I Had Everything
Before I got into recovery, my sponsor once pointed out to me, I basically had everything I had ever wanted—and I was miserable. My addictions had been building for at least 15 years, with increasingly painful consequences that I just ignored, denied, or argued away. I had a very secure professional job that gave me incredible freedom to manage my own time, a marriage in which we had always agreed to be open sexually with others, and a husband who approached our relationship and me with love, care, and trust. I was also convinced that being gay, and leaving behind the judgment and shame I had experienced growing up Mormon, meant being sexually liberated—doing whatever I wanted with whoever I wanted, and doing it almost exclusively on drugs. I was compensating with my addiction for intense amounts of stress in my job and unrealistic expectations I was placing on myself, not to mention pains from my past. My husband was developing codependent patterns to deal with my relentlessly progressing addictions. He was increasingly desperate and hopeless about our future, and my behavior was making it impossible for us to address these problems.
It’s hard to say what hitting bottom looked like. The immediate trigger for me getting into recovery was a set of job evaluations that managed, after months of warnings, to finally break through the fog of my denial and make clear to me that my entire career was in real jeopardy. But looking back now, with the perspective of six years of recovery, the bottom looks much worse. In the space of two years, I had contracted HCV and HIV. I had spent fourteen months high on crystal meth and various cocktails of other drugs and alcohol, without interruption except to sleep every three or four days; I had been showing up to work high, giving public presentations that others described as “incomprehensible”; my husband and I had purchased a new bed, perhaps two years earlier, in a moment of attempted togetherness, thinking that might help our relationship, but I hadn’t managed to sleep a single night in it with him, because of the drugs; I had stopped eating anything but ice cream and gatorade; my entire life revolved around sex parties and sex websites and saunas and finding online venues to exchange sexual fantasies and do drugs. And if I looked around me, at the people I was mostly hanging out with, my future on this path was clear: unemployment, homelessness, and mental illness—at best.
My main hurdles in recovery were, first, admitting the devastation I had caused and accepting that my addiction was the problem. I was suffering—that much was already clear to me. I had sought out treatment in therapy, where I mostly lied about my using by minimizing it. I was visiting a twelve step meeting without making any commitment to being sober, mainly because I had met one of the members on a sex date and there was some magic in that connection that gave me a glimpse of a way out. But something happened when I got those job evaluations. First, I went out and got high. When I woke up three days later, though, something in my heart simply said: this is done. That was an intention; the work followed. I agreed to go to treatment and got engaged in twelve step work when I got out and I have stayed sober ever since.
Looking back at my first year, the biggest hurdles were mainly sexual. I didn’t experience many drug cravings—only on just a few occasions where my emotions were so intense that I wanted to escape the world entirely. I was, however, confronted with my sex and love addiction in full force. I spent at least a year (or was it two?) confronted with endless obsessions about the guy who had been the catalyst for me to first attend a twelve step meeting. I couldn’t stop thinking about him. I couldn’t stop texting him. I couldn’t stop imagining the perfect future we would have together. I was enraged and confused and hurt and jealous that he told me we couldn’t sleep together anymore, that he loved me and, yes, he still thought I was damn sexy but we could only be fellows for now, and that what he wanted most for me was just to stay sober. I also had to accept that my old sexual identity—my way of being sexual, of being gay—was just something I had to let go of, because it was not serving me. To see that this was a choice I was making, not something being forced on me by others trying to judge or control me.
Luckily, I was engaged in a program of recovery and had incredible resources in therapy. This helped me keep these obsessions from becoming something else—a reason to act out or disengage from my recovery. I was able to focus on working the steps and addressing the issues in my past that had fueled my addictions. And to build a new sexual me, step by step, by building relationships I could trust where I could try out new things and learn that, for me, healthy sexuality is about play and joy and pleasure and mostly connection. With my husband, we also built a new marriage, through some very difficult work. It’s stronger, deeper, more gentle and more connected. My recovery has always been our recovery, too.
What does my life look like today? I did lose my career, or rather I decided to let it go after getting fired from my job, and I am very happy in a new one that fits my new life better. I actually live in two relationships now, and that works for all of us. I’m fast friends with that guy I spent two years obsessing about; he’s a lover, in fact. And I stay sober the same way I got sober—I work a program of recovery, including the twelve steps. I have a sponsor and I sponsor others. I attend meetings. I try to stay humble by focusing on others, especially when I’m spinning out in self-absorption. And to practice gratitude, by treating what I’ve been given with care and respect. My life isn’t perfect. We lost my brother, in fact, to addiction not two weeks ago. His death has reminded me—all of my sobriety has been about mourning, because that’s how I heal and make peace with the pain of the past. What I know now is that I can’t do this alone, and I don’t do it just for me.