It Keeps Getting Better and Better

It Keeps Getting Better

My name is David, I am a sexaholic. And by the grace of my Higher Power, my sobriety date is August 2, 1988, for which I can never be sufficiently grateful. That credit goes to my Higher Power, that’s for sure. I was sitting at dinner and was figuring it’s been thirty-one years, five months, and eight days. And every one of those in their own way has been a miracle. And that’s a little bit of what I’d like to share tonight. I was told after my first year of sobriety that it keeps getting better. And that has been the simple description of my experience in Sexaholics Anonymous, that it keeps getting better.

For my talk I’ll use “What is a Sexaholic and What is Sexual Sobriety?” as a rough framework, and walk my way through it. My first meeting we used those readings. And it begins “We can only speak for ourselves.” As other speakers have already shared and as one person eloquently describes it, if Alcoholics Anonymous is the last house on the block for those who need it; Sexaholics Anonymous is the outhouse behind the last house on the block. One of my moments of shame in this program, by the way, is when my sponsor said, “David, it says, ‘Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-seeking self delusion and self-pity.’ Come up with a hundred forms of fear.” And I only came up with seventy-two. I’m still carrying that burden to this day.

So much of what we respond to in ourselves and in one another in our meetings, in our literature, in gatherings like this, is beyond the understanding of so much of our society. It keeps changing. Nonetheless I’m well aware it is still often very, very lonely in society. It’s so important to be together, and we indeed are the only ones who can speak for ourselves. One of the things that gives us power to continue what we do, on a daily basis, is what was handed to us from Alcoholics Anonymous. Because when that started in 1935, it was pretty much the same situation. Alcoholics were just a lost cause. There was no hope. They were not going to get better. Alcoholics could be institutionalized or marginalized or otherwise tolerated and kept sort of contained, but there was no hope. And then suddenly, beginning on June 10th, 1935, there was hope. That’s the date by the way, of Dr. Bob’s last drink, his first day of sobriety.

And it’s very similar for us. In the White Book, Roy talks about the issue of Time magazine that was published in 1974. So we’ve always been needed and there’ve been people around us that knew that some help was possibly available through Twelve-Step recovery. Nonetheless, “We can only speak for ourselves. The specialized nature of Sexaholics Anonymous can best be understood in terms of what we call the sexaholic.”

One of my most spectacular memories of Nashville was one Sunday night Harvey talked about how sad he was that his sponsor was close to death. His sponsor looked at Harvey and said, “Harvey, Third Step, let it go” holding out his hands, fingers open, palms up. And so we did that here in Nashville and we do it all over, of course, let it go. So my wife and I were behind a car on the freeway that night and suddenly out of the right hand window came this same signal, and out of the left hand window, the driver’s window came this same signal. And we laughed all the way back into Nashville. And yet I am passing that story on to you tonight from a man who died nearly 32 years ago whose message is being carried on. And that’s the message we carry every time we have a meeting, every time we pick up or answer the phone, every time we read program literature, every time we hold hands—whatever it is, the merciful thing for me is how close our fellowship is, in my experience anyway, to Alcoholics Anonymous.

But in fact if something doesn’t work out, I have eight hundred AA meetings per week I can choose from. It’s virtually the same, the readings are very similar, the opening to Chapter Five, and all of that. So the name “sexasholic” ties us into this immense reservoir of spiritual success and hope [already established] for the recovering alcoholic. We [SA] are very specialized.

I know you because I’m mentally ill, and you’re mentally ill. That’s what we have in common. Did I ask for this mental illness? No. Did I sign up for it? No. Do I have it? Yes. Nobody signs up to be a diabetic. Nobody wants their pancreas to shut down, to be insulin-resistant and all the things that go with that. It just happens. And once it happens, you know what? Either we accept it and live our lives accordingly, or we don’t. That’s “the specialized nature of Sexaholics Anonymous.”

“The sexaholic has taken himself or herself out of the whole context of what’s right or wrong.” I can remember how lonely I was as a six-year-old. At the end of the first meeting I attended they were saying, “We were making the real Connection. We were home” and I started crying. I was forty-two at that point, and I had been looking for a home for a long, long time. I just didn’t fit in. And like any good addict, my disease was chronic and progressive.

