Ready to Date After Sex Addiction? Amy Dresner Tells You How

Author, Amy Dresner, has been very open with the world about her past with sex addiction. She is now in recovery and is here to share her experience.

It’s sort of public knowledge (thanks to my book “My Fair Junkie” and a few articles on TheFix.com) that I’m a recovering sex addict. (And no it didn’t get me a ton of dates but neither did it bring on a slew of creepy messages either. Thankfully.) Sex is still so laden with shame and Puritanism in America that being a sex addict, let alone a female sex addict, is highly stigmatized.  There are some doctors and sex therapists who don’t believe sex addiction is real. Well, I’m here to tell you it felt horrifying real to me. And I’ve done my time in SLAA and SCA and SAA and there are rooms full of people who can attest that it’s compulsive, all-consuming, mortifying and ruining their fucking lives.

What was my sex addiction like?  It was mostly having sex with a slew of Tinder randos without protection, without even knowing their last names.  A few regulars in my stable were old comedy buddies which made it a little less horrible. I’d be shaking with anticipation on the way to the hookup and crying with shame and degradation on the way home. This continued for 2 or 3 years. There was no intimacy. It was a dope deal for me: I came to get my “fix”. I’m still not sure if it was about the validation of being wanted or the fleeting high of a risky rendezvous but it certainly wasn’t about sex or them.

I finally hit a truly horrific bottom and like that…just stopped. Was I cured? No.  Had I dealt with the issues? Absolutely not. My sex addiction soon morphed into codependency and love addiction once I fell in love and got into a relationship. Looking back, I think I masked my latent sex addiction tendencies with this guy as having a “really high sex drive”, feeling rejected when he didn’t want to fuck and demanding sex if the drought went on too long. And no I never cheated.

“For addicts, extremism is a far easier road than moderation. And I know many a sex addict who has retreated into what’s called “sexual anorexia” as a way of coping. Celibacy is easier than trying to navigate the minefield of sex/dating/relationships.”

When that boyfriend dumped me in early 2017, I completely shut down. I was beyond broken-hearted. I didn’t masturbate. I didn’t date. I didn’t have sex. It’s been over 2 and a half years now and I’m still celibate. For addicts, extremism is a far easier road than moderation. And I know many a sex addict who has retreated into what’s called “sexual anorexia” as a way of coping. Celibacy is easier than trying to navigate the minefield of sex/dating/relationships. And after being in love which is really the special sauce, hookups had no appeal for me anymore. If anything they scared me. I’d become very clear that I am not one of those people who can sleep with somebody and not become attached.  And attachment hurts. So fuck all of that. I’d just hang out with my cat and watch Netflix.

However, I recently had an eye-opening experience. I went on a coffee date at 12:30 in the afternoon in a mini-mall. I mean how much more pedestrian and unsexy can you get, right? Surely nothing would happen. I mean nothing could happen. WRONG.

I was so turned on by this individual and that I could barely sit on my stool and it was obvious from my constant shifting.

“Are you alright over there? “ he asked me.

And then it started:  me being provocative, touching his leg, collapsing with laughter into his chest and then…kill me…confessing that I was a squirter.  Or used to be.

“It’s been a long time so dust could come out of there now, I have no idea,” I joked, trying to undo the incredibly inappropriate revelation.

In the parking lot, I made a pass at him and things began to get hot and heavy.  It was now 2:30 in the afternoon and we were in a crowded parking lot but none of that mattered. I quickly felt myself getting out of control and to my surprise, said, “I gotta go” and jumped into my car.  Two seconds later, he slid in the passenger side. He touched the groin of my faded black jeans and I immediately exploded all over the car.

“I told you I was attracted to you!” I said half irritated.  I was angry and surprised and embarrassed. I felt like my body had betrayed me. Squirting is quite a magic trick if you’ve never seen it. If you’re into it, it can be arousing. If you’re not, it’s just fucking weird and gross.

