Essay Newsletter - SA’s Meeting in Print
Claire — Married Speaker
[Originally published in Essay 2017 #1]
13 February 2017 Telephone Meeting
Hello, my name is Claire, I was created in the image of G–, and I’m a recovering sexaholic. By the grace of G– my sobriety date is Wednesday, July 3rd 2002. I have a sponsor and my sponsor has a sponsor.
You can’t see me, so I’ll tell you that I am 63 years old and as we used to say in the ’60’s, every day and every way I am getting better and better. Today, I believe that’s true. Working Program has given me, with the help of my loving G– , the chance for a new and better life. I came into our program after working on a seemingly unrelated issue in another program for four years. I say seemingly unrelated because in addiction, it’s all related. Early on my sponsor told me that any time I feed my addiction from any direction, it strengthens my addiction in every direction. I have found that to be true. The opposite is also true. Any time I work any aspect of my Program, it strengthens my entire recovery.
I am in a second marriage. I married my first husband before recovery. That means that my addict selected him. He was a very sick man in many ways. I married him for sex but the joke was on me. He was impotent for most of our 15 year marriage. He was also abusive for most of that time. Our marriage had lots of problems and we were in marriage counseling for many years. I tried everything to make our marriage work. Nothing seemed to help. I realized that he was sick, but I hadn’t realized that I was sick, too. I had been masturbating on and off for most of our marriage. I would abstain for several months, then have a week or so of binging and then stop for another several months. I realize that part of my MO includes repressing my sexuality entirely. It might be considered a kind of sexual anorexia. It was part of my emotional defense in my first marriage. I wanted sex but my husband wasn’t there for me, and for most of our marriage I didn’t understand why. I had to cut off that part of me in order to function. Since my husband was impotent I didn’t see that my behavior had anything to do with our bad marriage. I didn’t know until our 14th year that he was also a sexaholic and the reason that he was impotent with me was that he was acting out using the computer. I was in SA and sober by then and started to understand many things about myself, my husband, and our marriage. He had no interest in recovery. When I had enough sobriety and emotional stability, my sponsor agreed with my decision to divorce my husband.
I want to say here, that I am not going to go into my acting-out behaviors before marriage. I was out of control and my life had become unmanageable. We all know what that is and how that feels. In our regular meetings we get to hear many different first step presentations. You don’t need to hear mine now.
I also want to stop here and take a few minutes to talk about sponsorship. I started Program with one sponsor but for a variety of reasons, that didn’t work out well for either of us. That’s okay. We would still talk and help each other out, but I needed a different sponsor. My next sponsor, who has remained my sponsor ’till today, had much longer sobriety and seemed to have what I wanted. At our first meeting clear boundaries were set that have continually stayed in place. I trust my sponsor. I am honest and open. I do not tell half-stories trying to get the answer I want instead of the answer I need. My sponsor is honest with me, giving me suggestions that are tried and true. When I have a problem with one of my sponsor’s suggestions, I talk about. We investigate my problem and either resolve the problem or come up with an alternative suggestion that I am able to follow-through on. In any case, I do not ignore or avoid my sponsor. Sometimes I will say or do something and I think to myself, “I’m really glad my sponsor wasn’t around to see or hear this.” Any time I think that, it is a sign for me that I need to talk to my sponsor as soon as possible and tell over what happened. I am as sick as my secrets. To everyone who wants recovery in the fullest sense of the word, get a sponsor that you trust and use that sponsor. That’s how this Program works.
Getting back to marriage, two years after my divorce I married my current husband, who is also a sexaholic but had been in recovery for several years before we met. I did my best to check him out before we got married, even speaking to his therapist and having him speak to mine. I felt that since we were both in recovery we would be able to understand each other in ways that others could not. Now that we have been married for some time, I still think that is true. It’s also true that we do not work Program in the same way and one of the ways that I need to work my Program is to do my best to stay out of his Program.
