a resident of the Northeast, a psychotherapist, a double rainbow warrior and a synthesist celebrating the vision of gay men and straight men learning from each other in community. His story was also previously shared in the quarterly newsletter of Project Speakout: GLBT Voices for Recovery, whose website is www.gaycenter.org/programs/mhss/speakout.htm.