Family of Origin

I spent Christmas in the city my mother grew up. “Springfield” is a smaller city a few hours southeast of here. When my mom lived there, the population was around 40,000. Now it’s at least eight times that size. Even though Springfield doesn’t exactly qualify as a small town anymore, it still feels kind of backwoodsy to me.

My mom was the third of four children born to hardcore Catholics. She has an older brother and sister, and a younger brother. My mom left Springfield when she went off to college. I want to make her seem cooler than she was and say she moved to the big city and never looked back, but I don’t think she had any hard feelings towards the place. Growing up, we spent a lot of weekends and holidays there at my grandparents’ house. Her younger brother, Ned, also left Springfield after high school. Uncle Ned and his family move around every few years for his job, but they currently live on the other side of the country.

Christmas was with my Uncle Michael and Aunt Liz, my mom’s older siblings. They both still live in Springfield. Looking at these two, it’s evident that my addictions/issues/compulsions/whatever they are weren’t born in a vacuum. I don’t know if it’s genetic or environmental, but these two have the same thing as me.

My Uncle Michael married his high school sweetheart right after he graduated from college. He went on to have a successful career in a esteemed field. He was married to my Aunt Beverly for 25 years, but they never had kids. One day he came home from work and she was gone. According to my uncle, in preparation for this departure, she had charged up all their credit cards, and drained all of their bank accounts. She then moved in with a boyfriend she had secretly had for several months. This happened when I was in high school. I was close to my Aunt Beverly before this happened and I’d like to think my uncle’s account was exaggerated, but I have no way of knowing for sure. After she left my uncle, I never saw or heard from Aunt Beverly again.

Less than a year later Uncle Michael was already in a serious relationship with this woman named Lauren. They’ve been together ever since. I don’t even know where to begin with this bitch. My uncle is one of the most respected men in Springfield, not to mention highly educated and professionally successful, and she treats him like he’s some idiot schlub who spends all day lounging around on the couch in his boxer shorts, scratching his balls. She is emotionally and verbally abusive and he just takes it. They never married (he’s proposed and been rejected several times), but he bankrolls her entire existence. They own a couple of different houses. While I’m sure she didn’t put a cent into any of these properties, her name is on all the deeds. I don’t even think they live together the majority of the time, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she also has a boyfriend. He has also completely adopted her family (she has two grown kids and four grandkids). He financially supports them as well. While he makes a good living, Lauren and her family are draining him dry. He is really close to her grandkids and considers them his grandchilden. And they are sweet kids. It’s not their fault their grandma’s a cunt.

Part of me is a little jealous of Lauren’s family. Uncle Michael and I were never particularly close. When I was a kid, my mom told me that Uncle Michael doesn’t like children, basically telling me not to take it personally that he always ignored me. He loves Lauren’s grandkids, though. Now that I am an adult, we are closer, but he’s much closer to Lauren’s adult children. I think one reason he doesn’t end things with Lauren is that he is so attached to her family. The bigger reason, though, is that he is terrified of being alone.

My Aunt Liz has been married for close to 40 years. No one in my family likes my Uncle Kevin (including me), just like no one likes that bitch Lauren. They  never had children. My Aunt Liz is the kindest, most generous woman I have ever known and her husband is the most misanthropic, curmudgeonly man I have ever known. Like my Uncle Michael does for Lauren, Aunt Liz completely bankrolls Kevin’s existence; although on a much smaller scale, since Liz makes a modest income. Kevin has rarely worked since they have been married. Even though Aunt Liz is the sole breadwinner in the family, Kevin wears the pants. He verbally abuses my aunt to the point that she has next to no self-esteem. He routinely calls her fat, and cheats on her; at least he used to when he was younger, doubt he has much prospects or even the ability to get it up these days (he’s older than her, and has got to be closing in on 70).

