Editor’s note: This is another personal story of a woman who has faced the challenge of a spouse having a sex/pornography addiction. See more stories in our pornography addiction personal stories index.
This Old House
In March 2010, I started the cross-country drive from my home in South Carolina back to Utah with my brother, Dave. My marriage had unraveled and ended, and I was moving back to my home base to spend time with my parents, grieve, and figure out what was next for me.
Midway through New Mexico, I saw an old house on the side of the road. It was dilapidated, the paint peeling, and standing on short, very questionable-looking pieces of wood, like it had been placed there. There was a feeling of solitude, a sense of being bereft about the house. It was standing by itself in a large field, with nothing around it, and against all obvious odds, still standing. It was sort of reminiscent of Dorothy’s house landing in Oz. The sky behind the house was a beautiful, stormy type of overcast, and I thought, “what a great picture” and took some shots.
The more I thought about that house, the more I saw myself in it. I felt old, broken, weather-beaten, and very, very, tired. I felt bereft, just like the house, and had no idea how I had come to be where I was. I had seen, heard, said, and lived through things that no wife should ever have to experience. But I was still standing.
My husband had asked for the divorce. He said he was “done.” I had done everything I could, along the way figuring out that I couldn’t save my marriage by myself. I still didn’t really know why my marriage had gotten to the place it had. This was not supposed to be my life. However, amidst it all, I was blessed to always feel the underlying peace that I would be all right, even if my marriage ended. I know other ex-wives who had not had that gift, so I know I was lucky to have that assurance. I was devastated, sad, depressed, in shock, numb, hurt, betrayed, and alone, but I knew I would be all right.
I was also really confused. I honestly didn’t know what had happened, except that I gathered that I had not met my husband’s expectations of what he needed his wife to be. I had had family members talk to me about the possibility of my husband being back into pornography, but I didn’t see it that way. I didn’t want to see it. I knew he had a past with it, before we were married, but I didn’t want to believe that was the “missing piece,” as another brother phrased it. I know now that I was in absolute denial.
Fast forward to my sitting in a counselor’s office on my first visit. I was telling her my story, not pointing out anything in particular, but by the end of the session, she dropped the bomb of an observation. She told me, “If I had a million dollars to bet on whether your husband’s addiction to pornography is still alive and well, there is no question where I would put that money. “
The more I thought about it, the less I could reason it away. I had to admit to myself that I was the spouse of an addict.
I found the missing piece.
The puzzle fit together, and everything made sense. All of a sudden, I could look at my marriage and see it for what it was. I saw situations differently. I understood more what had happened beneath the surface. The unraveling of my marriage just made sense.
That conversation was life-changing for me. I had two choices. I could walk away and move on, pushing him out of my life once and for all, and assume that because the addict was out of my life that my problems were solved. Or, I could go into Recovery as the spouse of an addict, and work through my own codependency issues so that I wouldn’t walk right back into that type of relationship, whether it was back to my ex, or straight into the arms of another addict.
Guess what I chose?
I started Recovery. In the beginning, I didn’t even know what codependency was, let alone that I was (what I would call) a Raging Codependent. But as I started attending S-Anon* meetings, I knew immediately that I had much in common with the other women in the room. It was really liberating to talk to others who understood. I was not alone, and that felt so good.
I started to see another counselor, one who specializes in sexual addiction recovery. As I talked to her and went to my group meetings, a whole new understanding started to open up to me. And it wasn’t necessarily about my estranged, soon-to-be-ex spouse. It was about me. Gradually, my own behavior started to make sense, and not just within my marriage. I started to see patterns of unhealthy, codependent ways of thinking and reacting to my world elsewhere–in my past romantic relationships, as well as with friends and family. I started to see that because I genuinely thought I could control my husband’s negative behaviors, I had developed a sort of savior complex. I was “taking care” of him so much that it was at the expense of my own needs and well being, and actually very likely enabling him as an addict. I was not helping him all those times I thought I was, and I certainly wasn’t helping or taking care of myself. I learned that my emotional health was in a state of crisis, just like his, and he was “the addict.” How did that happen?
Let me pause here and give a basic definition of codependency, because I think a lot of people misuse the word. Prior to going into Recovery, I really didn’t even know what it meant myself. And it has a lot of facets to it. But essentially, codependency is when you depend on someone else for your sense of well being. Once you do that, inevitably, you will start to try and control that person’s behavior, or a situation around you, so that you can always feel all right. I had to control my husband’s addiction because I felt that was the only way we both (meaning I) would be happy. Of course, I didn’t realize it at the time. But I realize it now.
An example is when I let my temple recommend lapse for three months because I was waiting until he was available to do his interviews at the same time, so that just in case he decided to go back to the temple with me, he would have it. I was afraid that if I didn’t hold his hand, and make sure he got it renewed, that he wouldn’t do it on his own. Of course, he never went back to the temple with me anyway, not for the rest of our marriage. But I was going to make sure he had it, just the same. As if I was in charge of his salvation. And I thought it kept me sane, just knowing he could go if he chose to. I made that situation about me, and my need to control someone else in order to feel okay.
For those of you reading this who think, “That isn’t me,” I have learned that addiction and codependency often go hand in hand.
