Fear is the great enemy of intimacy. Fear makes us run away from each other or
cling to each other but does not create true intimacy.
Intimacy is one of the greatest human needs — those longing for someone to truly deeply know and accept us for who we truly are. We all have a primal human desire to connect with another person on a deep spiritual and emotional level, a yearning to be known and understood. We want to know we matter, that our presence on this planet has a purpose.
Before I got sober, I had the false expectation that this yearning for intimacy was fulfilled through having sex. As my friend Diane said, “We go to bed with a man, and the next morning he’s planning golf while we’re shopping for the wedding dress.”
Another fallacy I believed was that if I had a man in my life, it would mean I did matter; I would never feel afraid, lost, or unsettled. I knew nothing about healthy emotional closeness. I was afraid that if a man really knew me, he wouldn’t accept me. I had sex with many men thinking it would bond us. I thought it was my job to please them sexually, and if I didn’t they might leave me for another woman. It took me a long time and a lot of pain to find out how wrong I was.
I also thought intimacy was just reserved for a partner. I had no idea what it was like to be intimate with my children. For children to develop a healthy sense of self, they need a mother who is emotionally present. Although I was physically present, I was not emotionally present. There is an innate bond between a mother and child, and nothing breaks that bond faster than addiction. In the thrall of my addictions, I was an emotional wreck. In sobriety, I learned to be present with my children so they developed a healthy sense of self-worth and stability.
Many couples struggle with intimacy and need therapy to discover their intimacy blocks. Two obvious blocks are infidelity and addictions. Other blocks, which can hide beneath the surface, are low self- esteem, unresolved anger, fear of being hurt, and unrealistic expectations. It takes trust and commitment to be willing to face these issues, especially if they have been denied or avoided for a long time. Since most addicts and alcoholics come into recovery with low self- esteem and unresolved anger, it can take years to work through intimacy issues.
For me, intimacy means I can be honest with the other person and be myself. I don’t have to pretend to be someone I’m not so they will accept me. I can reveal my true self— the good, the bad, and the ugly parts of me— to a person with whom I’ve established the trust that is essential to intimacy. I have learned that it’s important to “say what I mean, mean what I say, and don’t say it mean.” I don’t have to twist myself into a pretzel to be who I think you want me to be.
Revealing my authentic self allowed people to truly know me and love me, warts and all. Revealing myself while not being judged by others was the beginning of my compassion for myself. Today I am no longer an empty cup, running from person to person begging each one to fill my cup with acceptance and love. Today I fill that cup with God’s love, and I have learned how to love myself, like myself, respect myself, and forgive myself. I’m able to bring my whole self to my relationships, and that allows me to give and receive healthy love. This is intimacy.
Sober Mom’s Tools for Building True Intimacy
1. Share your story, including the shame and the secrets, with a trusted mentor or friend who is compassionate and non-judgmental.
2. If you are in a committed relationship with a partner and are having intimacy problems, seek help from a therapist who has the credentials and experience for working with couples on relationship issues. Learn what your blocks to intimacy are, and work with the therapist to heal them.
3. Look at yourself in the mirror every day and say out loud, “I am worthy of love, respect, and forgiveness.”
An excerpt from the book – A Sober Mom’s Guide to Recovery – Taking Care of Yourself to Take Care of Your Kids. (Hazelden 2015)
What does true intimacy mean to you?
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