“No problem is solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”
– Albert Einstein
Every year around the anniversary of the death of my spouse, I pause to look back or re evaluate any healing progress I’ve made. I mull over the avenues I initially chose to try to get relief from the staggering pain that followed the discovery of my partner’s sex addiction and over 27 years of betrayal.
First, let me say that I was so ashamed to speak about what I’d just learned that I didn’t know who to turn to! The term sex addiction was brand new in my vocabulary. And I was so angry that I was often incoherent.
Further, I had decades of spiritual and mental health teachings under my belt, so I knew full well how few of them actually helped our healing, including many traditional therapies.
I am going to share several stories of where I turned for help at that time, choices I am not suggesting you make. I’ll describe briefly how they work, as well as why they may even be detrimental if you’re going through what I experienced. I hope that in each of these short stories about my poor choices there will be a nugget or two that helps save you time and heartache by holding off until you find a better fit. And, I am in no way suggesting you not get help!
Believe it or not, calling your friends and family to tell them what you’re going through can be much more nurturing and calming than trying to find a therapist right away. Do you really need one? Do you even know what you need?
Being unable to follow our instincts and act on them is precisely what got us into this situation, nor do we yet possess the discernment necessary to interview prospective counselors or therapists.
What about 12-Step meetings?
In 12 Step meetings, a member with a six-month “sobriety” token who may well lack the spiritual maturity or consciousness to really educate you is often the person who becomes your “sponsor” in recovery.
In a word, we partners of sex addicts trust too easily, and this innocence includes our decision when it comes to choosing a therapist, support group, or spiritual practice to turn to for help.
Lesson #1: How Important Is the Company of Others?
When I first made my “discovery,” I desperately searched online for help and found a nearby 12-step recovery meeting “for people whose lives have been affected by another person’s compulsive sexual behavior.”
Those refreshing words soothed me and I looked forward to meeting the group. I needed human beings with whom I wouldn’t become embarrassed.
I’d been to some 12-step meetings decades before, so I knew the rituals and routines would give me some solace. And that’s where it stopped for me. I can probably still recite the 12-Step catechism of Alcoholics Anonymous, but it doesn’t let in other spiritual beliefs or personal insights as people grow and expand emotionally, seeking higher states of consciousness that aren’t found in the words on the pages of their “Big Book.”
When you are new to the devastation of betrayal, and you need space and quiet, these well-meaning members descend with pamphlets and literature, meeting schedules and their phone numbers. They strongly urge you to get a “sponsor” to call when you’re feeling badly.
This all takes place in the first 10 minutes of your first meeting. It is overwhelming and intrusive. You have to introduce yourself and add several demeaning adjectives to your introduction. You may know the drill… “Hi, my name is Kathy and I’m co-dependent” or some other derogatory label. People in these groups focus on symptomology rather than on the innate mental health we already possess.
There is a palpable absence of the rich spiritual teachings that have become so popular since Bill Wilson (Bill W.) first published the Big Book in 1939, and I have to believe that if Bill was still alive he’d easily put his head together with Buddhists, or the Enneagram, or the work of Sydney Banks, or Marianne Williamson, and so on, in order to allow conversation and sharing to blossom into new dimensions in those meeting rooms. After all, he did have a spiritual awakening, which he called a sudden illumination, so he knew there were levels of consciousness other than strict adherence to the words of the 12-Steps.
Furthermore, Bill W. did not write either the 12 steps or the Big Book alone. A man by the name of Robert K. Greenleaf influenced much of the Big Book. He was the founder of the modern servant-leadership movement. His relationship with Bill W. is one of the things that leads me to believe that, had Bill lived, he would have easily opened his heart and organization to other forms of enlightenment and integrated them into 12-Step programs as they appeared on the healing and addiction horizons.
So, it was with this knowledge and my own five to six decades worth of spiritual and mental health studies that I entered a small 12-step group of Co-Sex Addicts Anonymous, or CoSA, folks. I knew that I didn’t want to get a sponsor or read literature or introduce myself as a codependent.
The group leader/secretary was surprisingly liberal in that we were allowed to bring in ‘outside’ literature, such as the Buddhist Pema Chodron’s Start Where You Are, and I liked talking about thought and feeling from my extensive 3 Principles training. I used to read from The Missing Link by Sydney Banks.
I guess I had hoped to influence these folks… to help them see that they had could heal much more quickly if they learned the power of their own thoughts versus simply trudging through the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, endlessly repeating their memories and mistakes at meetings, which only serves to intensify their negative and painful emotions.
To me, this group represented a new beginning… a healing from the destruction of betrayal we shared. Unfortunately, it did not end up that way.
The group was tiny and, as it turned out, the members also were personal friends outside of the group. They were too enmeshed to really grow and get past their egos, instead finding it more comfortable to sit where they were and validate each other’s “choice” to do so. This didn’t end up well for me and I left.
Because they seemed to resent my presence and my relationship with the secretary, who became my sponsor. In fact, she seemed to be the sponsor for almost everyone in the group. She was very fair, inclusive, and loving, yet stuck spiritually to the words on paper of the Big Book. She did not “see” what Albert Einstein said, “No problem is solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” Healing comes from a higher level – from the formless. Not from words on a page.
The group members influenced her in secret, particularly one young man who was new to anything spiritual or the Big Book, but who obediently got a sponsor (and, yep, the sponsor had six months in the program himself).