However much recovery I have, I’m still an addict and there is a part of me that still tells me that if people (especially my husband) would only do things my way, everything would be better. THAT’S MY ADDICT TALKING. Sometimes I may really know better, but I’m guessing that usually that is not so. Every person is different. Every person sees things through the eyes of their thoughts, feelings, and experience. It really doesn’t matter if I’m right or wrong because any time that I give unsolicited, unwanted advice, I am not being helpful and I am putting a wall between myself and the other person. When that person is my husband I’m not only hurting him, I’m also hurting myself and our relationship.
I think that communication is our biggest stumbling block. We both came into the marriage with self-esteem issues. Fear of feeling vulnerable kept us both from being able to express our thoughts and feelings to each other. I made progress in this area more quickly than my husband so I would say what was on my mind, but he would not share what was on his mind. He wound-up feeling attacked and defensive. This made him even less communicative. I would resent what seemed to me to be stand-offishness, and it would become a downhill spiral until something would blow-up between us. Then we’d make-up and the whole process would start over again. I knew that there had to be a better way.
We set-up some guidelines. When either of us has an issue to discuss we make sure that we both have emotional stability, mental clarity and focus, and uninterrupted time to sit and talk without feeling rushed.
Emotional stability means that we don’t try to solve something in the heat of anger, sadness, frustration, disappointment, or any other extreme emotional state. We acknowledge that we are not emotionally stable and ask if we can talk about “this,” whatever that might be, at a later time. Then we set a specific time to sit down together and talk it out. I found that when we did not set a specific time, it often happened that we never did take the time to really discuss the issue. Often enough, we are both too upset to have a reasonable discussion and then it works when either of us requests to set the discussion aside for a while. Sometimes only one of us is too emotional to properly focus. When that happens, it’s usually the calmer person who suggests that we put the discussion aside for a while. That often works, but occasionally not. Sometimes the upset person does not want to let it go – even temporarily. I have learned, the hard way, that no matter how insistent the angry person is, myself or my husband, it is never a good idea to try to have the conversation. For my part, I just repeat that I will be willing to discuss the issue at a later point in time and I do not let myself become engaged in a fight. Admittedly, this can inflame my husband even more at the time, but when we do finally talk, I’m always grateful that neither of us said mean, hurtful things to each other. Apologies are well and good, but people generally don’t forget what was said. My husband has also learned to put the brakes on me when I’m the one not willing to put an issue aside.
Mental clarity and focus means that neither of us are thinking about other problems or activities. That means that my husband is not playing with his cell phone and I am not working on a craft project or washing dishes. It also means that other family difficulties, health issues, financial situations, vacation plans, leaving the house by a certain time, or anything else that might distract either of us from our discussion is put aside. To accomplish that we might need to go out of the house, away from distractions.
Uninterrupted time means just that. This time is reserved for us. No checking-out What’s App notifications, or ringing telephones and doorbells. If one or both of us have left a phone on and it rings, we usually try to ignore it. If we have reson to think that it might be very important, we ask the other person if they mind if we answer it. If the answer is, “Yes I mind,” then the phone does not get answered. The same goes for the doorbell. Again, sometimes the answer is to just leave the house.
Also, regarding uninterrupted time, one of the things that we’ve learned to avoid is dropping a bombshell when there is no chance of having time to discuss it. Telling my husband, “I need to talk to you about something when you get home tonight,” is nothing short of abusive. That gives him the whole day to sit and worry about Who Knows What. I have learned to hold myself back, even when I’m very upset, until we will have the time to discuss whatever it is.
