I’ve written numerous times here of my support of the 12 step program for addicts, especially sex addicts. I have read numerous blog entries over the years from people whose opinion differs from mine. I get it. I have actually never been to a 12 step meeting, of any kind, so why would I think it is appropriate to write about it? Well, I’ve never been a sex addict either, but I sure know more than I would ever like to know about what it means to define oneself as a sex addict. Living with an addict provides a harrowing education, like it or not. Many of the negative posts I have read about 12 step are written by those who have not been to a 12 step meeting and don’t want to be associated with the label “sex addict” and/or those who tried, but failed, at understanding the usefulness of Sexaholics Anonymous (SA), or Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA), or Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA) or Sexual Compulsives Anonymous (SCA). Sex addiction (whatever you want to call it) is REAL. From my point of view, 12 step (like most things in life) is what we make of it. Here is a Psychology Today article that speaks to the distinctions of each different group: How to find the right 12 step group
The author also talks about the common reasons people with compulsive sexual behaviors use to not attend 12 step. The addicts I have known and read about have lived in isolation with their secret lives for years. The last thing they want to do is admit that getting so far out of their comfort zone and sharing with people whose behaviors may or may not look like their own, will be healing to them. It’s scary and excuses abound for why any given meeting is not for them. Blue Eyes attended a few meetings before he found a decent fit, and at the time, he still believed that he was different from the other guys. As I have said many times here, he was just like all the other guys. Their acting out behaviors may be different, but the underlying wounds and reasons for needing the sexual, or emotional, hit were the same. In my mind, 12 step is not a replacement for good therapy, but it is a necessary component of recovery. It’s also a great place to meet other people who actually really do understand what the addict has done, and why.
Okay, I’ve pretty much said all this before, so why this post, and why today? For the partner of a sex addict, 12 step can be a double-edged sword. The 12 step model was developed for alcoholics. In the case of most alcoholics, their addiction is obvious. Their behavior is overt. Families of alcoholics know their loved ones have a serious problem with alcohol and the use of it to cope with life. Like all addictions, this coping mechanism is highly dysfunctional. Alcohol and drug addicts have serious issues keeping their addiction a secret. Therefore, friends and family know of the addiction and that knowledge and their actions become part of a pattern of behavior. That pattern of behavior is often called co-dependence and the Anon groups were created in the model of AA. Friends and family can partake in their own recovery program with the support of other people living with alcoholics. Likewise, S-Anon can be very helpful for partners of sex addicts in that there is a common bond, especially if they knew their partner had compulsive sexual behaviors, like chronic porn viewing, or multiple affairs, etc… This was the case with most of the women in the partners of sex addict group I briefly attended nearly five years ago. Most had that bond of knowing something. The other participant who had no idea of her husband’s compulsive behaviors, needed a place she could go and be with women who had suffered the way she had. She was a retired mother of four, grandmother to many. Her 70+ year old husband was arrested for viewing child pornography. I was the only partner who wasn’t attending S-Anon. I do understand, however, what the other women were/are getting from S-Anon. It wasn’t a good fit for me. I’m not an addict and I’m not co-dependent. I was in serious trauma and needed professional help, which I received. The partners group was traumatizing enough. I heard stories of SWAT teams showing up at a house and confiscating all electronics. Stories of open marriages and affairs going back to a wedding night. One couple had two adopted children that were still young at that point, even though the couple was in their 50’s. They had their family home and then a separate apartment. Each parent got every other week off to be “free.” The betrayed wife admitted to multiple affairs in that apartment while her SA husband was “home” taking care of the children and yet, when it came time for me to tell my story, they all looked at me with sad and knowing eyes, as if I had the worst story of the bunch. Being clueless does suck, but at least I didn’t go for 30 years knowing my husband or my marriage was that fucked up. I felt alone and isolated in a room full of betrayed women. They had S-Anon, I had nothing.
I also do understand what my husband is getting from Sexaholics Anonymous. He has a safe place to go where people welcome him and understand him. I really always thought I was a safe place, but I wasn’t. He tossed me into the pile with all the other people who didn’t understand him, who would never understand and therefore I became just another reason he needed a secret life. This part really HURTS. He tossed me into that pile due to no fault of my own. He caused me a great deal of pain and suffering and that is flatly unfair. I know, I know, life is unfair, but now, NOW I have the truth in front of me. He can no longer use me as an excuse. I do know and I did stay and I have done everything in my power to heal myself from the wounds he inflicted and I want to be a safe place. I’ve earned the right to be a safe place for him. He is an addict. He can be moody. I get this.
