Sexual Addiction Ruins More Than the Addict

 

Where do you draw the line?

This question follows me as I continue to process the tumultuous relationship I endured for over three years. I only ever wanted to embrace sex positivity to the fullest extent possible. Instead, I accepted Scott’s misogynistic fantasies and destroyed my own relationship with sex (and men) in the process. And even now, months later, I still question the role I played in perpetuating his sexual abuse.

Sexual abuse within relationships is less discussed than explicit forms of mistreatment. Within a relationship, this conduct is intertwined with the expectations of intimacy and is therefore more difficult to identify. Couples are supposed to enjoy sex with each other. For individuals who are into more kink-oriented activities, it’s important to accept the desires of one another. To not be judgmental.

But when does that become dangerous? At what point to you tell your partner no? When do you make your exit, realizing that his actions are abuse?

With Scott, I wanted to be open-minded; I wanted to accept his sexuality, to make him feel that he could present his fantasies to me without worry. Unfortunately, I didn’t count on his “lack of control” – his own impression of the impulsive and compulsive sexual behaviors that wore down my sense of self – when I entered our relationship.

Scott was more interested in fantasy than actual intimacy. He always felt ashamed and guilty after the climax, putting an immense amount of space between us after any sexual activity. “Bimbofication” of women was a fetish of his, to the point that he could not enjoy sex without bringing up elements related to this idea. He was chatty during sex, and not in a particularly fun way. He would demand I get breast implants or lip fillers. He’d tell me he was taking me to a glory hole, so that I could be the mindless slut he desired. He’d show me pictures of the girls he fantasized about, from subreddits like r/bimbofication, r/tightdresses, or r/boltedontits. His idea of watching porn together would be sweeping through massive amounts of GIFs he found via Reddit, all of them featuring lacquered women, none of them expressing any sort of enjoyment of sex on their end. “Slut gets reemed,” “Bimbo bitch gets double teamed,” and “Mindless fuck doll goes to a glory hole” were some notable titles.

Some days I tolerated him and even played along. Other days, I’d want to put an end to any activity we engaged in as soon as “bimbofication” entered the picture, upset and confused. Those were the most difficult times for me. He’d cajole me into continuing. He wouldn’t let me fall asleep without at least “helping” him get off. Not that I felt especially amorous after having him masturbate next to me while spouting off his misogynistic fantasies, but he would not return the favor. He would turn over, and he’d fall asleep. The concept of pleasing me and saving his own pleasure for another day was just as foreign as the concept of mutual pleasure. My sexuality was his, and his sexuality was zeroed in on extremely anti-feminist conceptions of women as sex objects.

It hurt, too, when he would not use protection when having sex with me, despite my concerns. After he had already entered me, I’d need to remind him to use a condom. Ultimately, he didn’t care about my needs. When I eventually flipped out on him, upset that he would not practice safe sex within our relationship, I told him that having sex with anyone in a way that doesn’t align with their expressed wishes can be considered rape. Instead of recognizing the distress he was causing me, or considering that his constant sexual harassment was an additional piece of the pain I was expressing, he turned the conversation on me. He said I was crazy. And he made a point to tell his friends I was, too. “She claims I raped her,” I remember seeing, sitting next to him while he chatted with a group of his college friends on Facebook.

Ouch. That was painful. I imagine he repeats this perception of things, despite knowing – at least to some degree – that he made our relationship second to his sexual addiction. He persistently told me that I only knew how to show him I loved him through sex. When I began to refuse him more often, he told me that he perceived this act as some kind of withholding of love. He demanded I have sex with other people as part of his fetish. He burdened me with his shame and anxiety after he’d finally get off from the idea – or the reality, in some cases – instead of providing the love and comfort I needed after participating in his fetish. If only he told them that, too. I have a problem where I cannot treat my girlfriend like a person. But he didn’t.

Most of the time I was with Scott, I was not treated like a person with separate needs. I was a hole that could be filled, or a slate of flesh he could project his misogynistic fantasies onto. The idea that he considers himself some kind of feminist, or someone who respects women, is ridiculously painful. The lack of consideration given to how badly he hurt me by people I was so close to just adds another slow healing burn. Instead of the abuse being acknowledged, instead of anyone close to him identifying that he needs help, I’m just another crazy ex-girlfriend.

