This Fleshy Hunger

In our sister blog Inside the Alcoholic Brain –  http://insidethealcoholicbrain.com/

I had a comment posted on one of the blogs about the pain and heartache that one person had faced as the result of her partner’s addictive behaviour.

The person who posted mentioned her ex partner who is a sex addict as well as alcoholic/addict. It really moved me what the person, who posted anonymously, said in her comment.

I identified with the breaking of her trust and her heart by the unacceptable behaviour of her ex.

Addicts can leave a wake of destruction, lies and deceit, broken promises and broken hearts. In the Big Book of AA it looks at the effects of the life with an alcoholic as akin to having had a tornado wreck havoc in  your life, with the alcoholic often causing so much wreckage  without fully realising it.

This comes across strongly in this post, which I use below, as it was posted publicly and the person was also anonymous.   I use this post to help me and help others understand more fully the damage addiction, especially sex addiction can cause others.

I failed to mention something in my reply, below, which I will now add.

I know where her ex partner is coming from because I too am a sex addict.

I have never admitted that to anyone other than my wife. I have been in recovery ten years but have only realised in the last 15 months or so that I too suffer from sex addiction, in addition to alcoholism, substance addiction, chronic attachment disorder and PTSD.

sex-addiction-eye (1)

Even now I find it difficult to be honest about my sex addiction. It seems to me much more shameful than saying I am a chronic alcoholic or addict.

Maybe that is irrational but I am just trying to be honest.

If any addiction could embody and illustrate the conditional love I was reared with it is my sex addiction.

As I mention in my reply to the post below, in sex addiction somewhere in one’s personal development the brain gets fused in a manner so profound that close intimate human affection can often be just about the most terrifying experience because we don’t really know what the hell it is.

If one has not experienced unconditional love in their primary attachment relationships to a primary care giver, e.g. one’s mother, then the brain may not develop in the same way as with unconditional love – it will be a brain that has distress and a excess of stress chemicals and a deficit in oxytocin,  the “love/cuddle” chemical of human bonding.

Intimacy can be frightening in the extreme.

The human heart is born to beat a beat of love and to have an automatic approach to the love of other humans. In fact we are not singular – we are born into the world as “I and one other”, as we would die otherwise, we need to be reared as we are helpless alone.

So when the heart is naturally moved towards a love attachment which is inconsistent, ambivalent, alternatively available then dismissive and distant, then the most basic survival instinct is impaired, warped, and love of the most basic fundamental type can be mixed with fear and stress chemicals with distress.

Love is the most  fundamental “glue” in the  brain and human development so when it is not consistently given it can have profound effect on the developing infant brain.

Some would say that being conditional it is  not real love but it is as close as some got. “Love” for some often had love mixed with or outweighed by fear, or oxytocin by stress chemicals in the brain.

While a child is looking to receive their love and “cuddle” chemical, that of oxytocin but it is not always available, in that it is shrunk away in the brain by stress chemicals. This reduces oxytocin and the heightened stress chemicals reduce this oxytocin even more.

I grew up then looking for “love” – this oxytocin but unfortunately it is not straight forward. This search is for a conditional loves as it is all I knew, it is not for a fullsome healthy unconditional love but for a “love” that will alleviate our distress and increase our oxytocin. I searched for this thing, this “love” in  sexual acts.

Sex, and reproduction, are fundamental to the human species so it is another “survival instinct” that gets impaired in the addiction cycle – in fact all addictions involve the usurping of systems essential for survival – eating, sex, money, motivation etc and all addictions take over the reward/motivational region of the brain.

Sex addiction does the same – this is also why we see cross addictions as different addictions all activate this same reward/motivational part of the brain.

Back to sex addiction, I grew up through puberty to adulthood with this  now constant battle in my heart between two chemicals that interact to help us survive via our human relationships and communities. Now they interact in the way most opposite to healthy survival. The compete and fight and are conditional on the behaviour of the other.

The are two partners in a dance of destruction. Their neuro-chemical offspring is dopamine – the chemical of wanting (needing). The battle between stress and oxytocin results in a pathological wanting (needing), peaks of dopamine when distressed with dopamine increase reflect the need to take action to relive distress. .

Distress is the result of never finding relief in human relationships, in human bonding, in healthy relationships, so healthy human love and bonding is replaced by the need relieve the inherent distress in an activity which guarantees a reduction in stress. In an activity guaranteed to increase in oxytocin. Sex with another human being, a fleeting physical intimacy.