According to www.dictionary.com, codependent means “of or pertaining to a relationship in which one person is physically or psychologically addicted, as to alcohol or gambling, and the other person is psychologically dependent on the first in an unhealthy way.”
I know. It still may not make sense, and sometimes we think, “I’m not like that.” I have thought that many times, and then gone and done what I thought I wouldn’t do, just so I could keep my husband happy. But it was at my expense. I had to be the BEST wife, because I needed to keep him happy. If he was happy, I was happy. Literally. That is codependency at its best, or worst. I was absolutely the definition of codependent.
Through Recovery I learned that not only was I not responsible for my husband’s addiction, but his addiction wasn’t my fault, and there was nothing I could do about it. Again, that seems like common sense, right? But I guarantee that I thought all of those things. I literally thought that if my husband ever got back into porn, it would by my fault, because the only time he told me that he had acted out, I had handled the information badly. Later on in my marriage, I convinced myself that he probably didn’t feel safe with me, and so it would be my fault if he ever got involved in it again. Which is exactly what happened, and exactly the argument he used against me to justify his emotional disconnect from me. But you know what? He was wrong. It wasn’t my fault that he got back into porn; in fact, it really had nothing to do with me. What a beautiful realization!
However, the fact is, I did feel responsible for him and his feelings, choices, and life. I had placed the power for my well being in his hands, even when he certainly had not asked for it. I had done that in other facets of my life as well. So, my Recovery had to become about me. It wasn’t about recovering from my husband’s addiction. Sure, I have a lot that I am working through as a direct result of my marriage, but my codependency did not come from my spouse. I realized I had unhealthy thinking patterns and habits that went all the way back to my childhood. Therefore, I almost always entered into unhealthy relationships, having no concept of how I was contributing to the unhealthiness myself. I didn’t even know they were unhealthy in the first place.
About six months after I started Recovery, and two months after my divorce was finalized, my ex came back to me, very sad, and asked to reconcile. I felt like I had been thrown back into the fire. I prayed and prayed for guidance, and received a very strong, very direct answer from God that I was not to change the course I was on. So I didn’t. The day I left our apartment we had shared was the hardest day of my life. The day I had to tell him that our relationship was definitely over, with no hope of reconciliation, came in at a close second. I was devastated all over again, but held my ground, knowing what I was doing was right for me. I was finally healthy enough to do that. I couldn’t have done it a year before.
I still continue in my Recovery today. I have found so much understanding and hope because of it. My relationship with God has grown deeper, and I have learned the hard way what it is to truly surrender my will to the Lord. I am still learning that lesson, over and over again, every day.
I was married to a sexaholic. My marriage ended. Sometimes that happens; not everyone gets to keep his or her marriage intact with this addiction. The fact is, many don’t. But you know what? We can recover; we can move forward and be happy. And what’s more, we can come to a place that is spiritually and emotionally healthier than maybe we have ever been. Then, it isn’t about the addict. It is about our relationship with God, and our relationship with ourselves.
Let me be clear: Recovery is not easy. I have been compelled to face things about myself that I don’t like, and to take a more honest approach to my life and relationships than I have before. It is a process I am in every day, and some days are better than others. But I guarantee the journey is worth it. I am becoming better than I have ever been. I understand more. I hope I am more compassionate, while at the same time not feeling the need to solve everyone’s problems. Recovery is difficult, and a daily process, but it is freeing. So freeing.
Some days I am a total mess. I obsess about something I have no control over, or I can’t get disturbing thoughts out of my head, and I literally feel insane. Then I remember Step 2 of the S-Anon Twelve Steps:
“…Believe a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
Only God can take my burdens. I can rely on Him for my sense of well being. I don’t need to rely on anyone else, not even myself, because sometimes, I can’t trust myself. That is another thing I am working on. But in the end, only God can restore my sanity, so every day, I place the power for my serenity with Him. And when I can do that, it is a beautiful place to be. That is Recovery.
I married a good man. I still believe he is a good man, even though the Lord has not seen fit that our paths come together again. I don’t regret marrying him. I say this so that I can be clear that this addiction can happen to anyone. It isn’t only the creepy man down the street anymore, who stays in his house with the curtains drawn. There are good men and women everywhere becoming enslaved. I would hope this affliction doesn’t affect your life, but my guess is that it might. And if so, there is hope. I found it.
I have a great life now. I am moving forward, and making decisions about the next chapter for me. It is exciting and scary at the same time. I still grieve my marriage sometimes. It is hard to make life-changing decisions without someone else there. I wouldn’t wish divorce on my worst enemy. But since it was my lot to go through it, I am so grateful for the lessons I have learned through my Recovery. I am slowly coming to the place where I can say I am grateful this all happened, because it brought me to where I am now. And I know I am where I need to be. I am confident in that.
I wonder if that old house is still there, in that field on the side of a small highway somewhere in New Mexico. I hope so. We are survivors, that house and I. We both have a beauty born only from coming through a storm, and I would like to think that house is still standing, because I sure am.
*S-Anon is the counterpart to Sexaholics Anonymous, a 12-Step group for friends and family members of Sexaholics. www.sanon.org.