At one meeting, a fellow shared how he had to have his order forms to be perfect and he would go through 20 forms to get one perfect form just to place the order. This was before computers. And I was thinking, Oh, well I’m not that kind of perfectionist. And then I realized, I’m not a perfectionist about any one thing. You think you can do everything perfectly. And that’s what was going on on the inside. I was going to have this perfect world. I was a very benevolent king who thought sex was really important. And it was just that isolation, “taking himself or herself out of the whole context of what is right or wrong.”

And I didn’t know it was a question of right or wrong. I thought it was just what I had to have. And Roy’s story in the White Book where he talks about learning how to keep a secret when he wanted to…. I think it was sucking his thumb, right? If I remember, I had all these secrets to keep. My secrets began when I was four years old. My disease, I can track my disease from age four on, I was taking off my clothes in public and I was compulsively fantasizing about mostly fairytale kinds of things. I just couldn’t stop, though. It just took over my whole life. And then I was punished or chastised, I suppose, more accurately for voyeurism of girls on the playground standing under the slide when I was five, I was sort of caught, apprehended, nude with other boys sexually attempting to act out. We didn’t know what the heck we were doing when I was seven. When I was ten, I discovered masturbation. My first fantasy masturbation partner was my mother. And I thought that wasn’t right. So I switched it to an older woman next door.

But what didn’t change was the fantasizing and the compulsive masturbation, which, once I started, never did stop until I came to this fellowship. I did think there was a problem though, because at thirteen I remember a question in a sex education class, “How much masturbation is too much?” And the teacher’s answer was that if you’re hurting yourself, it’s probably too much. And I did in fact hurt myself over the years doing things, yet it never seemed like too much. But at thirteen, I knew something was really wrong. Sex with animals, cross-dressing, use of pornography in all its forms, fantasizing, voyeurism, sadomasochism, multiple adulterous affairs. I was pretty thorough.

After my first meeting, I stopped by my office where I had a collection of pornography hidden. I grabbed it all and threw it out. And then at that time, one woman talked about her “using” clothes. And I remember the impact it had on me, and I immediately knew exactly what my using clothes were. So, I went home and threw out my using clothes. And it really doesn’t matter what they are, what matters is what impact they had on me. And if I was going to be honest about that and get them out of my life, that’s what I needed to do.

“Himself or herself out of the whole context…” I remember sitting behind Jean P. in a meeting. She had the large 8.5” x 11” version of the White Book that existed at that time. Lines were scratched out and other things were written in, including the word “herself.” That’s when “What is a Sexaholic and What is Sexual Sobriety” was first introduced here in Nashville in 1990 and it became open to women in terms of pronouns. We were finally catching up with our writing and it’s been great. It’s been exactly what we needed.

“He or she has lost control, no longer has the power of choice and is not free to stop. Lust has become an addiction.” I had been on the periphery of Alcoholics Anonymous enough to know that for an alcoholic, alcohol is not the problem. If alcohol is the problem, just don’t drink, then you don’t have any more problems. The problem for the alcoholic is the “-ism” – I, Self, and Me, I.S.M. – and the self-centeredness and the character defects that feed this compulsive use of alcohol, or in our case, lust. Even though I’m not an alcoholic, I had been around enough to know how powerful AA was. And when I came into that first SA meeting, people talked about getting drunk on lust. I identified on day one. I knew I got drunk on masturbation over time. I also learned about getting drunk on fantasies, getting drunk on whatever.

I definitely had “lost control, no longer had the power of choice and was not free to stop.” I was driving from Vanderbilt over toward Hillsborough Road, and I came up to a traffic light and there was a car stopped in front of me at the red light. There was a woman in the car. I never saw anything other than she was sitting, so it was just her head above the seat and I was totally triggered by her hair. This is my third or fourth day of sobriety. Totally took me by surprise because I had no idea until that moment how constantly I was lusting. And I’ve always described myself as the kind of sexaholic who, like an alcoholic, never lets the glass run dry. Some people are bingers. I understand that. I’m just not one of them. I just never let the lust bottle run dry. That character defect hasn’t gone anywhere. Just like all of my defects of character, they don’t go anywhere. It’s like my eye color. What has changed is they don’t run my life anymore. And that’s a big change for which I’m never sufficiently grateful.

“Our situations like that are the alcoholic who can no longer tolerate alcohol and must stop drinking altogether but is hooked and cannot stop.” I had people with whom I worked who begged me to stop going out to the lunches, having the special conversations, closing my office door to have consultations about whatever. And certainly my wives – I am in my second marriage for 43 years and the first marriage was eight years – wanted me to stop. To Jane, my current wife, this was not her idea of fun. I’d been sober for about two weeks. We were separated inside the house, and we would talk at night. I would sit at the top of the stairs and she was living downstairs.

