I’m going to tell you a story that, in all the years I’ve been writing about addiction and recovery, I’ve never published anywhere. It’s the backstory to my new book, Sex in Recovery.
Two or three years into sobriety, it became impossible for me to take my clothes off with my husband.
I didn’t just wake up one day and tell him I couldn’t have sex with him. In 2008, I detoxed off the painkillers I’d been taking for six years and suddenly I could feel a warm tiger-cub purring in my belly.
At the same time, because I had a posse of sober women around me encouraging me to tell myself the absolute truth every single day, I slowly faced the fact that my marriage was fractured.
I heard sober women say their husbands and partners were so happy they were in recovery that they were watching the kids and picking up on household slack. Mine told me he didn’t want me to go to more than one meeting per week.
When I mentioned I knew people who went to more than one per day, he said my addiction had already made me so absent that he didn’t want me to be gone even more often.
“You’re going to meet all these new people,” he said, “and you’ll leave me.”
“He’s right,” I thought. “I’ve been absent. He needs me.” I went to one meeting per week.
Then I relapsed.
After my relapse I started my blog, Guinevere Gets Sober. It was one of the first blogs of its kind, and I started it not to create a brand or to go viral but to give back by doing the only thing I’d ever done professionally, which was to write.
I started hearing from all sorts of readers. One was a Pulitzer Prize–winning writer with more than 30 years sober who encouraged my work. In fact he suggested the story I wrote that led my publisher to commission my third book, The Recovering Body.
We became friends. When a trip took me to his city, we met up for coffee.
We never laid a finger on each other. Not a single flirtatious word or innuendo ever passed between us.
And yet when I went home, I could no longer take my clothes off with my husband.
Part of it was his rage. I had told him I might be meeting up with this guy, and he lost his mind in jealousy. I began to remember the many times throughout our two decades together that I had avoided forming relationships with any straight men for fear of inciting his possessiveness.
And then it dawned on me: one huge benefit of taking drugs had been the fact that they killed my sex drive. They helped me never to notice men.
Inside my addiction, in order to make sure my husband and I could still have sex, I would put myself into withdrawal and make myself be horny. It’s a measure of how fucked up I was . . . I thought this was a normal way to be a partner.
When I got sober, I no longer had that tool to manipulate my body and mind. He wanted to know what the hell was going on. Was I cheating?—I must be having sex with some other guy. I insisted I wasn’t. He accused me of lying. “I don’t know what’s happening,” I kept saying during our many fights that year.
It was that statement—“I don’t know what’s happening”—that led me to write Sex in Recovery. If we’re fortunate enough to make it into recovery, those of us who are single are usually told we shouldn’t have sex or relationships (one or the other, or sometimes both) for the first year, and then we’re sent on our way with no more direction. Those of us in committed relationships get no direction at all.
Sex in Recovery is designed to help give readers language and tools to begin to talk about sex, with oneself and with others, and without the embarrassment and shame our culture uses to shackle the subject.
As difficult as it has been to walk through the end of my marriage, being sober allowed me to acknowledge how much I still love him and to dedicate myself to remaining a partner with him in raising our son.
Sobriety has also brought me acceptance, intellectual engagement, emotional support, sexual pleasure, and love—each of these first with myself, then with others. I mean, how could anyone possibly write a book like Sex in Recovery without having sex?
But that’s another story.
I feel like this is a topic that we’ve all needed to talk about desperately for a very long time. It is part of all of our recovery stories. I hope you’ll join the conversation because I want to hear from you! You can find me on Facebook and Twitter @Guinevere64. I also hang out on the Recovery for Life Facebook community. Let’s talk about #sobersex.
Click here to read an excerpt from Jen’s new book Sex in Recovery. a link to an excerpt to her book too:
Jennifer Matesa, a seasoned health writer, authors the award-winning blog Guinevere Gets Sober. Her books include the recently released Sex in Recovery and The Recovering Body. Jennifer also contributes regularly to TheFix.com. In 2013 she became a fellow of the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Jennifer lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Jennifer’s books are available through Hazelden Publishing: