|Beth and Stephen|
Freedom From Bondage
I am thirty-two years old, and have been in relationship with Stephen for three years. We have been attending RCA meetings together steadily for a year and one-half. Prior to meeting Stephen, I was sober in Alcoholics Anonymous for almost three years. God willing, I will soon celebrate six continuous years of sobriety in that program. Little did I know when I first got sober what other addictions awaited my discovery and my recovery from them!
I was the first of three children born to a couple who were, in my not so humble estimation, already deeply engaged in their own addictions. My mother, in my opinion, was addicted to rage and to my father; my father to alcohol, gambling, work, my mother, and enmeshment with his mother. I believe that my mother was emotionally abused by her parents from early childhood. I recall her frequently saying that she didn't feel free until her father's death. Sarcasm and name-calling were the operative means of communication in her family, and those patterns were repeated in my family. My brother was referred to consistently by his full name, with his middle name replaced by either "liar" or "whiner." Raging and screaming, including the following routine phrases, were directed at us morning, noon, and night: "Get out of my sight; I'm going to rip every g--damn hair out of your head; I'm going to brain you; I'm going to shove my fist down your throat; I'm going to break every bone in your body; I'll give you something to cry about." My mother prided herself on having a repertoire of dirty looks, of the "if looks could kill" variety. These looks were not used to ensure we minded our manners in public; i.e., as a replacement for humiliating public reprimands. They were an integral part of the family communication system, as were my father's silences, which could go on for weeks or months. I learned all of these behaviors, and until sobriety, thought that practicing them was the normal way to have a relationship. Learning new ways of communication has been absolutely necessary for me, in order that I might have any chance at intimacy.
My father was one of two boys who were "mommy's little angels." During my childhood, I observed my father and his brother being continually invaded emotionally by their mother. I presume this invasiveness began in their childhood, and that, in response to this invasiveness, my father learned withdrawal and silence as a defense. He used "the silent treatment" as a form of punishment against my mother, and later, against us. This was the way he expressed his hurt and anger, and I learned to do the same. He also learned, in his family-of-origin, that children were for the use of adults, not that adults were responsible to meet the basic emotional needs of children. In both my mother's and my father's families, the children were made responsible for the parents' happiness, and this turn-around of parent/child roles was repeated in my family. My parents did not take emotional responsibility for parenting us. Instead, we were required to provide for their emotional needs. It was our job to receive their rage when it overwhelmed them, to stop our tears in order not to make them uncomfortable, and to cuddle with them when they felt the need for loving, not when we needed such attention. My two brothers and I were also made responsible for our grandparents' happiness, especially after both our grandfathers died and our grandmothers were left without partners.
As part of being responsible for our parents' emotional needs, we had to play assigned roles, and, insanely, were then shamed for doing so. This took the focus off our parents' misbehavior. I was the "smart one" with the "big mouth," and my brother was the "not so smart" one who "lied" all the time. Of course, I lied too, but they did not confront me with it in order to preserve their assigned family structure. My littlest brother was the "good" one. Interestingly, we were assigned our roles before we really had the opportunity to develop our own personalities, and the roles we were assigned closely paralleled our same-sex parent's particular dysfunctions. For example, I was known as cold, sarcastic, and unemotional, with a repertoire of dirty looks. These characteristics were my mother's, the result of her childhood abuse. My brother was cast as "not so smart," which is the role my father played, both to avoid parenting responsibility, and as part of his addict dance with my mother. She was the "smart" one, and patronized him, while he wielded his power under the table through the threat of silence and withdrawal.
Silence was also an integral part of the family communication system, in a different way than simply as my father's punishment of us. We had to be silent about what was happening to us. I eventually became so silent about what was happening to me that I stopped knowing what was happening to me. This created my current difficulty trusting, or even being aware of, my own perceptions. I am working to overcome the resulting hypervigilance, and over-dependence on "rules" to determine how things "should" be, as opposed to how I feel. I am learning to feel my own feelings and to trust my own judgment, so I can stop constantly evaluating my behavior and that of others, especially Stephen's. This does not mean, of course, that by ceasing my endless intellectual evaluation, I wish to avoid the Tenth Step, or that my goal in using my own judgement is to allow self-will to run riot. What I am striving for is balance, here, as in all areas of my life.
