The Extraordinary Life of Sex Addicts’ Spouses

…… it’s not what you think

I stood before my Maker, shivering with excitement as we planned my entrance into the world. He looked at me with kind, piercing eyes and asked, “Child, do you want an extraordinary life?”

I jumped at the chance! Me? Extraordinary? “Of course I do!” I began picturing snowy mountaintops and exotic foods and breathtaking romances and ….. then everything went hazy.

Blurry images of my life raced by …… big brothers ….. my mama’s homemade bread …….. skating on an icy lake ….. dusty road trips ……. love and marriage ……. the unmistakable waft of baby powder …….

I woke in an Emergency Room, confused and covered in blisters, sputtering for air and sensing that I was in deep trouble. Just one week earlier I had discovered my husband’s secret life.

Strangers in masks jabbed an IV into my arm and began pumping in a cocktail of drugs. An oxygen mask was shoved over my face, and once again I slipped into the blackness.

The Maker appeared in the darkness to remind me that I was living the extraordinary life that I had chosen. I begged to go back and change my answer. I didn’t want this kind of extraordinary. 

I wanted peaceful and easy, and normal and safe. I wanted predictable with unending happiness. I wanted a anniversary trips to far away places. I wanted a body that could dance at 95. “Please,” I cried. “Please don’t make my life extraordinary!!”

I awoke years later in a different Emergency Room with dirty ceiling tiles and a smell of plastic. I had survived yet another life-threatening event. We had no idea what was causing the uncontrollable episodes, but would eventually dig down to a medical mystery – a genetic disease that had taken my father way too young and now had its claws firmly in me.

In the unrelenting stress of my divorce from a sexually compulsive abusive man, my illness grew more complex; so complex that my DNA was added to the gene bank at a major university research center …. because my case is “extraordinary” and might hold answers for others.

I sometimes think back to counselor Bill’s office, a dark sticky room where I sat on edge of a dated brown sofa just days after my ex divulged sketchy details of his secret life. Still in shock, I went numb as Bill said, “I’d rather tell you your husband died than tell you what he’s done.”

Bill pointed to circles and charts about rambled about something he called “sex addiction”, cataloged an overview of my husband’s sexual compulsions, and advised me that my husband was a very sick man who could no longer live at home with our two small daughters.

Bill called my husband’s behaviors “extremely deviant” even for “sex addicts”.  

Years later my divorce attorney would call my ex her second most abusive husband in over 20 years of practice. Mediators and attorneys apologized and used the word “delusional”. One of the court reporters, clearly shaken, cried at the end of her day recording our crapfest, telling me she had never before seen such extraordinary abuse dressed up as a “Godly” man. 

At the very end of it all, a kindly financial adviser – who had counseled hundreds of post-divorce women – reviewed my case and called it “extraordinary”.

When the hard times come, my Maker reminds me that I am not alone, and that He always had a plan to help me through my extraordinary life. He whispers that we cannot come to depth and strength through ordinary experiences. He reminds me that not all are strong enough to bear the burdens of an extraordinary life.

I still don’t like it. I still sometimes dream of a re-do, a chance to toss my youthful beauty in with an honest man. But I accept it and have come to understand my own strength. Getting here wasn’t pretty, but I’m still here and I’m awfully proud of that.

Today I find myself in the company of other extraordinary women. Women whose stories would make you cry.

  • Women who have undergone hideous abuses, who will tell you that nothing damaged them as profoundly as their sexually-compulsive, abusive, manipulative, double-life husbands.
  • Women with destroyed health, wrecked finances, lost homes, and estranged families.
  • Women whose adult children have been turned against them in the all too common blame-shifting done by these men as they recreate themselves as victims and prey on other trusting victims.

Yes, we are extraordinary. None of us would have chosen this life.  Yet here we are, holding space for each other’s brokenness. Here we are, a group of powerful women who’ve walked through hell and come out alive to find peace and happiness again.

I stand in awe of the mighty women walking this path and realize that sometimes, extraordinary isn’t climbing Mt. Everest. Sometimes it’s just putting one foot in front of the other when everything seems stacked against you and you can barely breathe. We scale a different mountain, treacherous in its own right.

