The Gratitude of Loss (Part One)

Grief is a good thing. Don’t get me wrong. Grieving is really hard work, but ultimately it’s a path to better understand buried parts of yourself. In American culture, it’s taboo to spend too much time and energy
dwelling on loss. Instead, you’re encouraged to get over it and move on with your life. During the course of your recovery, you’ll face a series of losses, and each of them is a growth opportunity within itself. In spite of the heavy emotional work required, I invite you to explore and process your grief because it’s a prime opportunity to learn about a valuable part of yourself.

Doors Opening, Doors Closing

A lot of celebration takes place around new beginnings such as weddings and births, but the dying process and the grief that follows typically get overshadowed. This version of denial can get in the way of recognizing the countless losses that go along with your history of out-of-control sexual activities.

In the early 1990s, I worked as a hospice social worker visiting terminally ill patients and their families. It was a privilege to be invited into someone’s home during these sacred moments. As a part of that openhearted, loving hospice team, I absorbed valuable life lessons that have stayed with me ever since:

  • Death, dying, and loss are sacred experiences.
  • The dying process is unpredictable, uncertain, and often
    hidden from view.
  • Individuals facing their final days, weeks, or months often bring
    great wisdom and perspective to the living.

What does any of this have to do with sexual compulsivity? Facing the end of your relationship with compulsive sex is a similarly sacred experience if you remain open to its lessons. For those interviewed in this book, spiritual exploration helped provide meaning as sexual compulsion faded. The losses opened their hearts to new purpose—a vital element to sustainable recovery.

Spirituality can be defined as “whatever gives your life meaning.” You get to define it for yourself, and whatever your belief system, that blank canvas reveals itself during moments of grief. Stay open to this possibility and you’ll discover a spiritual connection inside you.

Saying goodbye to an addiction is a unique loss, and there’s a lot of uncertainty and unpredictability that go along with sobriety. Addictive, compulsive behaviors are attempts to feel better, so it’s scary to give them up. It makes you vulnerable. Addictions are also used to regulate your nervous system, so it’s crucial to build and strengthen new, effective ways to cope as you give up destructive behaviors.

Fortunately, your compulsions only worked for so long. Then came the courage to let them go in hopes that something better would replace these habits. If you learn to live with the uncertainty of the future and the feelings that go along with the unknown, you’re on your way toward long-lasting recovery.

Grief has been one of my greatest teachers, and I believe it can be yours as well. When three of my family members died in three consecutive years, I reached out for the love around me and realized I was not alone. I experienced resiliency and intimacy in a way I’d never imagined.

As a wise chaplain once told me, it’s not what you do or say at the end of someone’s life, it’s about your “ministry of presence.” When I witnessed loss, I offered my clients a healing space for grief to be experienced and expressed. Saying goodbye to compulsive sex also requires attention to the losses, and there are many. Like all other emotional experiences, loss is a parade; sometimes it stalls, at other times it moves slowly, but it always passes.

Saying goodbye to someone you love is particularly complicated. While my mom was fighting end-stage lung cancer, we had seven months to make up for lost time. Although it was never spoken, we knew our time together was ending. This was a rare opportunity to connect more deeply before she died. She lived more than a hundred miles away, yet I did my best to show up consistently and openheartedly, often with my faithful cocker spaniel Cooper in tow.

I knew my mother loved me, but she didn’t know how to love me the way I wanted. As a child, I tried desperately to get her attention and please her. No matter how hard I tried, I always fell short. As a young adult, my search for sex and love became out of control as I looked for validation wherever I could find it.

In spite of our complicated history, I did my best to show up for her in her final months without expectations. Instead of the usual tension, we shared moments of humor, ease, and tenderness that were never possible in our relationship before this pending loss. Letting go of the fantasy mother I wanted brought us closer.

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