Each story he told that night and other nights always resulted in the same questions from Garbanzo and me – did you use a condom? Are you getting tested? Are you keeping yourself physically safe?
In addition to his sex encounters, he had an ENORMOUS porn collection. ENORMOUS!! He also had an enormous sex toy collection – as well as a large erotica collection which included posters, magnets, etc. Sex was what he ate, breathed, and did as often as possible. And talked about – we heard about his collection a lot – and saw much of it as well.
That night, sitting at the bar drinking beer, he told us about his childhood for the first time. A horrible past that included his mom treating him more like a boyfriend or a husband and not a kid. He was the oldest, but was expected to raise his two brothers. One of which had severe autism. He told us how much he hated his brothers, but felt bad that he couldn’t give them a better childhood and raised them better. (One is currently in jail; the other has his share of problems as well.) He talked about his mom and the various ex-cons that she dated – how abusive some of them were to him. How when they were around, his mom’s love and attention were gone. How he learned never to try to vie for it.
Our friend in addition to being gay is also black. He told us stories about the black men in his grandmother’s LA neighborhood who made fun of him and harassed him for being gay – even before he understood what being gay was. Still to this day, he gets freaked out when he is among black men – he reverts to being 8 years old getting taunted by these men while waiting for a bus to take him to school – fighting the urge to run home just like he did back then.
At the end of the night, he told us he was getting help. He found a sex addicts group that he was going to start attending.
I will admit that we were naive. We honestly didn’t know what the end game was. As Garbanzo pointed out, when you go to alcoholic anonymous, you are quitting alcohol forever. When you go do an addicts group, you are quitting some drug forever. But, if you are a sex addict, you can’t realistically be giving up sex forever. What IS the end goal?
As he started going to group and working the process, we would start asking these questions in subtle ways. He gave up all of his porn which caused quite the dilemma for the group given the sheer quantity of the porn. (They ended up incinerating it.) He stopped the random sexual encounters with the men. He started seeing there could be a correlation between his childhood and his adult behaviors. But, the group started giving us concerns.
One gay couple who was in there was not having sex – nor had they for many years. This was “recovery”. Others in the group had the same story. They were And our friend wanted love – he wanted the relationship – the white picket fence, if you will. But his mentors were not doing all of this. To them, recovery equaled life-long celibacy.
We never pushed it too much with him. We were just happy he was getting help – some sort. He had been in and out of therapy for years, but never found someone who could help him get through the layers of issues. And, the process of the program seemed to be helping in a way the therapy had not.
It wasn’t until recently when watching a couple episodes of Sex Rehab with Dr Drew that I understood what his recovery should have looked like. Our instinct about the overall health of the group he was in and the health of the “recovered” was dead on. No one had been able to reintroduce sex back into their life in a healthy way. No one. The group did not truly deal with the issues – the abuse as a child – the lack of emotional support from his family – the bad sexual encounters that were questionable as to if it was date rape – everything. Nor did they help him find appropriate supplemental resources to help him work though these issues. Having rules is what helped him. But that was it. It was just your standard 12-step program.
He left the group after he moved up to Seattle for a job. With the travel required for his work, he could not find a consistent group to attend. But, the good news was the fact the old sex habits did not return. He did, however, find an amazing therapist who worked with him. Our friend also had weight issues that were a direct result of his mental health issues. After about 18 months and mounting health issues, she and his doctor encouraged him to get gastro-bypass surgery as the weight related health issues were too large. He did, and it took one of the major issues off the table for him. As they both told him, they wouldn’t have encouraged the quick fix if he didn’t have the other bigger issues to contend with. (Also, they made him earn this one by showing he could be disciplined to get the surgery and follow the post-op plans.) And as he went through recovery and all, his therapist worked with him more – and got him into even healthier places. The work is still not done. I mean, she has 30 years of his life and thinking to help him undo. But, here is the thing I love.
He dates. He doesn’t hook up with people – at all. He believes he is worthy of someone’s love. He has respect for himself. And he barely recognizes that person he was back when he admitted he had a problem.