“If you put 100 women in a life simulator machine and run your husband’s program, 99 of those women will react exactly as you have to the intense trauma.” ~ Bob the counselor
In the aftermath of discovering my husband’s lifelong sex addiction, I began a lot of seemingly crazy behaviors:
- When the doorbell rang, I would hide, sometimes literally dropping to the floor and crawling to the front window to see when the coast was clear. It mattered not if it was the UPS man or a friend, my reaction was the same.
- At night after the kids were in bed, I began seeking refuge in my locked car in the dark garage, or in my closet, where I’d sit on the floor, hiding underneath the hanging clothes. In my “safe zones”, I would pull my knees to my chest, rock back and forth, and cry quietly.
- I began compulsively checking every window and door to make sure they were locked. In a panic, I would return several times after driving away, just to recheck the doors. At work, I sometimes called a friend to stop by the house to make sure the doors were locked.
- I began to fear sleep because of recurrent nightmares, which were always the same – my ex is in my house and won’t leave no matter what I do. I would wake up screaming and thrashing, then retreat to my crying closet, lest my children hear me, until sleep once again became possible.
- I lost the ability to make decisions, no matter how small. I no longer trusted myself or anyone else. Every decision, down to the brand of peanut butter, felt enormously, life-threateningly important. Once so decisive it was practically a character flaw, I now became terrified of making mistakes.
- I lost my connection to other people and literally could not look them in the eye. I didn’t have the words to convey the depth of my despair, so the gap between their life experiences and mine became insurmountable.
I was no longer living, but playacting for other people’s benefit. My pain made everyone uncomfortable, so I pretended on the outside while my insides lurched unpredictably from dead to red alert. Everyone, including me, wanted to see me “move on”, and many loved me enough to try desperately to help me do so. No one tried harder than I did, but I was unable and therefore deemed “unwilling”.
In the years to follow, I saw several counselors, talked about my childhood, underwent prayer based “soul cleansing”, tried in vain to mend the marriage, attended a co-addicts group, took various antidepressants, attended Al-anon meetings, meditated, prayed, joined activities, changed jobs, changed churches, changed my hair, changed counselors, exercised ……. and remained stuck. I craved validation so desperately that I even told complete strangers what I’d been through.
Finally, I stumbled upon trauma-based therapy – where I was validated, diagnosed with complex PTSD, and started to make some sense of it all. The progress has been slow, but through the filter of trauma, my abhorrent behaviors don’t seem so crazy – the rug had been pulled out from under me and I was trying desperately to find safety and predictability – all while being asked to make enormous life-altering decisions and raise 2 children.