Love, Sex & Survival
This week my friend Lily shared her story with me and I wanted to share it here within the Journal. I felt a connection to her story, having also loved someone once who was unfaithful. Lily had a marriage and a family that she wanted to save; my truth was that I struggled to leave because I didn’t value myself.
It’s worth saying that my ex loved me – of that I have no doubt. Even to this day, I believe that. He showed me the kind of love I had never experienced before that time. He treated me with kindness, he supported me in many ways and we shared an intimacy I’d never known. Despite what happened, I have huge affection for him still and wish him every happiness. I am protective of elements of the relationship, but hope that in sharing a few details, someone going through a similar experience may identify and find hope.
As you know by now if you’ve read the Journal, I’ve struggled with confidence throughout my life; I have often confused insecurity with instinct and could never trust my own judgement on anything. I'd also had some difficult relationships up to this point. This meant that even when there was plain evidence of cheating in the relationship, the pull to stay and the hope things would change were incredibly strong, because I had never known a love like it before.
At first, the signs were small enough for me to convince myself that I may be mistaken, as the voice of self-doubt took over from logic. I'd find a hair tie here and there, makeup on the bedsheets, or blonde hairs in the bed (I have brown, afro hair). Even when the signs became more evident, I couldn't find my voice, for fear of looking 'mad'. So, by the time a list of escorts appeared with handwritten notes, and photos were found – evidence that others would have turned and left as a result of – it took everything I had to confront him, which I did.
I was met with denial, declarations of love and explanations that I accepted on the surface. Rather than trusting myself, I felt ashamed for doubting him and became worried that he might leave me.
It wasn’t long before I started regular hunts around the apartment, for more ‘concrete’ evidence. My weight plummeted and I became obsessive, doing everything from rifling through his pockets and sniffing his shirts to scaling the cupboards like Spiderman while he was at work. Whenever I looked, I found. I was manic and exhausted with it all.
Eventually, the truth did come to light through a series of revelations and I am glad to say that I left. There were tears on both sides and finally, the acknowledgement that I had needed on his side. My heart was broken and I could have stayed having found some honesty to work with, but in the end, I chose myself.
I didn't know at the time, but years later I would discover in a cold church hall in London that I was co-dependent and by nature attracted to a certain type of partner. I attended group meetings at CODA -– an organisation that helps people to identify that they need the love of others to validate themselves. Through understanding the principles of CODA and through work in therapy, I gained a better understanding of what I needed to do to have healthier relationships. The start of this was self-acceptance.
The lesson I took from this relationship is that nobody can love you as you should love yourself. You have to know what you are worth and be able to set boundaries to protect that worth. If you can’t do that, then in every relationship that you have (with friends, family, lovers and co-workers) you will suffer. I truly believe that every single thing that we go through is a lesson that brings us closer to ourselves, and I know now that I will choose to love myself first every time.
This is my story and Lily’s story is below. She faced struggles that would have defeated many, but she defied the odds and found a life worth loving again. This is one story that I hope can inspire you all, whatever your struggle may be ....
When we run into real tragedy we can react in two ways – either by losing hope and falling into self-destructive habits, or by using the challenge to find our inner strength.
Two years into my marriage, six weeks pregnant and following the recent death of my best friend, I discovered my husband was having multiple affairs. At that time, I didn’t realise this was a sex addiction. When my daughter was born, his addiction became a fact, as I learned that he’d accessed hook-up sites, and that he had slept with prostitutes and visited massage parlours. This all occurred when I had a newborn baby and my mother had suddenly passed away. I was incredibly vulnerable at the time for traumas of this magnitude.
For several years, it was hard to identify what help looked like. I had no one to turn to. I was a helpless mother who could not breast feed or connect with my child. I was overwhelmed with grief, distrust, paranoia, shame, anger, resentment and utter sadness. My world had been taken away. My hopes and aspirations for a future family life had been shattered.
There is some debate about whether the term ‘sex addiction’ is scientifically accurate. However, it is now recognised by the NHS and considered an ‘epidemic’ in the US. It can range from porn addiction to multiple affairs, to excessive use of hook-up sites and prostitution. It invariably involves people whom you know, people who are close to your family life and work. The financial implications can be huge.
"My world had been taken away. My hopes and aspirations for a future family life had been shattered"
Sex addiction feels extremely personal when you’re the partner because it affects the most intimate part of your relationship in a way that, say, alcohol or drugs just doesn’t. The effects of discovery were catastrophic: post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, panic attacks, rage, hair loss, isolation from friends, family and work, lack of confidence and insomnia, to name a few. I started to rely on alcohol and pharmaceutical drugs to get me through the days. I became suicidal.
The discoveries were many and during our relationship he enrolled on a number of courses (Spanish, golf, landscaping ...) to try to take his mind off sex. He also went in and out of recovery. He would say he wasn’t addicted to sex, but addicted to lying. He came off social media, but I would then find another hook-up related account where he was being followed by almost 300 Asian women under the age of 30.
I wanted to save our marriage and I desperately wanted to make things work for the sake of our family.
The key to starting self-recovery is education. You cannot control your partner’s recovery but you can control your own. Living with an addict involves self-care and making the decision to either stay (living with a partner in recovery for the rest of their life) or go.
Group and individual therapy related to the specific addiction are paramount. I suffered alone for many years and this damaged me further. So, I set up one of LA’s largest support groups for partners and families of sex addicts. Those meetings went from me sitting alone on a chair in a church hall waiting for someone to turn up to 50 people strong.
EMDR (eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing) therapy, CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), sharing in a trusted environment, doing the 12 steps and transcendental meditation are all tools that helped me move on and get through the days. Now I support others coming into this world of despair.
Eventually, I decided to leave my husband. But I would not change the experience for the world – it was one of the best and worst things to ever happen. I have a beautiful, happy child. I make smarter choices. Forgiveness and empathy are everything. Don’t be a victim – be a warrior. And more importantly have a sense of humour!
Out of the Shadows by Patrick Carnes
Mending a Shattered Heart by Stefanie Carnes
Melodie Beattie has written much about sex addiction and I found her work extremely useful.