Spending seven weeks during the summer of 2015 at the Sante Center for Healing in Argyle, Texas, was one of the most rewarding, transformational experiences in my life. Since I had been to rehab for my alcoholism 13 months earlier, and spent 10 weeks in that program, I thought I’d be able to breeze in and out of this place, adding to the resume I was trying to build for the judge in my case, showing I was far more ill than evil.
Much like my first experience in California, it didn’t take long before I recognized that while I wasn’t a sex addict in terms of actual intercourse, my decades-long pornography addiction clearly qualified me to be part of Sante’s program.
Sante dealt with four groups of people. There were the traditional drug and alcohol addicts that most rehabs see as their core clientele, but this rehab also dealt with sex addicts and people with eating disorders. They believed that most addicts were cross-addicted and could benefit by having so many resources in one place.
Upon arriving, I never would have thought that I had anything in connection with a female almost half my age whose relationship with food and body image had become toxic. I, frankly, have never really cared what I looked like, maintained a healthy weight with little-to-no diet or exercise, and haven’t met a meal I didn’t enjoy. Forty-eight days later, when I left the facility, they were some of the hardest people to say goodbye to and it’s their stories that stick with me.
The core issues, both with what causes their problems and where solutions exist, are surprisingly similar with sex addicts and sufferers of eating disorders. Many of the same obsessive compulsive urges and impulse control deficiencies with both conditions mirror each other. Cycles of shame, ritual and fantasy are strikingly similar as well.
I’m not going to get into the science of everything. If you want to read more about it, check out Binge Eating, Bulimia and Sexual Addiction. They explain the connection in far less words and far clearer than I ever could.
Where I think we felt the strongest connection was in looking ahead at our lives after leaving Sante. The goal with drugs and alcohol is simple: Stop. You can’t do that with food and you can’t do that with sexuality. Nobody is ever told that they need to learn to have a healthy relationship with cocaine or meth.
Eating healthy and maintaining a healthy sex life is the post-rehab goal, not completing abstaining. For me, I was using pornography to mask a lot of feelings of pain and rejection, but I was also using it as a surrogate for the real thing. Healthy for me is not using images to soothe, nor to replace physical interaction.
For the folks in the other program, they had to figure out how to consume calories in a healthy way and hopefully change their attitude about what food meant in their lives.
Sex and food weren’t the real problem…what was buried deep within us was. We just used sex and food as a conduit. Unlike those who used drugs and alcohol, we had to figure out how to continue to use these things, but in a healthy way.
Several of the females in the eating disorder program (there was one male) ended up coming to terms with sexual addictions they didn’t think were big problems when they first arrived. It’s easy to point to your main addiction, and explain everything else away as fallout bad choices. It was both impressive and courageous to see these women tackle additional demons.
I think both groups also learned with as much as we surprisingly had in common, that stereotyping anybody with addiction is a mistake. What kind of woman has anorexia? What kind of guy is a sex addict? It’s easy to make broad generalizations until you meet people and hear their stories first-hand. I feel lucky to have had that opportunity.
Some of us were successful when I followed up, others were not. That’s just the story of the people you’ll meet at rehab. It was eye-opening the people I’d meet who I had the most in common with would be from the eating disorder program. It’s a case of not judging a book by its cover, and when it comes to recovery and new ways of thinking, I’ve found an open mindset is the best tool for success.