And just maybe, at the end of it all, our stories are worth a lot more than an ordinary trip to Hawaii and a couple of Pinterest- worthy anniversary parties. Our stories are extraordinary, and we, forged in the fire, are beautiful. 

Dedicated to Nancy, a fellow abuse survivor who recently passed after bravely showing us the way out. Well done, sister!

extraordinary     ( ik-strawr-dn-er-ee )

adjective

1. beyond what is usual, ordinary, regular, or established

2. exceptional in character, amount, extent, degree, etc.; noteworthy; remarkable: 

3. Nancy

PS: While my health continues to improve, I suffer lasting damage done to me by the one who said he loved me. 

The Corpses are Washing Ashore

We are now decades into this shitstorm called “Sex Addiction”, and the corpses are  washing ashore. As we perform autopsies on these corpses, we are learning one thing for certain: the current treatment system is failing not only the partners of “sex addicts” but the children as well. What we are doing is NOT working!

Who better to bear witness to a storm than those who rode it out? Not the meteorologist sitting in his lofty office looking at computer monitors. Not the reporters who show up days later to snap a few compelling pictures. Not the grief counselors who fly in for a quick presentation. And certainly not the storm itself, as it has moved on, gaining power for its next conquest.

And so it is with “sex addiction”. Those of us sitting on our rooftops surveying the total destruction as far as our eyes can see, having born witness to the entirety of the storm, fully aware of each and every ramification, fully living the before and after, are the only ones competent to report the effects of the storm. Silencing us only assures that more storms form, confident that they, too, will escape moral and legal consequences.

Do you want to know what happens to children when daddy is a “sex addict”? Ask us. We are the ones left alone tucking crying children into bed, trying desperately to protect their little hearts from the storm of a lifetime. We are the mothers who grieve daily and lay awake for years, witnessing the effects on our children even into their adulthood. We alone carry the truth of their childhoods. While we willingly bear that monstrous burden for our children’s sake, our “sex addicts” reinvent themselves as victims, hiding their sins like a cat buries it’s own shit in a litter box.

Do you want to know what happens to us twenty years on? Ask us. We are the ones still triggered by events and memories decades later. We are the ones still occasionally rocked by nightmares long after our storms pass. We are the ones living with chronic, stress-induced illnesses born of the storms. We are the ones whose photo albums lay covered in dust; painful reminders of what we thought was real but turned out to be a sham. We are the ones who know it didn’t have to be this way, were it not for a con artist who cavalierly entered our lives and destroyed us from within.

Do you want to know about our choices? Ask us. We are the ones forced to chose between Plan A – supporting a lie while risking our health to keep our families intact versus Plan B – divorce with it’s potential financial ruin at the hands of a blame-shifting man hell bent on protecting his reputation even if that means destroying the mother of his own children. We are the ones looking down the barrel of a no-win situation with nothing but hideous choices ahead. Why do we stay for years after D-day? It’s because we’re holding out for Plan C – a marriage happier than ever, as promised to us by the reconciliation industry – a plan we eventually discover does not exist.

Do you want to know what life feels like in the aftermath of D-Day? Ask us. We are the ones lined up on the gangplank of life, watching a never-ending line of abused women jump off the end into the abyss ahead of us. We’re the ones hearing the cries, straining to see which direction those brave women jumped and wondering if they survived. We’re the ones who walk that gangplank in a haze while our brains desperately seek truth, safety, and peace. We old-timers are the ones on our phones until 4 am, comforting the next wave of survivors, gently leading them forward on the long, winding, and treacherous gangplank.

Do you want to know how desperately we attempt to make sense of the whole mess? Ask us. We’re the ones shuttling ourselves and our children off to counselors offices, trying to put together the puzzle of our lives, only to find that half the pieces are being withheld from us. Who holds those pieces? The “sex addict” and the industry protecting him from shame and even prosecution of illegal acts. Everything from purchasing sex from trafficked humans to exposing himself to children is swept neatly under the rug called “sex addiction”, never again to see the light of day.

