Informal interview with Los Angeles journalist Jason Stafford covers some FAQ bullet points re: sex and love addiction and recovery…
Publicly exposing yourself the way I have — the unvarnished truth way, that is, as opposed to the Chat Roulette way — also exposes a gal to certain risks. When my blog posts get picked up by AOL, for instance, six or seven hundred strangers leave angry comments accusing me of being an immoral, selfish slut. And calling me “selfish” really wounds me.
I just remind myself that these are the same women who cheered for the adulteress Carrie Bradshaw to get back together with the adulterous Big, and that they’re probably not mad at me in the first place. They’re mad at the husband who betrayed them/ mother who abandoned them/ father who broke their heart. I try not to take it personally.
Most of all, I remind myself that they’re not who I’m cracking my chest open for in the first place. I’m doing it for people like Miss J of… let’s just say a popular Midwestern state, from whom I received the kind of letter that makes the ALL-CAPS SCREEDS on HuffPo worthwhile.
J. says: I felt compelled to write to tell you I just finished reading LOVE ADDICT from cover to cover for the third time. It was — I guess you could say a relief to learn that there is a name and explanation for what has been my so-called “lovelife.”
I am single again at 50. I have had four marriages plus countless engagements and exes in my past. Although I’m not an athlete or rock star, my number of sex partners are closer to the four-digit number than the three digit. I would never say I was a real beauty — I was just good looking (and sexy) enough to catch almost any eye I wanted, and catch I did. I was a master at flirting and the high I got from it would match the best high from any drug around. My friends compared me to Blanche on The Golden Girls and, more recently, Samantha on Sex and the City. I never apologized for it.
That was me. I could tell you about the “love of my life” — he had a wife and three children. Or the gorgeous lifeguard on St. Thomas, almost 30 years younger than me. At least I sent that one away! I have slowed down, a little, but it’s still there. That never-ending quest for the feeling of infatuation, whether short-lived or not…. there was no name for it - until now.
I am going to Alaska this summer. Am I going to stare at Mt. McKinley? Not so much. I’m more excited at the prospects of saucy Alaskan men to flirt with, you betcha. I know that might sound desperate, but I shouldn’t be desperate. I have a job, many friends, a close family, and a beautiful daughter… even a grandson that my heart bursts with love for. Yet the addiction for that feeling of infatuation, or as you say “limerence,” still consumes me.
Thank you again for a very enlightening, funny, and well written book. Best to you - J.
Okay, maybe it isn’t as wholesome as the math teacher who does it for the excitement a kid feels when he finally understands long division. Or as graceful as the ballet teacher who stumbles under the weight of two-dozen long-stemmed thank-you roses. But when someone puts down my book and announces “My name is J. and, damn it, I’m a Love Addict…” well, my eyes just well up with tears.
What can I tell you? I’m an immoral, sentimental slut.
7:30pm at the Aero Theater
followed by a 1-hour panel discussion with:
Anonymous sex addicts from ’S’ 12-Step Programs.
Brandon (a superb Michael Fassbender) is a quietly affable Wall Street type living in Manhattan who carries the private burden of a consuming sex addiction. When his younger sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan, never better) arrives at his apartment unannounced and in need of a place to stay, Brandon finds his world of controlled secrecy thrown into crisis. Director Steve McQueen’s beautifully elegiac portrait of a man battling his demons was nominated for numerous critics awards, and was an official selection of the Venice, Toronto and New York film festivals in 2011.
1 CEU Credit Available (LMFT/LCSW only)
Las Vegas is a counterintuitive place to hold a conference of substance abuse counselors in the first place. Choosing St. Patrick’s Day weekend to do it is total cognitive dissonance. Still, if it weren’t for the lingering pall of cigarette smoke — the entire state smells like a stale ashtray — and the lingering sting of nasty comments directed toward me on the Huffington Post, I’d say the trip was a hoot and a half.
