Sex and Fear, Finish that Inventory!
By Dawn Obrecht, M.D.
Fear, a damaging and corroding thread that can weave its way into and take over our lives, causes inordinate trouble. The ironic and sad part is that many of our fears have little basis in reality and are often related to something that has not happened and probably will not happen and lives only in our heads. No course in elementary school, junior or senior high school, or college prepares us to deal with our fears. Rarely are parents astute enough to help us acquire the tools at home. What then? A common "solution" is to become angry; cover the fears with anger and protect our fragile ego and scared little inner person. Result? We lash out at whoever is in front of us, usually family or significant other. We stay isolated and separate, never forming close relationships. The undealt with fears and anger keep us self absorbed, obsessively ruminating and absent from our own lives.
Typical fears include: what do people think of me (none of my business), what will happen if I don't take care of it? If I don't do it no one will, or if they do, it won't be done right. What if I don't make enough money? What if he thinks..., or does...?or doesn't...? fear of rejection by anyone, including people we don't know, fear of not being "okay", fear of not being good enough....and on and on.
Some realistic solutions are to look at what we are afraid of, even make a list in black and white, perhaps getting a clue (maybe not), as to where the fears came from and when they started intruding, uninvited, into our lives. Then we must say them out loud, talk about them with a counselor, therapist, sponsor or mentor, or just a trusted friend. Alone in our own heads, we human beings are often in bad company! Profound awakenings happen when two or more people talk openly and honestly. Members of support groups (official or spontaneous) find that many have similar fears and no one is unique. This alone does not abolish fear, but knowing you are not alone is a start.
If we have denied our fears, along with all of our other feelings for years, especially by covering them up with alcohol and other drugs, they seem insurmountable. When the drugging stops, the years of accumulated fears surface, causing relapse for many. Recovering people, those who have stopped using drugs, (yes, alcohol, too), find that to stay clean and sober, not to mention be happy without drugs, they have to deal effectively with fear, not just deny it. The bottom line often becomes: we need more help than can be provided by other human beings or any drug, (including prescription antidepressants and antianxiety drugs).
Here it comes again... (watch out Bob!) the "G" word. Yup. Whatever your God concept, plug it in here and use it. There is enormous joy in acknowledging that we are only human beings, not infinitely self-reliant, and can ask for help from a higher power. We admit that we are human, not all powerful, and need help. To do our part, we do what we think we are supposed to do. We ask that our fears be removed and replaced with something useful. Behaving in the most responsible way we can, perhaps spreading kindness and joy, and sometimes cookies, we leave the results to the universe (God?).
Where does sex fit in? Sex. Important word. Troublesome subject for many. If anyone were to do a research study on recovering addicts, they would undoubtedly find that much distress and many, if not most relapses are around relationships. Difficult for anyone, intimate relationships are especially problematic for alcoholics and addicts. Healthy relationships require unselfishness, not a strong suit among addicts, even if the addiction is work, television, skiing or other sports, or something else "acceptable". To remain comfortable in our own skin after discontinuing drug use, we selfish human beings often find we have to restructure the sex and relationship areas of our lives. It is tough to live with the constant discomfort of doing harm to ourselves and others with our selfish ways. A common result is to go back to covering the pain with alcohol and drugs. Many find that when they do stop the drugs, other behavior has to stop or change as well. Cheating, dishonesty, blaming, inciting fear and jealousy, all leave a knot in our gut that used to be covered with chemicals. More "advanced", closer, healthier, happier relationships require even more changes. Clean and sober people who have dealt with their fear of rejection, or decided to walk through it and not let it paralyze them, are able to participate in relationships, sexual or not, in increasingly unselfish ways, sharing themselves, accepting others as they are, encouraging growth and sincerely wanting the best for and appreciating the other person.
Bottom line? Healthy relationships are formed when people get out of themselves and care unselfishly for another.
Dr. Dawn Obrecht is the only MD addiction medicine specialist on the western slope of Colorado. She is a Fellow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine and her office is in Steamboat Springs. She teaches a communication course to medical students at the University Of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver email@example.com.