As an active alcoholic, the only connection I could imagine between orgasm and addiction was that I sure liked to have sex when I was drunk. Even years into sobriety, when I thought back to the relationship between my drinking and sex, my sloppy, handsy, unromantic and insistent predatory behavior brought a wave of shame crashing over me.
And now – even as I’ve studied the issue from a scientific perspective – even as I make a pitch here based on what I’ve learned – I still feel compelled to defend myself. The compulsion for self defense can only come from one place. It comes from an indelible mark of shame stamped permanently on my soul. All of my sexual attention was always directed only at my wife, and I never raped my wife. I was often disgusting. I was verbally and emotionally abusive. But I defend myself by insisting that I did nothing worse, as if my transgressions are not far more than enough.
My mom likes to tell the story at family gatherings and other social occasions. “When I approached Matt and told him it was time for us to have, ‘the talk,’ he replied, ‘Sure mom. What do you want to know?’”
It is a chuckle-worthy story that illustrates two things – one accurately and one inaccurately. As a teenager, and into my 20s, my sexual confidence often bordered on arrogance. But it also might lead one of my mom’s guests to believe we had open and honest communication about sex and sexuality. She tried, and so did my dad. But they both viewed “the sex talk” as something to check off of a list. We did not engage in the kind of honest vulnerability that might have led to a healthy education about sex and intimacy for me as an adolescent. I don’t blame them, really. I have yet to meet anyone from their generation who could talk about sex as openly as is required to lead youths to a healthy adult outcome. My generation isn’t doing much better.
Your wife’s not a bitch.
She doesn’t have her stuff that’s making the relationship bad, too. She’s not half, or even partially, to blame.
I don’t know your wife, but I do know this…It’s not her fault.
I’m a hunter. I’m married to a gatherer. And it’s really fucking hard.
Does this stupid analogy really explain why we find marriage to be so difficult? Do you also want to hear my regurgitated insight about the mixing of oil and water, the distance between Mars and Venus, and the oh-so-soothing conventional relationship wisdom about how opposites attract? Is it really so simple? I have been accused of oversimplifying before. Usually by my wife after I have hunted down a solution while she is still gathering information on the topic.
There’s no basement at Comet Ping Pong.
Comet Ping Pong is a hip, family-friendly little restaurant in a comfy neighborhood in the Northwest quadrant of Washington, D.C. There, you can nosh on wings and wood-fired pizzas while playing ping pong (surprise!) and listening to local indie bands. In a lovely alternate reality, this is all there is to say about the place.
“If you would have more sex with me, I wouldn’t have to drink so much.” Ah, the twisted phrase uttered out of intoxicated desperation in marital bedrooms around the world. And every one of the millions (maybe billions) of women who have received that accusatory plea have the same two simultaneous thoughts:
How dare he try to put his drinking problem on me. It is my body and my choice, and frankly, sex is the last thing I want with this man who has grown increasingly unattractive to me over the years and decades of his abusive drinking.
Maybe he’s right.
“We can.” That’s the response I received for years when I asked my wife, Sheri, if she wanted to have sex. As an active alcoholic, that consent was good enough for me. I didn’t know it, but I was looking to sex for the same dopamine hit I got from alcohol. A reluctant, “We can,” was enough.
When the question is, “Do you want to…?” and the response is, “We can,” that’s never really enough.
I’m not just talking about the psychological damage her consent did to Sheri. “We can,” really messed me up in profound and lasting ways.
There’s nothing more important to a successful marriage than intimacy.
There are things that are equally important, like trust (which is the cornerstone of intimacy) and loyalty and cohesive parenting and mutual protection, but there is nothing more important, if a long-term romantic relationship is to thrive, than intimacy.
These aren’t the ramblings of a horny teenager. I’m not just talking about sex. I’m talking about the emotional connection that takes place at the intersection of vulnerability and sexual contact. It is important. In fact, nothing is more important. And if we are going to solve the catastrophic intimacy problems that are enmeshed in alcoholic relationships, we’d better stop moving intimacy to the back burner and downplaying it as hopeless, and thus, unimportant.
I was naked before the hotel-room door closed behind me. I love the rare occasions when we are behind the locked door of a hotel room – just me and my wife, Sheri. No kids. No neighbors. No one who hasn’t seen me naked more times than she’d like. I threw back the shades and walked straight onto the balcony. Our room was one of the few with a solid, three-foot-tall, concrete and plaster railing, rather than the metal slats with three-inch gaps leaving nothing to the imagination of anyone peering up from the pool or hot tub below. “We could have sex out here, and no one would know,” I thought, but was smart enough to not say out loud. I’ve come a long way in my sobriety, and the associated adolescent immaturity shedding.
I want to talk about intimacy.
When I say “want to,” I actually mean “would prefer to pull my own toenails out with pliers than.” Why would anyone ever want to talk about intimacy? After all, the best thing about the dreams in which you suddenly realize you’re naked in public is waking up from them and realizing they never happened. Whew.
But if you’re reading this, I bet you already know why: intimacy is the most insidiously fucked-up part of life with an alcoholic, and it’s so hard to talk about that some of us would rather part with pieces of our own bodies than even start that conversation.