Back in May of this year, I had the pleasure of presenting a talk at the iCAAD Conference entitled, ‘We repeat what we don’t repair’. I believe the video of my talk will soon be available to review on their website. They have kindly asked me to write a follow-up article that approaches this subject from the perspective of ‘Sex Addiction’. As this is something I struggled with for over three decades, I know just a little bit about this painful subject! For me, my damaging sexual behaviours have been inextricably linked and a huge part of the hurtful behaviours I have perpetrated against myself and others for over 40 years. I am proud that I have finally not only recognised the behaviours that I failed to repair for so long, but that I have also come compassionately to terms with the pain I have endured as well as caused and found great peace in repairing the damage done to myself and, as much as possible, to others. I would like to reflect upon what I have learnt and share it with any interested reader in the hopes of helping even one other person to shorten their journey from crippling addictive secrecy and shame to a life of integrity, inner peace and emotional freedom.
How did sex addiction manifest in my life for so long and how was it so inextricably linked to such damaging and dysfunctional behaviours? It has taken me many years to even want to ask this question, let alone to grow curious enough to truly hunt for the answer. Why did it take so long for me to recognise the betrayal that many close friends witnessed as so obviously hurtful and inappropriate? Exploring the root cause of my social dysfunction has proven to be the key to my soul’s freedom. I have had an accepted knowledge of sex addiction and being sexually addicted for over 15 years. I first fell suicidally broken into a treatment centre in July 2004. But it took most of the last 15 years and many attempts to settle into a healthy sexuality to finally unearth the earliest adoptions of other people’s shame and pain, a shame and pain that would unavoidably become my own.
Frustrated and still struggling to settle into a respecting and honouring relationship, I stepped off the recognised addiction recovery path to take a trip to the Amazon jungle in November 2017. I had heard and read about the growing body of evidence supporting the clinical benefits of the South American plant medicine ‘Ayahuasca’. I wanted to see what I might uncover by subjecting myself to the healing guidance of South American shaman and their work with this extraordinary vine-based liquid. It took this level and depth of exploration to shine a light on the shame and pain I inherited and suffered at the hands of my first nanny. She physically abused me pretty much from the earliest weeks and months of my life. Too young and unconscious to actively recall what she did to me, my body simply stored away the negative pain and energy she poured into me. I believe this process is best explained in Bessel van der Kolk’s brilliant book, ‘The body keeps the score’. The title alone speaks volumes; it describes how our bodies absorb everything going on around it or done directly to it since the day it slips from the womb. Four years under the supposed ‘care’ of that nanny left me filled with rage and living in acute fear of being hurt by the very people who were supposed to be taking the greatest care of me.
Why is this so relevant to the behaviours I would then perpetrate for the next 40+ years? A child will naturally create its own emotional defence mechanisms when faced with such incoming fear and threat. Some will run and hide; others will come out fighting and become increasingly defiant, badtempered and even physically aggressive. I chose this latter path and can today openly reflect upon my frighteningly aggressive behaviour and my screaming tantrums that regularly punctuated my family’s life. The first person to ever abuse me was a woman and without even realising it, I had learnt to hate and fear women in equal measure by the vulnerable and impressionable age of five. I know today that this was the most damaging aspect of the child abuse I was unfortunate enough to suffer in the days before mobile phones and the likelihood of such poor treatment being exposed in social media. Then a hideously damaging and terrifying five years at ‘West Downs’ boarding school in Winchester (long closed) would only add to my terror of life and learning to view life through a very narrow fear-based lens.
And so it was a huge relief to finally find a way to combat what I saw as the uncertainties of life with a behaviour than I could enjoy all on my own, a behaviour that would help me to live in ever deeper denial of the effects of my defiance upon others, a behaviour that only strengthened my wall of shame and the dysfunctional emotional bubble in which I was now living. I learnt to masturbate aged 11 and I can still recall to this day the anaesthetising effect it had on the misery I was receiving at the hands of bullying older boys and masters at my prep school. Now my angry defiance had merged with an activity that literally medicated life’s pain. And just with any addiction, the more pain life threw at me, the more medication I needed! What started out as seemingly innocent masturbation grew into an obsession with sexual content in magazines, in movies, and when I finally lost my virginity aged 17, with real live women. I was heading deeper and deeper into sex addiction!
