Many family members and friends wonder why, as a Latter-day Saint woman, I need to attend the S-Anon recovery program when my husband is the one with the sex and pornography addiction. They ask why I spend so much time reading the literature, attending meetings, working the 12 Steps and helping other women in similar circumstances. I guess the short answer is, “I need S-Anon for my sanity.”
I’ve had three very traumatic experiences in my life. The first was almost nineteen years ago when I was caught up in the middle of a bank robbery. I was getting cash at an ATM outside a bank just before it opened. Two men dressed in black walked up beside me. One of the men took a sledgehammer out of a duffle bag and smashed the glass entrance door next to me. Then they both pulled out guns and proceeded to rob the bank. In a near panic, I ran out of the shopping center into the parking lot–and found myself staring straight into the masked face of a third robber waiting in the getaway car. Fortunately, they were all more interested in pulling off their heist than they were in doing me any harm.
Afterwards, I was physically fine but shaken emotionally as I had to give statements to mall security, the police and the FBI. Even though I felt unsafe and scared for quite a while after the event, I was able to tell lots of people about it. Everyone who heard my story was supportive. They asked for more details and many talked about their experiences or stories about bank robberies. I didn’t have to hide anything about the robbery and I received a huge amount of strength and comfort from family, friends and co-workers. I healed very quickly from this event and today I don’t think twice about banks or ATMs.
Experience number two happened almost four years ago when I was diagnosed with Stage III ovarian cancer. I hadn’t been feeling well and my stomach was getting bigger. Thinking I was pregnant I went to see my doctor. He did an ultra-sound and found a football-sized germ-cell tumor on my left ovary. One week later I had a complete hysterectomy and then began chemotherapy. I finished four months later.
While I felt lucky to be alive, the surgery and chemotherapy had ravaged my body. I was bald and covered with a “chemo rash.” I had lost all my toenails, and most of my eyebrows and eyelashes. I had an eight inch scar down my abdomen. At age thirty-seven, I was thrown into early menopause. Mentally and emotionally, I was a wreck. I should have been ecstatic—I had cheated death! But all I wanted to do was sleep and cry.
I had a lot of help and support from family, friends and the community, but it wasn’t like it had been with the bank robbery. The details were much more personal. People avoided me; my appearance made them uncomfortable and they didn’t know what to say. I struggled to reach out. I felt too embarrassed to share most of what was happening or what I was feeling.
Sadly, there were also people who made my experience so much worse. They told me about family members or friends who had died. This made me scared and also made me feel guilty for surviving cancer. There was judgment, too. Many people asked why I hadn’t sought treatment sooner–hadn’t I noticed any symptoms? I desperately wanted to talk with someone who understood. I needed someone who had lived through it and could share with me her experience, strength and hope.
Through fortuitous circumstances, I had some amazing heart-to-heart talks with complete strangers. Sometimes it was easier to open up to people I didn’t know if they had walked my path. I made it through this experience but it marked me and I’m sure I’ll never completely “get over it.”
The third experience occurred when my husband disclosed his sex addiction. I had known that he struggled with pornography consumption. We’d been through the addiction cycles over and over throughout our many years of marriage. During all this time, I never told anyone about it. I felt shame and pain. I was too embarrassed. The details were too private. Unhealthily, I felt somehow responsible for his addiction. Surely if I were somehow more attractive or sexy, he wouldn’t have any need to look to pornography.
Any time sex or pornography addiction came up in a conversation with other women, I wanted to run or hide–and cry. I heard so many opinions on the subject–everything from, “Men will be men! That’s just what they do” to “She should divorce him while she’s young and still has her looks!” I was torn up by feelings of loyalty towards my husband. I didn’t want anyone to judge him for his behavior or to judge me for staying in the marriage.
So after my husband’s last disclosure–the one that felt like my heart had been ripped from my chest–who could I tell? I finally confided in a few family members and close friends. A huge burden was lifted by being able to talk about the problem. It helped to finally share this big, ugly secret. Now, however, these family members and friends were hurt. I got lots of advice, but most of it just made me feel worse. They were too close to me and my husband to be objective. Although they had good hearts, they didn’t have professional training or first-hand experience with recovery. I needed someone who had that experience, someone who had lived through it and could offer me hope.
Gratefully, I found her! A dear LDS friend from the past stepped in and saved me. She had had a similar experience years earlier. She told me about sex addiction and offered her strength and hope. She talked with me for hours on the phone. She let me cry. She prayed with me.
She was the one who told me about S-Anon. She even researched the meeting schedule for my area and emailed it to me. Still, it took a couple months before I made it to my first meeting. Once I did, however, I knew it was what I had been looking for. I found beautiful, strong, articulate, compassionate women who selflessly shared their experience, strength and hope. There was no judgment, only love and understanding.
Each weekly meeting of S-Anon focuses on a different area of recovery for individuals who have been hurt by the sexual behavior of someone close to them. Those attending then have time to “share” with the group about how things are going personally.
In the beginning, I drove an hour and a half each way to get to the closest meeting. It was that important to me. After five months, I started a meeting in my home town. I look forward to these meetings. I have a fellowship of friends who stay in contact with me during the week. We get together for lunch and socializing. It is important to know that what I share in those meetings stays in the meetings. This helps me feel safe.
We work the 12 Steps together. We grow together mentally, emotionally and spiritually. We learn that we truly are powerless and cannot control the sex addict(s) in our lives–and that we certainly can’t control their addictions. We learn and internalize the vital truths that we didn’t cause this addiction and we can’t cure it. We learn to turn our will and lives over to Heavenly Father. (S-Anon is a spiritual program, but not a religious one, and is based on the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. It is a wonderful complement to and completely compatible with the Restored Gospel.)
Today, I am happier than I’ve ever been. I am mentally and emotionally strong. I am a reliable and responsible mother and friend. I have tools to cope with the challenges of life. I have many wonderful S-Anon friends. I didn’t choose this life, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything!