By Jess Esmond
New year, new me.
I have told myself this at the beginning of every year, as I wrote impossible lists of all the New Year’s resolutions that would make me a new, better person.
For the last 25 years, I’ve been fantasising that if I made these changes, ranging from short bouts of extreme dieting, dangerous relationships or dysfunctional patterns of work, I could become someone else.
I could change from the girl who had suffered decades worth of trauma, who was privately addicted to porn and was terrified of intimacy. That was a version of myself I wanted to lock away and banish.
Sure, I would feign surface level acknowledgement of my past. It loomed so large in my life I couldn’t fully ignore it. I would make anecdotes out of some of my less severe experiences to partners and close friends – but all the time I fantasised that if I could just be someone funny, smaller, more attractive, successful at work, then I would become this new mystery fantasy person without any past trauma.
Porn and sex was a temporary relief that always helped, for a short amount of time. I put myself into increasingly difficult situations and my life started to split. There was real me who was falling apart, struggling with disassociation, panic attacks, binge eating, binge drinking and obsessive use of porn and sex. Then there was fantasy me, the person I imagined myself to be each time I engaged with porn or sex, someone confident who didn’t have any problems, and certainly no problems with sex or relationships. The gulf grew between the person I fantasised about being and the way I really was.
I couldn’t imagine a life without porn and assumed with a deep and silent dread that I’d just have to live as an addict forever.
Something like sex addiction, I wrote in the initial email to my new therapist when asking if they had space to take me on.
After years of fantasising about new me, in reality I was stuck in a rut, and my relationship with sex and porn had been the one constant and now my relationship to it was totally unmanagble.
With the help of my therapist, I began to hesitantly unpick a lifetime of experiences, traumas and reactions and found myself identifying with this new uncomfortable label.
Female Sex addict, fantasy addict, ‘doing the work’, sobriety. I found the terminology shame inducing, and also painfully familiar.
My dad was a lifelong abusive alcoholic who had always adamantly refused any concept of sobriety. He was always adamant his life should have been better, that he deserved better, that the family were holding him back. A fellow serial fantasist.
Initially I was convinced that I could “just quit” my addiction. Retreating into fantasy, I dreamt that I’d just get sober, stay a few months and BAM! I’d feel just fine and not really have to look any further into the roots of the issue. Sober me, new me.
Sobriety was very different from my fantasy, I felt like trash. Sober me was full of shame and misery. The panic attacks I’d been experiencing intensified, as did my life long anxiety and depression. This sobriety thing wasn’t quick and it sucked, what was the point?
But I didn’t retreat back to fantasy me, because although new me felt terrible, I felt just as awful as when I had been in active addiction, a time where I would escape to fantasy constantly.
I found strength in my own identifcation as a sex addict. I am a female sex addict, I would look in the mirror and tell myself. I was riddled with a lot of the same symptoms and struggles but I had something I strongly identified with that related to my real life, my past and my present.
Reality is a lot harder than hiding in fantasy. It means being accountable. It means having to deal with and process real emotions. I used to loathe the phrase “doing the work” but once I started doing the work, new facts about my reality that I was always scared to look for emerged.
I’m not alone as a female sex addict. I have had a pretty rough time, and I don’t have to be invincible. Any addict’s substance, drug of choice, is not the root of their addiction, it’s the pain that’s underneath that they are trying to soothe and escape from, the same way I was trying to escape.
I’m still a 30 something woman who is a sex addict, and struggles with their mental health, acknowledging my CPTSD, anxiety and depression is now part of my life rather than trying to escape it.
Acknowledging and accepting my status as a female sex addict has changed my life for the better.
So, new mantra: new year, same healing me. Not as catchy or aspirational, but realistic and hopefully achievable. In my one year, one month and 15 days of sobriety I’ve not transformed into the new me I always fantasised about.
But this year I’m continuing as the new me who doesn’t have to escape to fantasy to cope with reality. New sober me is facing up to their addiction and past. That feels better than any new years’ resolution I could have ever made.
Jess is about to begin studying counselling and hopes to join the conversation about female sex addiction.
Jess is on Twitter and Instagram @jezmondy