For years I could not take my attention off of my sex addict husband. After what he did, the idea of taking my eye off of him (even if it was just “taking my mind off of him”) made me feel unsafe. By putting my attention on him, my life, my happiness, my sanity, and my recovery was left sitting in a dark corner. Ignored, unattended, rejected.
For years, all I could do was talk about things he did (years, months, weeks, and days prior). I didn’t want to accept the fact that what was done was done. Somehow, ruminating on it brought me comfort simultaneously bringing me great despair. It kept my pain alive, kept me a victim, and made it “important” to my identity as a victim. To me, forgiveness meant letting go of the “story” and “moving on as if nothing happened”. To let go of that had repercussions that were so unsure for me that it felt like too much of a risk to take, so I clung. For dear life.
Yes, there were consequences to things he did via his gambling, alcoholism, and sex addiction, such as acquiring several STDs, significant financial loss, losing trust, being emotionally and physically abused, etc. But the fact of the matter was that it was done. His addiction wasn’t done. No, no, no! That will be there all his life. So what was “done”? What was it I was hanging on to? I couldn’t admit it at first, but in truth I wasn’t hanging on to his actions. I was hanging on to the feeling of being betrayed and learning the truth about who I was really married to. I was no longer in the safe confines of not knowing. I was no longer capable of being in denial. I was no longer in the dark. The truth had come out and I HATED IT.
I thought he had stolen my sense of security, and what I didn’t want to admit to was that it was I who put my sense of security in the wrong place.
Letting go takes courage. Letting go of any offense takes courage. Sometimes I get really mad at him for something he said or did and at that moment, my feelings around it are very intense. But after a while, the feelings around it are completely gone. The negativity was temporary. I could hold on to it. I could add it to my list of “everything wrong with my husband” But why would I want to do that? It certainly wasn’t changing him. It wasn’t making him a better person. It wasn’t bringing me any sense of joy or empowerment.
Even with the big ticket items (like the addictions, constant lying, cheating, and abuse), I started realizing that the only thing left after something comes up is the story I keep telling myself about it.
My instructor was talking about an elderly bitter person who was complaining about her childhood. He laughed and said “what kind of life is it to be half-dead and still talking about something 50-60 years ago? Do you really want to waste what small amount of time you have left on this Earth dwelling on that?”
That thought shook me to my core… Here I am still complaining about the past, complaining that I didn’t get the life “I deserve”, and no amount of feeling bad and blaming him was going to change the fact that he was a con artist. No amount of hatred and mean words was going to change my reality into my fantasy life/marriage.
Letting go meant forgiveness. And forgiveness is about the present (not the past). Forgiveness is about how I’m living now. Am I thinking in a way “NOW” that will be helpful to me to live successfully? Am I open to whatever “NOW”? What choices am I making “NOW”? Because that’s all I can control. He will always be an addict. He will always look for victims to use and abuse. This is the very nature of sociopathic narcissists. This is HIS truth. He may never change. He may never recover. He may never feel any remorse, guilt, or shame about his behavior and choices. And I had no control over that.What was I doing about MY life, given those facts?
I started to see, unfortunately, that I have many habitual patterns that just keep on circulating, and those habits and patterns continued to make me unhappy. One of those was thinking that if I sacrificed myself for another, I could earn their love and affection.
It wasn’t the events, or the person, but the patterns of thinking that kept me in unsafe and unhealthy situations. Demanding that he stop being an addict, or demanding that he stop being who he is, was an unenforceable rule that I spent what feels like billions of wasted hours trying to fix.
Then it hit me: What if I put my attention and energy towards having a good life, rather than arguing with reality?
I was blaming my childhood, my husband, and other things for my current situation. Am I again reminding myself that this wasn’t fair, or that it shouldn’t have been done, or “how dare they!”? Yup…I was doing that. I clearly had not forgiven. I was NOT interested in letting anything go. I LOVED reminding everyone (especially him) about this horrendous injustice, because it protected my cherished victim status.
I did NOT want to admit that I screwed up in my life. Even if I was married to a complete a-hole, even if he may have contributed to ruining my time with him, I was choosing to stay. I was choosing to stay in denial. And if I left, I could be free from his behavior. But I wouldn’t be free from my own…Yes, he may have contributed to 80% of the damage when we were together, but the feelings I attached to that story needed to go.
Unfortunately, he’s not responsible for the next years of my life. I admit that I spent longer time than necessary to stay in a bad relationship and longer time than necessary being angry and resentful toward him after it happened. I admit that, knowing that there is an addiction (and addiction is a disease that lasts a lifetime), regardless of what he is or is not doing, it’s what I am doing NOW that is the problem. And NOW I can tell I wasn’t dealing with it very well.
I preferred explaining to people why my life didn’t work. It was hard accepting that what I was doing now wasn’t that successful. The easiest way to deal was to shift the spotlight off of me and my part of the problem and put all of the attention and blame on to HIM. I did NOT want to swallow the pill that my life was my responsibility. That’s when I realized that I was not forgiving or living my life very skillfully….
Through the Steps (and tons of ongoing therapy) I had to come to terms with identifying that which I could change NOW (not the past). Did I really wanna grow? If so, what about my patterns did I need to change?
I came to a 12-step program thinking I had something bad happen to me that the world just had to know about and help me fix. Through working the steps, I came to accept that I was struggling to cope with what had happened (not just with the sex addict but throughout my whole childhood). My suffering was trying to bring to surface the stories and life experiences I couldn’t adequately deal with or metabolize successfully.
Clearly, I had a LOT of work to do and NO time to keep obsessing about my husband’s transgressions and deceit…
My instructor compared it to a garden. He said, “Imagine you have a garden and the garden has some weeds. It doesn’t matter how long those weeds were there…You still have to pull them out!” You can sit and complain, “But it’s not fair I have weeds in my garden!” And, “If only I had a better gardener in 1993… then the weeds wouldn’t be here.” That just makes it harder to actually deal with what we have to deal with.
“Forgiveness is a little bit of pixy dust”, he said: It doesn’t matter why it’s here. It’s just here. It’s something that I have to deal with successfully, and the more energy I can bring to deal with it, and the less energy I spend arguing with it, the more successful I’ll be.
He told me, “It’s your current perspective, that piece of you that wants to be a victim, and be able to say, “I got an extra unfair dose in this life and I want to get special dispensation because of that, and so for good or bad, I’m gonna hold my little flag out saying ‘I got a bad deal’”.
At that, I knew it was time to stop blaming, stop obsessing, and work my program harder. It was time to put my resources to my health and whatever else I needed, and victimhood was an unsuccessful and futile place for me to make decisions from. That is when I realized what forgiveness was. It was for me. Not for him.
And so it happened. Forgiveness happened.