Something inside me had been triggered by this event and I could feel it. I tried to be cool for a month or two and then the old behavior started. I have an entire bank of naked pics on my phone from when I was an active sex addict. So when I didn’t get the response I wanted at the fast rate I needed, I pulled out the big guns.  The problem is these pics work. I was invited to his house within an hour. But he quickly informed me that he wanted to take it slow and get to know me. Ugh. “Sure,” I lied. “No problem. Good idea. Let’s take our time.”

“For some people addicted to sex, it’s the orgasm that’s the reward. In other people, it’s the person that’s the reward. In still others, it’s the tension before the act,” Wetsman explained.

We hung out and kissed a bit but it wasn’t enough for me. The monster had been awakened.

“Put your tongue in my mouth!” I heard myself demand.

“Relax,” he cooed. “It will all happen”.

As he walked me to my car, out of my mouth popped, “Just get in the car and quickly jack me off.” I still cringe when I think about it. Always the lady. Fuck. He wasn’t fazed but I became acutely aware that the “MORE” in me had now taken the reigns.

I called my sponsor the next day. “I’ve never gotten to know somebody before I had sex with them,” to which he aptly replied, “That’s nothing to brag about, sweetheart.”

I spoke with an addictionologist/psychiatrist and former owner of Townsend Treatment Center Dr. Howard Wetsman  https://www.youtube.com/c/EndingAddiction  to get some insight.  “If you have an addiction, you have certain things that work for you.  For some people, it‘s cocaine. For others it’s Oreos. For you, it’s sex and love…and meth and coke and booze and nicotine.”

 “If you have normal dopamine, sex is a normal reward, like looking at a sunset, getting closer to your lover. You might get a dopamine rush from an orgasm followed by some oxytocin but you won’t get a spike-like you experience. Of course, after the spike is the crash where you’re scrambling for more dopamine.”

He explained that a lot of people smoke after sex because they’re using the nicotine to mute the dopamine crash. Interesting right? And I just thought it looked cool in European movies.

“For some people addicted to sex, it’s the orgasm that’s the reward. In other people, it’s the person that’s the reward. In still others, it’s the tension before the act,” Wetsman explained.

“If you have normal dopamine, sex is a normal reward, like looking at a sunset, getting closer to your lover. You might get a dopamine rush from an orgasm followed by some oxytocin but you won’t get a spike-like you experience. Of course, after the spike is the crash where you’re scrambling for more dopamine.”

I needed to ask myself, “What is happening in my brain that I am seeing people as sources of dopamine instead of people? This guy had quickly morphed from being a guy I wanted to get to know into a syringe for me.  He became an object and I’m sure he could feel it. No matter how much I actually liked him, my neediness was bleeding through. He had/was something I wanted and needed.

When you have a dopamine spike, your brain latches onto the details of that experience, person, etc. Your brain, like a squirrel, knows where the nuts are hiding and demands that you go there. That’s where the reward is.  But every addict will tell you, you never get as high as the first time. And what we call “obsession” is actually biochemical attachment.

What do I do when my body is acting in a way I don’t want it to act?  Turned on? Triggered by a house I used to smoke crack in? Telling me I have to eat all of the potato chips?  I need to recognize that I’m having a body thing. It’s not about the booze, or the guys or the drugs or the food. It’s about the dopamine. The solution is getting right with yourself and doing things on a daily basis to keep from becoming vulnerable to this mid-brain biology.

The first of these is to not feel shame about your sex addiction because shame automatically lowers your dopamine tone and sets you up to relapse and act out. So fuck shame and let’s talk about this stuff.  In the end, sex addiction isn’t about sex. Just like drug addiction isn’t about drugs. It’s about the illness of addiction that centers around reward and there’s nothing embarrassing or shameful about that.

