Courage to Share: Going to Meetings When the Lust Addict Is Your Spouse

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As I entered my first meeting for family and friends of lust addicts, I looked around the room and studied the faces there, wondering if they would understand. After all, I had a secret in addition to how lust addiction was affecting my marriage, but it was such a dark secret that I knew I’d have to wait and see if these people could handle it before I would share.

One of the faces at this meeting belonged to someone I’ll call Pearl. I remember Pearl in particular because the others at this meeting seemed drawn to her like chicks to a momma hen. This seemed perfectly natural. She gave an enthusiastic welcome to each person who arrived, and the warmth of her smile was unmistakable as she welcomed me, the newcomer.

I watched Pearl and wondered, Will I ever smile like that?

The meeting began. Pearl was one of the first to introduce herself.

“I’m Pearl,” she said, “and my son is in jail for possessing child sexual abuse material.”

I felt myself taken aback but probably not for the reason you think. I’d come to the meeting assuming that we would all be there because of our spouses or romantic partners. After all, so-called “adult” pornography is one of those things that “everybody” uses. Our culture’s minimization of the pain this brings to “everybody’s” loved ones makes living with this pain isolating and embarrassing.

As isolating as being married to a lust addict has been, when “everybody uses porn,” there are a lot of us showing up at recovery meetings. The story of the betrayed spouse is almost a trope.

How much more isolating it is to show up at a meeting and be the outlier among outliers: the person affected by the lust addiction of a child, sibling, parent, or other family or friend? Even more isolating is the experience of those loved ones whose lust encompasses minors.

I was relieved to see that no one batted an eye at Pearl’s introduction. The meeting’s obvious acceptance of lust addiction’s many painful forms helped me immensely when it came time to introduce myself.

I followed up my name with, “My husband is a lust addict—and my mother is, too.”

My dark secret was out. I held my breath and waited for someone to emit the shocked gasp, usually followed up with the disbelieving words, “Your mother?

Yes, my mother.

Instead of horrified shock, I saw and received nothing but empathy and acceptance.

As much as I’ve felt cut off from community at large by my husband’s choices, I’ve long felt even more so by my mother’s behaviors. Yes, we live in a world where “every” man is a lust addict and “adult entertainment is normal” but women involved in sex addiction and people involved in child sexual abuse are “monsters.” The implication is: What kind of family produces a monster like that?

That might not be a fair question to ask, but it is a question that keeps many people locked in silence.

The rooms of recovery are a gift to all of us who have been impacted by the lust addiction of a loved one. Whatever forms that addiction may take, “normal” or “monstrous,” the consequences ripple out in waves of pain, confusion, and betrayal.

Whether we are drowning in a puddle of “normal” or an ocean of “monstrous,” we’re still drowning. When we suffer in silence, the pain has nowhere to go but deeper, making it harder and harder to resurface and find real joy.

Lust addiction affects not just the nuclear family but the whole human family. That night of my first meeting in this fellowship, Pearl showed me that recovery can affect the whole human family as well. Because Pearl had the courage to walk into her first meeting and speak her true experience, she created a space where others can walk into that space and speak light into the most unimaginable darkness.

In the rooms of recovery, people like Pearl have taught people like me how to surrender that pain through talking about it with people who aren’t shocked. Because of this acceptance, people like Pearl have shown people like me that letting go of the sorrow doesn’t mean our pain isn’t valid.

By modeling this level of acceptance for the darknesses that we are all powerless to change, my sisters and brothers in recovery have taught me how to resurface and rediscover real joy.

Catholic in Recovery has a meeting for the family and friends of lust addicts. Join us for experience, strength, and hope every Tuesday at 9pm EST/6pm PST.

Catherine A. Quinn is grateful to be recovering from the effects of lust addiction in loved ones. She writes about both the pain and the healing and hope that are available to those harmed by all aspects of this addiction.