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.

Email bombs

Many partners (or co-addicts) have a formal or informal "disclosure", where their partner/addict tells them what behaviors they have been engaging in secretly. For me, there was very little disclosure from my partner. Most of it was "discovery" in the form of an affair partner, or their spouse, contacting me. This happened with two people. One contacted me on Facebook, the other on Myspace. They both looked me up and told me information that I was not expecting, which set off other events here at home.

Today I had another email bomb waiting in my Myspace account. I almost never check that account, maybe every few months. The first discovery happened in this account; a woman found me there in 2007 and told me what she had done with my husband. At the time I thought it was an isolated thing; my husband worked very hard to convince me of the same. I didn't learn that it actually had continued until about 2 weeks ago. This was the last (I hope) bit of "disclosure" that my husband had hoped not to have to reveal to me, because he knew how hurtful it would be for me to know that after everything we went through over that "one-time" Craigslist hookup, a month or so later he went back to her and carried out an affair for almost 2 years.

Just when I was starting to incorporate this new information into my reality, I checked my Myspace account this morning and there was a note from her again. It doesn't really matter what it said; it wasn't mean, she wanted me to know that she was hurting too, and why she did what she did. But it was definitely upsetting.

First, I knew I should have just deleted it without reading it, but I couldn't. I knew it would get my pulse and my brain racing, but I still read it. It shook me up just having contact from her and having to relive the trauma of discovery all over again. Hearing another woman talk about your husband with so much familiarity, talking as if she knows your husband better than you do, is very upsetting. (Hearing more than one woman do this is staggering.) I have to wonder if she DID know him better than me; after all, she was part of the secret life. And having a woman who has knowingly had an affair with your husband try to convince you of how SHE has been hurt is not an experience I would wish upon anyone else. (Both women did that, too.)

In the future, I will try to avoid such contacts from these people. They only retraumatize me, and I don't gain anything useful from it anymore. There was a time when the only straight information I was getting was from the husband of one affair partner. My husband was not answering any of my questions--he was drinking and trying to escape this situation that was bound to happen at some point. Now, more details only hurt me. I don't need to hear from any other women who have slept with my husband. It prolongs the pain for both me and my husband, and doesn't help us in our recoveries. I know there are potentially many people who could repeat this experience for me, and I pray that they don't, that if they have the urge, they will also have the compassion to not relieve their consciences or whatever the motivation is to contact the wife of one's secret lover.

I wanted most to be comforted by my husband this morning, but he isn't at a point in his recovery where he has much comfort to offer. I know he has compassion for what I am going through, but I also know he has to get further along in his own recovery before he can start to focus on anyone other than himself and his process. This is hard to accept, but I know in my mind that it is true. It is one of the many things that makes living as a spouse of a SA such a lonely experience. There is so much isolation and secrecy, and when everything is out in the open, it still isn't. There are just a couple of my friends who know anything about this part of our marriage, and they aren't really familiar with sex addiction. Perhaps I will call one of my S-Anon ladies today. I'm not very good about using my phone, but I should start getting better at it.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A brief history of therapists

My husband and I saw our new therapist again yesterday. I am so grateful that he found her and grateful that she is in this city. She's the only certified sex addiction therapist in our area. She's been a therapist for 30 years and CSAT-certified for 10. She's been trained by Patrick Carnes. So far we have both been very pleased and encouraged that she will actually be able to help us both.

One big test of her ability came in our session yesterday. Without getting into any specifics, my husband's family has a story right in its center that would make a perfect true crime TV show or novel. In fact, at one point years ago, the true-crime author Ann Rule contacted the family about using their story for a book. The events that have occured with one particular family member of his are so larger-than-life and unbelievable that this story actually has almost become another member of the family. This family history has a lot to do with how my husband ended up where he is today--in good ways as well as bad.