This six-month tenure seemed to qualify the sponsor to advise this group member as if his advice were coming from an enlightened being. Both of them pressured our secretary to discard “outside” literature and to parrot only the Big Book in our conversations. So, return to the dark ages we did, and I left.
This was all done covertly. Nevertheless I was very aware of the erosion of trust within our group, as well as the lack of spiritual growth through the teachings of anyone other than Bill W.
Lesson Number One here for me was that I did not follow my instincts. I thought I needed human company no matter what the cost and I was dead wrong. I’m not saying the company of others isn’t important when we’re struggling. But, the members of this group (and the members of many others) are, for the most part, uninterested in growing spiritually, and I heard little mention of what are known as Steps 8 and 9.
Step 8 is to “Make a list of all persons you have harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.”
Step 9 is to “Make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”
They are the gateway to finding a spiritual experience that is so vital to begin healing. And for many people in a 12-step program, this is their first exposure to anything “spiritual.”
Unfortunately, these experiences were almost totally lacking in this initial group.
Lesson #2: If Something Doesn’t Work, Try, Try Again… Wrong!
My second lesson occurred in another type of 12-step meeting, this one for women only in a remote, rural church hall in E San Jose, which I started attending around the same time as the one I’ve already discussed.
This group helped for an even shorter period of time…
A rather hard woman sat next to me in this group and described at great length how she’d hated women all her life and through therapy learned to make friends with women and now she loves women. Except for, you know, “that kind of women.” Did she really say that out loud?!? And I said, “NO! What kind of woman?” She then became very uncomfortable and said, “You know, ‘that’ kind of women.” I was stunned. This was the San Francisco Bay Area, a pretty liberal place, and I’d never heard anyone say anything like that out loud in any spiritual study group in my entire life! So that ended that.
Lesson number two was that I still trusted 12-step meetings as having something to offer me. They didn’t. And the all-female meeting was a mistake. But, although I didn’t have a good feeling about it, I returned anyway, maybe once more. The women weren’t connected. What they were doing was meeting to commiserate and to hang on to the identities that brought them in the door.
After these experiences, it seems to me something odd has taken over what were once safe places for all to meet and share, hold hands and say a little prayer out loud together, and then learn to move on… That seems to no longer exist.
But, regardless, learn to listen to yourself… If something doesn’t feel right, or feels like it’s not working or not a good fit, trust that. Don’t keep trying to force something to work just because you think it’s worked for someone else or you don’t feel there are alternatives. There are always other options!
Lesson #3: Try Something New and Don’t Get Attached to Outcomes
I attended two Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA) groups for a few brief months. One was huge and located in San Francisco and the other was in a small room rented in an LGBT center in San Jose, and I have to say I felt very comfortable in them.
First of all, these were my first exposures to “real live sex addicts.” We shared the same group.
I guess I could have been described as a love addict when seen through their myopia, but I’ve never liked labels and refused to introduce myself that way. My training is that we look to people’s innate mental health and not their symptoms. And the sex addicts were, well, the “enemy” I thought I had to face. They were actually just like me! I cried the first time I met one and hugged him after the meeting.
That group became close for me and I found I could start a sentence and someone else would finish it for me. I have never felt so completely accepted and understood in my entire life!!! It was extraordinary.
But, it too began to unravel as one tall man took over the secretary position and ruined it for everyone. He was aggressive and bossy, and he appointed himself as leader and went on to develop personal relationships with many group members by phone, which then turned into gossip, and the group slowly collapsed and unofficially disbanded.
It was sad for me to see this happen, because the sex addicts didn’t want to get sponsors and they needed them… they slipped and slid and didn’t do very well.
I came to realize that many sex addicts only attend these types of meetings to get a signature that they’ve attended so they can get through divorce and court proceedings for child visitation rights. Many don’t stop their philandering and I had to start facing what my partner had been doing all the years we were together, which was extremely painful for me to witness all over again as it were.
However, I liked the 12 characteristics of SLAA, especially number 9…
9. We avoid responsibility for ourselves by attaching ourselves to people who are emotionally unavailable.
But I’ve since grown tired of always taking responsibility for all of my situations and feelings – when honestly, I often didn’t know what had hit me – that is to say I didn’t attach myself to anyone! They showed up and attached themselves to me. It wasn’t until several years later that I learned about narcissists and how narcissists attach themselves to us empaths!
Fortunately, a lot of information about narcissistic abuse in relationships has entered the mainstream, and people like myself are learning how to spot them by their behaviors and how to handle them and ourselves to avoid them all together.
So this entire thing about blaming ourselves for some of these odd involvements is whacky. But, that’s a topic for another day…
However, even though these SLAA groups didn’t end as well as they could have, and I didn’t get everything from them I’d hoped, they were more helpful at the time than the first two, especially as far as it came to expanding my understanding of sex addicts, sex addiction, and my role in a relationship with more than one.
Lesson learned? You may need to try several avenues towards healing before you find one that fits. And, while most of them may not work, if you keep an open mind and don’t get tied to the outcome, you’ll likely learn a lot about yourself along the way.
Okay, those are the first three lessons I learned on my road to recovery, but they’re not the only ones.
I’ll discuss some of the other lessons I learned, as well as how I finally got the help I truly needed in the second part of this post… So, be sure to sign up below and get notified as soon as it’s available!
Where are you on the path to recovery? What difficulties have you encountered along the way? What lessons have you learned? Please be sure to share your thoughts and questions in the “Speak Your Mind” section below, so we can all learn from and help each other…