Accepting Reality

“I’ve been doing this for a year now and nothing is better,” I muttered to myself as I trudged from my car to the S-Anon meeting room. I was angry. I wanted the pain to be over and the stress to be gone. I wanted to find some peace in my marriage and in myself.

The topic of the meeting that night was acceptance. As I listened to the sharing, I found my anger dissipating and my clarity growing. It occurred to me that I had been trying to move ahead with my marriage, rather than facing my pain and the lessons it had for me. I had not fully accepted the reality that the trust in the marriage had been broken and needed to be rebuilt with honesty.

When it was my turn to speak that evening, I shared some of these thoughts. I also shared that the hardest part of acceptance was admitting I was not in control, and that the anger that continued to plague me was really anger at God because I was not in control.

Since my awareness at that meeting, I have tried to slow myself down and make sure I come to acceptance before I take action on any issue. Regarding my marriage, I pray for “the serenity to accept what I cannot change, courage to change what I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” I trust that the correct course of action will be clear when the time is right. The S-Anon fellowship reminds me that I can have serenity now if I am willing to trust the process.

Reprinted from S-Anon’s Reflections of Hope, page 305.

I Don’t Need a Relationship to Make Me Feel Whole

Some married S-Anons new to our program express surprise at seeing so many single S-Anons regularly attending meetings. “Why do you need to go if you’re no longer married to the sexaholic?” they ask. The reason is that we go to get recovery for ourselves, regardless of our marital status.

I began going to S-Anon at my husband’s suggestion, even though I did not perceive that I had a problem. It was only when as part of my First Step I made an inventory of all my significant past relationships that I realized that indeed I did have a problem. What I recognized was that every important relationship, beginning with my first romance at age 19, was with an emotionally unavailable person. The details differed, but the bottom line was that I had made consistently poor choices in my relationships. I had to face the fact that I was attracted to people with whom I could not have a healthy, intimate relationship. Time after time I had rejected the stable, loving man because he was “boring,” while I pursued the exciting, unavailable, unpredictable guy. And I realized, to my dismay, that if my current marriage were to end, I would undoubtedly once again seek an unhealthy relationship. That was when I knew I needed to work on myself. “Our relationships can only be as healthy as we are,” we learn in the program. Some single S-Anons have also recognized a long-term pattern of making poor choices. If those of us who are single hope at some point to have a healthy relationship, we need to become healthy ourselves first.

In the S-Anon program I also became aware of how my tremendous fear of abandonment had led me to accept unacceptable behaviors in others. I could not establish boundaries as long as being alone felt like a fate worse than death. Now that my self-esteem has improved to where I know I would be comfortable alone, I have real choices in my life. I am in my current relationship by choice, not out of dependency. Single S-Anons who are working on this issue have shared their unhappiness over being alone and their desperation to get into a new relationship. They describe how easily their boundaries erode and how quickly they return to people-pleasing behaviors in attempting to hold onto a new relationship. S-Anons who have separated from spouses who are still acting out have shared their difficulty in staying away from the spouse and their temptation to give her/him another chance although the spouse in not in recovery. In S-Anon we learn that we are worthwhile people who do not need a relationship to make us feel whole.

Our basic emotional health does not depend on our marital status. S-Anon helps us build our self-esteem, love ourselves, and make healthier choices in our lives. Too many of us have let significant others be our Higher Power. In S-Anon we learn to rely on a real Higher Power so that we can be happy whether single or in a relationship.

Reprinted from the 1990 issue of S-Anews©.

Establishing Boundaries…

I used to believe that I had to answer any personal question that was asked of me. I would read newspaper advice columns and wonder how people got the courage to tell other people to “mind their own business” if they asked a question that was too personal. It seemed impossible to me. I can’t say that in recovery I go around telling everyone to mind their own business, but I’m learning how to say things like “Oh, that’s a long story” or “Please, don’t get me started.”  Now I understand that I don’t owe my friends or family any explanation. I may come to the point where I want to share certain things with them, but when to share with them and how much to tell are decisions that are mine to make. Another sentence that I have learned to say is, “I don’t want to talk about that right now.” For me, that is recovery!

Reprinted from Working the S-Anon Program, 2nd Edition, page 94.

Life Became Simple and Peaceful

After reading Step One in S-Anon Twelve Steps, I listed where I had been powerless as a result of trying to exert power over others. Topping this list were situations in which I feared being emotionally abandoned.