The requirement for silence also created immense shame in me. One way they enforced the silence was to shame me and call me names (argumentative, oppositional, etc.) whenever I disagreed with their assessment of me. I am not speaking here about the type of shame one appropriately feels when one has offended or done something unacceptable. I refer to deep, pathological shame; the sort that makes you feel like you are defective at your core, that you are disgusting even for existing and drawing in breath. I came to believe it when I was told that I was crazy. Since nothing was wrong with my parents, something must be wrong with me. I am healing this shame, one day at a time, and it is only by healing this shame that learning new ways of communication is possible. I realize I cannot impose a veneer of "appropriate" communication over a shame-filled spirit. I understand why my parents behaved as they did, and believe that they are shame-based as well, and could only give me what they had inside themselves.
My father gave up gambling when he lost a $40,000 loan by gambling it away in the stock market. He learned his drinking and gambling behaviors at his mother's knee. His parents owned a tavern, and one of my earliest memories of my grandmother was the recollection of the enjoyment she took from going to the "track," i.e., to the horse races. After giving up gambling, my father began to rely more heavily on his drinking to sustain him.
Physical abuse was present in my family, which leads me to believe that my parents experienced similar abuse as children. Both my brother and I were routinely beaten for simply doing what children do, crying, saying "no" when we were toddlers, etc.) Although I am fiercely opposed to spanking a child of any age, for those of you who are not, I will distinguish here between my understanding of beating and spanking. Spanking, in my view, is a non-painful blow delivered with an open hand, on a well-diapered toddler bottom, by a calm parent, for the purpose of teaching. Spanking never involves the use of objects (belts, hairbrushes, etc.) to deliver blows, and never involves repeated blows. Beating is the delivery of blows to a child by parents who are in the midst of their own rage. My brother and I were beaten. I don't say "brothers," although I had two, because I have many gaps in my memory, and I don't remember what happened to my youngest brother regarding beatings. I remember feeling that my parents had let up to some degree in their treatment of my youngest brother, but I truthfully do not recall. I left home when he was six and I was sixteen.
I never knew what behavior on my part would "cause" a beating, and what would merit praise. Throughout my childhood, I had a recurring nightmare. In this dream, an unspeakable, invisible evil would be chasing me through our neighborhood. I would manage to escape into our house, and I would feel deeply relieved to have made it to the safety of the kitchen, where my mother was standing, back toward me, stirring a pot on the stove. I would begin to describe my desperate flight, and my miraculous escape. My mother would slowly turn around to face me. As she turned, I would see that her face had turned to wood, much like that of a wooden ventriloquist's dummy. She was possessed by the invisible evil that had pursued me. I would run screaming from the house to our neighbor's home, where the same thing would happen again. I had this dream repeatedly through my childhood, and sporadically into my adulthood, until I got sober. Once I realized that the dream was a true description of my life in my family-of-origin, I never had the dream again.
Sexual abuse was also part of my family-of-origin experience. As a toddler, I had a bladder infection for seven months, which only stopped after I was hospitalized for two days for diagnostic tests. The doctor's notations each month referred to genital redness and irritation, but no one intervened. The tests did not cure me, and the doctor did discover that there was no congenital abnormality causing the problem. Apparently, the hospitalization scared whoever was molesting me enough to make them stop. In addition to my early experience, I was also abused by my paternal grandmother. After the death of her husband, she would sometimes whine, "Make a little love to me," and then I knew I was in for it. She did not mean intercourse, but meant that we were supposed to meet her needs for physical touch, which were sometimes sexual. I was also forced to sleep with her, both when I would visit her apartment, and in a trundle bed in my bedroom when she stayed over on weekends. This was a set-up for my own abuse. She frequently sexually abused my youngest brother in front of me on the family room couch, in the guise of comforting him. This was both disgusting and exciting to me at the time. It was both relieving and painful, in that I was greatly relieved to no longer be the focus of her attentions, but I felt abandoned and jealous as well.
Emotional sexual abuse also went on in my family, in many forms, including comments made frequently about my developing breasts, and a rivalry developed between me and my mother regarding the fact that my breasts were much larger than hers. My parents expressly taught me (not just in messages and by example, but in words) that I came second to their relationship with each other. They explained that children always grow up and leave their parents, so children come second. Someone would come along and love me one day, they explained, and then I would be first to that person. But until then, I had to wait. I learned sex/relationship addiction early on from what I was taught in my family-of-origin, both by example and explanation. Sex was love, as I clearly saw, both by the fact that the only touching I got that wasn't beating was from my grandmother, and from the way I saw my mother behave with my father. I got the clear impression that men were incredibly stupid and easily manipulated by sex, but also, somehow, incredibly necessary. I knew, in my child's understanding, that to be loved as an adult, you had to read the book in my mother's drawer about "how to please a man," because if you didn't, they would leave you, and then you would die.