So those are the ground-rules. What about the actual discussions? My husband feels that I can be very dominating so when he knows what the issue is, I usually give him the opportunity to speak first. I try not to interrupt and am usually successful, and I listen to what he has to say. Then I let him know what I understood and give him a chance to correct or add to my understanding. Then I speak my peace, hopefully uninterrupted. I’ve learned in Program that I can remind him nicely that I let him speak and now it is my turn. (I love those two and three minute uninterrupted meeting shares.) We go back and forth like this until we each have a clear understanding of the other person’s perspective. We are careful to speak respectfully to each other and we remind each other to be respectful when one of us seems to forget. A slogan that has become near and dear to me is, “Mean what you say, say what you mean, but don’t say it mean.” I have learned to be honest without being brutal. After going back and forth until we each feel that we understand each other and that we each are understood, we try to find a solution. The wonderful thing about this process is that when we both really understand each other, we generally are able to come to a happy resolution to any issue. Agreeing to disagree can also work as long as whatever it is does not overlap into the other person’s life.
We also usually feel closer and more loving to each other after one of these discussions than we did before. This whole process creates a higher level of non-sexual intimacy between us. We get into each other’s guts and as much as is possible, we feel the other person’s feelings. I once heard at a meeting that intimacy is – into me see – and that really says it. The dictionary talks about intimacy as referring to the innermost character and about being private and personal, closely associated. That’s what I want with my husband, and that is what I try to continually increase. The more non-sexual intimacy we have, the better our sexual intimacy becomes and that then increases our non-sexual intimacy. Around and around the upward spiral goes. That happens when I remember to work my Program. Unfortunately, I don’t always remember.
I’ve noticed that in meetings when someone annoys or offends me, I’m very quick to forgive them, even when they don’t ask for forgiveness or don’t even realize that they’ve been offensive. Everyone in recovery is sick, trying to get well. Because of that, I consider the rooms to be a safe place to try out new behaviors. Usually our initial attempts are not the best. We tend to overcompensate when we want to overcome a previous unhelpful character trait. But I realize that people are working on themselves and I generally do not take things personally. So when I’m offended, I remind myself that this person is working on themselves, or perhaps they’re not up to working on a particular issue yet, but it’s not about me and believing that, I can just let it go.
At some point, I thought about this and realized that my husband is also working on himself. And even if he weren’t in recovery, don’t I want my home to be a safe place for everyone in the family? Shouldn’t I extend the same benefit of the doubt to him that I do to other people in recovery? And in working my 12th step, practicing these principles in all my affairs, shouldn’t I give everyone this benefit of the doubt? Certainly, at least my husband. This is a big part of working my Program and it’s a big part of allowing intimacy to happen. When I hold a grudge, that blocks my ability connect to my husband’s inner-most character, and sets-up a block that he can not get past, to connect to my inner-most character. When that happens, our non-sexual intimacy decreases which leads to a decrease in sexual intimacy, and the spiral reverses, going ever downward. I don’t want that. I want to be happy, joyous, and free.
Acting-out and making love are two different things. People new in Program often don’t get that. I talk about that with sponsees, singles and marrieds. Often enough, people ask, “What’s the difference?” Then the singles want to know when they can start dating. I tell them that when they understand the difference we can talk about it. With married people it’s a little more complicated. Abstinence in marriage is not a simple matter. Both partners have to feel that it’s the right thing for them and their marriage.
My husband and I have never taken a period of SA abstinence. I’m a little afraid of trying that because of my previous history of repressing my sexuality. It is still something that I have to be on guard against. When we married I told my husband that I would try to never act-out with him. I wish that I could say that it has never happened, but in the almost 12 years of our marriage I can probably count on one hand the times that it did. Progress not perfection. That’s so important to remember. Anyway, we have had periods of separation.
My husband acted-out several times in the first years of our marriage. The first time that it happened, I noticed that there was something wrong. We weren’t connecting like we had in the past. I felt that he was distant and I didn’t know why. I did several 10th steps trying to figure out what the problem was. Was I doing something offensive to him? Had I hurt him in some way? Was I perhaps the one putting-up a wall between us? I kept coming-up with nothing. Finally, after about two weeks, he told me that he had acted-out. Suddenly all of the pieces fit into place. It had nothing to do with me. We talked it over with his therapist and came to an agreement that if he acted out he would tell me, not the details, just that he acted-out. It wasn’t fair for me to be spinning my wheels trying to figure out what was wrong when he knew very well what was wrong. We also agreed that we would not try to be together for a month after he acted out.