I’ve always been pretty close to my Aunt Liz. She’ll call me up and tell me about some shit that Kevin did to her. Nothing makes me angrier than my loved ones being mistreated. “Throw! That! Bitch! Out!” I want to scream into the phone, but I usually manage to be a bit more polite. I tell her that she deserves better and that she doesn’t have to put up with this. The next day, she’ll call me up and tell me she was just having a bad day. “We don’t always get along perfectly, but I really love your Uncle Kevin. He’s my soulmate.” I don’t believe in the idea of a soulmate. I think there are potentially thousands, if not millions of people one could connect, fall in love and live happily ever after with. But if I did believe in this silly notion, there is no way that that asshole Kevin is my sweet Aunt Liz’s soulmate.

I stayed with Uncle Michael over Christmas. Aunt Liz was supposed to join us, but she ended up getting pretty sick. On Christmas Eve, I dropped off some cookies I had made for Aunt Liz and, by default Uncle Kevin (would never make that twat cookies on his own). I called her up Christmas morning to see if she was feeling any better. She said that she had had a rough night, that Kevin had been mean to her. She was about to eat one of the cookies I had made and he said to her, “why don’t you go take a look in the mirror before you eat that.” That bitch! When I was over there he stuffed no fewer than one third of the cookies that I had lovingly made for MY AUNT into his gaping maw, and she didn’t touch any because she wasn’t feeling well. Then she goes to have her first one and he has the balls to shame her for it. On Christmas Eve! Who the fuck does he think he is?

Then she said to me, sounding more depressed than I have ever heard her sound, “single people might think they are lonely, but the pain of being alone in no way compares to the loneliness and pain someone can feel being in a relationship.” Merry fucking Christmas! Later that day, I told my Uncle Michael what she had said (the people in my family are far too polite to criticize Lauren and Kevin to their faces, but have no trouble throwing shade behind their backs) and he agreed with her statement so emphatically that it became clear he was no longer talking about Aunt Liz and Uncle Kevin. Merry fucking Christmas, again.

I was depressed as fuck after these conversations. It’s one thing if someone just wants to park him or herself in a shitty relationship and just deal with it for the rest of his or her lives, but I can see that the stresses of these relationships are killing my aunt and uncle. Uncle Michael and Aunt Liz are both compulsive overeaters (as am I) and severely overweight, to the point that they are having major health complications (don’t judge me for the cookies, I really didn’t give them very many). My Aunt Liz can barely walk half a block and my Uncle Michael would react by visibly stuffing food in his mouth every time Lauren would berate him. They also both self-medicate (as do I), one with pills and alcohol, and the other with pills and marijuana. Also, they both seem so fucking sad.

Clearly, like their niece, these two are love addicts. They also abuse food, alcohol, drugs, and have issues with depression. Looking at both of them, I see how my life could go, and that scares me, because neither one of them seems to be leading a particularly pleasant existence. It also pains me seeing two of the people I love in such pain. I don’t have many parent figures left in my life, and I fear that if they don’t find healthier ways of dealing with their issues they won’t be here for too much longer.

One thing that separates me from my aunt and uncle is that I don’t get trapped in toxic long term relationships. I have had exactly one long term relationship in my life (you can read about Peter here) and the experience was so traumatic that I haven’t been able to commit to anyone since. I don’t know that bouncing from one toxic four month relationship to another toxic four month relationship is necessarily any better than staying in one awful relationship for years and years; but it feels a lot less lonely, just like my aunt said.

When I was driving home from Springfield, I noticed something. Despite the depressing time I had in Springfield, I felt okay. Not great, not awful, but okay. When I was constantly dating and acting out with men, I only ever felt elation or agony. I would feel elation at the beginning of a new romance or sexual relationship. This feeling of ecstasy was usually short lived and quickly replaced by intense agony. Agony that he didn’t seem to be as into me as he was at first, agony that he wasn’t responding to my calls/texts quickly enough, and agony at realizing that he had lied to me and he wasn’t who I thought he was. I will take feeling “just okay”, to feeling agony, any day.

As I pull myself back on track after all the slipping I did this past couple of weeks, I need to remember this.

The Downward Spiral

There is no easy way to say it. I’ve been fucking up left and right. The holidays were extremely hard on me and my recovery. While I haven’t quite had a full on relapse, I am headed there. Here’s a list of my bottom lines (the behaviors I am supposed to be abstaining from to be considered sober) and how I’ve been acting out on them.

