Ethlie Takes A Guilt Trip
About writing. What did you think it was about?
“I hate writing. I love having written.” A quote from my highly flawed hero, Dorothy Parker.
I feel the same. I don’t like to write. I mean, it’s what I do for a living, it’s what I’ve done for a living most of my life, and I’m pretty good at it if I say so myself. But I don’t enjoy the process. It’s hard. It’s draining. There are a hundred things I could — and will — do before picking up a pen or opening a new blank document. Especially this document. Not only is AFFECTION DEFICIT DISORDER meticulously researched, it is often confessional to the point of embarrassment… plus I don’t make a penny from it.
And then I get an email like this one:
Hi - Hope all is well. Haven't seen much from you lately.
It's rare that I encounter written work that changes my life. In fact, I would say you're the only author who ever has enlightened me enough to change course.
Sparing you details, I was the male version you describe in your writings about romance & sex compulsion. It damn near cost me everything.
Today that's all sorted & your insights made it possible for me to be happy in 1 place with 1 woman. In appreciation - Mark F.
Damn. I mean, thank you. It is very, very kind of you to reach out and let me know I’m not shouting into the void and my work is even helping people. But of course now I have to sit down and write, don’t it?
One reason I haven’t been writing about sex and love addiction lately is that… well, I’m fine. I don’t have anything new to write about. There have been no big discoveries in the field recently, and I haven’t acted out in any entertaining ways in a long time. But I also realize that just because I’m okay, you may not be. So today I’ll try to share my experience, strength and hope with folks who have asked me stuff online:
Q: I have a hard time balancing my intuition and my addictive drive. It’s hard to discern is whether that inner voice is my gut or my addiction speaking. How do I begin to trust myself and my gut?
A: From the perspective of 12-step recovery, you’re asking the time-honored question “How do I know when it’s my will and when it’s God’s will?” Because if you get as far as Step 11, you find yourself asking for knowledge of God’s will for you and the power to carry it out. One old-timer gave me a great answer to that: “You know when you get a little thrill thinking about doing something? A little jolt of excitement? Right? Well, that’s not God’s will.”
Her point was the same, I think, as what a therapist once told me: When anything feels urgent, that’s the addiction talking. Always. When you have to call right now. When you need an answer immediately or it’s the end of the world. When it has to be this person or all is lost…. desperation, urgency, impatience, these are functions of our old frenemy, the limbic brain. They are all about gratifying a dopamine/serotonin/oxytocin craving that science has only begun to understand.
It’s not really desperate; it just feels that way. The little Tasmanian devil perched at the base of your skull is lying to you, because it wants to get fed.
Those are my yardsticks when I’m listening to that still inner voice — or that loud shouty inner voice. Does it feel urgent? Does it feel overwhelming? Does it feel rebellious? If the answer if yes, I sit on my hands. Or I take contrary action. Or I call an impartial friend first.
Side note: Anyone who helps you decipher your crush’s text messages, or divine how they feel about you, or prophesy whether things are going to work out in your relationship… is not an impartial friend. That is a partner in the dance of death.
Q: Is it worth getting one’s brain hormones checked to see if there are any meds that can increase serotonin? Can antidepressants/anti-anxiety medication help with neurological self-regulation so that the trauma can be dealt with?
A: Let me start with a big disclaimer: I am not a doctor. I am not a licensed clinician. I am not even a state-certified therapist. I’m just sharing my experience and my observations here, okay?
That said, increasing our serotonin levels is what we were doing with our addictive behavior in the first place. We were constantly zapping our brains with stimulation to make up for what they are not producing naturally. The good news is: Homeostasis happens. When we stop drinking or using or acting out (or all of the above), the brain will eventually start producing these neurochemicals endogenously. Possibly not as fast as we would like, but in my experience, if we start supplementing from outside without giving our bodies a chance to balance naturally, we risk postponing real and lasting recovery.
That may not be everyone’s experience. In my case, it was suggested that I get significant clean time under my belt before I tried psychoactive meds. I was prescribed a few options at about 15 years of sobriety, but all they really did was torpedo my libido. So I went back to meditation and service and community and all the other slow, boring paths to brain health. They have no side effects, and you never build up a tolerance.
However… other people may be in greater crisis and may need more medical intervention. Consult a psychiatrist who uses more tools than just a prescription pad. Anti-anxiety meds, I discovered the hard way, are super addictive and the withdrawal is a bitch. And remember what I said about that feeling of urgency: The need to get healthy right now may not be healthy at all.
Q: You once mentioned that you don’t call or message men unless it’s in response to a question. What other bottom lines do you live by?
A: “Never initiate contact” is probably the toughest of my bottom lines to keep, because we all know how easy it is to deceive ourselves into thinking they really want to hear from us but they’re too shy/ they want to call but lost our number/ they’re afraid we’re not interested…. whatever bullshit we’re telling ourselves. He knows where to find me.
My basic bottom lines, when dating, are: never date anyone who’s in a relationship, no sex on a first (or second) date, no dating anymore more than 20 years younger than I am — pretty simple stuff. When in a relationship, my main one is “don’t do anything behind his back I wouldn’t do in front of this face.”
I also have an aspirational top line: Be here now. Live in the present moment. I spent years of my life re-scripting the past or imagining the future. I refuse to waste any more of my time in fantasy. Real life is much too juicy.
You are free to ask me anything, you know. I’ll do my best. Contact me here, or at email@example.com