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Amy Dresner is a journalist, author, and former comedian as well as a recovering addict and alcoholic. She has been a columnist for the addiction/recovery magazine theFix.com since 2012 and has freelanced for Addiction.com, Psychology Today, and many other publications. Her first book, “My Fair Junkie: A Memoir of Getting Dirty and Staying Clean,” was published by Hachette in 2017 to rave reviews from critics and readers alike, and is currently in development for a TV series.

Can Sobriety Be Both a Health Trend and a Matter of Life or Death?

Months ago I innocently tweeted: “I’m all down with the new sobriety/sober movement but please let’s not forget among the mocktails, the trendiness and the tees with cutesy slogans that for many of us, sobriety wasn’t a health trend, lifestyle choice or a socio-political statement but a matter of life and death.”

I got dozens of shares and “Amens!” and an equal amount of people coming after me with flaming pitchforks accusing me of “gatekeeping sobriety” or sarcastically consoling me that “sorry being sober wasn’t punk rock anymore.”

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the “New Sobriety,” it is a new trend to not drink, to be sober but not because you’re alcoholic necessarily. It was born out of “Dry January” and alcohol-free events with the precept of exploring your relationship with alcohol. It’s primarily intended for people in “grey area drinking,” not full blown alcoholics but people who might send some stupid texts, occasionally regret how much they drank, or not be as fully functional as they’d like the morning after.

If you want to take a break from drinking to see if you can be social without liquid courage or not be hung over for your 7 am spin class, I fully support that. And if you can stay stopped because of that, fantastic. I am not at all saying that you need to wrap your car around a pole or have your parents remortgage their house to send you to treatment half a dozen times before you realize that your life is infinitely better without getting loaded.

But all the coverage of the New Sobriety in Time, New York Times, NPR, etc is missing an important piece of the story: if you CAN NOT do a full month without drinking or if your life gets exponentially better when you stop drinking… you might actually be an alcoholic. And sorry but there ain’t nothing trendy or cool about that. And “alcoholic” and “alcoholism”, the words that really need to be de-stigmatized, are being left out of this conversation and frankly, the whole movement.

“I’ll be honest, when you’re an alcoholic this “New Sobriety” feels a bit like people choosing to be gluten-free because it reduces inflammation or whatever when you actually have to thanks to your Celiac disease.”

Granted, I’m a recovering black out drunk and IV drug addict so a “Dry January” was pretty implausible unless I was locked up in a rehab or a psych ward. For us alcoholics, the idea of “moderation,” the myth that we can stop or start at will, is an ethereal dream that takes many of us out of recovery and keeps us experimenting over and over again till we hit rock bottom or die.

I’ll be honest, when you’re an alcoholic this “New Sobriety” feels a bit like people choosing to be gluten-free because it reduces inflammation or whatever when you actually have to thanks to your Celiac disease. And the popularity of this idea that you can just CHOOSE not to drink undermines the current science that for many people there’s a genetic component to their alcoholism, an anomaly in the reward system of the brain that makes that choice…well, pretty much impossible.

If sobriety being trendy makes 16 year olds think it’s cool to stay sober instead of getting wasted on the weekends, well, awesome. Will sobriety being “trendy” dissuade a real alcoholic in the throes of addiction? Not in my experience. Never in my drinking or using career did I think having a seizure from cocaine on an airplane was “cool” or drinking Four Loko at 9 am was “stylish”. Nor did I care.

“This new sobriety, a casual “checking out not drinking”, is a much easier pill to swallow than the extreme “you’re an alcoholic” with its eternal abstinence that many of us had to choke down.”

Sober influencers behind this New Sobriety call not drinking “rebellious” and “radical” in a culture that basically centers around and worships alcohol. However the idea of being sober as a “fuck you” to the establishment is not new.  It has actually been around since the early 80’s when the Straight edge movement, a subculture of abstainers, emerged in the hardcore punk scene.