At the end of the day, it is sexual abuse when you are not allowed to sleep without getting your partner off. It’s sexual abuse when he will not use protection, despite you telling him you are terrified of getting pregnant. It’s abuse when he will only stop if you struggle. And it’s awful when you finally fight back, be it with words or a literal physical rejection, and he cajoles you afterward, guilting you into “helping” him get off. That’s how you show you care. I know now that’s not true; it’s a means to manipulate you into satisfying his sexual addiction.

The Girl, A Fish

i dreamed his smile, lips curled –
teeth edged like the coastline,
the rotted driftwood stain.

i know now what the beast looks for.
we broken girls, with homes that
gut us like fish.

Story Time, Part One

Pick up pick up pick up, I screamed. Internally, of course. I didn’t want to bother anyone at 2am with the catastrophic levels of panic I was currently experiencing. Is this idiot already in bed? I paced restlessly around the unfamiliar Hoboken garage I was locked in, my coral heels clacking against the pavement. The rhythm of my steps matched the anxiety that repeatedly raked against my sternum. I couldn’t figure out how to get out of this complex’s carpark; the doors to the outside world appeared to need a keycard to open. The moron I had just opened my legs for didn’t tell me this, and he wasn’t answering his phone.

Clack clack clack clackclackaclack… I finally found controls to the garage door, the one meant for cars and not people, and decided to press a button on the panel. I figured the green one was my best bet – and it was. The metal slowly lifted off the ground, groaning as it made its journey upward. The tension in my body dissipated somewhat, but my burning calves reminded me that I had wasted over a half hour trying to find my way out. This night fucking sucks, I thought, making my way to the sad-brown (yes, that was its color) Corolla I called my car. I fumbled for my keys so I could unlock the door.
I texted Sean to let him know the night hadn’t gone well for me, even aside from the disappointing sex, and that I was finally just getting into my vehicle. He didn’t text me back. That idiot was asleep too, mostly likely, curled up alone in our bed.

How did I end up here? Not here as in my physical location, but here as in this isolated moment in time? I was finally sitting down in my car, ready to drive over thirty minutes until I was back home. Utterly alone. I briefly wondered what I’d have done if I had been too stupid to find my way out of the garage, as Sean wasn’t answering his phone either. Maybe I would’ve been stuck in Hoboken all night. Up until finding the control panel, I was trying to determine which corner of the concrete garage was coziest.

The reality of your fantasy is less interesting, isn’t it? I wanted to tell Sean this and more. I wanted to, but I didn’t. I simply drove home, prepared to not let myself cry.

 

“How’d you two meet?” one of Sean’s friends asked. Our story was garbage, like the rest of our relationship. I felt ashamed responding.

“We met online,” I said, my hand resting on Sean’s lap. “On a dating website. We met up for coffee.” When he put his hand on mine, I thought he was about to hold it, but he just pushed it off his leg instead.

How did a relationship form out of that date, I wondered. I still remembered how much he spoke, and how few questions he asked. A one-sided conversation about his college friends and the way shirts should fit men. He worked at J. Crew for a couple summers, after all. He knew these things. Did he mention his friends?

“Our second date was more interesting,” I said, and immediately frowned. Sean’s twin brother smiled from across the table, as he already knew what I was about to say. “We went to a bar around here. I picked it. When we got there, he looked at the menu and decided to let me know then that he didn’t have any cash on him. He asked me if we could just leave. He wanted to go back to my apartment and microwave burritos.” I left out the part where he fell asleep right after, exhausted to an extent I apparently couldn’t understand. He was a new teacher, and I was just a girl who was both working and going to school full time.

Sean’s brother laughed raucously, while his friend appeared mildly perplexed. She muttered something that sounded like “oh,” and went to picking on the fries that sat on our table. I felt my stomach churning already. I wanted someone to tell me I deserved better, or that was shameful of him, or anything which would validate my worth. But they were his friends, not mine.

My friend was a toilet bowl. Yeah, it was a shitty friend, but at least I could say I felt some kind of better after pouring myself into it. Sitting with Sean’s friends and brother, eating burgers, I just felt uninteresting. Inadequate. A fool’s fool. There was no space for me to exist as myself, not that I had a particularly solid grasp on Amber.

 

“This huge guy at the gym said I had good bench form,” I proudly proclaimed, setting my bag on the floor.

