Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Sex, Part 2: The Competition and Innocence Lost

You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience
in which you really stop to look fear in the face... 
Do the thing you think you cannot do.
~  Eleanor Roosevelt 

When it comes to sex, the light, breezy side of titillating topics are easy and can be fun to banter over.  The darker, hurtful, character-diminishing topics, however, are not -- like sexual intimacy and the alcoholic relationship.  Give it a moment to digest.  Sexual intimacy in an alcoholic relationship is a provocative, perplexing, lonely topic.  It is also an important issue that carries personal secrets and social stigma with it.  Secrets of shame, guilt, embarrassment, anxiety and fear, and for some, even physical violence which can prevent an individual from attaining personal freedom, serenity and happiness. Secrets that can cause unintended strain or harm to an otherwise healthy individual or relationship for a long time.

I began writing this specific essay in June, 2015, shortly before I spoke to an international audience in Atlanta.  I successfully got through dry-run rehearsals and the talk itself, but writing about it took nearly a year.  Why?  Fear.  Seeing select personal experiences in black and white remains scary sometimes.  My inner Eleanor is still a rookie when it comes to openly discussing sensitive topics, like sex.

Releasing those inner-most secrets, vulnerabilities, or worse, my culpabailities, makes my stomach quake and I inherently run from the keyboard direct to the refrigerator.  Speaking in front of that audience in 2015, however, was 100% safe.  I was assured the attendees had genuine interest, perhaps shared or similar experience about the topic as well. They would not or did not ridicule, criticize, or judge me.  Instead, they listened, heard, understood, and optimally were helped by my presentation. Why not adopt this same mindset for the written word?  That makes too much sense for someone who, like me, has experienced betrayed trust, ridicule, criticism, judgement, even abuse in various ways throughout life, areas in which I am not fully healed.  There was added safety in speaking, because I knew it wasn't being recorded.  Whatever I said wouldn't come back to taunt or hurt me.  So just don't do it, you may be thinking.  That's counter productive to my recovery progress and the dual intention to carry the message to help others find their way toward healing, mending and moving forward in a healthier, whole way.   You have to put yourself out-on-the-limb.

Sexual intimacy and the alcoholic relationship isn't openly discussed let alone spoken about very often.  Yet, like addiction itself, it needs to be.  As the former wife and widow of an alcoholic, let me preface this:  sexual intimacy with your partner is one of the many casualties that occurs in the relationship.  My hope is that this entry will build my confidence in discussing a gorilla in the room of alcoholic marriages, partnerships, intimate relationships, etc. and in so doing, ease the heartache of others out there who feel the same and are also afraid to talk about it.  In order to recover we must remove the cloak of terror, shame and guilt and get the truth out there to help others along with ourselves.

This shifted sex talk is different from the first one I wrote.  That was the widow perspective, following the death of her beloved spouse still raw in the agony of grief. This latest stance is from the wife of an active alcoholic; they are the same person -- me.  The erosion of sexual intimacy is based on equal deterioration of physical, emotional and spiritual intimacy; generated by the booze, the increasing dependency of it, and the disease of alcoholism itself.   The intimacy I missed is what I last wrote about relating to sex.  We genuinely did have all that for a period in our years together; then there was the period when the bottle ruled and with it the inevitable decline of sexual intimacy -- intimacy period.

We learn in time that it is not subjects which are controversial, 
but the manner in which we communicate about them 
and the elements of personal blame we add to them in anger.
~ The Dilemma of the Alcoholic Marriage

Nearly every Thursday night, for two years, I attended a meeting where I was the only non-alcoholic in the room.  Every few months, the topic of sex came around as part of the discussion curriculum.  The first time it did, I wiggled in my seat, my stomach churning in disgust, embarrassment, frustration and overall dis-ease with the subject.  Straight from the mouths of recovering drunks, I was hearing some of my experiences with Boomer.  Tales of their objectification of women, using partners for sex on their terms, when they wanted it, the way they wanted it, and the verbal abuse they'd inflict on the people they 'loved'.  I heard about porn and the fixation with it, physical abuse, and of course infidelity.

What squirmed me wasn't so much the affirmation of what they did or experienced themselves (some alcoholics are victims of sexual abuse, which lead them down the drinking path), but the realization of my own culpability, distorted as it was, in how much I played along; including being a drinking buddy, dressing or behaving seductively beyond my comfort level, because I was so lonesome for the man I loved who was trapped in a deep relationship with a bottle and I was desperate to hold his attention at almost any cost.

