A few weeks ago, I presented a chip to a woman in my sex addiction group who had ten years of sexual sobriety. She said that all her life she felt like a zebra in a field of horses. Even after Twenty-two years in AA, she never felt like she quite fit. She looked like the people around her, but she knew she wasn’t one of them. When she came to her first twelve-step meeting for sex addiction, she realized almost immediately that she had walked into a room of zebras, people who felt the depth of her pain. They were other zebras who wanted the best for her. I’m also proud to be a member of a group of zebras.
Rule 3 in Jordan Peterson’s best-selling book 12 Rules for Life is “Make friends with people who want the best for you.” Many of Peterson’s rules seem like they are written for addicts, although he seldom mentions addiction. This rule sounds like a great plan for me.
When I was active in my addiction, I didn’t hang out with people who cared about me. They cared about themselves. When I was acting out with someone else, I was only looking for what I got out of the relationship. When I took my personal inventory while working step four, I quickly discovered that selfishness and self-centeredness were at the top of my list of character defects. Now I know I shouldn’t be taking other people’s inventory, but I’m pretty sure the people I was acting out with didn’t care much about me either. They were addicts too, looking out for themselves.
When I first walked into a room of recovering sex addicts, I found 11 people who cared about my recovery, men and women who understood the hurt and desperation that I felt because they had felt it too and wanted me to get better. In that room were people who wanted the best for me; recovering addicts committed to carrying the recovery message of freedom, healing and spirituality to others who were still suffering. I had joined a group of zebras like me. They led me into recovery.
Months later, when I self-surrendered to a federal prison, I was told by guards to lie about my offense. Sex offenders were not well thought of by the other inmates; they were even in danger. I was taken to my room and introduced to my new roommate, who was serving a long sentence for a drug offense. He asked why I was there. I told him fraud.
A few minutes later I walked into the television room, where I quickly found these inmates were not zebras or even horses; they were mountain lions. A large, scary man looked up and said, “Here’s the guy we saw on television.” My lie lasted less than fifteen-minutes. For the next four months life was very difficult. If I sat down at a table in the dining hall, everyone else at the table would get up and leave. Almost everything I owned was stolen. Inmates would not only break into my locker, they would steal the lock. Articles about me would silently appear on prison bulletin boards. I was terrified.
I was awakened at 5:30 in the morning and told to go to the lieutenant’s office. He asked if I was afraid. I knew if I said I was afraid I would be put into protective custody and be moved to a prison far from my family and friends. I lied and went back to my room, terrified.
In time, the zebra’s appeared. Slowly, one at a time, other inmates would tell me they were also in prison for a sex crime. Finally, they had someone they could talk to. Sex offenders, looking for a way to stop their addictive behavior, found each other.
It took several years before, with the help of the chaplain, we zebras started a twelve-step recovery group for sex addiction. But we were persistent. We knew it takes a recovering sex addict to help a sex addict and we needed a way to do that. Many of us found freedom in prison.
Whether a sex addict is in prison or in the community, if we zebras want recovery we must stick together. Other recovering addicts want the best for me, and I want the best for them. If you are a sex addict and want help, join a recovery group. Check out the resources section on this web site.