Sean shrugged in response, not bothering to look away from the game of Overwatch he was playing. “He was just hitting on you,” he said.

“O-kay?” Was that true? I didn’t think so. The man who told me this was one of the few people at my gym who trained with powerlifting in mind. That was my focus – and I could bench more than a lot of girls my size. I was doing something right. Right?

“Guys just want an excuse to talk to you,” he said, still not removing his attention from the game. His follow-up was delayed, too, likely formulated during a lull in the match. “They just want to fuck you.”

“It’s not possible they’re complimenting me?”

“They wouldn’t bother,” he said.

 

When I went to print a form using Sean’s laptop, the only device connected to our wireless printer, I accidentally closed the tab I needed. I went into the “History” part of the browser to reopen it easily, and to my horror (and yet not to my surprise) saw that he had pages upon pages of browsing history related to my friend’s Facebook. Opening some of the links, I saw that he was browsing her pictures – with a focus on an album from when she went to Atlantic City for her birthday. I felt sick to my stomach, knowing what was likely.

Part of me wanted to bash his laptop against the floor. I hate you, I thought, my anger wild and without direction. Was it OK for men to do this, to objectify women in this way? Was something wrong with him, or was he just like every other guy? Masturbating to a girlfriend’s friends, using pictures where the friend in question thought, wow, I look pretty/beautiful/hot as their material? Was I being a prude?

It wasn’t just this, though, the persistent Facebook violations. (He did this with other women, too. I caught him once when trying to approach him for a hug while he was on his computer. Another time, he decided to masturbate inches away from me after I had fallen asleep. I didn’t confront him. I tried to accept the person I loved, even when what he did made me uncomfortable and upset.) He was so compulsive in his behaviors, and I felt as though the Internet was to blame. I tried to work with him on so many different levels; I wanted to satisfy his needs. But his idea of “watching porn” together involved browsing Reddit’s “tightdresses,” “boltedontits,” and “bimbofetish.” Hearing him tell me he wanted me to look like those girls, and not like me.

Healthy, right?

Wedding Bells

As you sit with her, hand in hand, waiting to go back to ourthe room of a hotel that rings with your sister’s vows, will you show her what you showed me? I can only guess, when my understanding of you ended with the knowledge that the face you turn to the seeing is not the same felt by the blind. And so I wonder, does she see you? Or is your shape the same as the one you take in this world, a shadow, an imitation, a fake?

Are you warmed by the skeletons you keep in your bed? Your laptop humming, the silent pictures attending to your needs. What will it be tonight? I’d wonder, whenever we’d be close in bed. BOLTEDONTITSREALGIRLSFACEBOOK FRIENDS IN TIGHT DRESSES BIMBOFETISH. I can almost hear you in the darkness you left behind, those sounds of your right hand, wrapped tight – that feeling of you pushing me away, begging mebutnot to speak the dirty things you’d page through, (re)creating me as a tether between your  fantasies and reality. You’d wind me tight until the two were flush and I was gone. (I could’ve been anyone, as long as I said yes.)

Did you make people wonder, where is the line? I know you let that question haunt me. Was it harmless to fantasize in the way that you did, women subtracted from the category people, disassembled into breasts and ass and lips? My heart was swollen, inflamed; they dodid not see the damage you left in your wake, your fantasies bringing vile words to life: get implants and lip injections; dress sluttier; wear heavy makeup; your arms look fat with that muscle; you can make this up with sex.

I know you let them tell you that you can do/are doing better. And I’ll wonder when I’m displaced in your darkness, has the truth ever made it past your lips? I have an addiction. I ruined a girl for my own fun. I took away the family she knew, her home, her sanity, so I could cum more easily, so I could sleep at night. 

IMSORRY She deserved better, or at least more.

Recovery?

I’m in recovery. What a nebulous sentence. I’m not even sure what it means when I admit to people that I’m bulimic, but am “in recovery.” Am I working on the behaviors? Am I successful when I don’t purge, or when I can sit uncomfortably after compulsively over stuffing myself? Am I still symptomatic if I’m binging? And what about these thoughts I have, related to my body and food and self-worth? When I can say, I’m recovered, does that mean I can’t feel guilty about missing the gym because I’m worn down?

The closer I come to having a life that allows me to live, the more I focus on the details, the semantics.