Not only did my husband and his siblings have to live through some unbelievably terrible things as this story played out, and subsequently had to live with the fallout, but they have to live with the effects of having this story overshadowing their daily lives. They are constantly dealing with people who learn about the story, or knew the story and learn their connection to it. People become intrigued, but not because of them as individuals--rather because of the salaciousness of the story itself. They just want to move on, but the world won't let them. Just "moving on" is a difficult prospect anyway, as there is just so much to be dealt with that for all of them, it will necessarily be a lifelong process. Fortunately, they all turned out to be loving and wonderful people, and are all dedicated to making their lives better, and they are supportive to one another in the process.

Therapists, just like everyone else, tend to get sucked into the details that happened and they forget that they have a patient who is supposed to be getting treatment. This was the test of our new therapist, and she did well: she kept the focus on my husband and how these events have shaped him, and started to outline some ways that he would have to work through his memories and resolve some of the grief and trauma for him to complete his own recovery. She did not get sidetracked or overly fascinated, which was very encouraging to both of us. Our other two therapists, and every individual therapist my husband has seen, have not done as well. They hear the story and say something like, "No wonder you have problems!" And then they get back to learning the juicy details.

As I mentioned, we had two other therapists in the past. When I first discovered my husband had cheated on me, we went to a marriage counselor. He was a nice guy and to be fair, he was bamboozled from the start. Unbeknownst to me, my husband had not had an "isolated" single "mistake", he had an active sex addiction, and he was doing whatever it would take to save his marriage and convince me that it would never happen again. My husband is also very charming and charismatic, a trait he shares with many sex addicts, and he had the first therapist eating out of his hand. The guy had the wrong premise from the start. We were working on our communication, which felt so false to me, although at the time I didn't know why. We actually had good communication. And loving and respecting each other wasn't the problem, either. I ended up feeling blamed by the therapist for my husband's "indiscretion", and we discontinued treatment after 4 or 5 sessions.

The second therapist was the one we started seeing last month, before finding our current therapist. I was referred to him by my primary care provider. He told me that he had treated couples with sex addiction in the past, as well as substance abuse. I saw him once alone, then we both went a couple of times. We both really liked him, but during our second session together it really became apparent that he had no clue about sex addiction. He said some really unhelpful and infuriating things, like "Men have a high need for sex" and other things that made it clear he didn't understand or believe in the addictive process. He also showed himself to be a lot more Christian than we were comfortable with, even though we had already told him we were not Christians and we were attending a Buddhist temple. He talked a lot about being healed by the grace of God. We couldn't decide if he didn't remember what we had told him, or if he thought we should hear that anyway. Since my husband's past also included being a member of a very insular, fundamentalist religion (which, not surprisingly, also is a common feature of sex addicts), this seemed especially baffling, even hurtful. After our second meeting with him, we decided we weren't going back. He did other things well, and we otherwise genuinely liked him, but his attitudes about our central issues seemed like they would be more harmful than helpful.

We did pretty well, considering some of the horror stories I have read about on other recovery blogs about the behavior of therapists, especially when their clients are sex addicts. Sometimes it seems like sex addicts in recovery become easy prey for people who are looking to abuse their position of power. But finding someone who understands the problem and the things we are facing has been a huge source of hope and positive affirmation for me personally. The kinds of questions our therapist is able to ask, the things that she focuses on, the way she clearly lays out a treatment plan and a realistic timetable (2-5 years is the average) for treatment, makes me appreciate her so much. At our first session, I nearly wept from relief at finally finding someone who had real clinical experience and knowledge about what we were both going through and the kind of treatment we would both need individually and as a couple. A lot of people understand and can treat people with chemical dependency, but when it comes to sex addiction, a lot of what is available out there is actually harmful to recovery, and even that can be hard to find. I am really learning to appreciate the value of finding people who have experience and understand what it is like to go through this--people in recovery groups as well as therapists.

It is going to be hard work, but I am so grateful to have someone to guide us through.

Friday, March 20, 2009

I'm not the one with the problem...

Like most partners of addicts (of any flavor), when it was suggested that I go to a 12 step group, my first thought was, "Me? I don't have a problem! Why would I need recovery?"

