What is my relationship with S-Anon? Well, basically, I don’t have one. In a perfect world my husband would have worked with his therapist, told the therapist the truth about his secret sex life, all of it, and then worked with the therapist on a way to more safely inform me of Blue Eyes’ sexual compulsivity. I would not have had to endure the traumatizing phone call from the vindictive other woman. I wouldn’t have had to sit and wonder for days (weeks, perhaps, months even?) whether my husband was merely a cheater who had been caught and was now pretending to be remorseful. I never believed he was hateful and mean. I was totally devastated. An expert could have explained, to both of us, how Blue Eyes fit the pattern of a sex addict, and about recovery. Instead, there was a horrifying phone call, immediate trauma, and many lonely days.
Within hours of finding out about Blue Eye’s secret life, I scoured the internet for answers. But, because I was traumatized I wasn’t looking for support groups or therapists for me, I was voraciously reading about why people cheat, while tears streamed down my face and puddled on my desktop, day after day, night after night. I had no real knowledge of sex addiction (and at the time had no idea Blue Eyes was a sex addict) other than tabloid headlines. All I knew was that my husband was messed up. He wasn’t who I thought he was. Period. The articles and blogs written by other women, mistresses if you will, that I stumbled on were so destructive to my already fragile psyche. My spirit was broken. My self esteem, obliterated.
Once Blue Eyes was officially diagnosed and he embraced that diagnosis, because without him acknowledging he had a serious problem that only he could address, our relationship was doomed, I set forth researching sex addiction, and whoa. Even as recently as January 2014 sex addiction deniers were rampant on the internet (still are, of course). So much of what I read simply made the whole thing out to be a joke, an excuse for bad behavior. Or, it was demonized. At that point I realized I could only focus on me, my marriage, and the experts who were helping us define our new reality. At first, my desire to save my marriage, and to believe my husband (that he hated himself, felt shame every day, and regretted every minute of his secret life) were based on fear. The fear of losing my best friend, and the fear of my life changing drastically from what I had known for thirty years. But that fear eventually did morph into belief. Belief that my husband is a good guy who was damaged as a child and who chose addiction to cope when he wasn’t even old enough to understand how damaged he already was, and as the addiction grew, it became unmanageable for him. I know he didn’t want to be hurting people, but hurting people was part and parcel to his survival. It just was. Hurt people, hurt people. Not always, but often.
My first introduction to the term S-Anon was while reading a book very early on in this process that had been recommended to Blue Eyes by his therapist. The book was Patrick Carnes’ ‘Don’t Call it Love: Recovery from Sexual Addiction.’ Patrick Carnes basically coined the term ‘sex addiction.’ In other words, Carnes was the first to attribute specific sexual acting out behaviors as addiction. This next bit is straight out of Wikipedia…
Carnes attributes the source of the addictions to the addict’s belief system. He believes that a fundamental momentum for the addiction is provided by “certain core beliefs” that are wrong or incorrect. “Generally, addicts do not perceive themselves as worthwhile persons. Nor do they believe that other people would care for them or meet their needs if everything was known about them, including the addiction. Finally, they believe that sex is their most important need. Sex is what makes isolation bearable. If you do not trust people, one thing that is true about sex – and alcohol, food, gambling, and risk – is that it always does what it promises–for the moment. Thus, as in our definition of addiction, the relationship is with sex – and not people.”
Patrick Carnes has basically nailed Blue Eyes to a tee in his description above regarding core beliefs. Blue Eyes truly believed he was worthless (he was trained to believe this by his parents, and he was neglected from infancy) and he flat out said to me on discovery day, “if you knew the truth about me, I knew you couldn’t love me anymore.” That was the belief (he totally believed it) that he told himself each and every day in order to keep his addiction going. And, even though it took me many months to understand this… and some days I still wonder, he had no real relationship with the people with whom he was having sex. He needed his drug, his drug escalated to sex with women outside our marriage, and he was willing to do and say anything to get that drug. I do believe he also liked the ego stroking, it temporarily filled a big gaping hole in him, but he never truly believed it. His secret sex life was built on lies and deception. How could any of it truly fill his deepest needs? (rhetorical question)
Now, I don’t agree with all of Carnes’ old school ideologies regarding partners of sex addicts, but I’m absolutely not going to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I believe Carnes is spot on in his assessment of the addict. In my opinion, Carnes’ attitudes towards partners of sex addicts harkens back to Alcoholics, AA, and Al-Anon. Partners, families, and friends of alcoholics often witness extremely destructive behaviors from their addicts each and every day. They live in fear and isolation and many times severe abuse. I do acknowledge that this sometimes happens in SA families as well. Al-Anon is a place of refuge.
