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.