Shakespeare said it best, “parting is such sweet sorrow.” Today I feel a piece of that. This is not an unfamiliar feeling for me. This past Wednesday night a group of seven men graduated No More Secrets, moving from active members to the Alumni side of the program. Every June NMS graduates a group of men who have gone to war as boys and are returning home as men. They have met their monster head on and are still standing, victorious at least for today. Their collective journeys are all different yet they share in a common solution. Their experiences during the better part of the past four years will cement them forever in a very special way. I can hold joy and loss of this experience at the same time.
Many years ago one of my first Alumni described me as the “OBGYN”of SLAA recovery. He went on to say that he believed that I pushed him out of the womb [the darkness] and into the real world [the light] minus addictive distractions. At the time I found it an odd metaphor. So maybe what I’m feeling today is a little post-partum depression or a new case of “empty nest syndrome,” yet as I sit back and reflect on my time with this latest group of men I feel honored that they all trusted me enough to let me help them to help themselves to a new life in recovery: sane, safe and sexually sober.
Over the past four years there were a total of 14 men in this group, never more than ten at one time. It took 14 men to make 7 graduates. I always say that this work is not for the faint of heart, yet in an industry [treatment] that has a national success rate of 15%, our 50% is noteworthy. The age range today of the 7 men is 37 to 63! These 7 men also have 21 children ranging from late thirties to three years of age. Nine of the children are minors. Two of the children were born out of wedlock, and two of the children live in another country. All seven of the men came in married or partnered, yet at the time they came to NMS one was already out of the house and 4 were out of the marital bed. The two others were “acting as if” life was wonderful sitting on a powder keg of secrets and shame. Two were in long term marriages of over thirty years in duration. Two had prior marriages and one was living with his long time affair partner still married to someone else. As we finish group four years later, four of the marriages have been repaired, the affair partner man divorced his long gone wife and is soon to be legally married with the woman who made this recovery journey with him. Another marriage has been over for more than a year while another is in the process of a getting “a good divorce.” Final score card: four marriages saved, one new marriage and two lost. And by the way, seven healthy men!!!
These men brought with them into the group a wide range of sexual behaviors that were putting them at risk to either get them dead, arrested, fired or at best divorced: prostitution, long time affairs, multiple partners, hooking up with men in parks and of course the “benign” behavior of adult pornography coupled with compulsive masturbation. Today all these behaviors are gone, but it is “just for today.” Each of these men has a sponsor, they all do 12 step work, and they all go to meetings weekly even after four years. Each man is a sponsor to a new man in recovery, freely giving away what was freely given to him.
These are men who normally would not mix. A PhD, an MBA, two working at software companies, and a film maker. Five are college grads and two are not. Two were born in other countries; one is an orthodox Jew while one is a Fundamental Christian. One was an atheist coming into NMS, one was and remains an agnostic, while two others are married to Catholic wives while never converting. Yet there is a bond between them that circumvents all the differences. The journey is their bond!
As we wrapped it up on Wednesday no one really wanted it to end or to leave. The final group work was intense and emotion filled. There were lots of hugs and lots of tears from men who couldn’t feel or hug just four short years ago. They have all made a commitment to meet monthly on their own and to call each other weekly like they have been doing. Their connection and commitment to each other goes beyond me and NMS now. It is a commitment I believe they all will keep; it will stand the test of time.
When I met each of them long ago, just like I always say to all the men who sit in my room: at the root of this affliction is an “intimacy disorder” and that in order to heal it can only be addressed in the company of men. They have learned this lesson well! And for me it is the sadness of a happy time and they are each forever a permanent strand in the tapestry of my life.