It was a warm summer afternoon, and the sun was streaming through my bedroom window. I woke up from a nap and had this resounding sense of peace. I thought, My life is perfect! My performance has paid off! I have a husband in full-time ministry, a nursing job I love, and a cute house in a transitional neighborhood.
I loved to compare my life to the lives of others and feel pride over how I “got it right.” I also loved to fix other people. I became the go-to Christian girl for advice and solutions.
All of that was before “life happened” to me.
I began a long and painful journey of infertility, which led my husband and me to consider adoption. Our hopeful start to a family was shattered by a failed adoption. I began to wonder what I was doing wrong. I had followed all the “rules” of being a good Christian. I had grown up in a home where I had been taught that performance was the key to fixing life. Walking on eggshells and spinning plates were my greatest talents. I could hear the slight crack of an eggshell in plenty of time to prevent the shatter. I had learned to become small and hide my heart. I could read the faces of others to determine how fast or slow to spin the plates to get their approval, but the pain of infertility and the journey of a failed adoption cut into my performance.
My perfect life was falling apart, and I could not fix it. Rather than feeling my pain and grieving my loss, I got busy—busy making sure everyone else was okay.
I was really good at denial. I looked the other way at my husband’s addiction to pornography. I looked the other way at his rage. I kept secrets about how I struggled in relationship with my husband. I began to live in fantasy about how my life would be so much better if only ______ were different. My husband became my enemy. I spent hours resenting him. I talked myself out of feeling hurt, lonely, or angry. I talked myself out of feeling anything. The talents of my childhood returned with a resounding encore. I worked tirelessly to stay small, say only what others wanted to hear, and constantly read faces. I would be okay if I could just make everyone else okay.
The sunshine of life peeked through my window when we adopted a precious baby a few years later and miraculously became pregnant a few months later. I became a mom of two beautiful children within a short time. I loved being a mom, and I loved working hard at being the perfect mom. I read books on parenting about how to discipline, schedule, and grow godly children. I would not let my husband help much with the children for fear he would not “get it right.” Then I resented him for not being more involved. I left him in an impossible position and hated him for not rescuing me.
Self-sufficiency became a new goal. In a short amount of time, the areas of my life that had not been wrecked by marriage became wrecked by motherhood. Our adopted child was diagnosed with autism. I had never felt more afraid, alone, and out of control. The eggshells surrounding me were beginning to crack, and the plates were starting to fall. The noise was deafening. I felt like I was going to die. The finale to my performance began the day my husband disclosed he was having an affair.
Everything shattered. I was at the end of myself.
Sitting in the office of our marriage therapist, my husband told me he was in love with another woman. She was the escape, the way out of the pain of our marriage. Waves of nausea crashed over me, the air seemed to leave the room, and I remember grabbing the garbage can, thinking I was about to vomit. I tried to breathe in between the deep sobs of my pain. A gracious friend picked me up and drove me home. My husband and I made a plan for him to move his things out of our home and live in an apartment. We made a schedule for him to visit our children, as we would now coparent.
After the shock of his affair began to lift, deep down inside me a spark of hope began to grow. A voice that I had quieted for many, many years began to tell the truth. I began to allow myself to feel the pain of my life, grieve deeply, and trust God with my story. I had read the book The Voice of the Heart and began to name my feelings. I started calling safe friends to talk about what was going on inside of me. I began to tell the truth. It felt so good to let go of my secrets and have someone else say, “I know what that is like. I am so sorry.” This was not the life I had dreamed of. My fairy-tale story was wrecked, but something was awakening inside of me. I still had hope.
A few months later, my husband went to residential treatment for ninety days for sex addiction. I began to understand my part in the unraveling of our relationship. My codependency played a huge role in keeping us both sick. I slowly stopped focusing on my husband being the problem and started looking at myself.
My inability to tell the truth of my heart, my ability to manipulate others to get my needs met, and allowing someone else to determine my truth were all ways that I had kept the eggshells intact and the plates spinning.
Through working the 12-step program of recovery in S-Anon (a world-wide fellowship of the relatives and friends of sexually addicted people) and continuing individual counseling, I began to find my voice. I began to believe that I was worthy of love, and the toxic, shame-filled messages of “You are not enough” began to quiet.
My husband began his own journey of recovery, and through lots of willingness, patience, time, and work, we slowly started rebuilding our marriage. Our journey has been wrought with many valleys and peaks.
Living life with a child with autism has required me to learn much about the meaning of self-care. Going to meetings, working my steps, and living in authentic relationship have become vital parts of accepting life the way God is writing my story.
Some days I slip right back into my codependency, thinking and demand- ing that others must be okay for me to be okay. But I am grateful for my relationships in recovery. I can call for help. I have women who can hear my truth and give me their experience, strength, and hope. I can see my disease, reframe my thinking, and live out a life of surrender and acceptance. I am grateful for my recovery.