There was a lot of interest in my workshop on love addiction, if only because there’s a big mushy overlap between people in the “helping professions” and people in the “codependency addictions.” Plenty of card-carrying (or, in this case, badge-wearing) therapists are themselves romance junkies. There were also plenty of attendees interested in the workshops on sex addiction, because so many more people are being identified as sex addicts these days… and not all of them self-identified, either. Parents nationwide are throwing their hands in the air and throwing their teenage boys into sex rehab.
From the Fall of Rome until the Rise of the Internet, anyone desirous of a sexual encounter had to first raise cash money, then leave the house, and risk embarrassment, exposure and even arrest to meet his or her fleshly needs. Those barriers to entry no longer exist. In the digital age, all anyone needs is a smartphone and, voila, hot and cold running sexual fantasies 24/7. For many teenage boys, this often translate as, well, hot and cold running sexual fantasies 24/7.
You can’t fault the parents for freaking out. In their workaday world, someone who spends all day every day beating off to porn probably would be a sex addict. In their kids’ virtual world, there’s a 94% chance it’s just a combination of curiosity, hormones, and habit. It’s the 6% with the genetically addictive brains that I deal with, and those brains don’t usually even resolve themselves until about the age of 25.
Here’s an example. One of the things that traditional mental health centers do that drives me crazy is what they call “harm reduction.” Get the patient to do less of the bad behavior. But anyone from the 12-step recovery world knows that telling an alcoholic to drink less, or a cocaine addict to just use on weekends, is useless. Addiction is, sorry to report, an all-or-nothing proposition.
And yet the counselors at the conference did have some success getting kids to cut down their hours of internet porn. My favorite story was about the kid who was persuaded to switch from porn sites to Angry Birds. He really just wanted to zone out on the internet; the digital content was less an issue than the digital delivery.
Harm reduction works great if you’ve picked up a bad habit. Therapy works great if you’ve developed self-destructive behavior patterns. But if you’re an addict, one of the lucky 6% with a chronic and relapsing brain disease characterized by the compulsive use of a mind-altering substance or behavior with negative life consequences, the most you can hope for is that you’ll switch to a different addiction and get your parents off your back.
Hardly anyone ever nags an exercise addict.
In her usual modest and discreet manner, Ethlie responds to Dr. David Ley’s “8 Reasons Sex Is Not Addictive.” That’ll teach him to post a huff (huff a post?) next to hers….
This weekend, March 15-17, I present two workshops on sex and love addiction at the Counseling Advances Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. It seems an odd location for a conference of addiction professionals: Las Vegas, ground zero for all manner of behavioral and substance abuse. Maybe they want easy access to field research.
My MacBook and I will give a slideshow on THE TOXIC TRIO: LOVE, LUST AND LIMERENCE, followed immediately by ADVANCES IN NEUROSCIENCE: THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON LOVE. My throat and I will be talking almost non-stop from 1:45 to 5pm. That’s not the part that scares me. The part that scares me is that my audience knows what I’m talking about.
These aren’t the readers from, say, the Huffington Post, still convinced that calling snorting cocaine an addiction is just a get-out-of-jail-free card for willful misbehavior. No, I will be speaking alongside the very people who schooled me in my own recovery. John Bradshaw, the dean of the codependency movement, will be there. Remember the ‘80s? Remember your inner child? I still have the teddy bear. Dr. Patrick Carnes, the man who wrote that first daring book about sex addiction, OUT OF THE SHADOWS, will be there. I quote him extensively in LOVE ADDICT: SEX, ROMANCE AND OTHER DANGEROUS DRUGS, not because I’m lazy, but because he’s the man with the research. I’ve got what you call empirical data — a.k.a., been there, done that.
And that, it was pointed out to me, is my strength. It’s exactly what I do have to offer this audience of professionals, who may have all the data in the world but no idea what it feels like to look at a guy who looks like the guy you like and feel your brain boil, expand and burst through your skull. I was in therapy for years, jumping from one hopeless affair to the next, wrapping my arms around my knees and rocking my self to sleep night after night before the shrink finally said “I think you may be a love addict.” The minute I read the characteristics of love addiction I snarked, “No duh! Why didn’t you tell me this before?” “I only just found out about it myself,” he replied.
