What would it be like to struggle with online sex addiction? Every time you check your email, scroll through social media, or try to read your favorite blog, you’d be met with temptation. This is exactly what Ashley went through. This is her story.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m Ashley! I live in Canada, I am 28 years old and I am a heart-encourager, movement maker and speaker to women on a mission. I am heart-eyes for anything to do with empowering women to bring their gifts to the world and I believe in living life in such an honest, genuine, wholehearted way.
When I’m not working, I love everything that has to do with bright colors, inspiring words and good conversation.
Growing up, how did you feel about sex?
When I was growing up, I think I saw a bunch of extremes that added to my view of sex. My parents divorced when I was twelve and I watched them go through multiple romantic relationships without ever really talking to us about what was happening.
At the same time, I was growing up in a church culture where I felt like purity was everything and that without it, I was less-than or even nothing. And lastly, I had also had one incident of being sexually abused as a child and so anything sexual also felt incredibly dangerous.
What were your early romantic relationships like?
Because of how I grew up, both an unstable family situation and being so involved in church, I didn’t have any romantic relationships. And to this day, I haven’t had any. It was one of the many factors that began to fuel an online sex addiction.
How did your sex addiction start?
As a kid, I remember finding pornography and even sitting in a sex chat room very much aware of how it made me feel like a ‘bad girl.’ But those only happened a couple times and they were very much just curious isolated incidents.
In December 2011, I came back from a movie and that night I decided I wanted to explore some of that stuff online again. I am not sure what triggered it to this day, but it was like an obsession that became born overnight. I was so consumed by the need to do it and the tormenting shame of doing it too. I would say that I struggled in it every single day for a good four years. Even now, I am not perfect, and still have relapses.
How did your addiction manifest itself?
When it started, it was pornography. But over time, I began to chase high after high to give me that same feeling of oblivion. In the last five years, I’ve moved through pornography, sex chat rooms, sexting, sending naked pictures of myself, getting on webcam and doing what people wanted, paying for online sex and phone sex.
Did your addiction affect other areas of your life?
Heck yes, it did. It affected so much of my life! Because of the shame, it caused me to withdraw from relationships and led to the break-down of some of my closest friendships. It affected my business because I was not able to be present in the way that I needed to be or I would be gone for hours at a time down a sex-chat-binge and would cancel meetings, miss deadlines, etc.
It affected my ability to feel safe with myself because I felt so out-of-control. And on the other side, I’ll say this. My sex addiction also affected my life in that it has given me the opportunity to really deal with my pain. It gave me this moment to do the inner work, so that I could be free. And for that, I am thankful.
Was there a specific turning point when you realized you needed to get help?
The moment it started, I knew I needed help. Literally the morning after it began I reached out for help. Maybe I was scared of what was happening or maybe I already knew it felt out of control, but I didn’t wait a second to reach out.
I think I hoped that if I reached out, it would go away. And so I reached out like crazy, telling anyone who would listen, but for me, it wasn’t in the telling, that I recovered. If anything, I just felt more shame when my bedroom door was closed.
What did treatment look like for you?
Treatment has gone on much longer than I ever hoped it would take. I remember just hoping so hard for a magical solution that would make it all go away. I’ve used many pieces to recover such as being committed to therapy, seeing a doctor for anti-anxiety medication, and finding support in friendship. I’ve also used self-care, education, creating places of true connection (with myself, other people and God) and learning how to sit with my heart.
Do you feel like you’re fully recovered?
No, I don’t. I feel more recovered than I did yesterday though. Every day is a step forward. 😉
Have you dated since your recovery?
No, I haven’t. One day soon, I hope!
What tools and resources helped you navigate this?
So when I first started struggling, it was very hard for me because I felt like there were not enough resources for women. That is something I think we need more of, desperately. Because of this, I don’t have a ton of resources that I have felt are genuinely helpful.
You can only imagine how frustrating it was to read articles and for everything, having to change ‘he’ to ‘she’ as I read. My local therapist totally changed the game for me. I also know that any books by Patrick Carnes have been helpful including his workbook.
If we know someone who’s struggling with sex addiction, how can we be the most helpful?
I want to shout this from the rooftops: If you know someone struggling with a sex addiction, don’t try and fix them. The best thing you can do is sit with them, ask them questions, and remind them of who they really are. Don’t distance yourself because you get scared of what to say, just be with them. And don’t try and scare them into some type of behaviour management, but let them unravel, so that they can be healed.
And if you yourself are struggling, don’t give up. Do the hard work. Feel the pain. Cultivate good relationships. Learn to take care of yourself. Pursue your dreams. This season of your life doesn’t have to be the end and it doesn’t have to define you. You can do this.
Thank you so much for sharing your story, Ashley. Do you guys have any questions for her? Have any of you struggled with something similar?