THE BUBBLE METAPHOR
Imagine a little child dipping a plastic paddle into a solution and blowing bubbles. The child keeps doing it over and over and eventually blows so long and hard that a giant bubble emerges and engulfs the child. This is a powerful image for expressing what happens to us as a sex addict.
Being hit with the obsession to act out is like being engulfed in the bubble. We are powerless and carried away by the all-encompassing power of our compulsions. In the grip of our addiction, we see the outside world through a transparent wall, but we can’t communicate with it realistically because the wall cuts us off.
The bubble was blown during those times when our minds were preoccupied with addictive thoughts and fantasies; it became full-blown when we progressed to acting out our sexual rituals; and it burst only when the rituals ended in some kind of climax.
The exhibitionist who spent hours driving around in a car looking for victims is totally caught up in the bubble. The voyeur who waited outside a window hoping for a magical glimpse of a naked body, the addict who met someone and ended up quickly in bed with them, the addict who cruises the streets for hookers, or who hurried to an arcade to hide in a little booth and spend quarters to gaze at pornographic movies – all these addicts were helplessly in the grip of the bubble.
The bubble is an appropriate, poetic image for many reasons. It expresses the radical nature of the addict’s isolation. When we were in the bubble acting out, we existed in a secret world of our own creation where we sought thrills and pleasure. Unfortunately this was also a world of shame and guilt, though these feelings did not hit us until the bubble burst and we re-entered the real world. Addicted, we then prepared to create the bubble once again in order not to have to live with feelings of shame and this we were isolated prisoners within the downward mental cycle.
The bubble is also an appropriate image to express the sense of liberation we usually felt while acting out, as though we floated above all the burdensome responsibilities of normal life. Life seemed as simple, symmetrical and unified as a bubble because all the great and overwhelming realities of life were reduced to a single purpose. There was only one meaning in our lives during those hours spent in the bubble – all thoughts and feelings were expressed only in relation to that one purpose. Life was immensely simplified in the bubble.
Life was also ‘safe’ in the bubble, as though it were a womb. Ironically, the wall of the bubble surrounding us actually seemed protective even when it carried us into great danger, because we believed that as long as we stayed in our own isolated world nothing could really touch us. This is not to say that in the bubble we never experienced fear, on the contrary, fear of police, fear of discovery by a spouse, fear of disease – all these fears were felt in the bubble. The addict, however, found a way to turn these fears into sources of stimulation that became part of the very ‘fix’ that was sought. In the meantime, the real fears of life which we did not face – losing a job, financial insecurities, death of a loved one, rejection by someone significant in our life – seemed far, far away, outside the bubble’s wall. That is why, in an ironic way, we felt ‘safe’ in the bubble, and further illustrates how the complexities of life became reduced in the bubble to single-minded simplicity. We never had to deal with the real, complex fears of life; instead, all the feelings were expressed only in relation to sex. This simplicity and safety enabled us to feel in control when we were in the bubble; “I know how to hide from the police and therefore my fear only pumps up my adrenaline, making me feel all the more in control and powerful.” To deal with life’s problems we often resorted to acting out in order to feel that reassuring simplicity, safety and control that being in the bubble supplied.
The bubble is also an appropriate image for acting out because it expresses the irony that in this ‘liberation’ from the realities of life, we were actually trapped. We may have felt as if we were flying to Mars, but actually we were trapped, engulfed in a bubble that felt like total freedom to go anywhere and do anything. The problem, however, is that the simplistic single-minded obsessiveness which the bubble represents became more and more a restrictive space. Finally we discovered that we no longer used the bubble – the bubble used us. Our freedom had become utter slavery.
Being compelled to enter the bubble is an expression of our powerlessness. When it bursts, as it inevitably did, we felt the unmanageability as we crashed to the ground. The unmanageability was profound because our escapes into the bubble had prevented us from facing reality and learning the lessons necessary to effectively cope with life.
What is Sex and Love coda?
SLAA believes that sex and love obsession is an illness, a progressive illness which cannot be cured, but which – like many illnesses – can be arrested. It may take several forms – including (but not limited to) a compulsive need for sex, extreme dependency on one person (or many) and/or a chronic preoccupation with romance, intrigue or fantasy. An obsessive/compulsive pattern, either sexual or emotional (or both) exists in which relationships or sexual activities have become increasingly destructive to career, family and sense of self-respect. Sex and love obsessions always leads to worse and worse consequences if it continues unchecked.
Before coming to SLAA many people suffering the obsessive grip of sex and love issues think of themselves as social outcasts, perverts or just plain ‘weak-willed’. Still others feel they have only been pursuing what is ‘due’ or ‘owed’ them. They feel entitled to self-indulge. The SLAA theory is that these people are sick people who can recover if they will follow a simple programme which has proven successful for scores of other men and women with the same illness.
The Disease Process of Co-dependence
Co-dependence is a disease of immaturity caused by childhood trauma. Co-dependents are immature or childish to such a degree that the condition hampers their life. A disease process, according to Diland’s Medical Dictionary, is a “definite morbid process having a characteristic chain of symptoms. It may affect the whole body or any of the parts, and its etiology (or cause), pathology, and prognosis may be known or unknown.” I call the chain of symptoms that characterizes co-dependence the core or primary symptoms, and they describe how co-dependents are unable to be in a healthy relationship with themselves. These are the primary, or core symptoms of co-dependence:
- Difficulty experiencing appropriate levels of self-esteem, that is to say, difficulty loving the self.
- Difficulty setting functional boundaries with other people, that is to say, difficulty protecting oneself.
- Difficulty owning one’s own reality appropriately, that is to say, difficulty identifying who one is and knowing how to share that appropriately with others.
- Difficulty addressing interdependently one’s adult needs and wants, that is to say, difficulty with self-care.
- Difficulty experiencing and expressing one’s reality in moderation, that is to say, difficulty being appropriate for one’s age and various circumstances.
In addition to these, there are also five secondary symptoms that reflect how co-dependents think other people’s behaviour is the reason they are unable to be in healthy relationships. The inaccurate thinking represented by these secondary symptoms creates problems in a co-dependent’s relationships with others, but these symptoms stem from the core problem, which is the bruised relationship with the self. These five symptoms are 1) negative control 2) resentment 3) impaired spirituality 4) addictions or mental or physical illness and 5) difficulty with intimacy.
For more help working on sex, love and codependent issues that often result in depression and acting out, mail or call 0824424779. We are here to help with our retreat courses and programs.