"Please God don't let me lose my family."
It was the first words I'd directed heavenward in two years.
But in this moment, it came so instinctively. I had no other option. My husband had left the house and I didn't know if he was coming back.
So this was the rock bottom I’d heard about in those 12-step meetings. My affair with my friend’s husband had just been discovered.
My husband returned later that night and the months of crying and praying began. The God that I had once eased out, filled my heart with love the moment I sought it.
Even with this strength, the road back was excruciating. I still had to face how I’d gotten here. I recalled standing in the grocery store line years earlier, and realizing that I was lonely. This was a pivotal realization for me because for the first seven years of my marriage, I was fighting to change my husband. All of my energy was directed towards him, so much so that I didn’t recognize that I was very sick.
Immediately into my new marriage, my husband drastically changed. He lost his motivation and zest for life. He began to gain weight and seemed to always be angry with me, demeaning me in front of family and friends. I tried to stop “criticizing him so much”- his reasons for the anger. This just led me to stop talking about any concerns I had about our finances, our relationship, or our kids. We stopped communicating. He had no interest in me sexually so we were roommates in every sense of the word.
One evening, I discovered he had been searching for “nude adult pics” on a search engine. I could barely understand him confess, through choked sobs, that he’d been excessively looking at these things since he was 12. That night we held each other and I knew that my love would save him.
I was wrong. How could I anticipate the next several years we would spend in 12-step-meetings, the months I'd fume in women’s support groups, and the meetings he’d attend just to appease me but with a stubborn refusal to truly change? I’d threaten to leave, convinced I couldn’t take one more day of this pain. And then I’d feel like a weakling as my threats grew emptier and my resolution grew weaker.
After seven years of this, I was done trying to fix him. I had given up on him. I would endure until my last child turned 18, the “12-Year-Plan” as I coined it.
Then one afternoon at work, shortly after my grocery store realization, a small box popped up in the bottom right corner of my computer. It took me by surprise, as I had no idea that Facebook had a chat function.
It was from a man I vaguely knew but who was the Sunday school teacher of a past church congregation. I would sit in his class and recognize something that I saw in my husband- a broken man in need of someone to fix him.
Since saving my husband was futile, I was game. His interest in me awoke a dormant desire in me for emotional connection. Our chatting very quickly turned into sexting. At first I was guilt-ridden but the excitement of our exchanges outweighed the shame. Pretty soon I was typing things that I never thought myself capable of thinking. I became that naughty girl, completely proficient in pleasing a man- the same type of girl that my husband had been replacing me with all these years. Sometimes during our chats, it felt as if an electric current was running through my body. I was lightheaded and my hands shook.
But what I soon realized was that I was just part of this man’s own addiction. He could be downright cruel at times and the lows were some of the deepest I’ve known. In those moments of solidarity, in the middle of a lonely marriage, I realized I was strung out on this man. A feeling of crazy possessiveness entered my heart. I understood those ex-girlfriends who stalked and slashed tires. I wanted him. I needed him.
I couldn’t take one more day of the drastic highs and lows and ended it, but saw no hope in fixing my marriage. I white-knuckled through my life.
Enter new friends from our congregation who liked to live on the wild side. I was still going to church for the sake of my children, but was getting drunk and smoking pot in my free time, recreation that contradicted a major tenant of our faith. These new friends did the same things and still managed to go to church each week and flawlessly keep up the facade.
My husband and I started spending every second with this couple. We would group text about what our next fun adventure would be. Our kids and their kids became fast friends. One day at work, I got a text from my friend’s husband about the weekend. This wasn’t a group text, it was just to me. We randomly texted about innocent topics at first. And then it slowly got out of hand.
I was back in the throes of my love addiction, feeling the validation and excitement. But this time, I had to face my friend as we spent time together. I’d see her text pop up succinctly after her husband had texted me. The intense remorse of my betrayal ran through my mind incessantly and led me to find solace in my love addiction. It was a dreadful, dark spiral.
We quickly allowed the texting to turn into meeting up with each other. At this point I was completely out of touch with my consciousness. My better angels had grown silent. The moments we were together, I felt as if I was in a dream. My heart was racing, my entire body was shaking, and I couldn’t relax. I never really enjoyed the actual physicality of the moment. I was at the highest point of my sensory threshold, but completely absent in my cognitive reality. I was truly a junkie.
We tried many times to stop the bad behavior but our families were still spending so much time together that it became too difficult and the desire for our addiction intensified. I didn’t see a way out- the truth was never an option. I was trapped in my downward spiral and I wasn’t strong enough to pull myself out.
The day we were caught, it was my worst nightmare but my only salvation. The truth was out. I had to accept who I had become. I picked up my husband’s 12-step-workbook and did the whole thing in two weeks. I wrote a fearless moral inventory of all the people I had hurt. My heart repeatedly broke as I watched my husband learn and accept the things I’d done. I held my children when they cried that they couldn’t see their dear friends anymore. I absorbed the judgments of people at church who knew what I had done; of mutual friends we had who would no longer look at me. I sat at the end of a long, wooden table around which twelve men sat from my church clergy and confessed my ugliest choices. They loved me and prayed for me. God’s warmth was in that room, healing and renewing me.
My husband recognized his struggles in me and eventually forgave me. My actions were his rock bottom. We fought our way back up, all the while surrendering. But what a cost to us both, to my friend, my children, and my reputation. I’m no longer the perfect wife who had to deal with his addiction. When life gets difficult, I start thinking about the distraction my addiction gave me. It’s in these moments, I remember that I’m still an addict. I again look to God to buoy me up and the strength I’m given sustains me. Our addictions saved us because they broke our hearts open to each other and to God.
Learn more about internet porn addiction here and sexual addiction here and how these addictions change our brains and cause us disconnect from ourselves and others.