The first time my husband was arrested for voyeurism I was frightened for myself and my family. I lied to the police and attempted to provide an alibi for him. I chose to lie because I did not have the courage to face my fears. I was afraid of what everyone would think if they knew I was married to a “peeping tom.” I was afraid of financial problems if he were to go to jail and lose his business. I was afraid he would be angry with me. The depth of shame I felt was immense. I constantly obsessed about him, his behavior, what he would do next and how hurt and angry I felt. I vigilantly sought more and more ways to protect my family from future catastrophe. I was angry, afraid and exhausted. Then I discovered S-Anon. I came to meetings and learned about boundaries and detachment: how to love someone without losing myself. I learned how to live in God’s grace and I opened myself to experiencing my Higher Power’s guidance. I got a sponsor, began working the Steps, used the telephone, talked with program members, and most importantly, listened to my Higher Power through the wisdom of others. The Serenity prayer… became my guide for living each day.
This week, during a meeting on Step One and Tradition One, I became filled with gratitude for S-Anon and the courageous souls who share. A newcomer was in the meeting, sharing how she had tried to “go it alone,” but knew that the meetings were necessary for her. It felt as if Step One was coming to life right in front of me. I shared that in the beginning, I had fought with myself over the word “powerless”. If I were to be “powerless,” who was going to care for our young child? Clean the house? Pay the bills? Organize our lives? I could not bring myself to say that I was powerless! My life had just blown up and what I thought I knew, at the time, was just turned upside down. I shared my beginning because when a newcomer comes in, I retell some of my story, and it reminds me of where I started.
Another wave of gratitude filled me: I know what works – the S-Anon program works. The stories being told felt like part of ‘my story.’ I’m an S-Anon. I speak about and from the point of view of an S-Anon. I remember the hurt, shock and sadness that enveloped me, not only in my first meeting, but everywhere I went. Even though this pain persisted, my meeting became my lifeline, which held me from week to week. I heard the truth. My whole being experienced what the truth sounded like, and I began to heal. I continue to be healed by the meetings. At the recent LA convention, I heard other S-Anon’s share in meetings. A feeling of deep and abiding gratitude filled me for all those who walked before me, continue to walk with me, and who have the courage to show up each week.
Reprinted from the Spring 2011 issue of S-Anews©.
We found that regardless of how the sexaholic acted out, our feelings were often quite similar. We experienced anger, disbelief, humiliation, betrayal, fear, anxiety, depression, hopelessness, guilt and numbness, to name just a few. In Step One we saw that our attempts to control or deny, so often driven by these powerful emotions, resulted in unmanageability in virtually every aspect of our lives. Paradoxically, it was our surrender, our admission of complete lack of power over the sexaholic and sexaholism, that laid the foundation for the serenity this program of recovery offers.
It was difficult for most of us to make the transition from focusing on the behavior of the sexaholic to focusing on the ways in which our reactions to sexaholism contributed to the unmanageability of our lives. This gradual shift in focus, however, is an essential process that, while often painful at first, is the key to beginning our recovery. Many of us had to ask our Higher Power to help us cultivate attitudes of honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness to admit that our efforts to cope with sexaholism had failed.
Reprinted from S-Anon Twelve Steps, pages 11-12.
“We are seeking recovery from our own progressive illness. My thinking became confused and my perspective became distorted.” Some symptoms of my disease include faulty thinking, obsessive thoughts, controlling behaviors, and my personal favorite, denial of reality. When first faced with the harsh, spirit-crushing existence of my spouse’s sexaholism in my life—probably for many, many years, I started grabbing at God and anything else I thought would help me. But some of the behaviors I exhibited were very, injurious to me. Examples are: constant checking on the sexaholic (a.k.a. pain-shopping), believing lies (denial), and arguing and pleading with a non-recovering, active sexaholic (an exercise in futility.) I now compare some of my actions with running back into a burning building. Insanity. A spiritually healthy person probably wouldn’t do them, but I did.
During one weekend visit from my mother, I sat at my kitchen table just as the sun began to embrace the day. I had risen extra early to be able to read my meditation books before any one else got up, so naturally I felt a bit disappointed as I heard Mom come into the room to join me, pouring herself a cup of coffee. She asked what I was reading. After silently praying for acceptance before I responded, I looked at her and noticed a new softness and even an open yearning in her face. I felt a gentle inspiration from my Higher Power to read several paragraphs of the day’s meditation aloud. After I finished reading, I shared my gratitude for the healing God had brought into our lives and relationship. We had spoken before of the incest in our family and now with tears in her eyes, my Mom spoke again of her sorrow for not seeing sooner what Dad was doing, for not being stronger, for not being smarter. I looked into her weary eyes and told her that I finally knew she had no power to control Dad’s disease. I told her I now realized that she had been just as much a victim of this family disease as my brother, sisters, and I had been, and that I also now understood how this disease had swallowed Dad, too. Remembering how each of us children had been sexually abused and how even the family dog had not been spared from the effects of this disease, I told my Mom that I also had struggled with feelings of guilt and shame because I had not been able to protect anyone. As we cried together, I reached across the table to hold her hand. Our eyes connected, and it was as if time stood still, as images came to mind of the awakenings God had provided to me through working the Steps. I had become aware of why I had gotten into successive relationships with sexaholics. I had been willing to face painful flashbacks that seemed to swallow me whole at times, but ultimately helped me to face reality. I had been able to let go of blaming my mother for what my father had done and to let go of blaming myself, too. I had grieved the deep sadness from my childhood, layer by layer, as I healed and rose above it. I was filled with gratitude for my mother’s courage to look at her part in the family disease, too, and her willingness to talk about it.
