On Being Special

By Tania Rochelle

And didn’t we all believe our husbands were different, our families were special, our ability to salvage our marriages was exceptional? So many of the partners I meet imagine that they are different from the rest of us. That our families must not be as wonderful, that our husbands couldn’t have seemed as deep-down good as theirs. I get it. I did it.

Yesterday, driving in the car, I heard an old song I hadn’t heard in ten years. I was listening to an Apple 00’s Love Song playlist when The Luckiest, by Ben Folds, came up and I was transported back to 2001. I remember running to that song on my iPod, early in my marriage, in the evenings, taking a break from my four kids, everyone safe at home as I jogged the five mile route through three neighborhoods. 

That song was my anthem. After a horrible first marriage, I was now married to a guy I felt could have been my brother, if not for the strong physical attraction. I was so comfortable with him, so able to be completely myself. I felt loved and supported. I imagined we must have known each other in a past life. 

There’s a verse in the song that reminded me of one night when Greg and I were dating. While walking from his apartment to a restaurant up the street, we passed an old man, the hem of his pants puddled around his shoes as if he had shrunken several inches. He wore a hat and used a cane. Greg told me he felt sorry for the man, that he saw saw him every day, that he apparently lived alone and no one ever visited. Greg said his own biggest fear was to be a lonely old man. I laughed at the thought. He was too likable, too creative, too funny to ever be alone.

More than twenty years after we met, I realize it was just his conscience talking. He was already keeping secrets from me: the 30k credit card debt he had from watching cable porn in grad school, the fact that he had been addicted to porn since he was eleven years old. Now I understand that he meant to use me and my children to guard against his being a lonely old man—to make him look like a normal person, a family man, a man who was solid and trustworthy.  

So-called sex addicts are not run-of-the-mill cheaters; they haven’t made the “mistake” of a one-night stand or fallen in love with someone else during a challenging time in the marriage (not that I excuse those things). No, these men victimize their families in a carefully planned and executed fraud, hiding behind those who love them as a cover for their insatiable quest for progressively novel and illicit sex .They pretend to hold the same values we do or, worse, they appear to be more righteous. When a woman has been betrayed in this way, the cognitive dissonance between who she thought she married and who he has been revealed to be is nearly impossible to overcome. She keeps going over everything from the past—the births of her children, the family vacations, the holidays and anniversaries. Decades of mental snapshots. She cannot believe this new reality is real. 

When she’s at her lowest point and in the most immutable disbelief, he claims he’s sick. Then the treatment professionals explain to her just how sick he is and promise her a “better than ever” marriage. So she’s got a choice: believe he’s a sex-driven monster, capable of long-term treachery at the expense of her and his own children, or believe the sweet, funny man she married has a disease that can be cured. 

Of course she chooses the lie.

 

All About Ohio

By Tania Rochelle

Two weeks ago, Sweetwater Retreats launched. Nine women convened in a storybook castle in Chagin Falls, Ohio. The women ranged in age from their late 20’s to their 70’s, and they came from all over the country. There were many differences among them, but the one thing they had in common was that they were—or had been—wives or partners of men called sex addicts. Each had suffered that catastrophic explosion of her life. The bomb had dropped on some of them a few years into their marriages; others were hit 20 or 30 years in.

These were strong, smart, creative, and kind women; they were beautiful inside and out. From Thursday until Sunday, we heard and honored their stories, and we considered new ways to approach the future, We painted and strung beads. We laughed and cried. We were supposed to do yoga. For most of the women, it was the first time since D-Day they’d gotten away from the messes that have been made of their lives. When your past, present, and future have been burned to the ground by the man you love, you spend a lot of time crawling around, looking for pieces. You can spend years doing that.

Many of the women had been further damaged by the sex addiction treatment industry that reduces partners and wives to nursemaids for the “addict” in his recovery. They’d been asked to write boundaries and make safety lists and to accept the fact that relapse is just part of the program. They were led to believe that their marriages could be “better than ever.” They’d endured drawn-out formal disclosures and gone to couples’ intensives, where they were taught to “connect” more with dangerous men. They’d spent thousands of dollars. Yet not a single one of them had gotten that better-than-ever marriage. Not even the women who were still married.

But somehow, these nine women managed to perform the miracles required—the childcare arrangements, the time off work, the plane tickets, the bag packing, no small feats when you’re operating with PTSD—to get themselves to Ohio.  There they forged friendships, the kind that happen when you’ve walked through the same fire. It’s difficult to meet other partners face-to-face, because no one goes around shouting that she married a man who buys sex or exposes himself in parking lots or meets other men at Home Depot. No, most of us quietly find our way to online support groups, which save our lives. But nothing beats in-person interaction. 

After it was over, I got sweet notes that proved to me that the most important benefit of these retreats are the connections the women make with each other. I’d like to share just a few of the comments:

“One cannot measure the value of having a caring, safe environment to share our stories, to relax, and be gently supported by others.” P

“The retreat was one of the most amazing things I’ve been a part of.” S

“To be heard and understood, and to know that what I've been feeling is a normal and natural reaction to the things I've been put through, was transformative.” J

“It was even more life-changing than I ever imagined.” K

It was a great privilege for me, working with these women. I learned something from each of them, and their thoughtful feedback will make the upcoming retreats even better. It took a strong team to pull it off—Lili, Diane, Susan, and Sandy. Sometimes it felt like a circus acrobatic show, the five of us standing in a pyramid, juggling cats. But we did it, and we’re ready to do it again.

Ellijay is next.

Let’s Talk about Time

“Ain’t it funny how time slips away.” -Willie Nelson

By Susan Kay

Most of the things my sexually compulsive ex took from me have faded with time. One, however, remained painful the longest: he took the best of my motherhood, devalued it, and tried his best to wipe it away.

