There is Hope

Partners often ask “do couples really recover from sex addiction?” and “why don’t I see any of these ‘healed couples’ in partner of sex addicts meetings?

Partners are looking for hope.  They are looking for a positive return on their emotional investment.  Partners seek reassurance that the pain and shame they are choosing to live through will come with peace and even joy on the other side and that the life they knew would return.  Partners are not “happy” living in anger and rage. No one would not choose to feel overwhelmed, without hope and emotionally out of control.  There is no satisfaction in venting anger (again) at the sex addict.  They don’t believe there can be ‘payback’ or an ‘even-ing of the score’ with this betrayal.  When anger is expressed in the office it is often followed by deep sadness and embarrassment.

Is there hope for a life outside of the walls of a 12 step meeting or therapists office?  Is there a point at which this addiction is no longer the organizing principal of ones’ life?  Is there a time that check-ins, disclosures, slips and mistrust will be a distant and painful memory of a dark part of ones’ life? Is there a time when t.v., movies, a walk in the park, or a bite out to eat will not involve avoiding “triggers”?

Consider John, who had been watching pornography since he was 11 years old.  His habit began when he found his boss’s stash in the storage room at work.  By the time he was 16 he was masturbating daily and at 20 he was turning down invitations to college parties because he was exhausted after having spent the night on the computer acting out. As a college student,  he  masturbated 2 or sometimes 3 times a day and was often too exhausted to socialize.  Eventually John  married, had children, coached little league football, built a successful business, and continued to watch pornography and masturbate nightly.  On family vacations, he snuck out to the public restroom to view pornography on his cell phone and to masturbate.

When his wife discovered him coming out of  a hotel restroom at 4 am and he came face to face with his problem, John threw himself into recovery.  His wife was devastated to learn of the pervasiveness of his obsession and behavior.  While she spiraled down the abyss of shock and pain, John worked tirelessly in recovery.  He attended 4 meetings a week and along with group therapy, individual therapy, couples therapy, work with a sponsor and step work, John focused on how to help his wife recover from the truth of who her husband was and what he had done to breach the sacred trust of their 41 years of marriage.

In the first six months of therapy John was angry and often raged in frustration at his wife who seemed to get angrier rather than supportive of his efforts.  John continued to work his program, maintaining the recovery regime.  In the 18th month of therapy the rage decreased, but the distance between the couple grew as his wife continued to struggle to free herself from the profound sadness that lay on her like a grey leaden “suit of armour” (as she called it).  Anna could not understand how she got “here”.

After 41 years of marriage to her college sweetheart, Anna had difficulty understanding how her life became organized around 12 step meetings, unexpected recovery support phone calls, group therapy and stories about other people and their sexual “exploits”.  Instead of planning vacations and family get-togethers, Anna was spinning out of control with anxiety and fear of slips and finding herself raging at John and her Higher Power for the mess her life had become. In couples therapy disclosure revealed the behavior was more frequent than John had admitted during their earlier discussions.

Therapy focused on slowly rebuilding trust and healing the trauma Anna suffered upon learning of her husband’s secret life.  In time forgiveness, restitution, reparation and reconciliation were the focus in couples therapy.

By the third year after discovery, Anna was tired and withdrawn.  She no longer had lunch or long conversations with friends because she felt like a fraud keeping the secret of her partner’s behavior from those closest to her.  Anna was embarrassed, ashamed and humiliated by behavior that was not hers.

Over time the intensity of the pain eased and even the anger lost its’ charge for Anna.  Rage was replaced with sadness, disappointment and discouragement.  Unable to work productively since the discovery, Anna found it difficult to return to the working world.  Anna had been attending a partners’ group for two years and was a great help to others and made great progress in letting go of her rage (she no longer devalued her partner in group and hadn’t angrily hidden his reading glasses in a long while) but a heavy sadness rooted itself deeply within her.

Anna, a tough and street-wise New Yorker, began reading self-help books, listening to meditation tapes and attending spiritual retreats. She was desperate for relief.  She could no longer stand waking up with a gasp.  Seeking to release the pain that was becoming putrid (her words) she began looking for a more intensive spiritual experience.

Soon, Anna found herself on the internet searching for help for herself.  She planned a week long retreat with a spiritual guide.  She meditated, screamed, cried, prayed, meditated, journaled and screamed.  She reflected on her life.  She felt the sadness for what happened to her and grieved what she lost.  She came to accept her circumstance.  She reflected on her spouse of 44 years and found herself willing to see the good in him. She felt sadness for what he had done to himself. She came to a moment that she, the street-wise New Yorker, never would have imagined.  As she experienced deep empathy for her husband she felt the anger soften and rise up and it was replaced with love.  A love that she believed was other worldly.

When she returned to group she seemed lighter, younger, more pink and alive.  The grayness disappeared.  Tears and softness seemed to become her.  She left group with a loving and hearty send-off and continues to work on reclaiming her life and her marriage.  As if by miracle, her husband seems to have softened and his “wise-acre” New Yorker has become a tender, recovering and deeply soulful man.

The hope for partners who have lost the rhythm of their life, who have lost their freedom, and who are searching for solid ground beneath their feet, is to be found through engaging in your own private journey.  Healing is much more difficult for partners.  Partners are the hostages and the walking wounded of this disease. Partners are hurricane victims.  Partners are survivors of war.  Partners are victims of home invasion.  Partners are the grieving widow .  Partners are scud missile survivors.

Partners’ wellness depends upon forgiveness of the deepest and most profound sort;  Exoneration.    Exoneration replaces confusion, harm, outrage, and victimization with compassion.  Compassion is a cornerstone to the reparative process which, when realized, allows space for reconciliation.

The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous reminds us to “wait for the miracle” and urges addicts to be “painstaking about their recovery.”  The promise is that ” we are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness” and that “they (the promises of recovery) will always materialize if we work for them.”

The miracle of this couple – the miracle of this story is a powerful message to all who are fighting the disease of sexual addiction and defending their sobriety.   Work your recovery.  Work, work, work.  Fight for your miracle.  And, to pass on the wisdom of the 12 steppers ” …it works if you work it, so work it, cause you’re worth it, one day at a time, tomorrow’s too late”.

Wishing you peace on your journey,