Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Bottle

The monster is back.

I don't know how long my husband has been drinking this time. There have been a few days in the past few weeks that I suspected, but I don't feel like I can ask, because they tell me in the program that it's not my business and I have no control anyway. It starts a fight about my asking and no longer becomes about the drinking. And in the end, I am no further along than I was before I asked, so I stopped asking. But this week it became abundantly clear that he is drinking, a lot.

Yesterday I came home from work to take him to our weekly therapy appointment. I knew the moment I saw him that he was drunk. His eyes, his speech, the way he was swaying slightly as he stood, which normally means he is VERY drunk, as usually he is highly functional, and you can't tell he is drinking at all. He was home before me, which means either he didn't go to work, or he drove to work and came home early, which he isn't supposed to do because he lost his license due to the DUIs.

I confronted him without saying my actual suspicion. I hate that I have to do that, that I do it at all. I can't just state the obvious: you are drunk. And he says no, nothing is wrong, nothing unusual, nothing bad happened today, he is fine. I can tell, of course, that he is not fine. Curiously, I can't smell alcohol, though I can smell the gallon of cologne and the toothpaste and mouthwash he used to cover the smell of alcohol.

So I took him to the therapy appointment. The therapist could tell before even seeing him that he was drunk. The "last time" he relapsed (obviously not the last time, but whatever), it was also on a therapy day, and I called her to ask if I should bring him, given that he is drunk. She said she takes her clients however they are that day, and if he could come, it was fine. So this time I brought him. He was staggaring and unsteady. He sat down on the couch with a cup of coffee and misjudged how far the drop was, so he spilled coffee all over himself. We had our appointment upstairs in her waiting room so he wouldn't have to descend the stairs to her office. We talked briefly about the obvious, and he denied that he had been drinking, that day or any day since he quit in January. She suggested I take him to his treatment program where they could do a breathalyzer, so that we could establish what the truth was. He agreed to this, still denying that he had been drinking, but when I got him there, he refused to get out of the car.

I went in the building, which was closing. I found the director, who had been meeting individually with my husband for many months and knows him. I explained the situation. I knew that they couldn't test him if he refused, so I asked the director to come out to the car with me and see him. He did, and talked to my husband for a few minutes. He could tell, as could I and the therapist, that he was drunk, and told him so. Husband finally admitted to the director that he had been back on the bottle for about a week. This was no comfort to me, as he will later just say that he only said it because it was "what you wanted to hear" (his favorite way of revising history), and I knew it had been longer than a week.

He looked like he wanted to say something to me when the director left us alone, and I approached him, but he just pushed me, hard. We got back in the car and he accused me of putting his parole in jeopardy. But even as much of a codie as I am, even I know that that is crap. He made all his own decisions, and for me to ignore them and stick my head in the sand would be at best irresponsible, at worst lethal.

Today at work I was anxious and edgy and nauseated all day. I tried to say the Serenity Prayer to myself to calm myself down. I mentally identified all of my emotions and reminded myself that they are feelings and that they don't last forever. I thought of impermanence and suchness. I tried to stay as sane and serene as I possibly could, which was very difficult. My job is taxing and I have responsibility for the lives of others, so I needed to be as focussed and calm as possible. Knowing that I truly have no control over this situation, that the only thing I can control is myself, didn't exactly help, per se, but it restored me to reality at least.

An alcoholic relapsing isn't necessarily an emergency, though it is a crisis. But this strikes me as a slow suicide. In fact, I was certain when I got home that he would be either drunk or dead. I am engulfed by an incredible weariness and sadness. I honestly don't know what to do next, what my future should be, how to be healthy and sane myself. I don't know if he is acting out sexually along with his active drinking. I don't have evidence that he is, and the only thing that makes me think it's possible is that he is drinking again, and the two always went together before. I don't even know if he still has his job--when I came home today, he wasn't dead, but he was drunk in bed. He denied it, but the half-empty bottle of vodka was under the bed. I don't know if he went to work or not.

I love this man so much, but I don't know how much I can take. It scares me that I might be able to take much more than I should--I already have, actually. He has many, many wonderful qualities. But he is very sick, and he is killing himself. I hope he finds his way out before he succeeds, or before there is no one left around him to care.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Year of Recovery: Remembering January

On January 14, my husband was admitted to an inpatient psychiatric unit for 6 days following a suicidal episode. The following day, I drove to the city he was in to see him in the hospital. I didn't know what to expect, what his condition would be. I didn't know if he would be angry to see me or not; the last thing I had heard from him was anger that I had called 911. I didn't know what medications he would be on, or if he was in alcohol withdrawal. I had been in psychiatric units before, but not this one.

I was also very anxious about a number of things. Since he had lost his job, he had also lost his health insurance. How would we pay for all of this, the hospital stay, the ambulances, the ER visits? I had mixed feelings about seeing my husband. I was devastated by all of the things I had learned that he had done prior to my discovering his addiction. I was angry that we had not yet had a real conversation about anything that had happened. I didn't know who he was: I had discovered his secret double life, and I didn't know who I was married to anymore. I was angry, anxious, hurt and deeply saddened.

I arrived in the afternoon during visiting hours. I remember, and will probably always remember, being buzzed through the security doors into the locked unit, and seeing my husband sitting in a day room through glass doors. He was dressed in dark blue scrubs, barefoot and slightly disheveled. He looked up at me, and then his eyes widened like he couldn't believe what he was seeing. He told me later he thought it was a hallucination from the medications he was on. He believed he would never see me again.

He came out of the room and hugged me. He told me he was sorry, and we sat down in some chairs. Not knowing what the food would be like here, I brought some clementine tangerines with me, and they became a tradition between us. I brought them every time I visited him, and we would eat them together.

This time marked the first time that I felt like we truly saw each other for who we really were, and as hard a time as it was for us, it's an incredibly special memory for me. As we talked, all the lies and illusions fell away. He told me everything he could remember about what had happened in the past few weeks, and I started to get a picture of what had gone on. I started to feel some compassion for him, now that we were talking and he was more lucid, even though he was pretty heavily medicated. He seemed to understand that we were in this place because of the addiction and because of all the events that had led up to that point. We had some very heartfelt and honest conversations in that hospital, and for the first time it felt like we might actually be able to come out of this experience together, that we might get better.

This was also the first time that I saw physical signs of alcohol withdrawal in him. They were mild, but definitely present. I feared the major delerium and seizures that I have seen others go through in my line of work, and I talked to the nurses about this a lot. But it turned out that his symptoms passed in a few days, and did not ever progress to a serious enough state that he would need more intensive medical attention.

Although we were not quite out of the woods yet in this acute phase of the crisis, it was a definite turning point for us. I spent that week there, taking a leave of absence from graduate school, and visited twice a day. The rest of the time I read and wrote and tried to take care of myself. I still wasn't eating much, due to nausea and anxiety (I lost 12 pounds that month), but I was exercising and trying to help myself. When he was released six days later, I had told him that I was only willing to work on our marriage together if he moved to the city where I was living, so upon his discharge we packed as many of his things as we could into my car, and we drove home to start our new life together. We think of this as our second marriage to each other.

A Year of Recovery: The Beginning

On January 5 of this year, my husband was laid off from his job. He saw it coming in the weeks before, but didn't want to worry me, so he didn't tell me. I found out on January 6.

On January 7, I discovered my husband's acting-out behavior: the full extent of one affair, as told by the husband of that woman. Over the next several days, I learned more about that one, and some others. We were in different cities because he worked in one and I went to school in another. We were about 400 miles apart. That weekend, I inisisted that he come to where I was, because talking to him on the phone about it was impossible. He was mostly silent, largely due to shame, but also because he was drinking even more once he knew that I knew. He came, and admitted the basics: the drinking, the acting out. Then he slept and went back.

On January 13, I went to my first Al-Anon meeting. I met and talked to a few women there, and got some phone numbers. I remember feeling very numb and confused, but vaguely better after going to the meeting. I was determined to do some things to take care of myself, even though I couldn't eat or sleep. I was constantly nauseated and anxious and near tears or crying. After the meeting, I went to the gym and worked out. I felt a lot better. When I got out of the shower at the gym, there was a voicemail from my husband. He sounded distant and different, and angry. It was a call from jail. He had been charged with a DUI and hit-and-run.

I had no idea what to do at that point. I was hundreds of miles away. I had also just heard about some new concepts, like "detachment with love" and boundaries. I didn't really understand what these things were or how they worked, but I did know that despite all my instincts to do something right then, there wasn't really much I could do at that moment. I couldn't even call him back. So I called some of the phone numbers I had. I didn't know if I should go out there, but I decided it was too late that night to go, or to decide what to do, and even if I was there, there wasn't much to do. Eventually I went to sleep.

The next day, I went to school. When I came home, I received a call from my husband. He told me that he loved me, and he didn't want me to worry, and good bye. Naturally, I panicked. His speech was slightly slurred and very quiet. I tried to keep him on the phone for as long as I could, to figure out what he intended to do. He hung up, and I called him back. I tried to talk to him longer as my mind raced through the options of what I could actually do from so far away. After a few minutes of me questioning him and him telling me I was better off without him, he hung up again. This time, I called 911. I explained the conversation we had had, and asked to be connected to emergency services in the other city. When I explained the situation to the dispatcher, and they told me that they were sending someone out to his address, I hung up and called him back. I was relieved when he answered the phone.

