Cheers Sexy People!
It is with great excitement that I am introducing the first guest blog post from my very good friend. I have interviewed her here before for our humble little blog – an interview that has been on my top ten list of favorite posts of all time since its inception. You go, girl! She is actually the person who opened my mind more fully to alternative and open relationships, and first told me about the book, Ethical Slut, which changed my life! Since I have been doing research and musing about sex addiction being concealed under the guise of saying one is polyamorous, I asked her to share some of her expert knowledge on addition as a recovering addict herself. Without further ado…
Hi. My name is Rebecca, (Kitty’s Friend) and I am an addict, an alcoholic to be exact. I am the daughter of mental illness and addiction. I married an alcoholic, then a sex addict and I am quite possibly the mother of an alcoholic. I have truly looked at addiction from both sides, all sides, in and out.
In a recent post Kitty talked about the sex addiction of her beau. I agree with her. I believe (Barry) is a sex addict, and likely an alcoholic – but ultimately if he wants to change, only he can determine that for himself.
Sooo, since my life has been touched, and in many ways shaped, by the apocalyptic force of addiction (I say apocalyptic because addiction is indeed a force that can destroy both the addict and the people who love them), I thought I would share what I have learned on my journey in hopes that I can shine some light on the often misunderstood topic of addiction. Also, Kitty asked me to and I hate saying no to her.
Before I talk about what addiction is, I would like to address what addiction is not. Addiction is not a moral failing or a lack of will power. Let me repeat that. Addiction IS NOT a moral failing or lack of will power. No one announces when they are a child, “Hey I’d like to grow up to be an addict, Mommy”, just like no one asks to have cancer, diabetes or any other chronic illness. It is also not a respecter of persons. Addiction is a disease process that touches lives of many millions of people from all walks for life, rich or poor, educated or not. Addiction, like cancer, could care less who you are.
So then what exactly is Addiction?
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders used by clinicians and psychiatrists to diagnose psychiatric illnesses (and insurance companies to define who gets treatment and what treatments will be covered) uses the term substance use disorder. They have recently expanded that definition to gambling (behavior) addiction. Other countries expand that definition to include internet gaming and pornography. Unfortunately, we prudish Americans are still so freaked out by all things sexual that we haven’t quite gotten to the place of officially defining Sex Addiction.
Addiction as defined by the American Society of Addiction Medicine:
Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors. Addiction is characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, and craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response.
Addictive substances and behaviors directly or indirectly target the brain’s reward system by flooding the circuit with dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter present in regions of the brain that regulate movement, emotion, cognition, motivation, and feelings of pleasure. The overstimulation of this system, which rewards our natural behaviors, produces euphoric effects and teaches us to repeat the behavior. Like other chronic diseases, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission.
So there you have it folks, the repetitive use of substances or behaviors that stimulate the dopamine system in the brain can result in physiological addiction. It’s all about the pleasure. We are wired for pleasure for one reason – survival. We find pleasure in the things that keep us alive and ensure the continuation of our species. Survival behaviors are centered in the limbic brain, the oldest part of the brain that has kept us going for millennia. We don’t have to think about them – they are instinctual and they drive many of our actions and choices. When addiction occurs however, it supersedes these instincts and becomes the primary survival mechanism. The brain actually goes through a physiological change and once an addict becomes an addict, he cannot go back to being a non-addict without treatment or engagement in recovery activities. The addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death.
A good example of this transformation is:
When a cucumber enters a barrel of brine and is submerged for a period of time, it becomes a pickle. Once it becomes a pickle, it cannot go back to being a cucumber.
So it is with the addict and the disease of addiction. I know with 100 percent certainty that I am a pickle – I’ve done the field work and have proved that I can never safely ingest alcohol. My behaviors will change. I will be unable to predict what will happen once the addiction is reactivated in my brain, but I’m pretty sure all hell will break loose. That inability to predict outcomes is a hallmark of addictions (as is lying and secrecy to try to hide the addiction). I believe that inability to predict outcomes can be applied to both substance and behavior addictions.
So what does this all have to do with Polyamory?
With addiction and its consequences at an all-time high in the U.S., it is very likely that someone in your poly world meets the criteria for addiction. If you believe that someone you love is suffering from addiction or any other form of mental illness, please understand that YOU are in no way responsible for their behavior or recovery. You can’t love them more or do more for them in order to stop their behaviors. That is called co-dependency. What you can do is TAKE CARE OF YOU. Set boundaries and reach out for help. There are many support groups out there for loved ones of addicts and they do help. If the one you love refuses to get help, you may have to leave the relationship in order to protect your own mental health. Recovery IS possible – I am a walking, talking testament to that – but it’s personal journey that only the addict can take.
