I arrived in Hollywood California with 69 days clean and $100. I went directly from the Greyhound Bus terminal to a meeting. I’d gained forty pounds in rehab, had one outfit and a bag of stripper costumes. It was going to be a rough road but I was determined to put a life together for myself - clean. After the first meeting, I killed time with a bunch of recovering bikers at an IHOP. One handed me keys to his apartment. He was going to New York City and said for thirty bucks I could stay at his place for a month but he was clear about one thing – if I ripped anything off, he would find me and kill me. It was my first miracle. Seriously – who gives keys to a newcomer they just met? I will forever be grateful to this man who I never saw again.
All the girls in Hollywood meetings were young, gorgeous, slim, and well dressed. At least that’s how it appeared to me. I sucked it up and pretended I didn’t feel as awkward and insecure as I did. I wanted to fit in and needed friends. We ran from meeting to meeting stopping for coffee in between. An exciting Friday night was to hit a meeting in Venice to check out skateboarders and surfers or go to late-night where the cute rocker guys were. We might have planned our nights around “where the boys were” but mainly we were our own happy little crew. We were like a gang of teenagers having fun.
One night after a meeting, my girls were chatting with a gorgeous soon-to-be-famous actor. They’d all grown up in Hollywood so pretty much anyone they talked to they’d known since high school. It was a little alienating for a displaced New Yorker. His friend from New York saw me standing off to the side. I was thrilled to connect to another New Yorker. The humor was familiar. Too bad he wasn’t my type.
For eight days this guy pursued me hardcore. It was weird and amusing. Everywhere I went, there he was. Finally one night I caved and let him drive me home. I’d decided I was going to sleep with him even though I was indifferent. Maybe there’d be some medicinal value – like stress relief. At least it would give me a break from another evening of 12-step literature. Anything could happen – maybe it would be fun or the sex would blow my mind. I’d had a few encounters when I got out of rehab in New Orleans but it was mostly an attempt to have fun. That was it – I was letting this guy come upstairs in an attempt to have fun and to connect to my wild side. My husband had abandoned me a year earlier. Now that I was clean, I wasn’t sure if that relationship would mend, if I wanted it to, or what I felt. The area of love and romance was still an open wound. I knew I didn’t want a new relationship. But I could have sex. We parked and he came inside.
I tried to get into it or at least appear to be into it but, for me, the sex was forgettable as it was happening. I enjoyed the company. When it was over and he was getting dressed I felt relieved. It was what it was. I certainly didn’t want him sleeping over. Besides, it was time to read my 12-step stuff. Once it was obvious I wasn’t trying to keep him there, he relaxed and we started talking about movies we both liked. “Tomorrow let’s go to a movie. Will you be at the meeting?” He wanted to see me again. I liked hanging with him but was afraid he liked me. I just wanted a friend. I didn’t even care if we slept together again. As he walked out the door, the date was made. Tomorrow night.
Throughout the day I began fantasizing about our date. It was nice to be pursued and he made me laugh. It was nice to look forward to an evening that was different from meetings and coffee.
During the meeting I kept peeking outside for signs of him. When he didn’t show, I skipped coffee and went home in case he called or dropped by. Nothing. I was devastated. I felt tricked especially since I hadn’t even liked him and would have been fine if he’d gotten dressed and left the night before. Maybe something happened. Surely he wouldn’t have invested so much time into me just to blow me off. It made no sense. By the third day I was a mess. I felt like a sucker, angry I’d been played. Confused he even bothered when it wasn’t necessary. I must have been delusional to have thought I was attractive, fun, sexy or whatever I’d felt while he was in hot pursuit. I was delusional to have seen myself that way. I felt worthless. I couldn’t even get this loser to like me.
All I felt was pain and confusion and knew if I didn’t talk about it I would probably use. I knew I had to tell my girls but the idea horrified me. It was the ultimate humiliation. Surely they would think I was “that” girl – needy, clingy, waiting for a guy to make her whole. A girl you couldn’t fuck without her turning into a psycho stalker. The list of my negative self-judging thoughts was endless. And my disease turned that inner self-hating dialogue up a thousand notches as I prepared to meet my friends. It was going to kill me to admit that a guy I didn’t even like blew me off and that it was hurting me this badly. And to admit this to a group of girls who would probably talk about this among themselves. Ugh.
To my surprise, they shared their similar stories. They were compassionate and kind. I felt I could trust them. No one mocked me except me. I went home feeling better.
I wish I could say that was the end of it, that I woke up happy joyous and free but that wasn’t the case. I continued to have obsessive thoughts about the guy and my self-worth. My confidence had been crushed and I couldn’t let it go. My disease had me. So – I continued to talk about it to these same women day in and day out for thirteen days. The craziest part of this story is that in my heart, I knew this whole thing was not about the guy. My armor had cracked with seventy-five days clean and these feelings of vulnerability were new to me. Without the support of these women, I believe I wouldn’t have stayed clean.
These same women continue to be in my life almost 24 years later. We have shared our recovery together – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Looking back, taking that risk of exposing my true feelings, as humiliating as it felt at the time, was probably the first truly important risk I took in recovery. It opened the door for me to trust. There wasn’t anything I couldn’t share with other recovering addicts.
For the record, I never ran into that guy again. The experience probably hardened me with cynicism when it came to men and casual sex for a number of years but it didn’t stop me from being a willing participant until I was able to finally shed a little more armor. Connecting sex, love, and emotional intimacy has been a slow process for me. I held onto image and thrill seeking as long as I could. It’s funny how the many forms fear can take. I can honestly say that sticking around long enough, recovery has changed me in spite of myself.
The reason I chose this particular story to share is because I believe if I held back all of these feelings in the secret chamber in my heart (the – “taking this one to my grave” chamber) my pride would have had me suffering in private until I was in the emotional corner where drugs would have seemed like the only solution to the pain. I believe we all come into recovery unprepared for the types of feelings that will surface once we are clean. Sometimes they are appropriate to the situation and sometimes they cling to whatever they can while the disease continues to use them to paralyze us into eventual submission. The only solution for me (and many others who have stayed clean) is to walk through the fear and expose our true selves to another human being. You can start out by doing this as an experiment. If you feel worse afterward you can simply move on to new people – the rooms are full of them. That’s how I did it – when I told my story to these women, my back-up plan was to start going to meetings in another part of Los Angeles if I felt too uncomfortable facing them again. As you can see – that was not the case and it probably won’t be for you either.
On Sunday September 16th, Dan Griffin and I are hosting an open forum public discussion on Sex and Recovery at 9pm on www.intherooms.com. It will be a live video chat/participation. If you are not a member, you can sign in as a guest. People tuned in will not be seen live unless they decide to share. People can send in comments and questions via instant messenger for complete anonymity. The goal of this forum is to create a space free of judgment to create a dialogue about the feelings, secrets, and behaviors we engage in related to sex once we are in recovery. It is a subject that affects us all yet one that many people do not put a voice to.