It was with these lessons that I was armed to face the world when I left home at sixteen. I had become sexually active at age fourteen with my high school boyfriend, who I later realized (in my sobriety) was an alcoholic. He drank prescription codeine cough medicine out of the bottle when he didn't have a cough...I always wondered why he didn't use a spoon, and why he took it in the absence of a cough! He went to college and broke up with me. I was devastated. I went to the same college he did, even though it was out of state, in hopes of getting him back. Immediately upon arriving, I began using drugs and alcohol. When my youngest brother was diagnosed with leukemia, I increased my drug use to daily use. I did hallucinogenic drugs during the week I gave him a bone marrow transplant, although good girl that I still was, I checked with the doctor first. When he died, I was expected to comfort my parents over the loss of their son. As they had learned that children were to serve the emotional needs of parents, it never even occurred to them that they were responsible to parent me through the loss of my brother.
At college, I fell into the arms of a man whom I disliked the minute we met. I ignored my first impression, which was that he was somehow oily and dishonest. Although he began cheating on me within four months of the initiation of our relationship, I stayed with him for nine years. He was the one who would finally love me first, in my addicted mind. He was educated and articulate, interested in public affairs, and compassionate. Of course, he came from an abusive family too, and learned techniques of communication from them, so his sweeter spirit was increasingly masked as his disease progressed. His family was very kind to me, and this also kept me with him. They welcomed me for two weeks at Christmas every year, and they took me on long family vacations to the lake every summer. Although his father used name-calling and raging too, since I was not a family member, it was not directed at me, and I felt safe in their home. My parents had long since stopped taking me on family vacations, saying they didn't like me. So being welcomed by his family was like heaven to me, until the end, when I started learning about alcoholism and dysfunction.
Initially, my partner and I used together; more and more our addictions drove us apart. He drank and was abusive, occasionally physically; I used and was abusive, relying on my old standbys of name-calling and raging. He threw me across the room in January of 1985. The first time of the few times he hit me, my mother said that I was so difficult to live with that I probably provoked him, and I should just try harder to be nice. I was angry, but I believed her, and stayed for another eight years. This time, somehow, I knew we needed help. We went to counseling, and the doctor said we needed individual help. Since I was afraid that my partner would not go back to therapy if he was forced to change therapists, I found a different counselor for myself. She immediately required me to go to Al-Anon as a condition of seeing me. So, I went.
Within three months, he quit therapy and hid the fact from me. I found out and, after two months of hoping he would get another therapist as he promised, asked that we separate. Not yet in recovery from my relationship addiction, I only got the strength to ask him to leave because I was carrying on an intrigue with another active alcoholic with whom I worked. I "knew" I wouldn't take the relationship further, but when this new fellow got sober the week my partner left, I became involved with him. When, after several weeks, the grief hit over my partner's departure, I attempted to break off with the new fellow and go back to my partner, but he was already involved with a young girl. We went back and forth, until I collapsed and went into treatment for codependence. I had a dream there that I was an addict, and that if I admitted it, I would feel better. When I told the dream to the group, instead of laughing and saying, "Oh, pshaw," much to my disbelief, they all shook their heads in agreement!
I came back home, got involved with the guy newly sober in AA, got sober myself, and lived happily ever after in relationship addiction until I discovered his sex addiction. Then, it was back into the fetal position for me. I got into ACA recovery. After a lovely year on my own, in which I learned, deep in my gut, that God was enough for me, and I was enough for me, I met Stephen. I was at a meeting where I was a regular, and I noticed him because he was a newcomer to that meeting. He shared about doing body work in therapy, which was one of the few forms of therapy I respected. I was intrigued. Then he began to talk about what he was doing in that day's therapy session, which was dealing with the fact that he did not want to have sex with the woman he was dating. I thought this was great! A man who also did not want to have sex sometimes; a man who felt like me. He came up to me after the meeting to chat, and he was so soft-spoken and nice. My friend Allison was standing with me, and after he left, she said she hoped he would stop dating the woman he referred to in the meeting, and start dating me, because she thought he seemed so nice. So, after the meeting the following week, we went out for coffee. I then realized that he was active in his sex/relationship addiction, and he wasn't just dating the other woman casually, he was living with her! I "knew" I wasn't going to get involved with him! Ha! Two weeks after we met, he left his relationship and started to go to SLAA. I went for it!