Thank you, Kitty for asking me to share my story. We have a saying in the recovery world: “You can’t keep it if you don’t give it away.”
My dear friend, Rebecca, you freaking ROCK!!!! I am thrilled to share this knowledge with our readers here at Loving Without Boundaries. Thank you SO MUCH for taking the time and care to write such a wonderful piece. I am certain that you are helping many people by putting this information out there. I love you to the moon and back!
How about you? Have you ever had a loved one suffering from addiction in your life? Any insight that you would care to share with us all here? I’d love to hear your thoughts, friends. I am passionate about health – mental, emotional as well as physical. Let’s help each other live satisfying, authentic and happy lives.
Wishing you peace, love and happiness,
(and thrilling, fun sex too!)
I was married to a sex addict, and I have described it very much like you have. He cannot be around the stimulus, his brain has permanently been rewired to experience pleasure from that stimulus ( and no it’s not just porn). He suffers from a decided lack of ability to predict outcomes and derives at least some of the pleasure from the deception and secrecy. Unfortunately for me, I was on the losing end of this, because due to his addiction he was unable to experience any pleasure from intimacy or kink with me. He never will be able to go back to being a cucumber. Since intimacy and kink are needs for me
Sigh… I really dislike the new version of WP…. sorry. Since he was unable to meet my needs for honesty,honor, integrity, commitment, and intimacy (including kink), despite therapy and long talks, and submission from me, I ultimately needed to leave the relationship. I still care for him, and I wish him the best in his recovery, but after 5 years of his unprotected sex with dozens of men and 3 years of very hard emotional work on my part, several relapses on his part, I was done. I’m in a much better place now with people that I trust and love, and that love me back fiercely and passionately.
Thank you so much for sharing, mysirvixen. I really appreciate your insights as someone married to a sex addict! It sheds alot of light for me and I’m sure many others reading here. I am still learning about addiction, but it helps hearing how it went for you, felt to you, and what you observed about it. I did realize over time that my ex-boyfriend suffered also from a “decided lack of ability to predict outcomes and derives at least some pleasure from the deception and secrecy.” Oh God, yes. On the second part of that statement, I at least kind of understand, as I am a recovering cheater myself, and there is a thrill in “getting away with it.” But I was younger and not as wise then. And also, I’m learning to understand the physiological part of this about the inability to stop – and inability to think about consequences or deluding yourself that you’ll never get caught – just doing ANYTHING to continue the addictive behavior. It is so incredibly sad, really. And again, I feel for my ex-beau as I’m sure you do for your ex, and I worry about him “never being able to be a cucumber again.” I especially worry because I don’t think he’s even trying to get help. That’s partly why I had to set him free. I’m not religious but the phrase “God helps those that help themselves” is very apropos here. And YES on he was unable to meet my needs as well, in terms of honesty, honor, integrity, etc. We can’t just give and give and give, and ignore our own needs. That is unhealthy.
I am so sorry that you had to go through all of that, my friend. I want to acknowledge you taking a stand for your own sanity and happiness and leaving what was not working for you. Good for you! And YAY that you found people that love you fiercely and passionately! So happy for you!
Thank you for your kind words. My ex is seeking help but only because he has lost his enabler. I realized that was the only way he would. I have people in my life who have shown me how different love can (and should) be, and it is wonderful.
I’m so happy for you! And I’m also glad that your ex is seeking help. I felt the same about not being an enabler (though I don’t believe my ex is seeking help. God only knows where his “rock bottom” really is).
If you believe that someone you love is suffering from addiction or any other form of mental illness, please understand that YOU are in no way responsible for their behavior or recovery. You can’t love them more or do more for them in order to stop their behaviors. That is called co-dependency. What you can do is TAKE CARE OF YOU. Set boundaries and reach out for help.
I couldn’t agree more!!!!! Great advice!
Thanks for your comment as always! Thanks for the extra clarification and insight on co-dependency, and how it is not your fault when someone suffers in this way. Taking care of ourselves needs to be our first priority. Then that can help give us the strength and clarity to better determine how to handle our relationships with loved ones, especially those that may be damaging themselves or others by their behavior or thought patterns. Boundaries rock! 🙂