The most sacred role I had in my life was being a mother. I cherished that role, I was good at it, and I thoroughly enjoyed it  ...... until all hell broke loose. Then I watched in horror as my precious years of mothering just slipped away under the waves of chaos.

My girls and I might have fared better had I not stayed in the sham marriage for another 6 years after my first D-Day. To be fair, I was told by counselors, many of whom, it turned out, were sex addicts themselves, that my marriage could be "better than ever”. In the excruciating pain of it all, I lapped up that false promise and set about doing my part.

On that very first D-day we separated for 2 years, after which my husband deemed himself well and moved back home. We’ll call that “mistake #2”. Mistake #1 was not divorcing him immediately upon that first D-Day.

So great was the chaos and trauma that I lost my way for longer than I care to admit.  There were many days I could barely brush my teeth. Things I had always done effortlessly now required enormous strength, as if I was wading thru cement. Meanwhile he focused on himself and his own (very short-lived) “recovery", leaving me to parent alone through horrific circumstances.

Me? I was meeting with other shattered women, all of us learning that sexual sobriety, as defined by sex addicts, included “slips”. What is a “slip” you ask? Well, simply put, it means he’s still allowed to screw other people but now he gets to excuse it with the harmless little word “slip”. Bonus?  These slips were to be ignored by wives, lest we shame our husbands. I kid you not. 

If that won’t erode your soul, including your ability to mother, I don’t know what will. Deep inside, I knew I couldn’t live like that.

Through it all, my mothering took a huge hit. I went through the motions, but I wasn’t really there. My mind, now disoriented and consumed with safety, was incapable of the intimate small talk I’d cherished at bedtime with my girls since their births. Bedtime stories were replaced with crying children incapable of understanding why their home had become ground zero. I held back my own tears as my youngest pounded on my chest out of confusion and despair. I watched helplessly as little hearts broke. For months, with my tearful babies tucked safely away each night, I cried alone in the dark. 

Huge chunks of time, including the entire first year after D-Day, are missing in my memories - completely wiped away by his callous disregard for me and my innocent children.

Ripped away was my girls' mother, once so light and full of humor and easy laughter.  There was no more singing. No dancing in the family room. No spontaneity. Just a gaunt depressed shell of a woman where their previously strong mother once stood.

Gone was the sense of abundance I’d planned for my children; abundance not of things, but abundance of love and the freedom from worry that only children can enjoy - a freedom they get exactly one shot at.

Rules that previously gave my children a sense of security were replaced with a burning desire that no one, including me, ever hurt my girls again. Predictably, my ability to effectively say “no” went out the window.

Preparing meals became an insurmountable task. Setting the table with one empty spot reminded me of all the time he’d spent away on business, only now I knew that instead of lonely nights in hotels as claimed, he’d been spending his time in a dark underworld of sexual depravity. While my girls and I were dining on Publix BOGO and spaghetti, he was squandering our money on countless hookers two at a time, nudist colonies, and a sick assortment of other “gifts to self". In the aftermath, our sit-down dinners gave way to drive-thrus and take-out.

The biggest loss of all was not immediate. It took years to surface. You see, when children are raised in chaos, no matter who the cause, they sometimes lump both parents into the overall “feel” of their childhood. The “feel” of my girls’ childhoods was unstable, chaotic, angry, and unpredictable. Thankfully, over time they’ve separated the wheat from the chaf, but those childhood scars remain. And that breaks this mother’s heart.

While my sexually compulsive ex was the cause, it was I who chose to stay after D-day for 6 more years of absolute hell - six years where I was fighting for my life as my health deteriorated from the stress and abuse; six years where my children withstood instability unfit even for adults. I wish I’d have listened to the Dr. Phil-ism “It’s better for children to come from a broken home that to live in one."

Always the opportunist, my sexually compulsive husband preyed on my inability to make a decision and used those 6 years to strategically regain the upper hand and prepare financially for the inevitable divorce. He alone held the knowledge that his secret life continued unabated while he claimed recovery. Looking back, it is clear that those years took the greatest toll on me as he added recovery language to his already powerful Bible-speak. Both were used as weapons to control, manipulate, and demean me. During those years I lost the ability to clearly contemplate my future as my footing was shattered with each new disclosure of even more hideous sexual activities I’d previously not even known were possible.

Before I knew it, my beautiful girls had flown the nest and it was too late - their one turn at childhood was over. Adding insult to injury, my ex was waiting with his revised history. He even stooped so low as to deny his own sexual compulsions and project them on me. By this time he had constructed a new marriage based on those lies, and thus became VERY vested in keeping my girls, and his own family, compliant, confused, and silent.  Needless to say, I am unable to have any relationships with most of the people I once called “family”. 

While I no longer give a crap what he does, the last worry to linger is the effect he might have on my adult children. Gaslighting, blame shifting, and outright lying are the tools of his trade, and he’s honed them well. Under such enormous manipulation, I know it will take incredibly tough, sound young women to stand firmly in truth. And guess what? This mama bear raised just that. Still .... I worry. 

The one thing I know for sure: my girls deserve to hear the truth from him. They deserve to be set free from the confusion he himself continues to spawn about their childhoods and what he did to destroy a family and render their mother disabled. He OWES it to them. I’m not hopeful he’ll pay that debt. And so I continue to stand in truth, knowing that lies have a half life but truth is eternal. I am a whistleblower. 

There’s an old song written by Willie Nelson and sung by just about everyone, called “Ain’t it Funny How Time Slips Away”. No, Willie, it ain’t funny. In fact, when a sexually compulsive abuser steals years of your life, it takes a long time for funny to resurface. 

