This blog needs to be about sex. But, like my life, it has constantly been sidetracked by my addiction.
I live with an emotional abuse and incest survivor. This fact colors every single day of my life. It taints and poisons the most basic and honest of my human impulses – love, affection, intimacy. I need to be growing in patience and love for my wife, learning how to meet her needs and open her heart. I need to be nurturing a place where she can redefine sensuality, in her own time, with someone who loves and cherishes her. This can't happen when she can't trust me.
Shortly after therapy uncovered my wife's abuse, I bought the book Ghosts in the Bedroom, subtitled “A Guide for the Partners of Incest Survivors.” I was desperately looking for help for ME, the guy who felt like a rapist every time he tried to make love to the woman he adored. Instead, one of the first things I read was that most survivors marry people with serious core issues like addiction. The author didn't know me, but he already knew I was an alcoholic.
I was frustrated and angry. I wanted to get to the part that told me how to FIX my wife so she would have sex with me. Instead, I read that our situation could not improve until I took care of my own core issues. I had to deal with my alcoholism before we could learn intimacy.
Here's why this made me mad: because I believed that my drinking problem was her fault. The reason I drank myself to sleep every night on the living room couch was that she was doing her avoidance thing: falling asleep in the kids' rooms, getting a stomach ache, suddenly remembering unfinished paperwork, getting stuck on the phone with a friend. (Her demons were remarkably creative.)
I began the journey of recovery, only to find it much more complex than I'd anticipated. My addiction was “cunning, baffling, powerful.” And it was permanent. I would either be actively working to beat it, or painfully succumbing to it, for the rest of my life. I also learned that it was not Linsey's fault. She could not stop it nor could she cure it. My addiction was, and is, mine.
I never really read beyond chapter three, titled “My Core Issues.” I had a book about supporting an incest survivor, a book that was supposed to help me be the kind of husband who could love her through her hurts and rebuild her understanding of intimacy. But I got hung up on the chapter about MY problems, MY addiction.
And that's what my life feels like. I am angry and disappointed in my marriage. My sexuality and my adoration of my wife feel like heavy, frustrating liabilities. And our progress as a healing couple is repeatedly trashed by my slips.
You might find it really arrogant for me to be complaining. I know I've been the bastard that keeps fucking up. I'd like to stop now. I'd like to allow the books and marriage therapy to work in our lives. There is no shortcut to get there, just a daily choice to stay sober.
They're cleaning out my grandparents' house – the rooms are full of boxes and the walls are bare. Grandma's a collector, of things beautiful or sentimental or remotely useful, so there's a lot to go through. The depression generation, or “The Greatest Generation”, according to Grandpa and Tom Brokaw, tends to save things that I would throw away. But they can only fit so much into their new “home”, an assisted living rental, so most of their stuff has to go.
Mom found a flower pot I made for Grandma in the fifth grade. Money was tight that year, so we bought a rainbow set of permanent markers and several white plastic pots, and did the homemade gift thing. We sat on the red brick porch of my childhood home and colored the pots together. To this day, I still get a little zing of excitement when I see a brand new pack of red and yellow and green Sharpies, like a kid opening a new box of Crayolas. Mom doesn't remember making the flower pots at all. She was me – parent of a ten-year-old, broke and overwhelmed, making the best out of what she had.
My Ashley is in the fifth grade, and I see her becoming a little person, moving out of my shadow and into her own world. At her age, I was organizing my desk and books and Star Wars collection, building my own little organized kingdom. I was winning piano competitions, composing music, getting straight A's, and making flower pots. I had my own clock radio and I set the alarm early so I could look handsome for school in my gray corduroy pants and button-up shirts. Like Ashley's, my world was full of possibilities. Like Ashley, I thought I was hot stuff. I knew I could accomplish anything.
I accomplished something this month. I directed a musical. Into this task I poured everything I know about arranging music, staging transitions, working with artistic people (not easy), scheduling rehearsals, audio and lighting and video projection, publicity. It was my magnum opus, so far, and it turned out absolutely incredible. We drew the highest attendance our church has ever seen for a single event, and everyone seemed thrilled. What I was most proud of was this: a few people who have never really connected found their place to shine, and truly became a part of our church family. That's what it's all about. That's why I work at a church – it's more about the people than the art.
Then I took a week off, and instead of going back to all the recovery meetings I'd been missing, I slept and tuned out. So halfway through the week I used, which shouldn't really be any surprise. I spent a month ignoring my sobriety, suppressing my anger and resentments until the show was over. What did I expect? If you've been reading me for a while, you might be sick of my broken record life story, but not as tired of it as Linsey. She asked me what I would do different this time, and I didn't know what to tell her but this: I have to keep doing the right things, even after the first couple of weeks. I can stay sober when I'm go to meetings and pray, when I do my step work and my reading. I can't when I don't. I'm grateful to be back.
I wish I only had to introduce you to ME: dad, husband, songwriter, pastor. That’s the guy I see in the mirror. I love my kids, I’m good at fixing things, I love to read or chase my dogs around the house. But I lose track of myself sometimes when I’m hurting. That’s when my addict comes around, the bastard who would throw it all away for a moment alone with his drugs and his porn. He cuts me with a razor and he steals things just for the rush. He’s even tried to kill me. But there’s a huge difference between us, and I’ll tell you what it is: He’s a coward. And I’m not. I won’t let him have my kids, my beautiful wife, my job or my home. And since he hates exposure, I’m going to tell you all about him. I’m Eli, and I’m an addict.