I realized yesterday that I don’t want to be bulimic anymore. I don’t want this disorder to be such a large part of my identity. But even as I trace its origins, even as I begin to understand how this happened, I’m not any nearer to defining what life without bulimia is like. Worst of all, this disease is like an invasive species; it doesn’t belong here.

I’m surprised that it happened so recently. Scott’s mom was candid about her feelings, perhaps because I was being open about my own. Not that I had much choice. Scott had told his family – without my consent – that I was bulimic. She was dismayed to hear that the disorder began in the midst of living with her. The answer she wanted was different – maybe some story about how I spent my time bent over a toilet in college and recently relapsed. She didn’t want to consider that the disorder began as part of my relationship with her son and his family.

In fact, when I told her I was going to residential treatment at Renfrew, she repeatedly stated, “I hope they don’t tell you we’re not good for you.” I was about to uproot my life the day after finishing my fall semester of nursing school to spend an indefinite amount of time at a residential facility in Philadelphia, and her main concern was that the therapist(s) would tell me to get the hell out of Dodge.

My therapist, of course, did question my ability to be successful with a partner like Scott. I never told her about Scott’s sexual abuse. I didn’t mention that his mother was an alcoholic, and that I spent almost a year being told by him and his twin brother that I was just imagining it or being dramatic. She didn’t know the details of Scott’s cheating, or the way he’d compare compulsive acts of sexual abuse to my bulimia. I never told my therapist that Scott explicitly said he didn’t forgive me for being emotionally unstable when my bulimia was at its worst (“you were still you then,” he told me more than once when I came back from Renfrew, even as he continued to cause me emotional and physical harm in bed), and considered the behavior of a genuinely ill person comparable to his cheating, his lying, his abuse.

I think my therapist simply saw what I see now: I’m a resilient person, but resilience is a finite resource. And I was wasting that resource on Scott, on his family, on people who never asked me what I wanted or if I was happy. I wasted my resilience on trying to live with people who slept with their secrets. Who didn’t, or couldn’t, communicate honestly, but acted passive-aggressively, displayed random bouts of anger, manipulated one another. I purchased their story of this being normal, and judged myself instead of identifying their problems sooner.

I wouldn’t have developed bulimia if I had never met Scott. I’m so certain of this that I want to laugh hysterically until I cry; I want to embrace the absurdity of my situation. These thoughts also make me want a life without bulimia more than ever. I want to be able to know what it’s like to not fear a bathroom after a large meal. To not miss the gym because I spent the day before, or even morning of, purging. My life is worth more than the DSM diagnosis they brought into it.

I don’t know what being “in recovery” actually means. I never will. But I am in a state of regaining my resilience. I can recognize that I’m not a bad person for wanting a life defined by my desires and needs. For accepting that it’s not healthy to keep secrets, or to let anxieties create a momentum that’s chaotic and harsh.

I’m happy to wake up. I haven’t been able to say that in years.

Promises

Sean is on the stairs, paused mid-step. “I would’ve liked that,” he says, referring to the sexual rabbit hole Sammie has led herself down. It’s funny, how little he understands the pain he’s caused her, the unfairness she’s referring to when she tells him that he’s hurt her more than he can comprehend.

You know what else is funny? He’s on the way to meet his new girlfriend, and he’s telling her the thing he regrets is not accepting the non-monogamous lifestyle he harassed her into embracing in the first place. I don’t know, she briefly recalls him saying, not long before she took an ax to the dysfunctional bond between them. I just love you more. I don’t want you to hurt yourself. She asked him, So what about the last three years? He didn’t have an answer.

He doesn’t understand her actual complaint, or has chosen to ignore it altogether as to support whatever lies he’s spun into the story of THEM, especially with regard to THE END. No, what hurt was the constant crossing of boundaries. Telling her to fuck other people for his sexual gratification, to be a whore even when what she wanted was to be his partner. He made her sexuality the practice of meeting his and only his needs, and he humiliated her time and time again when his own neurosis entered the equation.

She can’t help but wonder how he’s treating this new girl of his. He doesn’t mention sex to Sammie, not with Meagan – just in reference to her own exploits, which fit well into his strange “slut” fetish, despite his recently founded relationship. Does he tell her that she should sell herself to men, like he did Sammie? Or is this Meagan just that much better than Sammie ever was?