Al-Anon/Alateen literature focuses on problems common to family members and friends of alcoholics such as excessive care-taking, an inability to differentiate between love and pity and loyalty to abusers, rather than the problems of the alcoholic. The organization acknowledges that members may join with low self-esteem, largely a side-effect of unrealistically overestimating their agency and control: attempting to control another person’s drinking behavior and, when they fail, blaming themselves for the other person’s behavior. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Anon/Alateen)
Carnes discusses in his books and in interviews this concept that partners of sex addicts are co-dependent, that they are aware of the sexual acting out behaviors of their partners (I like to call this hindsight is always 20/20) and that often times they are out of control, and/or try to control the behavior of their addict (I call this trauma). In the wives of sex addicts group I attended early on, two of the wives had been married for over 30 years. They both knew early on in the marriage that their husband was cheating on them. They looked the other way. They believed somehow it was their fault that their husband sought other women. Once their husbands were diagnosed, decades into their marriages, they found solace and healing in S-Anon. There were also wives who sought out S-Anon because it was the only place they could find women who understood what they were going through. I get that too. Unfortunately, the level of my trauma at the time, coupled with my particular personality, would not allow me to embrace an organization in which I was expected to work the 12 steps myself.
Here are the 12 steps adapted for S-anon (source: sanon.org):
The Twelve Steps of S-Anon
The Twelve Steps of S-Anon are the foundation of our personal growth and recovery. The principles of the Twelve Steps are universal, applicable to all of us, regardless of our various beliefs. When practiced as a way of life, these spiritual principles help us to meet and rise above all difficulties in our lives – not just those associated with living with or having lived with sexaholism. Here are the Twelve Steps we follow which are suggested for our recovery:
- We admitted we were powerless over sexaholism – that our lives had become unmanageable.
- Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
- Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
- Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
- Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
- Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
- Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
- Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
- Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
- Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to others and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
I had a commenter come on this blog a couple years ago and in a few different comments she not so subtly suggested I should start taking responsibility for condoning my husband’s behavior over the years. She is a big proponent of S-Anon and was convinced that I had subconsciously (or even consciously) known all along that my husband was cheating on me and I was in denial and that the 12 steps would help me with that. This was a huge turnoff to me. Her blog was littered with self hate, self blame, and co-dependent rhetoric. Needless to say, this did not help with my opinions of S-Anon. I do, however, realize this is one woman, and one woman’s behavior, and one woman’s opinions. I did not know my husband was cheating on me, I have never truly (outside of my sexual addiction induced trauma) blamed myself for my husband’s behavior, nor do I believe my trauma responses were indicative of me being a weak-minded person trying to control my husband’s “bad” ways. And in fact, at this point, I think what was going on subconsciously was that I always knew Blue Eyes was co-dependent. He believed that without the approval of his parents, he was nothing. Period. Blue Eyes’ parents don’t give approval. Period. I had no idea the implications of his kind of childhood wounds and that kind of co-dependency.
Even reading the 12 steps now, today, approaching four years of enlightenment and healing, I cannot rationalize working those steps for myself. They just don’t jive with who I am and my belief system and what I have been through. And at first, in full on trauma, I couldn’t imagine being in a room full of people acknowledging that I somehow needed to make amends to someone for the sheer torment I was going through. I understand Anon groups are more than just working the steps with a sponsor. I understand that when people find the right meeting for them, it can be quite healing and lasting friendships are made. I do get this. I just instinctively knew it was not the place for me. We all have choices. I merely wish partners of sex addicts had more choices. I know women who embrace S-Anon, I know women who have betrayed partner and wives of sex addicts groups that work well. I know women who have embraced religious-based healing programs. As I have said many times here, trauma therapy, this blog, a healing seminar for betrayed wives, making friends who have this in common, and building on those relationships with activities that have absolutely nothing to do with infidelity and trauma (like trips to New Zealand, and Paris) have helped me heal.
The Sexaholism version of these 12 steps that my husband worked for two years and which he continues to fine tune, embellish on if you will, work for life, have been a lifesaver. “Working the steps” provides immeasurable healing for Blue Eyes. Even though he does not associate with a God (the meetings he attends are non-religious), and he has been able to define a higher power for himself that has absolutely nothing to do with religion, finding his spiritual center is something he now realizes he desperately needed. Recognizing he was hurting people and hurting himself and acknowledging at his core that he is part of a bigger universe to which he needs to give more, and take less, has been critical to his owning his past. He’s still working on living life without shame, and addressing his childhood wounds, but that is what therapy is for. I think he might say the friendships he has made in 12 step bring him the most contentment and joy in the aftermath of his awakening, but that is purely my observation.
In the end, reaching out is good. Having a place to go where people understand and embrace us for who we are is good. Being part of a loving community is good. No matter how we all find that place, finding it is part of the journey.