I learned very early to connect with people who had difficulties, because they inevitably needed help with their problems and consequently would not leave me. Unfortunately, my fear of abandonment tormented me into becoming whatever they wanted. So I stayed with my sexaholic partner, even though his behavior threatened my health.

S-Anon helped me see that my fear had led me to abandon myself through having no boundaries. So I began setting boundaries and taking care of my emotional well-being. In response, my spouse began to physically and emotionally distance himself. I was terrified he would leave, but I had learned to ask myself, “Must I tolerate sexual and emotional abuse in exchange for maintaining a relationship?”  The answer gradually came: to stay with my husband meant accepting things that were unhealthy and intolerable for me, physically and spiritually. I had to risk his abandonment in order to heal.

When I finally accepted I would be in the care of my Higher Power no matter what others chose to do, I was able to let go of the fear and let go of my marriage. Amazingly, my life became so much more simple and peaceful.

Reprinted from S-Anon’s Reflections of Hope, page 273.

Helping Me See the Light

Writing is the “getting it out” tool for me in my S-Anon program. Expressing my thoughts and feelings verbally is one thing, but going a step further and committing those same sentiments to paper has been really helpful. When I record my feelings, I’ve created a log to refer back to when I find myself obsessing about my spouse, my marriage, my career, life… the painful aspects thereof. I can read what I wrote a week, a month, a year ago and be reminded of the purpose of my process. Also, re-reading what I’ve written may trigger the memory of steps I took that helped me back to a state of surrender and serenity. For me, there’s something about the tool of writing that purges me of my secrets and shame. Writing is the big challenge of Step Four – my personal inventory. Today, to have the willingness to write about my life – my memories, my mistakes and my dreams has truly been the opening of Pandora’s box for me. I believe writing will continue to free my spirit, which had been locked away in darkness for much too long. The written word helps me see the light.

Reprinted from the Summer 2009 issue of S-Anews©.

Being honest About Who I Am and How I Feel

Most of my acting out before I came to S-Anon was really acting in. I sometimes seemed more “sober” then because I was so out of touch with my emotions. Sometimes I still don’t want to appear vulnerable and would like others to think I am “just fine,” when I am most emphatically not “just fine.” I am learning that it’s not necessarily a slip or a bad thing to be angry, fearful or whatever. It’s okay for me to feel and acknowledge my emotions, and I didn’t used to know that. To be sober, though, I need to dig a little deeper, beneath the disturbing emotions, examine the reasons why I am hurt or fearful, and become willing to surrender those attitudes or areas of my life to my Higher Power for healing. For me, this is the process of  “staying sober.”

Reprinted from Working the S-Anon Program, 2nd Edition, page 56.

Using Prayer to Change the Things I Can

A discussion on the Eleventh Step in an S-Anon couples meeting led me to question exactly how I could improve my conscious contact with my Higher Power. Even after many years of attending S-Anon and finding freedom from many of the effects of sexaholism, I was aware that I tended to forget my Higher Power during the day when things were going well. I decided to use a favorite prayer, the Third Step prayer (found on page 63 of Alcoholics Anonymous), whenever possible during the day to improve communication with my Higher Power. I wanted to use this prayer to increase my conscious contact with God and as a reminder to humbly give myself over to my Higher Power. I made the commitment to stay open to whatever my Higher Power might show me and to carry out God’s will to the best of my ability. I decided to use my commuting time to begin the process. I was usually an angry, aggressive person behind the wheel, a habit I still had from the crazy days of reacting to sexaholism. I knew from recent Tenth Step inventories that this was an area of my life that required major revision. The first change I made was choosing to stay in one lane instead of weaving and racing through traffic. When traffic stopped or slowed to a crawl, I began my prayer. Whenever I was stopped at a traffic light, I recited the prayer, repeating it over and over until it was time to move again.

Before the month was over I sensed a welcome change in my attitude in many areas of my life. I found serenity on the roadways — abstinence from “road rage.” I was feeling better about myself and about my relationships. Then my employer made cuts in staff, and I was one of those who lost their job.