Getting involved with Stephen, even against my better judgement, was the clue to me that I was a sex/relationship addict. In my relationship with my partner of nine years, I thought the problem was his alcoholism, when, in fact, his alcoholism was a mirror for my own. With my first partner in sobriety, I thought the problem was his sex addiction, which, in great part, it was. But when I got involved with another sex addict, which I vowed I would not do, I realized the lesson was the same and admitted my powerlessness over my sex/relationship addiction. Initially, I liked to keep a safe intellectual distance from the "sex addict" stuff, and just say I was a relationship addict. I never did any of that disgusting promiscuity stuff, or used pornography, or...but, when I heard myself listing all these items in my mind, I heard the "not-yets" of AA and remembered what denial sounds like.
Slowly, just as in my alcoholic sobriety, I have remembered things I did, and thoughts I have, that put me squarely in the sex addict class. I now realize that there is no difference between sex and relationship addiction. Just as in AA, some people drank beer, some fine wine; some were in the gutter, some were in the corporate board room; some had a D.W.I.; some didn't. So it is in SLAA; some were prostitutes, some were housewives; some used pornography, some just used seductive clothing and flirtatious behavior as their stock in trade. But just as we all in AA are alcoholic, whatever floor of the elevator we got off on, I cannot put myself above those disgusting sex addicts whose behavior I hold in such contempt. I am one. Of course, I still struggle with my contempt, and my desire to separate myself, but God provides me with plenty of reminders that whenever I have one finger pointing away from myself, I have three pointing back at me.
In spite of our addictive start, the fact that I was attracted to Stephen was a sign of my healing. He had six and one-half years of sobriety in AA when we met. This was a definite improvement over the active alcoholics I had begun relationships with before. He was already in therapy for himself, not because anyone was making him go. Also, because of my physical abuse, I had previously only sought relationships with men who were very slightly built, and not too tall, as I thought that somehow this would protect me from abuse. (Wrong!) I was also turned off by any obvious indications of masculinity, dating only men who were hairless and as close to womanly as I could find. Stephen, on the other hand, is six feet tall, very muscular and hirsute, and unmistakably male. Trusting in our commitment to non-violence with each other was a big step for me, as he is certainly large enough and powerful enough that he could kill me if he wanted to do so.
Many of the experiences I had, and behaviors I learned in my family, affect my ability to participate in an intimate relationship today. While my problems started there, my healing and changing are my responsibility. As a child, I was a victim, and so I learned to be both victim and abuser. I cannot blame my parents, or somehow separate myself from "child-abusers," and consider myself superior. I am as they are, and I can only be grateful that I have been given the opportunity to change my behavior and to break the abuse chain. My "automatic pilot" behaviors, when active, are things that damage my relationship and are problems Stephen and I have to deal with in our healing together as a couple. My propensity for violence; screaming and raging; name calling; my post-traumatic stress disorder, which causes my "fight or flight" response to be permanently stuck in the "on" position; and my related constant anxiety, hypervigilance, and inability to relax are all things I am working on changing with the help of RCA and other 12-Step programs, therapy and body work.
Regardless of our awareness of our family issues, I find that we act out aspects of both our parents' addict dances, and even mimic some of their circumstances. I guess the Big Book is right when it says self-knowledge availed us nothing! Some of the similarities are astounding. I have an advanced degree; my mother went to a prestigious university. Stephen and my father completed high school and did not go on to college. I patronize Stephen; my mother patronized my father. Both my mother and Stephen's mother raged; I rage at Stephen. I often struggle with the contempt for men I learned growing up in a family where the role for all the men was "stupid." I am overly responsible; Stephen uses under-responsibility as a way to withdraw, which often draws my contempt and rage, and relieves him of his responsibility to deal with his own anger, just like my father. Stephen's defense mechanisms against his invasive mother include withdrawal, which he uses in our relationship as my father used with my mother and me.
Stephen also uses crazy-making, table-turning, and subject-changing as addictive fighting tools, which parallel the crazy-making that was non-stop in my family-of-origin. The good news is that, thanks to the Steps, and lots of help, we can see our patterns, which, while not enough in itself, opens the door to healing them.
