Why did you stay? The most often asked question of me.
At the time of the first disclosure, I was so naïve and without any information. I had a strong commitment to the marriage and our family and I believed that people can change-repent and put behaviors behind them. But I also felt hat I must be in some way responsible. If only I was more beautiful, more sexual, a better person and even smarter, then surely he wouldn’t have the need to go to pornography and other acting out behaviors.
The second time he came forward and disclosed, I was extremely upset and spent hours in bitter tears and anguish. But then I picked myself up, dusted myself off and went to work. I decided that this was more than a few slips of judgement. The idea of an addiction emerged. So I found a specialist in the field of sexual addiction, I read books- I encouraged him to go to a support group- I did the work. He was willing to go along with it but didn’t become fully engaged.
The third time, I had a total surrender moment- I surrendered to God, and I knew that I had done all that I could and probably more than I should have. All my hard work to pull him along had not helped him and perhaps I had even enabled his addiction. I believed that the marriage was over. He had had his own surrender moment the night before unbeknownst to me and had determined to do all that it takes to change. It was hard for me to believe or trust that. The therapist that my husband found asked me in our first meeting if I could stay in the marriage if my husband was in recovery. I knew that I had never seen recovery and said so. And how could I trust what recovery looks like? With a great deal of confidence the therapist said, “You will know”.
Today I do know what it looks like.
All this experience has shown me that I didn’t cause my husband’s addiction, I can’t control it and I can’t fix it.
Those statements are freeing to me but I also know that I have felt in the past that if I can’t do something about a difficulty that is so troubling to me and tearing my family apart, I feel hopeless and helpless. I learned that there were some things that I could do.
I needed healing from the trauma, not because I was weak but because I was hurt.
The following are some of the actions I took to heal and improve my life.
- Self-care (not to be confused with selfishness)
Slow down physically and emotionally. I took long walks where I looked to the mountains and sang songs of faith to myself. I determined to get enough rest, exercise, and nutrition. I tried to look out side myself and give small acts of service, especially to my children. I learned to take care of myself a little better.
There was a tendency to withdraw from society and people around me so it was helpful to find those whom I could reach out to which takes me to the next point.
- Finding support and safety
A support group of women who have been through this and are working their programs of healing has been very important to me- I find safety there. A sponsor is also important. Someone who can understand, guide and encourage me is critical.
Qualified counseling is also helpful.
Developing a strong spiritual connection is of utmost importance and an informed and inspired ecclesiastical leader can be a wonderful support. The process of healing is a spiritual process that cannot be underestimated- regardless of a person’s religious background.
Creating safety through boundariesMy motto is: “I happily support my husband’s recovery action and behaviors but I refuse to enable addict behaviors”.
Some examples of Recovery actions are:
Daily total honesty, attending his support group and working his steps and turning toward relationships. Addict behaviors are
Blaming, victim attitude, resentment, denial and minimizing.
I must be true to myself and what I believe to be right and I make choices about the behaviors that I can accept in my life, my home and family based on that truth. This helps me to feel safe.
We have in our home a very important visual reminder, a painting entitled, ”Gently Up the Stream” by Linda Curley Christenson. I see myself as the woman in the left canoe. I am gently rowing my canoe, doing my own work to heal. My husband is gently rowing his canoe working his recovery daily. Thankfully we are still in the same river, headed in the same direction and close to each other but I know that I have choices. I can stay or I can go and there are many women who out of no fault of their own have had to leave their marriages. But the biggest choice that I make every day is how I feel. If I live in the past I live with resentment, bitterness and victim. If I live in the future, I live with fear which paralyzes me. I choose to live in the present and feel gratitude for the present blessings and gifts that are mine. I live where my feet are…one day at a time.