A More Peppery Diet: Kink & Fetish in Sobriety?

By Andrew A

Before getting into the minutia of varied sexual practices throughout my sobriety, why not a brief qualification of myself as an individual in recovery and how I continue to remain abstinent from alcohol and drugs is pertinent? And so, in the beginning, the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous in the smaller, rural region of South Central Pennsylvania where I’m from hold a pocket of enthusiasm, perpetuating and instilling the importance of strong sponsorship, service, fellowship, and the absolute reliance upon a Higher Power and the continuous action outlined in the book ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’. I was encouraged into action immediately, pushed through the process of step work, herded with other newcomers into conversations over coffee at diners, and a host of other gracious experiences ripped me up from an encroaching and impending death at the age of 19 from the result of heroin and alcohol abuse. What my life looked life during the end was plagued by cancerous, familial decay and other destruction of relations with human beings, whilst the instability of a psychotic animal seeped out of my body from my mind while I continued drinking and injecting poison into myself, all the while experiencing stroke-like symptoms regularly.

The constant swinging between fear, self-pity, suicidality, raw hate, agony, despair, and grandiose notions I had of how others were not serving and treating me well enough drove my behavior and life into the ground, and eventually led me to run out of ideas. There was nothing to grasp for when I got sober. My head would constantly reintroduce the insane notion to drink again, whilst my heart would tell me that I couldn’t live this way anymore. I didn’t want to stop drinking, but I just needed the pain and agony of living and drinking the way I did to stop. Though I carried archaic and brute methods of survival into the rooms with me, AA saved my life slowly as I began to willingly, on a microscopic scale, begin to scrape and bend to a process that was not my own. I would refuse food and drink whilst parched and starved because stomach pains were small prices to pay versus letting people know just how much I hurt and broken I really was. I played it close to the vest, my claws slowly releasing with each heartening experience, and I slowly allowed people in. This process, often times too slow for my need for gratification as a raw nerve that would twitch and sputter in retraction with even the smallest human interaction, saved me and continues to bless me, so long as I continue realign myself with same principles that I used to solve my drug and alcohol problem; even when I stray, as we so often do, coming back to basics has saved me from myself on countless occasions. I am nowhere near where I was and am now in love with my life and who I am. I haven’t had a drink or a drug since 12/08/09. For this, I am eternally grateful.

Now, after some qualifications, how to begin into the topic at hand? This is more so my thoughts on my experience with the topic of sex, inventory practices, and other such discussions on how my romantic and sexual relationships have evolved over the past 7 years, usually a topic not openly talked in a forward and acute way, especially amongst a heteronormative gathering of fellow alcoholics where I spent the first few years of my sobriety. Between the small and infrequent discussions with sponsorship, issues of sex seemed to be only brought up when it was troublesome, only briefly touched upon in inventory, poorly explained, and all around me was a sea of heterosexual relationships, slut shaming, and newcomer pregnancies, which were talked about brashly in hushes conversations. No written rules ever exist in such ebb and flow of social interactions in the fellowshipping of alcoholics in my area, but that does not mean that nonverbal cues and messages aren’t sent and opinions discussed on sex lives that are not our own. Everyone seemed to be having sex, but no one seemed to want to discuss the grittier details if it involves their own sex lives and a shame hung around those who fucked like the rest of us, perhaps a phenomenon best described by Cindy Gallop as “a puritanical, double-standards society” in her lovely TED Talk, “Make Love, Not Porn”.

Like life outside the rooms, at least in my hometown, idea of sexual exploration seemed to be only okay with one person, and only if you were dating with the intent of possibly getting married or at least perusing a longer-term relationship. A little more rope seemed to be granted to men, but for the most part sex was seen as a distraction to recovery, which it very well can be to many people and was to me in the first couple years, but in turn the idea that an individual could have the ideal of not wanting a romantic relationship, wanted multiple partners of varying genders, practices, and fluidity…well, it just wasn’t talked about. In fact, outside of monogamy, relationships like this didn’t seem to exist, and the examples of ‘promiscuity’ were generally only brought up as a contributing factor to why someone had picked up another drink. It was also discussed that when writing inventory that being thorough and putting down the gritty details were important when talking about the sex inventory! However, even when people would joke and say things about ‘writing anything, even if they’re things you’re ashamed about’, it was my perception that the taboo and uncommon sexual practices needed to be brought up in inventory so they wouldn’t ever need to happen again, as they are seen as selfish and damaging behavior, which to be fair they very well can be in some individuals. This has undoubtedly helped the self-searching and discovery for people who were looking for this particular sex ideal, but may have been discerning for those who had something that didn’t look like this at all. The rules were clear in the book as to the different school of thought and how only God alone can judge our sex situations, but did our actions and behavior allow for any newcomer to develop their own ideal for sex, or like myself had others instead claim outwardly the sex ideal that their sponsor and the surrounding fellowship seem to have?

