We all wear different hats in life and play different roles. You might act and speak different around different groups of people and in different situations. We all act differently in public or in social situations than we do in our private life in the comfort of our own homes around our loved ones. We have different responsibilities in our professional life, as we may be a leader or figure of authority to those we lead. However, in our personal life at home, we might just be “Dad,” “Mom,” or hear, “Honey, can you please pick up after yourself?” We might also have a secret life that no one knows about, not even our spouse.
Addicts of any kind know this secret life very well. They are often masters at keeping their secret life secret and separate from their other roles and responsibilities. Addicts are experts at keeping the two worlds from colliding. Some have done this very well. Others just think and believe they have done this well in their own reality or imagination. They refuse to the see the pain their addiction has caused their family and friends. They refuse to see how their addiction has caused problems with their career, legal status, health, finances and relationships. However, this is not about that double life.
Today, I want to talk about the addict that is IN recovery that continues to live, still yet, another …double life. I have noticed this pattern with all kinds of addicts, especially sex addicts and their spouse. The sex addict has been in recovery for a year or two. Both are attending therapy, support and work groups and getting through the steps. But, now the addict’s secret is also the spouse’s secret that neither has shared outside of each other and the recovery world. Instead of one person having a secret now two people have a secret. Family, friends, children and adult children have never been told about this secret. However, they all know something is up at some level. No matter the age of your children, they know what they don’t know. They are well aware of the strange behaviors, arguing, tension, and body language between Dad and Mom.
In regards to family systems, Sarah Thiessen, Founder of Splankna, explains, “There are no secrets at the subconscious level.” This is not only with immediate family but also with extended family, friends, coworkers, and everyone else who has picked up on the good, the bad, and the ugly at some level. Hiding and denying it is not helpful to the sex addict, their spouse or anyone else.
I have observed that these couples have not one but two “sick” people. They appear healthy, because they are in recovery; however, they are not experiencing true freedom. When a couple takes the step of sharing their story or testimony with others outside themselves, they can then begin to experience true freedom at a whole new level. They not only set themselves free, but they also set their loved ones free from the lies they might have believed to make sense of the observed chaos they have seen or experienced. This can take some time, and each couple does this differently.
Couples who keep their recovery life separate from their fake, I mean real life, are still struggling with a great deal of shame. These couples act and speak differently around their recovery friends, groups, therapist and recovery community than they do around their friends, family, and coworkers who are unaware of the secret. They are living a double life in recovery. This is also known as enabling behavior. I have seen couples in recovery flat out lie to loved ones to keep the two worlds separate. They will eventually have to decide which life they want.
So how does the sex addict or the spouse of the sex addict begin to bring these two worlds together? This is not about right or wrong. The addict might not be ready or may have threatened their spouse so that they can’t share any of their story “or else.” This is about being wise or foolish. Each person in recovery will have to decide what is wise and when to share as well as how to share for themselves.
Here are some things to consider:
- Talk to each other about how sharing the “we” secret might help or hurt you, your family, friends, and coworkers. What are the pros and cons of sharing this with your children, family, friends, coworkers, boss, or your community?
- What things are age, socially, personally and professionally appropriate or inappropriate for you to share?
- What things do you agree or disagree on to share with others?
- What things can you share individually apart from the other?
- Can you share your own individual stories apart from each other without throwing the other under the bus?
- Can you share your individual story without making yourself look like the victim?
- If you are still experiencing a great deal of shame and fear, consider speaking to a therapist or a group member further along in recovery than you are. What steps can you take toward overcoming your shame?
- What lies are you still believing about yourself?
- A recovery group is a safe place to practice sharing your story with others and receiving positive feedback. Once you have practiced and become comfortable with the sharing process and have worked up to at least Step 5, you might be ready to take sharing your story of healing outside of your “recovery life.”
- Once you are able to share your story with others regardless how others respond, positively or negatively, and you are okay with either response, then you are probably ready. This is a great sign that you are overcoming codependency. You are now grounded in who you are and who you are not.
- How have you lived out step 12 or hope to live it out in the future?
- What other addictions have you discovered in the 12-Step process?
- Write out a narrative using your 5 senses of what that interaction might look like. Use your imagination of how to share your story with others outside of your recovery life. What specifically do you want to share? Make a list of your strengths and weaknesses. Where did you start your recovery and where are you now in the process? What have you learned about yourself?
This is not a comprehensive list; however, it will get you thinking about how to let these two worlds collide so that you and your loved ones come out better for it on the other side.
Cory Schortzman is an author, speaker, teacher and licensed mental health professional. Since 2008, he has served as the Executive Director of Transformed Hearts Counseling Center in Colorado Springs, CO. He is the founder of SARA, the Sexual Addiction Recovery Association. Cory is passionate about helping couples and individuals overcome sex addiction. He is also passionate about bringing awareness to the public and supporting the elimination of sex and human trafficking. Cory has been married since 1998 to his beautiful wife, Kerry, and lives in Colorado with their four daughters. He and Kerry have been seen on the CBS Early Show, Inside Edition, and ABC Good Morning America, Fox 21 News, and TLC/Discovery discussing the harm of sex addiction and the joys of recovery. He has also been heard on numerous radio programs.
Cory’s books include: Out of the Darkness, Into the Light the Workbook, Into the Light the Steps, Ashes to Beauty the Steps, 301 Dating Ideas, 301 Conversational Ideas, 301 Ways to Say I Love You, 301 Ways to Love Your Children & 301 Recovery Tools & Tips.