Some recent reading has prompted me to write about a lesson I learned VERY early on in this betrayed wife journey. Blue Eyes learned a similar lesson in his own way. Ironically I could see the lesson he needed to learn far more quickly than I could see my own.
When Blue Eyes came home from his first few meetings, I can’t remember if they were all Sexaholics Anonymous (SA) meetings, or if there were a few SAA (Sex Addicts Anonymous) meetings thrown in, doesn’t matter. What I do remember, however, was the impression he gave off of how he felt in those meetings early on in his recovery. He felt different from (dare I say it, better than) “those other guys.”
I know he felt sorry for some of the men in the meetings. Why would a serial cheating sex addict feel different than, or sorry for, another addict? He was playing the “I’m not as bad as that guy” game. When Blue Eyes attended one of his first SA meetings, it was on a Saturday at a large local church. There were multiple Addiction meetings taking place around the same time. He walked up to one of the rooms and asked the men standing around if this was the SA meeting. These men looked at Blue Eyes with disgust and disdain (at least in Blue Eyes’ interpretation) and said, “no, your meeting is over there. This is an AA meeting.” As if Alcoholics are a far better species of man than Sexaholics. Six years ago no one wanted to be associated with a sex addict. But the real death knell… was being diagnosed AS a sex addict. It used to be the same for alcoholics, but alcoholism is now thought of as a disease, versus just plain old weakness. Progress. Because what really matters, is that people get help, not that they are judged.
In this book I’m reading, in trying to differentiate between porn addiction and sex addiction, they are calling the sex addict “addicted to intercourse.” This had me scratching my head, frankly. As it was explained to Blue Eyes in his first week with a sex addiction diagnosis, it’s a process addiction (versus a substance addiction). It really matters not what the drug is, or even how they use the drug, but in fact that the behavior they are participating in has a brain chemistry component that is negatively affecting their life. In the case of Blue Eyes, even grooming a woman on the street without ever having the intention to bed her, gave him a hit. As a matter of fact, he would now say he had been a “sex addict” for 40+ years at the time of diagnosis and yet for a number of those years, actually most of those years, porn and masturbation provided the hits. Was he a porn addict that turned into a sex addict? Not important. Not all sex addicts engage in intercourse. Some, well let’s say lots and lots of, men could not even reach an erection during their time with their acting out partners, but they still got a hit from whatever behavior they engaged in. There’s the secret component. There’s the power and control component. There’s the need to fill an empty void component. There are so many elements to addiction and in recovery, each individual needs to learn what their own triggers and processes are in order to heal. Most resources would agree that addicts often have childhood wounds, and potentially (often) mental illness plays a part. Personally I think mental illness plays a huge part as addiction to processes or substances are what the person is trying to use to medicate these wounds and illnesses.
Back to Blue Eyes. There were men in these meetings who had been to jail, or prison. There were guys who bankrupted their families. There were guys that did super deviant things, watched really creepy porn, had sex with their siblings (or worse). Some of these men are sex offenders. Most are not. Over the weeks I heard about all the “stuff” these other guys did and how maybe, just maybe Blue Eyes could help them. He could see they were suffering. He was asked early on to be a sponsor. When he asked for my two cents, I gave it–NO WAY!!!! He hadn’t even finished his first run through of the steps himself. Hindsight 20/20: if you’re an addict and in 12 step, finish those steps. It’s a good thing. It really is.
Of course I never knew which man did what as I never knew their names. Even Blue Eyes didn’t know most of their last names for a very long time, but I heard Blue Eyes deflect and judge, all the time, for about a year. And then finally one day he said the words I had been waiting to hear. He said, “over time, I have realized I am JUST LIKE all those other guys. My drug may be the same, or different, but my wounds and motives and abuses, are the same.”
Hallelujah, there it was. We humans are so much more alike than we are different.
