Almost three years ago, I walked into my first Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA) meeting. I wasn\u2019t sure yet if the 12 steps were for me (I couldn\u2019t conceive of a Higher Power, much less one that might be interested in helping me out), but I had absolutely no doubt that, if these groups did work, this one was for me. I\u2019d been aware of my growing problem for years: a constitutional inability to say no to sex I didn\u2019t really want to have; repeating the same tired cycle in one toxic relationship after another; running from love before it ever got off the ground; and soothing myself by sexually acting out. If sex and relationships could be an addiction, and if addiction was like a disease, I had it. Growing up in the home of an emotionally volatile and all-consuming mother, I learned to compartmentalize my needs, even my very identity. Pain and hurt feelings lived somewhere over there, where I quietly put them on a way-back shelf, and the face everyone expected to see was right here, however it needed to look. I identified with my thinking, rational brain and forgot all about feelings; they were no good to me. Being \u201crational,\u201d of course, was a lie; what logical person splits herself into a thousand pieces and walks through life like an automaton? That isn\u2019t reason; it\u2019s desperation. It\u2019s a defense against heartache. Defragging the Self Those early SLAA meetings were the first place I dared speak out loud about this fragmented nature I\u2019d begun to notice in myself. I was like an old PC, too many bits had fragmented, too many selves had spread around, clogging up my processers. I needed to get absolutely honest with myself and everyone in my world, so that I could defrag, and ultimately come to understand the real me - my true needs, real feelings, most authentic self. To do this, I could no longer \u201crationalize\u201d parts of my life that were incongruent. In the past, I\u2019d strongly felt that if I didn\u2019t want to go home with someone on a first date, I absolutely shouldn\u2019t. But come test time, I\u2019d invariably give in. My addict dared me by laying on the seduction, just to see if I\u2019d step in and actually say, \u201cno.\u201d I almost never did. The first few times I practiced saying no, really held back and didn\u2019t engage in the intrigue of sexual flirtation, was a little like learning to drive. I wasn\u2019t sure what I was doing, but it felt really good to come away victorious, unscarred. I bonded with my SLAA friends and began regularly sharing those victories, and some occasional missteps. This is when I began to believe I was getting my power back; I was no longer powerless in the way addicts consider themselves. I was learning the tools and strategies to truly get well. I dove into my past, examining the emotional roots of my problem, and wrote down my bottom line behaviors. And over time, the things I placed inside that circle grew. I wasn\u2019t afraid to stretch my new abilities, to try parallel parking with a manual transmission (i.e., to delete phone and email contacts I no longer needed, to tell guy friends when something just didn\u2019t feel appropriate for me without apology or deprecation). And because I was growing stronger, people who needed some of that strength mirrored back to them started to show up in my life. We can all stand to be reminded that we have the strength within us. Mirroring Strength Through Friendship I moved back to town and started to see an old friend again; we\u2019ll call her Lea. There were occasional lunch dates and shopping trips, but frequently Lea would ask me out for drinks or \u201cgirls\u2019 nights out.\u201d I\u2019d be her designated driver and off we\u2019d go, catching up. Over the weeks, I started to notice a pattern. The more Lea drank, the more likely she was to become more than a little obsessed with a stranger (sex addiction frequently shows up when other substance use is in play). She sometimes requested that I leave without her, insisting she\u2019d get a ride with the man she\u2019d just met. The next day, Lea would text to thank me for not leaving her, and I could always tell there was more she wanted to say. I decided to fully open up to my friend about my past, no expectations and no judgments. Afterward, Lea began what she called \u201cconfessing.\u201d She had started to see someone she really liked and she was terrified that her \u201cold patterns\u201d were going to get her into trouble and ruin her relationship. She confessed to cheating on nearly everyone she\u2019d ever loved (so had I). And she admitted that she felt like the desire was somehow beyond her control. She didn\u2019t cheat because she wasn\u2019t happy or in love; she didn\u2019t know why she cheated. But it wasn\u2019t just that. Even when Lea was single she found herself engaging in multiple one-night stands, sometimes with married men from work. She feared she\u2019d developed something of a reputation in the office and that it was inhibiting her career, one that should have been extremely rewarding given that Lea made excellent money doing something she loved. Getting Sane I\u2019d been where Lea was before and easily could be again. I cared. I gave her Susan Cheever\u2019s excellent memoir, Desire: Where Sex Meets Addiction. Twenty-four hours later, I got a text from my friend, \u201cI just finished the book, and I\u2019ve had a revelation. I keep trying to work on relationship skills, but my problem is with addiction. I think I\u2019d like to go to your next meeting with you.\u201d And off we went. From Cheever\u2019s book: It's the dirty trick of obsession that, getting its way\u2014spending time with the object of desire, having sex with the object of desire\u2014doesn't lessen the obsession, but increases it. Although an addict, while obsessed, truly believes that being with the object of the obsession will cure the obsession, the opposite is true. When an alcoholic promises that all he needs is one last bender to achieve satisfaction, he's chasing a chimera. Like me, Lea - the child of a raging father who loved to disparage his daughter by calling her \u201cslut\u201d and \u201cnot good enough\u201d - had spent her entire adult life trying hard to quash her emotions and to identify solely with her rational mind. But for women with sex addiction, and really any other kind of addict, there is no such rationality. We can fool ourselves into believing we are tough, but without a strong connection between our hearts and our minds, there is little sanity and no wholeness. Getting sane and whole is as much about getting honest as it is about becoming compassionate for the self we meet when we do. The 12-Steps offers the only place I know of where people share the truth about what they believe are their very worst selves, and yet meet each other with non-judgment, humility and grace. When you find yourself in a group of people so full of acceptance for the part of you that you\u2019ve been running from for years, it begins to rub off. You finally begin to meet that part of you with love too, and that is the key to change, if anything is.