And one night she said, “You’re so different from my first husband, Jack.” And she ran down all the ways I was different from Jack. And then she said, “And you have one thing that’s the same. You’re both sex addicts.” And two things happened. First of all, it was a reminder that it wasn’t simply an accident that she and I were together. And secondly, that was the night she knew she needed S-Anon, and she has continued going.

And as I’ve said, I identified with getting drunk on lust. I wanted to stop. I remember when I was about twenty-one, I was at an encounter group, and I said to a woman in the group, “Well, “I’m not sexually attracted to you.” I thought I had just said one of the most important things that the world could have ever heard. What I didn’t realize until much later, after coming in this program, is that I think she was the only one I said that to. There were another hundred and some million women in this country and more in other countries. I was remarkably egalitarian on lust. Thus I definitely identified with that line in “What is a Sexaholic?” that reads “…but is hooked and cannot stop.” That was me.

“Thus, for the sexaholic” means this is only a program for the sexaholic. We don’t claim it’s for anybody else. “…any form of sex with oneself or with partners other than the spouse is progressively addictive and destructive.” I identified immediately because I knew that I got drunk on masturbation, I got drunk on fantasies, I got drunk on lust. Being sexually attracted to someone who’s not your spouse, “in the crucible of our experiences,” is progressively addictive and destructive. That’s all. We’re not negative about it. We just say it’ll destroy us. About two years before I joined in 1988, for some reason I made a list of women with whom I’d had affairs. I remember being shocked first by the length of the list, and second because the problem was happening more often—there were shorter periods of time between new affairs. I had no idea until I wrote the list how lust was progressively addictive and destructive.

“We see that lust is the driving force behind our sexual acting out, and true sobriety includes progressive victory over lust.” I’m a reasonably intelligent guy and reasonably okay with language and talking, so I knew that people have been having troubles with their sexual activities since time immemorial. I also knew that I had tried everything. It turned out that that was a gift. I didn’t realize it. I had tried everything I knew to stop, and I couldn’t do it, and I was told that I wasn’t crazy. As Jess, my sponsor, used to say “It wasn’t the sexual acting out that was the problem, David. It was the lust in your head. That’s the problem.” And not only did that ring true, it also gave me a context because as I said, it started at age four. Occasionally I’ll meet kids 10, 12 years old and I look at them and I think, “Gee, by your age I was on a tear for six years,” or “I was on a tear for eight years.”

“These conclusions were forced upon us in the crucible of our experiences in recovery. We have no other options, but we have found that acceptance of these facts is the key to a happy and joyous freedom we could otherwise never know.” I didn’t believe that crap for a long time. I was miserable. I didn’t want to lose another marriage. I didn’t want to lose another set of kids. I didn’t want to lose my job or my occupation. I probably would have lost both. I was terrified and in a lot of pain. I really wanted to stop but could not.

And what brought me immediately into this program was my wife having a mental breakdown, a nervous breakdown, in front of me; it was appalling. I didn’t want to be that guy who had that impact on the wife that he loved. And the next day we went to a counselor and she listened to me describe that I just need to be involved, apparently, with more than one woman at a time. And she said, “Well, you’re a sex addict.” And it was kind of like saying, “Well, you like saltines.” And I went to my first meeting that night and as I said, I’ve been going ever since. And it turns out that happy and joyous freedom…this entire program is about freedom. If I accept the fact that I’m a sexaholic, that I really need to have our sobriety definition, what is offered to me is freedom. I didn’t have freedom. I knew I didn’t have freedom and I was offered this freedom if I wanted it, if I was willing to do the things that it took.

“This will and should discourage many inquirers who admit the sexual obsession or compulsion, but who simply want to control and enjoy it much as the alcoholic would like to control and enjoy drinking.” Harvey used to be able to recite the names and memories of all the people who came and then left. And one time I called him up and I said, “Harvey, musicians can’t get sober.” And he said, “David, most people can’t get sober. You just happen to be focusing on musicians today.” It was a guy I sponsored that I was talking about and I ever since that time when I’m sitting in a meeting and there’s a group of people, everyone there is a miracle because the vast majority of people do not want what we have, and are not willing to go to any length to get it. We are walking–actually, usually sitting—miracles.