I went to Al-Anon fairly readily, though, when my life suddenly became TRULY unmanageable. My husband had been through a number of terrifying events in a short amount of time. He was laid off from work a few days before I discovered his sexual acting-out, through a third party. We were living in different cities at the time because his job was there and I was in school here. Not long after discovery, he disclosed to me that he had been drinking very heavily in the past year that we had been separated. Soon after that, he was in a hit-and-run accident, during which he was heavily intoxicated and received his second DUI. The following day he was suicidal and I had to call 911 from 400 miles away to get him some help. He spent the next week as an inpatient in a psychiatric facility. All of these things happened in a 2 week period in January. It was clear that my life was unmanageable, and that I needed some support.

But when it came to support and recovery as a spouse of a sex addict, I resisted more. I am not really sure why. Perhaps it was because I didn't really understand how it was an addiction; perhaps because I was still so angry and hurt by the discovery of what my husband had been doing. After several weeks, it became clear to me that this was the problem that was hardest for either of us to understand, and it was the problem that was driving the majority of the crisis in our lives. Most importantly, it was the problem that I couldn't talk to most people about, and I desperately needed some support.

There are a lot of options for sex addiction support: SA, SAA, SLAA, S-Anon, COSA, RCA, etc. In this city, SA and S-Anon seem to be the main resources available. There are some significant differences in philosophy between SA, SAA, and SLAA. But if there are differences in the partner groups, it doesn't really seem to matter much, as far as I can tell. Just being in a room with other people (our group is entirely women, which is fairly common) who have been through what you are going through is a very powerful experience. Everybody there has their own experience and their own definitions of what is acceptable behavior, but the important thing that everyone agrees on is that we are there for our own recovery, separate from that of our partners.

My husband went to a few SA meetings here in our city, then he had to go back to the other city to deal with the legal fall-out of the hit-and-run/DUI for a few weeks. During that time I started going to S-Anon and have been going ever since. Now that he is back here, we have been going together, as the two groups meet at the same time, and it's been a great experience. I always leave feeling uplifted and understood, regardless of what I heard or said in the meeting.

Our group is very small. At first, there was only 1 woman, waiting for someone else to come so they could have a meeting. Then a second woman came, and they had meetings, just the two of them, for a couple of years. It's been pretty recent, within the last 6 months, that others have started to show up. Now there are about 6 regulars, and a few other intermittent members. Occasionally there is a newcomer or two. So far I've seen 3 newcomers besides myself. Two didn't come back, and the other was just last night, so we'll see if she comes back. But I think it's probably pretty common for someone to come to their first meeting, then wait a while before returning. That's just a hunch on my part.

Here's how the meeting goes: We open with the Serenity Prayer. There are several opening readings, detailing who we are and why we are there. We read the 12 and 12 (steps/traditions). We read several other paragraphs: the Gifts of S-Anon, the Keys to Recovery, etc. Then we have announcements, usually about upcoming retreats and events. We do a reading from one of the S-Anon books, either the Green Book or Reflections of Hope (alternating each week). Then we share. We close with a statement about anonymity and the Serenity Prayer. Then we usually chat for a while. The meetings sound scripted and boring, but there is usually a lot of laughter and empathy. We rarely talk about our partners' behavior, acting out, or recovery, unless it relates to our own recovery. We work hard to keep the focus on ourselves. It would be easy for this to devolve into a bitching session or an opportunity to gossip about or degrade the partners, if we did not strictly adhere to our focus. Mainly we talk about the things we have to work on in ourselves, such as our attempts to control situations and people that are out of our control, our distorted thinking, how crazy we can become when we are acting in a codependent fashion. This group in particular (I haven't been to any others) is very loving and respectful towards our partners when we talk about them at all. It creates a very peaceful, supportive and fun environment, and I look forward to these meetings all week.


Here's the description for today's COSA online meeting that I received in my email:


Sometimes, the way is not clear.

Our minds get clouded, confused. We aren't certain what our next step should be, what it will look like, what direction we are headed.