When you discover that your husband is a sexual compulsive, you can’t un-know what you’ve learned. There’s no going back to who you once were. That woman is forever gone. Are you willing to waste your children’s innocent years or your precious mothering years on your partner’s quite probably feigned recovery? Are you willing to ride out repeated blows as “slips” and “D-days” become routine? Because trauma affects our sense of time, it’s pretty damned easy to let that time just slip away. I should know, I did just that.

 

On Ballerinas and Bedtime Stories

Saturday, we drove to Augusta, Georgia, to watch my granddaughter Maggie’s first dance recital. It was an easy drive, probably because I wasn't driving, but also because David and I listened to a podcast about the mental health benefits of being in nature. It was actually more interesting than it sounds.Every once in a while, we’d chat—about maybe moving to Ellijay in a couple of years, so I can host retreats there more often, or about how the perm I got last week ruined my hair. There were no uncomfortable silences, no stupid conversations about boundary infractions or safety circles. I didn’t gaze out the window, trying to decide if I should bring up something that has been bothering me, blah blah blah. There were no arguments or outbursts. David never threatened to run us off the road.

After we arrived at the venue, we walked through the parking lot and saw girls of all ages dressed like cupcakes, headed backstage, their moms trailing behind with colorful costume changes and hairspray. Some of the dancers were tinier than Maggie, staggering around like little drunks, their tights wrinkled at the knees and ankles. But others were beautiful almost-women, gliding like swans, not a wrinkle to be found. I thought about all the times I’d been at events like this with my ex—sports banquets, prom picture parties, or graduations, where teenaged girls spread out before him like a buffet. I remembered the time I asked him to tone down the way he was talking to my daughters’ friends, because it sounded just a bit like flirting and it seemed weird. I recalled him accusing me of being crazy for saying such a thing.

Then Discovery had come, and his confessions about the ever-present fantasies, enough ick to last me several lifetimes. There were so many levels of bad to this that it would take years to write it out, but I’m sure you know. Yet I stayed, in part because I had therapists telling me that the “addiction” was not who he really was. Plus, I was told, all men look at teenaged girls. That’s why “Teen” is one of the top search categories for porn. Kill me now. Fortunately or unfortunately, his tastes were not limited to teenaged girls; no, his desires were vast and assorted. Like a giant Whitman’s Sampler.

Back to Saturday: Once David and I found our seats inside the Arts Center, he read the news on his phone and I scrolled through Instagram. I never once wondered if he was “scanning the room” or “soaking in images.” Dear God, I cannot believe that was my life. Eventually, the lights dimmed and the emcee came out and made a bunch of terrible corny jokes and the show began. Maggie’s group of three-year-olds went first, and we laughed as Maggie, the self-appointed volunteer, counted loudly and gave her peers directions. She was, of course, spectacular, the next Martha Graham. When her group finished, I drifted back to the memory of my middle daughter Georgia, wearing a star-spangled leotard and tap-dancing to Yankee Doodle Dandy. Some things never change. There will always be little girls dancing. And big girls dancing. And playing lacrosse and running track and marching in the band.

There will be men watching the girls, too, and some of those men will be objectifying them, while others will be proudly clapping or taking pictures without a single deviant thought. It’s hard to tell, sometimes, which men are which. Once you know, though, you can’t un-know. I raised four children in the house with a so-called sex addict. That is a hard truth. I held on to that marriage for far too long, against all of my instincts and all of my values. But I let go of it in time to keep it from infecting my grandchildren. I let go of it, and now it does not affect my ability to be fully present, to fully enjoy, to be fully myself. I can watch Maggie perform, help her make pancakes, and read to her at bedtime, without being distracted by fear and suspicion. With Maggie, I am VanMa, the fairy grandmother. I’m not the sad, pathetic shell of myself that was all my children had of me at my worst.

I am free.

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Sweetwater Retreats Home Base

Last year, my fourth and youngest child graduated from high school. I could finally move away from the neighborhood I had lived in for 30 years, in a part of town that never fit me, where I had never felt truly at home. I’d lived in two houses on the same cul-de-sac, one with my first husband, and another, three doors up, with my second, the man called a sex addict. I could stand on the porch of the second house, throw a rock, and hit the porch of the first house. If I never drive down that street again, it will be too soon. What a shame, to raise four wonderful, beautiful children and to be so traumatized that you cannot look back on the place where you raised them with any fondness, even bittersweet. Maybe time will change that. Maybe I need more EMDR. Which brings me to today’s topic.

I moved about 20 miles west, back to where I grew up, Every day, I pass the same Dairy Queen where I’d stop to get my Peanut Buster Parfaits after marching band practice in high school, and I pass the Bar-b-que joint where we’d have lunch when we skipped school. When I left Powder Springs to attend UGA, I said good riddance, because this town had its own ghosts. But, like I said: Time. I’m happy here. As I wrote in my Sweetwater vs the Swamp blog post, this home suits me. Me, my dogs, and the new not-a-sex-addict man who treats me like a princess. Once we got settled in, I started strategizing about offering a healing retreat in my home. And now I’m ready. I offer a space for one woman at a time, who wants a whole weekend devoted to her recovery. The best part is that I can do several sessions of EMDR, which can profoundly reduce trauma symptoms so that you can make rational decisions about your own life.

The property is noisy. Clay Road runs right in front of the house. As I type now, I can tell you whether it’s a car or a truck passing. My dogs hate squirrels. And birds. And the falling of leaves, so they bark a little. But I have a sweet whimsical suite, with a reading porch that turns magical at night, and I’ll provide ear plugs and a great sound machine. And I live near some pretty cool stuff, like the Kennesaw Mountain battlefields, for hiking, and the Silver Comet Trail, for biking. I mean, if you’re into outdoorsy stuff. If you’re not, we do what you want. My goal is to take care of you, to feed you and therapize you and EMDR you until your head feels screwed on straighter.