 Now, let me make this quite plain. This is my perception of social pressures and culture in my own early recovery and should be taken with a grain of salt; what’s generally happening in real life is sometimes not congruent with what’s in my head. That being said, getting sober in South-central Pennsylvania amongst individuals who seemingly perpetuated the norm of what a ‘healthy’ relationship in sobriety would look like lead me to take this on as my own ideal once having written a personal inventory. I took from it that the only healthy ideal that will assist in keeping my sobriety date and my spiritual health is one of monogamy and vanilla; bummer. Actually, and pertinently, before I get too far into this tirade of opinion, experience, and sensuality, perhaps I should explain who’s writing it. So, I’m a gay man & sober dude. I have been since 12/08/09 when I skidded off of the street into the arms of a friend who would pull some strings to get me into my second inpatient facility two months before my 20th birthday. I come from a middle class family, am a cis-dude, Caucasian, and like to think I have a dry wit and sense of humor lost on many. More importantly, I’m sober…and in the midst of my sobriety, not having had the chance to explore my sexuality before (being a closeted virgin until the age of 18)…I discovered I also happen to enjoy kink & leather. Not only are kink and leather enjoyable for me, I also have experimented and am open to the idea of polyamorous and/or open relationships, and secretly have been for a long time.

It wasn’t until later into my sobriety I began to come into my own ideal, that has since been revised, whilst taking inventory on my specific sexual behaviors at a few years. A toe at a time, I tested the waters and came to realize that this fit me and who I was. To reference pg.69, when I ended up writing yet another inventory, my sponsor at the time gave me the task of once again writing out a list my ideals; unlike previous ideals I had written with previous sponsors, these were to be ideals for myself and my behavior entering into my sexual relationships, with the explanation that although having an ideal for who I wanted to be with wasn’t a bad thing this inventory was mine and not the other person’s. This was taken from the last columns of my sexual inventory. What should have I done instead? Been more gracious, honest, and forthcoming? Should I have been more loving and understanding? More so, these were described as not only being pertinent to romantic endeavors, but even close, personal relationships and even casual sex.

It was during this time that I began to really get more involved in the leather and fetish communities, and upon a trip to Atlanta for the International Conference, and being conflicted and very closed about these things that I liked, I allowed serendipity to carry me. I decided to wander and let the God of my understanding take me to where I needed to be. It was a strange and comforting level of surrender as I meandered around a city that had been taken over by something like 56,000 persons in recovery. Our of all of those people, I ran into exactly who I needed to talk to. I wandered around by myself on multiple occasions, and by mere chance had conversations with three different individuals that were profound. By chance, I ran too late to a meeting that I wanted to go to because of traffic and was disheartened that I missed it. I found a burger joint off the main stretch that wasn’t too crowded. I felt compelled to speak with the person next to me in line, who just so happened to be a Leather Daddy from Canada, experienced and understanding and we have a wonderful conversation about the things that I was experiencing. We walked over after to see his grand-sponsor, who was Bob D., and I heard a message that I needed once again. After hugging and parting ways for the afternoon, I decided to wander over to a nearby hotel for their meetings and held the door open for two guys from the west coast. Again, without knowing why I felt compelled to speak with them. I, for some reason, after we chatted in the archway, felt comfortable to join these two guys for their lunch, and once again was met by two sober members of Alcoholics Anonymous that had long term sobriety who’s sexual ideal matched my own. Kink, sexual liberation, polyamory and open, they remained comfortable in their own skin and grounded, thinking of sex as a spiritual practice in their own. I sank into my chair more comfortably, talking about these things with two sober men who understood. They nonchalantly discussed doing things and experiencing life in ways I didn’t think were congruent with healthy sobriety, and though thinking about it reluctantly, I was taking heavy notes and matching these ideals with my own.

Now, fast forward, without making this too long or too complicated, my life looks much different. I now am comfortable going to larger events, and have found that we as alcoholics and drug addicts are everywhere, even sober members of anonymous fellowships. The larger events I go to hold meetings daily for sober members of the leather and fetish communities, and if they don’t I have the opportunity to suggest the option and offer to be of service by holding my own. To conclude and make a long story short, if you like kink and are sober, cool. If you don’t and want monogamy, cool. If you want to express yourself in any of these ways or others, you can do so spiritually and with the help of understanding, supportive folks and a Power of your understanding. I would like to think being supportive of sponsees, sponsors, and members who share different ideals of sexual practices is a healthy, worldly and godly thing to do. I’ll also conclude that if you are having issues with sex, which has happened to myself and most of the people I’ve befriended over the years (and still continues to happen), that these things can and should be brought up with a sponsor or trusted confidant who will be understanding and truthful. Hiding things for shame of having them is a dangerous road, so talk with someone after the meeting or when you’re ready. When and if we are ready to have sex, to conclude with the words of an old mentor, “You can fuck one person, or you can fuck every piece of ass in town, Andrew, but it has to okay with [God].”