This weekend I told my sister about my addition. To me this represented the 4th milestone in my journey of recovery. Those milestones have been:
#1 – Admitting I was addicted to internet pornography and telling my wife
#2 – Going to see a therapist for the first time
#3 – Going to a Sex Addicts Anonymous meeting for the first time
#4 – Telling my sister
Deciding to tell her
Beating my addiction has had surprisingly little to do with day-to-day practicalities (i.e. how to physically not look at porn – although these have been very important), and instead has predominantly been about self-evaluation – understanding who I am, how I got here, what my life is like and how I deal with and respond to it, and how I use porn in relation to all these things. That’s an army of blog posts in itself, but the one aspect that led me to telling my sister was the idea of removing secrecy. Addictions thrive in secrecy and shame, and it became clear to me that I wanted to unify my ‘secret’, porn-watching persona with the public-facing persona everyone knows, so that I’m moving forward with more honesty in my life. That meant embracing the fact that I am an addict, and not hiding it; living a unified self that includes my addiction without hesitation and reservation.
And so it became clear to me that I needed to start telling people. Not immediately, hurriedly or insensitively, but methodically and in a considered fashion that is conducive to my recovery and mental well-being. I spent a lot of time thinking about who I could tell. My wife already knew, so I started thinking of friends and family. I don’t have a lot of (any?) close friends these days so I couldn’t think of anyone that would share this journey with me – I didn’t want to just tell a friend and then move on and not see them again for 6 months; it would be a waste and wouldn’t really benefit either of us. I wanted to tell someone who was a significant enough part of my life that they would share this journey with me, for better or worse.
Last week, once I got home after a long evening with members of a London Sex Addicts Anonymous meet-up, I had a period of clarity of mind where it became clear to me that I should tell my sister. I had actually initially thought of telling her and my dad at the same time but due to the fact my dad has his own sex-related issues (totally unacknowledged but suspected by my sister and me), I decided to treat him separately – he may be in early stages of denial and so I’d need think of a very tailored approach to talking about this with him. So, putting my dad to one side left my sister. She is family, and she needs to know what I’m going through.
The call itself
I texted my sister: “So, I have something I’d like to talk to you about. Do you have an hour for a chat sometime?”. She lives in a different town so doing it in person wasn’t an option, and I couldn’t wait ’til we next met up. We agreed a time, and yesterday she rang me and I sat down on the sofa to explain the biggest secret of my adult life.
I told her that I’ve been assessing my life (we’ve talked about it quite a bit recently) because I’ve realised I’ve not been dealing with it in particularly healthy ways, and in one way in particular – porn. I explained how I had started looking at porn at school, and how 15 years later it was so woven into my daily life that I didn’t even realise there was a problem until I tried to quit, at which point it occurred to me I might have an addiction. We talked about the steps I’ve now taken to quit – seeing a therapist, going to SAA meeting, involving my wife, assessing my life. We talked about my childhood, our parents, my schooling and how my experiences may have led to porn, and we talked about porn addiction – what it is, what it isn’t etc. I recommended a film to watch (“Thanks for Sharing“) if she wanted to get an idea of the SAA meetings.
It couldn’t have gone better. Due to her slight resentment of my dad and his sex issues (he’s recently admitted to infidelity in his earlier days), I was worried she may have associations and not respond well. I couldn’t have been more wrong – she was totally unfazed, completely supportive and made it clear she was proud of me for opening up and that she thought I was really brave for telling her and for the general steps I am taking in my life. It was an incredible thing to hear – that this thing I’ve been doing that I’ve held on to so secretly is now known by someone and they don’t mind – she hadn’t fallen off her chair in disgust, she hadn’t disowned me – she was just supportive and encouraging. My sister is a very inquisitive person, and so she started asking loads of (non-intrusive) questions about addiction etc, which I was happy to discuss. Not that I had any doubt, but this call demonstrated a maturity of character in her that was awe-inspiring – I had handed her a piece of my self – my weakness – and she handled it perfectly and with such compassion and I was/am so grateful.
The call lasted an hour. I ended it by making it clear this is not a taboo subject. I encouraged her to ask me (as long as she is comfortable doing so) how it is going whenever she wants, and to not feel like she shouldn’t talk about it – it is important we all face this openly as the secrecy is the most dangerous aspect. I welcome questions and discussion, and I asked her to tell her husband who I get on well with, so at this point, a day later, he too now knows about this.
How does it feel?
It does feel like a weight has been lifted, but not the usual storybook type weight you’d imagine, just a feeling of reassurance that I’ve made a little (or big?) step further into recovery. The most significant thing I feel is that by each step like this I take (e.g. the milestones above), I feel like I’m putting my old acting out days further behind me, and putting more of a space between the old addict-me and the future in-recovery me. Each step makes it harder and harder for me to imagine slipping back into dark days of my addiction.
The next milestone?
What’s the next milestone? I think probably telling my in-laws. That’s going to be harder – they are emotionally attached to their daughter, are of an older generation, and are extra-protective of her right now as she is pregnant. Telling them that their daughter’s husband is a porn addict may be tough for them to hear, so my wife and I are mulling this one over to figure out the best way. We think they need to be told something because my wife is finding it harder and harder to hide the fact I’m going to SAA and therapy – she is close to her mum and she doesn’t like hiding things. We could perhaps tell them I’m getting help for an addiction, or just personal issues, but not be specific, but for me that’s just more secrecy so I think we’d have to go all the way. Watch this space.
So there we go. My wife, my sister and my brother-in-law now know about my addiction – that I am a recovering sex addict (specifically porn, but I think sex addict is the correct term as porn addiction is just one form of sex addiction). I feel more people are going to find out soon enough. I’m excited and scared at the same time, but I know I’m doing the right thing.