Thank you to Alicia for sharing her strength, hope, and experience in this post about her journey to healing.
Each time I pass the anniversary of my rock bottom, I can’t believe another year has passed. It’s been eight years now -eight years of learning a new way of living and even a new vocabulary: addiction, sponsor, drama triangle, gaslighting, surrender, boundaries…
Eight years ago, I realized I couldn’t persuade my husband to choose me -no matter how comfortable I made my home, how attractive I made my body, how enticing I made our time together. I was in some sort of warped, perpetual tug-of-war with an unseen, overpowering being, and I was losing. No matter how hard I tried to win my husband over, something else tugged even harder at him and won every time.
And that December day all those years ago, I let the rope go.
It was the scariest, most painful night of my life, and for a long, long time, I simply couldn’t get up. It was as if the tug-of-war had exhausted every ounce of strength and energy in my body and soul and I was some sort of empty, sad shell with nothing to offer anyone. My small children ate cold cereal in front of a constant stream of Netflix while I curled up in bed and cried when I had the strength and slept when I didn’t. I wasn’t able to care for myself at all, let alone care for my home and family. It was such a dramatic shift from where I was only a few months prior. Only a few short months earlier, I was in total control of my house and home. Everyone was fed, activities were planned and carried out, and I poured my energy into managing it all, hoping my husband would feel and see my work -see me!
After hitting rock bottom and while in bed, I picked up a few resources and began reaching out to women who were married to sex addicts. I felt mousey and small in an unfamiliar world. I listened in pure horror to women talk about how they’d been married to a sex addict for over twenty years. TWENTY. I wanted to flee support groups as much as I wanted to be in them. I hopped from program to program, finding truth and help along the way.
It was grueling, confusing work. The worst part about those early years was how incredibly messy my outward life was. I spent hours gaining education and sitting through online counseling. My bedrest slowly morphed into online time. I found sisters working different kinds of recovery across the globe. Articles were downloaded and devoured and applied. Books were inhaled. Information poured in faster than my depleted system was ready to handle. Every program I attended was helpful in their own way, and I began finding a sort of path clearing in the foggy confines of my parched, unhealthy brain pathways. I began speaking up when I wasn’t okay, setting boundaries and following through. My first sponsor read and responded to long, detailed emails from me in the middle of the night.
No matter how hard I worked -and I was working VERY hard -things got worse. So much worse. As I began actively working my recovery, my marriage got worse- not better. My home became more and more of a mess. I made no progress losing the ten pounds I’d gained the year after hitting rock bottom -primarily because I wasn’t even trying to lose it. I was in survival mode and Oreos sometimes made for breakfast and a midnight snack with scant snacks between times. I sometimes watch our old home videos from that time and see two children in diapers crawling around on a carpet with dirty and clean clothes. Pizza boxes and piles of paper are in the background.
It was chaos.
Because addiction is chaos, and I’d been covering it SO WELL for YEARS. I’d MANAGED it and HID it, and now I was too tired, too worn to even try. The more recovery work I did, the less willing I felt to hide anything. After a few years, I found the SAL 12-step program online and my new SAL sponsor said to me, “Commit to attending 6 meetings before dismissing the SAL meetings altogether.”
It felt like an ominous warning.
I started at Step 1 with my SAL sponsor using the S-anon literature, and things continued to shift in my life. Was anything shifting outwardly? I couldn’t say. The leaves in the yard weren’t shifting unless my husband did something about it. The dishes shifted sometimes and sometimes… not. In short: there was no outward evidence of my heart’s hardest work. I wasn’t worried about creating a wonderful atmosphere for my husband anymore. I was fully concentrating on creating an inward atmosphere for myself -a body and soul that welcomed every crack, every break, every beautiful part of my own self.
It was an all-consuming labor of love that left absolutely no time or space for worrying about rejection from my husband. I let go of him. I let go of our marriage. I turned my attention to God, turned my pained face upward toward Him and pled for the love and intimacy I’d been so hungry for.
He responded in full-force, filling my life in ways I never could have anticipated. He showed me the gorgeous miracle of finding love and intimacy not only with Him but within MYSELF. It gave me strength to get a job, to separate from a husband who wasn’t working recovery and who was resistant to mine. It gave me strength to make amends to myself -to buy make-up when I needed it, to stretch my body and soak in sunlight. I began a meditation practice. Honesty with self and others became more important than the false store-front I’d worked so hard over the years to build. I tore it down -sometimes carefully, sometimes with blinding tears of rage.
Eight years later, I’m doing well. Circumstances aren’t easy, but there is EASE IN ME. Eight years later, my bed is made more often. My body is fed mindfully (mostly!) and I’m able to connect with myself, my God and my family. My husband has found his own path, and we reconciled. But even if we hadn’t, I would still be doing well.
Around me -EIGHT years later -are physical manifestations of the hard work I’ve been doing. NOW I am able to see results. My inward work is manifesting outwardly. For me, it’s taken that long.
I’m so glad I didn’t give up completely -though there were days that I did and vowed I would never attend another meeting or read another recovery book or speak another recovery word.
But something deep within me, maybe it was hope, maybe it was my unyielding intuition, maybe it was a suitable companionship of the two, drove me forward and upward on the hike up Recovery Mountain. With each new boundary I set and kept, the skies cleared more and more. The pathways in my brain began to rewire themselves. It takes time. It takes consistency. It takes compassion and patience and enough vulnerability to kill a Viking warrior.
But the view from Recovery Mountain is breathtaking, freeing and serene. Though the terrain is rugged, the payoff is well worth it. Before embarking on this path, I lived life through a sort of “if/then” lens, sure that when my husband quit looking at porn, THEN I’d find peace or IF I’d just lose 10 inches or 10 pounds, THEN I’d be happy. We lived in small rentals all our marriage, and I was sure that when we bought a house, THEN I’d be happy. We lived in our last rental for 7 years, and it was in that 2-bedroom rental that I hit my rock bottom and couldn’t get out of bed, where I learned about addiction and hope and support. It was where I found out that I have choices and that the best way to move forward was by being still. I let go. I let go of hustling and managing everyone and everything. I embraced God and embraced my journey as it is with it’s drips and falls and spills and brilliant, sparkling moments of blessed joy.
Ten days ago, we moved into our first home. As I stood on my broad, beautiful porch and talked with my sponsor today -checking in for the first time in a few weeks -I realized how rich it feels to have dropped the idea that somehow life would be different NOW that I have a house. Life isn’t different because my circumstances have changed. Life is different because my mind and soul have changed and are ever-changing, no matter if I sleep in a rental or in a tent! No matter if I have two kids in diapers or three kids tossing board game pieces all over the floor because they’ve lost their right to TV time. No matter what or when or where, I have access to peace, to ease, to breathtaking views and heart-bursting moments.
There is no arrival on this path, only a whole-hearted journey. Eight years ago, that fact would have done me in. Today, I am filled with gratitude because the point IS the path. So if you’re just starting out in recovery, my clarion call down Recovery Mountain is simply this: hold on, hold still, and hold fast. Manifestations of healing come in their own time.
Alicia is a country girl out of Arizona who loves to write, cook, drink herbal tea and hire other people to clean her house. She has many interests and dabbles in anything she can get her hands on, and her family is always along for the ride. She’s been married for 12 years, has three children and more pets than she wants to admit.
She’s been working a 12-step program for almost 6 years, and has been working the SA Lifeline model with a sponsor for the last 3.