And what about recovery? What about treatment? Sammie had one real wish when she went into Renfrew. She told him, I’ll work on myself. But please, work on this — whatever it is. I want to have sex with someone who doesn’t talk about me needing to dress like a slut, telling me I don’t dress the way you want. I need someone who doesn’t get off to the idea of me getting gang-banged, who can feel satisfied by normal means. At least once in awhile. He agreed. And he lied. And when Sammie came back, he had all the excuses that let him think to himself, I have no reason to hold myself accountable.

These thoughts are all twisted together; they’re like some flash of heat that sends Sammie into overdrive. It’s another shock to a system that’s been overstimulated. The anger she feels when she looks at him is so raw and abrasive that she’s spitting barbs instead of words. “Fuck you,” she says, shaking her head vigorously in some attempt to keep the rest of her still. “That’s not what I mean when I say that you fucked me up. I didn’t want to fuck other people. I just wanted to be able to enjoy sex with you once in awhile. I wanted you to show – not just say – that you loved me.” I wanted you to not harass me into have sex after disrespecting me. I wanted to be able to go to bed some nights without feeling like I’d need to serve you before I was able to sleep. I wanted a lot of things.

Sean ignores Sammie. He pretends, as he’s often been, that she hasn’t said anything at all. He makes his way down the stairs, turning his back to her. He opens the door of the house, leaving for a date with his girlfriend; he smells like a quart of cheap cologne.

The Bulimic and the Sex Addict

“I’m afraid, knowing you’re going home,” Natalie said, her crossed legs long enough that they made the shape of an X. “I don’t think you’re in an environment that supports your recovery. Your relationship — I can’t tell you what to do, but I’m disappointed. He didn’t visit you at Christmas. He didn’t come to the family session. The phone conference we did instead — he rescheduled us instead of telling the parent that there was a time conflict.”

And this one met Sean, too, Sammie thought, considering her therapist’s words. Prior to entering residential treatment for bulimia, she had seen another therapist for a year who had encouraged her to reconsider her tendency to settle with “nice,” specifically in the context of Sean. When Sammie had told him that her therapist wondered if she was getting what she needed out of their relationship, Sean seemed frustrated and only said that she had never met him. His “side” went unheard. He didn’t realize that therapists usually kept their opinions out of the question of whether or not a relationship is worthwhile – that was for the patient to decide, and both Natalie and her former therapist went as far as to suggest that leaving him would only be beneficial. With many caveats about how it was Sammie’s choice to stay or leave, of course.

Natalie had included Sean in a few of the therapy sessions. One “teleconference” that mostly consisted of telling him he had a bad connection, and two times in person, when she was admitted and during his Christmas break, the first and only time he came as a visitor. “I’m glad my mom is driving,” she remembered him saying on the phone, “I don’t want to put so many miles on my car going from New Jersey to Philly.” Natalie’s impression of Sean was that he was a teapot on the verge of boiling over. His obsessive need to talk, she told Sammie, made it difficult for him to listen. He was always thinking about what to say next, when it was far more important to bring his attention to what was being said. Sammie found it hard to disagree with the therapist’s assessment.

“What can I really do?” Sammie asked. “I quit my animal clinic job. Being in the nursing program – I couldn’t do that and work at the same time. I went to nursing school full time for him, because he wanted to be with someone like that, a nurse. At this point, I don’t have the savings I used to. I don’t have my job.”

“If you have to go into debt, then you go into debt,” Natalie said. “Your recovery is more valuable.”

 

Sammie wants to tell him to leave. This is the fifth time he’s fallen asleep on her couch, and the third that he’s refused to see her on a Saturday, when he would actually have a chance of staying awake. He’s nice and cute, Sammie thinks, running her chubby fingers through his hair. I think he likes me. But Sammie can’t be positive. No, they barely speak. He comes over, fucks her multiple times, and falls asleep on the couch. Sometimes he stays awake long enough to beg for a back rub.