Do you want to know what it’s like to have a perpetrator blame shift back on his victim? Ask us. We’re the ones who sit in courtrooms listening to our former spouses spin lies about us. Adding insult to injury, we then find that our spouses have spun those lies for years prior to D-day, preparing for the inevitable. And now, decades into this current treatment model, we’re the ones who sometimes even lose our adult children to the lies of our exes, all because we heeded the ill-conceived advice of reconciliation counselors who put our husband’s desire for privacy ahead of our own need for truth and justice.

What if we changed how we approach this whole thing? What if we not only called it what it is – abuse – but actually started treating the partners as abuse victims? What if we started giving women a full set of tools to accurately analyze this storm and make decisions based on ALL the facts, rather than the piecemeal tool kit offered to us by  addict-centered treatment programs; a tool kit that has proven so woefully inadequate that we are now standing on the shores watching corpses pile up.

What if the children could also be treated appropriately and given vital facts. Would those children then come into adulthood fully equipped to recognize and avoid disordered persons and abuse rather than repeat the dysfunction, or worse yet, blame their non-offending parent? Would we be able to stop the cycle dead in its tracks? Would those children find peace and joy in truth rather than pain and confusion in lies? Normalizing abuse by calling it “sex addiction” is simply more abuse.

As it stands, we partners instead are actually being surreptitiously advised to join in the abuse of our own children. We are told to blame shift (Mommy is as sick as Daddy or she wouldn’t have married him), minimize (Daddy broke a promise he made to mommy), and even outright lie to our children (Daddy is sleeping in the other room because he snores). No wonder these children grow up confused. In another 20 years, they and their young families will start washing ashore, too, and I fear greatly what we will see. I also fear that some of the blame will be placed at our feet simply because we followed the advice of a very broken system; a system put in place by sex addicts for sex addicts.

It’s time. If we don’t change this thing soon, we’re going to be overcome with rotting corpses. Something stinks and it’s time to clean it up.

Countdown to D-Day

Friday the 13th, August, 2004. D-Day.

6:00 am – T-minus 16 hours to the end of comforting routines

I am alone at the kitchen table, in the sweet still of the morning, drinking my coffee and reading the newspaper. The kids are at camp, and he is out of town on business as usual, so I take in the quiet of this empty house and treat myself to the luxury of the crossword – in pen! Because my world is still intact this morning I can afford to risk permanency when a pencil would be safer. It will be years before I sleep well enough for my brain to once again attend to simple pleasures like crossword puzzles.

7:00 am – T-minus 15 hours to the end of my children’s safe home

The 2-week camp, where my children are safely sequestered, posts candid pictures every morning. Just like every other camp morning, I eagerly scan the online pics and find a few shots of my smiling girls. Heart sufficiently warmed, knowing that my babies are safe, I get about my day, answering emails and other office-y things. And laundry. Always laundry. This will be the last time I lovingly fold his boxers or line them up just so in his top drawer.

8:00 am – T-minus 14 hours to the loss of a lifetime love of running

I leave on my daily 4-mile run. Endorphins! I’ve been a runner since middle school. If you’re a runner, I don’t have to explain; if you’re not, no explanation will make sense. Trust me when I say running is my “thing”; my escape from stress and my time to reflect. I don’t know it yet, but this will be my last free-spirited run with a peaceful mind. After tonight, running will morph into a time of crushing fears without distraction and a shortness of breathe I’ve never before experienced. And then, when the fears finally abate, my health will crash from the stress and I will never run again.

10:00 am – T-minus 12 hours to total disorientation

I usually enjoy my errands and weekly trip to the grocery store, and today is no different. Some weeks, as a simple reward-to-self, I purchase a little ice cream treat. And when I do, my husband gets mad that I’ve spent $2 on myself and risked the ultimate sin of getting fat, so I often eat my treat on the way home and hide the evidence. Ugh. This will later become one of those false equivalencies I endure at the hands of misguided “sex addiction” specialists, as if hiding an ice cream sandwich is the same thing as using the children’s college funds to secretly purchase hundreds of sex partners and pay admission fees to places I wish I didn’t know existed.

