Winning came to mean acceptance and approval from others...
Updated: Nov 9
My addictive behavior was progressive. It started very young with addiction to approval, attention and competition; then to objectification, pornography and sex; then ultimately to alcohol and drug abuse.
Growing up in my small town Midwest American Baptist evangelistic family, the bible and church were unquestioned and adherence to religious practice was not optional. Academics (both my parents were teachers), church (both parents were leaders) and sports (Dad was a coach) combined to place me (the oldest child of 3) constantly on a performing stage. In school I had good grades but valedictorian and national merit scholar wouldn’t have been enough. In church I sang in choir but was not the soloist like my Dad. I was in the nativity play but wasn’t chosen for Joseph. In sports, where competition was literally a spoken value, I set school records but state champion wouldn’t be enough. Anything deemed an “impressive accomplishment” along the way was documented in the church bulletin and even in the local newspaper – these clippings were accumulated in a neatly annotated visible scrapbook by my mother. Accomplishments and winning came to mean acceptance and approval from others.
Thus a culture of competition, perfectionism and performing permeated every aspect of my life. What I learned to value from my family is how I looked to others on the outside. I was an object. What was inside of me was hidden & suppressed. Having found I could never get enough actual approval or support from others for just being me, I sought out ways to get imagined approval. The pornography literature of the 70’s stated that women were “always” looking for sex. I made up I could be the one who was wanted by looking at women as objects. The high school sports locker room culture further encouraged objectification of my identity and that of women. Then the word “party” entered the picture. Alcohol and drugs – I could “win” by using those. My constant anxiety and self-consciousness would quiet down for a few hours. Hidden from my parents and the public stage, I was using porn by my 14th year, drinking every weekend by my 15th year, smoking/dealing pot by my 16th year and using/dealing cocaine by my 18th year.
I went to college and worked my way into a leadership role in my employment. As AA founder Dr. Bob wrote, my life centered mostly on doing what I wanted without regard for others. When interacting with colleagues or strangers I would compete and compare by telling a more dramatic story or finding a way to look superior. I played the game of victim though a first marriage of 10 years (2 children) and a second marriage of 14 years (1 child). Both marriages ended with me remaining an unaddressed codependent, sex addict, alcoholic and drug addict. As in my family of origin I was always careful to try and “look good” to the outside world with my employment and activities. Inside I would play the victim. My counselors, co-workers and friends were often very willing listeners to the gossip and enabled my victim stance. Inside I was miserable and lonely. I was drinking alone late at night, secretly using porn and living for getting attention.
I met my life partner 12 years ago. I entered the relationship as I had with the others, to get approval. In the early years of our relationship I repeated all my past patterns. When I thought she didn’t approve of my behavior I didn’t like how I felt. I made up it was her fault for not taking emotional care of me. I wanted her to fix decades of feeling bad about myself, looking to the outside for approval. Although she had participated in 12-step recovery programs for Alanon and introduced me to them, I was very suspicious of religion from my formative years and I didn’t find a spiritual solution at that time. 10 years ago we watched the movie “Flight” (with Denzel Washington) together. I could clearly see myself in the dishonesty portrayed in the lead role. The movie portrayed AA as solution for dishonesty as well as drinking. My own dishonesty was that I hadn’t admitted my problem. I went to my first AA meeting the next day. I worked the 12 steps with an AA sponsor. When a few months later I expressed concern about addiction to sex, he minimized it by saying “every guy does that”. A sponsor must admit they have the same problem in order to be helpful to a protégé. In my experience addicted men compete with other men to be the object of women’s attention and seek imagined approval from women through sexual objectification. This is a root of the disease of sex addiction. I sought out help in the program of Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA) but could not find a sponsor in the local meetings.
I called the International Service Office of SAA who introduced me to a man who attended the Primary Purpose group of SAA www.saapp.org. He became my sponsor and in less than a month worked the 12 steps with me for Sex Addiction out of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. I finally got honest about my real underlying problem of addiction – seeking the attention and approval of others, making stuff up in my head (the Big Book calls this “playing God”), trying to get things to go my way in circumstances/relationships and blaming others if it didn’t. I had a reliance on getting my way instead of seeing the Truth – my only solution is a reliance on actual Reality instead of listening to the getting/wanting thoughts that constantly run through my head. Working the steps with a sponsor I made verbal amends to my ex’s, family and friends for trying to get my way in their lives. Following the instructions for the 12th step, I tried to live those amends and applied myself to the Primary Purpose of recovery – serving as a sponsor to others and carrying the message of the 12 steps to alcoholics, codependents and sex addicts.
By taking actions to practice reliance on Reality (a term I consider a synonym for God) instead of reliance on my own thoughts, my experience of living has transformed for the better. I now have my own 2 feet on the ground. Rather than blowing in the breeze with what I make up that other people think of me, I have become free of the constant anxiety associated with attention-seeking, people pleasing, trying to find a hit or a high through alcohol, drugs, parties and sex, or ‘winning’ in an imagined competition. I have a conscious serenity with my own presence in this world. With freedom from addiction and the distractions of my mind, Reality has placed me in a position to be helpful and useful to others who have struggled with addiction. The misery I created for myself and others all those years has been put to good use as a tool for connecting with other addicts in actual friendships of depth and weight, honoring and revealing what is on the inside without any concern for looking good to others. In other words… sharing the Truth.
If you are seeking help with hopelessness, misery and other symptoms of addiction, please consider joining us at https://www.primarypurposebigbookstudy.com/