How do I get over an addiction to a man with whom I traded sex for food?


Dear Stanton:

This past Tuesday, I was diagnosed by a psychologist as being addicted to an exboyfriend of mine.

The addiction allowed me contact with a negative messager who quashed my dreams/aspirations and generally held me in very low regard.

After reading the selections from “Love and Addiction“, it became clear to me that I am addicted to him.

How does one break the addictive behaviour? How can I prevent it from happening again with another person or him again or another substance? I am presently on Paxil 20 mg per day. What help can you suggest?

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions,



Dear Elizabeth:

I am sorry you learned that someone you loved was harming you.

If I were performing therapy for you, I would need to know more: how old you are; what is paxil and why are you taking it, for how long? How many relationships have you had like this?

The point is, if you are a college student, versus if you are a 40-year old woman with no history of being able to have constructive relationships, the implications are different. To some extent what you have been through may be a learning process, rather than a psychological problem. That differs if you are 40 or 20.

People look at addiction in different ways. Some call it a disease, and prescribe drugs. I see it as a way of living life, and something which needs to be relearned.

If you don’t have enough important things to do in life (things you consider important); if you sacrifice all of your life activities whenever you enter a relationship (instead of maintaining interests, friends, activities that are good for you); if you pick lovers who are trying to put you down and control you (instead of finding lovers who enoy you and want to share with you); well, you can see what will happen.

You can also see the things that you need to do to create positive relationships. I commend you for recognizing and thinking about yourself and your relationships. Did you do this only after your boyfriend broke up with you? The important thing is to develop standards of behavior and relationships that are part of your basic perspective, so that you can recognize when you are violating what is good for your own spirit, and to change it.

To go to a therapist, to label your behavior because you are unhappy, to decide your old boyfriend harmed you, and perhaps to take a drug to remedy your misery, is not the way to overcome sex addiction, or indeed any addiction. But I think the questions you ask indicate that you know that.

As for your other question about becoming addicted to substances — if you have drunk alcohol and taken drugs without extreme reactions there is no reason to think that you are an addict through and through. Having negative relationships does not PROVE you are an addict, something that will be with you your whole life. By the way, the same issus apply to pharmaceutical drugs, which some people learn to rely on as a way of getting through life.

The thinking you are doing is good. I hope you believe that, and incorporate it into your daily life. Genuinely learning about yourself is a liberating experience that should provide you with joy as well as unhappiness (and more of the former as time proceeds). It does this when you see it as a blueprint or guide to life. Then you know your life will improve, and it is you who makes it thus.

Best wishes,


Elizabeth wrote back that she had contacted an old boyfriend who she felt had treated her poorly at a time when she was in a bad situation. Her response provoked the following questions from me and answers on Elizabeth’s part.

Dear Stanton:

E: Thanks for the questions… they helped a lot in helping my verbalize what I have been trying to work through.

SP: How happy are you with your husband?

E: Happy? I am quite happy with him.

SP: Or, even beyond that, how interested are you in working on that relationship?

E: Very interested, my husband is a wonderful person and I do love him.

SP: Tom is a smoke screen, an irrelevancy.

E: True and when I showed this message to my husband it spurred a deep discussion about Tom and why I had contacted him in the first place.

SP: You happen to have another life which you are going to succeed or fail with.

E: You are quite right. I am at a crossroads in my career right now and need to pick myself up and dust myself off and get on with it.

SP: Concentrating on that, you can either you stay away from Tom, or if you can take limited contact you can get together socially with him, or whatever you want to do — it’s a free country.

E: I choose no contact.

SP: But to maintain that you want to continue your primary relationship while thinking constantly about Tom doesn’t wash. You mentioned that you traded food for sex with Tom — a pretty unappetizing deal. But usually people don’t become preoccupied with people they aren’t attracted to. Are you being fully honest with yourself?

E: I originally wrote to him via e-mail, hoping to get an apology from him about the way he had treated me in the past. I thought I had enough confidence in myself to end things if it got too personal, but alas I did not. I wanted more… like an admission that he had married the wrong woman. A type of retribution for the pain he had caused me.

SP: In any of those subsequent contacts with Tom did you have sex?

E: No.

SP: Is this something you are afraid of? Want?

E: Deep down, I suppose it was the thrill, the danger of being caught, the intrigue that it added to my life that was the biggest turn-on. Afraid of sex with him…yes for a variety of reasons…do I want to have sex with him… no I do not.

SP: Even if this is the case, even if you have a strong attraction to Tom, this does not replace your current life obligations, which I’m sure you realize.

E: Which is why I started counseling in the first place. I knew I was in over my head, knew my husband despised Tom and I wanted to get some objective third party help with the questions that you so clearly stated here. I believe my marriage is the most important part of my life.

SP: What does your husband say about all of this?

