Do me a favor. Think back to those first moments of falling in love with someone. Do you remember the tingles and the thrills when you saw or thought of them? What if they suddenly broke up with you and your relationship came crashing down? Or maybe you cheated on them, or they cheated on you — but you both stayed in the relationship. And even though you treated them like crap or they treated you like crap, you couldn’t stop being with them. You got back together like, eight times, and each time your self-esteem shrank.
Maybe you found another partner right away to take away the bad feeling. Or you started to stalk your ex everywhere they went. Maybe you even started to sleep with all their friends to get back at them. Or you followed their new lover on social media. Maybe you broke into their house and then set up spy cameras.
No? Did I lose you way back at “treating you like crap”? If that’s the case, it’s probably because you aren’t driven by compulsion and a disease called sex and love addiction. But I am.
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I could go back to the beginning and tell you how and why I started acting out with men at the young age of 13, but let’s go straight to one of my “bottoms” as they call it in Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA), a 12-step program along the lines of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Your “bottom” is a moment when your whole world comes crashing down around you, and you’re looking at the horrible mess you made and thinking to yourself, “Crap, I created this drama and now I have to figure out this disaster of a life I’ve messed up.”
The beginning of the end started in my small circular driveway. I was standing there trying to prevent two men from actually killing each other. One was from New York City and the other was a longtime boyfriend from back home, whom I’ll call M.
M and I had been together on and off for 10 years. But, for the past two years, I had been with both of these men in what they thought were monogamous relationships.
I used to love to have multiple partners at once. Especially if they were living in different cities and would never be able to run into each other. I usually had one male companion in Los Angeles as well, but at this particular time, we were taking a break. Multiple partners kept me on my toes. Spinning lies is a huge part of the high a sex and love addict gets.
My ultimate fantasy was the ability to mold three or four guys together to make the perfect mate. I’d get emotional security from this guy, financial security from the other one, sexual chemistry with that one over there, and good old-fashioned best friend vibes with some other fool. It was like a revolving door of stand-in dudes for whatever need I had to fill at the moment.
The huge problem with that — other than it is morally wrong and cruel to another human being — was that I was never really available to anyone. I never saw them for who they truly were. I was using them as a mirror to reflect what I wanted to see.
So that’s how I found myself at the end of the driveway screaming from the pit of my soul “I’m sorry!!” … and I wasn’t even sure that I was being 100% honest. But I wanted to diffuse the situation: two men standing in front of me both asking for an explanation which I did not have at the time.
This could have been the moment I realized that what I’d done to these two men was pretty messed up, but no. Instead, I detached. I felt myself float outside of my body and watch the whole thing play out like I was watching myself in a soap opera. (Strange, since I am an actor.)
But I am not a character in a play or show. I am a person. And something was seriously wrong with me. Was I missing the gene that made me care about others? Was I simply a cold-hearted bitch? I felt so numb. I wanted to die. I had hurt two people who didn’t deserve it. Why was I like this?
We all know people who drink too much. They’re alcoholics, and they make their lives and the lives of those they love a living hell. As a sex and love addict, I used men as my drug of choice. Multiple partners, inappropriate affairs and cheating were my acting out behaviors.
Some sex and love addicts date unavailable partners, some are addicted to masturbation and porn, some depend on one night stands. For my life as an addict, the addiction told me that without men, without their attention, their love, and the power that came with that, I was nothing.
Eventually, it started to not be fun anymore. I was spinning too many lies and I was not getting the high I once had from the attention. So I thought I needed new partners. When they did not fix me, I obsessively started flirting and “intriguing” — which is like fishing and reeling someone into your world and then, once they’re hooked, throwing them away.
Just like an alcoholic, I couldn’t stop.
There’s nothing sexy or hot about using someone else to get high. I had done it too many times. I was tired. I was burnt out. I was miserable. Enough was enough.
That confrontation in the driveway was the beginning of the end for addict-me. But what in God’s name did I do now that I was starting to understand how truly lonely and messed up I was? What was the next step? Especially since I had lost both men in my life, I couldn’t seem to drag myself out of this bed.
I walked my depressed self into a church rec room in Los Angeles with a bunch of sex and love addicts, after my therapist told me I had a major problem with relationships (shocker).
Sitting down in the uncomfortable metal chairs, my inner dialogue was running rampant and my ego was out of control. These people are nothing like me. What if someone recognizes me? Look, I know, I’m not famous by any means, but sometimes I have been asked for an autograph before. I have been on television a lot.
Then the speaker, an older rocker dude, started to share. My mouth dropped in disbelief as he began telling my exact story. It seemed impossible that I could have so much in common with this man. He said that when he first walked into SLAA, he thought everyone there were freaks and losers. He didn’t think he belonged there. He even left early at his first meeting, which made me laugh out loud because at that moment I too was thinking of my exit strategy.
He continued that he just reached seven years sober from this disease, and his life could not be more different. He felt peaceful and he had a lot more serenity. He was truly happy most of the time and living his best life in a committed marriage, which he never thought was possible.
While he spoke, I felt a moment of peace. For the first time in my whole life, I belonged somewhere and I wasn’t alone in my struggle. It gave me such hope. If he could recover, I might be able to as well.
That was well over a decade ago. I still remember his face. He saved my life that night in that church basement. I will forever be grateful for his authenticity and honesty about his journey out of his disease.
And now it is my turn to help others see the way out of their darkness. Today, I am married and my husband and I have a beautiful baby boy. I am fully committed to my spouse, to my program and, more importantly, to myself.
I just received my 10-year chip for continual sobriety in SLAA, which for me still includes no cheating, no flirting or intriguing outside of my marriage. It means not doing anything I wouldn’t like my husband to know about — which, in a nutshell, means having no secrets, because secrets are what kills an addict.
I used to think life without secrets and lies would be boring but I was completely wrong. I have more freedom. I’m not drowning in a web of deceit. I am present, healthy and truly happy. I am fully participating in my life, instead of living in a fantasy of lust. I am forever grateful for the 12-step rooms and my sobriety.
I can honestly say now that I’m on the other side, it is a blessing to be a sex and love addict in recovery.
Brianne is an actor, and appeared most recently on History Channel’s “Six.” Her other credits include “Lucifer,” “Casual,” “True Blood,” and the feature film “Jarhead.” She’s also a producer, director and writer with several TV shows in development. Her first book, “Secret Life of a Hollywood Sex and Love Addict,” hits the shelves soon.
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This article originally appeared on HuffPost.