Jane thought tonight would be just like any other night. She got home from work, made dinner, tucked the kids in to bed, and went upstairs to send a few work emails. Her husband was traveling, but she was feeling good about how she kept the house from falling into chaos while he was gone.
She started out by reading through her emails, but as she started to feel more stress surrounding her responsibilities both in her family and at work, loneliness and anxiety hit. Before she knew it, she had clicked over to a few porn websites. Four hours passed flipping through these websites in the blink of the eye before Jane fell exhausted into bed to get a few hours of sleep before the kids woke up.
When her alarm clock startled her awake in just a few short hours, feelings of dread and shame washed over her.
Why does this have such a hold on me? I shouldn’t want this so much. I wish I could just stop.
This chorus of internal voices is often a familiar friend to the addict. The pull of a behavior that can’t be stopped. The helplessness that comes with another slip or relapse. The discrediting of victory that occurs when temptation hits once again.
These voices cut at the core of the identity of the female sex and love addict. They can rip at her self-esteem until the only relief she can find comes in the form of acting out in her addiction again, which can provide a fleeting sense of affirmation and comfort.
But that isn’t the end of the story.
Each of these beliefs that echoes so strongly in the mind of an addict has a contrasting reality that provides an antidote to the pain associated with the negative thoughts. In the midst of the struggle, these truths are often clouded out by shame and feel impossible to believe. My hope is that, by reminding you of these realities, they would begin to grow louder than those critical and shaming words in your mind.
If this is an issue you struggle with, do you connect with these voices? Do the following words sound familiar to you at all?
“This is a man’s issue.”
Media portrayals and common conversation indicate that men primarily view pornography or struggle with sex addiction. However, research has shown that 1 in 3 visitors to porn websites is female, and that number is likely on the rise. This dispels the myth that you are the only woman who struggles with this, and in fact, you likely know other women who share this secret struggle.
The reality: Men and women both struggle with this issue.
“I’m dirty. I must be a [choose your own derogatory term].”
It is a common cultural message that men are celebrated for their many sexual conquests, while women are shamed for similar sexual behavior. This has led to a tightening of morality on women in many ways. While that cultural message is in the process of changing, it can still be stigmatizing for a woman to admit her sexual desire. The reality is, a woman needs to embrace her own sexuality and sexual desire as part of healing from addiction.
The reality: Sexual desire is a good and healthy response – it is what we do with desire that can derail us.
“There is something wrong with me.”
Belief in a fundamental flaw is a common thought that occurs for women. Combining the two lies mentioned above, the female addict can believe that there is something wrong with her for having a desire to engage in sexual behaviors. Further stigma can come from the supposed lack of self-discipline that makes it feel difficult to stop. Overgeneralizations and stereotypes abound that feed the flame of self-condemnation.
The reality: I am not defective. There is no fundamental flaw in me that has caused this addiction.
“It is impossible to stop. I’ll never be free from this addiction.”
It is a common behavior for addicts to try their hardest to stop their behavior several times to no avail. One basis for this difficulty is neurochemical changes that have occurred in the brain that create a sort of superhighway for your brain to travel down when triggered by your addiction. However, those neurochemical changes don’t have to be permanent – the brain can change with deep, focused work. Doing the work of recovery from addiction provides that deep focus that can rewire the brain to experience freedom.
The reality: This doesn’t have to last forever. The brain wiring of addiction can be changed with focused recovery work.
“I am alone.”
This is the most insidious lie of all. Addiction can be extremely isolating – it is an intimacy disorder after all. All the previous lies can create a feeling for addicts that they must hide themselves, masking their struggles and pain, letting no one know of their struggles. But this creates a cycle where addicts feel increasingly isolated because they aren’t able to connect with others who share their experience. Reaching out to a recovery group or a trusted friend gives you a place to go with your pain.
If you’re reading this and you struggle with sex and love addiction, this is the reality I want you to hear loud and clear:
You are not alone.
What are the words that you hear? What choruses echo through your mind? If any of these statements ring true for you, know that you are not alone, and there are resources that can help you. Restored Hope Counseling is a therapy office in the Ann Arbor area of Michigan that specializes in treating sex and love addiction, particularly in the unique ways in which this issue appears in women. If this article has resonated with you today, I want to help you. Give me a call today at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here to hear about how I can support you in your journey toward freedom from addiction.