That is a role oxytocin has, to reduce stress/distress (and control dopamine)  via human contact. If that contact was never there fully it never played a role in our survival. Instead we have to find this oxytocin elsewhere, like alchemists, outside healthy human bonding.

I found it via a different  type of “love”. A so-called love making when it was really an approximate transient glimpse of intimacy, or the opposite of intimacy in fact, a refuting of intimacy, instead simply a transient increase in our love making chemical. It feels like a yearning for something always beyond one’s reach but something that feels somehow essential and has to be got.

A fleshy hunger.

But these fleeting “intimacies” didn’t work, it wasn’t enough to still our hearts and reassure us, it was a temporary harbour in a storm of distress.

When it calms, I was left with the receding tides of shame, shame and more shame. It wasn’t enough, I wasn’t enough. And the distress cycle begins again.

Every time I searched for this love I ended with less than before.

Anyway here are the comments.

“I discovered that he had been seeing a secret drinking/ sex partner the entire time, one 5 years older that his daughter who, by cultural standards, was not attractive. The phone I finally looked at showed that, in addition to worshiping him as a senior co-worker, she was a great devotee of 50 Shades and all night activity. I had noted only a lack of interest in me – which I attributed to his passing age 50. The crafty extremes he went to to hide this affair from me while cutting as close as possible the encounters he had with the two of us was completely out of character in terms of the persona he showed me. Still, I have felt stupid for the extent of my trust.

Reading this and Part 1 have offered me great comfort. He was definitely denied affection in his youth, and is definitely a late stage alcoholic, but is tested for drugs frequently by work. Sex does not show up in lab work, I guess. Thanks for this very helpful post.”

Part of my Reply –

“thank you Anonymous for your honest post – can I also suggest this post Looking for love in all the wrong places –http://insidethealcoholicbrain.com/2015/07/02/looking-for-love-in-all-the-wrong-places/ – which looks at how lack of attachment in childhood to a primary care giver has dire consequences in terms of later adult relationships – where sex is used instead of intimacy – it is also probably more common than mentioned, the cross addiction of sex and other addictive behaviours like alcoholism – anecdotally I know it to be an issue in recovery for many. There is often a migration from one addiction to another mainly because we generally use and have used external means to regulate negative emotions and negative self schema. We probably have done so one way or the other since childhood. Emotional relationships for some are terrifying, full of angst, conflict etc and have not been straightforward, unconditional love relationships like many people have experienced. In fact relationships with sex addicts often have an element of conditional love about them as this is generally how addicts have grown up to understand relationships, as being conditional, if you do this I will do that, type thinking. I give you this and you give me that etc etc Sex addiction runs very deep as it is linked to an impaired ability to form loving, healthy relationships throughout one’s life and the relationships in a sex addict sense are often abusive, often in a dominant/domineering sense. The sex addict brain can often fuse what should be affection with arousal. Often “good looks” are not that much of an issue, it is often what the person “can do” sexually that is the main consideration. What sort of “fix” that they can offer. Sex does show up in labs in the sense that sex addiction activates the same brain areas as any other addictions and similar neurotransmitters like dopamine. A fascinating thing however is that sex gives one a “shot” of oxytocin which is the “love/cuddle” brain chemical and which is there in major amounts during caring for a child and in human bonding, in attachment to another human being. In sex addicts this might actually be the so-called “hole in the soul” the “love” drug we have all been looking for. So the sex addict brain has been fused to confuse human affection with arousal as oxytocin is activated and prompts the addict to want more of what he/she does not have in great supply namely oxytocin. Sometimes addiction seems like it is a compulsion to “replenish” chemicals one is deficient in, e.g. natural opioids and heroin abuse. I hope you continue to have the compassion you seem to have through your understandable hurt and upset – it sounds like a real rollercoaster you have been through. He is a very very sick (mentally) sick person like all addicts of one hue or the other. The problem also is that we sometimes are the last to see how sick our behaviours can be. Forgiveness is maybe a long way off, but in the end this heals the pain of the past more than anything else. It helps you just as much if not more than the person who has really hurt you. Hope this comment helps you too. Paul

Phew! So it’s going much better than I thought!?

I have often written about all the difficulties I have had with reading my emotions. Especially in early recovery when I could not even identify and label the most intense negative emotions.

That experience has set me on a near decade-long search to better understand emotions and the way a lack of awareness of emotions plays in addiction and in recovery.

Today I would say the effective and rational/reasonable control of emotions is one area that has become noticeably better.

I tolerate negative emotions better, their intensity is much reduced compare to early recovery, the duration of these emotions is much much shorter than before. I seem to also make better decisions in my life based on not being overwhelmed by my emotions, particularly negative emotions.