It's very painful to remember this episode in our life. Much of it is foggy in my mind now. I remember being so confused about what was the right thing to do. I had enough knowledge to understand that he had a clear plan and that it should be taken seriously. I knew that none of it was within my control--I was many hours' drive away, and even if I was there I would have to do essentially the same thing, that is, leave it in the hands of emergency personnel until the situation stabilized. As devastated and angry as I was at the time, I loved him deeply, and would have done anything if I could, but it was not within my control.

One of the worst things that I remember about this day and this series of phone calls was that after I called 911, I questioned myself. All the things that he had experienced lately: losing his job, having his addiction exposed, my anger and pain, the accident, the DUI, going to all the terrible things that had come before this. I wondered, would it have been kinder not to call? It is shameful for me to admit this now, because of course it was the right thing to do, and we are both so grateful that help arrived and that I called for help. But at the time I was so confused about everything and all I could see was the terrible pain we were both in. I thought for a moment that maybe he was right to want out of the pain.

Thankfully, this isn't what happened. He called me for a reason, because no matter how much pain he was in, the deepest part of him wanted to live. While I was on the phone with him, I heard a knocking on the door, and heard the voices of police men who came to take him to the hospital. They talked to me briefly once he was secure: he was very inebriated, and not hurt, but he did have all the things that he had described to me as his plan. They took him to one hospital for assessment, and I was able to talk to him there, where he told me he was angry with everyone: the police, the doctor, the nurses, and me. He told me I should have just let him do it, and hung up. I called the hospital a little later and talked to a nurse, who told me he was still very angry and uncooperative, but that they were going to take him to another hospital's inpatient psych unit. He was under a 72 hour court hold for evaluation, which was fairly standard for an episode like this. At this point, I knew he was safe from harm, although I had no idea what the next few days would hold. My next decision would be whether to come see him in the hospital...

Monday, November 23, 2009


When I first discovered my husband's secret life of addiction earlier this year, I grieved the loss of our relationship as I knew it. Everything I thought I knew turned out to be untrue. Our lives had been built on lies.

Then, I thought: This marriage is over. It was too devastating to think about. Now, I can look back and think with relief: That marriage is over!

All the things that I suspected weren't quite right, I knew now were in fact not right. The times I thought I had been lied to, I discovered I really had been lied to. All the redirection and distraction techniques my husband had used as an addict to protect his addiction, which made me feel crazy and made me doubt my own powers of observation and my instincts...I learned that I wasn't crazy, that something else was going on. All that time I spent alone, miles from my partner, wondering when the other shoe was going to drop, when I was going to find out that something terrible was happening...the shoe had dropped. It was a relief in many ways.

The fear and the grief were awful, but at last I felt that I could live my life in an honest way. And for the first time ever, I had been brought so low that I no longer had the energy to pretend to others that everything was just fine. I could finally be real about what was happening in my life with at least a few friends.

I made a decision early on after discovery to stay with my husband. At first it was "just for today," that was about all I could do. And after 10 months, we still can't say what will happen tomorrow, but at least now we know that, thanks to recovery. The illusion of control has been lifted. I have learned something simple but profound: there is no shame in being loved by an addict, and there is no shame in loving an addict. We are all broken in our own ways. I have a partner who is facing his problems directly and is doing some extremely difficult personal work, through working the 12 steps and through very intense therapy. We are both more committed to our own health and sanity, and to our marriage, than ever before.

I am proud to say we are finally living a marriage that is open and honest. I hear newer members of our S-Anon group ask, "How can you trust your husband again?" The answer I usually give is, you can't, not the way you used to think of trust, which was blind and unquestioning. The best you can do is compare his behavior to his words. Some people make agreements with each other for the addict's partner to periodically check the addict's documentation--emails, web history, cell phone records, etc. We did that at first, but for me the process was very triggering, as it was the kind of "crazy" that I went through when I first found out about the addiction. And my husband is savvy enough that we both knew if he didn't want me to find out, I wouldn't find out through any of those sources (and I'm pretty savvy too). Some people have the addict take a polygraph test, but I personally didn't see much value in that for us. The only thing I could really trust was comparing his behavior to his words, and being more observant myself, and asking more questions.

The truth is, how can you trust anyone? That is something that I have to learn as part of my recovery about all people, not just my husband. There is a fine line between trust and willful naivete and denial, and I have to be more cautious and practical about that.

To trust others, I think you must first be able to trust yourself.

Monday, November 2, 2009


Several posts back, I mused about the possibility of my husband experiencing a "slip" or relapse in his recovery. It's an uncomfortable thing to think about. In the beginning especially, it seems like everything hinges on his sobriety. The point of my program is to learn that while his committment to his program is important to our relationship, I can live a serene and fulfilling life whether or not he experiences a relapse, or even returns to active addiction.

A few weeks ago, I came home from work to find my husband slumped over, asleep on the couch. As I approached him, I saw an empty vodka bottle on the floor. Yes, he had relapsed.

I had hoped that my 9 months in the program would adequately prepare me for a moment like this. It did prepare me, but it didn't prevent me from immediately relapsing into crazy thoughts myself. The first things I was aware of feeling were fear and anger. I wanted to shake him awake and interrogate him. I wanted to know why this had happened, and I wanted reassurance that it wouldn't happen again. Of course, this was not the moment to try to find answers, especially to an unanswerable question.

So, I tried to do the next right thing. I stepped out of the house and called some program friends. I left a message for one, and reached the next one on the phone. She helpfully reminded me that this was not an emergency: no one was on fire or dying. I could go do some things to take care of myself, and discuss this when he was sober. I did want to figure out one burning question: we had a therapy appointment in an hour, and I couldn't figure out whether I should bring him or not. She suggested I ask him, and call the therapist to see if she would object to him coming in this state.

It turned out that he didn't want to go anyway, so I went to the appointment by myself, and it was helpful. After that I went to the gym, and then did some studying. I had to stay out of the house to keep a bit of sanity in the moment, but I was glad that I was able to practice some self-care and remember that what he did was really not my business. Not that I didn't care, but I couldn't control it and it wasn't up to me, for a lot of good reasons.

Over the next few days we were able to talk more about it, and I think it helped both of us. The relapse was a wake-up call for both of us that sobriety is a gift, and one that should never be taken for granted. It taught us both humility in our recoveries, and it really taught me the importance of having my own recovery to lean on and prevent me from simply reacting and adding more fuel to the fire. I could see that reacting out of fear and anger was no better than the addict's behavior. It also served as a warning that he was under a tremendous amount of stress that he wasn't dealing with, and we were able to talk about both his stress and my stress over the same situation. As a result, he is more effectively dealing with the situation which is his to deal with, and I am able to see his committment to a healthier life.

I won't lie, relapse is scary. But with the help of the program, it is survivable, and can be instructive for the addict and the coaddict. I do hope for both of our sakes that it doesn't happen again, but if it does we will get through it.

Then and Now: Halloween

For years, I have felt like some kind of prude when I look at Halloween costumes. Each year it seems the costumes (especially for women) get more revealing, more trampy. Halloween parties, as an adult, have really become an excuse to drink excessively and release one's sexual inhibitions--inhibitions which normally serve a good purpose, i.e. boundaries.

Last year, my husband and I went to a Halloween party thrown by a coworker. The party was lavish, and huge. Many, many people from the facility I work in were there, and displayed some appalling behavior. There was a lot of alcohol. I enjoyed visiting with friends, and I did drink, but I was fairly shocked by some of the things that people who work together all the time were doing. My husband was there, but didn't know many people there. Surrounded by excessive drinking, he visited for a little while but then slunk off into a corner. I imagine it wasn't much fun for him: it was hard even for me to recognize people I didn't know well when they were in costume, and he didn't drink socially because, like many alcoholics, he didn't drink in public. (At the time I didn't realize that he was binge-drinking in private on a regular basis.)

This year, we spent Halloween at a SA/S-Anon retreat. There was no mention of the holiday at the retreat. I am sure that Halloween is pretty triggering for recovering SAs--and their mates, for that matter. Instead, we had several outstanding speakers, lots of meetings, and time to socialize with other people in recovery from the region. It was really nice.

The company party happened again, bigger and better than ever, but it was a relief not to go this year. The excessive drinking and sexual behavior is uncomfortable to me now, and would have been even less fun for hubby if he decided to accompany me. I like dressing up in costume, but it's hard to have fun with hundreds of people you hardly know, especially when their behavior is making you uncomfortable, and especially after recovery has shown you the dangers of this kind of behavior. It's not something I want in my life right now.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Emotional Integrity

The past few weeks I have been thinking a lot about "feeling feelings", and recognizing them in myself. For over 30 years, my MO has been to deny any negative or "unacceptable" feelings that I had, usually before I was even aware that I had it. The reason for this was simple: it was what I learned from my parents, and it was how I survived.

What qualified a feeling to be "unacceptable?" If it would prompt a response from me that would make the other person upset or angry, it was unacceptable. If it would force me to look at a situation honestly that I didn't feel strong enough or ready to look at honestly, it was unacceptable. If it revealed me to be anything other than stalwart, serene, and implacable, it was unacceptable.