1. No sex, dating, or romantic involvement with married/attached or otherwise unavailable men
     Last week I was in contact with Paolo, a former lover. He now has a girlfriend. I saw him online and we had an extremely sexually charged conversation. I told him that I was currently in a relationship. This is a lie that usually helps get me out of trouble, but it seemed to only encourage him. “It’s not cheating if I break in and rape you,” he said. This actually isn’t as fucked up as it sounds, because while we were seeing each other we had talked about rape fantasy. In my head, I tried to justify this. If I just happened to give him my new address, and then just happened to leave my door unlocked at a specified date and time, and he just happened to show up and force himself on me, this wouldn’t be acting out, right? Luckily, my window of opportunity has passed on this one, because he is out of the country for the next month, and when he gets back he’ll be living with his girlfriend.
     There is also SN. I haven’t gone on a date with him yet, but I’ve been in heavy contact with this guy, a dominant, who is in an open relationship with his submissive. We have been speaking daily and have had phone sex. I’ve also watched him masturbate on cam. We have tentative plans to meet tonight, but I will probably cancel. The flirtation with these two guys isn’t new. Looking back on past blog entries, I wrote about both of them  back in August. Making plans to meet them is new, though.

2. No sex outside of a committed relationship
     This is the one bottom line I haven’t broken. It’s a big one. Breaking this one would constitute a full relapse.

3. No reading, answering or posting ads on craigslist personals
     Two days ago I answered a casual encounter ad. I’ve been talking to the guy quite a bit since then. He actually seems like a decent guy and we have a lot of non-sexual things in common. I’m thinking of telling him about SLAA and how I can’t have sex outside of a committed relationship and see if he still wants to meet me. My sponsor gave me the go ahead that I could start dating again in January. I am most certain she didn’t have CL casual encounters in mind as a venue for meeting appropriate people, though.

4. No contact with my qualifier (HC)
     Yep, I blew this one too. I emailed him a few days before Christmas and we have been in contact ever since. I hadn’t contacted him in more than seven months. I have no plans to see him or have sex with him ever again. Our emails are friendly and completely non-sexual. I know where things will lead if I keep in contact with him, and I sure as hell don’t want that again.

5. No spying (online or otherwise) on qualifier or anyone associated with him
    I suck. I do this every day now.

I also have four middle lines, which are behaviors I am only supposed to be engaging in with extreme caution. They are: contact with anyone I have had sexual or romantic involvement with in the past; phone conversations with men that last more than 20 minutes; masturbation; and using pornography. I am doing all of these things daily, and with not a lot of caution.

I feel so lost. I have no idea how to find my way back on track. Things aren’t as bad as they could be, I know this, but they are headed there fast. Because I need a reminder myself, here is a link to the blog I wrote three months ago today, reminiscing on what things were like just before I started my recovery. Today, I would have 6 months of sobriety. Some people would argue that I am still sober, because I am sticking to one of my bottom lines. I don’t feel sober, though. I feel like I am spiraling out of control.

Love

I came home from work yesterday to find a Christmas care package from my Aunt Nadine and Uncle Ned, who live on the other side of the country. It contained homemade banana bread, cookies, a Christmas stocking full of goodies and two wrapped presents. It’s hard to put into words how moved I was by this unexpected package.

Lately, I’ve been lucky enough to keep getting reminders that I am loved. Big things like this care package, but also small things like a neighbor kid drawing a picture for me, or a text from a high school friend telling me that she misses me are enough to move me to tears. Surely, these kinds of non-romatic displays of affection always existed in my life, but I always took them for granted. If it wasn’t Prince Charming with a dozen roses, I barely even noticed. I was too busy lamenting all that I didn’t have — a boyfriend, a husband, a dom — to realize all the blessings that I did have.

Deep down, I didn’t believe I was even lovable. Sure, a guy might stick around for awhile if I was doing everything I could to please him sexually and be a good sub, but if sex was out of the equation that same guy would have zero interest in me. And the other people in my life — family, friends, coworkers, neighbors — they were just there because they got stuck with me, not out of a genuine tenderness for me.

