The energetic connection
I was raised with two different religious traditions and tended to adopt a somewhat á la carte approach in my own evolving understanding of the Universe. My morals were built around social and environmental justice issues, while the whole realm of sex and sexuality was something that I reckoned was my own business as long as I did no harm. For much of my youth (and not so youth) sex with self was my drug of choice. It felt good. It brought pleasant relief from obsessing about the state of the world. It helped to numb out the discomfort of endless difficult decisions at work and it eased emotional pain - both the stuff I could see and the stuff beneath the surface of my own awareness. However, despite not having any moral issue with acting out, I could see - to some extent at least - that it didn't really serve me.
When I married and we had children, I was in my element. Having grown up in a large family myself, I felt very much at home in this new life. I loved having sex with my wife, but always had a sense that it was not quite frequent enough. Still I resorted to my drug of choice - sex with self. Sometimes just for fun, but increasingly to run away from the responsibilities, difficult decisions and emotional pain.
Working from home, I had lots of privacy during the day. Increasingly I found that during work I would look online for enticing pictures while I was meant to be getting the job done and earning a crust. Morally, I was happy to justify ten to fifteen minutes of downtime like that, but when it slipped on to an hour, two hours, or a full afternoon, I could see that it was a problem.
I found that my relationship with my wife suffered too. In hindsight I must have been emotionally absent, irritable and distracted - but at the time I tended to pin those attributes onto her instead, and make little of my part in it all.
Watching patterns emerge
Then I noticed a distinct pattern emerge around my acting out. On the days I'd act out, my wife would come home from her own work and invariably become angry. Initially I thought that it was something in our interactions, but we both noticed that it actually correlated with her arrival into the house; several rooms from my home office - well before we would even see one another. It was as if I'd literally thrown off a cloak of responsibility or pain, and as she arrived back at the house it would wrap itself around her shoulders... and she wore it most unwillingly and uncomfortably.
Invariably her anger would be directed at me. She didn't know the real reason why - so it sparked out wherever it could find an excuse to do so, however small my seeming misdemeanour. But I knew. I could see the correlation too closely to ignore it.
I tried to stop and - predictably - failed repeatedly. I started to tell her as soon as I saw the tell-tale signs of her anger because it was the fairest thing to do. She'd still get angry - and doubly so because I'd dumped my pain and burden, yet again - but at least she knew why she was angry, so I wasn't adding insult to injury by acting dumb and letting her find her own way in a thundercloud of anger with no obvious cause.
Now my acting out had become a moral issue for me. Yet I still didn't stop. I couldn't. Every so often the part of me in pain or discomfort would scream to be pacified, and invariably it would win. I sought help from counsellors and alternative therapists of many different types, to no avail. Actually not quite to no avail. Although the acting out didn't stop, it abated somewhat, and in the process of looking at myself more closely I learned much that has helped me over the years. The healing and insight that came with that personal process have been invaluable in many ways.
And yet I still didn't, or couldn't, let go of my acting out. However benign it looked on the outside, I knew within myself that it was taking its toll on my wife, and on my own life, energetically. Slowly, inexorably, it was eroding the foundations of our marriage - invisibly, and yet no less absolutely for that. I couldn't even say why exactly, but there was some sad mutual understanding that if I couldn't somehow "be there" she'd leave when the children were in college.
Finding the solution
Five years ago my homoeopath suggested that I seek sex addiction counselling. You'll laugh - but I was shocked. All the acting out in my past; all the usual signs; all the usual symptoms - and I was still deep in denial. But this was my wife's problem. My relationship with sex was fine! Apparently not. After a somewhat abortive counselling session, where I revealed almost nothing and received a clean bill of health, my wife found the SA website and left me to read it. Irritable, I closed it down while she was still in the room with me. Then as soon as she was gone I opened up the page again and started to read - and to identify. I emailed the contact address and, after a brief postponement caused by a resurfacing of denial, found myself in an SA meeting.
By going to meetings, reading the literature, following the directions of a sponsor and by sponsoring others, I have received gifts beyond measure. For the first time in my life I have been shown appropriate boundaries - physically, sexually, verbally - and given the tools to stay within them. Although I still resist some of the suggestions that I am given within the programme, I am learning slowly and steadily that these are the best opportunities to practice step four, and to bless those who bring my defects to my attention.
My children are still a good way off college and I'm happy to say that the once inevitable rift in my marriage is, one day at a time, being knitted firmly back into a warm and secure relationship again. Somehow, through the grace the Higher Power and the fellowship of the men and women who have led me by the light of their own experience, strength and hope, I have learned how to "be here".
Now I can be there for my wife, my children, my work, my community - most of the time. Thankfully those who have tread in this path before me speak of progress rather than perfection. it's often a struggle. I still sometimes get stung by sharp words from my wife; still feel defensive in the face of an aggressive interaction at work; still let fears for financial security and the very fate of humanity on this fragile Earth interrupt my peace. Yet now, even more than having a diverse toolbox of stills to choose from, I have solid boundaries to contain how I react, and a solid circle of helpful friends to phone and speak out my pain and frustration and to admit my lust reactions. It's still surprising to me, if I think about it at all, that the simple act of phoning a member and speaking out my truth is such a powerful force for balancing my mind and my emotions.
Every morning, I kneel beside my bed and I thank the God of my understanding for guiding me; reminding me of His or Her presence; and keeping me sober in the night. Then I repeat the prayers before climbing into bed at the end of each day. With my á la carte spirituality, it feels strange to follow my sponsor's instructions to kneel for prayer; like some childish ritual. And yet I can hardly argue that I am anything but a child in this process of growing up.
And with childlike trust, I am grateful to my higher power for guiding me to the doors of Sexaholics Anonymous and for welcoming me through, week after week - one day at a time.