I’ll give you as much attention or as much alone time between sessions as you want. If you need to talk into the wee hours, we can do that too. If you fly in, I will pick you up from the airport and take you back. I’m going to make it easy on you. Because this is what I really needed after my D-Day. It’s what I needed the night I almost drove myself to a mental hospital because I was so broken and exhausted and afraid of myself. Being a therapist, I knew that the hospital wouldn’t really give me what I needed: someone to care, to take my hand, to cover me with a blanket and let me sleep, to let me talk until I couldn’t, to bring me food when I could not bother to fix it for myself. I needed to be with someone who understood what it was like to stand in the middle of your life as it explodes.

That’s what I’m offering. Contact me if you’re interested.

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Finding Myself in a Cup of Coffee

By Susan Kay

“One's dignity may be assaulted, vandalized and cruelly mocked, but it can never be taken away unless it is surrendered.” ~ Michael J. Fox

How do you even begin to divide 20 years of marital stuff? What do you do with the Williams Sonoma coffee mugs he surprised you with one Christmas because he’d seen you admire them? It turns out it’s easier to part with things when every single item is tainted with memories once held dear but now obliterated with truth. The bed we shared? No thanks. The radio cabinet we purchased at a cute little antique shop in the mountains during a romantic get-away? No can do. The flatware we’d received as wedding gifts? I’d rather eat with my hands.

I still don’t know how, but those stupid coffee mugs survived three post-divorce moves. I didn’t use them, but they sat in my cupboard mocking me every morning nonetheless. Why? Maybe they were the last reminder that there was a time he at least pretended to love me. I finally replaced those mugs with others that represent times in my life unspoiled by my ex. Places he can’t touch; people he never knew .... and me; me before all the damage he wrought.

A white cup emblazoned with my home state imagery reminds me of my childhood. It transports me to games of tag that lasted far into the night, with buzzing streetlights and raucous laughter. It reminds me that I am competitive, and funny, and clever, and a wee bit of a sassy pants.

A brown cup shows the skyline of Houston where I did my graduate training. When I hold it, I’m 24 again and free. I feel hope and joy and camaraderie and I am thankful for the friends who remain after all these years. I remember that I am smart, and stubborn, and perseverant, and a goal setter.

A brightly colored cup with cherries and flowers reminds me of my father’s gardens. He taught me to work and create with my hands. When the neighborhood boys chased me with earthworms, my dad took me to his garden and taught me about both. He taught me that good men don’t scare women; they protect them.  His death in my teen years left a hole I still feel, but I carry in me his goodness and gentleness and love of learning.

When I pour my coffee into my Montana cup, I remember where I was born. I think of the generations of my family, and I know that I came from decent, honest, hard-working, loving people who eked out livings on farms scattered across the rugged Plains. No matter how tough life got, they were not embittered. I’m honored to have such a legacy.

One of my favorite cups is hand painted with a simple moon peering into a child’s room. I reminisce about my days as a new mother, when I was filled with purpose and joy.  I smile thinking of the giddiness I felt each morning when my babies awoke in their cribs and called for me.  I feel hopeful for the futures of those babies, now grown women with their own children yet to come. I remember that I am strong, loyal, loving and generous. I know I am capable of sacrificing my own needs for the sake of those I love.

As I sit with my coffee each morning, these new mugs remind me I’m still here. I’m intact. He couldn’t take everything from me. I kept what matters most; I kept me.

Those old Williams Sonoma mugs? I smashed 'em in the driveway.

Blowdependent Slowdependent Crowdependent

By Tania Rochelle

In the weeks and months following my discovery, I endured a variety of insults and injuries via the sex addiction treatment industry, in the service of my husband’s recovery. The basic rules were made clear early:

  1. Do not leave for at least a year.

  2. Be supportive.

  3. Do not show your anger.

  4. Do not cry.

  5. Do not monitor or check up on him.

  6. Do not ask questions about his meetings/therapy sessions.

  7. Do not cause him stress.

  8. Expect slips and relapses.

  9. Keep sex simple.

  10. Have faith in a “better than ever” marriage.                                                                                            

To summarize: I was to stay put, carry the load at home, suck up my anger and sadness, extend my trust to a serial cheater and liar, extend my trust to a 12-step group full of serial cheaters and liars, extend my trust to CSAT’s who were themselves serial cheaters and liars, tiptoe around him, accept that “relapses are part of recovery,” have sex with him but make sure to keep it missionary style (no fun, creative sex life for me), and believe that all of this was going to lead to the marriage of my dreams.

I’ve already written about our first post-D-Day therapy session with the Cowboy, an account you can read over at Your Story is Safe Here. But my then-husband’s first individual session was disastrous in terms of my own recovery from this trauma. Unfortunately, it merely set the bar for subsequent therapists to transcend. His first therapist was a woman. He came home from the session and told me that she’d suggested he buy the book Walking on Eggshells because after his description of my reaction to discovery, she’d diagnosed me with Borderline Personality Disorder. I was working on my master’s in counseling at the time, so I knew plenty about THAT. I was incensed. 

First of all, why were they talking about ME? During our twelve years together, he’d been living a sordid secret life while maintaining the appearance of a devoted husband and father. It seemed to me that they had enough to deal with, addressing his compulsive sex chatline use and Craigslist hook-ups, without wasting one second on whatever I might be. Instead, they apparently spent that entire session talking about my “anger.”