Sean is never cruel or particularly rude, just a little unintentionally insensitive. Sammie’s working full time, 2nd shift most days, while also taking classes full time at the local community college. She wonders if he realizes the stress she’s under, or how little time she has to herself. He often texts her when they’re apart, but the messages are things about his day that never respond in kind to what she has to say. Or they’re requests for validation. What do you like about me? Sammie would say a lot of things: I like that you’re cute, when you’re goofy it really makes me smile, I love the way you touch me, you’re really talkative in bed (although he says some very strange things), and you’re so dedicated to your job. When she made the mistake to ask him the same question, he wrote, You relax me. She wanted to demand some kind of answer that related to her personality, not the benefit of having sex and sleeping on her couch. Of course, she didn’t follow through.

The worst bits are the ones Sammie tries to ignore, but they continue to creep up into her thoughts. He’s sexually impulsive. It makes her uncomfortable. Determining her own rights is hard, for some reason. Is she just being sex negative? Is she a prude? She wants someone who is kinky and interesting. Her last relationship was a snore, at least sexually. But she wasn’t expecting to hear about how she should get implants, or try to get money from guys who want to fuck her. Isn’t that prostitution? He wants me to be a prostitute? Was he serious? Did it just turn him on to say these things? She did ask, at one point, but he refused to provide a clear answer.

She’s desperate for someone to care about her. So she doesn’t push, and she doesn’t judge. She doesn’t demand he see her on Saturdays. When he doesn’t get to her apartment until after 9pm on Fridays, when she told him she was making them dinner, she doesn’t get angry. Not even when he tells her he’s not hungry at all, because he ate pizza with his family before coming over.

 

Tomorrow, Sammie would be going home. She wasn’t ready.

As soon as Sammie was admitted to residential, she wanted to leave. She didn’t feel like she belonged. Sure, she binged and purged multiple times a day. And yes, she wanted to kill herself because she was tired of living her life that way. But she wasn’t thin. In fact, she almost cried when she was weighed by the nurse practitioner, distraught that she was now technically overweight. A fat girl didn’t belong in treatment, especially when her bloodwork was just fine. True, she did pass out the second day she was there; a blood draw at 4am would do anyone in. And she was naturally orthostatic. The dizziness she experienced had nothing to do with her behaviors. Right?

Whatever the answers were, Sammie did improve by being in Residential. She connected with other girls, and was able to complete her meals without engaging in the symptoms of her eating disorder. She hadn’t gone a week without binging and purging since her bulimia first began. Yes, the setting made it difficult to puke into a toilet after a meal, but it was a huge accomplishment nonetheless.

Moreover, after Sean had cheated on her, she needed space and time to regroup and validate herself, to reestablish her worth as a person again. He had told her that she hadn’t met his emotional needs for a long time. During their in-person session with Natalie, he had referred to the fact that he had cheated in vague terms, citing feeling neglected as the cause. Natalie explained that Sammie was an empty cup; she had nothing to pour into his glass. If she couldn’t take care of herself, expecting her to take care of him crazy. That was a lesson quickly unlearned, of course. Even while still in res, their conversations would include how she never said anything nice to him, that she was cold and not affectionate. Sammie wanted to scream at him. Instead, she usually just said, “what about the sex? What about taking care of the house? I do a lot. I do.”

He would answer, “I know. But I need more.”

He had nodded sagely during the session, but over the phone maintained that the cheating happened due to Sammie. He was dealing with so much. A bulimic girlfriend that acted like she hated him most of the time. Who wanted to kill herself. (And you ignored that, Sammie often thought and, at times, voiced.) As she became more comfortable in res, she stopped calling him all the time, taking to her books or conversations with other residents instead. She needed to use the time she had away from him to see herself through her own eyes. To not feel the weight of his expectations, his wants, his desires. To not feel like a failure.

So the news that her insurance was cutting her off before two complete weeks of treatment was upsetting. She was, in all honesty, afraid to go back to the life she had with Sean. In fact, she was already expecting to be disappointed tomorrow.

Initially, Sammie imagined that Sean would pick her up from Philadelphia before lunch, and that they would eat at a Panera or some other restaurant that met the criteria of her meal plan while driving home. Instead, because he didn’t want to put the miles on his car, he was having his mom and dad drive. They would all pick her up. Sammie had been with his family long enough to know that they would not stop for food, and that they’d have an assortment of snacks in the car to cover lunch. Her first meal outside of treatment would already be a failure.