The workshop is for him. Okay, not him specifically. But for those like him with a client or patient or victim with a weird mental twist when it comes to sex and love affairs. Otherwise smart, capable, successful, even-self-aware people who have a massive blind spot in this one area. These therapists can’t help if they have a similar blind spot. My job is to point out the red flags. I will bring pictures. Here’s a photo of My Big Gay Boyfriend - that should have been a clue. Here’s a photo of Younger Man Number One, and Younger Man Number Two, followed by Married Man, followed by Guy Living Overseas, followed by Married Man Living Overseas, followed by Younger Man Number Three… stop me any time.
Please stop me any time.
Here’s an old AA story for you: A man falls in a well (I told you it was old; who gets water from a well any more?). He’s trapped down there in the cold and dark. He calls out for help. A priest passes by, hears his cries, leans over into the well and asks, “What’s the matter, son?” Imagine a dramatic boomy echo on the dialog. “I’m stuck in this damn well!” yells the man. “That’s no call for bad language,” says the priest, “but I’ll pray for you.” And off he goes. The guy is getting steamed.
Next, a social worker passes by. “What’s the matter, friend?” “What does it look like? I’m at the bottom of this well.” “Aha! I’ve got just what you need,” says the social worker. She tosses a blanket and a length of rope down the well, and walks off with a smile. The guy is really pissed off now.
Along comes a doctor. “Do you have a problem, sir?” “Fucking A I have a problem! I’m stuck in a well.” “Are you anxious? Worried? Can’t relax?” ”Whadda you think?” “This should fix you up,” says the doc, and tosses a prescription for tranquilizers into the hole.
It’s getting darker. It’s getting colder. The man considers hanging himself with the stupid rope, but there’s nothing to attach it to. Finally, a new face appears at the rim of the well. It’s a sober member of Alcoholics Anonymous. “Looks like you’re stuck in a well,” he calls down to the man. “Brilliant deduction,” says the trapped man, now thoroughly disillusioned and angry at the world. Unexpectedly, the AA member jumps down into the well.
“Are you insane? Now we’re both at the bottom of a goddam well!” shouts the man. “Maybe so,” says the sober alcoholic. “But I’ve been down this well before. And I know the way out.”
The point of the story — and I’m sure you’re a step ahead of me on this — is that no one can help you the way someone can who’s been where you’ve been. Professionalism and expertise are great, but there’s nothing that compares to the deep identification you feel with someone’s who’s struggled your struggle. It’s so easy not to take advice from someone, even good advice, when you can get up in their grill yelling “You don’t know what it’s like!”… and be correct.
This is one reason 12-steps programs have no leaders, no facilitators, no administrators, and millions of success stories. It’s why Weight Watchers counselors have lost a lot of weight, and why the best treatment centers are started by former addicts and alcoholics, even if they do have lousy credit.
Which brings me to Broken Heart RX, from whom I recently received a press release. According to the publicist, “Broken Heart RX is the first ever break-up, love addiction and emotional trauma support system that includes a proprietary blend nutraceutical supplement, a 30-day email support program and a referral network of experts created to help guide people to recovery. No one wants to feel crippled by a broken heart and now they don’t have to.”
Indeed, in shades of the Schick-Schadel weekend recovery program for alcoholics, Broken Heart RX will, for the low low price of $34.95, provide you with a 30-day supply of their vitamin supplement, a month of “inspirational emails,” a 10-mninute phone consultation and a referral to a local therapist “if desired.”
Ten minutes? Have you ever talked anyone out of their fetal position on the floor in ten minutes?
To be fair, 35 bucks isn’t going to break anyone’s piggy-bank and the nutritional supplement — full of St. John’s Wort, magnesium and amino acids — won’t hurt you and might even help stabilize your mood. But the only way a 10-minute phone call is going to anything towards curing love addiction is using the time to recommend my book, Susan Peabody’s Addiction to Love bulletin board, and few years in 12-step meetings.
I say this as someone who has tried every prayer, every prescription, every rope and blanket. There’s no shortcut out of the well.