Behind The Real Sex And Love Addiction In The Musical Film 'Unlovable'

Nov 4, 2018
Originally published on November 4, 2018 10:37 am

In the new film Unlovable, we witness the character Joy hit rock bottom because of an addiction to sex and love.

Help comes in the form of a support group, and an unlikely friendship where Joy learns to stop having unhealthy sex and starts making music. The movie's original songs are written by John Hawkes, who plays the character Jim.

Charlene deGuzman stars as Joy, and also co-wrote the script. It's based loosely on her own struggles with sex and love addiction (which, she points out, is different than sex addiction).

"You know, I was always a love addict for sure ever since I was even little," deGuzman says.

In an interview, she says she had her first boyfriend at 13, and jumped from relationship to relationship until she got into recovery when she was 30 years old. As you might expect, this conversation involves adult subject matter.


Interview Highlights

On the event that got her to seek help, a relapse with an ex-boyfriend who then ghosted her

I almost killed myself that day, because I didn't want to live anymore. I could not believe that I was here, yet again, with an unavailable person, unable to leave, my whole life revolving around this person. In that moment, on that day when I was about to kill myself, he eventually called back. And just seeing his name and his picture on my phone, I felt the pain leave my body immediately — like, it felt like a drug. And it was that moment that I realized that I was truly sick and I needed to get help.

On her parents' reaction to her condition

So I come from a family that doesn't really talk about anything, you know, let alone sex. My parents emigrated here from the Philippines, and we were very Catholic, and, you know, everything was very hush-hush. You didn't really even feel your feelings or express your feelings, let alone talk about them. So it was very difficult for me to start sharing my story. I think even talking about, you know, how this came about, in terms of my experiences when I was a child, my trauma — that was really hard for people to hear, I think.

On the character Joy witnessing her father watch pornography

That was actually accurate to my personal story. Seeing my dad's, you know, very unconscious obsession with women, and being surrounded by the centerfolds in my garage – you know, they were collaged top-to-bottom wall-to-wall in the garage growing up — and then the lack of boundaries of getting porn from my dad with my mom and stuff like that, and then watching the porn myself when I was very very young, you know, that's a form of serious trauma on a little child's brain to see those kinds of images over and over again. So I think that what really affected me was making up this story very early on my childhood that that was what an ideal woman was, you know? My dad liked those women, so it's like, I wanted to be one of those women. That's what a man wanted, is what I told myself.

On her own path to sobriety

When I, you know, got sober from my ex, and sex and romance, I didn't know who I was. I didn't know what I liked to do. I didn't know what made me happy. So I really had to explore and see what I liked to do. And I actually made a list of things that I always wanted to do, and I started exploring, you know. I went to puppet school. I tried pilates and yoga and hiking and all of these different things. And I found all of these things that I loved to do and made me happy. And it really helped me get through. And the thing that really got me through was creativity.

On how her recovery is coming

It's an ongoing journey. But once I was sober for about a year and a half, I did need to learn how to date and involve myself with other people, with healthy intimacy again. And so I did a healthy dating plan, which was essentially going very slow and learning how to get to know someone and go really slow until having sex with them and committing to them. And so I dated a few people, but then I eventually met my current partner, who, we've been together for 2 1/2 years now.

On her advice for others struggling with this addiction

You know, it affects men and women very equally. And I would just say that there is help and hope available. It's taking that courage to ask for help. Because you can't do it alone, and you're not alone. And that love has to come from you first. And I really used to be in a place where I hated myself so much, and I swore to it that I hated myself. And to be in a place now where I can confidently say that I love myself and I choose myself first, it really is a miracle. And I really gotta say if I can do it, anybody can do it.

Chad Campbell and Viet Le produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Patrick Jarenwattananon adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

In the new film "Unlovable," we witness Joy, a woman played by Charlene deGuzman, hit bottom because of an addiction to sex and love. And a quick warning. As you can imagine, this conversation may be unsuitable for younger listeners as it involves adult subject matter. Starting with this clip from the film.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "UNLOVABLE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) How are you?

CHARLENE DEGUZMAN: (As Joy) I lost my boyfriend. I lost my apartment. I lost my job. Oh, and I just banged a bunch of random dudes at the same time, and I don't remember. I think I need help.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Help comes in the form of a support group and an unlikely friendship where Joy learns to stop having unhealthy sex and starts making music. Charlene deGuzman also co-wrote the script. It's based loosely on her own struggles with sex and love addiction.

DEGUZMAN: You know, I was always a love addict for sure, ever since I was even little.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: She says she had her first boyfriend at 13, jumping from relationship to relationship until she got into recovery when she was 30 years old.