It is said by much research that addicts, alcoholics and those with behavourial addictions have something skin to alexithymia, an impaired ability to read emotions and act on them in making decisions.

Humans seem to use emotions to make decisions which is something I never realized before.

When I ask my wife how have I changed she always says I have become more considerate and more mature in my emotional reactions.

This to me shows recovery as a process of handling emotions better, in a more emotional mature as opposed to immature way.

I also have looked at lots of research that says this emotional immaturity is there for many pre-using drugs or alcohol or engaging in unhealthy behaviours. So it may be a part of the aetiology of addictive behaviours.

When I first came into recovery I remember my wife would drive me to AA meetings. This was before my sponsor said I would be either walking or getting the bus from now on!

I was mortified?

ME!? Doesn’t he know who I am?

I have chauffeur, thank you very much?.

I had become so emotional dependent on my wife. It was like another addiction/dependency.

Recovery has been a long, at times painful, process of growing up, however reluctantly at times!

I was not only powerless over alcohol but fairly hopeless too when it came to living life on lives terms.

The more chronic my addictions became the more I regressed emotionally.

The more I recovered the more I matured emotionally,  is my point.

Even today I often have to “talk my emotions out” to see what I feel really, before I can label and identify what I am feeling really.

Before I can act maturely on what I am feeling instead of emotionally reacting which is what I always used to do.

As a fellow recovering person said in this article (1)  . . “. sit down with people and bounce some ideas off each other and get it off your chest and stuff. That’s very helpful and that kind of helps me, like saying it out loud to identify where I’m actually at.”

This is why ringing sponsors and talking to fellow recovering people is essential  especially in early recovery.

We do not how we feel clearly what we are really feeling otherwise, delude ourselves everything is fine, continue to make poor decisions to the point of becoming emotionally  drunk and then often relapsing to physically drunk.

We do all of this sometimes not because we want to drink but because we think we can do it alone when we cannot.

Sometimes in early recovery we haven’t go a clue what is going on, our arrogant pride however resists this idea and keeps missing the point of what is really going on.

Our errant emotion processing does not result in clear thinking, it results in negative, strangely deluded thinking.

By deluded I mean divorced from the reality of things as they really are. It takes some weeks and months to realize we cannot fully rely on our own thinking and this can be a blow to the pride.

The concluding part of this study (1) was very revealing to me and explained part of the “feeling” that often accompanies early recovery, the feeling of not recovering fast enough of not recovering NOW!

Addicts and alcoholics want everything NOW even recovery, they want the recovery of ten years in ten weeks!

” …some  participants interpreted negative feelings as global markers of overall emotional ill health and poor progress in recovery, for example, “I think I should be feeling better now” and “I thought I was progressing but in a lot of ways I haven’t and that’s not good.”

Here, participants realize they are experiencing negative feelings and understand it as suggestive of a larger negative phenomenon, for example, that they are not “better now” and not “progressing” as previously thought. This type of negative globalization is a type of cognitive distortion.”

A cognitive distortion is a deluded thought like those mentioned above. Our errant negative emotions produce distorting thinking.

Our negative feelings rarely tell us the truth. They give some jaundiced view of reality.

This is why we need to have constant contact with others in recovery to offload these negative feelings.

Just as with sharing with a sponsor or a friend to find out what we feel, we need to share with others to undistort our negative thinking. Negative emotions often give rise to negative thinking.

“As one participant said “And I know [recovery] is not a magic fix either because I didn’t expect, if you get sober to be all of a sudden everything is perfect. That’s not the way it works. . . . So it’s going to take you a little longer to feel better.””

I would add to this that it is  progress not perfection.

I would also add that we can feel better quicker than we think on a basis, one day at a time.

Ring someone, talk to someone and try to verbalise how you feel.

This straightens out your thinking and you will feel better right away.

We drank to go “phew!” a release from our thinking and negative heads, now we “share” with others what is really going on with us, to get to understanding what emotions ail us and this leads to the same feeling of release, to the same feeling of “phew!”

We never have to drink again to go “phew”, talk to someone instead.

We will discover things are never as negative as our thinking has lead us to believe, and are usually a whole better in fact!

We recover together.

 

References

1. Krentzman, A. R., Higgins, M. M., Staller, K. M., & Klatt, E. S. (2015). Alexithymia, Emotional Dysregulation, and Recovery From Alcoholism Therapeutic Response to Assessment of Mood. Qualitative health research,25(6), 794-805.