What is critical to remember is that I was seeking from women an ever more extreme cocktail of sexual variety without any conscious ability to recognise the irony of turning to the very root-source of my greatest fear, hatred and pain. To be able to write and share this recognition has taken me a further three decades of plumbing the depths of a lonely and soulless existence before finally meeting a woman unlike any other, a woman who finally broke my love/hate relationship with women, a woman strong enough to see through and beyond my hurtful behaviours to the fragile and hurting man she saw behind them and to guide me back to the soul and light I buried almost 5 decades ago.
Perhaps you can imagine that I am trying to capture in less than 2000 words my journey of a lifetime which could probably fill several books. If you take one key thing away from reading this article, I would like it to be the recognition of how our behaviours are inextricably linked to what we learn and experience as children, whether healthy or unhealthy, happy or sad, helpful or unhelpful, promoting growth or hindering development with fear and pain. On the surface, I came from a wealthy family with all the material trimmings a young boy could ever ask for. I was sent to the supposedly best schools, dressed in the best clothes and taught to behave and act as a supposedly perfect little English gentleman. What I was not taught to do was to ‘feel’ or indeed to feel safe enough to have feelings, let alone to express them. And so like a pressure cooker, I bottled every possible manifestation of emotional discomfort and fear until I could repress and suppress them no longer. Anger and rage had been venting from my tortured soul like streams of lava from a frustrated volcano through most of my life. And tragically, my emotional volcano would finally truly explode upon that one woman who did more than any other human could ever have done to help me find myself and to lovingly set me free. I had to betray and lose this precious and courageous lady to find myself. As it turns out, there was no other way for a man who had for so long treated others with such blind contempt, a man who only when faced with finally losing a woman he actually had learnt to love would thereby be forced to face the consequences of the ignorant and hurtful manner in which he had lived for so long. I write this with immense compassion for myself and for the people I have hurt. I know I have never consciously or intentfully maliciously harmed another. I also know I can no longer allow this to matter to the point of it derailing my live with guilt and shame because the damage is done and I cannot change it. What I can do today is to talk about my journey, to share it with vivid reflection in the hopes that others might be helped to break their own ‘hamster-wheel’ existence by recognising their own patterns of dysfunctional and repeated behaviours which keep leading to the same baffling and frightening emotional derailments.
With what I know now, I can state that my exploitation of sex and women and my exploitation of others to keep myself within my sick perceived sense of safety was as predictable as the sun rising tomorrow morning. It was so predictable and remains so in the lives of so many others that I believe we can therefore do something about it if we all work on this together. It starts by recognising and facing our part in our own lives and doing the work necessary to release ourselves from these repeating patterns. It starts by learning to choose to live more consciously with those closest to our lives and indeed within our entire circle of life. Sex addiction does not bring copious quantities of sex as some movies would like to have you believe. What it brings is a tragically and painfully lonely existence and if pursued with too much blind ignorance of its impact upon ourself and others, will lead to the same place any addiction ultimately leads: to death either by one’s own hand or by those of another. When you hate yourself enough, you will do anything to rid the world of the monster you believe yourself to be. I have tried the former twice and know it is not the solution.
My heart goes out to anyone believing that to end one’s life is the only release from such a depth of pain that so many reach without any perceived hope of finding a way out. I am here to speak up for those in pain and to help as many as I can to recognise that there is a way out if we have the courage to ask for help and move through and beyond our shame which, whilst having defined too much of our precious life already, was never actually ours to own in the first place. I do not look back with hatred upon my first nanny or indeed anyone that abused me either directly or through inaction as I struggled to understand my life through my first 20 years. I do, however, finally understand and hold accountable those who caused me pain and left me seeking the hurtful path I would end up pursuing to avoid receiving any further pain. Today, I hold myself accountable as I reflect upon the consequences of the choices I’ve made and through my work to help others recognise the choices they may be making. I live to compassionately make ongoing amends to myself and others as I stride along a very different path in my role as an Addiction Recovery Coach, healing and loving both myself and anyone with whom I am lucky enough to spend time on my onward journey. Life is so worth living and I hope these words shine a light into your life if you are struggling in the darkness of sex addiction or any other related damaging behaviour. You are not alone and there IS a path to sanity, inner joy, self-love and truth. I found it and so can you. With love- Mark.
Addiction Recovery Coach, My Mentor
Mark is an Addiction Recovery Coach, trained in England and America and based in London. He turned his experiences with early trauma and addiction into a coaching practice...
- Q&A with Paula Shields from Asia’s first gender responsive trauma-informed addiction treatment for women.
iCAAD Online 2020