With this new movement, has come a new verbiage available for problem drinkers that wasn’t available for many of us when we got sober.  This new sobriety, a casual “checking out not drinking”, is a much easier pill to swallow than the extreme “you’re an alcoholic” with its eternal abstinence that many of us had to choke down.  It’s infinitely more appealing and could possibly sober up more people than Alcoholics Anonymous ever will. However I think it’s important that this movement not stigmatize the language and ways that many of us had to embrace in order to pull ourselves out of the mire of…ummm…overconsumption — despite how wrong or antiquated they might seem to you now.

Chris Marshall, the creator of Sansbar  http://thesansbar.com/, an alcohol-free bar in Austin, with continual pop ups in St. Louis, Kansas City and Western Mass. has been in recovery for 12 years.  The inspiration to create an alcohol-free environment like Sansbar came from his work as an addiction counselor. He noticed clients struggling to find a safe place to socialize in early sobriety without booze aside from 12 step meetings and diners.  He’s thrilled that this new movement has taken off but told me on the phone, “My only gripe is that there are actual risks to abruptly stopping alcohol use and I wish we would talk more about that. Anyone detoxing from alcohol or benzodiazepines should seek medical support. It scares me that I don’t see that advice more across the sobriety spectrum.”

“Many of us started off as “grey area drinkers” only to find ourselves in the black a few years later”

He’s right.  There are only two drugs from which withdrawal can actually kill you and booze is one of them.  If you’re a heavy drinker and you stop suddenly, you can have grand mal seizures and die. But nobody is talking about that.  They’re just talking about how much weight they lost or how much better their skin is or how they don’t go home with strangers anymore. And I get it, trends don’t like to look at the ugly parts and alcoholism is killing 88,000 people a year, a number even higher than the opioid epidemic.

One might argue this movement is not for “alcoholics”.  But many of us started off as “grey area drinkers” only to find ourselves in the black a few years later.  I’d argue that this movement has given us an international platform for discourse on the dangerous glamorization of drinking as well as the chance to smash the stigma surrounding alcohol abuse, addiction, sobriety AND recovery.  Let’s take this opportunity and make it inclusive, discussing the entire spectrum of alcohol use (or alcohol use disorder, as the case may be). As Marshall poignantly told me, “A movement is only as strong as its ability to include us all”.

Amy Dresner is a journalist, author, and former comedian as well as a recovering addict and alcoholic. She has been a columnist for the addiction/recovery magazine theFix.com since 2012 and has freelanced for Addiction.com, Psychology Today, and many other publications. Her first book, “My Fair Junkie: A Memoir of Getting Dirty and Staying Clean,” was published by Hachette in 2017 to rave reviews from critics and readers alike, and is currently in development for a TV series.

Amy Dresner, author of ‘My Fair Junkie,’ Talks Family, Sex Addiction, And Coping Tools

Amy Dresner’s ‘My Fair Junkie: A Memoir of Getting Dirty and Staying Clean‘ is the addiction memoir everyone’s talking about.

In My Fair Junkie, Amy recounts the grim places addiction to drugs, alcohol, and sex took her. I snagged some of Amy’s time to ask her what small victories she celebrates today at 5 years sober, how her family feels about the memoir, and more…

Writing About Addiction

Kali: Hi Amy, and thanks so much for agreeing to answer some questions from me and the rest of the Workit World. I stayed up late every night until I finished your book, My Fair Junkie: A Memoir Of Getting Dirty and Staying Clean. I’m going to ask you the first thing I’m sure everyone asks you: how hard was it to write about some the lowest points in your addiction?

Amy: It was very difficult to write about those moments because I wanted to bring the reader into the addict’s mind, no matter how insane it seemed, so I had to put myself back into that active addict headspace. Of course, at the times I write about, none of what I did seemed nuts to me then. It was all necessary, survival and the demonic possession that is addiction. I needed to take breaks because writing about some of those points was so depressing and uncomfortable. So yes, it was painful, but moreover puzzling. I just don’t recognize that person now.  I know it was me and I remember it all vividly, but in some way I feel so far removed from that woman, that it was almost like writing about a stranger. But perhaps that’s a protective mechanism on my part, the detachment.

