I've always been an addict, even as a child I'd gorge on chocolate in a way that I'd gorge on booze, sex, drugs, laxatives, exercise and work in my later years.
I remember as a young child being invited to birthday parties and sweeping through plates of biscuits, cake and sugar, barely savouring the taste until I felt too full with food and shame, promising myself that next time I'd eat like a lady. I have a theory that there's two types of biscuit eaters in the world: people that can eat one biscuit and put the rest of the packet away, and then people like me, who have to eat the whole packet as soon as it's open.
When I talk of biscuits, I'm obviously talking about sex.
Most people I've met on the road to sobriety have fixated on sex and chased love as part of their addiction and subsequent recovery. It's an easy thing to get a dopamine hit from. When you first get sober, the junkie behaviour moves over to other areas of your life; it's natural. You tell yourself, a bit of sugar or a bit of d**k won't hurt, at least you're not picking up a drink. What's the harm of jumping on Tinder to see who's on it? Get a little match, swipe a few people, maybe go on a last-minute date with a stranger. Before you know it, you are four dates deep and contemplating a fifth to take the edge off.
A junkie attitude to men and sex is something that's been brewing for me for a long time. Reading Cosmo as a girl, I'd read headlines such as 'how to give the perfect blowjob', translating that if I got the technique on how to please a man I would somehow receive the perfect romantic and (later in life) sexual experience.
In my twenties, I was newly-single and in a new town, and dating was a social framework for me to meet people and have an excuse to drink and get high. What followed was a whirlwind of 'dating' and drinking that extended into over a decade of single life, not to be confused with celibacy.
When I feel uncomfortable in life - anxious, disturbed - I grab stuff outside of myself to try and replace that feeling. It's the system I learnt in early adulthood to satiate those feelings of discomfort. It has never really worked for long though, and each stage of craving and satiation escalates into more-more-more until, in 2014, something snapped and I got sober.
In early sobriety, life is tough; make no mistake, those days are full of uncertainty and unknowing. It's like learning to walk again, but as an adult. My learning mechanisms lubricated in youth are creaky in adulthood, things take longer to change.
In early sobriety, I was barely mastering staying off the drink, let alone Tinder. Dating apps were a gateway to getting hits of connection, hope, possibility and sex. A dealer in the palm of my hand with a limitless amount of supply. In the meantime, I'm going to meetings, getting sober, doing the work I'm supposed to do to stay clean and serene but all the time I'm on Tinder, scrolling, matching, sexting, f**king.
Five years into my sobriety from alcohol and substances, I can say it's only in the past two years that I've reached any level of emotional and sexual or romantic sobriety. Now I try on a daily basis to not use sex, sugar, exercise, drink or drugs as a way to change the way I feel.
I think men relate to the subject of sex addiction more closely than women feel they can. We're closeted in shame about it. Plus we get to dress it up as 'dating'. The dynamics at play are totally the same but the results are different.
There's a difference between the genders in the language of sex addiction but it's fundamentally the same. Men in active sex addiction might buy sex or hedge their bets on Tinder, but for the cost-conscious and for ease of supply they might just watch a lot of free porn. It's a very effective way to tap into a steady stream of sexual product and dopamine hits. As a female sex addict, it's pretty easy, most straight men will have sex with most straight women; I have more options. I, as a straight woman, do not need to buy sex, it's one of the perks I've capitalised on.
Plus, ladies, we dress it up. We dress up any kind of unhealthy relationship with sex and chasing the idea of love in the romantic construct of 'dating'. Our behaviour might not all be sexual but the traits of an addiction are there. I can recognise this blatantly: the kicks I got out of doing drugs back in the day didn't start with the first line or pill, it started the moment I called my dealer, the moment I fantasied about getting high. The dopamine and excitement kicked in the moment the dealer texted me back to let me know he was on the way.
Same with drinking, I love Prosecco and I start to get giddy way before I take a sip; the ritual leading up to the first glass is as if not more important than the drinking - the moment the cork foil is unwrapped, the cork is popped, etc. It's the same with Tinder, I get dopamine hits the moment I log in and get matches or chat notifications. I'd often non-sexually fantasise about men that I'd not met or men I'd met once for hours at a time.
I was one of those women, constantly on inder, matching, romantically fantasising about a man I'd not met yet, feverishly keeping up a chat with a stranger, looking at the screen as a stranger typed a message back. I'd experiment with taking the notifications off only to obsessively check for new messages every few minutes because I'd now taken the notifications off to control this urge. Women dress that obsessive Tinder behaviour up as 'dating' but really it's low-level addiction, chasing the idea of romance in a way that's obsessive. If you're acting like a junkie on those apps, chasing the idea of the one, you're not available for love, because you're eating your biscuit thinking about the next biscuit.
This control in usage around Tinder is the same way I'd try and control my drinking. I used to promise myself I'd only drink after noon; cut to six months later, I'm telling myself 'it's noon somewhere in the world'. Totally the same.
If listening to rooms of alcoholics and addicts share their stories in church halls, beaches and coffee shops from Australia to Thailand to London has given me one thing over the past five years, it's the relief that my greediness and lack of control isn't my fault. It's just the way an addict is built.
What I do know is that if I'm acting obsessively or compulsively around any area of my life, especially men or food, I know that I need to connect non-sexually with someone. Call a friend, do some meditation. Do some writing, find the source of my discomfort. Sit with the uncomfortable feeling, safe in the knowledge that it will pass and tomorrow is another day.
I'm not perfect, I'm a work in progress. I know that around food and sex I have to be mindful about my behaviour. I understand the traits and way I feel when I'm being weird and obsessive. I have experienced calmness and serenity in my life to be in a place to compare the chaos when it creeps in so I can adjust and take action.
I have a sober network of females with which to connect with and be honest about how I'm feeling in. And I'm not on Tinder anymore. But that's not to say you won't recognise me from Tinder.
Eleanor Conway: You May Recognise Me From Tinder is coming to The International in Dublin on March 26. For tickets, go to eleanorconway.com
Health & Living