This is the time to stop, ask for guidance, and rest. That is the time to let go of fear. Wait. Feel the confusion and chaos, and then let it go. The path will show itself. The next step shall be revealed. We don't have to know now. We will know in time. Trust that. Let go and trust.

Today, I will wait if the way is not clear. I will trust that out of the chaos will come clarity.
Please come and share your Experience, Strength, and Hope in regards to this topic.

I've never been to a COSA online meeting, although I get the notices from them everyday. Someday I will attend one (virtually). They sound interesting.

I liked this topic because this is exactly how I have been feeling: clouded, confused. I don't think there really IS a next step, right now. Right now I just live my life: go to school, go to work, study. Go to meetings, go to therapy. Live life. Get exercise. Eat healthfully.

Trouble is, my brain wants MORE. My brain wants to GET IT.

This week I've been feeling a bit numb, or flat. I haven't really been able to put my finger on exactly what is going on with me. I just know that I'm not feeling the way I usually feel. Also, I've been very edgy. I have snapped at my husband a few times this week when normally I wouldn't. I've been irritated. And I've been very, very tired; most days after working I come home around 3pm and fall asleep.

There isn't necessarily anything to "get" about this. I guess I'm in a grief stage of this whole process, and it's exhausting. Today, I'm starting to come down with a cold. This is significant to me because I never had a cold all through last year, my first (and most difficult by any measure) year of grad school. I can't remember the last time I did have a cold, but it was sometime in 2007. That never happens; I always get at least a small viral thing at least once a year, but now I have my first one in at least a year and a half. I suppose it's my immune system catching up to the stress of the last 2 months.

I also feel a vague sense of dissatisfaction. This I think is just the human condition. In Buddhist teachings they say that life is inherently dissatisfying. It is part of the idea of desire: we always want something that we don't have, and that makes us dissatisfied. We can spend our whole lives feeling that we can't get no satisfaction, to quote Mick Jagger. I can't fix that, but I can try to make peace with it. This too shall pass.

Monday, March 16, 2009


I had to make some changes to the blog to preserve my anonymity. I have mixed feelings about it, but for now it seems prudent to keep this separated from my other blog, in which I am identified.

So, there is a new URL, and I had to repost everything after I imported the blog. Thus, it appears the first 4 entries were made last night. They weren't. It irritated me, but there it is.

Anonymity is important in AA and Al-Anon, but much more so in sex addiction recovery groups such as SA and S-Anon. It is an interesting situation at the S-Anon group I attend. There is a SA meeting that occurs at the same time, and pretty much every member of S-Anon has a mate in the SA group. We know who is over there, and sometimes we can hear them laughing, or we can see them walking down the hall. Being married to the SA members, there is a lot of cross-pollination. Mates are sponsors to mates of other S-Anons. I have found it especially challenging to figure out exactly what is and is not protecting anonymity with my hubby. Our habit has been to tell each other pretty much everything interesting, but in this case we just can't. I learned a few things about some of the SA members before I was attending S-Anon, and when I met their mates it made an awkward problem for me. I couldn't really tell the women that I knew anything about their husbands or even that I knew they were attending the SA meeting. And in at least one case, what I heard about the husband was very different from what I heard from the wife. This can be surprisingly hard to avoid, but it was made clear to me at my first meeting that this sort of thing must be avoided at all costs. Our group meetings are about OUR recovery, not talking about the SA member. And if my husband gets as a sponsor someone that a S-Anon is married to, I don't want to know all about them. It's not my business. Yet, it's difficult not to "learn" some things about the other group. We just try to be mindful and I try hard to avoid talking about anything that happens in my group, except perhaps what I chose to share. I am still figuring out what is and is not okay to say about meetings. For example, if my husband and I both go to that meeting, we both see who is going into each group. Is it betraying anonymity if I let slip that a certain person was present? I guess not if he saw that person there. But he might assume if that person's partner was at his meeting. It gets surprisingly dicey.