2:00 pm – T-minus 8 hours to the end of innocence

I spend some time cleaning, including my girls’ bedrooms and bath in preparation for their coming home in a few days. I linger as I change their sheets, missing them and eager to once again tuck them safely in at night and hear the camp stories come spilling forth. I don’t yet realize that I have put them to bed at peace for the very last time, and that bedtime is about to become hell hour – a time when broken little hearts will present me with their anguish, and I, the one parent present throughout their precious lives, will fear that I am going down with the ship.

6:00 pm – T-minus 4 hours to lifting the veil

He arrives home from a typical week on the road. He always feels like an interruption because we have gotten so used to a routine without him, but I try my best to be fully present and honoring of him. I recently decided to throw myself into our marriage like my life depended on it, because I deeply love this man and I blame the distance between us on my preoccupation with the kids. We decide to go out to dinner for the first time in weeks. Maybe this will work, as recent marriage counseling for “improving communication” has been a dismal failure. I’m just 4 hours from knowing exactly why it never stood a chance.

7:00 pm – T-minus 3 hours to pain

We arrive at a steakhouse, where they usher us to a familiar booth. I order the salmon, a sweet potato, and asparagus. Our conversation feels awkward and tense and something isn’t right, but I dismiss it. I assume we’re just “off” because the kids are away, or because the waiter is too chatty, or because there’s ice in the water. I am wrong. I have an eerie sense that I don’t know this man, that I am sitting across from a stranger who isn’t truly present. Looking back, I wonder if he’d already planned how the night would unfold.

9:00 pm – T-minus 1 tiny hour to a broken soul

I shower off the day and get ready for bed. Like a lamb to the slaughter I sprinkle my body with a soft, sweet smelling powder, and put on a pretty little white cotton gown.  I have no idea this is my final hour to be “me”; my last hour without questions that have no answers; my last hour of untarnished faith in both God and man. The irony of choosing such an innocent and beautiful white gown for this occasion will come to haunt me, and I will crawl into bed in oversized t-shirts for years because of the events of this night.

10:00 pm – T-minus 10 minutes to the explosion

The lights are out. We begin to kiss and share pillow talk. I’m trying my best to resurrect a marriage that feels stale after 2 kids and way too many moves for his career. I feel hope; hope that we can find our way back to each other; hope that the worst is behind us now that the kids are more self-sufficient; hope for a better tomorrow because this man has repeatedly promised me, as recently as last week, that “I will never leave you or forsake you”. Hope springs eternal in light of such lofty promises. I am about to learn there are some things from which there’s no coming back.

10:10 pm – BOOM!

My world is shattered. Unprompted, he begins unburdening himself with a few scant details of his habit of whores and hook-ups, details I will later learn barely scratch the surface of a depraved secret life spanning the entirety of our marriage. I snatch my nightgown off the floor and fumble my way back into it, suddenly ashamed of my nakedness before this man. I sit on the edge of the bed while he slumps to the floor with his head in his hands. In that instant, the years of gaslighting, lying, blame shifting, and financial, emotional, and spiritual abuse – though I’ve yet to learn those words – suddenly have an explanation, and a rage builds in me that I cannot control. I yell, cry, and scream until salmon and asparagus come back up. My marriage is over and deep in my soul, I know that.

March, 2010 – 6 years after D-day

I finally crawl out of the “sex addiction” industry’s web of bottom lines and lists and slips and sides of the street, all of which gave me false hope, empowered my abuser, and cost me 6 more years of my life. I comprehend who he is, what he has done, and what he continues to do in spite of two precious children who desperately need their father. I can no longer live with the fear of what more he is capable of doing, or has done that I’ll never know about. I come to accept that the rampant illicit sex is but one small symptom of a much deeper, unfixable problem. I learn to call this whole mess what it is – abuse – and I file for divorce.

January, 2021 – 15+ years after D-day

I have peace, and I look forward to my tomorrows. I understand how the abuse came upon me slowly; so slowly that I failed to recognize it. I understand that I did nothing to deserve what he did to me. He is a human being broken beyond repair. If he were whole and did the things he did to me, my children? Well, that would make him a monster.

