Alison's Insights

Making Sense of Addiction Recovery in Midlife One Slow Deep Breath at a Time

I Had An Affair … But Not With Someone Else

My husband and I have been together for 15 years.  We’ve been married for 13 of them.       

Like other couples, we’ve weathered many life challenges; deaths (his beloved grandmother, our fathers and my brother), job losses, financial insecurities, etc.  Yet unlike most other couples, our relationship was extraordinarily challenged because I was having an affair.  Not with someone else, but with addiction. 

Before I went through not one, but two rather intensive recoveries (alcoholism and an eating disorder), I had firmly placed a wedge between us as I continued to put my addiction needs before our marriage.    

Days, months, years rolled by as I manipulated, lied and destructively orchestrated this three-way living.  When I would act erratically because of my addictive need to drink or control what number appeared on a scale, it wasn’t my husband who could bring me to that place of calm, it was alcohol or a deceitful push back of food.   

Back then, if you were to ask me what I really needed in my life I would tell you my husband’s love but internally knowing it was my addictions. 

That’s precisely what having an affair is.  Outwardly it’s all about what the world sees as the committed relationship, inwardly it’s all about the secret love.   And in my case, that love, that undying need, was for another glass of wine or another tick downward on the scale.

And while it’s been a good period of time since the third-party has left our home, every so often I’m reminded of how selfish I was to have brought it there to begin with.  For example, last night my husband mentioned some friends were getting separated and the topic of counseling came up.

As a point of reference, when I was in treatment, my husband was very clear about not wanting to be involved in any sort of therapy work.  He viewed that as what I needed and didn’t involve him.  Eventually with some assistance from my therapist, he became willing to talk about how he might be able to help me.  Over time it became apparent those conversations were beneficial for both of us.  Amazing how that works. 

Anyway, back to last night.  As we were talking, I smiled and somewhat jokingly said, “Gee honey, should we get into counseling?”   Within less than a second, he smiled back and said, “No, but we probably should have a long time ago, it just wouldn’t have worked.”

In that instant, a light bulb went on over my head as I more clearly understood what I hadn’t before.  I turned to him and said, “And that would have been because there was a third-party in our relationship, isn’t it?”

He nodded and said, “Yep.”

In just those few words, I realized his initial resistance to therapy was not because he didn’t want to talk about his feelings with a complete stranger, it was because he didn’t want to talk about feeling like an outsider in his own home.  He didn’t want to admit feeling like his wife was engaged in an intimate relationship beyond him.  And perhaps most difficult was to speak candidly about not trusting the one person he had banked on to trust forever.    

The obsessive, secretive life I led as an anorexic alcoholic flat-out pissed him off.  He was hurt and jealous yet had no idea of how to express it out loud.  By staying active in my addictions, I continuously taught him I cared more about those areas of my life than I did about him.

You see no matter how we shake it, much like having an affair, a relationship that includes addiction is extremely destructive and does not discriminate.  It not only devastates a marriage, it tears down relationships at work, with extended family members, with neighbors, etc.  The list is endless.

In time, as the winds of change moved through our lives by way of recovery, my husband and I found an ability to trust each other again.  The third-party left our home and those guarded walls came tumbling down.    

Today we believe in honest transparency about who we are as individuals and as a result have become connected on very deep level.  And I believe as long as I stay focused on what I need to do to stay sober and healthy, nothing can come between us.


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