My mother is a master of hiding her emotions. There is so much discordance between her demeanor and what is obviously going on around her that it makes the observer uncomfortable. When I was an adolescent. she would spill her guts to me about her emotions and the situations in her life that caused her turmoil--hating her job, hating her body, the strain of having affairs and her unhappiness in her marriage, for starters. But other than these periodic soul-baring sessions (I'll probably post on boundaries and enmeshment at another point), she always had a surface that could not be ruffled, and constant turmoil beneath. I was taught, implicitly and explicitly, that it was unacceptable to do otherwise, especially for women.

Now I am in recovery, years later, and I am learning how this "skill" of showing a game face at all times and portraying an outer image of calm and poise has worked against me. I have begun to think of emotions as a kind of integrity. I always considered myself to be a person of integrity, and in many ways I always have been. But in a very basic way I wasn't, because my emotions didn't match what I showed others or even myself. I have been thinking of this as internal and external. I need a certain level of internal integrity with myself, an acknowledgment of my own feelings rather than denial. And I need external emotional integrity, so that in my dealings with other people what I express matches what I am feeling. In being true to myself by owning how certain situations make me feel, I am also allowing others to see who I really am, which is a kind of integrity.

I don't feel that in order to be a person of integrity, I must wear my heart on my sleeve at all times. For once, this isn't about how others see me so much as me living who I really am. It's not always comfortable to change my old ways; in fact, every time I have to own one of those unacceptable emotions, it makes me want to deflect and deny, as I always have before. But I'm only harming myself by doing this. Integrity is about consistency: "...consistency of actions, values, methods, measures, principles, expectations and outcome," according to Wikipedia.

Without an internal dissonance between who I am and who I portray to the world, I can spend the energy I save on improving my relations with others further. This is a gift of recovery.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Daily Life in Recovery

For the first time in months, hubby and I are reestablishing a social life. We are both at a point in our recoveries that we feel like making the effort to socialize with friends regularly, if possible. Life doesn't always allow this as much as we would like, but we are trying. We had a nice weekend out of town reconnecting with friends of mine that I haven't seen in years, and hubby got to meet them. We all had a pretty enjoyable time. I now approach friendships with the same kind of eyes I've developed for the rest of my life, trying my best to see things "as they are" and not "as I wish they were." People have their problems and issues, but it is now much more important to me to spend time with people who don't feel the imperative to pretend their lives are perfect. That's not to say that everyone I spend time with is 100% honest about who they are and what goes on all the time, but at least I can be with people who try to keep it real and try to break through the denial as much as possible.

I feel like our life is a bit more solid now than in the beginning of the year. Things are definitely still not easy--school, rebuilding trust in our marriage, trying to work a recovery program, dealing with multiple difficulties with family--but honesty is improving, and right intention and commitment to one another is clearly there. We have a spiritual life that is fulfilling and fruitful. We don't have all the answers, and certainly there are days that I feel defeated and less than hopeful, but they are getting fewer and further between. Meanwhile, I have a little more patience with life, and am trying to be a little more honest and a little less controlling every day. It really isn't any more complicated than that.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Making Space

I've been away for a bit...but this blog has been on my mind. I think there might be enough disconnected thoughts of blog posts floating around that perhaps I will have a little flurry of posts in the next several days.

I've had a difficult week this week. A lot of my codie thinking and habits have been triggered by life circumstances and people who probably don't have my best interests at heart. I've been thinking a lot about trust, and how to rebuild trust after it has been broken.

I learned a new (to me) term this week: "gaslighting", which is basically subterfuge and redirection designed to make another person feel crazy so they believe the lie the "gaslighter" is trying to pull off. That happened to me a lot, as my SA husband tried to keep his activites from being discovered. This kind of thing has a lasting effect on a person, because you end up doubting yourself and most insidiously, your instinct. It was my very instincts that were targeted by this behavior, so that now what was once one of my strongest tools is constantly subjected to doubt.

I started suspecting my husband of relapsing. Rather than call a program friend or even just stop long enough to remember that his program, including his sobriety, is his business, I spiralled into crazy thinking. I began to think that I would never be able to trust him--or anyone--again.

Finally, I started to see that his program and his sobriety are his business. I have to count on his own investment in his recovery to prevent relapse, or to enable him to recover from a relapse if one happened. Once I could see that, I realized that what I wanted most was for him to be able to tell me if he slipped or relapsed, but that I had made it impossible for him to do that, through a series of ultimatums and insinuations that any slip would be the end of the relationship. There was no room in our relationship for that kind of honesty, and therefore no basis to rebuild trust. It's not just me that needs to be able to trust him; he has to rebuild his trust in me, too, to be able to share something like that with me. If I am not a safe place for him to share his struggles without risking our marriage, where is the trust?

I do understand that for many people, relapse is a part of recovery. I don't like that, but I do understand it's true. That certainly doesn't mean that it is inevitable for my husband or for anyone in particular. But I have to be prepared for the fact that it could happen, and the only way to minimize the damage is for us to be able to talk about it and for him to feel that it doesn't spell doom to our marriage. If he feels that there is no space for a conversation like that to happen, not only does resentment build up, but if a relapse does occur there is that much more reason for it to be a big one, rather than a small slip. After all, if it's going to mean the end of the relationship anyway, why not "do it right?"

If it does happen, what he does next is his to decide, and is a subject between him and his sponsor, and probably our therapist. I hope at some point along the way he would feel comfortable sharing it with me, if I didn't know already. But none of that is up to me. All I can do is try to create the possibility for understanding and trust between us, without closing off any possible avenues to communication and growth.

I feel a lot better that I was able to finally get this, and share it with him. I've behaved poorly up until this point, and have suffered for it, as I think he has too. I have a lot to learn still, but I'm grateful to be in the position to learn it.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Root of Happiness

Pema Chodron, in her brilliant little book, "The Places That Scare You," talks about the four limitless qualities, which are loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity. Here is how she introduces them:

It's up to us. We can spend our lives cultivating our resentments and cravings or we can explore the path of the warrior--nurturing open-mindedness and courage. Most of us keep strengthening our negative habits and therefore sow the seeds of our own suffering. The bodhichitta practices, however, are ways for us to sow the seeds of well-being. Particularly powerful are the aspiration practices of the four limitless qualities--loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity.
~p. 51, The Places That Scare You

In four chapters, she describes meditations that explore and expand these qualities in ourselves towards all people. The first one, which I have actually tried, focuses on happiness. It is based on the following chant:

May all sentient beings enjoy happiness and the root of happiness.
May we be free from suffering and the root of suffering.
May we not be separated from the great happiness devoid of suffering.
May we dwell in the great equanimity free from passion, aggression, and prejudice.

This meditation has seven parts. Basically, you first focus on yourself: May I enjoy happiness and the root of happiness. Then you focus on the same thing for someone very close to you--your mate, your closest friend, etc. Then you expand that thought to someone you feel fondly about, but are not terribly close to. Then you expand that thought to someone you feel neutrally about--the mailman, or the barista you order your coffee from. Eventually you focus this thought on someone you dislike or who annoys you. Then you try to keep all of these people in your thoughts and expand your wish for all of these people, and for all beings everywhere, to enjoy happiness and the root of happiness. The idea is to practice feeling the same expansive wish for joy for all people, and ultimately to realize that the idea that we are separate from any other beings is an illusion. Why shouldn't we wish for every being to experience happiness? Even the ones we dislike.

I found after practicing this meditation that it stayed with me for quite a while. I saw people out in the world that I didn't know, and thought that thought: May he enjoy happiness and the root of happiness. One of the people I dislike that I meditated about was a doctor I work with, and when I saw him at work I thought: may he enjoy happiness and the root of happiness. The thought actually made me happier; instead of seeing him and feeling surly or irritated, I felt more expansive and less separated by my dislike or resentment.

The root of happiness, as I see it, is freedom from suffering. The Buddha taught that suffering is caused by attachment, which is characterized by clinging. I think this is one of those deceptively simple teachings that one can learn about one's entire life. How simple, just stop clinging! Stop clinging to our ideas of ourselves and others, to our desires, our cravings for objects and endless affirmation from others and our hurts and pains that we nurture. This last one has particularly been on my mind, for I have been clinging to the ways that I have been wronged by my SA husband. I am trying to understand why I would cling to those resentments and hurts. After all, it only serves to increase my own suffering, and then I reflect that back on him, which doesn't make him feel very good.

I think I cling to these injuries because I am afraid that if I forget, and if he forgets, then it will happen again. I will become complacent, he will think I am spineless, and the cycle will continue until I finally leave. I guess that is the pattern I have known, so it makes sense that I would assume it will continue like that. But as I said, the clinging only increases my own suffering, and it doesn't prevent any of those things. I cannot control what anyone else does--not my husband, not my family, not even my cat. And nursing these wounds increases the feeling that I am special in that I am the only one who has ever been hurt like this--and that I am purely a victim, that I have never done any harm to anyone else. It increases that illusion of separateness from others, when in reality we are much more interconnected than our illusions suggest. (It will likely become a little harder to keep up that illusion of being purely a victim after I have done my inventory of character defects, and later have to make amends.)

