Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Diving Into Memories During My Fourth Step

The first year Linsey taught second grade, she made friends with several new teachers. We got close enough to Karen and Lynne that they came with us for vacation to Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. Linsey and I had been married six years. Ashley was a year old, and stayed home with my parents. Why would we bring a one-year-old on a vacation that involved walking around underground for hours looking at dimly lit mineral formations? I just don't get families who would do that voluntarily.

Since it was New Mexico in August, we spent a lot of time at the pool. One afternoon I was feeling frisky and wanted to spend time alone with my hot wife. I invited her to come back to the hotel room and take a “nap” with me. She wouldn't go – she said she felt rude leaving Karen and Lynne at the hotel pool. They knew what was going on and started pushing her playfully in my direction. Go take a “nap” with your husband, they said. We'll stay and read our magazines and swim – you don't have to babysit us. Lynne said “If I had him for a husband, I'd be all over that.” Lynne had poor boundaries, and kind of lost it a few years later. But that's a different story.

Linsey wouldn't budge. She stayed out at the pool with her friends. I went back to the room and masturbated.

Me and Linsey have played out this scenario many times over the years. Too many times to count, unfortunately. You'd think there'd be a limit to how many times I would let myself get excited to sleep with her again. You'd be wrong. No matter how many times she found ways to avoid sex, after the most romantic dates, in the most romantic hotel rooms, we'd “talk it out” and I'd find another way to let myself get aroused by her.

What stands out about the New Mexico day is that it was witnessed by other people. Obviously, not that many people really heard about our sex life. I thought I was imagining our problems but this made the rejection more real, and more humiliating. And I think most importantly, my feelings began to be colored by anger in addition to the familiar shame and disappointment. Because, what was that thing coming out of Lynne's mouth? I'd made sense of me and Linsey's sexual desert by reasoning that I was unlovable. If Linsey responded to my caresses as if my fingers were sand paper, there had to be something wrong with my “caressing technique.” But Lynne's inappropriate comment just hung in the air, “I'd be all over that” juxtaposed against Linsey acting disgusted about the prospect of spending time with me.

Whatever. I feel really fucked up inside when I write that stuff because it dislodges all kinds of searing pain from the dark places I've carefully buried it. But stuff's coming up lately, whether I like it or not. Like when I saw Karen at a dinner party recently. I had completely forgotten about the trip we'd taken ten years ago. Strangely enough, we were talking about taking Ashley to the caves this summer. I think now that she's eleven she would enjoy it.

Then boom. Karen. Carlsbad Caverns. Hotel. It all fell on top of me, like a sequence in a movie with black and white flashback photography and lots of echo-y sounds. Karen started telling old stories about our trip. It didn't matter because I didn't hear much after that.

I took Karen aside during all the goodbyes later. I asked “Do you remember that day” and she interrupted with “Yes” before I finished the question. Karen has been a sweet friend over the years. She's close enough to talk to so we traded a few memories. I told her that trip had been a beginning of sorts. Of many things.

Of marriage counselors and therapists. Of drinking some, then drinking more, then using, and doing whatever it took to turn off the pain. Of figuring out that Linsey had been sexually abused as a child. Of figuring out that I was an addict, no matter what was going on around me or who I was married to.

As we started unwrapping all the shit and looked for healing in therapy and books and in recovery I thought it was the beginning of the end. That we would get better, and that next time Linsey would come back to the room with me and we'd make love. But it's just never that simple. It's just not.

[Photo by Al_HikesAZ under C.C.License]


  1. None of the memories are simple, especially in relationships. It is hard enough trying to figure how what makes me "tick" much less trying to figure out another. Take care and hope that you have a joyous Christmas.

  2. Glad to see you back here writing. This was a sad post for me to read. I'm sad for both of you. I pray that you continue to weed through the muck and mire to get to the beauty of what is inside of each other and that whatever you each can comfortably offer to one another can begin to be enough.

  3. Forgive me Eli, but I don't see you looking at your part here, once again, I see you looking at your wife's part and your humiliation and self pity. The purpose of the fourth step is to take OUR inventory, not that of the ones we are pissed off at. OR maybe I am just seeing this all wrong. Try reading page 67 in the BB, it helped me a lot in relation to my marriage and my selfishness and self-centeredness when it came to dealing with resentments within my marriage. I tell you these things out of love and hope for a healthy recovery for you.

  4. You know, good for you. Good for you for facing your memories head on, and writing them out and looking at how painful and embarrassing they are for you.

    My most embarrassing memories are of the times I stole and the people I stole from when I was using back in the day. I really dislike those memories and all the feelings that come back when them.

    Good for you.

  5. Eli, I haven't visited in a long, long time but came here from wishing you Happy Birthday on Facebook. It is time for me to do my own 4th Step again. It has been over 10 years since the last one. It will be interesting to see what else comes up.

    As an incest survivor, I can relate to where your wife was coming from in your memories. I went through years as a wife being sexual out of obligation to my loving husband. I hadn't told him about the incest at that stage of our marriage. He hated when I got into 12-Step programs because I learned to say "No." which was all the time, it seemed to him. As you said, the process isn't easy.

    Thanks for sharing your side of the situation. I continue to make amends to my husband for the struggle that we went through for many years because of my incest issues. I wish I could tell you that today was different but I still have my issues. I do say "Yes." more often but still not as often as he would wish. With my husband's help and patience, I have grown to enjoy our sexual life together, just not as often as he would like. At 61 (him) and 59 (me), our sexual appetites are just different. Going through menopause a few years didn't help matters, but finally that is over. I love my husband very much and the hurt and the issues from incest still affect me and him (through me) today, just not as intensely or as often as they once did. Things can get better when and if you both want them too. His patience and our combined love for each other has gotten us through the worst of times. In August, we celebrated our 38th wedding anniversary.

    Patty, we have to go through all of the memory, including the other person's part, to get to the pain. Doing a 4th step means seeing our part in the situations we create but it also means giving responsibility to both parties for the parts that they played. To feel the pain, we have to search for the full truth. Blaming the other person for our problems isn't the answer but acknowledging that they may have played their own part in the situation is. What we feel is what we feel. You don't write a 4th Step to just acknowledge part of the story or part of the memory. Getting back in touch with those feelings is the hard part of recovery and one of the main reasons for doing a 4th Step. Congratulations Eli for the courage that you are showing in doing this very hard work.