Here’s the sticky part. Blue Eyes has a good friendship with one of the guys from his SA group. A really good friendship. When I went away for six weeks in 2016, this friend helped Blue Eyes attend 90 meetings in 90 days. He’s been sober quite a bit longer than Blue Eyes. He definitely suffers from anxiety and ADD, as does Blue Eyes. They “get” each other. All good. So, last week, post Christmas and New Years festivities, I was exhausted. Blue Eyes had also seemed a bit off, but really, he’s often “a bit off.” The holidays are definitely a double-edged sword. I give 150% and then I need rest. I need someone to take care of me. That person has most certainly been Blue Eyes. He knows there’s a price to pay for all that work. He doesn’t like it, would be happy to jet away to some island somewhere, but I need this time with my family, OUR family at this point since Blue Eyes is no contact with his family.
Last week we were cleaning up the beach house in preparation to head back to Portland. Blue Eyes’ phone was ringing. It was his SA friend. Blue Eyes looked at me and said, oh, I won’t take this. I’ll call him back later. This friend often calls Blue Eyes when he’s having a rough day. I said, nah, no biggie, take it now. So he answered the call and walked away from me into the kitchen. I returned to our bedroom to pack up a few things. About 15 minutes later I came out to the kitchen and realized Blue Eyes was still on the phone with his friend. He was talking very quietly. Blue Eyes said “thanks for calling me back.” Then he saw me and became visibly nervous. Strange. I asked if everything was okay. He said yeah, that his friend was having a bad day and just needed to vent. I told him I had heard him thank his friend for returning Blue Eyes’ call. That’s when I could tell that my partner of 35 years was contemplating telling me more lies. We lose eye contact, he stammers. He moves funny. Blue Eyes then said he had been struggling since his Dad’s birthday. At this point his Dad’s birthday had happened a couple weeks before. We had talked about it that day and the day after. Blue Eyes chose no contact almost five years ago. Yeah, it sucks. Yeah I know he feels empty sometimes having cut off every person from his family. Blue Eyes is the master of his own destiny. He knows contact with his family is bad for him, destructive to his recovery, but, but… that familiar abuse was like a really messed up security blanket. They were predictable, I’ll give them that. Constantly putting Blue Eyes down, degrading and berating him, even as a 50 year old man. He has chosen no contact wisely, and I realize that decision comes with some shitty days.
I said to Blue Eyes, “so you’ve been struggling for weeks and you are just telling me now?” He had no words. Blue Eyes has serious issues with a need for clandestine relationships. They fill a hole in him. Not all of these relationships were/are sexual. Many of them weren’t. At the office, sometimes he just disappears. No meeting on the calendar, no word to anyone where he is going. He’s usually off having coffee with someone. Someone he thinks he can help. In my mind, it’s about control. A perceived lack of control in his life. His secret life allowed him to be in control. This is clearly something he still struggles with and it’s really quite destructive to our relationship. I don’t mind him having a friend he can confide in. I welcome that. However, when nothing is shared with me, and weeks later he is still struggling, and he lies about it… that’s when I feel this is more about secrets and control than it is about his Dad’s birthday, or missing his fucked up family.
If he is on the phone with a “safe” friend and he has to whisper, something is wrong. I was already depleted of energy, struggling with symptoms of what I can only assume is menopause, needing my partner to be present with me, and finding out he’s not sharing, literally zaps me of every last ounce of energy I am holding onto.
Today, right now as I write this, is the five year anniversary of the moment the final other woman called my mobile phone and blew my world apart. I don’t care about her. I care that I’m exhausted. I care that I still have to have feelings that I’m not a safe place for my husband. He’s still my safe place. He’s still the one I want to confide in when I’m having a bad day. Yeah sure, I have me, blah blah blah. I’m an independent woman who could live on my own, but I’ve chosen not to.
It’s been five years and this is where I’m at. I passed the one year mark… “give him a year,” they said, and I did. I was far from healed, but made the conscious decision to stay, despite daily tears and dissociative moments. Day by day year two passed with loads of trauma and some fucked up therapy and some self harm. Still gallons of tears, but we made it through. Year three healing commenced in earnest. I generally felt better, life started to return to a bit of “normal.” Year four flew by with far fewer bad days and very few tears. I truly realized I could leave and thrive, but I wanted to thrive WITH Blue Eyes. Year five brought further healing, a reinvigorated dedication to my physical health, and real enjoyment back in my life.
So here I sit. Year six commences with the knowledge that this recovery journey with my husband will never end. It will always be part of our relationship. Ignoring that fact would be lying to myself. Without his addiction, Blue Eyes is a different person. In some ways better, in some ways more challenging. I approach the new year with my boundaries firmly in place. Today, I stay. The good outweighs the bad. Tomorrow could be different. I’ll attack tomorrow, tomorrow.
Happy New Year to all! ❤️