This is part of an on-going series of articles by Jeff, Susan’s husband, as they work through recovery together.
Dear friends, my name is Jeff and I am a recovering sex addict. In my recovery journey, I learned that I had to acknowledge and own all the sins of my past. Over the years in my addiction, I had become expert at rationalizing and justifying my sins. I had a distorted view that somehow the good things in my life like serving a mission, raising my family in the church, family history work, and going to church each week would somehow balance out my acting out. I blamed others, including my wife, for the negative thoughts and emotions I felt which helped me compartmentalize my feelings. This contributed to burying my feelings so deep that I had forgotten many things (which led me to minimize how often I had acted out in my addiction and the resentments that I held and used to continue to blame others.) The problem is that no matter how deeply they were buried, they were all still inside me. The buried feelings and emotions eventually had to be addressed.
Step 4 in the Addiction Recovery Program is Truth with the key principle to “Make a searching and fearless written moral inventory of yourself.” With this principle, I learned that no matter how long it had been since I sinned or how far I had buried my feelings and resentments, I needed to acknowledge and own them so that real healing could begin.
Because of the way my addiction was discovered, starting my list was not the hard part. Susan already knew about most of the worst things, and I had talked to the bishop about them. This step became harder for me as the list grew and grew. I started my inventory chronologically from the most recent acting out. I wrote it out on paper that I could keep in a safe place. I prayed before starting and then just wrote everything that came to mind. Unfortunately, I ran out of room on the page and reorganized my list where I had a page for each major period of my life (married, college, mission, high school, childhood) and then sub-grouped by where I lived (we have moved many times). After the initial list, I took a break and then came back to review. I prayed and pondered about each group and each type of acting out. As I did this, more things kept coming to my mind which included additional times of acting out, additional ways I acted out, hurt feelings, resentments, anger, hatred, more resentment, and holding on to bitter feelings. I started remembering things from my childhood that I had long since buried. Unfortunately, I had many pages before I was done with this process. When I thought I was done, the work on step 4 was just beginning for me. I needed support in the process and decided to share my list with Susan because she wanted to know the details. (Not all spouses are the same with this, but Susan wanted to know everything.) This was a very difficult conversation for both of us and I will talk more about this with step 5. This process continued for several more weeks as my list was not yet complete. I would pray to ask Heavenly Father if there was anything else and things continued to come to my mind and then I would talk to Susan.
One tender mercy I received was the prompting that I was supposed to inventory the good things I had done as well. Honesty was huge in this process. I was committed to get everything out and Heavenly Father continued to answer my prayers one day at a time as I was persistent and prepared emotionally and spiritually. It was a wonderful day when I received confirmation that everything was written down on those pages that I needed to resolve with the Lord, with Susan, and with myself.
Now that I had my list, the process of learning from it began. This involved self-examination to understand what really happened, my feelings, the effect on me and others, and then figuring out what to do. Some may be able to do this process on their own or with a coach. I found I needed help and turned to a professional counselor. He was a trusted member of our stake and an inspired man. (Choose a counselor carefully).
With his help, I began to understand my issues and the steps I needed to take to address them and heal. While step 4 was the hardest step to this point, I felt the hand of the Lord helping me. I had great hope and trust in Heavenly Father that at the end of the process I would not only be clean and forgiven for past sins, but able to move forward in recovery and healing from acting out in my addiction.
This is the fifth of an on-going series by Susan about her experience in the Spouse and Family Support Group.
Four years ago I was seeking support for myself after discovering Jeff’s pornography addiction. I attended the SAnon meetings in our area of Ohio and learned very valuable information. But I felt something was missing for me. I wanted more than to lean on a “higher power;” I wanted the healing that came through Jesus Christ. So I continued to work the 12 steps of the ARP until I finished my first time through the book. Still, I didn’t feel this book was written for the spouse of an addict as it often says “your addiction.” So I went to Utah to seek out a friend that I believed could help me.
She was experiencing good recovery from an addiction of her own. Now an active member of the church she leads groups, shares her story, and supports others in recovery. One Sunday I found her at church and told her of my situation. Within minutes after church she came to me with a whole list of support groups that I could attend. She explained how the Spouse Support groups worked and offered to attend with me. I told her this was all good, and I would certainly attend, but Jeff was really the one that needed to get fixed. She tried to explain to me that it wasn’t my job to make sure that Jeff got the help that he needed, that was his job. I shouldn’t be owning it. I didn’t think I was owning it. I had read the books! I read about surrender and thought I was well on my way…as long as I was making sure he was well on his way too.
