I remember feeling insane. Like a lunatic. I was too dizzy with hurt and emotion to discern what was real.
I questioned everything I thought was true—his love for me, his professed chastity, why I married him in the first place, his fidelity. I hated him for deceiving me. I wanted to scream, “How could you do this to us?!” I pitied him on occasion when I recalled the years he struggled against lust, being in and out of support groups, reading books, saying prayers, taking what seemed like every approach to rid himself of his porn addiction; but my pity ran out and all I had left was hardness of heart. The fact was that he kept looking and watching and acting out, while I sat silent, looking and feeling like a fool.
Sometimes I could read in his face and behavior when he fell to temptation; I knew if I brought my intuition forward, however, it wouldn’t be well received because, honestly, I didn’t know how to bring it up. He took any and all discussion of pornography off the table years ago; my emotionally charged responses—anger, sorrow, or otherwise—were over the top and overwhelming to him. Though I know now that I was right to be emotional, I didn’t know how to react in a healthy way.
But because we weren’t talking about it, I felt shut out of the biggest cross in our marriage. Forced into silence and terrified isolation, I stuffed my feelings and bitterness sprouted in their place. This fear cause a ripple effect on the rest of our relationship. I was scared to be vulnerable in any sense—in mistakes I made, in dinners I made, in my hopes and dreams that I learned to keep to myself lest I subject myself to his criticism. Intimacy was frightening too, because I never knew if his mind was with me or in some digital fantasy.
My husband kept me at arm’s length and didn’t let me in emotionally, and so taught me that my heart wasn’t important enough to resist allures from a sex-glorifying society. He continued to act out and turn to porn. I learned to hate myself; I don’t look like a porn star and I certainly don’t act like one.
I was ashamed of my often pregnant or postpartum body; so awkward and impossibly different from the images he preferred. I became ashamed of my feelings or even wishing to be close to him; any time I drew near him to cuddle on the couch or hold hands during a movie, it just seemed like an annoyance on his part and I felt like a bother.
Seven years prior to this point, I married a man who surpassed my dreams. He was prayerful and hilarious. He cared deeply for my soul and had a big vision for what we could be til death did we part. We knew each other and we were best friends.
But I didn’t know him anymore. He still prayed, but I didn’t see any efforts toward happiness in our vocation. I felt unsafe, unvalidated, unloved, and crazy with anxiety, actually developing PTSD over the course of our marriage.
And I was alone.
My husband and I are active in our parish and diocese as a whole. People know our faces, our kids, and our marriage; but not our secret. I didn’t feel like I could turn to anyone—counselors or clergy—because I held such a fearful clutch on anonymity. I was ashamed for us both.
In my darkest days and deepest fear, I reached out to the one priest I knew was trained and experienced to help wives of porn addicts. One priest. I scoured the Catholic resources here and came up empty and isolated. There are no lay or religious Catholics in my diocese trained to help married couples cope with the fallout of pornography. The one priest I know is hundreds of miles away and doing what he can to aid people all over the country, though he himself is diocesan and tasked beyond this work.
But I was desperate. I needed someone to tell me I wasn’t alone. In our initial conversations, this priest encountered an angry woman wrought with fear and pain from both childhood and marriage. Father told me that I had been wounded to the heart and that my pain was real. He sent me to bloomforwomen.com, a site dedicated to women healing from betrayal trauma, where I began taking online courses in managing my anxiety from my husband’s addiction, as well as investing more in my overall wellness. From my priest and Bloom, I was told that not only was my pain common, but also that healing from it was a real possibility. So hard to believe, but I had to. After years of hurt and feeling as though my sense of betrayal and crisis were misplaced and unreasonable, I was validated.
All it takes is someone to tell you that it shouldn’t have happened to you and that your husband’s addiction doesn’t have to define or control you to feel human again. The sensation wasn’t earth shattering, but I knew I was allowed to feel: “My anger is legitimate. I’m not crazy.” I wish I could put words to how empowered I felt. I started working out and eating better – not to skinny down so I could vie for my husband’s attention – but because I wanted to love myself better. I learned I’m worth the effort. I didn’t know that before because I took my cues from an emotionally distant husband who conveyed through his actions that I wasn’t worth his time. Now I know my value is independent of what anyone in this world thinks of me, because I am made in the Image of One who cherishes me as His beloved. I felt renewed.
And it made me speak up.
“I’m writing you a letter,” I teared up just saying so, and watched him go from calm to alarmed. “Part of my recovery involves being heard by you.”
He refused to read it and was immediately defensive and angry; prior to receiving spiritual direction with my priest, I would have sobbed and reproached myself for thinking I could talk to him about it at all.
But this time I pushed.
He argued and pointed fingers and put up walls. I argued back. I defended myself and told him our marriage was failing. I was brave and I’m rarely brave when it comes to fighting for my own cause.
My husband and I have a daunting amount of healing to endure, both together and separately. I wish I could say after a little bit of help from my priest, a few Bloom classes, and one hard conversation with my husband that I opened his eyes and everything was great; but I can’t. He resisted and held tight to both his tried-and-failed approaches to recovering from porn and previously established silence between us.
This time and in occasions after, I didn’t take it so personally. More and more clearly I see how wounded he is and how afraid.
It’s encouraging to take a look at my Before and After Help life, but I’m not naive; I know I have a long way to go before my husband and I see real healing. There will be emotional and psychological baggage to unpack and sort through, but for the first time in our marriage I have hope for myself and hope for us. I’m broken and hurt, but I’m not crazy. I’m not beyond help and I’m not beyond the grace of God.