Occasionally I still tend to oh, woe is me thinking (see previous entry, for example), but most of the time I am so appreciative for all that I do have. And I feel so lucky that these special people stuck around and still care about me despite the fact that most of my life I’ve moped around like a surly teenager and haven’t been able to return their affections.

Today, I can say that I am grateful for all the love in my life and I’m grateful that I’m able to accept and give love. Most importantly, I now see that I am a lovable person and I love myself.

Alone

Last night I saw Shame. I wanted to see this movie because the main character, Brandon (Michael Fassbender) is a sex addict. First off, it’s a well-acted, beautifully shot movie with a compelling script and I would have enjoyed the movie whether or not the topic of sex addiction was on my radar. Also, Michael Fassbender is hot and naked throughout much of the movie.

After seeing Shame, I thought I was going to write about how realistically the movie portrayed sex addiction and how much I could relate to the frenzied hunger that is never quite sated, and the desperate, yet fruitless desire to quell intense emotional pain with the ecstasy of an orgasm. Today, however, all I can think about is the relationship between Brandon and his sister Cissy (Carey Mulligan). Even though they have a highly dysfunctional relationship, they have each other.

Still of Carey Mulligan and Michael Fassbender in Shame

I can’t help but think how much easier my life and my recovery would be if I had someone. As some as you know, I am an only child and both of my parents died before I entered high school. It’s not like I am completely alone. I have close friends who are like family, and an extended family that loves and cares for me. Still, it’s not the same thing as having a close blood relative. Extended family is okay, but sometimes because I’m not immediate family, they don’t think to include me.

This holiday season has been particularly tough, because I wasn’t invited to spend Thanksgiving or Christmas with the family members I lived with after my parents died. It wasn’t like they just forgot to invite me, either. I asked if I could come and was told that there wouldn’t be enough room, even if I stayed in a hotel. While this probably sounds like a pretty shitty thing to do, I know these people well enough to know that this wasn’t done out of malice, but just out of thoughtlessness. They have each other, and especially as their families are growing, I’m not included in this. I’m not immediate family. It hurts that the family I spent a chunk of my childhood with doesn’t think of me as a member, but I’m fortunate to have plenty of other aunts, uncles and cousins whose doors are always open to me. I’ll be spending Christmas with some of them.

While I am grateful for the family I do have, it’s just not the same as having siblings or parents, or even a husband and kids of my own. It’s lonely. A loneliness that few people can truly relate too.

Much of what drove my sex and love addiction was this loneliness. I so desperately wanted to belong to someone, to have someone take care of me. I would cling like my life depended on it. At the same time, I got freaked out whenever I felt genuine closeness with someone I and would push them away. I could be very mean and abusive to the men I was dating. Disrespectful. Usually this meant I was left clinging on to someone I had no real connection to aside from sex, like HC. This was the love addiction. The pain from being alone was what drove my sex addiction. I just wanted to obliterate my feelings and lose myself in sexual ecstasy. Then as soon as it was over the pain would come back even more intensely and I would have to do it all over again.

I worry that no amount of therapy or of steps will mitigate this loneliness. Really, the only cure for not having any family is to have a family. It’s hard for me to imagine I will ever be healthy enough to accomplish this. When loneliness is both the cause and the effect of my disease, how can I ever completely heal?

Twenty-one Days

I had a therapist tell me once, years ago, that it takes 21 days to form or break a habit. For some reason, this statement popped up in my brain the other day. Breaking bad habits and forming new ones is a big part of my recovery, so I decided to look into it.

I googled this factoid and found a myriad of self-help type websites that said “experts agree” or “research has shown” that it takes 21 days to make/break/change a habit without citing the actual experts or research. I even found an iphone app. It’s $0.99 though, so eff that (yes, I really am that cheap).

