I had it exactly backwards…
Growing up, I learned that it wasn’t safe to trust people who were close to me. “Better to be self-reliant,” I thought. I became good at figuring out what other people wanted of me, and I only showed them the parts of me I thought they would praise (or at least not criticize). I was terrified of making someone angry or upset. I became focused on being “good”, a peacemaker, finding middle ground, trying to smooth things over. I managed information – lying by omission, saying things were “fine” when they weren’t, and hiding parts of my life from everyone. I learned the lesson that if I were good, no one would get mad and I’d feel safe. I believed I could only rely on myself, and that I needed the approval of others to be OK.
In adolescence, my family moved to a new neighborhood. Lacking friends, and feeling a lot of academic pressure, I began to sink into what I now know was a depression. During that time, I discovered masturbation, and it quickly became my best friend – the thing I relied on to soothe my sadness and anxiety. I sought out anything I could to intensify my sexual fantasy life. I scoured my parents’ bookshelves for paperback fiction with sex scenes. I engaged in voyeurism and objectified anyone I saw. Later, I built up a stash of porn magazines to fuel my masturbation. In high-school, I got a girlfriend, and even after we became sexually active, I maintained and even intensified my masturbation and porn habit. I never shared my secret sexual life with her. I was so afraid of showing her any part of myself that she might disapprove of.
My high-school girlfriend and I eventually married, and I settled into the same relationship pattern with her that I had learned in my childhood home – my role was to be the quiet one with no needs and to avoid upsetting her. To most questions in our marriage, my answer was, “I’m fine either way, what do YOU want?” I built a successful career (that I didn’t care about) and had a busy life that felt very lonely. My secret life of sexual acting out gradually progressed over the course of our marriage to include an obsessive relationship with internet pornography and involvement with the sex industry.
It all came crashing down after my wife caught me acting out for a second time. The first time she had caught me, I lied and manipulated to avoid consequences. The second time, she knew that she could no longer trust me, and she said the marriage was over if I didn’t get help. That’s when I got a counselor who recommended that I start working the SLAA program.
Through my journey of recovery, I certainly gained tools to help me refrain from acting out, and I’m grateful for my sobriety. I was even able to repair my marriage and build a deeper relationship with my wife based on true intimacy. But even more importantly, I also learned a new way of living. My old belief – that I had to be self-reliant and that I needed the approval of others – was turned upside down. I learned that I was at my best and healthiest when I relied on others for help, and I focused on becoming someone who approved of himself. My sexual acting out was the way I medicated the stress and pain of a life that had been based on lonely self-reliance and pleasing others. To be in recovery, it isn’t enough for me to abstain from my bottom-line sexual behavior. I also need to reverse my old script for living. The SLAA program provides a manual for living that works, so I work it, because I’m worth it.