Aside from that, Sammie also didn’t want his family’s continued involvement in her life. In her life together with Sean, sure. But when it came to her individual problems, she wanted Sean’s support. To feel like she could confide in him. (He already made it obvious she couldn’t, after telling all his friends she was going to treatment for bulimia, but she wanted to start over.) Instead, his family was being brought along for the ride – literally. She wanted Sean as a partner, not as their son. For him to love her, and take care of her without his parents’ help, and to drive as many miles as she needed him to in his own car.

Was that so unfair?

 

“It’s funny,” Sammie says. “I came here to talk about my family. How I grew up. Instead all I talk about is how unhappy I am right now. Not because of them, my parents. Because of Sean.”

Christine has a habit of tucking her blond hair behind her ear. She’s attractive in an unconventional way, Sammie notes, with her predictable habits and her widely set eyes. And she shops at Target. Sammie knows this, since she has some of the same sweaters, just in different colors. It makes her feel more comfortable, like her therapist is Any Woman.

“Right,” Christine says, after the silence extends beyond a certain point. I wonder if she counts and starts talking when she hits ten? “You’re not happy in the situation you’re in.”

“No,” Sammie says. “It’s hard. I feel like an outsider. I’m living this life where I’m struggling to keep up with everyone else. I’m in school. I’m working. It doesn’t seem like enough for anyone. Not for Sean, not for his family. I’m not a teacher. I don’t have a career yet. I’m doing well for me, but no one looks at my life within the context of how I grew up. The accomplishment of not having a kid at my age. Or at 18, for that matter. Of graduating high school. Of having a college degree. I still feel like I’m not good enough.”

“Is it possible that you’re projecting these feelings onto others?”

Sammie pauses, then shrugs. “Maybe. Not with Sean, though. Sean… that’s so difficult. He’s difficult. I got my job with the vet at the same time – the same time I was accepted into the nursing program as a second degree student. And I told him, ‘You know, if things work out with the vet, I think I might not go into the program. I’ll see how things go from March until September.’ And he said, ‘That’s not a career.’ He didn’t feel comfortable moving out with me from his parents’, even if I was working as a vet assistant. He has a certain standard.”

“Yes, we’ve talked a lot about Sean. I agree that you’re not projecting in his case. But let me clarify. He doesn’t want to move out with you, even if you’re contributing?”

“He doesn’t want to move out until I’m an RN.”

“Is his mom still drinking at night? Have you let him know that it’s affecting you negatively?”

“Yes. To both. She’s been so bad lately, drinking and making a ruckus almost every single day. I can’t focus on my work. And I just feel scared to go home. He says he’ll work on talking to his mom, but I’m so upset and angry lately, and he’s not doing anything.”

“Sammie,” she says, her usually passive face taking on a frown and furrowed brows. “I don’t say this lightly. It’s not within my rights to tell you to leave anyone. But I have a difficult time seeing Sean as a positive figure in your life. I’m not telling you what to do, but I strongly recommend that you consider taking a break from school, working, and getting out of there.”

Suddenly, Sammie’s at a loss for words. I’m part-time at my job now. I don’t know. I love Sean. I do.

“I know you care for him, but I’m worried about you. You’re so resilient, but right now you can’t be where you need emotionally while you’re in the middle of his mother’s alcoholism. And you’ve told me before that you’re not receiving the support you need. From what you tell me, I can only validate those feelings. He sounds very much like he can’t see things from your perspective. A good partner accepts you for you, and tries to understand what you want. What if he lost his job? What if you had a career as an RN, but had to take time off because of an injury? That happens frequently to nurses.”

“I know,” Sammie says. “I’ve tried to explain that to him. But I don’t know.”

“He doesn’t see you two as being in a partnership,” Christine says. “I haven’t met him, obviously, but I doubt my opinion would change if I did. It sounds like he wants to always be in a situation where someone else is taking care of him. He’s not interested in taking the lead on that. Moving out is not a huge request, not at your age, and not when you’re exposed to an alcoholic in your current setting. But that means taking care of you as much as you take care of him.”

“And he doesn’t want to,” Sammie says. “I think I’ve always known that, in a way.”

 

Is this really a surprise, Sammie thought, looking towards Sean. He sat on the couch opposite from her, slumped in his usual position. “I thought you were going there to get better,” he said.