Here on the blog, my own personal anonymity doesn't matter too much to me right now, but I don't know if it might in the future. Also, I want to avoid identifying my husband, mainly to keep potential employers from finding him on these blogs. It seems right now that the best move is to remain anonymous, until it seems best to do otherwise. Once the toothpaste is out of the tube, you can't put it back in.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Serenity in our Pockets

This weekend we attended an AA/Al Anon conference. We heard 3 speakers, 2 of whom were AA speakers and one was Al-Anon. They were all very good. One of them delivered his message much like a stand-up comic. Each of them shared a powerful personal story, and were all very different from one another.

I've never been to a 12 step conference before, and found a lot of features interesting. It seems that the speakers are on a sort of national "circuit"; there were CDs available to purchase of talks by dozens of AA and Al Anon speakers, and people talked about hearing these speakers elsewhere before. They also had "marathon meetings" on Friday and Saturday. All evening on Friday and all day and evening Saturday there were hourly meetings, either AA or Al-Anon. We didn't go to any, we just listened to the speakers. It was really nice to attend this together as a couple and listen to the talks together, hearing both perspectives from the different speakers. My husband knew a lot of people there from his AA meetings around town; I didn't see any Al-Anon people that I knew, but our meetings are much, much smaller.

I thought it was interesting that each talk is treated like a meeting. At the beginning, someone reads all the usual preamble stuff from the respective meetings for the first 15 minutes. If the speaker was an AA speaker, they read the AA 12 & 12 and all their other blurbs. For the Al-Anon speaker, they started with the Al Anon 12 & 12, the Statement of the Problem, etc. Everyone who read introduced themselves first, just like at a meeting. It surprised me that they did all this, and it took quite a long time. Then the speakers always went over their hour of time allotted; the Al-Anon speaker spoke for about 90 minutes. But no one seemed to mind, and all were interesting and engaging.

One of the things I enjoyed the most was the sobriety countdown. I didn't know it would be such a cool thing when I heard about it. They started at 50 years, asking the entire room (at least 300 people) who had 50 years sobriety, and everybody clapped for one sweet old lady. Then they went down to 49, 48, 47 years...people standing up at each milestone, and everyone clapping and cheering for them. Then they went all the way down to 11-12 months, 10-11 months...31 days, 30 days...down to 24 hours. Two people there had less than 24 hours sobriety since their last drink. I was really moved that they were there at a conference, admitting to a huge room of AAs and Al-Anons that they had had a drink within 24 hours, and were receiving such support from the room. It was pretty incredible. They gave a Big Book to the lady with 50 years and the two people with less than 24 hours. All around, people were talking about how lucky they felt to have their sobriety each day, and how "there but for the grace of God go I." It was quite humbling to witness. My hubby has just over 60 days now, from alcohol, MJ and acting out. I am very proud of him, and all he has done in the last 2 months.

My husband's sponsor was at the conference. And his sponsor was there, too. Apparently, hubby's sponsor's sponsor had had many years of sobriety but last year dropped out of AA altogether. He recently came back after going on a meth binge for a while. It made me really sad to hear that, and thankful he was able to come back, and thankful for every day of sobriety my husband has. I can see it doesn't come easy. There was a day recently, last week I guess, when I made a discovery of some past acting-out that my husband had neglected to disclose to me. He knew that it would be the most painful disclosure of all, and he hoped it would just "go away" and he wouldn't have to tell me. Well, I found out, and we had unpleasant words about it. We were both very, very sad that night and the next day. The following evening I got home, and he told me that he had been so sad that day, he would have drank if he didn't have a court-ordered Sobrietor at home that he has to blow into 3 times a day. He was actually scared for the day that he doesn't have that to keep him from drinking when things get overwhelming. Things get overwhelming a lot these days.

Easy does it, Live and Let Live, Let go and Let God. With all the cliche "slogans" of 12 step speak, it is easy to make fun of, and goodness knows my hubby and I have done so in the past, before entering our recoveries this year. But there is a reason for it all, and the heart of the whole thing is the fellowship of the group and the spiritual journey of 12 steps. I think it might be slightly easier to do if you follow the traditional "God" as your Higher Power, but it doesn't change a lot. You still have to trust in something, anything, outside of yourself, and get yourself spiritually and morally right with yourself, with others, and with the universe. That's hard work, no matter what you call yourself.