E: To say he was less than thrilled is an understatement. When he caught me answering an e-mail to Tom last November he ordered me to “cease and desist”…which I did do for a time and even closed my account with my local internet provider. Then I spoke to him when we went home at Christmas and Tom called me at work a couple of times. I contacted him again via the internet through work and then my husband intercepted a message from Tom. He then proceeded to read all my e-mail messages. He got really angry.

But we have come a long way from the sleepless hours of March 1st to August 20th when my husband and I can talk about my therapy and what I had said about how I felt about Tom, my family and my husband’s and my relationship.

SP: I wrote Love and Addiction. But there’s no replacing sound values and hard thinking about your situation. I understand and accept all of humanity — including having the hots for old boyfriends/girlfriends. Do you accept this? Perhaps if you did, you could deal with it more realistically and not let it attack your life.

E: True… I guess I need to grow up and face up to the fact that despite my determination to prove to this one person that I was worthy of something more than abuse…he will never respect me. It is a hard pill to swallow but I know that I have to do it.

I guess in a way I was addicted to him.

Many thanks for your help, Stanton.


Dear Elizabeth:

I don’t think we’re quite done. You are articulate and committed — to your relationship and to knowledge. I admire that.

But it just doesn’t quite add up that you would defy your husband’s strong feelings to contact Tom for trivial reasons (to get him to acknowledge he did you wrong).

If it is not true that you were drawn to Tom sexually or otherwise, then perhaps the key is in your statement, “despite my determination to prove to this one person that I was worthy of something more than abuse…he will never respect me. It is a hard pill to swallow but I know that I have to do it.”

What self-affirmation are you seeking from Tom that you don’t have or can’t find elsewhere? Would you say you despise Tom? If this is the case, he seems like a very strange person to turn to for self-validation. And why would you want him to admit that he married the wrong person?

Something doesn’t compute, Elizabeth. You want something from Tom that he can’t give you, and that you can’t have that way. If it’s not localized in Tom — and really, it never is (that’s the key to addiction), then the task is to establish some steps that will get you the feelings you seek in other ways.

Is your husband part of the problem, or do you see in him help in getting what you want? He respects you, right? Is that true? Do you disrespect him for respecting you? No challenge? Your career is obviously also an important component in the solution.

Best, Stanton

Dear Elizabeth:

It’s not my goal to make you say “mea culpa.” I only want you to be free enough to know yourself and to take actions on behalf of yourself and your husband. There’s no reason to drag it out, as long as you can take the steps you need, stand up for your dignity, do things you enjoy, respect yourself, and work towards a satisfying career and family life. A tough recipe, I admit (who succeeds at all these things?) but that’s what we want (you and I) for you! Are you ready to begin that process? Write me in six months to tell me how it’s going and no more stories about Tom, that dog.

All best,


Dear Stanton:

Thanks for your kind reply. I’d like to ask you a couple of questions that are nagging at me and I need an objective answer. Hope that you do not mind.

Whilst in therapy, is it normal to come out of a session with more questions, often the same questions that your went in with, unanswered?

SP: No. You’re a consumer, you want certain things. Answers to questions are one good example. On the other hand, people ask me questions for which there are no answers, and if I gave them an answer, it wouldn’t work or have any meaning for them.

E: I do have good days but occasionally I will have bad stretches that last 3-4 days where I sleep a lot during the day and am wretched by guilt because I contacted Dan, hurt people etc. How do I stop feeling guilty and give myself a break?

SP: I’ve kind of indicated this before—you have to have something to do during the day. If I weren’t involved in projects, I’d be sleeping and feeling guilty during the day. I’m not saying depression isn’t real. But I’m saying that inactivity brings out the worst in all of us.

E: I have a frightfully active imagination where I envision the worse possible things happening because of what I have done. How do I stop this process?

SP: That’s harder, except to say that—after a point—realizing that your worst imaginations haven’t come true is proof positive this isn’t the way the world works. I now think to myself (and I’m as neurotic as anybody) that if I can imagine a bad outcome, this proves it won’t occur!

E: Many thanks for your input Stanton,


Four months later

Hi Stanton:

Unusual and very, very painful but recovery is slowly coming around . . . your advice really helped a lot. It gave me a sounding board and some intelligent contact with the outside world when I could barely get up in the morning.

Despite the pain involved, Tom has grown a lot over the year and matured as well away from the immediate graditification of the past and more toward a more considerate/caring person. He is a very open minded person, willing to learn.

Thanks Stanton,


Stanton Peele

Stanton Peele , recognized as one of the world's leading addiction experts by The Fix, developed the Life Process Program after decades of research, writing, and treatment about and for people with addictions. Dr. Peele is the author of 14 books. His work has been published in leading professional journals and popular publications around the globe.

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