I am a multiply addicted person. My addictions and compulsiveness are full-blown diseases, yet, as paraphrased from the AA Big Book, they are but symptoms of deeper underlying causes. More concisely, I believe these addictions to be coping mechanisms that I adopted as a child to alleviate emotional stress. The causes of my childhood stress are numerous: ineffective or absent emotional and social skills, incidents of abuse or trauma, and so on; however, the greatest underlying source is the parenting I received. I don't mean to suggest that my parents are monstrous humans who have committed terrible personal crimes. They are simply individuals, like myself, who have been damaged as children. Upon becoming parents, they passed the damage onto their children, in this case, me.
I choose to share my story with you in the sincere hope that you may find some help or comfort in your own earnest search for working solutions to the problems facing you in your relationship. I include information about my addictions and the dysfunctional behavior of my family-of-origin because they are elements that contribute to my behavior in my relationship.
My mother became pregnant with me when she was eighteen and still unmarried. Her mother and grandmother used this circumstance to shame her. Her grandmother told her to leave the family house, and her mother withdrew a "contract" wherein my mother would have received $4,000 had she remained "pure" until the time she married. Her parents also informed her that she could not depend on them. She had to live entirely by her own means. This was the crowning event of my grandparents' shaming and scapegoating my mother throughout her childhood. In this spirit of shame and abandonment, my mother married my father and they moved to a tiny efficiency in the city.
In the spring of 1961 I was born, and one month later my parents moved to a small two-bedroom townhouse in the suburbs. During the following three years, we lived together as a family. My father finished his last year of college while working at night to support us. My mother prematurely ended her college career to work full-time housekeeping and childrearing. My parents had regular fraternity parties at the house (as a toddler I sometimes got drunk at these events). After my father began working days, my mother felt more and more abandoned by my father's escalating drinking. He began to miss dinners and stayed out late drinking with increasing frequency. Finally, my mother consulted a doctor who identified my father's alcoholism. He made her aware that my father might or might not quit drinking and that she could choose to stay under those circumstances or leave. She chose to leave and my parents divorced just after I was three.
That year, my mother found a job as a Girl Friday; I began daycare, and we became the best of pals. One night my father visited. He showed me how to shake hands. I felt overjoyed that daddy had found his way home. You can imagine how I felt when he left again and I realized that his absence was intentional rather than by some accident. I may have been spared from the direct effects of parental alcoholism but I did experience the absence of my father as a result of his disease.
Roughly one year after my parents' divorce, my mother began dating a man who would become my stepfather a short while later. His son was only one day older than me. Initially, we were a happy family, but as time progressed, this man became more violent. I recall one night that my mother had taken me into her room as if to protect me and clutched me while screaming hysterically in fear as my stepfather beat on the door and yelled threats. I was terrified. Then a few months later, he brought a bowl of soup for me into my first grade classroom and tried to explain that he was taking my brother. I simply couldn't understand but I enjoyed the special attention. That afternoon, he left with my brother. My mother held me and cried as I watched them drive away.
From this point on, I began to experience grief over the absence of my family, but I didn't know how to express the pain and sadness and anger. I needed help, but as my mother's emotional needs had not been met as a child, she did not know how to help me with my needs. Instead, she used me to meet her needs. Therefore, because I could not express or release my pain, sadness, and so on, these feelings stayed inside me for many years. I had internalized them. I continued to internalize feelings when new emotional circumstances arose.
Carrying my emotional baggage was uncomfortable, so naturally I developed some tools to distract myself from these unprocessed feelings. I began to withdraw and I discovered, somewhat unconsciously, that isolating was more comfortable than socializing because I didn't create troubling emotional situations for myself. Reading lots of books disguised my withdrawal and provided me with another tool for emotional escape fantasy. Likewise, school work provided intellectual pursuits which were equally effective for shutting down my feelings.
I was six years old when my second family left. My mother and I once again became very close. We cuddled in bed on weekend mornings and I spent most of my mother's free time with her. Our neighbor's children brought their father's Playboy magazines to my backyard "fort." Looking at the nude women did not sexually arouse me, as I was seven years old; however, I did experience immediate and intense mood changes. I felt excitement a quickening of my heartbeat and shortness of breath. I felt guilt and shame and curiosity. Only two years ago, I was finally able to recognize that this was the initial stage of my addiction to pornography.
