I had been sober from 7/6/06, the day I entered treatment until 1/17/11. That’s 4 years, 6 months, and 12 days. Sobriety for me then was no contact (including googling him) with my former therapist, a priest who was also a psychoanalyst. Also no masturbation, no Internet porn, no sex outside my marriage, including phone sex, cyber sex and anonymous sexual encounters of any kind. No adult bookstores. Like most sex addicts, some of these behaviors weren’t all that difficult for me to abstain from, masturbation and Internet porn; not so much.
Like most people, I had days when my sobriety was rock solid and other times when I felt like I was barely hanging on. Mostly though, recovery worked and life was good.
My husband and I have four children and in 2011 we were overjoyed to have our oldest son home from Iraq for the holidays. When his leave time was over, he slept as I drove the 2 hours to the airport. He grabbed his bag out of the back, fussed at me for getting out of the car to give him a hug and kiss. He turned and left without looking back. I had a little lump in my throat as I pulled away but … no biggie. I remember thinking how well adjusted I was that I could drop my son off to return to war and not cry. In fact, I wasn’t upset at all.
The days came and went and everything was just fine. Normal. And then all of a sudden, completely out of the blue, I acted out and had to reset my sobriety date to 1/17/11. I was devastated, I hadn’t realized how much of my self respect was wrapped up in that sobriety date. Worse, I couldn’t stop. It didn’t make sense and it freaked me out – this was just like before, the thing that ended up with me in therapy with the priest (he was a trained psychoanalyst) and as the shame and confusion grew, so did my acting out. I called the CSAT who helped me right after treatment, and he pointed out that dropping off my son might have been triggering. I thought he was full of baloney because frankly, I wasn’t upset at all about him being back in Iraq.
Fast forward to this holiday season, 2015. Our children have taken turns giving us grey hairs and panic attacks but this was unusually stressful. My husband’s partner is going through an ugly divorce and was staying with us. My 19 year old and her boyfriend (who spent last year in jail for aggravated assault) got pregnant. Our other son was working for us and on the verge of being fired because he couldn’t show up to work on time. Our oldest daughter was doing well, for which we were grateful but her stupid dog keeps peeing on the heating vent in the living room. Shit happens.
And then … our oldest son had a bilateral pulmonary embolism. He was lucky. We were lucky. Very lucky. He passed out because both his pulmonary arteries were occluded by a saddle clot which detached and separated. But (here’s the lucky part) instead of dying on his front doorstep, he regained consciousness and called me … to say he’d passed out, hadn’t been drinking, and didn’t need me to come over because he was fine. Just fine. I am so, so glad I ignored him and went over. We got him to the hospital and the medication he was given worked and he lived. As all parents know, you have to keep it together when your children are hurt, and that’s true even when they’re 27 year-old grown men. So I kept it together for two days and nights in the ICU. I kept it together for the the other kids, for my husband (who knew exactly how close to death he was that night) and for my son.
Two days later, my son had been moved from the ICU to a regular medical bed and we finally went home. My husband and one of his business partners and I were all sitting in the living room and talking about how crazy the last few days had been – they’re both physicians so they got a bit into the medical technicalities of what had happened, the shape of the clots, etc. And all at once, completely unexpectedly, I wasn’t keeping it together any more. I haven’t cried that hard since I was in treatment and the stupid psychiatrist’s intake interview. It was pretty hostile.
It scared our friend, but my husband was great. He said I’d be okay and the two of them kept talking quietly until I finally calmed down. It took a long time. For the next few days, when ever anyone asked how my son was doing, I’d cry. I’d think about how lucky we were and I’d cry. I had nightmares and would wake up crying. It’s like my heart was leaking.
It’s been almost two months since all this happened and I haven’t needed to act out. I think that it’s because I felt my feelings this time. Before, when I felt that bone-deep fear it was automatically sublimated into feeling sexual. I never even knew I was afraid. This time was different.
Unfortunately, I can’t really take credit for this dramatic change in how I dealt with fear. Maybe I’m mentally healthier now than I was then. Probably the fact that I was alone in the car years ago, but not alone this time. And I’m sure the immediacy and rawness of a real fear as opposed to an anticipated fear is pertinent. The truth is that if I’d been able to cry after dropping him off at the airport, I would have. I think that I feel as much as I’m able to feel at any given time. That inner addict that tried to protect me as a child won’t allow me to feel more than she believes I’m able to handle.
I wish I knew how exactly I was able to do now what I couldn’t do before so that I could share it with all of you. What I do know is that feeling safe and actually being safe is a key part of being able to feel your feelings. I feel safe in my home, I feel safe and protected with my husband, and
So the moral of the story is that when I couldn’t cry – I had to act out and when I couldn’t not cry – I didn’t need to act out. And for this I’m grateful. Because there’s still a baby coming, a boyfriend to integrate into the family, laundry, bills, and the damn dog still hits that heating vent every other visit.