The Beginning of Something Else

On June 1, 2007 I found out my husband and partner of almost two decades had been unfaithful to me since before our marriage, and had been having intercourse with prostitutes for 3 1/2 years. This is what happened next.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Looking back with gratitude and forward with anticipation

I heard a great quote in my meeting last night: "I feel like a ping pong ball, and I don't know what the paddle is. But something keeps hitting me!" I remember that feeling.

I remember hearing about boundaries, relationship-with-self, self-validation and similar things in the early weeks and months after I found out about Husband's sex addiction. But I had little idea what those things looked like in real life, no understanding of how to start practicing them, and no idea where to get that information.  After reading and asking around, I was still confused about where to begin. So I decided to start by asking myself once simple question: What do I need to feel safe, peaceful, and serene?

The follow-up to that was what can I do that is within my control to make sure I create safety, peace and serenity for myself?

The things that are within my control are the boundaries I set, and the consequences I enforce when they are broken.

Consequences must not be confused with punishment.
  • I define a consequence as an action I will take if my boundaries are disregarded to change something that is within my control, resulting in a greater sense of peace and serenity for me.
  • I define a punishment as an action I would take in order to change someone else's behavior when they aren't doing what they should be doing.
Boundaries and consequences seem to be on the right track when I enforce them with loving detachment and compassion, rather than with anger and resentment. 

I found that once I started to set boundaries about what I needed to feel safe, "I" started to emerge. I began to have more of an understanding of and relationship with myself - and a better ability to define and validate myself, rather than relying on the judgements and evaluations of others to understand myself and my place in the world.

I don't feel like a ping pong ball anymore. I feel more grounded and secure in who I am than I ever have in my life. That's what I've gotten out of discovering my husband's sex addiction. And there are so many stories like mine, so many stories of recovery and hope from so many who've resisted the temptation, one day at a time, to run, fix, or control others when it felt as if their worlds had exploded into a million unrecognizable shards.

Looking back, I'm grateful for all those who have shared my journey thus far. Looking forward, I'm excited about all the things that are possible for us that weren't possible before.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

How to re-establish trust?

It was a topic meeting this week at SAnon, and the topic was how do you re-establish trust?

SAnon is about sharing one's own experience, not about giving advice, so people spoke only about their own situations. As we went around the room, it became clear that the people in my meeting are in various stages of learning to trust themselves and speak their truths.

I think that is the answer, or at least the path toward the answer.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Talking, listening, and opportunity

I decided not to give weight to much of my conversation with Husband Thursday night. I'm not at my best when I'm drunk, so I chose to give him the benefit of the doubt. Friday morning he apologized for walking out on our conversation, and for the things he said. As I suspected, throwing in the towel was just a drunken gesture.

So we have work to do.

We both lost our wedding rings this year. He on a balmy September day at the beach, me a couple months later. I don't know where. I'd been thinking about what a new ring might symbolize for me, and I'd decided that instead of "forever" the circle would be an "O" and represent opportunity. Because our relationship is that for both of us - an opportunity to confront the deeper things we need to grow and develop as human beings. As long as we can maintain a healthy environment in which we're both working and progressing, I'm willing.

We went out tonight and had some good conversation. Mostly I talked, actually, and he listened. I talked about how much his lying hurts me, presses on the places where I'm tender - where my feelings of unworthiness reside. I told him that I hoped he'd try to get to the roots of the things it seems his addictions are servicing - his fear of being left, his resentments for being undervalued and unacknowledged, the entitlement that arises out of that, and his fear of inciting my anger. I'm an absolutist, but I'm not an angry, irrational person. His mother is. I'm not her, but I'm paying the price for their relationship and I'm not willing to stay in that role. I told him that, too.

I acknowledged some of my own issues that contribute to our dynamic: My absolutism, my deep seated feeling that I must never need a man so  I won't be vulnerable to dependency, and my need to make sure men I'm in relationships know that I'm not dependent on them. Of course they fit neatly into his issues. I guess we really do seek out that which we need to learn. 

He went to his first AA meeting today, and wasn't surprised to find he was in the right place. He told me he'd always avoided going to AA because he wasn't an alcoholic, and didn't want to give up drinking. But he said that recently all the problems we've been having - the lies he's told - have revolved around his drinking. He talked about how he'd stopped having boundaries around work, and let his practices and meeting attendance slip because of it. He's going to return to regular spiritual practices, regular meetings, and to regular exercise as well - the things he needs to do to take care of himself.

Addicts slip. We all do. But he's willing to own up to his mistakes, willing to take responsibility for his actions, for his well-being, and for his part in building a healthy relationship. He's willing, as I am, to choose to move toward his challenges instead of running and avoiding.

So things are better. I don't feel so lost. In fact, because I am more grounded in my own self now and less reactive, I feel stronger and more peaceful.

There is still work to be done, for sure. The difference now is I've learned that I'm up to the task.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Fresh pain - part of living with an addict?

