on recovery as a spouse of an addict
Why does the spouse of an addict need recovery? Recovery from what? It's not like you're the problem though! These are the thoughts I had as I approached my very first 12-step meeting. So let me share with you a little bit of what led to there and what my experience was like.
Shortly after discovering my husband's addiction, I found myself extremely concerned about a pattern I noticed among the women in my family. I made myself an appointment with a therapist, who also happened to be my Stake Relief Society President. I remember that first appointment very clearly, as she asked me why I was there. "Well, I've discovered my husband has this problem and then it occurred to me that there is this pattern in my family of the women (my mom, my grandma, etc) having these things happen to them or being in abusive relationships, and I need to stop it. I have a daughter and I need to know why there is this pattern so that it doesn't continue with her. What's the deal?!" From there I proceeded to tell her my life story, good and bad, beginning with my earliest memory. I didn't get very far before she stopped me and told me she felt very strongly that I needed to attend a special group known as S.O.L.E. (Survivors of Life Experiences). This was a 12-week paid program that required a referral from a therapist to attend and would be quite intensive and so I had to get on some medication, like Zoloft, before I could attend. Uh, okay. That all sounded far more extreme than I needed. However, at a following meeting with my bishop, he happened to bring up the same program and offered to have the ward pay for it as it was through LDS Family Services. I took this as a sign that I really did need to be there, even if I didn't understand the reasons right away. In fact, at that very first SOLE meeting we were asked to introduce ourselves and tell why we were there. I said "I don't know why I'm here except that I was told I needed to be. My life isn't that bad. I mean, I've had bad stuff happen in my life, but that's just my life." My therapist was co-running this group with another therapist, who laughed at my introduction! She said "So you're telling me that you're a human doing not a human being." I argued with her implication that I was unfeeling, but would later learn just how very true her quick assessment of me was. Discussing the experience of that SOLE program is a post for another day, as it was truly life-changing. Like, total mindshift in so many parts of my life. For now, however, I want to talk more specifically about my experience with the LDS ARP program.
I attended my very first PASG (Pornography Addiction Support Group- the church addiction recovery support group for wives of addicts) at the behest of one of the friends I made through SOLE. A couple of months following the end of that group, we ran into each other at a Stake Women's Conference. She confided some things in me and asked for support in having a friend go to this meeting with her. She had been previously but it was still really hard and scary. I agreed and mentioned as much to my therapist when I ran into her in the hall that same day. She laughed at me and said "oh honey, you really should be going for yourself too." That seemed so silly after having attended SOLE. My husband had been attending ARP meetings and seeing a therapist. Things definitely still weren't great, but I felt like I must have taken care of whatever junk led to my being in this unhealthy place, and so I didn't need anything more. Boy was I wrong!
What I found at that first meeting was validation. The format was a little bit weird, what with the serenity prayer and sharing at the end and such. Yet, I found that I could be strengthened by another's trial and that often a reading or something shared by another sister would be exactly what I had been pondering. It was a beautiful and miraculous thing to me! I didn't continue attending that particular meeting, as there was another that was more convenient time for me. I resented a bit the fact that I had this need, that there was another commitment during the evening to take me away from my family. I resented my husband for that. However, over time I began to see this as a tremendous blessing. Those meetings became a practical way of applying the Atonement to all parts of my life. It was no longer about healing my relationship with my husband or learning how to have boundaries and healthy interactions. It became about really learning who my Savior was and learning to turn to Him, to hand it over to Him.
In our PASG group we used the Healing Through Christ book in its earliest stages. I really struggled with the beginning steps that call on you to acknowledge and admit to your codependence. I was there for my husband's problem, not mine! I sure didn't like some sort of insinuation that there was something wrong with me. It wasn't fair that I would have to suddenly suck in order to reach some sort of better state. Codependence? Not me. No way, no how. However, I liked the sisterhood and the spirit that I felt at these meetings. I felt like it was a safe place where the spirit could dwell, which meant an opportunity for me to receive revelation I was otherwise struggling to receive. I needed that. Even just the drive to and from the meetings seemed to open my mind to whisperings of the spirit as I was having a weekly reminder of gospel principles specific to the hell that we were trudging through. So I continued to attend. What happened was an opening of my eyes to what things truly were within my ability to change or affect. I began to see things as they really were and to be able to recognize and own my own codependent behaviors. I found t hat this wasn't imprisoning or depressing as I originally thought. Rather it was freeing. Now that I saw things as they were, I could change them. I could give up what was beyond my control, or what was not really for me to try to control, and I could live free with faith and trust and hope again. What a gift!
I won't say that it was easy, because it wasn't. It was worth it though. I remember one sister sharing that she sometimes felt discouraged at the amount of time that healing or working the steps would take, but that it had occurred to her just how quickly a year passes away and how easily she could still be in the same place in a year if she didn't do those things. We found that it was a year of attending meetings and being active in that support system that was needed before truly finding recovery and healing. That doesn't mean that it is a year of craziness to look forward to. I realize how overwhelming a year sounds. However, it takes time to thoroughly apply each step to your life, and to peel through the layers of the life you have been living. Over the course of a year, various events and triggers will happen and being in the support group allowed a safe space to work through those and learn healthy responses and attitudes. Being a place where you are validated for all your craziness, where you realize that you are not alone in these seemingly crazy thought patterns that have occurred because of someone else's actions, is very comforting. It allows you to see what is yours to own and what is the consequence of circumstance and consequence of action (yours or his). Seeing is freeing.
Recovery from codependency came for me when I was able to quickly recognize my passive aggressive behaviors and own and admit them. It meant saying sorry, even if he 'deserved' my mistreatment. It meant prayerfully setting and enforcing boundaries, regardless of the outcome, because I was worth it and I was worth keeping my soul safe. It meant being willing to walk away because I was clear-headed and had swept my side of the street whether he did or not. It meant recognizing that his problem was not my problem, even if we were married. It meant supporting him and his recovery, without taking it upon me, knowing that his cross could and should only be borne by himself and his Savior. Ultimately, it meant letting go and letting God.