I don't know exactly how to stop clinging to my little wounds, but I think this kind of meditation exercise can help. It is no small thing to learn how to stop clinging, how to release ourselves from our attachments. It is the very nature of our human minds to grasp for these things. But this is the goal if we hope to release ourselves from the endless cycle of human suffering. I don't actually know if I'll ever be released from the endless cycle of human suffering, but maybe I can reduce my own suffering and that of others a little bit while I am here, by learning to stop clinging to the perceived slights and very real injuries that have occured in the past, and practice expansive loving-kindness towards others. It certainly can't hurt to try.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

As It Is

It's been an interesting week for my program. My husband had to serve his week of jail time as part of his sentence for the DUI/accident. We live 400 miles away from the scene of the crime, as it were, so he had to travel there to go to jail. All told, he was gone about 9 days.

I didn't know what was going on with him when he was there. It turned out he was unable to call me because they didn't allow calls to cell phones, and we don't have a land line. I knew that he would have called me if he could, so the lack of phone calls from him indicated to me that he wasn't allowed to call. Still, without the reassurance of his voice telling me he was okay, I had to work hard not to worry. That doesn't come easy to me.

About all I could do was tell myself, "I'm not in control." It did help. I was very busy with school during that time, even had a class over the weekend, so there wasn't too much down time to really get into a good codie worry fest. And when I did have time, I was able to enjoy it. It has been a long time since I regularly had private time to relax, so I went for hikes and runs, went out with friends, and read. Sometimes the thought crept in that my husband wasn't having nearly as relaxing a time, and I would worry again. "I'm not in control."

I've been reading a book called "The 12-Step Buddhist" by Darren Littlejohn. I've gotten to the part on Step 1 where he describes meditating on "as it is." We have to learn to accept everything--life, people, situations, our thoughts--as it is. It isn't just addicts and codependents--everybody is in some degree of denial of things as they are. We all think we can change other people or change the future, but all we have is the present moment. Failure to accept others and ourselves as we are simply perpetuates our own suffering and denies us the lessons of the present moment. As a program friend recently said to me, "You are exactly where you need to be right now."

"As it is" has become a useful mantra for me. It helps calm me and reminds me that I am not in control of very much at all--really just my own actions. Especially when I spin out of control about the future, afraid that things in my life are inevitably going to go in a direction that I fear, saying this to myself helps remind me to stay in the present and realize I can't control others or the future.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Gifts

Most 12 Step groups have several readings that form a large portion of every meeting. There are preambles, statements of problems, welcomes to newcomers, and of course the reading of the 12 and 12. S-Anon is no different. There are about 6 or 7 standard readings that are "suggested" by S-Anon International, and the two groups I attend read them all.

It sounds repetitive to the newcomer, but hearing these readings every week really provides a touchstone for each week, and I always seem to get something new out of at least one of the readings. In my groups (we have basically the same members at both groups) we get almost childishly excited about our last reading, "The Gifts of the S-Anon Program." It seems to be everyone's favorite.

Gifts of the S-Anon Program

When we approach the process of recovery with honesty, open-mindedness and willingness to apply the principles of the Twelve Steps to our lives, we will soon begin to see the rewards. We will become able to surrender our self-defeating behavior. We will find that we have strength and insight to make good choices for ourselves. Our ability to act positively on behalf of our health, families, jobs and bank accounts will amaze us. We will find that others are doing things for themselves which we thought we had to do for them. Our ability to give and receive love will expand tremendously, and we will become increasingly available for loving relationships with others. We will recover the feeling of joy. We will become more honest with ourselves and experience a new comfort in our intimate relationships. We will feel the security that arises from true fellowship with others in the program, knowing that we are loved and accepted just as we are. Feelings of failure and inadequacy will be replaced by self-confidence and independence of spirit. We will no longer expect other people to provide us with an identity or a sense of self-worth. We will find the courage to be true to ourselves. We will know peace of mind and feel a stronger connection with the Higher Power of our understanding, and our Hope will turn to faith that God is really working in our lives, as we explore the wonders of serenity, dignity, and emotional growth.

These are powerful promises. They are an affirmation, and hopefully a self-fulfilling prophesy. We WILL surrender our self-defeating behavior. We WILL have strength and insight to be able to make good choices for ourselves. All it takes is honesty, open-mindedness and willingness to apply the principles. When I was first coming into the program five months ago, I clung to these promises.

It really helps when we no longer feel so alone in our problems. In the beginning I felt like there was no one I could talk to who understood the situation I was in. I felt a lot of shame for wanting to stay in my marriage because I thought others would view me as weak or dependent if I remained in the relationship despite everything that had happened. Now I realize that staying and working on my own recovery, and supporting my husband as he works on his, takes more strength than most people understand, and it was the fellowship of others who had been through this same fire that helped me see this. Having the open-mindedness to see this situation as something more than just a series of wrongs that were done to me, but rather a pattern of shame-based behavior that both of us had a part in, and both of us could learn from and work through, didn't come naturally, but really as a gift of applying myself to my own recovery.

I have heard other women in my meetings say that their husbands' addictions were a gift to them, and I can see this in my own life now. Without the reality of my husband's addictions staring me in the face, I would not have confronted the parts of my own life and my own behavior that need attention. I could easily have walked away and chalked this all up to Ways That I Have Been Wronged, but that would have denied my own opportunity for growth. Without my own recovery, I would have jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire, continuing my own pattern of relationships with addicts, until eventually one of them might have destroyed me. Fortunately, I ended up with one who is strong enough to face his own recovery with grace and honesty, and this inspires me to face my own.

We will become more honest with ourselves and experience a new comfort in our intimate longer using sex to medicate or cover up the problems in my relationship, or using physical intimacy to avoid looking at the lack of true intimacy and honesty that I couldn't face was really there.

We will no longer expect other people to provide us with an identity or a sense of self-worth...learning to be comfortable with my partner's emotions, allowing him to be sad or depressed without immediately feeling it must be something that I did. I am still working on this one. It is still hard for me not to mirror my husband's moods, which means that if I want to be happy, he has to be happy too. This is neither realistic nor fair to him. And although I always prided myself on not needing to be in a relationship to have an identity, I can't deny that being my husband's wife became a big part of my identity. That's okay to an extent, but I think that can easily morph into my requiring him to be a certain way and fulfill certain expectations of mine in order for my identity to remain intact, which isn't so healthy.

We will find the courage to be true to ourselves...again, something that I thought I was good at before. Over time I slowly allowed this to erode, as I denied my own intuitive sense that something was wrong. The more excuses I found myself making for my husband's addictive behavior, and the more excuses I made for my own codependent behavior, the less integrity I had, which creates a lot of shame and allows the behavior to continue.

I am fortunate to already be experiencing the gifts of recovery in my life, although mine is just beginning.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Anicca: Impermanence

According to the Buddhist tradition, all phenomena other than Nirvana are marked by three characteristics, sometimes referred to as the Dharma seals: impermanence, suffering, and impersonality. (Swiped from Wikipedia.)

All things in this life are impermanent. Our health, our stuff, the fact that we are alive at all: all impermanent. Clinging to our belief that things are permanent leads to suffering, according to the Buddha. But this is not a bad thing, or a good thing. It's just the way it is, and it's an idea that makes sense without having to be a Buddhist or be anything in particular. Our feelings are impermanent, and this is something I forget all the time. When I am mired in self-pity, or sadness, or anxiety, I forget that this is a feeling and that feelings pass, usually much more quickly than I ever expected. Good feelings pass, too. After all, that is part of what makes happiness and joy so sweet, the fact that we do not always have these emotions with us. Their fleeting nature and their impermanence are what make them such a treasure.

When I first began to learn of my husband's sex addiction, I fell into grief. I mourned the loss of my idea of our marriage. I had an idea that I was the only person my husband would ever do certain things with, that he would not have desires except for me, that he would not do things that could hurt me so deeply. Once I had to release these beliefs, I thought that I would not be able to remain in a marriage in which those things were not true. Yet our marriage is in a constant state of becoming, as are we as people. Thankfully my blinders of denial and self-delusion were removed, and when that happened I learned that I can survive the loss of my carefully tended dreams. Losing those dreams didn't mean that my husband did not love me, nor did it mean that I was not worth having the love and the goodness of the universe in my life. It did help to teach me that everything does change. We cannot step into the same river twice, as the saying goes.

The idea of impermanence helps me moment-to-moment as well. Knowing that our feelings are fleeting and ephemeral makes it easier to spend time feeling them. Doing all of the destructive things we have done to keep from feeling them only prolongs our suffering, and does not protect us from them anyway. It compounds our misery rather than allowing us to escape it. Our current situation is not the most comfortable: we are both unemployed, I am racking up thousands of dollars of debt each semester, our apartment life drives me crazy sometimes, our family relationships are not what we would like them to be. But things will not always be this way. And of course, our life right now isn't exactly miserable, either. There is plenty of joy to be found in each day, even if on the surface I don't have the things in place that I think would make me more content.

