I am linking up with Glennon Doyle Melton over at Momastery for the Messy Beautiful Warriors Project. You can find this post linked on the Messy Beautiful Warrior page on Momastery, with a host of other truth-telling writers, HERE.
Glennon is tiny in stature and a mighty on motivation. I resonate with her heart to encourage others to openly “deal with the discomfort and messiness of being a human being.” A catch phrase among Momastery followers is “Life is beautiful and life is brutal. Life is brutiful.”
I joined this project to tell my own brutiful truth about my journey with intimacy anorexia — with the hope that you might be freed to do the same.
We sat in a full circle of folding-chairs in an office lunchroom with other people’s coffee mugs drying by the sink. The fIrst meeting started and I stared at the papers in my lap. I didn’t want to say the sentence out loud in a group, or anywhere for that matter. I fiddled with my wedding ring and crossed my legs again. My foot bobbed up and down like a nervous metronome. Around the circle, one by one women offered their names and recovery issues. My heart raced as my turn got closer. Closer. Closer. Stop. The room waited.
My whole life had led to these words, to that sentence, and so many other declarations of recovery, one statement of truth at a time.
“Hi, my name is Kelley. I am a recovering intimacy anorexic.”
Every week I drive down 2000 ft. of elevation through a winding canyon pass from my quirky little mountain town down to the city below. I travel a long way to sit beside my women with their 12 Step journals and stories of heartbreak and hope. Each week, my sentence of introduction flows with more ease, like icy mountain streams in the melt and thaw of spring.
The more we speak our truth, the easier it gets.
Every human has a particular broken thing which warrants recovery and rescue. All addiction is about self-managing and medicating the emotional pain that comes with our broken things. We all have our ways to cope, to mask, to compensate for the ways we are imperfect.
My broken piece has a variety of names. Intimacy Anorexia is just one of many label like sexual anorexia, sexual abuse issues, sexual aversion disorder, or intimacy anorexia. For me, they are all different names for layers of the same onion. At the heart is a a fear of true intimacy. I am addicted to self-protection in the form of withholding. I am in recovery from my addiction to self-preservation, to withdrawal, and withholding of sexual intimacy.
My husband used to say things like, “I just want your heart” and “Where did you go?” and “You are here, but you aren’t fully present.” And he was right. But it took years for us to figure out why.
For years, I behaved well in my marriage, and hid the broken things of my heart. I starved myself from vulnerability and exposure from my husband, and from God. In a sense, I spent a lot of time building barbed wire fences and setting land mines around myself, and my husband, for safety, to create distance. My subconscious mantra was “You can only come so close.’
At some point over 20 + years, Steve, my tall philosophic flannel-wearing husband, started to kill hope. He started to carry despair instead. As mercy would have it, for a host of reasons, we hit bottom in the parking lot of Wal-Mart. One desperate night my compliant husband finally named the spade and demanded a change. He said he was afraid if we kept going as celibate room mates, that someone might come along and offer him what I wouldn’t. He admitted to feeling vulnerable enough to take the offer if it appeared.
To that point, we had lived a lifetime of false peace-keeping. We lived with an unspoken vow not to disrupt each other. We were silently co-dependent. I spent my times of crisis in the bathroom, quietly feeling hopeless and suicidal; he, in his own way, coping by killing all feeling.
We aren’t meant to be “nice’ at all costs. We are not supposed to ignore dysfunctions and cover up for each other. We are built to speak truth, with grace, in love. We are meant to be lovingly disruptive and step into the mess as truth-tellers. We are built to slop around in the healing together, to be known and loved in those messy places.
My husband’s bravery was the beginning of my recovery.
At the beginning of my meetings, introductions may include a variety of issues.
“Hi my name is So and So, and I …
live with a sex addict, I am married and alone.
am a sex addict.
am a codependent.
am an intimacy anorexic.”
