This is a continuation of a blog series written by an anonymous male sex addict in recovery. It was per his request that his blog be shared. In a class taught by one of Candice’s Clinical Associates, the phrase “gas-lighting” was used. I immediately knew what that meant. I am kind of a movie buff. I love a wide range of movie genre’s and from various time periods. In 1944 a move came out called “Gaslight”. It is an excellent movie and it’s where this phrase comes from.
If you want to watch the movie, skip this paragraph since there are some spoilers in it. In the movie a young newlywed woman moves into the home her aunt had been murdered in. Soon after moving in her husband starts going out each night leaving her alone in the upstairs bedroom. The home is lit with gaslight lamps. Each night alone in her room she sees the gaslights flicker then hears banging, ghost noises in the attic. She is frightened and tells her husband when he returns. He looks at the lights and sees nothing as everyone knows there are no such things as ghosts.;) So he gently tells her it is all in her head. Night after night this goes on and each night he gets more concerned with her mental health. Soon she is convinced she is insane, that the lights only flicker in her mind and the sounds are in her head. This is far from the truth. Each night her husband is going outside and coming into the attic. He lights the lamps up there which cause the gaslights to flicker in her room because of the change in gas pressure. He is searching for a treasure and telling his wife she is crazy even though he knows the truth. He is willing to drive her insane to cover up his actions.
So often we addicts regardless of their addiction (sex, drugs, alcohol, work, money, love, avoidance) never want to admit they are addicted. We think we can control things or just one more time and we’ll never do it again. We can keep the secret from anyone. If someone calls us on our crap we will gaslight them! We tell them they are crazy, that it’s all in their head; we think that we are really in control. What the other person sees is the truth but, especially with a partner, we can twist things to make it seem like they are crazy for thinking what they do. Here’s the scariest part of gaslighting for me: I did it to myself. I would get all caught up in my head convincing myself that the truth I could see right in front of me wasn’t the truth. I would get so good at the story, the excuse, and the justification that I’d start to believe parts. Going to a seasoned CSAT therapist will cut right through all that.
By my third session with Candice we were listing my secrets. I told her I could write a book with all my secrets. I’m not sure she believed me. Everything I had done since starting recovery, the 90 day sobriety contract, the ending of all my affairs and potential affairs, the fears of being found out, the hiding of even my therapy from my spouse, the shame of being arrested was all just the beginning. It felt overwhelming but I was in a bad place. The listing of secrets was painful. It was enlightening but I say that more in hindsight not as an observation I felt at the time. Sitting in front of Candice and telling her all the crazy, stupid things I had done in my addiction was embarrassing. I can see her sitting there doing an amazing job of keeping a neutral expression on her face as I slowly exposed the deepest darkest secrets I could remember. I was shocked at what I had done. I might be more shocked now than I was then. Only a few times could I see any hint on her face that she was surprised and even then she would remind me that she was not judging me. My gaslighting brain didn’t believe her and wanted to be skeptical. To borrow a common Candice phrase. “The reality” was hearing that and seeing her still be there was beginning the rewiring of my brain.
For almost 6 therapy sessions I told my secret acts. The more secrets I told the more I remembered. I felt like a piece of shit. I felt so much self-loathing and shame I wanted to quit daily. After each session I would go to the parking lot numb. I would sit there, usually with the key in the ignition, just staring. Sometimes I cried but usually I just looked at that grassy hill for half an hour or more. Often I’m not sure I was in my body. These secrets I was sharing were things I had buried deep inside and built every possible barrier around them so that I would never mistakenly let something out. Because of my religious upbringing I was afraid of anyone knowing. The Church teaches that the only sin worse than sexual sin is murder. With that kind of pressure that was no way anyone was going to break through my shell and yet here I was telling a therapist. I was drained, and exposed. Before each session I would wait in the lobby. I dislike being late so I was typically a few minutes early and would often watch other clients leaving the office before I went in. As I sat there mentally telling myself to not leave I would see these clients walk out with smiles on their faces and I’d wonder why I would walk out and be paralyzed in the parking lot. Funny how we expect everyone else’s experience to fit into our mold of how things “are”. Our reality IS reality to us but only because we often lack perspective. In my mind seeing them smiling as they walked out I knew I must be doing something wrong and they were doing it right. Reality check: Everyone’s experience is unique, not right or wrong!
As if sharing my deepest secrets wasn’t enough work Candice popped another one on me. She was requiring me to attend a group. What the freaking hell? I had no interest in sitting in a room with a bunch of guys talking about sex addition! There was no arm twisting but it was as close to arm twisting as you could get without actually physically twisting my arm. She told me she could not help me if I didn’t attend a group. Reading between the lines I heard. Attend the group or I won’t see you. It wasn’t said but it was effective. At the time Candice did not offer a men’s group in her practice so she had arranged for a colleague who ran groups to meet with me to see if I would fit in a group at their practice. Is there no end to the torture of my exposure? I was reluctant but still committed to this process as painful as it was.
Group… another nightmare for me to live through. Remember at this point I am meeting twice a week with Candice and sharing my secrets with her, sitting in the parking lot for long periods after each session dissociating and now I have a new weekly meeting?
I do not have permission to use the names of the facilitators of this group so I will call them Sam and Andrea to simplify the telling of this experience. I do want to point out that the practice that was running this group also had CSAT training. That is significant. I can now usually tell if a therapist has not been through the training and is certified. Sam and Andrea had not received certification but were working directly with CSAT therapists and Andrea has since worked on becoming a CSAT.
My first group meeting was scary. I did not want to be there. I came wearing a hoody and I didn’t take it off once the entire meeting. I am not sure what I expected but what I experienced was not it. As it turns out it was a brand new group just getting organized and so this was a first meeting of all the group members. Here’s what I know about that first meeting and I know this only because of all the work I’ve done to understand myself since then. I spent that entire time dissociated. That’s it. I remember seeing the people. I know who they are from subsequent meetings. I don’t remember saying anything. When I said that I was scared that might be an understatement. Fear, distrust, exposure, vulnerability, shame, embarrassment are the words that come to mind for me. I cannot speak for others as they attend group meetings. It is not an easy thing and it takes courage.
If you want recovery, have courage and attend a group meeting.