During our first joint session with her, I was shocked by the way she was dressed to treat a so-called sex addict: low-cut blouse, black boots with spiked heels, long hair in a loose, messy bun that played right into the sexy librarian fantasy he’d disclosed to me in the aftermath of discovery. She constantly referred to her clients as “my addicts,” claiming them affectionateIy. I kept waiting to wake up from the icky nightmare. But no, this was real. She was pretty clever, though; what better way to keep a so-called sex addict as a client than to dress like a hooker, show him adoration, and name his wife the enemy. 

Eventually, he stopped dating seeing her, because she was always running at least 20 minutes late and he was far too important to be kept waiting. The next therapist was an admitted “recovering sex addict.” He was as gentle and soft-spoken as Fred Rogers, with an office full of dreamcatchers and Tibetan singing bowls that suggested he’d spent time on mountain tops and in sweat lodges, connecting with his deepest spiritual self. He was always leaving to “meet the children at the bus stop” after our appointments, like an All-American dad.

He’d created just the right image, and I was desperate enough to think he could help us. But it was in his office that I first heard the terms shaming and pain shopping. I learned that every time I cried or expressed anger, I was shaming my husband, and every time I insisted on answers to my questions about the past decade of my life with him, I was pain shopping. In fact, no matter what emotion or impulse I expressed, it was wrong. It was inappropriate. It was damaging to both of our recoveries and to our marriage. What marriage? I asked. It has never been an actual marriage. 

This therapist liked to use false dichotomies, a little trick I found common among the CSAT’s we saw. Once he asked me, Would you rather have a husband who shares himself with you, who talks intimately, who lets himself be vulnerable, who is honest…or would you rather have someone who never slips or relapses? To which I replied, Huh?!! Are you kidding me?!! Has it occurred to either of you that it’s possible to have BOTH?! But there I was, expressing my emotions, and thereby shaming the two of them. 

There were several therapists after that, therapists who were at least equally dangerous or inept. There were enough of them, in fact, that I began to realize how few truly helpful resources there were for wives and partners. It became evident that the treatment industry was designed to keep the men in treatment and that they needed the wives to make that happen. I was being used as a prop, and I was only important in as much as I could shut up and be useful. 

Around the time this was sinking in, I read Barbara Steffens’ book, Your Sexually Addicted Spouse, wherein she talked about the damage that was being caused by labeling partners “Codependent” and by ignoring their trauma symptoms. Her research showed that almost 70 percent of wives and partners ended up with PTSD symptoms. She called for a different model of treatment, a model that focused on the partners and on processing their trauma. Furthermore, she had founded an organization to train practitioners in this model, called the Association of Partners of Sex Addicts Trauma Specialists. Yes, I thought. Steffens is starting a Revolution. I wanted to be part of it, wanted to learn as much as I could so that once I finished my masters, I could be as helpful as possible. 

I registered for the inaugural APSATS training in Dallas. On the first day, I found myself in a large conference room stacked with CSAT’s. Although it made me uncomfortable, I hoped it might be a good sign that so many of them were open to learning a new way to operate. My hopes were summarily crushed. It was more like a slogging game of tug-o-war. 

Steffens would present slides outlining the trauma model of treatment, and the CSAT’s would undermine the materials by saying things such as, The partners are going to have to learn to bite their tongues and We shouldn’t do a formal disclosure unless the wife agrees to stay with the addict for at least a year. Otherwise, she might just be getting information to use against him in a divorce or custody case. They were still protecting the so-called addicts and not the wives and partners. This was no Revolution.

I left Dallas feeling deflated and defeated. Those feelings were reinforced as I read article after article by leaders in the SATI (Sex Addiction Treatment Industry), paying lip service to the trauma model while using the same misogynistic language and tropes they’d always used. They still called for partners to stay for a year, still encouraged partners to foster intimate physical and emotional connections with these unsafe men, and still emphasized the idea that relapse is to be expected. Most importantly, no one was calling “sex addiction” what it is: domestic abuse.

The most egregious recent example of such mind-fuckery is Robert Weiss’ latest book, Prodependence. For over thirty years, the treatment industry accused wives and partners of being codependent at the same time it tried to make us codependent. The label worked to their advantage when they could say we knew all along that our men were “acting out” and that we enabled their behavior, when they told us that we were as sick as our husbands and that we needed as much help as our husbands did. Then those same therapists tried to turn us into codependent little soldiers, urging us to make safety lists and to create boundaries and to sit on our hands while they spent weeks or months compiling the “formal disclosures.”

Now, Weiss has spun the term codependent into something we’re supposed to be proud of, calling it prodependent. Yes, it means the same thing as the “co” version, but now it’s ok, now it means we’re compassionate and loving and helpful. Furthermore, he equates sex addiction with cancer and encourages partners to care for the addict the way we’d care for someone with Leukemia. Get real. You don’t wake up one day with sex addiction. It doesn’t strike you through no fault of your own. People with cancer do not gaslight and blame shift or expect you to administer their chemo. 

People with cancer do not take you down with them. They don’t steal their children’s college funds and give their spouses HPV. Cancer victims don’t, as a rule, abuse their partners. To equate cancer and sex addiction is its own form of abuse and manipulation of partners. In my experience, wives and partners of so-called sex addicts are strong, compassionate, loyal, and empathetic. To exploit those qualities in order to keep men in treatment is unethical.

Traumatized women have no reserves. When they channel energy away from themselves and toward his recovery, it makes their own healing slow and difficult. All Weiss has done is remove the part of codependency that says “you are as sick as he is.” After all, if he does not take out that you’re-as-sick-as-he-is part and tries to use his cancer analogy, you end up with two people who have cancer. If the “sex addict” has cancer, and the partner is “as sick as he is” and she spends all her energy supporting and taking care of him instead of getting her own treatment, she will probably die. Everything else about codependency that’s helpful for keeping the partner engaged in her mate’s recovery is prettied up, tied with a bow, and handed back to her with his blessings.