Obviously, my friend saw the disconnect in my thought process and finally said “Susan, you can’t save him. He already has a Savior.” It was in this moment that I saw what I hadn’t before.
Oh. Yes. I finally began to see. My recovery is my recovery, Jeff’s recovery is his. The words of SAnon came ringing back, “The 3 C’s: you didn’t CAUSE it, you can’t CONTROL it and you can’t CURE it.” And more importantly, I can’t save him.
Boy it’s hard to let go! Especially when you are a wife and mother, and your main job is to fix and take care of things. When the biggest thing in my life is broken, how can I let go and “let God?” I can’t save him. I can’t save ME. I needed Jesus Christ and that is what I said I was out to find, healing that comes through Jesus Christ, and I have found it. This moment, for this purpose is the reason that the Savior came. One of the many reasons, but personally for me, I needed him for this. The price IS paid. The way IS possible. The healing IS real.
The original 12 Step ARP has been powerful in my personal healing. After that first time through I went back and started over. I didn’t let it bother me that it talks about “your addiction” and inserted other words like “trial, character weakness, hardship, anger, hurt, pain,” etc. I continued to go through the steps, starting again after step 12. Just like the scriptures, I learned something new each time I went through it. I don’t see it as 12 steps and done, I see it as 12 steps and start over.
Today I use the Spouse and Support Guide from LDS Family Services. Patterned after the 12 Step ARP Guide, it is directed to me, the spouse of an addict. Step 5 is “Working Out Our Own Salvation.” For me this is the surrender step. An especially helpful section is “Accepting That We Cannot Control Our Loved Ones or Heal Their Addiction.”
Another very impactful resource for me is “Healing Through Christ”
There is so much hope. There is so much healing. And it is all possible because of our Savior Jesus Christ.
Thank you to Lisa for her post on Step 5: Acknowledge to Heavenly Father, to ourselves, and to another person experienced in Twelve Step principles, the exact nature of our wrongs.
I’m going to focus on a specific example from my life that I had recently with this step. I was struggling one night with unresolved feelings towards my dad. He passed away six years ago.
When I was a child I had many good and wonderful experiences. I loved when he held me, brushed my hair, and did special things like taking us to walk around the visitor’s center at the nearby temple. I loved him.
I also hated him. I won’t go into the specifics, but I hated him for the things he did at times. I was also embarrassed by him. Lastly, he scared me when he got angry. I had many difficult memories, but I also had some sweet ones. I tried to focus on those. I got married and moved out and was grateful that when the anger flared I could leave.
As I got older I thought I had resolved my feelings towards him. We established a relationship that I was comfortable with. I rarely saw him get angry and I thought I was over it. I started to recognize some of the things in myself that I hated or was embarrassed about with him. This allowed me to be sympathetic. He was doing the best he could and so was I.
As I prepared to move from my home to Michigan in 2009, he was dying of cancer. I will always remember that last time because I was terribly ill and he was in the middle of chemo and radiation, he put his personal safety aside and held me. It tore my heart apart to leave knowing that he wasn’t going to be around a whole lot longer. Somehow at that time I knew it was the last time he would hold me. I called every day and spoke to him, helped him with things as I was able and kept in touch with him and how the cancer was spreading. I desperately wanted to be there for his last few days on earth, but knew I didn’t belong there. I discovered too late how close he really was and made a hurried flight home to be with him. I made it just a few hours before he passed, but he was unconscious of me. Still, I knew he was aware of me. It was a miraculous answer to prayer.
Now, years later I realized I never resolved my issues and I couldn’t anymore with him because he had passed on. I finally broke down and prayed like I never had before. I poured out my soul to Heavenly Father and confessed every negative memory I had towards Dad. I told Him everything I hated, everything I was embarrassed by. Then I told Him all the good things. The sweet, kind, and good things. The things that made me proud to be his daughter. It was like a mini moral inventory about just one person. It took me a long time and a lot of tissues. I laid it all out and wasn’t ashamed anymore. I got up and wrote about it in my journal, honestly, for the first time ever. I had to that point just been hiding my shame that I would feel this way about my father. It wasn’t right.
I realized that it wasn’t right, but I realized too that right or wrong didn’t matter, it was how I felt. I confessed it all to my husband. I know that’s not normally the one to confess it to, but in this case I felt prompted to share it with him. It was an incredibly cleansing and powerful experience. When I think of Dad now, I no longer have a knot in my stomach. I still remember the unpleasant things, but I am at peace, finally. Step Five has brought me healing that I never thought I would obtain in this life.