“Until we’d been driven to the point of despair, until we really wanted to stop but could not, we did not give ourselves to this program of recovery.” And that’s what I try to reconnect with all the time. I want to remember that point of despair, which I had. I really wanted to stop but could not. And I was willing to give myself to this program, Sexaholics Anonymous. And I remember this line, I use it frequently and remember frequently “Sexaholics Anonymous is for those who know they have no other option but to stop and their own enlightened self-interest must tell them this.”

So it begins with “We can only speak for ourselves” and it ends with “our own enlightened self-interest must tell us this”, that I have no other option but to stop. And that’s a commitment. I don’t have to. I choose to renew it every day. There’s a guy who is simply appalled when someone calls me up and says they had so much sobriety, had been working a good program, just just acted out. I listen to them and say, “Better you than me.” And he just thinks that’s terrible. I think that it’s my enlightened self-interest that I’ll try to stay around and keep coming back.

The last line in the 12&12 says that, in this program, humility based on anonymity is the best safeguard SA can ever have. Humility and anonymity. Anonymity in terms of secrecy of our identity if someone needs it. And also anonymity in terms of coming in as equals. We’re all equal in this program. We all come in with a common problem and mercifully, we have a common solution. The Seventh Step prayer, “My creator, I am now willing you should have all of me, good and bad. I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character that stands in the way of my usefulness…”—God, I hate that line; He’s going to leave some defects in there—“…to you and my fellows. Grant me strength as I go out from here to do your bidding. Amen” (AA 76, SA 116).

I have found over the years that gratitude—saying “Thank you, God” is the way I usually do it – is the best solvent for resentment. I “do resentments” as well as anybody. They don’t work any better for me than they do for you. And gratitude is the solvent that works fastest. I’ve tried all sorts of other solvents; one is step work and all that. It’s all fine. Gratitude works the best. And then just last Saturday night, one of the guys at the meeting said, “I have never met a miserable, grateful person.” And I just love that line. I’m not capable, if I’m being grateful, of being a miserable, grateful person.

I have found in making amends and changing what I need to change for David to stay sober another day that there are two constants that will keep me stirred-up and feed resentments, especially if gratitude is missing. One of the constants is holding onto something that’s no longer happening. In fact, I tell people because it’s true. That’s the literal meaning of the word resentment. “Re-” means “again;” “sentire” is “to feel” [in Latin]. Resentment is having a strong feeling about something. It might be negative, it might be positive, but it isn’t actually happening! Now, if something’s not actually happening, we call it a fantasy. And you know what? Fantasies are not particularly helpful to me. I don’t think they’re helpful to any of us. So when I’m engaging in resentment, I’m engaging in that strong feeling about something that’s not happening. It’s a fantasy, and I have the tools to surrender it. I just need to use them.

The other constant in my experience in terms of changing things – I first encountered this when I made an amends at my father’s grave – is expecting someone to be different from the way they actually are. That’s what I do with fantasies, isn’t it? I create this magic world in which David has people do things, as described in the Big Book; people do the things I want them to do, the way I want them to do them, and all that stuff, instead of accepting the way people actually are. These people may be terrible, they may be wonderful, they may be just sort of average; it’s the way they actually are.

And it was in this very building thirty years ago that Robin M. said, “Expectations are premeditated resentments.” That’s a doorway to freedom. If I can have expectations if I want. If I want to expect people to be different from the way they are, I’m welcome to do that. And it’s a premeditated resentment…whose fault is that? Mine! It’s not on anybody else. Harvey lied to me once. I’ve forgiven him long since. He said, “David, if you start thinking about something, it’ll be negative within two minutes.” It has never taken anywhere more than one minute, at most.

I finally realized I was obsessing. Obsessing is thinking about something more than once, unless there’s been a change of fact or circumstance. And I’ve come up with David’s Law. And the only reason I call it a law is that I’ve been trying to find an exception to it for thirty-one years, five months, and eight days. The law is that I only obsess about things I can do nothing about. I have never obsessed about something I can actually do something about.