Family of Origin

One of the first things I was confronted with when I started attending 12 step meetings was the idea that I am a codependent, and that nearly every "codie" (can I just say "every codie?") comes from a family where there was some kind of addictive process present in the family. This was hard for me to accept. One of the reasons I've had so much trouble understanding the personal dynamics and reasons for addiction is that there is no history of alcohol or drug use in my family. My parents rarely drank, and when they did it was with moderation--a glass of wine with dinner, a single Becks beer that my father would occasionally buy to drink while watching a football game. There was no sign of any drug use in any family member, except one estranged cousin.

As I have done more reading and thinking, I have tried examining my memories of my family to see where I learned to identify with addicts. It became clear early on that there was definitely codependency in my parents. Our home was chaotic and always felt unsafe to me, but I could never identify why exactly. I can recall even as a very young girl, maybe 5 years old, watching TV with my entire family in the living room, and thinking that if a bad man came to our house at that very moment and attacked us all, nothing would keep us safe. I always knew my parents loved me, but I never felt protected.

My parents are good people. None of the headline-grabbing traumas have ever happened to me: they didn't abuse me physically or sexually. No family member ever did. My parents made little money, but did their best to provide physically for me and my two brothers.

Still, the home was always in chaos. My mother had to go back to work when my younger brother was about 3, and she always resented it. My father worked about an hour from our home, and he'd be up at 4am and not come back home until after 6. When he was there, we rarely saw him, and he rarely spoke. Our house was very messy, with piles of papers and stacks of every kind of thing everywhere. From about age 12, I made it my job to try to clean the place. I never brought friends over, because I was embarassed and ashamed of the house--but not just how messy it was, I was also ashamed of the emotional chaos. Five of us lived there, but we never connected.

Now I am starting to see some of the connections. I always knew that my mother had eating disorders. She actually taught me her methods as I entered adolescence. She told me the best ways to purge, telling me that "this is what women do" and expressing frustration over my weight as I became a teenager. (This worked. I was bulemic through junior high and high school, and kept my weight down this way.) She was anorexic in college and through her first pregnancy with my older brother. Then she transitioned to bulemia and was an active bulemic throughout my childhood. Her relationship with food has always been disordered. My father is a compulsive overeater and has been for my entire life. He has always been morbidly obese, except the few times he was able to diet and drop 100 or so pounds. Now he weighs around 400 lbs, and he has had to retire prematurely because he can no longer walk comfortably. The thought that my parents might have used food as a drug and been every bit as much addicts as a junkie or an alcoholic never really occured to me. If I follow this line of thinking, I can see that my mother was influenced by her mother. My mother has always believed that my grandmother was an anorexic, although the term didn't exist for most of her life.

There are no alcoholics or chemical dependants in my family of origin, but the problem of addiction was there. My methods of dealing with the problem included going outside the family for love and support, dating older men (starting with my first boyfriend, who was 24 when I was 16), and learning to depend only upon myself. When I turned 18, I found an apartment and a couple of minimum-wage jobs and moved out as soon as I could. Ever since I moved out, I have had a distant relationship with my parents. I have learned to accept their shortcomings and love them anyway, and my expectations of them (particularly my mother) are minimal.

There might have been sex and/or love addiction in my mother. I know that my mother had several affairs when I was a child, because she told me about them. She treated me as her confidante, sharing her secrets: the marriage wasn't valid because my parents didn't love each other, and she was going to leave and take me with her. I spent all of my teen years waiting for the other shoe to drop. I knew my parents had gone to therapists and divorce attorneys when my brothers had no idea. But even after the divorce papers were drawn up, nothing happened...and I waited. For years after that point, nothing more was said of divorce, and I lived in limbo, knowing I couldn't ask, that it was a secret like so many other things in our family. And it wasn't until after I moved out and went to college that my mother had another affair, with a recovering alcoholic who was also a paranoid schizophrenic. She finally left my father for him. Three days after my parents' divorce was final, they were married. The rush my mother felt to marry him was the essence of codependence: she had to get him on her insurance as soon as possible, because he needed medications for his heart and psych meds. Now they have been married for 17 years, and long ago my mother realized that she married a child that she will have to care for for the rest of her life. The irony is that she and my father are now friends again, and at holidays we are all together, with my father laughing to himself at the situation my mother got herself into.