Knowing that nothing in life is permanent is knowing that we have capacity for change. In fact, change is imperative. We can try to direct this change toward good, or we can allow it to go in the most comfortable direction, which we will often have to deal with later on. If the painful parts of life were permanent, where would hope be?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Good Books

Thanks for the comments and encouragement. I have noticed last night and tonight that my eating has been less problematic. I guess being more aware and thinking about this issue has improved things, but I know in the long run I have a lot of work to do in this area. I'm sure I'll be sharing more about this as my recovery progresses, as I think food and eating are going to play a big part.

I finished the book--America Anonymous by Benoit Denizet-Lewis--tonight, and I loved it. It is very compelling, easy to read, thought-provoking and touching. One thing I especially liked about the book was the attention to addictions that many of us are less familiar with, like gambling and compulsive shoplifting, as well as the "old familiars", and how all the different stories emphasize that addiction is essentially the same no matter what the substance or behavior.

While I'm at it, I recently finished Susan Cheever's "Desire" which is about her own struggles with sex and love addiction and what she learned from research about it. It is somewhere between a memoir and a conversation about sex addiction. One fascinating chapter outlines all the evidence for Bill W. being a sex addict after achieving sobriety from alcohol (Susan Cheever wrote a definitive biography about Bill W. called "My Name Is Bill" some years ago, but did not include the things she uncovered about his compulsive sexuality in the book). In other chapters she talks about her father's addictions (her father was the well-known author John Cheever). I enjoyed this book as well, but a lot of reviewers seemed to have difficulty with the fact that you can't really classify this book as research or scientific or personal memoir. That's what made it compelling to me, but consider this fair warning.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Stuffing Feelings

I've been giving a lot of thought lately to my own potentially addictive behaviors, such as overeating. I am especially noticing how I eat (in the evenings mostly) to relieve stress, how I feel anxious prior to eating, how I get hungry "for" certain comfort foods (as opposed to just being hungry) etc. This isn't a new concept to me, but I am seeing it with fresh eyes this time. All of this has had me wondering if I need to look into some more intensive "treatment" for potentially addictive overeating behaviors--perhaps OA? But OA scares me a little, I have to admit.

I should probably mention that I have always had issues with food and weight. In brief, I struggled with eating disorders in my teen years, and as an adult gained weight steadily until I was obese. In the last few years I have lost a lot of weight, and am now very close to where I want my weight to be. Some of this (the weight loss) was probably an indirect attempt to again control my husband. Most of it was a continuation of the struggle I have had my whole life. My parents both have an unhealthy food addiction: my father is a compulsive overeater, my mother a lifelong anorexic and bulemic. My mother may also be a sex and/or love addict. These things are why my family acted and looked from the inside like an alcoholic home, although no one in my family was drinking. Food addiction was something I never really believed in before I began my recovery and started to wonder why my family acted the way it did when there was no obvious "substance" abuse in sight. Now I understand a little better how it becomes addictive, in a similar way that sex can be an addiction.

I've been reading a new book lately called America Anonymous by Benoit Denizet-Lewis. It came out a few months ago, and in this book the author follows eight addicts along their recovery through 12 step groups, and other recovery modalities. The addicts include a grandmother who is a crack addict, an elderly man who is an alcoholic, a bodybuilder addicted to meth and steroids (and the discussion of the possibility of chemical dependency on steroids is interesting), a compulsive shoplifter, a sex addict, a food addict, a heroin addict, and an addiction counselor in recovery for multiple substances and for gambling. The author himself is a recovering sex addict.

The author spends a lot of time with each of the addicts in question, and interviews many addiction experts. He assembles a fascinating portrait of addiction and recovery from multiple perspectives. Today I was reading about the food addict and was really struck by a passage in which the food addict discusses using food to escape emotions and how it relates to spirituality. What struck me was that what the speakers described could be considered an addiction in itself, or it can also be seen as a part of codependent behavior. In our S-Anon readings using food to manage our emotions is specifically mentioned as part of "the problem." I guess it was just the first time that it really struck me how this is all a part of the same process, and how much codependence really is not only a response to living with addiction but is very similar to addiction itself--and often it really IS addiction, to another person or relationship. I like it when pieces start to fit together in my mind.

Food addicts are familiar with the idea of eating to avoid experiencing feelings--they get a brief "high" from the actual eating, then they may feel full and sick for a while, but even that feeling allows them to avoid whatever emotions they were avoiding in the first place. I can certainly relate to both of those things. But as a codependent, I also learned to avoid feeling my own feelings, because they upset other people, because they made me seem "weak", because it was easier to focus on other people than myself. Anything I could do to help make the feelings disappear so I didn't experience so much dissonance was helpful. Certainly as co-addicts, many of us use weight gain and weight loss as (mostly unconscious) ways of controlling our sex addicts, and misuse of food helps control our own emotions and control our sex addict at the same time. Like many of the coping mechanisms we learned, they may have helped us at one time, but eventually they become more harmful to us than the original problem was, and we have to learn to let them go. Food addiction versus using food as part of codependence or co-addiction: are they any different from each other?

Anyway, tonight, rather than being overwhelmed that I have this whole other "problem" that I have to find a "solution" for, I can find a little peace in the thought that it is part of the same problem that I am already working my recovery for, and maybe, just maybe, it will get better as my recovery progresses. I hope my thought on this makes some sense to someone. It's a little jumbled yet in my brain, but it feels like an important emotional realization, even if the intellectual knowledge was there all along. Sometimes my brain just doesn't communicate correctly to the rest of me...

Sunday, June 7, 2009

This Year's Love

I don't have a lot of big, grand recovery insights very often. When I hear the other members of my S-Anon groups share, it seems like many of them are constantly having these great insights every week. Maybe they just are good at articulating their thoughts into a coherent "share", or perhaps they think about this stuff more than I do. I often feel like I am "reaching." But I take comfort in that old AA adage, "Easy Does It", and try to be patient with myself.

Tonight I did some cleaning around the house, listening to a S-Anon speaker on my iPod. When I was done I had the privilege of reading my husband's goodbye letter to alcohol and drugs, which is a part of the recovery program he is in. (The program doesn't address sex addiction, so he wasn't able to include that directly, although we both see everything as intertwined into a single addiction process.) It was beautifully and thoughtfully written. It made me more interested in completing my First Step with a "my story" kind of statement, and made me very proud of the progress my husband has made. He is living a life he is proud of for the first time in many years, and it's really an honor to be a part of it.

As I write this I am listening to David Gray. He has a song called "This Year's Love" that struck me differently tonight. As he sings "this year's love had better last," I thought, not for the first time, of my marriage, and how I think of it as an entirely different marriage and relationship than it was before discovery. I realized that I am getting to know my husband all over again, the him that I had always hoped was there but never really met before. He's real. Where in previous years I knew him to be cheerful but avoidant of any subject which was painful or uncomfortable (and there were many), now he is optimistic in a much more realistic way. When in the past he put on a good game face, and sometimes would make sarcastic, self-deprecating comments that could be my only clue that something might be bothering him, now he is much more likely to be quiet and obviously sad when that is how he is actually feeling. I am sure that much of this process must be sad for him, as he is starting to feel and connect with past traumas from his life that have been waiting for him to unpack and examine them.

We have times when we seem to lack intimacy, and reestablishing our sex life has been challenging at times. But I think we really are in a new relationship in a very real way, and in a new relationship these things are awkward and uncomfortable at times. It's okay for us to take our time in getting comfortable with each other as we figure out our new relationship, one based on honesty and respect. Never mind that we have been married for a few years, and together a few years longer than that.

This year's love had better last...

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


I am working on a formal First Step now. It is happening slowly, partly because I don't have very much time to devote to Step work and not to school work, and partly because I am doing it alone, with several books and workbooks to guide me. I have never seen or heard another person's formal First Step. I don't even know if it's a good idea to do it by myself, but I am doing it because going through the exercises and doing all the writing and journaling is good for me, and because my hope/plan is that in time I will find a good S Anon sponsor and be able to share this with them, and perhaps get some guidance. If not, I can hopefully share it with another S Anon who at least has a little more time in recovery than me, and can give me some feedback.

When I think of my powerlessness over the effects of sex addiction and alcoholism, thinking of this in relationship to my husband is the easy part, because that is what has happened most recently. Doing the exercises (in the Gentle Path workbook, by Carnes) has helped me start to see powerlessness and ways that my life was unmanageable at other previous points in my life, like my childhood, and my first marriage. I'm not even sure what addictions I was dealing with in my childhood--food addiction in both my parents, for sure, and possibly sex addiction in my mother, perhaps some others--but I can at least look at my own powerlessness and my own unmanageability with respect to my response to crazy behavior in my home.

In my childhood, my life became unmanageable when I banned my friends from my home from the time I was around 12. My home was a dark place where strange things happened--my mother slept on the couch every night since I was about 4, and claimed it was because my father snored. The house was messy and dark. But more than that, it was tense, and the inhabitants were not connected to one another in any real way other than DNA. I knew that other people sensed this, and I was too ashamed to let people see it any longer if I had any control over it. Around this time I also tried to be the family housekeeper, trying to clean and make the place liveable. This was thwarted by my mom, the chief mess-maker, who wouldn't let me throw away any of the papers she kept in numerous precarious stacks around the house. So eventually I settled on keeping my own bedroom, and the bathroom next to it when I could, clean, and I stayed in there until I was old enough to spend most of my time out of the house. These aren't the kinds of things I was thinking of when I first started looking at the 12 steps.

