I know it’s been a long time since I wrote Breaking Silence Part 1. If you haven’t read it yet, you can find it here. It’s taken me quite a lot of emotional energy to be able to write this second part, so I needed to be gentle with myself. I simply needed more time to heal, grow, and muster the courage to do this. Some of you may read this and you won’t understand it at all – that’s ok – but maybe some of you will and you are the reason I am doing this. I am here for you and you are not alone. My only request is that you might be gentle with me and those I love.
It was a Sunday morning and we were getting ready for church. My husband was already in the shower and I was just getting out of bed. I noticed his phone on his nightstand. It struck me as unusual since he seemed to be so protective of it lately. He didn’t seem to want me anywhere near it. I was growing suspicious of his behavior so I decided to take a look while I had the opportunity. I felt a mixture of things… hopeful that I wouldn’t find anything out of the ordinary, yet fearful that I would.
I scrolled through his texts, my heart pounding in my chest. I didn’t like what I was doing – it wasn’t like me to snoop through his belongings. I stopped suddenly as my eyes zeroed in on a message with no contact name, just an out-of-area number. “How was your Thanksgiving?” the preview read. I opened the text. To my dismay, my suspicions were correct. I hated that my intuition was right as I began to shake and my breath was snatched from my lungs. How could this be happening… again?
I was immediately thrust back in my memory to 9 years prior when I had found a number in his phone belonging to a woman two time zones away. I felt like I was reliving it all over again – a phenomenon commonly known to sufferers of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as trauma hooking.
I don’t understand. I thought we were past this. We went to counseling …things were better …I healed. What went wrong? What did I do? What didn’t I do? What’s wrong with me? Why isn’t he happy with me… with our family? Why is he doing this again? Thoughts raced through my head so quickly I could barely finish one before the next was desperately begging for an answer.
I confronted him and he tried to assure me that it was just another isolated occurrence. I wanted to believe him but I had my doubts. During the month that followed my initial discovery, I found out more… and more… and more. This type of discovery in betrayal trauma is called a staggered disclosure. It is very traumatizing and psychologically injurious. It didn’t seem that I would ever come to the bottom of the secret life he had somehow managed to construct. What I realized was that my husband had a very serious problem and he was incredibly unhealthy. In early February of 2016, my husband was diagnosed with an addiction to sexually compulsive behaviors, more commonly known as sex addiction.
Neither of us had ever heard of sex addiction before. Sexual addiction is best described as a progressive intimacy disorder characterized by compulsive sexual thoughts and acts (psychcentral.com). Intimacy and relationship expert, Robert Weiss, further explains how sex addiction occurs:
“Like drugs of abuse, addictive sexual fantasies and behaviors trigger a hormonal release resulting in feelings of pleasure, excitement, control, and distraction. This fantasy-induced neurochemical quagmire is a combination of dopamine, adrenaline, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins. Individuals who struggle with underlying emotional or psychological issues such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, attachment deficit disorders, and early-life or profound adult emotional trauma can unconsciously learn to abuse this neurochemical response, via sexual fantasy and behavior, as a means of coping with stressors and momentarily masking emotional pain. Repeated abuse of pleasurable fantasies and behaviors in this way eventually teaches the brain that the way to feel better (or cope) is to engage in more and more of the same activity. Over time, the brain becomes hardwired for sexual addiction”.
I need to pause for a moment to make something clear – my husband is not, nor was he ever a pedophile or child molester. Although possible, child sex offenders are rarely diagnosed as sex addicts. What my husband and I now know is that sex addiction affects millions of people worldwide regardless of age, race, social status, gender, occupation, or religion. Sex addiction is no respecter of persons.
Even after learning of my husband’s diagnosis, we both felt pretty hopeless about our situation. My husband desperately wanted to be free of his addiction once and for all, but I was very unsure that I even wanted to continue in the marriage. I had never before seen anyone so tortured by shame, regret, and lies. I told my husband that he needed serious help and that, no matter what happened to our marriage, I cared about him as a person and I just wanted him to be healthy. Even so, I needed time and space to think about how – or even if – I wanted to proceed with him. We separated twice. We both had the support of a great counselor individually, but we knew we needed very specialized therapy so we began to research our options. We were barely into our second separation when we came across several practices offering couples intensives for recovery from sexual addiction. I agreed to give our marriage one last chance on two conditions: 1.) We would attend an intensive for couples with a certified sex addiction therapist (CSAT) and 2.) The intensive must include a full clinical disclosure revealing all of his sexual acting out behavior, verified with a polygraph exam. I knew there was no way I could move forward until the whole truth was out in the open. My husband agreed. So in April of 2016, we found ourselves sitting in the office of a well known CSAT overlooking downtown Houston. We had no idea what to expect, but we knew without a doubt that our future together was hinging on what would happen over the course of the next few days. It was painful and exhausting work, as we received 6 months of intense psychotherapy within 3 days, but it was absolutely worth it. For the first time since my husband was 12 years old, he was free of all his shameful secrets and I was hopeful that I could heal from the severe trauma I had experienced. We both knew that the road ahead would take a lot of work, but we were willing to try. I wish I could tell you that it was smooth sailing from that point on, but it wasn’t. Recovery from sex addiction and betrayal trauma is like dying over and over again while fighting demons and staring ugly monsters in the eye; yet it’s also like being made new over and over again while discovering health, wholeness, and true joy.
So now here we are….my husband has been sober for over a year and a half and he is striving for total sexual purity. He has started a Christ-centered 12-step recovery group for men seeking freedom from compulsive sexual behaviors and striving for sexual purity. I’ve made tremendous progress in my healing from PTSD and depression, and I’m in the planning stages of starting a support group for women suffering from betrayal trauma. While we still have our share of struggles, our marriage is growing stronger and we are experiencing true intimacy on every level. We are well aware that not every couple makes it this far, and we are incredibly grateful to all of our therapists, support groups, family, and friends. But above all, we are humbly in awe of our great and loving Heavenly Father, who has directed each of our steps and overwhelmed us with His mercy, grace, and love.
We carry a message of hope, my husband and I, like earthen vessels. God has made a great request of us as we strive to become more like His Son. He has asked us to make ourselves vulnerable and risk being rejected, scorned, and criticized in sharing our story so that He may be magnified and glorified. Our journey to this point has been far from easy; it will only truly end when we leave this earth and are joined with our Redeemer. Then there will be no more pain, no more tears, no more struggle. Day by day he takes our hand on this road less traveled and guides us on to wholeness, making our Joy Complete.