Is sex addiction real? Ask the trauma victims huddled in church basement support groups. Ask the woman who hasn't even told her best friend because of the shame. Ask the new mom who has cried in the stairwell at work every morning for 6 months.
You can't see it because people don't talk about it. And meanwhile, the number of therapists who treat it is growing. The number of websites and paid sex workers who cater to every wish and want is staggering. The question isn't "Is it real?" The question is just a matter of what to call it, and how to categorize it. So we can finally start getting real help.
21 things I learned as the wife of a sex addict
[Written two years after discovery]
1. The night I found out, I remember thinking this must be what it feels like to discover your husband is a serial killer. I had no idea. I felt terror. I felt blind, blind-sided. Eventually, I learned this: it is an invisible addiction.
2. To be honest, I had some idea. That something was wrong. That he might be cheating. Or unhappy. Or scared because the baby was coming. But I never could have imagined this. Hundreds of women. "Too many to count” as he put it. Men too. Fake names and a whole separate secret life. Escort websites. Meetings in motels near our house. The perversions I had never even heard of. That I had to look up. I have learned too much.
3. The professionals said it didn't mean he was a bad person, just a damaged one. I’m still working on accepting that. Learning is not the same as accepting.
4. It is cheating. Even the websites, even the emails. (If you're reading this and you understand, then maybe it happened to you too. He will be diagnosed a sex addict. He minimized it long enough. Your doing so will only delay the acceptance, which is key to recovery as the workbooks will tell you. Yes… there are workbooks).
5. This is a Lifetime movie script. My life. And it's isolating as hell. (Find your soul sisters. They're out there. Find a therapist who understands this unique brand of hell. It will make it stop burning).
6. He will likely get caught again. In an omission, in a new lie, in an affair. The odds of relapse are not in his favor, or mine.
7. This is not my fault. Though the therapists will say there's a reason I chose the men I did, what they mean is I have my own challenges with intimacy. Many women who find themselves a target are sexual abuse survivors.
8. That’s right, a survivor. (When the crushing, blinding, suffocating weight of this discovery attempts to stifle you every moment, remember you have survived another minute. Then another hour. Then another day. I know you can't even see a light right now but I promise you this tunnel has only one way out. Keep crawling). There are no 5ks that recognize this type of survivor. It’s important that I do.
9. I must be mindful of who I confide in. Trauma has a way of categorizing friendships. Some people are blessedly built for the role, and others will make it hurt more simply because they don’t know how to help. Limit the number of Wish I had never told's.
10. My husband sexually abused me. All the times he couldn't get it up, or keep it up, he would rather I keep trying until it hurt – until I was lifeless and checked out – and blame me, before he ever spoke a word of the truth. He was so far gone in his addiction that I was obsolete. I couldn’t satisfy his appetite. He got more hungry the more he fed it.
11. There is nothing I could have done to prevent it. (Read that sentence again). It is a tsunami that was building for years unbeknownst to me until I found myself in the eye of the storm. But now it is time to rebuild.
12. I learned to unload the shame. It is crippling and it is not mine to carry. It had nothing to do with me they said, although it happened to me.
13. Our first date, our trips, our wedding day, became grayed and ugly looking back. It felt like grieving. I learned to cast a new light on those memories knowing they brought me here, where I’m meant to be. And to our son who is my dream come true.
14. It feels impossible to grasp that I became the subject of the most brutal pain of my life at the hands of the person who was supposed to love me the most. But some part of me now understands it is because he was in so much pain himself.
15. Everyone has a story. I asked him to tell me his. It made me angry to learn how little I knew about what mattered most to him, but it also made him more human, less monster. It think it is key to forgiveness.
16. Forgiveness. It does not excuse what he did. It frees me. Well, it will. I will forgive him one day, but not today. And although I know I didn’t cause it, I see the role I played in not expecting more for myself. So I will need to forgive myself too one day.
17. Trauma can make you bitter and hostile and hardened. Or it can reveal the beautiful you that you never had the guts to show. It can make you turn your inside out, and rise up and be true to yourself. It can help you understand love.
18. I learned to trust my gut. It was the only true compass in this sh*t storm and it never steered me wrong. (You have some pretty big decisions to make. Pace yourself. If you're not sure yet, don't move, even if it your legs get numb or your back is breaking and a loving cast of friends and family members know for sure what they would do. I assure you, they do not. A person is as prepared for this as they are for the sun not rising one day. It simply isn't in the realm of possibility. You will know when the time is right).
19. I learned that I am amazing. They say resilient. (Believe them when they tell you this). It didn't harden me. It didn't make me vindictive. I am proud of the way I’ve handled this.
20. And through it all, I learned there is still so much beauty in the world. I find myself overwrought with emotion at the smallest act of human kindness. It’s because what was supposed to be love had been so very unkind. (Surround yourself with these things. Follow #LoveWhatMatters on Facebook, make a playlist of songs that make you feel, read Desiderata which ends:
"With all of its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.
Strive to be happy."
You may find you already are).
21. I did.
Have you ever dealt with a sexual addiction? Share your own story here.