This process has also helped me to start to look at my own emotional state, not in an abstract or distant way, like I have done before, but in the moment. I'm noticing my moment-to-moment stress more now. On the weekends I have this restless, irritable feeling, like I am dissatisfied, or I should be doing something that I'm not doing. During the week I am in the position in my training of always feeling like I am out of place or doing something wrong. When I get a break, I feel the urge to eat something sweet, and it is not out of hunger. I can tell that it is the urge for something to make me feel better, more relaxed. By gosh, that's addiction if I've ever seen it. I've been trying to lose weight and have only managed to maintain or gain over the last 4 months. I do well during the days but indulge in the evenings when I get away. I know this isn't about managing physical hunger; now I can see it is something that I feel powerless over. And I use shopping the same way, which is shameful for me to admit but nevertheless is true. I haven't gotten uncontrollably in debt, but the fact that I sometimes shop to make myself feel better is a sign of trouble. It's not that I have never seen these things before, but I've never really felt the emotions in the moment and seen exactly why I have the urges to act in the way that I do.

I feel out of control when I do those things in an unhealthy way. I guess that's a part of unmanageability.

I'll keep working away as time permits, keep going to meetings and to our therapist. I am thinking of seeing our therapist on my own to talk about some of my own issues, not because I don't want to talk about them with my husband there but because I feel like we have to be working on other things when he is there. And I think it would be more helpful for me to address some of these things with her alone. For now, I keep writing, and running...

Monday, May 25, 2009


I used to believe that snooping was one of the things that doomed a relationship, and I refused to do it. I've never been a jealous person by nature, and I just couldn't bring myself to "snoop" to find things out about my partner. The first time in my life that I ever felt compelled to snoop in my partner's business was at the end of my first marriage. Our marriage was ending suddenly and mysteriously. He told me a few blunt things that I felt were designed to get me to end the relationship. I didn't really know what was going on in his life. I now believe that he was a sex addict, given his obsession with porn, his low interest in sex with actual people--namely, me--and his difficulty with personal intimacy. We shared a computer, so I knew about the porn and I didn't think it was a problem at the time. (This was 1999, so hiding a browser history wasn't such common knowledge, and it was something we talked about anyway.) One day, at the height of my confusion and pain, I clicked into the email server that we shared on our computer and looked at his email. Immediately I saw that he was in contact with another woman online, and it was not platonic. I confronted him about it, he insisted it only happened after we decided to separate, and we argued about the snooping. Nothing changed in our relationship--I was already moving out, and our divorce was final that fall--except that now I had some more possible reasons as to why our relationship suddenly ended. It has only been in the last few months that things there have started to make more sense.

This is a pattern that I see often in advice columns. A person (usually a woman, but not always) writes in (or calls in, as to my favorite podcast, Dan Savage's Savage Lovecast) to say that s/he suspected something was up, snooped in the computer and found out that their instincts were correct, and now couldn't decide how to confront their partner and deal with the fact that they also snooped. The advice usually is divided into two: first, the advice-seeker has to deal with what they know, and second, get their hand slapped for snooping. And invariably, when you confront your partner with information you found out this way, the snooping becomes an easy red herring to argue over rather than the original issue. The snooping happened because someone's Spidey-senses were tingling. There was some instictive knowledge that something was going on.

My instincts about my (current) husband were not alerted until last fall. We lived apart, not out of choice but rather of necessity, and it was easy for him to hide what was going on, and easy for me to live in denial. Sometimes I berate myself for this, but once I became instinctively aware that something was amiss, I did act on it. I didn't snoop, though. I gathered information from our cell phone bills, arranged it analytically so I could make my case, and confronted him. Then I demanded that he unlock his computer so he could prove that he was telling me the truth, that the relationship that was obviously happening was a friendship. He refused. When I told him that I refused to hack his computer, that it was his chance to prove that he was telling the truth by us both going through it together, and he refused, I knew that he was lying about the relationship. I also knew that I wasn't ever going to get the truth from him, and that it would have to find me some other way. It took 2 more months, but the truth did find me.

Now when I look at our societal messages about "snooping", I have a different take. I still believe that this kind of suspicious behavior is harmful to the relationship, and more harmful to the snooper than anything or anyone else. But it's not really the snooping, it's the thing that initiates the snooping. Some people live with that kind of paranoia in all of their relationships all the time. I think that speaks much more about the snooper than about the snoopee. But for most of us, we get that urge because our instinct is telling us that we are being lied to. If our health and our lives weren't at stake, I would not think that snooping could ever be excused. And if I had never been in that position before, I would probably recommend just getting out of a relationship that one felt compelled to do this kind of detective work on. But I have been in that position, and I know that is not realistic. Denial is something that needs to be broken somehow.

Research is indicating that sex addiction is likely to be much more prevalent than we are able to measure, and its incidence is growing rapidly, thanks to the abundence and availability of sexually explicit content on the internet and in the media. In fact, prominent experts in the field are saying that an epidemic is coming. Given that much of the acting-out happens on the computer, snooping through the PC can potentially yield a lot of information if you know what you are looking for and how to find it. I still can't say that I strongly feel that one should do it if they are suspicious. But I no longer feel that it is always the wrong thing to do. Our society tends to support the notion that the snooper is always wrong, at least a little wrong, no matter what they discover. But more and more people's health and lives are at stake. If your partner is having unprotected sex that you do not know about, and you are having unprotected sex on the assumption that s/he is honoring your agreement about monogamy, you are at risk of contracting an STD that can negatively impact your life or even kill you. How can we not have the right to find this information out if we suspect it might be true, and our partner is not forthcoming with the truth? Sex addiction, perhaps more than other addictions, usually involves deception and lies in order to allow the addiction to continue. The addict usually will not yield the truth about his/her behavior unless he is ready to or forced to.

Now that discovery has happened, and the truth is out, my husband keeps his computer unlocked for me to check at any time. I almost never do. I hate the icky feeling of looking around on his computer, and I fear discovering something more, even though I trust that he has revealed everything and is not acting out any longer. I wonder if this reluctance to poke around there speaks more about my own state of denial than anything else.

I do think that one has the right to privacy. I do think that the very fact that a person believes their partner is concealing important information about their behavior is damaging to the person who feels compelled to snoop. But I can't say that the right to privacy always outweighs the right to find out if you are being placed at risk by your partner's behavior. Many, many partners of sex addicts have only found out the truth of their partner's behavior by either accidently discovering information on the computer, or actively snooping. This is a very touchy subject, I know: what do you all think?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Recovery: You're Doing It Wrong

I haven't posted in a long time for a few reasons. For one, my schedule has changed and I have been in something of a flurry of activity for the last several weeks. For another, I haven't really had any thoughts worth blogging about regarding recovery.

I feel like a recovery loser right now for some reason. I feel like I should be spending more time reading all my recovery books and working on writing my first step, which I started a month or so ago. I ought to be working harder to find a S Anon sponsor, and generally making more active steps in my recovery. But I honestly haven't been able to. I'm in a very intense educational program right now--something along the lines of medical school, but not--and all my time that I have for reading has to be spent on my studies. At this point in my education it is non-negotiable, if I want to finish the program. (As many thousands of dollars as I am in debt now for it, I WILL finish!) So I realize that I have to do things at the pace I can do them, but the perfectionistic and high-achiever (and guilt-ridden) part of me feels that I'm not doing it "right."

Trying to complete my schooling and everything that entails, plus beginning this recovery journey, is a lot to chew on right now. But I'm taking comfort from the readings and the people who repeatedly say that just coming to the meetings and participating is the place to start. Things start to sink in. My distorted thinking IS changing, slowly but surely. I know that I will make more progress in changing the things about myself that need to be changed when I am at a place where I can focus on my steps and getting a sponsor and working my program, but for now it isn't possible, if I want to honor all the other committments in my life as well.

These endeavors--school, recovery--are leading me to a better way of living, and I am grateful that I have these opportunities. I do realize that life will always be busy, and if I get in a habit of making recovery wait until I have "time" for it, I will never make myself a priority. But I graduate in 12 months. Even before that, I should have enough of the major pieces of my program put to bed that I can make a little more headway than I am now.

Perhaps for now I should focus on why this logical thinking makes me feel guilty and triggers my perfectionistic tendencies?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Invincible Summer

"In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer." ~Albert Camus

I found this quote in my copy of Courage to Change, which I just received from Amazon this week. It was on the page for a day in January a couple days after discovery, a day which is actually my husband's sobriety date for alcohol and sexual acting out. There was a lot of snow on the ground at the time.

Winter is my least favorite time of year. I hate being cold. Since moving from my temperate-climate part of the country to this college town where they have real (cold, snowy) winters, I've had to really adjust to getting around in several feet of snow. We live in an old house with very little insulation, and heating is an expensive proposition in the wintertime. Discovery came at a time when I was already physically suffering from the weather, and the emotional circumstances fit as well. I was stuck in the snow, and I was stuck in this situation that I couldn't control or change or cure.

