Oh, Humility! The things that come back to haunt us in recovery. Here is one that gets every woman in recovery at some point, but this week still surprises me. I had a big crush on a man and enjoyed a couple weeks of fantasized romance and yes, lusty, sexy feelings.
This week as the crush and feelings of infatuation have slowly faded I can put some of this in a context of before and after recovery and particularly what belongs to “out of the woods” and later stage recovery.
It began like this: a friend, colleague and I had lunch. It was a spring day and I felt good and the conversation became flirtatious. Maybe I was needy that day? Maybe my heart was open? Maybe it was a spring awakening with some dormant physiological need to mate being rejuvenated? Whatever the trigger I went home infatuated and began imagining myself as the beloved. Now, to be honest look at those words, my fantasy was about me being the one desired, Ok, but never the less it was full endorphin loading. I am married so one of the pluses was a good jolt to our married love life. No apologies there. But soon it moved on to distracting day dreams, fantasies and a need for more. Ah, there’s the addicts mantra: More.
Here’s the good. In addition to all those “I feel pretty” days that followed I had a genuine boost to my libido and a realization that what I had assumed was hormonally dead was simply not. I’m over 50 so waning sexuality has been, I thought, a combo of being married long and physiology. I had lamented with friends my age that I feared becoming one of those women who write to Dear Abby to say how they wish their husbands would give up sex and just cuddle. I feared I was reluctantly becoming one of them. But no, this crush and libidinal boost showed me that my body works just fine and in fact—maybe the books are right—works even better in mid-life. Assisted by this infatuation, a healthy imagination and some triple-A batteries I was having more orgasms per day than I thought imaginable.
No, the object of the crush was not a participant. In fact he was unaware of the influence he was having. But thanks are still in order. I really am grateful for this sexy energy and to see that I could kinesthetically recall that girl I once was.
But then this: The recovering woman—kicks in. Is this wrong? Dangerous? Not sober? To know the level of my fear it helps to know that before recovery I had had some pretty bad relationships in which I was the other woman. In one case I was married, in another I was not. Short version: many people got hurt very badly including me. (Years of therapy to be able to include that “including me” part).
So here I am, a happily married, recovering woman having a crush and wild fantasies about a married man. Oh, oh. A slippery slope? Perhaps. And fear rushes in: Am I in denial that my marriage is good? Am I on a slippery slope of an affair, of a drink, of making a fool of myself, of getting hurt, of hurting another person? It didn’t feel hypothetical at all.
But here is where the recovery kicks in. Today I have habits and one of the habits I have is that as soon as I begin to feel myself having a secret my recovering instinct screams: Tell Someone. It’s truly a habit now.
So with this big infatuation I told on myself to recovering friends. The first question they ask: “Have you acted on this?” No…but they are good, they ask, “Do you feel like you could?”, and the answer is yes. So now we know the danger. Next is to tell my therapist. Yes, we look at where this is coming from. I know the list of suspects and Dad heads the list. He died when I was 18, the quintessential “unavailable man”. I still want him to look at me as only a father could and to say ‘You are so special”. That is a line reserved and appropriate for Dads and Daughters, but if you’ve been there you’ll recognize that line is also the mantra of the married man: “You are so special”, “No one but you”… and “You are the only one who…”
So I keep talking to recovering women and writing in my journal and praying. My prayers begin with: remove this obsession and keep me safe from myself, but then—and I think this is the later recovery part; the prayers become gratitude and thanks. Thanks that I have these sweet and tender feelings, thanks that my body is not dead, thanks that I do have libido (I do, I do) and thanks that I can have a crush and this person can even suspect it but I do not have to feel ashamed of this or of me. That’s the longer recovery bonus prize: I can have this, own this, tell on myself, process it—Not act on any of it—that’s key—and I can be smart but not ashamed.
Here is what else has occurred to me this week as the crush ebbs: I can see the Promises in this. First: I prayed for help and to be safe and God is doing for me what I cannot do for myself. Mr. Crush is not responding. The temptation is all in my head. Second: I intuitively knew how to handle: I told on myself, sought guidance from recovering women and my therapist. Third: We will not regret the past: I felt the old memories and the shame of past infatuations and affairs before recovery, I remembered the pain I caused others. I sincerely regretted the damage I did to other people and my younger self but I don’t hide that part of me. But I also—here’s the intuitively part again—do not raise my hand and blab to the world all of this. Four: Self pity will disappear. Not once did I allow myself to imagine that I was a victim of unrequited love or to frame this as me being wrong to have these tender feelings. And oh yeah: We will gain interest in our fellows? That speaks for itself I think.
The other thing that I saw through all of this is that recovery really is a habit and my habits kicked in: prayer, surrender, talking to recovering friends, writing about it, getting outside help, using steps 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7—asking God to heal me and to remove what only he can. Only God can heal the hole in my heart that I may be able to describe psychologically but that I cannot fill myself.