If her past were your past, her pain your pain, 
her consciousness your consciousness, 
you would think and act exactly as she does.
With this realization comes forgiveness, compassion and peace.
~ Eckhart Tolle

In the disease of alcoholism, as the loved one of someone who compulsively drinks, you are in constant competition with the booze, and the booze always wins, until recovery intervenes.  When it comes to sex in an alcoholic relationship there are two prime competitors:  First is the booze, second is fantasy.  Be it porn, a paramour, even the past -- your past, their past, the past relationship with your partner before it got so bad, fantasies of another life.  These are the chronic competitors you are up against.

There were times I was so overwhelmed and repulsed by all of it, the idea of sexual intimacy was such a turnoff that I acted out.  I faked  headaches, pretended to be asleep or ensured I got up extra-early in effort to avoid any hungover sexual advances by my husband.  I used sex with my spouse as a source of reward or punishment.  If he drank, no sex.  If he abstained from drinking, maybe sex, or I'd tell him I'd think about it as a manipulative power-play.  At times I kept my appearance dowdy and subconsciously gained weight, in an attempt to not have to do it with him.  This is what spouses in alcoholic marriages/partnerships do.  This is how I was equally culpable to the misery and chaos in our sexually intimate life.  The fact that I too, play a part in it is the last thing I ever want to admit.  Yet recovery requires you to do so, thoroughly examine your part if you want to heal. 

An oddity to be familiar with is when impotence begets the alcoholic, a frequent condition of excessive alcohol abuse.  He can't get it up anymore, and wants to blame you for it; another example of the mind games associated with denial and the breakdown of intimacy in an alcoholic relationship. I experienced such verbal berating.  I was told I wasn't 'fun' anymore when I didn't engage or respond to his advances.  I sometimes worried if his behavior would turn physically aggressive or violent, recalling  a first-date incident when I was 25 where the guy tried to force himself on me in his car.

On numerous occasions I caught my late spouse leering at me through the bathroom door, like some sexual predator, while I showered. For me, this specific behavior felt exceptionally violating.  You see, it prompted another memory.  When I was 13-years-old, I was sexually accosted by a stranger.  I was walking through a residential neighborhood on my way to meet my mother at work, when a large, burly, unkempt man driving a rundown pick-up truck, pulled up along side me on the road.  With a friendly quiet tone, he asked me for directions.  The space between the street and the sidewalk where I was walking prevented me from hearing him. I took a few steps toward the truck, asking him to repeat what he said.  He didn't respond a word, instead exposed himself while jerking-off.  As quickly as I dashed back to the sidewalk to run away the stranger drove off.  That memory haunted me for the first time, when my alcoholic spouse wanted me to watch him masturbate -- as a lesson in how to get him off.  When the regular shower leering began the horrific memory and accompanied anxiety about it was reignited.

These are examples of the sexual morphing persona that occurs to an otherwise gentle, kind, loving soul.  For me, they precipitate past experiences which frightened me to the point of burying them as a secret for 40 years, denying my own naivete and stolen innocence.

Physical connection is crucial to emotional intimacy.
  When there's no physical intimacy
 it isn't too long before the emotional intimacy goes too.
~  Kimberly Graham

At the end of Boomer's life, our sexually intimate relationship ceased to exist.  What I longed for in that first sex-talk post was what I had been missing with him for a long, long, time.  We regained and sustained emotional and loving affection as best we could, but the competition -- his growing alcohol dependency, fantasy, and my secret of unhealed sexual experiences was always too fierce to be beaten and in the end won.

The good news, is that this need not be the end of your road, your story, your history with the loved one and the disease you are in competition with.  For me, I had to learn to love me and all I have gone through to fully comprehend I wasn't alone, am not alone in the silent pain I have carried.  I am neither to blame or at fault, nor am I defined by what happened to me.  As of this update, I am preparing to speak in public again about sex and intimacy in an alcoholic relationship -- the fourth time since 2015.  It does get easier, that's the power of healing through releasing secrets.

In darkness, love, and light, I am reinforced by Carl Jung's words. My open truth sets me free.  May it guide you as well.

(updated 7/19/17)

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