The snow is finally gone, both from the ground and from our marriage, one could say. I guess I'm not as stuck in my own fear and denial as I was in the winter, and I have some tools to avoid being stuck in the future. I'm learning how to live with intention now, something I thought I was doing before. I guess I was doing it in some areas of my life, but not in my most intimate relationships.

The above quote gives me a lot of hope, something I don't often get from quotes. I know I'll need that invincible summer within me to get through whatever the future holds.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Marriage makes you ready for marriage.

One of the notable authors in the area of marriage counselling is David Schnarch, author of "Passionate Marriage." I'm a big fan of his. One of his main contentions is that issues that arise in marriage (and he includes committed relationships, particularly those of people who are not allowed to legally marry, like same-sex couples) should not be dealt with in a pathology model, saying that there is something "wrong" with the relationship that caused the issue or problem. He states repeatedly that "problems" are inevitable in marriage, because it is the nature of marriage to bring up our issues and force us to deal with them. He likes to say, "Nobody is ready for marriage. Marriage makes you ready for marriage."

Of course, the problems I am facing in my marriage now are related to pathology. In fact, aside from the things that addiction has brought into our marriage, our relationship is surprisingly strong. We have a great deal of love and respect for each other, probably even more than we ever have had before. That doesn't mean that everything is going to turn out rose-petals and walks into the sunset for us. But we have a lot to work with, and a lot to be thankful for.

On my run this evening I started out by thinking of how I was going to start working my steps. I really want to get started on them. I am a "planner" and a "doer." Giving me a list of 12 steps is a challenge, because once I saw them I immediately began planning how I was going to work each of them and get them done. Why? Did I think I would be "recovered" faster if I did my homework quickly? I don't think so, per se...but there was a clear plan outlined, and it is in my nature to want to work a plan.

But I don't have a sponsor. I'm a long way from getting a sponsor. I don't even really have a HP. What I decided to do was "act as if" and say a prayer, just like I used to when I was tight with the Baby Jesus. I prayed to...something...HP?...for guidance on how to start my steps and get a sponsor. And I had a sense of an answer, from the Universe or from somewhere within myself, or maybe from an external HP, who knows. That was..."wait."

I have a bunch of work to do before really doing a good First Step, so I used the rest of my run to meditate on how I got here. I thought about my family of origin, my relationship with my mother (a blog topic for later...) and ended up thinking about marriage and wondering what Schnarch would have to say about all this SA and alcoholism stuff. I don't really know what he'd have to say about it. But I am certain, without a doubt, that my husband and I are together for a reason and that we were drawn to one another for a purpose. I think we recognized something in one another that brought out the best and the worst in us both. And I think the worst possible thing for me to do right now would be to bail on this marriage (not that I want to, because I don't, but I used to think I should).

One of the things that Schnarch says a lot in his books is that marriage is a people-growing machine. Marriage has certainly forced me to deal with things that I would not have dealt with otherwise. I thought about the first time I learned that my husband had been unfaithful to me. It was about 9 months after we were married. I probably wouldn't have even found out if we weren't married, because the woman found me on Myspace through my husband's page. If he didn't have me on his page, and have his status as "married", and if I didn't have photos of our wedding on my all likelihood she never would have sent me the message that he had cheated on me with her. And if she didn't tell me, he certainly never would have. If I did somehow find out about it, there is a pretty good chance that I would have left the relationship if we weren't married. (I say "good chance" because I'm a pretty good codependent, and he might have been able to talk me into staying...I have no way of knowing.) The only think I know for sure is that things would not have turned out exactly the way they have if we were not married.

And for all the pain and turmoil that this has caused for us, I wouldn't want it to have turned out differently. (Okay, a couple things, yes.) I needed to be forced to see my own illness and deal with it. My husband needed to be forced to see his own illness and deal with it. We needed a basis of honesty to really make our marriage work and grow. I do believe our marriage, as it was, ended on the day of discovery, January 7th, and thank HP for that. What we have today is the beginning of a relationship based on reality, not illusion and denial.

I don't believe that we would be in this place today if we weren't married. I know a lot of people say that it's "just a piece of paper." I've been married twice, and in my experience, it is not. There is something about that legal binding that adds a certain weight and significance to the decisions you make individually and as a couple. You can walk away from it, but you are still bound, and in a way you always will be, even if you divorce. (I heard somewhere else that you never really divorce, you just add marriage partners. Anyone who has been married to a divorced person can attest to that--the ex is never really out of your life completely.)

As I thought about this, I realized that this creates yet another injustice in the denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples. Today, the Iowa Supreme Court overturned a ban on same-sex marriage in their state. I personally feel that the denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples is one of the biggest civil rights travesties of my generation and should be one of our generation's biggest contributions to the future of the United States. I see no difference between this battle and the "anti-miscegeny" arguments of Loving v. Virginia. (And don't quote me the Bible; I don't recognize it as an authority in civil matters, or any other for that matter.) If Loving v. Virginia hadn't happened, I might not have been legally permitted to marry my husband in the first place, and nothing in our lives would be the same. I am not saying that without the ability to sign a license and file it in the courthouse, couples can't be deeply committed or deal with the kind of people-growing issues that marriage raises. They can, but marriage is a unique vehicle for raising these issues, and civil unions just aren't a substitute, as any same-sex marriage advocate will readily tell you. It is one of many ways that our society tells gays and lesbians that their relationships aren't as significant or as valid as hetero ones. They aren't worthy of legal protections. And they aren't afforded the right to get themselves into these life-and-death embroilments and deal with marriage counselors and divorces and all those things that suck but make us grow as people.

Yay to Iowa, and I hope the rest of the Union follows suit in my lifetime.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

All I wanna do is have some fun...

I'm on spring break from school right now. It doesn't look the way I want it to look: money is very tight, and I am stuck in my college town, which is cold and gray right now. I had planned an overnight trip to go see my family and friends on the other side of the mountains, but the pass is not really safe for travel today, so I had to postpone the trip. So here I am, in my apartment, with hubby.

I'm trying to make the best of it, though, even though I have this vague sense of dissatisfaction and almost panic that my spring break is slipping by and I'm not "having fun". Which is funny, because I am beginning to realize that I've either forgotten how to have fun or never really knew in the first place. My sickness has manifested as constant business (something I'm sure other coaddicts can relate to). I am always doing something, and I'm never satisfied. But when I stop to think, "What would I really, really like to do right now?" I have no answer.

I can have fun; I had fun on my vacations. I have fun when I enjoy an evening with friends. I have done fun things, for sure. But here I am with several days left of a rare break in my schedule, and I have a hard time thinking of fun things to do that don't cost money. That is kind of sad.

I've been doing some crafts that I haven't done in a long time, and reading. I do enjoy those things. While doing my crafts, I've been listening to more recovery podcasts: the SA/S-Anon conference, and some talks by Kevin Griffin. They fill me with ideas to journal and blog about. I'm trying to fill my brain up with positive messages about recovery, and it seems to be working. I still really wish I could be on a beach in Mexico, but that is one of those things that I have to accept that I cannot change. I'm here, with my kitty and my hubby, and we are pretty lucky to have each other.

I guess I am experiencing dukkha. This is the Buddhist concept that is often translated as "suffering" but can also be thought of as unrest or dissatisfaction or uneasiness. That is exactly what I am feeling. It has nothing to do with the externals of my life, the money, the addictions, the uncertainty about the future. It is really separate from that and it exists even if those things were solved; that is the nature of dukkha and the nature of longing or desire. It can't be satisfied. How do we overcome the desire for things that we don't have, or the desire for things to be different, perhaps even in ways we don't understand? The prescription given by the Buddha is the Eightfold Path. How to implement that is beyond my understanding at this point of my life, but we are told that we all have the potential to gain this enlightenment.

One thing that I've been practicing that does help is being present in the moment. This is talked about a lot in recovery circles, for good reason: addicts and codies both have developed ways of escaping from the moment. Usually this escape mechanism developed because there was a time when the moment wasn't safe; it develops as a coping mechanism. But eventually the thing that we developed to protect ourselves becomes harmful itself, and we learn to avoid the moment completely, just in case it might be painful or unsafe. Almost always, it seems that the pain we are spending our lives avoiding exists either in the past or the future, not right now. This is helpful for me to remember. I am afraid that we won't be able to pay our bills, for example. But right now, we have a roof over our heads, food in the kitchen, heat to keep us warm, clothes on our backs. We have each other, and we have a community of support. The moment is pretty good right now, even if the future is uncertain.

To remember how to be in the moment, I try to concentrate on what I feel right now, physically and emotionally. I feel any sensations in my body, anything I am touching or leaning on, the ambient temperature. I also check my emotions, because I will almost always ignore them unless I force myself to pay attention. What I have discovered in the past few days is my emotions are rarely what I initially thought they were. Yesterday I thought I was happy and calm, but as I checked into myself a little more closely, I realized that I was actually feeling a bit edgy and uneasy, and was doing things to try to make myself happy and calm. Happy and calm were what I WANTED to be then, not what I actually was. Becoming aware of how I actually felt helped me to calm down, ironically. So being in the moment is something I am learning how to do, and it does help with this sense of uneasiness and dissatisfaction.