I have been in private therapy twice in my life. Both times I tried to make sense of my family of origin, but it always seems that I can only view the situation through a cloud, not seeing the connections clearly. Understanding this piece of the puzzle helps the entire picture make a little more sense.

I have become very functional as an adult, and in this way my husband and I are very similar. Both of us come from backgrounds that could easily produce very warped, disordered adults who might not be capable of functioning in the world. Instead, we both are extremely presentable, both have successful careers, both come across to others as mature, capable, insightful and balanced. And in a lot of ways we are. But I have been unable to understand the significance of the disorder that I was raised in, and this has left me stunted in certain ways, of which I am only now learning the significance. And of course, when we are viewed through the lens of addicted family origins, it makes sense that we both present a perfect picture of centered, self-aware adults while internally we hide a certain amount of disorder and turmoil.

I am proud of the work that I am doing, and that my husband is doing. We both have a long way to go. Last night I was reading about the famous 3-legged stool of couple recovery. Two of the legs are the individual recovery of each partner, and the third leg is the recovery of the couple. Without any one of the legs, the stool falls over. I think we both want this marriage to recover, and we are doing the right things, with the right intention, to help this happen. It's no guarantee that we will make it together, but at least it is what we are both working for, and if it doesn't happen, we are recovering ourselves.

Just the Facts, Ma'am

I am a codependent. Some would call me a coaddict of sex addiction. My husband is a sex addict. He is also an alcoholic.

I started to type out the story of my husband's addictions and their place in our marriage. As I typed, I noticed that the posting was very long. I started a second post to continue the story, and it began to occur to me that I was focussing on my husband rather than on my own recovery. This is an error in thought that Al-Anon and S Anon both try to change in the codependent partner. I also realized that I really needed to get this story out, to type it all out as I remembered it.

The posts were not meant for this blog. So, let me start again.

I married a sex addict and an alcoholic. There were signs along the way that could have warned me of trouble ahead, but I proceeded. This was because I loved him, and because something in me responded to the addict in him. We found each other for a reason.

I have only been aware of the problem of sex addiction in our marriage for 2 months now. They have been exhausting, painful, and eye-opening months. I am starting to see the reason that we, as spouses, need our own recovery.

It is easy for me to see how I was deluding myself that my husband really wasn't an alcoholic. My denial allowed his addiction to progress and worsen over time. My attempts to soften the consequences of his actions removed the opportunities for him to realize what his addiction was doing to him.

I am learning not to blame myself for this. My actions were normal and natural for someone living with an alcoholic. The fact is that I wouldn't be in this position at all, married to an addict and alcoholic, if I didn't have a part of myself that recognized and related to addicts. I was raised a codependent.

Sex addiction is a secretive disease, and my husband kept the secret very, very well. I learned of one affair, which until very recently I thought was a 2-time encounter, two years ago. I didn't have any further inkling of a problem until last November when I discovered a text message from a "friend". My doubts were confirmed two months ago when I discovered my husband had had a long affair with her. In the time since this discovery, my husband and I have been through hell and back. Terrible, traumatic things have happened, and we lived in the crisis for a month. The good news is that we are both now deeply committed to our recovery, and if it is the right thing, to our marriage. We are not making that decision yet, but we do love each other very much.

The blow-by-blow account that I was spending so much time--over two hours--typing is therapeutic for me in some sense, but it also perpetuates the trauma of the discovery. It is not the post to make today, or probably ever.

