Blogging is a great way to share insights and experiences. But, sometimes, as much as we'd like to start a discussion, it's not our story to share, or feelings could be hurt, or relationships damaged. So, for my guest posting series, I asked some of my favorite bloggers to share here, anonymously, posts they felt they couldn't put on their own blogs.
I hope you'll find them as compelling as I have.
When my husband and I took an NFP class, the instructor mentioned that sometimes practicing NFP will bring some issues to the foreground that might be unpleasant to work through. She wasn’t kidding.
Like so many men of his generation--and all those younger than us, I fear--my husband was exposed to books and magazines of an “adult” nature at a young age. After this was discovered he was vigilantly shielded from it for the remainder of his teen years, but once he began living on his own it didn’t take long for him to fall back into the habit. In fact, now it was worse, because now he had unfettered internet access. He’d been raised in a Christian home and knew what he was doing was wrong, but he couldn’t seem to stop.
He cried out to the Lord: “Please, send me a wife! I obviously have so much passion inside of me, I need someone to love!” God answered his prayer, but certainly not in the way my husband had imagined. We met, dated, and married. He was upfront with me about his past “porn problem” but we both naively believed that marriage was the solution. Married people can have sex as much as they want, so obviously the raging hormones would then have a holy outlet, right? We weren’t Catholic at this point, so contraception--and therefore sex anytime--was a given.
Fast-forward a few years into marriage: the little “porn problem” had never really gone away. Every so often I’d ask my husband how he’d “been doing with that” and he’d often admit to looking at it once or twice...and although we both knew it was wrong, much of the preaching on the topic of married sex placed the blame for his porn habits on me. If only I were meeting his needs more often, he wouldn’t need that outlet.
We had kids, and with them came the usual joys and stresses of early parenthood. There were money problems, family problems, and all the usual cares of life. Sex seemed to be more a source of tension than a place of intimacy. I felt like I couldn’t keep up with his drive and interest; he felt frustrated that I wasn’t as interested as he was. But it was mostly simmering beneath the surface. NFP was what turned up the heat.
I should clarify and say that we learned NFP in order to postpone pregnancy, which meant that periodic abstinence was vital. At the same time we were also learning what the Catholic Church teaches about well-ordered sexuality, and being shocked to see how much it differed from our Evangelical ideas. Not only were we supposed to abstain from intercourse during possibly fertile times, we were supposed to abstain from all sexual contact. Although we both came to believe that the Church was right in its teachings, putting it into practice was not easy, especially for my husband.
Month after month of practicing abstinence was getting harder instead of easier; obsession was closing in with its vise-like grip on my husband’s heart and mind. The “porn problem” was back and getting bigger, not smaller. During the “available” days of the cycle, I felt like it was my duty to “perform” on each and every one of them, at least once a day if not more. His drive was through the roof, mine was through the floor, but I didn’t see any other way.
The crisis point came last summer. The kids and I were going to take an extended trip to visit family, which my husband’s work schedule prevented him from joining. Before we left I asked him not to look at “anything bad” while I was gone. He promised. Within a few days he broke the promise, hating himself for it. He told me about it; I wasn’t even surprised, just sad.
The only different thing about this time was that he had admitted defeat and decided to go to a Sexaholics Anonymous (SA) meeting. That was almost a year ago, and what a year of growth and change it has been. Shortly after he came into SA, I joined S-Anon, which is the companion group for those affected by sexaholism in a relative or friend. S-Anon has helped me to see the ways in which I enabled his addiction and tolerated the intolerable. I’ve learned about setting boundaries to respect my own feelings and needs and how to stand up for myself.
Thanks to our recovery work, we were able to make a mutual agreement to practice a period of abstinence for 90 days. The 90 days happened to end during Lent, and we decided to continue our abstinence until Easter. And wouldn’t you know it, our “possibly fertile days” started on Good Friday! We ended up going 148 days without sexual relations of any kind...and guess what? My husband discovered that life is still meaningful without sex. Our marriage didn’t explode or even implode. I learned to deal with conflict without resorting to offering sex as an olive branch. We still had fun together. And when we did end our time of abstinence and come back together, it was a blessed experience. Since then, by the grace of God, we haven’t gone back to our old ways of thinking about sex: using it as a bandage, an escape, a peace treaty, or an occasion for merely acting out lust.
I’m really blessed to have a husband who never wants to break his sexual sobriety again. He hasn’t had a perfect record, but he is determined to pursue chastity. SA is not the only 12 step group dealing with sex addictions, but it is the only one which has a standard of sobriety that is perfectly in line with Church teaching: no sex with self or anyone else except your (opposite-sex) spouse. But supposing he weren’t interested, or if he didn’t even think he had a problem...what could I do?
If you or anyone you know is in that same boat, I highly recommend checking out S-Anon. As with any 12 step program, S-Anon is not religious affiliated. It is a spiritual program, and is derived from Christian principles. It seems to attract a lot of religious people, since they are usually the ones who have a vested interest in sticking with a marriage instead of just divorcing the sexaholic and moving on. Bad things can happen, even in a sacramental marriage.
Perhaps the most refreshing thing about it is that you get to join a group of people (usually women) who will just listen to you talk (or cry) and will say “thanks for sharing,” when you’ve said what you want to say. After the meeting they will offer you hugs, kleenex, and understanding. In fact, chances are that you’ll meet at least one person there who has gone through an even deeper level of hell than you have, and there they are, learning to thrive.
Even among close friends at church, it can be difficult to share things of such an intimate nature. It’s very easy to feel horribly alone when you’re living with a lust addict (which is the real nature of sexaholism). It was a huge relief to go to S-Anon and know that whatever I shared would stay in the room and not be repeated or spread around. I no longer felt alone, and that was tremendously freeing.
I don’t get to S-Anon meetings every week but I do talk on the phone with other people I’ve met there when I need support. And the principles I learn at S-Anon are applicable in all of my relationships, since the root of my problem is co-dependence and people-pleasing.
SA and S-Anon are not a replacement for professional counseling, therapy, or couples’ retreats. They certainly aren’t a substitute for the sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Communion. But they can be a very helpful source of support along the way.
In closing, I want to share that from my own experience there is hope in learning to cope with my husband’s sexaholism and my own co-dependence. Every day God offers me gifts of serenity and trust in His Divine Mercy. I don’t always take it, but I’m learning to do so more often. I have seen miracles of recovery and change come about for my husband in the past 11 months he’s been in SA and the relief it has been to him to have a place to go full of people (mostly men) who understand and who can offer hope and encouragement on the path of sobriety and chastity.
Even if this is a secret you’ve kept or tried to control for decades, you are not alone. No matter the depths of the devastation--affairs, arrests, imprisonment, STDs--there is hope for a future of peace and trust in the Lord. Chances are that you are not too many miles away from a group of people who understand your plight, whether you’re the addict or the one affected by the addict. They will be there to welcome you, pour you a cup of coffee or tea, and walk the road of recovery with you.