Monday, October 21, 2013

You Know He's In Recovery When...

Wow, I'm impressed.

I just finished a therapy session with Karen. We've worked together over the last 2+ years. The process has tested her to the core, but she has survived her husband, Neil's porn addiction, his descent into real life raunch, and eventual infidelity. And their relationship has survived.

Even more amazing, it's now going well for her individually and for them as a couple.

Perhaps most women would have given up on the marriage... and been fully justified in doing so. No doubt she entertained the thought. But somehow inside she remained convinced that the man she loved was still there, deep down.

That guy was certainly hard to see because Neil had become so detached. It wasn't just that he was a sex addict living a double life. He worked almost all of the time and when he was at home he was almost always off by himself. The kids noticed it--how could they not? It happened gradually, but they essentially lost the dad they'd known and loved.

When Neil finally admitted his affair to Karen, he had all but decided to leave and go live with the other woman. Karen told him it was up to him, but let him know that she was open to working things out if he decided to.

He decided he had to move out in order to make the decision with a clear head. I was doubtful. Statistics show that separation makes divorce more likely.

It was remarkable to me at the time. I might have expected Karen to say, "You're the one who had the affair and now I have to work to convince you to hang in there and try to work things out? Talk about salt in the wound! Forget that!" But she refrained.

In time, living on his own, Neil realized that wasn't the path he wanted to take. He decided to move back home and work on recovering from his sexual acting out.

Fast forward two years. It's been a long haul for them, working and growing individually and as a couple.

But today as I talked with Karen I was struck by some of the things she's been noticing about Neil these days. To me they're excellent indicators that a guy is in recovery and on the right track--hallmarks if you will.

So I wanted to share with you her observations and my thoughts about them:
  • "Three days in a row I noticed him petting our cat. Really enjoying it. He said at one point, 'I sure love this cat.'"
Addicts aren't prone to enjoy the little things in life. It takes much more to ring their bell. In recovery, the little things that bring contentment and fullness to life start to pop out again. Life steadily becomes richer and richer until, as a fully sensitized being, you're able to delight in the subtler pleasures of life like the taste of a decent cheese sandwich or the sight of the gutter overflowing on a rainy day.
  • "He's way more engaged with our son."
For the addict in recovery, everyday interactions become more interesting and worthwhile. "I don't know, Charlie, let me think about it. How about you, which Transformer would you choose to be?" When you're used to having your system jarred into the pleasure zone by high-decibel sexuality, it becomes mission impossible to read your kid's favorite Berenstain Bears book to him for the eighth time. It may not be that much more fun in recovery, but it feels more doable. Life is easier all around.

And there's the recovery of our capacity for attachment in relationships. As we recover from the trance of addiction, there's room within us to apprehend the dimension and facets of the real people in our lives. We realize anew what loved ones mean to us. We discover again how good it feels just to be around them.
  • "He's gone from being never happy to almost always happy--or at least at ease."
Speaking of the hell of addiction, Carrie Fisher said, "The problem with instant gratification is, it takes too long. It seemed like an eternity to get from the front door of the place where the party was back to the room where the drugs were."

The more constant and intense the gratification, the less easily satisfied we become. Being in the throes of addiction makes us miserable most of the time.

Not every guy in recovery is relaxed, easy going, walking around sighing with a contented smile on his face. But an addict in the active phase of his addiction almost never is.
  • "They were getting ready for a huge product roll-out at his work. His entire team was working really hard, but they were also all sleep deprived, irritable, and picking at each other more. He didn't hide the fact that some of those interactions made him feel bad. He came home and opened up to me and we talked about it most nights during that hard time."
To me it's a key hallmark of recovery: a willingness to deal with life as it is, to deal with difficult feelings on their own terms, rather than to squirm and wriggle away and dive for the escape hatch of addiction. Facing emotion rather than always scrambling and bargaining for a way out.

These words of Karen's also remind me of an observation Patrick Carnes made about a key indicator someone's in recovery from addiction. They become more transparent and willing to allow others to see the process they go through. They don't keep all their struggles private, waiting to present only the finished product to others. They open up about their ambivalence and uneasiness. They let others see some of the messiness of their inner life. And as a result they're able to get support when they need it most, instead of having to struggle along on their own.

Seeing this progress has brought a tremendous sense of relief to Karen. "What a difference the last couple of years have made," she said. "The view from here is much improved. The past is becoming more like a bad dream that is almost forgotten, rather than the living nightmare that it was."

So now readers, it's your turn. As you've observed your own recovery or that of a loved one, what indicator would you add to this list?

1 comment:

  1. I'm still waiting to find out.....(in regards to my husband) what recovery looks like. So far, it doesn't look like what you described, and I'll leave it at that.