By the way, why doesn’t it work from the other direction? Who decided that the sex addict needs more care and support than the traumatized partner? Why isn’t Weiss saying that the sex addict should treat his traumatized partner as if she has cancer? Why shouldn’t the person who caused all the damage to his wife and children be enlisted to support her recovery?

Why, after all these years, is the recovery industry still focused on the perpetrator and not on his victim? And, barring that, why can’t they just stop expecting her to prop up his recovery and instead encourage her to get the intensive individual care she needs to heal from her trauma and rebuild her life?

Because sex addicts don’t go to treatment on their own. They go because their wives or partners threaten to leave if they don’t. The industry knows this. Without us, there would be no sex addiction treatment industry. 


A Life Interrupted

Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion. ~ Steel Magnolias

By Susan Kay

Looking back, I can see clearly the sharp turns and unexpected interruptions that have made my life both interesting and terrible. Now, nearly 15 long years after my first D-Day, I can say confidently that the interesting moments have outweighed the terrible; but the season of terror shaped me in ways that can’t be undone.

Most of the interruptions of my life were expected or gainful: break-ups; moves to different states for school, jobs, and bigger homes; the deaths of my parents who left too soon but nonetheless passed the generational baton on to me; and the births of my precious girls that rendered me awestruck and forever vulnerable.

Through each and every interruption, I felt a continuity in my life and my friendships .... until D-Day.

D-Day wan’t an interruption, it was a cataclysmic upheaval. Friendships faded or failed as they no longer “fit” or could not withstand the chaos. My footing gave way as the foundations of my life buckled, and my busy family home is now three disorienting moves removed from the sweet little condo I call home.

I’ve always made my most enduring friendships during common struggles. I remain dear friends with a few sweet souls who battled through the awkward teen years with me. We waded through hormones and crushes and first drinks and heartbreaks. We used Q-tips to mop up runny mascara when parents died too young, and we honed our driving skills by sneaking the family sedan into wide open fields.

My grad school friends are precious as my final peer group. We launched into full-fledged adulthood together, our common profession binding us through the years. We’ve shared weddings, births, deaths, and divorces. These were the last women to know me as a “kid,” with that carefree and selfish nature that life eventually strips away from the emotionally sound.

I still treasure the women with whom I became a young mother. While our children played, we whispered about episiotomies and mastitis. We learned how incredibly strong we were as women and mothers, and we respected our own mothers anew.

I literally wouldn’t have made it through the early years following D-Day without some of those friends who knew my core. Those friends were my touchstones, my guides back to me.

But those friends weren’t enough. They couldn’t be. My story was so foreign to them that their attempts to understand often ended with unintentional blame … of me. Surely they would have known. Their spouse would never do such a thing. There must have been signs. There’s no way I could have loved such a man as deeply as they loved their husbands.

Friends couldn’t grasp that I had felt about my husband exactly as they did about theirs. I entered marriage every bit as hopeful and love-struck as they did. I, too, dreamed of the days I would tuck grandchildren into bed in their mothers’ childhood rooms. I, too, planned of holiday cruises with my children’s budding families and laughter as we reminisced over photo albums. So sure was I of my love and marriage that I literally used to say, “If there’s one thing I know about my husband, it’s that he’ll never cheat.”

This was the man around whom I had built my life. We’d sat in the dark on the balcony during our second honeymoon, wrapped only in towels, holding hands, and watching thunderstorms roll in over the ocean as we dreamed of our future. He was the father of my children. HIs family was my family and I loved them deeply. This was the man who’d sworn he’d never leave me or forsake me. …… all the while living a double life and secretly devaluing me and everything I held dear.

It is beyond understatement to say that learning about his secret life took me off guard. One minute I was safe, and the next I was not. Nothing made sense. Over the next few years, more and more unimaginable acts were revealed. There are no adequate words to describe the shock, trauma, or confusion, except to say I didn’t know if I even wanted to live anymore. My brokenness reflected not only shattered dreams, but the loss of my memories now spoiled by brutal reality. Those family photo albums that we were to reminisce over? It was a decade after D-day before I could even look at their covers again. let alone the pictures inside.

As time passed, it became clear that I needed more. I needed women who had walked the same path and survived to tell the tales. I needed a depth of understanding that transcended words. I needed women who’ve learned to laugh through tears. I needed women who could knowingly nod when I speak of the unspeakable things my ex did to me and my girls. I needed women who have moved beyond the storm to find peace again.

Finding those women in the aftermath has been one of life’s best gifts, and because our struggles have been great, I have to believe our friendships, forged with an emotional depth previously unknown to me, can be as well.

Susan Kay

(Dedicated with oodles of love to my bestest friend who has stayed true through thick and thin, for 40+ years and counting!)

Follow Me Back for a Moment

By Tania Rochelle

This month would have been my 20th wedding anniversary. The day would have come and gone unnoticed, except that I have a smart-ass nineteen-year-old who just had to wish me a happy anniversary. She who refers to her father by his first name never misses an opportunity to jab thorns. She does love me, I remind myself often. At least she’s saved me in her phone as “Giver of Birth” and not Tania. I have her saved in my own phone the way each of my girls is saved, as a dragon.