Monday, March 30, 2009

How I Got Here: My First Marriage

Every time I go to an S-Anon meeting, I wonder to myself how I got there. I'm grateful to be there, and I go by choice; I actually look forward to my meetings all week. But still, six months ago I could not have predicted that I would be in those rooms today.

I'm not there because of my husband's addiction. I am there because of my own sickness that sought out an addict, an addict that I love and today am even proud of. Certainly, sex addiction has brought a lot of pain into my life and my marriage. But that's just a result of how I got here.

In thinking about this question, I am trying to resurrect some long-buried memories of my past. One part of my life I am trying to sort through is my first marriage. It is strange to think about now, but my first marriage sometimes seems like another lifetime ago. I was only 24 when I married the first time, and our marriage barely lasted 2 years. Yet that brief period of time belies the significance of that relationship.

We met when I was 19 and we started dating fairly soon afterward. He was 10 years older than me, and was actually married at the time, but in odd circumstances. He had been in an open marriage, and his wife had fallen in love with another man. They were still living together when we met, but she was thrilled that we had started dating: she thought I was great, she was glad he was happy, and I think the whole thing alleviated some guilt for her. She moved out about 7 months later and they were divorced soon thereafter. The open marriage hadn't been his idea, but when they had started dating she never stopped dating other people, and he never asked her to. The fact that it continued into their marriage seems strange to most people, but he always felt that he shouldn't have to ask her to stop--and she felt that since he never asked, she shouldn't have to stop. Not exactly the pinnacle of good open communication, I guess. Somehow, this red flag, like many others, didn't show up on my radar.

We were together for 5 years before getting married. He didn't ask me, we just decided. (Funny, the same thing happened with my now-husband.) There are lots and lots of little things along the way that, looking back, should have been warning signs to me, but weren't. At the time, I felt that loving somebody was enough to overcome any troubles. Fortunately, after this relationship I learned that that wasn't the case.

I can't recall anymore if my first husband wanted our relationship to be open or not. I remember telling him that I didn't think I could have an open relationship, but I don't remember if that's what he wanted. What I knew he wanted was not to be challenged at all in our relationship, and to be left alone with his love of porn. I didn't really have a problem with the porn. I grew up thinking that that was just what men did, even though it wasn't something we had around our house. I knew it was how my mom felt about it on the infrequent instances that the subject came up, so that was how I felt too: it's no big deal. But this would be a problem for us personally because our intimate life was something that couldn't be challenged, either, without him withdrawing and complaining that I was criticizing him. And every time I used our computer, there were porn images there as evidence of how he spent late nights. Eventually, I began to see them as a problem when I saw how he used it to avoid real intimacy.

I don't know if he was a sex addict or a porn addict, but both are certainly possible. I recognize him in a lot of the defining characteristics. The marriage ended when he told me that he didn't want children after all, he didn't want to be married and he wanted to be alone. These revelations were spread out over a week and were said in a way that did not invite discussion. Our marriage ended, to his bewilderment, despite his seeming to want that. Then I found that he was in contact with women via the internet (which back in 1999 was still a bit new) for flirting or dating or I'm not even sure what. Looking back now, it seems impossible to me that I was ever involved with or in love with someone who was so non-communicative and so avoidant. My dad is like that, so I shouldn't be so surprised, but after this relationship I decided that these were things I couldn't have in my relationships anymore.

Recovering from this marriage and divorce was very painful, but fruitful as well. I learned a lot about the person I was and the person I wanted to be. I became much more confident in all ways, and open to more possibilities in my life. I stayed single for a long time afterward; in fact, I dated, but only had one actual relationship in the next 5 years before meeting my now-husband.

One thing I did right was avoiding the obvious pitfalls from this relationship in my future relationships. What I failed to realize was that I was avoiding people who had obvious problems with sex and initimacy and communication and affection, but not the actual reasons for those behaviors in my partner, or the reasons that I was attracted to those things myself. That's part of how I got here...

Recognizing the Addict

When I met my husband, I understood that he was an alcoholic, because he told me. Actually, he told me that he had "had" a drinking problem, and had been through outpatient treatment. He told me all of the circumstances around his excessive drinking, which made perfect sense to me, as they were fairly extraordinary. Then I let myself believe that he no longer had a problem, even though the first months of our relationship were marked by his excessive drinking, until he got wise enough to effectively hide it from me.

Despite the fact that I am in a profession that has a lot of contact with alcoholics and addicts, I never thought I understood what addiction really was. In my family of origin I couldn't identify any addicts. My parents didn't drink or do any drugs. Yet, when I went to my first Al-Anon meetings, and listened to the other Al-Anons there talk about the craziness and secrets and darkness of their homes, I knew they were describing my home growing up. It was a big mystery to me. I didn't grow up with addiction and I didn't understand it, but why did I end up with an addict anyway?

I've been listening to some talks from a recent SA/S-Anon conference today on my iPod, and I heard some of the same things echoed in what the speakers shared. It occured to me that a lot of codependents seem to say the same things, if they didn't have a very obvious addiction in their home growing up: that they didn't "get" or recognize addiction. It is interesting to me how we are emotionally drawn to this thing in other people that we instinctively understand, even though we block our minds from consciously recognizing it. They say that there is always a reason that we as the codie/co-addict were drawn to our addict. It doesn't ever just "happen" and we DO "get" addiction on some level, because that is what we know. Even though I am fortunate that I do not have a compulsion to drink or take drugs or do (overtly) destructive behaviors to excess, there is a part of me that recognizes an addict and feels some harmony, perhaps in saving that person, or in trying to make the story end the right way this time.

One of the speakers at that conference said a lot of things that really resonated with me, and they were very simple. One thing she said was that it is okay to love a sex addict, because what another person does is not a reflection upon us. This is something that I really struggled with in the beginning with discovery and all the turmoil of a couple months ago. My husband was trying to start his recovery and begin putting his life back together, and he couldn't understand why I didn't want him to tell anybody that he had cheated on me. I tried to explain the profound shame that I felt in anyone else knowing that he had had affairs with other women, but I couldn't get it across very well. I very much felt that his actions, in his disease, were about me and were a reflection on me. Since then, I've learned through S-Anon and Al-Anon that it's not about me, that it never was. His acting out with other people didn't say anything about what I was like as a wife or lover or partner. It only spoke about him and his disease and how he felt deep down about himself. I didn't cause the acting out, or the disease, I couldn't control it, and I can't cure it.

This is still hard for me to accept sometimes. I am ashamed to admit that I still am fixated on certain qualities of the women that he had extended relationships with. I feel that they are less attractive, less fit, and much older than I am, and that this reflects on me: it shows that I am actually less attractive than I think I am, or that this is the kind of person he really wants to be with. All I can really say is that this belief of mine says a lot about me and my own insecurity. I don't know why my husband chose the people that he did to act out with. I have some theories, and my husband has been gracious in discussing them with me and even agrees on some points. But I have to learn to accept that the people he acted out with are a part of the disease, and the disease is not about me. They might say something about him and what he was thinking or trying to achieve by choosing the partners he chose, but they might not. And no matter what, they aren't any better or worse than I am, and they were acting from a place of pain as well, as was my husband.

I am so happy today to see a bit of progress in my own recovery, and to see progress in my husband. I am tremendously proud of the work that he is doing and proud that he is acting from the best parts of himself in trying to get better, the parts I always knew were there, the parts I fell in love with in the very beginning. In the times when we are able to have real heart-to-heart discussions about our recoveries and where we are right now in our lives, I see the man that I have always loved and I rejoice that he is there. It is okay to love a sex addict, and to be loved by one. I can love freely, without feeling shame that his actions in the past say anything about me or who I am, without feeling that I can't be with him because of the things that have happened in our relationship. I don't know what will happen tomorrow, but right now I have a lot to be thankful for.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


I had a really good conversation with my husband this afternoon. I told him stuff that I ought to have told him before now, about how I feel lonely and isolated, and he reminded me that he can't read my mind. We both spoke respectfully to each other about some very personal, tender things. And I realized something as I was explaining it to him: I have my own addictions, besides being codependent. I eat inappropriately (something I've known for years), and I am addicted to being "fine". I'm always "fine".

I get a lot out of being "fine." People think I am resiliant, and they leave me alone and talk about other things--usually themselves--which is my goal. Distract and deflect. Or maybe they just think I am antisocial, but either way I don't have to talk about myself anymore.

Yeah, maybe I have trust issues.

Being "fine" is a trap, though. Once people realize that you're always fine, they expect it from you all the time. It's hard not to be fine once you've set up that expectation in others. And it shortchanges those around me as well, people who would genuinely like to be a part of my life in a real way, but I shut them out by pretending to be strong. If I don't pretend to be coping magnificently for once, if I let on that I'm a real human being who has real emotional responses to life's problems, they won't see me as being so strong all the time--but maybe something better will happen, they'll see me as someone real.

Anyway, I'm not going to pour out my heart the next time someone makes small talk with me, but I am going to work on being a little bit more real to those people in my life who really care how I really am. And I'm going to try not to shortchange my husband so much the next time, and sit down and talk until we are understanding each other.

And I'm going to make a call, now.