So we have had periods of abstinence, but they have been for the purpose of giving my husband time to recover from his acting-out and time for me to get past it. It hasn’t been the kind that is talked about in SA where the time is used for building the relationship.
We have had other breaks that are more in line with SA abstinence but they haven’t been scheduled or even planned. As I mentioned earlier, I do not want to act-out with my husband. I want to make love with him. That means that I only want to be together when we are both feeling loving. If I sense that he is acting-out, it is a big turn-off for me and I generally won’t continue. I also won’t even get started if I’m upset with him. This is a challenge for me. I know that part of my MO is sexual repression and I have to be really honest with myself about why I feel like I don’t want to be together. It can often be weeks and occasionally over a month. When that happens, I make an extra effort to be together because, in the end, it is good for our marriage. But, during these breaks, we do talk about things, and we do have physical, non-sexual closeness that does bring us closer together.
As I have grown in recovery, I feel better about myself as a person. I have higher self-esteem. This helps me to have better boundaries. It also helps me be a better wife because I have less resentments. We all have our strengths and our weaknesses. I kept running into trouble because I did not accept my husband’s shortcomings. (It took me a very long time to even accept my own.) I suffer from ADD, my husband’s. I don’t understand how it’s possible for a person not to be able to organize his time, or other aspects of his life for that matter. While I clearly do not suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, I am a very organized person. I can not wrap my brain around how it is possible for a person to be disorganized. Well, the Big Book tells us, “… acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation – some fact in my life – unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. ”
That’s it. Acceptance does not mean approval or agreement. It means that what is, is and I know it. If it’s cold and windy outside, I don’t have to like it. But if I don’t accept it, and go out without a coat, chances are that I will be very uncomfortable and perhaps even get sick. That’s lack of acceptance. Acceptance is knowing it’s cold and dressing accordingly.
I don’t understand ADD. The good news is that I don’t have to. I just need to remember that it afflicts my husband and expecting him to act otherwise is setting myself up for disappointment and resentment. I’ve heard at meetings that expectations are premeditated resentments. That is sooo true. Now that I know that, I organize myself accordingly. If we are going somewhere, hopefully together, I tell my husband what time I would like to leave the house in order to arrive timely. If he asks, I will help him figure out what he needs to do by when in order to be ready to leave on time. If I’m not asked, I leave it alone. My boundary in recovery is that at the appointed time if he’s ready, we leave together. If he’s not ready there are two possibilities. If it’s something I didn’t really want to go to anyway, I just stay home. If it’s something I did want to go to, I leave without him. I’m usually sad when he doesn’t come with me, but I don’t have a resentment that we are rushed or arrive late. I have let go of my expectation that he can and should be able to manage his time. It is an unrealistic expectation and it is my problem if I can’t accept that. Today I feel good enough about myself to do or not do what feels right for me and not getting caught-up in blame.
I love my husband very much. In recovery I’ve learned that we can be two different people who don’t always agree but we can respect each other and give each other space to live and grow and develop each of our unique personalities.
I was asked to talk about my experience, strength, and hope in my marriage, with regard to recovery. I’ve talked about the importance of having a sponsor that I trust. I’ve talked about owning my part in whatever difficulties that we have. I’ve talked about the importance of clear, honest communication in marriage. That means talking and listening. I’ve talked about investing time in our marriage. I’ve talked about what SA calls Step 8½, forgiveness of others, in this case my husband and how holding a grudge hurts me at least as much as it hurts him. I’ve talked about giving him space to work his Program his way. I’ve talked a little about SA abstinence and about making love vs. acting-out. I’ve talked about becoming a better, healthier person having worked Program and continuing to work Program and how acceptance really is the road to serenity.
I work my Program together with my sponsor, my husband, friends in the fellowship, and with my loving Higher Power. I keep coming back and it really does work when I work it.
Thank you so much for asking me to speak tonight.