Here, I will point out that I still have a river of anger and resentment to the west of me, and a river of desire for things to be different than they are to the east of me. I am trying to stay on the path. Some good things are happening, but I can see just in this exercise that I have a long, long way to go to reach the other side. And the other side is really the same as in the original parable: it is enlightenment. Buddhism and recovery are part of the same path.

The White Path

For my first post on this new blog, I am reprinting a recent post from my other blog. It describes a useful metaphor for recovery, from which I have taken the title for my new blog about recovery from codependency. My "qualifier" (as we say in Al-Anon and S-Anon) is an alcoholic and sex addict.

Today we went to our local Buddhist temple again. It was a simple service. Our temple does not have a dedicated minister; instead, a minister from the nearest metropolis flies to our city once a month for an afternoon service. The rest of the month the services are "MC'd" by members of the temple. An assistant minister gives a dharma talk (like a sermon, sort of) and there is chanting and a few simple rituals.

The dharma talk today detailed the parable of the White Path, as taught by Shao-tao. It is somewhat lengthy, so I've included the link. It is basically about reaching the place of enlightenment via a narrow path that separates two rivers, a river of fire and a river of water, and connects the east bank, which is our world of samsara, or suffering, and the west bank, the Pure Land, or afterlife. The river of fire represents our anger and resentment, and the river of water represents our unceasing human desire, which continues our suffering (as the Buddhists teach that desire is the source of human suffering). The character in the parable is urged along the path by two voices, that of Shakyamuni Buddha, the historical Buddha, calling from within the river and telling him not to fear, and that of Amida Buddha, from the West Bank, urging him forward. From the East Bank, there are bandits and wild beasts pursuing the character in the parable, from which he is trying to escape. These bandits and beasts represent essentially the elements of what we call "self".

This parable is described to represent our movement through this life towards enlightenment. I think it also serves as a good metaphor for recovery. You have to get through the anger and resentment and the desire for things to be different than they really are in order to reach the place of serenity. The path is narrow but can be traversed if you approach it with purpose.
I take a lot of comfort in Buddhism, a tradition that I am just beginning to learn about. I was raised a Christian, but eventually I realized that it doesn't feel true to me in my mind or in my heart. Still, I am a spiritual person, as I think most people are in some sense.

Buddhism isn't a theistic tradition and many would say it isn't even a religion. Buddha isn't a god. In fact, Buddha simply means "awake" or "enlightened". It is said that upon his enlightenment, Siddhartha, the prince who became the Buddha, was asked if he was a man, and he replied "no". He was then asked if he was a god, and he again replied "no". Then he was asked, "What are you?" And he replied, "I am awake." Hence he became known as Buddha, and he has a few other names: Shakyamuni Buddha, and Gautama Buddha are a few of them. He is not worshiped, but rather his example is followed and his teachings are studied in order to learn how to live this life and attain enlightenment. This sounds much more lofty than I think it is in practice. In reality, the Buddhists I have read and met seek simply to live without increasing or causing suffering in anyone, and to follow the teachings, which are fairly common-sense and practical.

The temple we go to is the only one in our city, and it is in the Jodo Shinshu tradition of Buddhism. There are so many different schools and traditions in Buddhism that I haven't even begun to understand the exact workings even of the one we attend, but the one difference I do know is that Jodo Shinshu discarded the monastic tradition. They do not have any monks; all lay people have direct access to all the teachings. The beliefs that tie all Buddhists together are the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. These are the things that all Buddhists agree upon.
This year has presented me with some tremendous challenges, and many of those I think are spiritual challenges. I have been trying to meet these with a spiritual tradition that feels honest and practical to me. In all Twelve Step programs, they speak of "the God of our understanding." This can be a real stumbling block to those of us who consider ourselves atheist, or agnostic, or are just turned off by religion. But one thing they teach is that it doesn't matter what that "God" is or even if it is a "God", just that you acknowledge that there is something outside of yourself that can restore you to sanity. To me, that is the Universe. Reading about these teachings and hearing the simple, profound Dharma at the temple really helps me to focus and strive to see the world outside of myself and my seemingly important problems that really are just a part of this world of samsara.