I am approaching my four year anniversary of recovery from co-dependency, co-addiction, and compulsive behaviors. I cannot believe how differently my life looks and feels today. I have such gratitude waking up with contentment and serenity. I have traveled a lot of miles along The Healing Lane, seeking and pushing forward, resting at times, and slowing the pace when needed.
It was July 14, 2012 – it’s amazing how certain dates are etched in our memories – when my transformation began. It is the day that my tolerance for my husband’s addictions and my co-dependent behaviors with it were confronted. Seventeen years earlier in July, however, is when I learned about his addiction when he disclosed to me why he had been so miserable and angry. It is one of the most painful moments I have experienced. It is this anniversary that has me thinking about and dealing with some feelings that I have avoided for quite a while.
There is an intensity to my feelings as I’m taken back to that summer evening in 1995. It is when I learned that my husband was addicted to pornography and that he had several compulsive sexual behaviors that made up his sexual life. Alongside this, however, was the awareness and painful realization that he was unable to have intimate sexual relations with me. It was a double-sided knife that bore into my core as I tried to understand that he had a whole sexual life apart from me while not participating in a sexual life with me. It was a lot to take in. Like bent over in gripping pain a lot. It wasn’t until I started recovery that I had terms for this. He is a sex addict that acts out by compulsively seeking sexual pleasure outside the relationship as well as acting in by compulsively avoiding sexual and emotional intimacy. The latter description is about sexual avoidance or sexual anorexia, both terms I have come to use about the disease that has affected me so greatly.
My therapy and recovery are about dealing with my behaviors and my disease. These have included many lessons on learning how to remain present when issues from my past, uncomfortable feelings, triggering episodes, and traumatic events surface. Letting go of my unhealthy coping behaviors such as compulsive eating, smoking, shopping, sex, or numbing (tv and computer), working, obsessive thinking, (the list goes on) has taken a lot of fortitude, honesty, and effort. I’m reminded when uncomfortable feelings or situations occur that simply staying sober is an accomplishment because I had become so accustomed to medicating away those feelings. Fortunately, I have been a good student and I have learned healthy behaviors and to stay present for myself.
This is why I think that when this memory of my husband’s disclosure surfaced recently, I could use the tools and experiences to help navigate through them without needing to use those outdated coping behaviors. In this case, it was that I was feeling again how alone I was having just heard his confession and with absolutely no understanding of these compulsive sexual behaviors. I felt completely and utterly rejected by my husband and yet there was an expectation to forgive him and to be supportive of his dealing with this issue. What I didn’t know is that this was a traumatic experience for me. My life completely changed in that moment. I was no longer in the dark; it was the passing of what remained of my innocence. The world of addiction and its devastating effects had now overtaken me and my life. Overwhelmed with feelings, thoughts, and expectations, I did what was natural to me: I rose to the challenge by becoming super-supportive and stuffing what I couldn’t process. I can see that how I reacted to the pressures, feelings, and circumstances reveals my issues.
I don’t actually remember much from the days that followed. As they re-surface, I am choosing to be understanding, compassionate, and loving to myself. I can accept that at that time that I acted in what I thought was in the best interest for my family. I did forgive him; I did support him; I did, in fact, do everything I knew to do to help him, be understanding, come to his aid, take the high road, travel the low road when it was needed, and to be the wife that stood by her addicted husband. I became a classic case of a co-dependent of a sex-addict. I really thought I was helping him and doing the right thing. And I really thought it would work.
My choice to stay in the marriage and to fight for our family, especially noting the impact to our young son, was honorable. Meanwhile I didn’t understand what was happening to me by not receiving the help that I needed. My husband’s issues were the focus and my job was to forgive and to find help for him. For eight years this is what I did. I sought out every program and possibility for help that I knew. Eventually I gave up. I was exhausted, had lost hope, and was filled with shame. I thought that I had failed by not being enough. Or too much. Whatever it was, it was partly my fault or maybe even mostly my fault. I was supposed to be able to save him. My guilt, shame, pain, anger, loneliness, and fear were more than I could handle and so another of my issues – medicating feelings instead of expressing them – took hold in increasingly harmful ways.
I know differently now. His shame is not mine to carry; I have my own around abandoning myself and for the compulsive behaviors I have engaged in to medicate away my pain. I can honor myself by allowing stuffed feelings to surface and be expressed. I can forgive myself for not putting myself as a priority, for falling into the depression that nearly swallowed me up, and for becoming morbidly obese.
What I seek today it to be present for myself as I allow those really intense feelings to surface. I cry. I breathe and follow the paths of sensation in my body. I speak kindly and lovingly to myself. I repeat affirmations of my value and worthiness. I reach out to friends. I reach for God. I turn inward and access peace, serenity, and joy. I continue working the Twelve Steps. I am alone and yet, I am never alone.
This anniversary is a celebration. It is a reminder of what has changed in four years – in 21 years! – and the marvelous journey of The Healing Lane.