Did you have to warn your family members and friends before the book came out? Or did they already know what to expect?

I’ve been chronicling a lot of my ups and downs on theFix.com over the past 6 years and I was never somebody who kept my using a secret, so yes, they all knew what to expect. Saying that, some friends have chosen not to read the book because they love me too much to hear about my self-destruction in such exquisite detail. I specifically told my father not to read the parts about drug use or sex addiction or my suicide attempts. He lived through all of that stuff once, he doesn’t need to be re-traumatized. My mother is a sober alcoholic and I think identifies more and read the whole thing.

Amy On Sex Addiction

You struggled not only with addiction to substances, but also sex addiction. There’s a real advocacy movement around drug and alcohol addiction, but process addictions (like sex addiction and gambling) are often overlooked. Do you think we need to be talking about them more?

“Sex addiction was more shameful and more painful than any of the drug use.”

I can only speak for myself but the sex addiction was more shameful and more painful than any of the drug use. For me, personally, my sex addiction is part of my general “addictive nature”. I consider it an arm of my alcoholism. It’s just me searching for a new way to check out, another route to dopamine. And I’m not alone in this. Many people when they get sober struggle with compulsive behavior around food, gambling and sex. I definitely think we should be talking about process addictions more. They can also be extremely destructive just in ways that are less blatant and immediate than drug addiction.

What advice do you have for young women struggling with sex addiction?

Check out SLAA and SAA. They really work for a lot of people. I just didn’t connect to those programs. Aside from escape, I was looking for love and validation in my sex addiction and you certainly don’t find that in the beds of strangers! I’d advise them to read about it. Get support. Don’t beat yourself up. And know that you can come out the other end. It’s not a life sentence. There are some doctors now saying sex addiction doesn’t really exist but I will tell you it felt pretty real and compulsive to me but hey, I’m not a doctor.

Talking 12-step Programs

In the book, 12-step programs seemed as harmful to you as they did helpful. What is your relation to 12-step today? What would you tell people considering 12-step?  

I disagree with that and I apologize if it came off that way. I was very angry when I first got into the program and I was bothered by the fundamentalism and the remnants of the program’s Christian roots in some of the language and prayers. I think 12 step is great. The tools are gleaned from many religions and psychologies and are very effective. I took issue in my book with the fellowship which can get very complicated (with power hierarchies and sexual predatory behavior) when you take a bunch of sick broken alcoholics and put them in a room together.

I’m in a 12 step program now. I’m in AA. I don’t adhere to the 11th tradition. I think it’s outdated and actually does more harm than good by keeping the program shrouded in secrecy and perpetuating the mythology that it’s some cult. I have a sponsor, sponsees and I secretary a meeting. The steps worked better than any therapy I’ve ever been in and I’ve been in them all. AA is really like free group Cognitive Behavioral Therapy if you remove the spiritual element. The program saved my life and made me into a person that I actually like and am proud to be.

To people considering it, I’d say check it out. There are a lot of different types of meetings. See if one feels right for you. Keep an open mind. Some people go to their first 12 step meeting and are like “Ahh I’m home”. Others find it a little creepy at first. If it doesn’t feel like a fit after you’ve checked out a few meetings, there are other programs like Smart Recovery or Refuge Recovery. And of course, if you’re not open to being completely abstinent, there are harm reduction therapies/programs.

The Gifts of Recovery

You just celebrated 5 years. Congratulations! What has been the most surprising thing about recovery for you?

I would have to say that things that I was convinced were “just me,” characteristics I was sure I’d be stuck with forever, have fallen away. And also I’ve been able to accomplish things I only dreamt of before: writing a book, being a good employee, being a good friend or partner.

How important was it for you to separate yourself from the “hot mess” identity you created for yourself when drinking and using? In addiction, we can begin to identify with these stereotypes (hot party girl, mom who drinks to relax, chill stoner guy) that society seems to perpetuate. Was it difficult to find yourself away from drugs, alcohol, and sex?