Maybe that’s confusing. Why would I be in the same room with people who have such different sexual issues? So let me explain my issue in terms of eating disorders. Organizations like FindingBalance put really over-weight people and really under-weight people together in the same recovery process. Why? Obesity and anorexia may have visibly opposite symptoms but BOTH are using food to solve something profoundly broken. The person who is using food to over-eat and self-medicate and the person who is spending all their energy avoiding food share the same core focus. Both people are using food to mask a bigger shame at the core. In my group, we are all addicted to misusing sex and intimacy. We are all either binging or starving ourselves … or living with addicts who binge or starve themselves.
At the core is a shared fear of intimacy. In different ways, maybe that’s a vulnerability we all share as humans. Intimacy is the emotional moving toward, the choice to be vulnerable. Sometimes, the hardest thing is a step toward being known, instead of a step away.
I spent a lot of time in our marriage building walls and burying land mines in order to create a safe distance. I used withholding characteristics like:
- Staying busy in order to avoid connection
- Blaming instead of taking responsibility
- Withholding sex
- Withholding feelings
That’s my sobriety check list. Those behaviors are like my drinks lined up on a bar. They threaten my marriage and make my life unmanageable. They are indicators of dangerous withdrawal in my heart.
So, each week, I find myself in the same room with people who are dealing with obsession and aversion. At the root, our issues are all about the things of beautiful intimate union, broken and mending. We are a room full of re-set bones in casts and slings. We are people emerging on the other side of a massive invisible wreck with our lives intact.
Sting wrote a song back in the 80’s. It’s the soundtrack for my journey out of intimacy anorexia:
Under the ruins of a walled city
Crumbling towers in beams of yellow light.
No flags of truce, no cries of pity;
The siege guns had been pounding through the night.
It took a day to build the city.
We walked through its streets in the afternoon.
As I returned across the fields I’d known,
I recognized the walls that I once made.
Had to stop in my tracks for fear of walking on the mines I’d laid.
And if I’ve built this fortress around your heart,
Encircled you in trenches and barbed wire,
Then let me build a bridge, for I cannot fill the chasm,
And let me set the battlements on fire.
~Sting, Fortress Around Your Heart, Dream of the Blue Turtles
I love this song because, ok, it reminds me of younger days riding in my car with the windows down and the music very very loud. One. But, two, it’s an empowering anthem. It’s my song to my husband, my God, and my people.
I still fight the urge to put up walls and create distance when I feel intimate fear. I am constantly tripping over old baited traps. I don’t instinctively want to move toward my husband when life gets disruptive to my heart. I still struggle to stay in the room when my emotions get ugly. But I do, mostly, stay fully present.
I have been let out of the prison of my own design. I am not tempted by suicide anymore. Sure, I stress and feel anxiety, but those emotions are guides now. They point me to engage with my higher power, where Jesus leads to me to deeper truth and healing. I am learning that true intimate sex is a comfort and sweetness. I am learning to stay present and not run to busy avoidance; to chose disruption over false peace and hiding. I now believe these words like they are the newly formed scars of surgery:
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.*
I am a woman in recovery, a clay jar with hope and power spilling out of the cracks. And I am willing to speak the extremity and the mess. I am learning to tell the truth and listen for it. Because truth leads us out of the darkness of secrets, fear, and control, into the light of freedom. The Big Blue Book claims: “We shall know a new freedom.” And I like to think these ancient words are the source of that echo: “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”
Speak your truth, friend.
Let the frozen streams thaw into a cleansing flood.
What is your brutiful truth?
Intimacy Anorexia: Healing the Hidden Addiction in Your Marriage, Douglas Weiss, Ph.D.
Sexual Anorexia: Overcoming Sexual Self-Hatred, Patrick J. Carnes Ph.D.
The Wounded Heart: Hope for Adult Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse, Dr. Dan B. Allender
Finding Balance Eat Well. Live Free.
*Quote Source: The Bible, 2 Corinthians 4:7
Image Source: Old barn wood heart by TheLonelyHeart via Etsy