I have never been an overly empathetic person. I have built up walls and donned armor since childhood to protect myself – and to protect others. Even as a child I felt a great responsibility to shield my parents from what I considered unnecessary pain. I did not tell them that I was molested when I was 11 by a stranger. I thought that I could handle it myself and they never needed to feel the pain of knowing that their daughter was violated. I was proud of that decision at the time.
What I have pieced together now is this: After that unfair loss of innocence, I learned to camouflage my pain with attention from other boys…and as I grew up those boys turned to men. No matter how unhealthy the relationship I was in, I convinced myself that it made me complete. I really thought I had it all figured out. I thought that being with ANYONE was better than being alone.
When I found out that my husband had betrayed me, I used my only learned coping mechanism which was to replace his love with someone else’s. I felt justified. I felt due. I needed to be validated. I flirted with people at work and strangers at the gym, I ‘friended’ old flames on facebook and I rekindled a relationship with an ex-boyfriend who I thought I could return to if the pain got too much. I was looking for any response to validate myself. In hindsight, it seems insane to think that someone friending me back could ease the unbelievable pain I was in. But for a moment, just a split second, it did. In the end, I didn’t get what I needed through other men. What I needed – was I was missing – was to feel my husbands love. What I see now is that his love was there – but my ego couldn’t look past the betrayal to accept it.
That was 6 painful years ago. This summer I learned that my husband had relapsed 6 months into his sobriety and had been acting out for the past 5 1/2 years. The pain was immense, but it isn’t as bad as the first time. This time is different. This time I have made the decision to do everything differently. I am doing it “by the book”. I am not masking my emotions through attention from ex-boyfriends. I am tearing down my walls. I have learned that my walls don’t protect me – the isolate me. My armor doesn’t make me strong, in my aloneness it makes me weak. I am accepting my role in this relationship. I am committed to being completely transparent and honest with my husband. And, you know what? It is really, really, really hard to do.
It took 30 years to recognize that I still keep secrets to protect the people I love…just like my husband who learned to lie at a very young age for his own legitimate reasons. The parallel’s have always been there, but it took this long to see that. I have no choice but to tell him what I did over the past 6 years. Not only will learning of my actions hurt him – but he will have to live with the knowledge that it was his behavior which caused mine. He will blame himself. Every part of my being is fighting to keep up the lie in order to protect him. But this time around, that isn’t a choice.
Sex addiction is a horrible disease – and like all horrible diseases we need experts and support systems to get us to the other side…to get us to healthy again. So I attend S-Anon, I am exploring the 12 steps, I am seeing a brilliant therapist who doesn’t let me ignore truths. I am lucky enough to have a husband who now is removing the blinders from his eyes as well. He had been attending SAA for all those years that he was living in relapse. He had a sponsor. He went to weekly therapy. But he was still keeping his shameful secrets. But this time he is doing it all differently. He won’t give in and I won’t give up.
By looking at my own secret keeping (which I literally didn’t know was there) I have been able to move past angry. I can EMPATHIZE with him for the first time in my life. I know that telling me that he acted out is as hard for him as if I had to tell my parents what happened when I was 11. Yes, yes…I see the difference. I was a child who had done nothing wrong. I was a victim. But my husband is a victim of his own tortured childhood as well. His history gave him a terrible disease. But with his willingness and my empathy – together we can look at it and conquer it.
My husband has told me all of his secrets. Now it’s my turn. There is no way of knowing if he will still love me after he knows everything about me – which makes this the scariest thing I have ever had to do. But I can’t expect him to be completely open with me if I am unwilling to do the same for him. My love for him has endured the unimaginable. Hopefully his love for me with have the same capacity. Hopefully our truths will lead to greater understanding and a more powerful love. Hopefully.