This program has so many forms of humiliation, and that’s how I learn. One of them has been so important, I want to share it tonight. Not long after I came to the program here in Nashville, I became totally enamored of the Third Step prayer. And I would really lean on myself. I did it so often. I would wake up doing it in the night and I still do. And I wanted the people I sponsored to do the Third Step prayer and memorize it and all that. And one night we were standing in a circle. And we were doing the Third Step prayer. And oh, it was so wonderful, they were finally doing what I wanted them to do and oh, I’m so important. And so we were going along doing it, “Take away my difficulties that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help…” and the group said “… of Thy power, Thy love and Thy way of life” which is how it’s written. And David said “ … of Thy love, Thy power and Thy way of life.” I had screwed it up and I didn’t even know it. And on top of that, I knew as soon as I said why I had memorized it wrong: I had wanted to be sure of the love before I was going to go anywhere near that power.

Two things have come out of that experience: First, it really is Thy power, Thy love and Thy way of life. And that is how it works. People have asked me, “How do I get a better relationship with my Higher Power?” We have to accept the power. As Harvey said early on, “David, the only thing you have to know about your Higher Power is that it’s not you.” And I start there every morning. And the second thing is I don’t change the words in the prayers. I know a lot of the language is archaic. I know Roy rewrote it in the White Book. I just can’t do it. Not because it’s right or wrong, it’s because I can’t stop and I won’t even know I’ve done it. So I share that with you.

There’s some things I’m really pleased about that happened here in Nashville. I just want to mention them briefly. One is that I was on the oversight committee and the committee decided to move the central office here out of Southern California. We’d had the Northridge earthquake and the office was damaged and it was time to move. And Roy had turned the fellowship over to this little committee, Central Office Oversight Committee. And so we moved it here. I remember getting the space on Murphy’s World Road, sharing it with S-Anon ,and of course the rest is history. Kay came in August of that year, after we moved the office, and Roy and Iris stayed in my house while we were looking for the first administrator. That was a real treat.

Another thing about 1994 or 95, I was just learning about computers and email. And just on a whim I looked up to see if “sa.org” was available. And it was. I had no idea what to do with that. So I called Deacon and asked him to grab this name. So he grabbed it. And sa.org has been our website name ever since. And by the way, I don’t want you to go do this, but there are other sites out there you do not want to go to, and you are hearing it from me, don’t go there. So I didn’t check it out, but I was told by others, and it turned out to be true.

The last thing that I’m really pleased about is that twenty years ago I was allowed to edit Essay magazine for a number of years. And then I’ve been the editor for the last four some years now again. This is the December issue, “Miracles in Recovery.” And it’s such a pleasure to work on it. It’s also a lot of work and it’s worth doing. And new things keep coming along. Just today someone asked about paying for the Essay to be shipped overseas. And I never even thought of that. I’m sure many other people have, so we’ll see if we can do it in the next few months. I think it takes some engineering, but it’s not impossible. And so there’s always things happening. And the model I hope for this is always the Grapevine, the AA publication. And to a certain extent we imitate it. We have a way to go. But it’s one day at a time. In August, we celebrated forty years of Sexaholics Anonymous. And copies of that forty-year issue, which has a lot of our historical stuff in it, are available at the literature table.

So the last thing I wanted to share is that I have been dealing with a fairly significant cancer in my liver since last May. And a few days ago – I was reading the 12&12 with a guy – and this was the reading just a few days ago. “We have seen A.A.’s suffer lingering and fatal illness with little complaint, and often in good cheer” (12&12 114). And I keep saying, so much of dealing with cancer is like this program. It’s very similar. And with this, I’ll go to my last theme and wind up.

Like most people, we have found that we can take our big lumps as they come. But also like others, we often discover a greater challenge in the lesser and more continuous problems of life. Our answer is in still more spiritual development. Only by this means can we improve our chances for really happy and useful living. And as we grow spiritually, we find that our old attitudes toward our instincts need to undergo drastic revisions. Our desires for emotional security and wealth, for personal prestige and power, for romance, and for family satisfactions— all these have to be tempered and redirected. We have learned that the satisfaction of instincts cannot be the sole end and aim of our lives. If we place instincts first, we have got the cart before the horse; we shall be pulled backward into disillusionment. But when we’re willing to place spiritual growth first, then and only then do we have a real chance. (12&12 114)

And that’s what I hold onto and what I will leave you with tonight: only with spiritual growth can we have the freedom found here, the freedom of recovery. Only with spiritual growth can we have that freedom every day. And only with spiritual growth can we have the desire to keep that freedom, which we get by passing it on at every opportunity. And for that, I can never be sufficiently grateful. Blessed be.

Thank you.

David M., Oregon, USA 1945 - 2023

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