Can't sleep. Husband came home drunk tonight from his company Christmas party (I went to a friend's birthday party, because the Christmas party was sounding like it might be dull and it's at least an hour drive to the company headquarters.) I hadn't heard from him all day and all evening, which was a little unusual. And I couldn't reach him. But he called when I was on my way home to say he was home.

He was coming out when I was walking up to the house, and he said he was going to park his car. That was odd, and I went down the street with him to see what it was all about. It was parked perpendicular to the curb, and it had run out of gas on our street. When I opened the door to help him push it into a more legal position, I found an open bottle of vodka on the front seat. Upon further investigation I found a bunch of empty wine containers in the car as well. Turns out that for the past several weeks (so he says) he's been drinking after work "a couple days a week" and not telling me, after we'd agreed that we weren't going to be drinking except on specific special occasions. Which came about because of another time he got drunk and lied to me about how much he'd had to drink.

I just don't know what to do. On the one hand I really do love him, and really want him in my life for so many reasons - he's a great dad, smart, great sense of humor, loves me, supports me in the things I want to do, encourages me, is a good partner in terms of sharing responsibilities. But there's a part of him that feels entitled to things (online games, booze, food, not porn or prostitutes as far as I know) when he feels overworked and/or under a lot of pressure, but he's so afraid of me that instead of coming out and saying so he sneaks and lies to me about it. He doesn't seem to know how to deal with those feelings in healthier ways when he gets overwhelmed. But the lies really hurt. I feel disrespected, and it brings back the pain and sadness about past betrayals.

I'm finding it really hard to make a deep emotional bond with someone I don't know that I can trust. So part of me is always withdrawn from him, and things like this just kind of cement that gap between us. And honestly the physical intimacy is a challenge, too, partly because he's not the person I thought he was, and partly because every time we are physical I can't stop thoughts of what he did from coming into my head. I often need a lot of time (days or weeks) to get to a place where I feel like having sex, and he seems to feel invalidated by that. Understandable, but I don't know what else to do but take the time I need. Sex feels too intimate do just lie back and think of England.

I really want to work on things with him. Thinking about my life without him, and Son's life with us divorced - neither of those scenarios seem appealing. But neither does "faking it" and pretending we have a relationship that we don't for Son's sake. I don't want to lie to Son like that. But I don't know if Husband is capable of resolving the things that are at the root of all his addictions - the entitlement and fear (and the family issues they stem from) which combine to result in him lying to me.

I don't know what to do right now. I know I can figure something out. (Although it may not be up to me anyway - in his drunken state he was talking about it probably being better if we decide it's over.) But right now, I'm just at a loss.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Emotional intimacy after betrayal

Maybe I'm no longer capable of being vulnerable enough to have a deep, emotional bond with Husband.

I've often said that deep trust is critical to deep love. But as I've been thinking about it, I realized that it's very common to deeply love people we know we can't trust. You can love deeply without attachment, without expectation, without an agenda, with an appreciation for all that someone is and is not.

So maybe the more correct theorem is that a deep emotional partnership requires deep trust.

I'd like to have that again with Husband, but a question remains before me like badly worn carpet: How do I open up to him without relying on trusting him?

My intellect replies that I need to trust myself to take care of my well-being, come what may. And I guess that's what I've done. I've sought help and support, learned about and drawn boundaries, taken responsibility for things that are within my control, tried hard to stay out of things that aren't mine to address, wrangled new tools. But all after the fact. After the searing, soul-shattering pain of being deeply betrayed by someone I thought I knew intimately and trusted absolutely.

So, if I must be honest, what I'm really searching for here is a way to avoid ever feeling that pain again.

Therein lies the shit. (Not the good kind.) Because to avoid pain is to avoid living. I know that, based on the life I have.

Everything is a balance between life and death, if I think about it, because if you're not living you're essentially dying. So one is choosing (if only by not choosing) life or death in every moment.

Do I take this moment and live, or do I let myself die a tiny death? And how many tiny deaths does it take to make a wasted life?

I don't want a marriage where there's no emotional intimacy, no attachment, no expectation. I don't want a marriage of loving detachment. That would be fine for many other types of relationships - friends, other family members, even a child, who is supposed to move away and become separate. But I don't what that with the person I'm drawing into my life to be my significant partner. I want attachment to deepen, and expectation to arise out of shared values, experiences and desires.

So many words that sentence us to suffering: attachment, expectation, desire.

But being attached and having expectations means living in denial of some things I've come to believe (all things change, the only thing predictable is that life is unpredictable, as adults we are solely responsible for our experience of life, the actions of others are completely beyond my control.)

How do I resolve those things?

Perhaps there is no need to resolve anything, and my longing for resolution is another manifestation of my inescapable absolutism, simultaneously blinding and crafty.

Perhaps faith is the only answer to me. Turn it over. Trust that my Higher Power is bridging a gap, doing for me what I cannot do for myself. Trust that I have everything I really need, and that everything before me, including Husband, is an opportunity.  Easy to forget when fear seeps into the cracks of life.  I need a structure that will help me remember.

Maybe my relationship with Husband is like a gym membership, and if I just get my ass up and go work out every day the results will be forthcoming.

We're all hurtling toward death anyway. What's it gonna do - kill me?