Lessons from the Captain: for wives of sex addicts

There’s a scene in the movie “Captain Phillips” wherein the Captain, played by Tom Hanks, is rescued from a horrific situation at sea. As he staggers into the medical bay, it is clear that he is not only traumatized, but exhibiting speech terror. The physician repeatedly re-grounds him in reality by telling him to look at her and breathe, and at the end, she helps him lie down on the exam table and tells him he is safe. The pirate who terrorized the Captain? He’s in handcuffs, and appropriately no one is wringing their hands over how he feels in the aftermath of the hell he created.

No, our trauma isn’t comparable to that of Captain Phillips. Nonetheless, our trauma is enormous and complex and our bodies react in similar fashion because there are only so many ways a body can cry out. Because the one person we trusted to have our backs is the same person that cut us to the core, there is often no one to assure us that we are safe. Sadly, I don’t believe we actually are safe at that point and our bodies know it. Thus we often cry and shake alone in the dark.

Our treatment in the aftermath of D-day is even more critical than we’ve previously imagined. We now know the genes making up our DNA are not always our destiny. Our genes are a framework, and they can be altered by a process called epigenetics.

Epigenetics is the reason it matters what we eat, how we sleep, how we manage stress, and what toxins we put into our bodies. With “clean” lives, free of overwhelming stressors, and a dash of good luck, our genes hum smoothly along, repairing themselves to maintain health. When our environment is threatening, and/or the threat goes on long enough, harmful epigenetic changes can occur and become permanent – all of which makes me think that the unrelenting stress of life with a sexual deviant causes damage far beyond what is currently being recognized.

While there have been no formal studies (yet), it’s not hard to understand why illnesses are reported more frequently by those of us who’ve withstood numerous D-days.  Spend any time with survivors, and you’ll hear tales of bodies in turmoil. You’ll hear of autoimmunity, thyroid and adrenal failures, cancers,  newly developed ADD’s, loss of IQ and problem-solving capabilities, pain, migraines, and more. You’ll hear of CEOs and scientists who, in the aftermath, can’t even decide on a brand of peanut butter.

As if that’s not enough, the link between PTSD and early mortality is well established. While the majority of subjects in nearly all research on this matter were military veterans, the lessons to be learned are sobering and must be considered in the treatment of partners of “sex addicts”. Our lives may literally depend on it.

Like acid poured on glass, our sexually compulsive partners etch us. Sure, we will rise and become a different kind of beautiful, but never the same clear, innocent glass we were before. Our very cells have been changed because they have endured the incomprehensible: the realization that someone we love and trust can intentionally, repeatedly, and cavalierly damage us so profoundly.

If this was murder, it would be classified as first degree which involves elements of deliberate planning, premeditation, and/or malice. Deliberate because our partners make clear-headed decisions. Premeditation because they actually think about their crimes before they act. And malice? Well, I don’t know how you betray someone for decades without it. But we’re only talking about women’s lives here, and most of those women wear rings that enable their partners to commit horrific abuses, walk away unscathed, and launch their charms on a new victim.

When my own D-Day struck, every single cell in my body cried out in pain. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was undergoing massive permanent change, which did not come easily. My hair fell out in clumps. I was unable to eat and lost 20 pounds. I began having migraines. My thoughts were scattered, and if not scattered they were intrusive and compulsive, like a hamster on a wheel. I either slept too much or not at all. I shook. I was in a daze.

My experience is not unusual; in fact, it’s quite typical for those of us whose partners didn’t “have an affair”, but instead lived secret lives involving hundreds of nameless strangers and/or legendary secret porn habits, both of which burn through family money and time like a blast furnace. Affairs are heinous; our partners took heinous to whole new level and threw in side orders of all manners of abuse. 

In this broken state I was thrown into an appalling treatment model that called me a co-addict, turned the inquisition light on me, told me my pathologically lying, abusive husband was now miraculously safe and honest, and compounded my pain. There’s a name for that: treatment induced trauma.  What a trauma survivor needs is safety; what many programs offer is decidedly not safe, particularly if the safety they are concerned with is that of the “sex addict”.