So my lesson is a little different. When I first found out what Blue Eyes had done, the betrayals, the lies, the lies about me… the women, and then the reality of the stalker whore, I had the opposite reaction as Blue Eyes. Where he thought his situation was less horrifying than some of the guys he met, my reaction was that my situation was far more horrifying than what some other spouses were dealing with. I found blogs where a husband cheated once, a drunken one-night stand. Or another husband had an emotional affair with a co-worker, but no sex. There were the guys that were JUST porn addicts. They hadn’t touched another woman. Then there were the guys who went to prostitutes, a blow job on the way home from work, just to take the edge off (no intercourse), so no relationship, no lying in bed telling the prostitute how awful the wife is. Or better yet, massages with happy endings… like prostitution, but not quite, right? I yelled at Blue Eyes that I wished he had been with 80 prostitutes and I had to pick him up at the police station versus 8 long years with the stalker.
The thing is though, there is no better or worse when it comes to this kind of thing. We must leave judgment, either way, out of it. Every single “less than” I threw out over the first months of being the wife of a sex addict was thrown right back at me… HOW DARE I? How dare I know how it feels to be the wife of someone who went to prostitutes. It’s humiliating. How dare I compare my situation to someone whose husband is “just” a porn addict. He hasn’t touched her in years and yet my husband is all over me? Better, or worse? Neither!!! How dare I even try to understand what it feels like when a pregnant 30 year old’s husband has a one-night stand after a night of heavy drinking? How dare I compare my situation to anyone else’s.
I also learned through trauma therapy that we all react the same, and yet different, depending on what we bring to the table. Betrayal trauma is no joke. Society and the media would have us believe (and I know I’ve written this before) that cheating and divorce are so commonplace as to be normal. How dare we be devastated just because our husband cheated on us. So they found someone younger, sexier, better. Buck up and move on. NOPE. I’m so tired of that Hollywood version of marriage. It’s just not the way it really is. The cheaters are fucked up. Majorly fucked up. And if they don’t deal with their shit, they will fuck up their next relationship, and their next. We loved them and were loyal and faithful and we never asked for any of this. And I know there are wives of porn addicts who consider their husband’s computer his mistress. They are suffering. We’re all suffering.
When I attended the Wives of Sex Addicts group way way way back in Spring 2014, the stories were diverse. There was the 30-something woman with two young kids who agreed to an open marriage because her husband just needed more excitement and variety in his life. All he had to do was follow the rules and tell the truth. But the secret was what he desired, so he continued to “cheat” even with an “open marriage.” There was the woman whose husband had cheated with a bridesmaid the night before their wedding. She was in her 50’s. Her husband had just been diagnosed as a sex addict after 30+ years of cheating. I wasn’t sure if she was more suicidal or homicidal at the point, but she was severely depressed. The stories that broke my heart in this particular group, however, were the ones of the wives married to porn addicts. One had waited to marry her husband until he was five years sober from alcoholism. She definitely loved her husband. At the point that we were sitting in this meeting in NE Portland, they had a 9 year old daughter together. She had been chaperoning a trip to the local Art Museum with her child. A friend called to say their house was surrounded by police and a SWAT team. Her husband had been viewing under age porn at work and had been found out. Of course he had no idea he was viewing under age porn, but he did realize he was obsessively watching porn instead of working. The authorities were confiscating every piece of electrical equipment and anything else that might be child porn related. At one point the husband admitted to eight hours of porn a day. He acknowledged he was out of control. He was sent, by the system, to the Meadows in Arizona for in-patient treatment and then off to another state for further treatment and testing. But the saddest (and at this point I was already a bundle of tears and afraid to tell my own story), to me, was the retired porn addict Grandpa (also unknowingly viewing underage porn from his home office) who was sentenced to jail time, then in-patient, then upon return home was not allowed to be in a room with his grandchildren alone.
There simply is no better or worse. I will never again make the assumption that my situation with my addict is somehow better or worse than any other spouse of an addict. Any kind of addict. Why compare?