Thursday, December 3, 2015

Dear Addi: "how do I help my wife heal?" Step 8: Make sure she gets time with her priesthood leaders too!

Throughout the entire secrecy of my addiction, I always knew that someday I would need to face my priesthood leaders and confess everything. I ‘knew’ I would need to, however, I always convinced myself that if I could just be clean long enough, that maybe the confession part wouldn't be necessary. I told myself that through my will power alone, I would prove to God that I was worthy and therefore, did not need to confess. It's one more of Satan's subtle little lies that, if we can just stop acting out, there would be no need for repentance. But even if I were able to put it away on my own (which by the way, I couldn't) I would still be buried under all the secrecy and guilt. There is no repentance without confession. It is a key part of the process and might I add, extremely liberating. For me, It happened in stages. First I bore my soul to my wife. As I have mentioned before, It was a crushing world shattering revelation. Everything she knew and believed had been flipped upside down and she was left with nothing but a sliver of hope to hold on to. We spent hours negotiating, apologizing, crying, and trying to imagine if there was a way forward. Thankfully she felt that there was and she said to me “the first thing we need to do is call the stake president”. We did. And so, through shame and embarrassment, I finally went before my priesthood leader and confessed everything.

I don't think he was prepared for what he was about to hear. My lies, cover up, and acting had been so complete that, even though I sat next to him many times a week as his second counselor, he had no idea of what I was about to confess. For the next hour I poured out every detail of my dark addiction to him. Through streaming tears, I confessed a multitude of sins and shame. He, to his credit, said nothing. He just sat, listened and cried with me. He felt the weight of what I had been carrying. He showed me love and compassion. He accepted my confession and then began to explain to me what the road forward would look like. It, for me, was the most overwhelmingly glorious experiences of my no longer be in no longer be fighting this alone and to know that I had an advocate that was working with me to see that I succeed. I left his office feeling light and free from the weight of sin I had carried for years..

Then there was my wife. She waited outside his office for over an hour, at times pacing, walking the church, and ultimately finding herself pleading with God on her knees in the empty chapel. It was a long, lonely,  desperate hour for her. And so as I emerged from his office feeling that I had finally found an escape from my hell, she was feeling heaviness and pain as she entered a hell of her own. She questioned who I was.   If She should leave. She hurt from the pain of betrayal and lies and deceit. She questioned whether she could move forward in a marriage with a man that she did not know could be trusted again. Should she even try? All hope and happiness had been sucked out of her life and into the vacuum of my sins.

I stepped out of the office and faced a broken wife.  Again, to his credit, the stake president then invited her into his office and spent the next hour with her. I don't know everything that was said in that one on one meeting but he called me back in after that second hour and with her in the room said to me, “You have broken your wife’s heart.”   Of course, I knew that.  It was one of the main reasons that I didn’t want to come clean...I knew what it would do to her.  This simple statement helped my wife immensely.  It told her that he understood her pain and the cause of it.  He was blunt and bold and quickly called me out on the damage I had done to her. She needed that. She needed someone to finally be on her side.  At that very moment, the Stake president asked me to turn over my temple recommend.  My wife witnessed me having to take that very painful step.  He then offered us both a blessing.  I declined. She accepted.  In that blessing,  he told her that this would be her life defining trial. After that initial meeting, we met with the Stake President several times a week leading up to my excommunication and then almost monthly after that.  We also met with our bishop once a month as well for the first year.  We looked forward to those meetings.  Those check ins gave us the power to persevere and the strength to move on.

And thankfully, that is what we have been doing for the past 23 months.

Now, here is what I know in talking with both wives, husbands, and from my own experience as a Bishop:  not every wife of an addict gets this kind of an attention.  More often than not, the husband confesses and then the Bishop hones in on him and wants to meet with him a couple times a month. He puts all his effort into helping him stay strong, into helping him heal. And so the husband gains all sorts of strength and help through regular visits. But the wife? Well, many wives and husbands tell me is that she very seldom is asked how she is getting along. In fact, she may not talk to the bishop again until his her next recommend interview or perhaps until right before his next disciplinary council.

This is not because the bishop is ignoring the wife or doesn't care. It's because just like the physician, he is automatically going to give attention to the spurting wound and make sure that he has stopped the bleeding.  But the truth is.. while he is distracted by the most gruesome looking injury, he may be overlooking the major head blow that the wife took in the process. Not on purpose, and certainly not in every case, but in many cases it seems to happen this way.