Twenty years ago, I married a man who I believed shared my values, a sweet, artistic, patient man. Because my three children had been virtually abandoned by their father, I dated Greg for three years before we married. I wanted to be sure that any man I brought to live in their home would be a stable, loving presence. What I got instead, or so I thought, was a playful, funny man, who took them camping and coached their sports teams. Stable? Sure, let’s go with that. Loving? Absolutely. Every day, when he got home from work, he ran into the house, calling out his daughter’s name, as though he’d counted all the minutes before he could see her again. She was a red-headed cherub with corkscrew curls, and we all vied for her attention.

He went to every school event, every teacher conference, every ball game—rain or shine. Because of my delicate constitution, if the temperature was colder than 65 degrees, I sometimes watched the lacrosse games from my car.. He, on the other hand, could always be found standing by the fence, coaching our goalie daughter from the sidelines. He’s the one who helped build the catapults for science class and the pinewood derby car for scouts. He also planned the awesome family vacations: Costa Rica, Disney World, Santa Rosa Beach.

He and I tag-team parented. On the days I taught, he started his workday at 7:00 am and skipped lunch. I would meet him at the school at 2:00, where he would pick our daughter up and take her home. That went on until she started kindergarten and he could be home in time to see her off the bus. At some point, though, he began working late, putting her in the after-school program. I was angry about that, because it wasn’t what we’d agreed to. I believed that a ten-hour day for a five-year-old was like youth prison camp, but he claimed the huge construction project he was managing required his working longer.

He was also under a great deal of stress, he claimed, and needed my support, not the grief I was giving him. His project, The District at Howell Mill, was a giant strip mall, with a Walmart, TJ Maxx, Ross, and various smaller retail and restaurant chains. The people who inhabited the neighborhood around the project fought it, and then, losing that, negotiated everything from boxwoods to bike racks to make sure the Big Box was integrated into its boujee environment. Woe was He. Him?

Years later, I learned that what actually required most of his attention was lunchtime quickies with his secretary and late afternoons spent surfing porn and the Craigslist personal ads. Stress, ya know. Then there were the business trips…

I thought it was the work pressure that caused him to withdraw, to spend less time and energy on the family, to be quieter and sulkier. He was young, in his mid-thirties, and he was rising pretty quickly in his career. I tried to be more supportive. Meanwhile, I published my first book of poetry, an accomplishment that seemed lost on him. I told him I needed an author photo. He suggested I get my middle daughter to snap one in the yard. Then he got professional headshots done for his industry profile. I didn’t know it, but I was a frog, simmering in a pot. I can look back now, and see clearly the progression from Representative to Monster in a Man Suit. But at the time, I was busy loving him, raising four kids, working, and carving out some semblance of a creative life. I was a writer, teaching creative writing, but he referred to poetry as my “hobby.” Poetry doesn’t pay.

So I guess its ironic that my D-Day came when I arrived home from a poetry reading at Georgia Tech one evening. I can’t even remember now who the poets were I heard that night, because the filthy words and images I discovered on his phone that evening as he lay passed out drunk in bed after the SEC Championship game crowded out all the good and beautiful that had filled my head before. And that became the metaphor for my subsequent life with him and his fake recovery.

Everything pure and whole and lovely was stained by the ugliness that was him and his secret life, but the cognitive dissonance was stubborn. I couldn’t see the Truth. I tried to shine it up. I waxed and polished it. I put fancy hats on it. I kneeled before it and it shoved my face into the ground. I danced and fell and danced again, he and his therapists spinning me dizzy. The darkness, the hideousness, the perversion persisted. It polluted my head and heart, and then my soul. I’ll say it: it almost killed me. It took six years and every bit of strength I had to get away.

It was a simple ceremony, with a barbecue after. My daughters, ten and eleven, stood to my left, with my best friend Kathy. My son, six, rustled my skirt, beaming up at us as we said our vows. He adored Greg. It was nice to have a father. We were all so happy.

Tania

April 3, 1999

April 3, 1999

Sweetwater vs the Swamp

By Tania Rochelle

This morning, when I went to make toast, I found the bread bag open and the twist-tie missing. To make matters worse, when I pulled the cheese out of the fridge, the zip-lock bag had not been zipped. The gouda, which I had planned to put on a thick slab of fresh (alas, no longer) multigrain bread, was crusty around the edges and smelled like onions. I hate onions.

The man I live with does other annoying things too. Lots of them. He folds the laundry while it’s still damp. He leaves small piles of paper—receipts, stick-it notes, gum wrappers—on every surface he passes. He spills his coffee in the bed at least once a week. He tosses used Q-Tips and floss in the bathroom trash but misses and leaves them on the floor.

This man converted our garage into a recording studio. He parks his truck right in front of its door. When he unloads his equipment from his truck, he brings that equipment into the house and piles it up in the kitchen. Later, once I’ve stubbed every toe on it, he’ll take it out and put it in the studio. The one that’s right in front of his truck.

He eats all the cashews out of the raisin-nut mix. He pours half-and-half on his cereal—the cereal in the box he never closes.

But you know what he doesn’t do? He doesn’t rendezvous with men at Home Depot. And he’s never booked a $400 “prostate massage” with a “therapist” named Summer. He’s never joined a Yahoo strap-on group, and he doesn’t have a profile on Bi-Cupid. He doesn’t hire hookers on business trips, and he doesn’t disappear on family vacations.

He doesn’t accuse me of shaming him or pain shopping. He doesn’t have a therapist who talks down to me and teaches him a new language to use against me. He doesn’t have to sit with a crayon and color circles of behavior, doesn’t have to be told what good boundaries are. He has never had to prepare a disclosure or attend an intensive. He has never taken a polygraph. 

He is not an abuser. He’s just a decent human being with pretty solid core values. He doesn’t have mantrums. He doesn’t lie or gaslight or blameshift. He’s a legit grown-up, with compassion and empathy. He admits when he’s wrong and apologizes. He knows the rules of engagement. I don’t have to list them for him. He’s not moody and distant or resentful.