When I was eight years old, my mother met a third man whom she married after a few months. I viewed this man and his attendant son and daughter with some suspicion. I did not trust that they cared enough about my mother and me to stay with us. Also, I noticed that this man drove a real wedge between my mother and me. Gone were our cuddly mornings and extra times spent with each other. Suddenly, I found myself in the back seat with two other children who were strangers to me with whom I was expected to share my time. I eventually began to accept these people and grew closer to them, but this marriage ended after eight months.
My mother was married and divorced one more time, for a total of four marriages and divorces, before I was sixteen. Between the third and fourth marriages, she dated numerous men and had two longer relationships, each lasting about a year. In between relationships and affairs, my mother used me to meet her partnership needs. We would be close when she had no partner, and I was abandoned when the partners came along. She used me as her surrogate spouse. My mother's behavior toward me became increasingly "boundaryless" as her sexual addiction progressed. She would use the bathroom with the door open, dress in front of me, and ask me to give her bodyrubs while she was nude. I would be shamed while giving her these massages during my adolescence, because she would tell me not to look at her genitals, while requesting me to rub her buttocks or legs. I did not realize that this behavior on my mother's part was incest until three years ago. Prior to this time, I only felt shame that by accident or curiosity, I had seen my mother's genitals. Through these experiences, I began to equate sex with love.
When I was fourteen years old, I began to drink on weekend evenings when my mother was out dating, which was almost every weekend. I drank between a half a pint to a pint of vodka each night. I also began smoking cigarettes. Here I launched my alcoholic career, with a brief interlude of social drinking the following year when I began to attend boarding school. I survived this year with tolerable grades, even though I felt that I was near my bursting point emotionally. During the summer, I started using illegal drugs. This was also the summer that I was raped by a man when I was hitchhiking.
The following school year I came apart. My alcohol, drug, and pornography use became nearly daily activities. My grades plummeted. I met a girl at school that year and fell head over heels in love. She practiced much of the same "come here, go away" behaviors as my mother, and much of the sexual promiscuity as well. I wanted to be monogamous, but she wanted an "open" relationship, so I acquiesced. At semester break, the school asked me to leave, instead of attempting to determine the cause of the precipitous drop in my grades, or providing me with help. I was crushed. When I came home, I learned that my mother had turned my bedroom into an office even though she had promised me that I would always have a place to come home to until I came of age. I slept on a couch in the family room and was also shamed about sleeping in the morning when employees were in the house. Then my mother put me in a psychiatric day-care center where they knew nothing about addiction, sexual abuse, or family dysfunction. This treatment was ineffective.
About this time, my father, whom I had only seen or heard from a few times in fourteen years, got sober and contacted my mother. My mother seized upon this opportunity to give custody of me to my father, even though he was in his first month of sobriety, and he made it clear that he could not care for me. For the next three years, I was shuttled between my father, my grandparents and my mother. As I had not been allowed to apply for a driver's license, I hitchhiked from my temporary homes to visit my high school girlfriend, and to go to bars. A number of times over these three years (ages sixteen through nineteen) I was picked up while hitchhiking by men who gave me alcohol and drugs in return for sex.
I had, during this time, a one-week and a three-week stay in psychiatric wards. These programs also knew nothing about sexual abuse, addiction, or family dysfunction. My shame deepened as I was treated by the psychiatric community as the "problem," rather than an indication of the problems in the family that needed to be resolved systemically. I kept dropping out of high school, as I could not handle the work, or anything else, for that matter. At one point, my father even took me to court as incorrigible.
I was put in a halfway house, and the staff informed my father that I needed more help than they could provide, but he did not get it for me. He kicked me out, and I went to live in a house owned by a man I did not know, but where I heard through friends that I could stay. It turned out that I was expected to pay for my rent with my body, which I did. I was not yet eighteen. Besides being raped for rent, I was also locked in the basement with a man I did not know and raped again in that house while friends of the owner watched through the windows. I got out of that situation and briefly lived with my mother, and then with my grandparents after I turned eighteen and my mother kicked me out. While I lived with my grandparents, I went to school for one semester, dropped out, and stole beer when I could in order to drink with my alcoholic friends.
