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Among the many Shames with which addiction can saddle the soul, sex-conduct remains one of the most significant scourges.

Often we hear about drunken one-night stands, or one-off bathroom quickies while high on party drugs. We read about them in magazines and blush, or laugh when the sassy protagonist in this year’s inevitable Valentine’s Day blockbuster shuffles across the frame, shoes in hand, comically fleeing a stranger’s apartment. Because he was hot. Because she was drunk. Because YOLO.landscape-1431031717-176003244

But for a party girl who never made it to any parties, who got high on her own and drank seldom with others, hazy memories of poorly planned trysts illicit nothing more for me than a weighty sense of remorse.

Like me, many women who struggle with addiction to drugs and alcohol also struggle with conflict in sex.

It’s widely known and accepted that addiction is very much a practice of mood altering, a vehicle one can use to escape Self. In considering this, what more literal way to dissolve oneself than into another person? To get lost in a buzz is only momentarily blissful, and once the initial thrill begins to fade, the quest for a new, more powerful high begins. I applied this formula to drugs and alcohol, and then I applied it to people. To men, to women, and to websites that left pop-ups on my desktop for weeks. I demanded disrespect. I got off on pain in the emotional and physical sense, respectively. I felt unlovable, so it was loveless, and that’s exactly how I liked it.

It’s said that during clitoral stimulation, the parts of the brain responsible for feelings of fear, anxiety, and behavioral control are significantly muted. At the 2005 meeting of the European Society for Human Reproduction and Development, noted neuroscientist Gert Holstege asserted that during an orgasm “women do not have any emotional feelings,” and isn’t this the goal of any good addict? To achieve a definite emotional flat line?

Sex underpins the very existence of man. It’s the beginning of all beings. But for an addict ever seeking the nearest exit, sex became just a means to an end. An alternate route to oblivion.

At 14 months clean and sober, I have had to relearn many things. How to sleep, how to wake up, and how to cope during every moment in between those two experiences. With February 14th approaching, and every gaudy thing it can stand for, I can’t help but reflect on how differently I view love, how I’ve come to view sex, and (most incredibly) how love and sex can be viewed through the same lens again.

Having sex for the first time substance-free felt much like I imagine a virgin might feel the first time she’s taken to bed. I say “imagine” because I can’t remember much about losing my virginity, except that an older guy I liked was there, and so was a bottle of gin.

After that, I had a few healthy sexual relationships with boyfriends, but as my sanity skidded and my life spun out of control, my desire for connection decompensated posthaste.

This second-first, my first time in Recovery, was terrifying, and exhilarating, and awkward, and amazing. My goal was no longer to escape my feelings, but to permit myself to connect with them. Admittedly, attempting to get in touch with my emotions in those first few minutes felt a lot like trying to fit a round peg into a square hole. Forgive the pun.

But just as waking up and falling asleep have become less labored, more natural, and mutually positive experiences in my day, so too has sex.

My Shame has many faces, and has caused me to wear many masks as a result. For many years, I wore them all day, and I wore them into bed as well. With counseling, awareness, and a clear mind in most moments, I’ve been able to transform my biggest “Shame piece” into a kind of shame peace. Now when I get into bed with someone, I don’t need to be belittled, I don’t ask to be insulted, and I don’t wear much at all. Maybe sometimes boxers, but certainly never a mask.

About Carli Stephens-Rothman

With a BA in Journalism from Ryerson University, Carli has been writing professionally for seven years. Today she can admit that six of those were mostly a blur. Reaching a year clean and sober in December of 2015 — after privately (and then not so privately) battling addiction for much of her twenties — Carli has refocused her personal and professional lives in order to nurture a new path. From her home on Vancouver Island, she continues to freelance for a number of Toronto-based publications, including The Toronto Star and SheDoesTheCity, while setting out upon a new academic journey in the field of addictions and mental health. When not writing or studying, or exploring the brilliant world of recovery, she teaches yoga with a focus on healing and confidence-building.

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