I'd been in a dark place for half my life when I met him. I was 20, a recovering heroin addict less than a year out of a physically and psychologically abusive relationship. My formative years were spent bouncing from one toxic relationship to another, my family of origin beginning and perpetuating the cycle of my believed unworthiness.
The damage caused by being in a relationship with a porn addict, though, was something else. The pain was on another level and the consequences so far reaching. I completely lost myself. For more than a decade I was consumed by it, even defined by it.
Society told me it was me with the problem - his porn-use was normal; I was jealous, insecure, paranoid. I don’t know if I lost my voice or if it was taken from me. I was lied to, manipulated, neglected, rejected and abandoned in favour of the false promise of porn.
It took 13 years and a complete mental breakdown for me to reach out for help, ironically through the internet - the source of so much pain and anguish. That’s when the word addiction first came into play, and when I began to realise it wasn’t just me; that there were hundreds of women online sharing stories so painfully similar to mine, sharing my words and emotions, feeling what I felt.
By chance I found out about a lady who had just set up as a coach for partners of porn addicts having been through it herself. She made me feel safe and validated, she asked the right questions but I wasn’t responsive, my survival instinct was to cage up all the pain and darkness, to suppress it deep inside so I didn’t have to feel it. He was apparently in recovery, a changed man, and I allowed myself to push it away, to believe the illusion again. Life got in the way and my already weak commitment to healing was extinguished by justification, denial and fear.
For two and a half years I carried on, I thought things were okay. I thought I was okay! I know now that I was just a shadow of a person, barely going through the motions, almost robotic. I’d put a cage around all that hurt and fear and anguish, holding back all my real emotion - happiness and joy with it. Everything I thought I felt was just paper thin. I was merely existing, not living, not feeling alive and not even aware of it, I was so numb and detached.
Then the facade came crashing down again, like a painted film set revealing all the ugly wires and workings of reality.
For a week I was in total shock. How could I have been so stupid not to see he’d been wearing a mask all along, again! And then it hit me, ALL of it… fifteen years worth of betrayal and pain and loss, the cage breaking open and everything I had tried so hard not to feel flooding out like water from a broken dam, every old wound reopening and feeling as fresh and raw as the day it was first torn apart.
I’ve told him since then, that it feels like a physical pain, worse than your heart breaking, deeper. That’s when I knew I hadn’t dealt with anything, just patched over the holes but still all torn up inside. So I got in touch with Cat at Naked Truth and asked for help.
She told me about Whole Hearted, but I was terrified at the thought of sharing my feelings in a group; the negative internal dialogue borne of my life experience telling me “They won’t like you”, “They’ll think you’re stupid”, “You’ll make a fool of yourself”, “They’ll reject you”.
The reality is that I’ve never felt so supported in my life. I have been so vulnerable with this group of amazing women, as they have with me, and never once felt judged. I’ve laughed with them, I’ve cried with them, and I’ve bonded with them in ways that I haven’t in friendships before. I am safe to share anything, and their collective wisdom and validation have helped me to begin to trust in myself again.
Through Whole Hearted I’ve found the courage to walk through the pain in order to get to the other side and heal.
I have learned to use my voice and to be authentic to myself and my values. I have learned tools to deal with all the negative aspects of living with an addict that can also be applied with family, friends and acquaintances making for much healthier relationships. The group understand my feelings of guilt and fears as a mother like no-one else, in fact how all our relationships across the board are negatively affected, and I feel like I can face it all with their support.
I have always thought I wouldn’t change any of my past if I could go back… except this trauma - the losses were too great. Yet now I have gained so much that I would never have had without Whole Hearted. I have found true friends that I will cherish for life, I have found a strength I never thought possible, and a desire to be the best version of myself that I can be; to keep growing and to thrive, and to never again compromise my values. I’m beginning to feel that although through his addiction I lost the person I should have been, through Whole Hearted I’m finding a better one.
For the first time in a long time, I’m not alone. I have a safe place where I can truly be myself without a brave face or fear of judgement, totally unique in that everyone wants to see everyone else succeed and grow. I know I still have a long way to go to heal, but for the first time, I know whatever happens I will be okay.