He and I have the positive mutuality Diane Strickland describes:

based on the fair exchange of positive value for positive value. That means two people can choose what “fair” means. It’s not going to be the same for everyone. But importantly, the term positive mutuality also means the exchange is about positive value.”

It also means I’m not expected to be the only adult in the relationship. It means trust, honesty, and authenticity are values that we share. It means I’m not always waiting for a shoe to drop. It means he has my back.

I think of all the years I wasted with my ex: policing him; expecting less and less, being told to “stay in my lane” when we should have been traveling the same lane. I remember how I became a shell of myself and how that affected the relationships with my children and my friends. 

I recall all the false hope I was served up by the therapists, who were themselves recovering “sex addicts” and experts at being false. Check after check, year after year, until I reached the point that I said out loud, “I’d rather live in a box than live like this.” 

Then I was alone. Which was far better than being with him. I could breathe. I felt peace. I healed and became open to possibilities. Now I’m happily annoyed instead of gravely unhappy.

You can be happy again too. Whether you’ve decided to stay in the relationship or not, let us show you how to focus on yourself and the value of your own life. You do not have to be the sacrificial lamb to his recovery. There’s a better way. We can show you.

Let Me Introduce Myself

Pain reaches the heart with electrical speed, but truth moves to the heart as slowly as a glacier. ~ Barbara Kingsolver, 

By Susan Kay

Nothing in my life has rivaled the pain of that night. Mercifully, my two young children were three states away at summer camp, oblivious to the storm brewing at home, when my world fell apart. In the dark, previously safe haven of my master bedroom, my then husband told me he was a sex addict. In an instant, my past, present and future were shattered. My world would never be the same. I would never be the same.

I spent that first year bouncing wildly between complete numbness in which I mechanically went through the motions, and a pain that enveloped me completely. The depth of my emotions surprised and scared me. I had never felt such boundless rage, hopeless depression, or paralyzing fear. My grief was all-encompassing, there to greet me first thing each morning, and there as I drifted into fitful, nightmare-ridden sleep each night. I struggled to function in a world I no longer trusted, all the while trying to manage my home, comfort my children, and resurrect a once loved career. Even those who loved me most began to distance from me as they couldn’t understand why I didn’t “move on” or “get over it."

Every time I thought I was getting my footing, another disclosure shook me, transporting me right back to the beginning of any healing. It took years, and finally appropriate trauma therapy, unavailable to spouses in 2004, to fully grasp and accept the truth of what he had done, though I long ago gave up trying to understand him. HIs problem is no longer my destiny. We divorced in 2010. HIs enormous betrayals, present throughout our entire marriage, no longer monopolize my daily thoughts; I am free.

Though my life is radically different than I’d dreamed or imagined, in many ways it’s even better, with a peace, gratitude, and hopefulness that I’d not known before. My children have grown into beautiful, honest, self-sufficient young women, in spite of their tumultuous childhoods. My story, once so chaotic and terrifying, has come full circle.

Meeting Tania turned into yet another sweet piece of my healing journey, as I now have the opportunity to share my story and hope with the precious women who are in the throes of their own storms. There is victory and wholeness on the other side if you’ll just keep going and take the hands of those who’ve gone before. It is my deepest hope that Sweetwater will help lighten your burden and shorten the course of your storm.

I have crawled in your shoes and come out the other side at peace. Join us, won’t you? Let us help you through the storm!

Susan Kay

Join Me

By Tania Rochelle

I was 45 when I had my first D-Day. My nest was half empty, but I still  had a nine-year-old and a sixteen-year-old living at home. I remember well those long days when I could barely force myself out of bed. I'd get my youngest off to school and myself to my teaching job, and move through the hours in a post-traumatic haze. It was difficult to function at work, and even the most routine household tasks felt like skills I had to learn all over again. My life before discovery lay in shards around me, and I had never done anything in this new life I found myself in. Everything was a first: first time facing a class full of young adults, first trip to the grocery store, first goodnight kiss for my third-grader who had no idea that her mother had been changed forever.

This month, I turn 56, and I am so grateful to be alive and full of joy, grateful to have a peaceful home and a loving partner who wouldn't know how to gaslight if I lit the lamp for him. There was a time I didn't think I would make it, a time I did't want to make it, a time when I'd fall asleep praying I wouldn't wake up. I didn't want to live in a world where I could put my faith in someone for 20 years, raise children and build a life with him, share a bed and my plans for the future...and then find out he was an imposter, that he'd been playing me the whole time. 

The pain was indescribable. The story itself was impossible to tell back then. As my friend Diane Strickland used to say, Something happened to me, to which I would add, and I will never be okay. But I am okay, and so is Diane. In fact, she is one of my partners in this new adventure. We are thrilled to be able to offer you what we didn't have ten years ago: a safe place to commune with other women who are going through this fire. I mean really commune, not just sit in a circle for an hour, then go have coffee. 

We expect that the friendships you'll form will sustain you as you continue putting one foot in front of the other on the way back to wellness. And you'll have us,  a small corps of knowledgable veterans who want to help make sure you don't lose your sense of personal agency to someone else's recovery. We are ready. We've done our own work; we have found ourselves again and created lives we never thought possible when we were slogging through the swamp of that massive betrayal.  We are proof that you can get to the other side, and we want to help you get there too. 

We're offering these long weekends for resting and healing, and for gaining the skills and wisdom you need to move forward and find wholeness again. We have chosen beautiful locations and spaces, and we're attending to every detail to ensure that you feel valued and cared for.

Sweetwater Retreats have been a long time coming. Now we can't wait to meet you.

Tania Rochelle