With a little more digging, I found that the 21 Day Habit Theory was first introduced by Dr. Maxwell Maltz. He was a plastic surgeon who worked with amputees and found that it takes an average of 21 days for the phantom sensation of the lost limb to cease. Later, he applied this finding to work with his plastic surgery patients. He found that many of them maintained their negative self-image even after surgery had given them the results they sought. He found that before surgery, he could use this same 21 day period to help patients improve their self-esteem, through visualization, to the point where they no longer wanted surgery. It doesn’t seem like this discovery would be in his best interest, except he published a bestselling self-help book in 1960. His theory was that it takes the human mind about 21 days to adjust to a major life change.

In the five plus months of my sobriety I’ve broken many bad habits. Here’s a list of a few of them. I’ve replaced them with some good habits, writing this blog, for example. But I’ve also replaced them with some bad habits. Sure, I don’t come home from work and waste the rest of my evening online on dating and sex sites, but I do come home and waste the rest of the evening in bed watching tv. I’m not going on dates with three or four men a weekend, but I’m also hardly leaving my house on the weekends.

I know a lot of it has to do with the season. It was easy for me to work out and take yoga classes during the summer, but now it’s cold, dark when I wake up, and dark by the time I’m home from work. I don’t want to do shit but turn on the heat, eat fancy cheeses and chocolate, drink wine and curl up in bed. But this isn’t taking care of myself. So I’m going to apply this 21 day habit theory and do some form of physical exercise for 21 days. Hopefully, after 21 days, it will become a habit that I automatically do without having to force myself or work up special motivation. Not only will regular exercise benefit me physically and mentally, it will also get me out of the house. I’ll let you know the results of this experiment in about three weeks.

Are there any habits any of you want to change? Have you ever successfully used the 21 day model to change a habit?

Cheaters

I used to love this shit show when I was around 19 or 20. At first, I found Cheaters hysterical. Eventually, either due to maturity or the show becoming more and more appalling, I stopped watching.

The other day I was on YouTube and came across this “best of” clip.

The clip features a woman (the cheater, I’m assuming) standing on the roof of a building and threatening to jump, a hooded man caught in the middle of a punishment session from a transexual mistress (I hope he’s the type of sub that gets off on humiliation), a woman who goes into labor and gives birth while she is in the middle of confronting her cheating husband (now, that’s timing!), the host, Joey Greco, getting attacked by what looks like a firecracker, and finally the host getting stabbed on a boat (a motherfucking boat!). Wait. Why did I stop watching this show again? Oh yeah, cause it’s disgusting… highly entertaining, but disgusting. To be honest, I was surprised that this show is still on the air. I haven’t heard or seen anything about it in years, but according to IMDB it’s in its twelfth season.

Scanning the show’s official YouTube channel, it’s obvious that the bread and butter of Cheaters is the confrontations:

Yet, what I always found most interesting was what happened after the confrontations. So many of the couples would end up staying together after this show. While I can maybe understand forgiving someone who cheated on me, I don’t think I would ever be able to forgive someone for following me with a camera and humiliating me on a nationally syndicated television show. In my opinion, a lot of these people have to be sex and/or love addicts. If this show is real (there is evidence that it is not) it’s exploiting a lot of vulnerable people.

On the show’s website, the welcome message states, “This show is both dedicated to the faithful and presented to the false-hearted to encourage their renewal of temperance and virtue.” Bullshit! This statement should really read, “This show is both dedicated and presented to the mindless masses who find entertainment in other people’s personal tragedies, and whose viewership fills the coffers of our false-hearted production team.” Aside from a link to live “counseling” where one can pay a professional $4.99 a minute to chat online, the site lists no resources for sexual or romance compulsion, or for people struggling to break free from painful relationships. There are also links to spying resources and dating sites…. ’cause that’s the healthy way to deal when you suspect someone is cheating on you — you drive yourself crazy spying on your mate, then when you can’t take it anymore you find someone new to obsess over.

I’ll admit that I’m a fan of overly dramatic reality television. The Real Housewives franchise is one of my guiltiest pleasures. But I cannot get behind Cheaters. It’s bad for the soul. The one moment of entertainment I might experience watching the it isn’t worth the awfulness.  Not only does Cheaters exploit vulnerable people, but it does so by pretending to help them.