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[ Personal Narratives ]

Bringing Light To The Dark Places

Just like any recovering addict, I am not proud of my addiction or the pain I caused. I very well understand the repercussions of my actions and have let the feeling of what others will think or say keep my story hidden. Funny thing about the dark places of addictions…when they are brought into the light, healing occurs. I know down deep in my soul that there are others like me and we are all just afraid to shine light on our pasts. So for the sake of all of us…

Hello, my name is Steffany and I am a recovering sex/love addict.

Yep, I committed one of the “Big 10” (10 Commandments) – more than once. Those 10 are seen as the worst of the worst sins. My addiction ranks with murderers and thieves. But isn’t that just it? We’re all sinners. The day of Jesus’ death, he hung on a cross next to two criminals. When one spoke to Jesus saying, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” Jesus didn’t look at the man and rebuke him for his actions. He didn’t call the man a criminal. He answered him by saying, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:42-43 NIV) We label everything and everyone. It’s our brain’s way of putting things into neat little categories and files. There is another way though: a way of looking beyond the label to the heart of the matter and people.

I know there are specific labels that have a tendency to attach themselves to my addiction. I know I have been (and could continue to be) called certain names. And that’s okay. We want to label what we don’t understand and I hope the braver I become to talk about my addiction, the more we will gain understanding.

I didn’t just wake up one morning and decide, “Hey, I wanna be a sex/love addict when I grow up.” Are you kidding? The running joke was that I would become a nun after high school. I made a commitment to abstinence before marriage and I upheld that commitment. I was a part of the I Kissed Dating Goodbye movement that became popular when I was in college. I was a youth leader and minister. I had been to Bible school. I seemingly was doing all the “right” things. Then my mom died.

Then my mom DIED. I was 22 when she passed away and it shook me to my core. I watched my mom fade away over a year’s time and I was responsible for all her affairs and care. I’m not sure how a 22-year-old is supposed to handle that situation but I was determined to look like I had it all together. After she passed, someone said that if anyone was to lose their mom at such a young age, I was the one that could handle it. I couldn’t let people down; they were right…I had this! Yeah right…on the day of my mom’s burial, I woke up and puked. After being strong for so long, my body finally shut down. I held it together for the service but for the gathering afterwards, I laid in my dad’s car, green, and feeling like I was wasting away. I was lost. I had NO CLUE how to even begin processing all that had happened.

I was never taught healthy ways of coping. I have a family history (now looking back) of sex addicts and other addictions. During my high school years, my mom was an alcoholic and a sex addict. I was a child of an addict and without understanding until years later, I was majorly co-dependent. So much rested on my shoulders as a teenager and young adult. So when my world fell apart, I turned to the only ways of coping I knew.

I am very much a people person. I love people (well, it’s a love/hate relationship actually) so I turned to others to mask my pain. I needed to feel wanted and that I was worth spending time with. I needed to fill the gap my mom had left. She didn’t just leave; so much died with her. I couldn’t get the answers I needed. I couldn’t ask her about how I was as a little girl. I couldn’t get mothering advice. I couldn’t reconcile with her.

It wasn’t that people HAD the answers, they just helped me bury the need for them. My need was greater than my husband Wes could meet. It was in no way his fault. He truly tried. When someone you love is hurting that deeply, it’s not easy to watch. He loved me to the best of his ability at the time. He gave me permission to go out after work, to play softball, to do whatever I needed if it would help.

Looking back, if I’m truly honest with myself, I can see the beginnings of my addiction as a teenager. I see the patterns, and relationships, I often found myself in. I’m not saying all were toxic but I definitely was drawn to those that were. I enjoyed the rush I got from flirting and the feeling when it was reciprocated. I remember during the thick of my addiction thinking, “I can get the un-gettable.” It was a challenge. Probably didn’t help that I grew up with sayings like, “With one of these, I can have all THOSE I want” (my mom referring to private anatomy). I was drawn to guys that had egos or liked to have control. My life felt out of control so to have someone that did was comforting.

I remember at times feeling so guilty for my relationships. I remember my addiction being so bad that other people noticed it. It’s pretty bad when you get called into the pastor’s office to talk about it because rumors are going around the church. Yep…I was THAT girl but I didn’t know how to get out of it. It was a deadly cycle. I wanted to stop but I couldn’t stand feeling lonely. We all have the things in our lives that we “need” at our cores. Right, wrong, or indifferent we all have them. My deep down, pit of my soul, fear is being alone and all my mom dying did was solidify my fears. She left me. Just like my dad did when my parents divorced. Just like other people in my life. I found it easier to adopt a “love-ya-and-leave-ya” mentality before anyone was able to leave me. I put up walls the size of the Great Wall of China around my heart.

Walls don’t fall easily. Look at the history of walls between countries coming down…they had HUGE historical significance and they usually were accompanied with some type of war or altercation leading up the fall. And oh man did I fall! I hit rock bottom! We had moved to Phoenix. I thought moving across country would end relationships and I could start over. Thing is…you can’t run from your problems. Those old ways of coping followed. Wes and I were in trouble. I was sleeping in the guest room and we both were figuring out how to do life separately. We co-existed and that wasn’t even done well. We made a commitment when we got married that we would seek counseling before the “D” word (divorce) so we began individual counseling. That year for me was the most difficult yet life-giving, life-changing time in my life. The type of counseling I encountered really dealt with all the things I didn’t understand. I began to see myself differently. I learned my triggers and to see the path towards my addiction. I set my sobriety date and Wes and I began to heal. That was 2010.

Life is a journey and things didn’t get better with Wes and I overnight. We focused on ourselves and our little family. We learned so much about ourselves, on another, and our view of the world. Once you go through hell, you don’t look at things the same. We are different, a good kind of different. We are stronger. We are self-aware and recognize unhealthy patterns so much faster. Our love has deepened. On July 15 of this year, we renewed vows. So many people didn’t understand the significance. Many people renew vows but not as many have endured and made it to the other side like we have. We are a miracle. By most people’s standards, we should be divorced. I committed one of the “Big 10” remember? But here we are: 15 years married with two beautiful kids, creating the life we want instead of the life that has happened to us. And I couldn’t be more thankful that Wes didn’t just walk away and leave me. I tried REALLY hard to get him to: to prove I was right about everyone I love leaving me. But he fought and he’s still here.

Wes and I, even from the beginning of our marriage, talked about wanting to help other couples and we had no clue what we were going to have to go through. As people, we are only as strong as our struggles. I don’t know about you but I learn so much more from someone who has been there, done that, got the t-shirt. We still aren’t perfect but I hope all of this has purpose. I hope other women can hear my story and have the courage to step up and say, “Ya’ know what? Me too!” I hope all of the labels and sigma’s related to sex/love addiction can fall away and people can ask for help instead of being trapped with their secret. If the statistics are correct, there are more of us than people are willing to openly admit.

Here’s to starting a conversation and bringing light to the dark places…