Our trauma is complex, and deserves to be put first in any treatment program. Nothing divulged on D-day is a surprise to the perpetrators, except maybe the level of our anger at their revelations. They knew every single thing they did in secret, often for decades, and they had to know at some level that this day would come. This makes their needs absolutely secondary to ours as we learn of their hideous double lives and struggle to regain our grasp on reality versus the gaslit version they fed us. To wring our hands over our perpetrator and his surprise and hurt at our anger is incomprehensible to me, considering the magnitude of the abuse we withstand in the hell he created.

Can you imagine Captain Phillips being told to face the pirate, hold hands, and work on his trust issues with the very man that nearly killed him? Yet that is exactly what we are asked to do long before we are stabilized, safe, or ready;  and because doing so will surely take us to the promised land of “happier marriage than ever”….  we do it. Let me be clear about one thing – should you be naive enough think our lives were not at risk, you never had your spouse admit to “going bareback” with men he picked up on the streets.

Regardless of our choice to stay or leave a relationship, we deserve treatment that focuses on our healing from trauma and abuse. Anything less is negligence at the very least. When we get appropriate care, we can move forward with the facts necessary to make crucial decisions for our future. Inappropriate addict-centered “therapy”, when it compounds your trauma and fails to recognize deep patterns of abuse, can cost you everything, including your very self, right down to the cellular level.

The care we need isn’t one-size fits all; it is found in the stillness of peace and safety.  Where is your safe place? What do you need so your cells can rest and recover? Where can you focus on your own needs and simply breathe? My safe space was in my locked car, in the locked garage, under the cover of darkness. I might recommend someplace more uplifting, but in my desperation I didn’t realize my car was becoming my safe spot. When I finally found appropriate trauma counsel, it came as great relief that I no longer needed to sit in that dark car in order to feel safe.

I wish you an abundance of safety and peace as you weather this pandemic storm.  You don’t have to do it perfectly, you just have to keep breathing and take care of yourself. It gets better, and it gets better faster if we name the problem. It’s not sex addiction, it’s abuse. And we are not co-anythings, we are trauma survivors.

When Grief isn’t Facebook Friendly

I was a child when my father died without warning. Now, 40 years later, my memories of that time are blurry and ill-defined. There is, however, one part I distinctly remember: the grief of my mother.

Only 46 years old, with failing health, my mother bore the loss of her best friend, soulmate, and lover bravely; our small community rallied to support her as she found her way …… until the one year mark.

At precisely one year, without ceremony or notice, it became offensive for my mother to grieve in any way. In fact, even mentioning my father’s name was suddenly taboo.

And so my sweet mother faded quietly into her private grief. So great was her grief that she left our tiny community and sought a job hundreds of miles away from clucking tongues and judgmental church ladies.

Watching my mother mourn in silence became the most devastating part of my father’s death. Yes, she found a new life. She even found happiness and community. But she was changed, and she carried her grief with her until she died.

Now, years after divorcing a sex addict, I find myself bearing a familiar yet wildly different socially unacceptable grief.

We spouses of sex addicts carry a shameful, misunderstood grief. We save our tears for therapist’s sofas or the darkness when we are alone.

Holidays are brutal reminders of what might have been. Weddings make us cynical. Our children’s birthdays remind us of learning that our husbands had left us alone in hospitals after we bore their babies; not to grab a bite to eat as we thought, but to grab a quick blow job on the corner because the birth had been so hard on them.

We are forever changed; there is no way back to who we once were. We grieve the loss of our safe, peaceful lives, but even more deeply we grieve the loss of our former selves.

We loose our faith, our trust in humanity, our security, our ability to sleep peacefully, our pasts, presents, & futures, our financial security and sometimes, if our abusers are particularly cruel, we even lose our children and our health.

We struggle to make sense of every memory in light of incomprehensible new truths. Did he bring flowers because he had sex with another man at the nudist colony that day? Did he offer to run to the store because he could grab a quickie in the Home Depot parking lot?

Nothing remains unquestioned. 

Just when we are at our most vulnerable, we even lose the ability to relate honestly to our closest friends and family. We carry our burdens alone, understood only by those who have walked our path and survived.

Our grief is not Facebook-friendly. And so we, with gaping holes where our hearts once sat, go about our days quietly, bearing the grief and pretending to be OK. There will be no heart emojis for us.