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.   


heart and barbed wire

First Step

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.

Barbed Wire

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
  • Anger/Silence
  • 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




22 thoughts on “Intimacy Anorexia: My Brutiful Truth

  1. Elizabeth Jones

    I have never heard if intimacy anorexic but I am there. So there. I am walled in and angry. I am addicted to self-protection. I want to change but that wall around my heart feels so strong. I will ask God to help me heal.


    1. Kelley J Leigh Post author

      Elizabeth. I am so glad you stopped by. Thanks for so bravely responding here. I just prayed for your process of finding freedom.

      There are such good reasons behind why you are addicted to self-protection … my guess is those reasons are the broken things Jesus wants to hold and carry and heal for you. There is hope for healing. There is. For me the beginning was a pursuit of the “Why” and “What”. “Why am I so self-protective?” “What is at the root of this behavior?” The next steps included prayer for God’s direction, wise counselors and supportive/safe friends. ( If you haven’t browsed some of the books at the end of this post, please go ahead and see if something strikes you as relevant or helpful). I hope you will pursue a path toward revealing the hidden root, and finding true freedom.

      Again, thank you so much for courageously engaging with me and for speaking your brutiful truth. That is a HUGE first step!! And I am so honored you would choose to take it here.

      Go, friend. Slay this hidden giant and be free. It will be a worthy journey. God goes with you …
      SO much love to you.
      Kelley J Leigh recently posted…Like Fire and WaterMy Profile


  2. Sue Marsh

    I read and then re-read this blog. Time slowed to a snails pace as I grieved for my marriage. My husband of nearly 32 years suffers from intimacy anorexia. There I said it. Whew! Hard stuff. He shuts me out, has impassable road blocks, quietly and effectively stops speaking. I yearn for his voice. He is silent. I cry for his touch. He is wrapped in a chrysalis. Why? I believe perhaps his parents incredibly messy and adulterated divorce has something to do with it. He was only five when the made for TV mess occurred. When he pulls away he is safe. He comes back to me. Sometimes one week but often three to six weeks later. Like your husband asked you, “where did you go” I tell my sweet other half ‘I missed you. You were gone so long.’ I am afraid Kelly. Truly afraid. I toy with the idea it would be emotionally easier to live apart from him. God joined us in marriage. God designed marriage. I believe in marriage. But I am increasingly lonely. Thank you for your voice.


    1. Kelley J Leigh Post author

      Sue, first of all, what a powerful and vulnerable choice you just made to speak and WRITE your truth here! I am so blessed by your vulnerable courage. Wow. Second, I am sorry for the heartache you describe here. There is always hope. Always. I really believe God uses our shared stories to access parts of our hearts that we hide and fear. Your words shine light into a dark place and that’s the beginning of a new path. And God is bigger than our fears, able to comfort and heal and lead. But we do have to move toward Him, and toward healing. So as you are moving toward, I hope you have some safe people around you that you can share your brutiful truth with, and start your own healing journey.

      A couple possible resources for you … Married and Alone by Doug Weiss, PhD & Codependent No More, by Melodie Beatty.
      Again, I am blessed by your bravery. Thank you so much for sharing, Sue. Blessings to you!


  3. Kim Leonard

    Look, it’s two grateful — and with you — Kims in a row! Hi Kim! Kel, your journey is (darn it) enabling me to look at the “stuff” we share that I was pretty sure I had no desire to see. Thank you. For real. xo


  4. Kim Evans

    Kelly…your vulnerable, raw, beautiful words brought tears to my eyes…thank you for sharing your journey of healing…as a fellow survivor, addict, intimacy-phobe, I love the truth and encouragement you’ve shared…thank you for “shining” and allowing all of us to shine as well…I’m with you…much love


  5. Karen Lanser

    Kelley … your raw and authentic sharing resonated in some particular barbed wire ways with me. Intimacy of any kind renders us all so vulnerable. Emotional intimacy usually makes me run … but I, too, am embracing brave. Thank you for your brutiful sharing. I am grateful to have crossed paths with you as part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project. Warmly, Karen


  6. Kelley J Leigh Post author

    Your insightful response makes it clear that you are on your own important healing path, Carol. Thanks for the reminder about the painstaking realities of the process … toward freedom. Yes. Agreed! And thanks for taking the time to share this thoughtful and heartfelt comment. I like the “new” you and think EVERYBODY else should, too! oxox


  7. Carol

    Once again you have masterfully written from a raw and vulnerable place. I read and re-read this piece and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. This is the kind of truth that you can’t read and then just shelve, it must be processed. I’m confident that’s the case with many of your readers because as you said “we are all either binging or starving ourselves…or living with addicts who binge or starve themselves.” You’ve put words to the struggle that many of us face or more accurately don’t want to face. I know that this has pricked people in deeply broken places, which will hopefully lead to healing in others lives also. That’s the redemptive part of community isn’t it?!

    This is one of the parts that stood out to me the most “we are meant to be lovingly disruptive and step into the mess as truth-tellers. We are build to slop around in the healing together, to be known and loved in those messy places.” Those sentences touched me on multiple levels. I was in a situation yesterday morning where I had to be the disruptive truth-teller. It was hard, I didn’t approach it as gently as I wish now I would have, but the truth was spoken. I guess finesse in that place comes with practice. Later in the afternoon I was with people who are choosing not to get to know me in my messy places. They are not choosing to “slop around in the healing” with me, and they like the “old me” better. I’ve been trying to figure out in that relationship what it means to “step toward being known, instead of stepping away.” I think I get to trust God to lead that.

    I appreciate your “bruitiful” honesty, the fact that you’ve been living out your healing right in front of me and sharing the mess of it. That has been a gift to me and to others too, I know. Keep going friend. As the book says “when you are painstaking with this phase of your development, you’ll be amazed before you are half way through. You will find a new freedom and a new happiness…” You have very clearly found both of those things, and I’m so thrilled for you.


  8. Wendy Oliver

    Kelley, so amazed by your vulnerability in sharing your heart! Speaking the truth of yourself is…. Freedom! My kindred friend, May you sense Gods everlasting arms as you continue to pursue!


  9. Roy James Fitzwater

    Great post. Thanks for being real. Writing this post is one giant step on your journey. Paul goes on to say, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”


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