“You have to learn to love yourself before you can love someone else.”
My best friend in high school told me this once and it has echoed in my mind ever since. At the time, it made me uncomfortable (probably because it rang so true, but I did not want to admit it), and I dismissed it because I felt that she had an agenda since she had come out to me by telling me she had feelings for me and was resentful when she found that I could not return them in the way she wanted.
These days I am better able to accept the truth of that statement, though I would add a slight modification – You must learn to love yourself before you can allow someone else to love you.
What I mean by that is I’ve come to realize that I was never able to feel my husband’s love, not just because of his actions as a sex addict, but because I did not believe I was worthy of love and could not believe that he loved me. It helped to create a self-perpetuating cycle where his shame and disgust with himself were reinforced by my belief that he did not truly love me that was reinforced by his sex addict actions.
We’re learning to break that cycle, but it is taking some time.
Last week I was in Europe on a work trip and the first night I was gone he broke his sobriety by looking at soft core foreign films on You Tube. He did all the right things after that. He told me about it, called his sponsor, went to SAA meetings, and checked in with me every day.
It still really hurt and I dropped into depression. It felt as if it was another confirmation of those old familiar feelings of unloveableness.
Last week was the last week before he reached 90 days of sobriety on June 1. I was depending on that week as a test of everything – of myself, of him, of our individual sobrieties – and I felt that if we were able to make it to that 90 day period of sobriety with my trip to Europe (he used to always act out when I was out of town so it was especially meaningful), then we would have passed the test and I could allow myself to trust him and myself and put on my wedding rings again.
All those expectations ended in disappointment and I have not been able to recover since. It wasn’t just that he broke his sobriety, but also that I let it affect me the way that I have, demonstrating to me that I have not recovered quite as much as I had thought.
I am fighting it as hard as I can. I am trying, which seems to me like evidence of my own improvement, though I am not using my tools as well as I should. I am isolating myself and withdrawing, trying to lick my wounds and not collapse into despair rather than reaching out to others. I keep telling myself “I love you. I cherish you. I value you.” and try to really feel those feelings to counteract the old illusory feelings of worthlessness that my mother instilled in me and which are so comfortable to believe because they allow me the fantasy that I have some kind of control.
Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.
I also feel really angry. I am furious with my husband. I am furious with my mother. I am furious with the rest of my family that knew what was happening and did nothing to stop it while I was growing up. I am furious with the people I thought were friends who participated in my husband’s acting out and those who knew but did nothing and even those who did not know until it stopped but were not what I saw as “supportive” after things came out. I am furious with everyone who stands by while children and spouses are used and abused and who do nothing about it.
Anger is comforting. It is, after all, a more powerful feeling than despair, though no less misleading.
It feels good to write all that down. I can say, “I am angry. I am depressed. I am fighting it.” and know that all of that is valid. It is perfectly reasonable for me to feel this way, but it is not acceptable to me to let it rule or dominate my life or my actions.