I attempted to commit suicide by drinking half a bottle of rat poison in July of the year I turned nineteen. I almost died but was miraculously saved by my grandfather, who somehow discovered the empty bottle amidst the clutter in the very cluttered garage. I spent five weeks on a psychiatric unit, and then a year in long-term residential treatment for emotionally disturbed teenagers. In this treatment program, I was reintroduced to AA. The treatment program did not understand addiction, but they had one meeting a week on site, and I attended. (Mainly because I liked a pretty girl who was going to meetings!) I attained six months of continuous sobriety, which ended when the treatment program required me to find a place to live for my six month outpatient treatment. They offered me no help in finding a place to live, and so I went to live with my drinking buddies, as I had no idea of how to find a place to live other than with people I already knew. (The people who attended my AA meeting were residents on site.) After thirteen months of drinking hell, I called my grandmother in desperation and asked her to take me to a meeting. She did, and I have been sober for the ten years since.
In the past three years, I have discovered and begun to recover from other addictions. I have stopped using pornography, and have begun to take a teensy look at my money issues, which were created in childhood and exacerbated by the fact that my father did not contribute child support, so my mother and I lived near poverty quite often. I have begun to work with a therapist who is familiar with 12-Step programs, sexual abuse, and family dysfunction. I have started to grieve the loss of a safe family and childhood to feel the feelings I used drugs, pornography, alcohol, cigarettes, and more, to numb.
In my early sobriety, I desperately wanted to date women who were also sober and who were available to me sexually; because, as I associated sex with love, I wanted to be loved. I dated a few women in my early sobriety but did not get into a long term relationship until I was four years sober. I met a woman, and we had sex on our first date. I immediately leapt into the relationship with both feet. Within a month I was living with her. I assumed the role of caretaker, just as I had learned with my mother. We seemed to be doing well, but in my gut I began to recognize that I did not want to continue taking care of her financially and emotionally to my own detriment. I did not realize at the time that I was repeating the pattern I had learned with my mother. I began therapy and realized more and more that I wanted to leave. I didn't know that we could change our dynamics. I was unaware of RCA, and I didn't realize that we were acting out old family patterns that could be healed, so I left.
Just before I ended that relationship, I began to notice a woman in another 12-Step program who talked about ways that she was learning to take care of herself. I was impressed and I listened to her carefully in later meetings. She was also very attractive, so I really wanted to meet her and I hoped that she would like me. Beth agreed to join me for coffee at the local family restaurant. With a good deal of embarrassment, I recall that while trying to impress her, I poured my life story out to her as though I had no boundaries. I also made remarks that clearly indicated that I was in active sex addiction as well. When we parted and I asked her for a hug she replied, "I don't do men." I reeled with the realization that my behavior had been revolting and felt saddened that I had pushed Beth away. Later, I found that she only hugged men who she knew well and she hadn't found me so revolting that she wouldn't go out with me again. We seemed to be attracted to each other like sex-addicted magnets. Since I was still in a relationship, we didn't fully act on our mutual attraction, but we did engage in some inappropriate intrigue. Shortly after I ended my relationship, we were courting. I would like to say that we were and are a picture of perfect couple health, but truly, the lack of healthy coupleship models when we were young, and our absence of partnering skills, have often left us struggling in our relationship as we learn basic tools and behaviors.
Since we have been in RCA, we have gotten a real boost in the frequency with which we are relieved of our addictive relationship behaviors. We have learned new ways of interacting and communicating. Once we realized that we were in a relationship, we knew that we needed help. We sought help from a coupleship counselor. We have been seeing this counselor almost since the beginning of our relationship. We still consider that therapy essential to our relationship recovery, but it wasn't until we added RCA to our sources of help that our efforts really started to pay off consistently. Applying the steps to our relationship is not something we were taught how to do in our individual recovery programs. RCA has given us the tools we need to keep bringing the healing that we do in our individual recoveries back into the coupleship. We have been able to recognize the little child in each other and to remember more often that we are friends, not enemies, even in the middle of fights.
It has also been of great benefit to us to have the tools provided in the RCA literature. The reflections and the weekly inventory sheets have been very helpful, even though we have not gotten into the discipline of using them regularly.
Hearing other couples relate their problems, such as struggles with their addictive behaviors, fights, and so on, has been very healing for us. We no longer feel that we are so shameful, or completely unique. Likewise, sharing our difficult issues with other couples has been comforting and enlightening to us. We now know that our relationship is not hopeless. This has been a great relief to us. RCA has brought us closer; we are experiencing intimacy for the first time. We have come to believe that what is written in the AA Big Book applies to our RCA recovery; the promises can come true for us if we only work for them.