“I was getting better. I told you that I wasn’t ready to come home,” she responded, shifting uncomfortably in her seat. She was only trying to be honest, that she had trouble eating pizza with his family. That sitting with the cheese and dough in her stomach made her feel a flood of emotion: she was guilty, anxious, and wanted to bend over the toilet and puke. “Please, you’re not supposed to be so critical of me. Read about this. Come on. I gave you the pamphlet they sent home with me.”

Sean’s thin lips bent into a frown. She expected them to form the words “sorry, I will,” but that expectation was apparently too much. Why won’t he read about bulimia? Or about how to support a partner with an eating disorder? Why can’t I come to him when I’m struggling?

She gave him what she thought he wanted over the course of their relationship. A crazy sex life, completely dictated by what he wanted from her. She accepted his family, as much as she wanted her space. The house they lived in was his mother’s doing – she held the mortgage and enabled him to afford the property by providing a ridiculously low interest rate. Sammie wanted a partnership. To move out together into a shitty apartment, and buy a house when they could do so together. Instead he followed his mom’s wishes – to live a block away in the house that originally belonged to his sister.

Even fresh out of residential treatment, she was attending family pizza night, eating dinner with his mother (who was drinking, again) almost every night, going grocery shopping by herself, making meal plans alone. She was trying. Things could get better, right? Their relationship could become something great. Like it was before? No, that was awful too. It just didn’t involve Sammie stuffing herself to the point of needing to puke in a toilet.

Why can’t he meet me halfway? Well, Natalie and Christine both warned her of the same thing. He just didn’t want to.

 

Sammie is on the portable yellow phone with Sean, pacing near the nurse’s station, trying not to talk in front of other residents’ closed doors.

“Did you tell Natalie about the sex stuff?”

This is all he seems to care about lately. “No, Sean, I didn’t,” Sammie says. “I didn’t tell Natalie, just like I never told Christine.”

“Okay,” is all he says, leaving Sammie to count up the ways he’s hurt her sexually. The talks about changing her body – she wishes she could discuss them with someone, figure out whether or not that’s a part of the bulimia. She thinks about having sex with other men at his behest, after he’s begged for her to do so for years. How sometimes he loves it, and other times makes her feel so ashamed. How in either scenario, he’s obsessed with these fetishes – the cuckolding, the bimbofication of his girlfriend, the idea that he’s coming home to a slut. We’re so fucked up. We need to stop, he’d say, almost immediately after getting off, sometimes in reference to a recent hook-up, and sometimes in reference to his unique form of dirty talk. I’m going to take you to a glory hole, and you’re going to suck every guy’s cock there. Aren’t you, you whore? And you’re going to get fake tits, yeah. Next time we fuck you’re not going to complain about me wanting to make you a bimbo, right? You’re going to be a good little slut?

She thinks about being friendly with some of these men she’s slept with — making them genuine friends who she texted regularly after meeting them, and being told that he’s uncomfortable with that. I like the idea of you being a slut, not this. I don’t want you to see anyone consistently. I just don’t like it. How she’s given him so much, endured sex talk and activities she didn’t enjoy out of love, privileged his orgasm over her pleasure even after he’s brought her to tears with his continued requests to behave like a whore, or go to a glory hole, or change her appearance, or dress sluttier than she does.

The worst part is that she doesn’t even expect that he stop completely. She accepts his desires. She just wants him to change it up, acknowledge her own wants and needs, and provide some form of care afterward. For three years, he’s held her for no more than a minute before deciding that he’s too hot, too uncomfortable, to stand holding her anymore. That is, if he’s not in the mood to flagellate them both over his kinks. Or just tired. Then he rolls over to the far end of the bed, and promptly falls asleep.

So, disturbed by her thoughts, Sammie hangs up without a word. She resists the urge to throw the yellow phone down against the facility’s ugly carpeting. She’s going to do exactly what treatment doesn’t want her to do: she will avoid her feelings. Reading is her only strategy for that here – there are no cell phones and no Internet, and the television belongs to Dance Moms tonight.

Her distress must be visible, though. As she returns the phone to the nursing station, one of the counselors speaks to her.

“Sammie, right?”

She nods.

“How are you doing, Sammie?”

“Fine,” she says. “I’m fine.” She smiles broadly.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

“If you need anything, please find me. Okay, Sammie?”

She wants to say, Please tell me I’m going to be alright. Please help me.

Instead, she nods and turns her back to the counselor. I can’t let her see me cry.