Reprinted from S-Anon Twelve Steps, page 147.
In Step Seven we find a way to settle our emotional turmoil and make a move toward God. Only God could remove our obsession with the sexaholic, and only God can remove our defects of character. As we approach Step Seven, most of us have learned to call upon God in times of great need. We really have begun to desire humility, instead of just accepting it as something we “should” want. We have learned we can accomplish more with a humble attitude than we can when we are prideful and fearful. Humility works better not only when we are asking God for help, but also when we are dealing with the people in our lives. Humility allows us to ask for and accept God’s forgiveness. With that forgiveness, our consciences can be at ease. As long as we place genuine reliance upon a Higher power, our humility is at work. If we return to relying on our own strength and intelligence, we are still trying to play God.
Reprinted from S-Anon Twelve Steps, page 74.
When I first heard people say in S-Anon meetings that they were focusing on themselves, I thought this sounded like a selfish and self-absorbed fellowship. In my childhood, I was taught that giving to others first was the way to go. Being generous and self-sacrificing was being good. How could focusing on myself be of any good to anyone including me? Working through the Twelve Steps has been an opportunity for me to examine my motives and my relationship with God and others. Through the Twelve Steps and using other tools of the program, I have learned to focus on myself. I saw the truth about harm I had caused others and myself in my noble effort to be helpful. How could trying to be helpful be harmful? That didn’t make much sense to me for a long time. I still sometimes forget.
I found S-Anon was a fellowship that welcomed me and allowed me to collapse in exhaustion and despair. Even in program, I needed to feel helpful, worthwhile, and approved of. What would I do if I couldn’t do for others what they weren’t doing? There was plenty of stuff around that needed to be done. Who’s going to do it? Why not me?
Step Ten continues the recovery process of admission of our wrongs, forgiveness, and restitution that underlie Steps Four through Nine. instead of compulsively focusing on others, we now commit to deliberate self-examination for the purpose of keeping close to God and our fellows and staying on course. This self-focus is not an obsessive drive for perfection or a perpetual dwelling in the past, but rather a basic commitment to honesty and growth. In Step Ten we regularly take stock of our liabilities, looking particularly for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment and fear, as well as for our progress, good choices, successes and gifts for which we can be grateful. We inventory honestly and avoid rationalizing and excessive guilt. We are compassionate with ourselves, acknowledging our own humanity. Step Ten helps us live in the real world, not in denial or fantasy. It gives us permission to admit our mistakes to ourselves and others and to take responsibility for any harm caused by our mistakes.
We find that regular use of Step Ten can make us aware of old behavior and destructive thoughts more quickly. It helps us cultivate the practice of kindness, love, patience, tolerance and understanding, and further develops our connection with the Higher Power of our understanding.
Reprinted from S-Anon Twelve Steps, pages 121-122.
As we explored the sources of our problems, the deep roots of our misery became more apparent. We discovered that we were the source of much of the pain for which we had blamed others. We examined our attitudes and behavior in a thorough way for the first time and began to see that the sexaholic wasn’t the only one causing problems in the relationship. We were willing to search out, spend some time and be thorough with ourselves.
An inventory is usually a method of counting items to find what is on hand and what is missing. Step Four is similar, except that we take stock of assets and defects of character. We find that we all have qualities that are positive, some that are negative and some that are still unknown, and as we work Step Four, we shed light upon some aspects of our characters that may have been blocking our spiritual growth.
Reprinted from S-Anon Twelve Steps, page 39.
Before I had a name for it, I felt the presence of sexaholism creeping into our homes: less laughter, more criticism, lies, excuses, hostility, no eye contact and, perhaps most painful, the emotional distance in our sexual relations. I felt like I was being used rather than loved. My powerlessness over sexaholism led me to the point of despair, and it was clear I had to take some sort of action to get relief. I decided to read some Conference-Approved Literature one night because I had heard it suggested at an S-Anon meeting as a method of coping with those difficult highs and lows we experience, and I was at my lowest. I picked up Alcoholics Anonymous (the “Big Book”) and began to read it for hope and comfort. I came upon the directions for taking Step Three on page 63. Feeling like I had hit bottom and couldn’t do it on my own anymore, I made a decision to let God into my life – without conditions. I prayed the Third Step prayer with a sincere attitude as it suggested. I was comforted to see that the section on the Third Step concluded with these words: “This was only a beginning, though if honestly and humbly made, an effect, sometimes a very great one, was felt at once.”