I served as a Bishop for just over 5 Years. I know it sounds hypocritical to say this but, I loved the opportunity to work through trials with husbands and wives who wanted to try and save their marriages. Maybe it was because watching them survive the difficulty of their trial gave me hope that someday I would be able to face mine. Nonetheless, I too fell into the trap of focusing all my time on the transgressor and failed to see the wounds of the recipient of the sin. And in truth, once I had met with a brother and his wife, I would often times simply forget about their issues until I ran into them again. This sounds cold but, with all of the welfare, Youth, missionary, ward staffing and  activation issues that were always in front of me, sometimes those things that deserved the greatest part of my attention simply got pushed off until another time. Then of course I had my own family to spend time with and a job to work. Please understand that I am not trying to make excuses. I truly believe I could have done things better (and wish I had). My point in saying all of this, is that I don't believe my experience as bishop is too different from that of many if not all other Bishops in the church today. We spend a great deal of our time working through things that could (and should) be passed off to a counselor or quorum president and dedicate the smallest portion of our time to that which matters most. And unfortunately that means the wife may end up getting the least time and attention.

But wives, your  wounds need treatment too!

Let me offer a couple of quick suggestions to help you in getting what you need from your priesthood leader.

  1. Don't wait on the Bishop to call you. He has a very capable executive secretary. His primary job is to schedule the bishop’s appointments. Use him. He will get you in very quickly if you tell him it's urgent. And don't worry that the secretary is going to ask you all sorts of questions about why you need to see the bishop. He won't. His job is to schedule and that is all. He may ask… “What's this meeting for?” but only to find out if you need a recommend interview or financial help, or something that one of the bishop's counselors can help with instead. All you need to tell him is that it is a personal matter and leave it at that. He will go to work and get you scheduled.
  2. Don't feel that you are wasting the Bishops ‘Precious time’. I promise you, you are not. At one point, we apologized to our Bishop for taking so much of his time every month.  He laughed and said, “This is the kind of stuff I like to do, especially when a couple takes my advice and comes back every month,  having made some progress.”  I can tell you that helping families  heal and helping members overcome sin is probably one  of the things he will remember most from his time as bishop.  He welcomes your call. Please Please Please…. Never feel you are wasting his time. You are the reason he was called. You are his priority.
  3. Insist on equal time. If he spends an hour with your husband, ask for an hour as well, especially early on in your trial. In the first year you will need him the most. Those long nights filled with nightmares, memories, hurts, pains are never more present than during the beginning of this process. Furthermore if, heaven forbid, things between you and your husband can't be resolved or he is unwilling to make the changes necessary to find recovery, you will most likely be the one seeking the support and strength of the bishop. So make time to include him as your advocate.
  4. Don't be minimized. Lets face it, not a lot of Bishops have dealt with lust, pornography, or sexual addictions, and frankly most don't have any counseling degrees to help them through the process. They are human. Which means they may make a wrong call from time to time. I promise you they are praying and seeking help with your situation. However I still hear stories from wives quite often where they say “the Bishop just doesn't get it.” Lets face it, wives of addicts are the real experts. You have spent time studying, reading and researching addiction. You know better than most, the triggers and level of difficulty that lust in all its forms can be. Bishops… generally don't. One wife told me that when she visited the bishop with her husband to witness her husband confess, the bishop simply slapped his wrist and said… don't do that any  more… now go home and be happy. She said that it felt like he didn't care at all how this had hurt her and suddenly they were the good old boys club scratching each others backs and minimizing the addiction altogether. She told the Bishop how she felt about his response and, to his credit, he humbly looked at things differently and decided to do his own study. This good Bishop became an expert on addictions because this wife refused to be minimized.

Let me close by sharing something my wife likes to say in jest. She says “I believe God has a much more tender and compassionate love for his Daughters on earth than he does His sons. Oh He loves them lots, but just not as much as his Daughters.”

Even though she says that with a sense of humor, I have considered it. I use to think that statement couldn't possibly be true. God loves us all the same… but… over the last 22 months… I have come to agree with my wife on this point. We men will most likely spend the rest of eternity playing catch up, especially spiritually, to our wives. And I think the Lord knows it. All I can say is thank goodness for the atonement of Christ. It is the only thing that puts men on an equal playing field with the daughters of God. Husbands, let’s make sure that our wives...His precious daughters...get the help they need.