Like virtually anyone in that situation, I suffered great anger and distress for several days. When I shared my feelings at my S- Anon meeting, the group helped me come to accept those feelings and also helped me to see what a great opportunity this was for me. The group became the source of my awareness of my Higher Power acting in my life, even in that situation. They could see the advantages of my position and the unlimited opportunities open to me to make a positive change in my line of work. I became aware that moving on to work that I loved was another way in which I could do my Higher Power’s will for me. This realization put to rest the fear that God’s will for me must always be unpleasant or downright burdensome. My group and I celebrated the change, and the fellowship has continued to support me as I have moved into a new career.

Reprinted from S-Anon Twelve Steps, pages 134-135.

More Than My Emotions

After I came out of denial and faced the reality that my beloved partner was a sexaholic, I experienced terrible emotional pain, especially fear. It seemed like much of the time I felt so overwhelmed by those emotions that I actually became the fear and pain.

To calm myself, I have found that it helps to first acknowledge my pain and fear. Just noticing my emotions allows me to separate myself from those awful nagging feelings. This distance helps me see that I am not just a lump of pain or fear – I am more than my emotions. One of our S-Anon slogans says, “This Too Shall Pass.” In thirty minutes (or a day or week), I may well feel better.

I also focus on observing my breathing as a method of detaching from my obsessive thoughts and overwhelming feelings. By focusing on my breath and following the rising and falling of my abdomen, I actually slow down my racing thoughts, and I am released from obsession. Focusing on my physical body gently brings me back to key realities: I am a living, breathing being, and I am on a path led by my Higher Power.

I need not give in to despair or painful emotions. I can find relief in the present moment when I breathe, acknowledge my feelings, and remember that they are not permanent.

Reprinted from S-Anon’s Reflections of Hope, page 335.


“My husband/wife says that they’re sorry, but how can I ever forgive them after what they did to me?”  “I’ll never forgive my parents!”  “Why should I forgive him? He still doesn’t admit he did anything wrong!” Other members of S-Anon expressed these sentiments, and many of us have them ourselves. Why should we forgive? Does forgiving mean forgetting?

I met a woman whose husband had left her for another woman seven years previously. He was now remarried and she had not seen him in years. But when she spoke about her pain and anger, it was though the betrayal had occurred a week or perhaps a month ago. She seemed to be stuck in a time warp. Because she had not let go of the past and forgiven her husband, she had been unable to move past her negative emotions and to get on with her life. Her ex-husband was still the focus of her inner life. She had continued to give him free rent in her head all these years.

It is easier to forgive another person when that person wants forgiveness. But even if they are dead, or remarried, or still acting out, we still need to forgive them. The reason is that we forgive them in order to have serenity in our own life. Forgiveness is being able to remember the past without experiencing the pain all over again. When we have forgiven someone, we can think about that person and what they did to us without losing our serenity. Without forgiveness, there is no peace of mind.

Reprinted from the 1990 issue of S-Anews©.

Forgiving Myself…

My children were deeply affected by growing up in a home with active sexaholism. They have had to deal with some rough times and have developed some dysfunctional ways of relating to others. I am afraid that my youngest child will become an addict. My oldest child has worked through many issues and is doing much better. Today I know that I can’t protect them from themselves, and I don’t want to enable them either.

Feeling overwhelmed by guilt during early recovery, I continuously allowed them to blame me for their problems. I thought it would be harsh to confront them, but eventually, as I grew in my recovery, I began to see that I was enabling them to stay stuck in “blame” and victimization.” I learned that just as I cannot continue to see myself as a victim, they must abandon the victim role if they want to live happy and healthy lives. I cannot accept their accusations and continue to live in shame and guilt, while trying to stay “sober” in my recovery. I have had to just let go and let God.

S-Anon has taught me that I did the best I could with the tools and skills handed down to me by my parents. I believe I will always feel some pain, wishing I had gotten into recovery earlier. When I finally forgave myself, it was a great relief. I have learned to look at what is going on with my children as a part of their “journey” in life, knowing that no one escapes the problems inherent in his/her own journey. I cannot afford to enable them by accepting the blame for all their troubles. I know they are doing the best they can at this time, and I pray for them both, knowing they both have a deep and abiding faith in God. Today, I validate their feelings—but I also tell them that it is their right to feel the way they do — but also tell them that I hope that one day they will choose to stop feeling victimized; and as adults, get help and move on.

Reprinted from Working the S-Anon Program, 2nd Edition, pages 91-92.