It took six months, following the initial discovery of my husband's affair, for him to confess the truth. It wasn't just one affair...it was dozens. He was, he confessed, a sex addict.
The night my husband told me, he curled up on the floor in the fetal position, sobbing. He told me that I was disgusted with him and that he'd leave.
The truth is I was relieved. Relieved because the missing piece was finally there to complete the puzzle I'd been agonizing over. "Why, why, why...?". I suddenly got it. While I wasn't exactly happy with this revelation, it gave me something I could understand. His affair had always baffled me. He'd chosen someone nasty, troubled and unattractive, inside and out. When I learned that their relationship wasn't really a relationship at all but a transaction...well, I could begin to let go of the questions that had plagued me.
But that was only the start.
My husband had already been working with a counsellor that specialized in sex addiction. Though he wasn't a CSAT (certified sex addiction therapist), he was responsible for setting up a number of sex addiction treatment centers and was a recovered sex addict himself.
We spoke with him immediately and he gave me a quick Sex Addiction 101 chat. "Don't ask yourself what those women have that you don't," he advised me. "What they have, you don't want. They're very troubled people."
He explained to me that sex addiction is perhaps better termed an "intimacy disorder." The emphasis isn't on sex at all, really, but on the sex act as self-medicating. Most addicts use it to numb emotional pain, loneliness, anxiety. They turn to it the same way an alcoholic turns to a drink. But when the act is over, the addict can be overwhelmed with feelings of shame, guilt, self-loathing...which often leads to promises of abstinence, further acting out...and the cycle repeats.
I am, by no means, an expert. I am, however, someone with a front-row seat as this addiction is being wrestled with.
Today, Oprah, together with Dr. Drew Pinsky (he of Celebrity Rehab fame), are tackling the issue of sex addiction. Dr. Drew's new VH1 Show is Sex Rehab...and my fingers are tightly crossed that it doesn't become voyeuristic, but rather shows the gritty, sad side of an issue that too often becomes joked about.
I continue to learn. It has been extraordinarily painful. It's even tougher, I believe, to heal from an affair when your spouse is often so busy beating back his own demons that he has little time for your own angst.
However, I remain hopeful that the day will come when we will be able to talk about sex addiction in the same manner as other addictions – that the cloak of shame will be lifted.