Yesterday I spent some time reading blogs of LDS women whose husbands are either hooked on porn or hooked on sex with people other than their wives. If I had to distill into a single word the spirit of their writings, it would be: PAIN. They are suffering through a hurt so intense they can taste it. They wake up in the middle of the night feeling it. They dream and they feel the pain of their husbands’ betrayal while they sleep. They experience it when they sit in the therapist’s office trying to make sense of the chaos their lives have become. They even feel it when they take the sacrament on Sunday mornings.
I realized yesterday and I am sad to admit that I had somehow forgotten how little I really know about the depth of the pain I have inflicted over and over again on my wife because of the years of act out behavior associated with my sex addiction. Somewhere along the line, I had begun to assume from seeing the smile on her face that the pain was all gone–that she had “moved on.”
In 2008, my wife was diagnosed with a type of cancer from which most women do not survive. When the doctors make that diagnosis, they also suggest that you get your affairs in order. She underwent major surgery and, having survived that, was subjected to several months of chemotherapy. Her eyes looked tired. Her gorgeous brown hair fell out. (She saved it all in a zip-loc baggy in her cedar chest.) Through the misery, however, her radiant smile remained unchanged.
One year later, she celebrated life by training and then doing a 100-mile bike ride in Southern California. In 2011, with many more century rides under her belt, she finished the Death Ride–130 miles, 15,000 feet of vertical climb over five mountain passes in the High Sierras. It involved suffering different from the cancer, but no less real. She smiled the whole time.
She has been through an enormous amount of pain in her life. She is actually something of a connoisseur of hurt and as such has the blessings of insight and perspective that many don’t have. Between me and the cancer and the cycling and all of her other life’s challenges, she can look compassionately into the eyes of just about any Mormon woman on the planet and say with absolute confidence, “I know exactly how you feel.”
Because I now have some distance from the wreckage of my past, I can actually bear to look at it and see it for what it was. I can stand to talk about it with my wife and discuss how it has impacted her. She tells me–and I believe her–that my addict behavior has hurt her more than the cancer, the surgery, the chemotherapy and the fear of dying. It has hurt her more than anything else she has experienced in her life.
Recovery from addiction brings with it the ability to hear and internalize hard things. I know what the solution to my sex addiction requires and I am experiencing Heavenly Father’s healing power made possible, we are told, through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. So is my wife in her own experience of recovery.
I have been reminded that she is still hurting on some (perhaps many) levels because of what I’ve subjected her to. This isn’t what she signed up for. Nevertheless, she is healing and she is doing so on a timeline that she is working out with her Father in Heaven, not me.
My job is to stay in recovery, to share that recovery experience with as many other people as I can–and to remember with some humility that I cannot fathom the pain I have inflicted on my wife because of my sex addiction. For the rest of eternity, everything I say or do should reflect two guiding truths to her: “I’m sorry” and “You’re more important to me than breathing.”