DEGUZMAN: And a friend had told me about sex and love addiction. And I tried some meetings at the time. That was in 2011. And I didn't think I needed them. I really thought I had control of this.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But she didn't. With one particular ex-boyfriend, she relapsed, having sex with him for three days in a row. And then he ghosted her.

DEGUZMAN: I almost killed myself that day because I didn't want to live anymore. I could not believe that I was here yet again with an unavailable person unable to leave, my whole life revolving around this person. And in that moment on that day when I was about to kill myself, he eventually called back. And just seeing his name and his picture on my phone, I felt the pain leave my body immediately. Like, it felt like a drug. And it was that moment that I realized that I was truly sick, and I needed to get help.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There's a scene in the movie where you tell your parents about your sex and love addiction. And your mom's reaction is basically, let me make you spaghetti, your favorite - sort of not reacting. Is this taken from real life? Was it hard to communicate what you were dealing with your friends and family?

DEGUZMAN: Yeah. You know, so I come from a family that doesn't really talk about anything, you know, let alone sex. My parents immigrated here from the Philippines. And we were very Catholic. And, you know everything was very hush, hush. You didn't really even feel your feelings or express your feelings, let alone talk about them. So it was very difficult for me to start sharing my story. I think even talking about how this came about in terms of my experiences when I was a child, my trauma - that was really hard for people to hear, I think.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You mentioned childhood trauma. And in the film, your character Joy has her own. She sees her dad watching a lot of pornography...

DEGUZMAN: Yeah.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...And sort of internalizes that.

DEGUZMAN: Yeah, that was actually accurate to my personal story, you know, seeing my dad's very unconscious obsession with women and being surrounded by the centerfolds in my garage. You know, there were collage top to bottom, wall to wall in the garage growing up. And then the lack of boundaries of getting porn from my dad with my mom and stuff like that and then watching the porn myself when I was very, very young - that's a form of serious trauma on, you know, a little child's brain to see those kinds of images over and over again. So I think what really affected me about that was making up this story very early on in my childhood that that was what an ideal woman was. You know, my dad liked those women. So it's like I wanted to be one of those women. That's what a man wanted - is what I told myself.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The character that you play in the film - you see Joy struggling to stay, quote, unquote, "sober" where she's abstaining from sex for about 30 days. And she tries reading and knitting and painting and cooking. Was it like that for you?

DEGUZMAN: Yeah, because when I got sober from my ex and sex and romance, I didn't know who I was. I didn't know what I liked to do. I didn't know what made me happy. So I really had to explore and see what I liked to do. And I actually made a list of things that I always wanted to do. And I started exploring. You know, I went to puppet school. I tried Pilates and yoga and hiking and all of these different things. And I found all of these things that I loved to do and made me happy. And it really helped me get through. And the thing that got me through the most was creativity.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: One of the things that this film does is show unique friendship. And that is in the form of your sponsor's brother in the film, who's a bit of a recluse, played by the actor John Hawkes. The two of you don't hit it off right away. But when you do, you end up playing together in a garage, you on the drums, him on the guitar. And I understand that he actually wrote many of the songs for the film.

DEGUZMAN: Yes, they're all original songs written by John. And he's just absolutely amazing and talented. And I'm so glad that the world is going to be able to experience his talent and his music.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JOHN HAWKES: (Singing) You got a finger on the trigger. If I could be of use, I'd tell you life gets better when you slip off your noose.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: How did you get healthy? What does love and intimacy look like for you now?

DEGUZMAN: You know, it's an ongoing journey. But once I was sober for about a year and a half, I did need to learn how to date and involve myself with other people with healthy intimacy again. And so I did a healthy dating plan, which was essentially going very slow and learning how to get to know someone and go really slow until having sex with them and committing to them. And so I dated a few people. But then I eventually met my current partner, who - we've been together for 2 1/2 years now.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's lovely. Congratulations.

DEGUZMAN: Thank you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What's your message to women who might be struggling with this or men?

DEGUZMAN: You know, it affects men and women very equally. And I would just say that there is help and hope available. It's taking that courage to ask for help because you can't do it alone. And you're not alone. And that love has to come from you first. And I really used to be in a place where I hated myself so much. And I swore to it that I hated myself. And to be in a place now where I can confidently say that I love myself and I choose myself first, it really is a miracle. And I really got to say if I can do it, anybody can do it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Charlene deGuzman, star and co-writer of the new film "Unlovable." Thank you so very much.

DEGUZMAN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.