We are in Recovery – we are working with professionals and other spouses in recovery, doing very specific recovery work from the trauma effects of another person's sexual behavior. Some of us are brand new and just found out and don't know where to turn. Some of us have been in recovery for several years and can share resources, experience, strength and hope with newcomers.
What stage of recovery are you in?
Why do we ask this? Because recovery comes in waves for the spouse of sexually addicted people.
Pre-recovery: “If my husband stops acting out, I'll return to normal” – which doesn't work. We received wounds, some of us received over a long period, by self-deception, ignoring our gut feelings, taking the blame and buying into the unhealthy messages of our addict when they justify, blame us, minimize our feelings. It's insidious, meaning under the radar and slow, but it's emotional abuse. We need to recognize its effects, acknowledge it has stolen a part of our “self” and accept we need recovery too: recovery of our sense of safety and stability, self-care and strength to enforce boundaries.
Semi-recovery: Then it's the “I'll do this as long you do that” – which doesn't work because we aren't doing it for ourselves, we're doing it for the relationship. We don't take it seriously as something we need to heal or change in our life, or we don't take advantage of a full recovery program and just “check off the list” of a few recovery items.
Embracing Recovery and Growth: Acceptance that we need expert help: After we succumb to our own self-defeating behaviors of trying to “manage on our own”, never feeling safe because we can't live under current circumstances, and we can't live if they return to their acting out, or we hit some other “rock bottom” of our own, and seriously see we cannot manage our lives by watching their addiction or recovery any longer, we finally realize: I have to work towards recovery for myself, and get outside help from experts, and do the work.
There's no checklist of either/or behaviors. None of these will happen overnight, and they may come easily for us one day, and then difficult the next. You can't tick off a list, and change – as we will know too, if we struggle with weight, depression, smoking or other behaviors we need to change – doesn't come by flipping a switch, but by flipping several switches, and repeated attempts at change. (Let's keep updating this list as spouses with addicts in real recovery contributing.)
A woman in recovery will do this more:
* Is ready to make mindset changes
* Makes the decision that she will be “Ok” no matter what. Even if she doesn't feel like it, or believe it now. She makes that decision.
* Takes ownership and accountability for her own healing and recovery, whether her spouses recovers or not
* Learns about boundaries, how to create them, how to communicate them and knows she will enforce them. Boundaries around her own behavior, and boundaries around other's behaviors.
* Makes her safety and stability (physical, emotional, spiritual, financial, etc.) her first priority. Digs into what she needs to feel safe and makes requests to others; sees their responses to those requests as data, information.
* Doesn't try to control or prevent the addict from acting out by using monitoring or blocking software without the addict's permission.
* Develops self-awareness skills so she can think about self-care options and what her needs are
* Awareness of what her triggers are by journaling, and creates a plan for how to process through them, without the help of her spouse if he's not capable or safe. If he is safe she helps him learn what to do when she's triggered. Learns to find her safety and security from within herself first.
* Avoids, “mining for pain” by revisiting or reviewing proof of past acting out, or looking at social media profiles of acting out partners, or contacting them. This is a trauma response that can keep you locked into this cycle.
* Uses the “trust but verify” of transparency offered by the addict. In other words, she checks, but he knows she's checking, and she doesn't let it become an obsessive behavior.
* More willing to go outside of herself for help – not trying to do recovery “on her own”
* Makes the decision that she will be a safe person: She does not yell, speak or act out in anger, or accuse. Instead she uses “I feel” and “I need” statements.
* Ends her isolation and reaches out for support from solid friends, wise people, group members, faith friends, strong family members, volunteerism and therapy.
* Resumes good self care: diet, sleep, exercise, faith, mammograms, OBGYN appointments, salon appointments, time with friends
* Stays committed to her own recovery – therapist appointments, group meetings, reading books about partner recovery, journaling and writing homework.
* If still in relationship with her spouse, has a boundary that he must be in consistent recovery, and is willing to enforce it. Does not monitor, manage, help, control, suggest, etc. the details for his recovery. Gives support when he asks, but otherwise does not get involved.
* Begins to see personal insights from recovery work
* Spends time developing independent interests, and actively pursuing those interests and passions
* Accepts that other people are out of her control, and that she can control herself, her emotions, thoughts and behavior.
* Accepts that she is responsible for her own thoughts, feelings, actions and words. Does not blame others for her feelings, yet can hold others accountable for their behavior.
* Works to understand the anger cycle and works on healthy “exit” points when angry. Makes friends with anger, and seeks what action the anger is trying to communicate (example: stronger boundaries)
* Develops friendships with other strong female role models or other women in recovery
* Tolerates his difficult emotions (this takes time to learn how to do!) Understands that this addiction is a disease of avoiding emotions for years, and he needs to learn how to process them safely. Allows him to feel what he feels, but has boundaries around how he expresses them. “Taps out” (see our topic about tapping out) away if his emotions are too much for her.
* Works to develop non-sexual intimacy
* Works to cultivate empathy for the addict's illness and past traumas/neglect that led to his addiction (this does not mean we excuse his adult behaviors.)
(this one is very hard and has to be learned!)
* More time focused on her “Spiritual” life – whatever that means as defined by her.
* Gratitude for big and little things in life.
* Considers giving back to others, either by outside volunteer work, or being of service and support in the recovery community, to those who have less recovery than she does.
* If she wants to pause recovery efforts, and take a break, that's her decision and is totally within her rights. She should not be judged for wanting to take a break, or withdraw from the therapeutic process.