“People took care of me and tried to fix me…. until they didn’t anymore.”

Not really. I’ve had periods of long-term sobriety before but still always considered myself broken on some level. I think the key problem is that I was getting perks by being this broken person who couldn’t get it together. And by that I mean I was freed of any responsibility for myself and my life. People took care of me and tried to fix me…. until they didn’t anymore. But this time around I dropped that “I’m broken” story.

I agree that those “labels” can be excuses and self-fulfilling prophecies and I used them for a long time to explain away my behavior. “What do you expect? I’m a…..” Saying that, being clean and successful still feels new and unfamiliar as I was such a fuck up for so many years. That “hot mess” identity is part of my past and I have to honor that. That’s the part of me that people who are still struggling with addiction can identify with. But not being that person does take some adjusting. Even when you change dramatically, after 20 years of a lifestyle or behavior, you’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Your book is called My Fair Junkie: A Memoir of Getting Dirty and Staying Clean. There’s a big push in the medical field to move away from phrases like ‘clean’ and ‘junkie,’ but you refer to yourself as a junkie in the book. What does the term mean to you?

Well I don’t think “My Fair Girl with Substance Use Disorder” would have sold very many books! The book is not PC and neither am I. That’s why most people love it and some find it sort of brash or offensive. The book is VERY raw and I never had any shame or denial about being a drug addict. I think at some points I even had a weird reverse pride about it. We addicts have a tendency to glamorize the darkness. To me, a junkie is a “fiend” and I was a fiend… for everything. And also the “clean” in the subtitle doesn’t just relate to being clean from drugs but clean after washing all the street soot off you after community labor.

You have to understand that although I support recovery, I’m not an official “recovery advocate” per se. I’m not trying to start a movement. I’m just a recovering addict and a writer. I appreciate changing the vernacular to reduce stigma but I think that’s going to take a very long time. I was a junkie. Why not own it? I’m not into candy-coating anything. That’s not my style. I mean has using the term “African American” really reduced racism or just put a PC veil on it? I think we change people’s thinking by showing the plethora of different people with addiction and coming out of the closet with our recovery. In meetings people say “I have 5 days clean” so I was just using the real vocabulary of the addiction/recovery world. Also I come from a comedy background where you use the most funny, shocking and effective words. Same with editorial writing. There’s a saying, “If it bleeds, it leads.” My book wasn’t meant to be a recovery manual. It is just a gruesomely honest addiction memoir and from the feedback I’m getting, that’s why it’s helping people. Because I don’t tip toe around things or get preachy, precious or self-pitying.

In the Workit program, we celebrate Workit wins. These are small victories that may not seem like a big deal to the outside world, but keep you on the right track. What Workit wins have you had recently?

I started meditating again regularly and it’s made a huge difference in my happiness and mood stability. I’ve been better about keeping my house clean. I finally took care of my taxes. I make sure that I thank people and show my appreciation.

“Creativity is key. And I don’t abandon myself anymore or expect other people to fix me.”

Sobriety is a hell of a lot better than drug addiction, but it’s no cake walk. Being sober means navigating through life’s tough stuff with tools that work better than drugs or alcohol. What tools are vital to your recovery today?  

The usual stuff. I work a program: meetings, steps, etc. I stay connected and close to my support group. I do breathwork. I make sure I’m of service in and out of the rooms. I don’t run away from my feelings, no matter how uncomfortable they are and I try not to let them dictate my actions. I say “no” and enforce my boundaries. I try to stay grateful and keep things in perspective. Much of that is staying in the present and knowing that everything, good and bad, passes. But most of all I stay busy and creative. Creativity is key. And I don’t abandon myself anymore or expect other people to fix me. I’m able and resilient. I know that now.

My Fair Junkie is available now! Buy it on Amazon or at your local bookstore. Find Amy on Twitter and Instagram @AmyDresner or visit her website at www.amydresner.com.


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