In 2010 I decided to try to put down on paper to the best of my ability the specifics of how No More Secrets (NMS) works. The book was a labor of love and was not published until 2014 when with the editing help from four of my very smart alumni it finally got rolled out. “A Year of No More Secrets: Unique Recovery Model for Sex & Love Addiction” is an in-depth look at our home runs and our strike outs, unabridged.
When the media talks about someone going to “treatment” it never comes with any real meat and potatoes about what that experience looked like. Tiger Woods, Robert Downing Jr and Lindsay Lohan, just to name a few, are celebrity types who went to treatment, but what exactly happened there? Other than the now classic Sandra Bullock 2000 film “28 Days”, Americans never get a peek at what it takes to start to get well from an addiction in any real detail and “28 Days,” as good as it was, came up short. I decided to try to pull back the curtain. Out of the shadows and into the light.
Every Friday in the calendar year 2010 I would sit at my computer and write in detail about the most interesting session that I had that week. The challenge was going to be that NMS is a very fluid community and I needed to give the back story for each of the four current working men’s groups, including their relationship with partners, while also introducing new clients as they presented themselves to me during the year. I set the book out in twelve chapters, one for each month and then divided that into weekly installments. It is kind of like a running diary in primary colors. MAD, SAD, GLAD AND AFRAID.
Sitting in my office for the last time, seeing barren walls and just a few pieces of remaining furniture, I started to conjure up twenty years of memories. I thought I would share some of them with you and as they say in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) “take what you want and leave the rest.” What would it read like if these walls could talk?
In my very first group in 2002 I had a man in his thirties who I had met when I was working as a drug and alcohol counselor in 1999. In that role I was running a support group connected to an after-care program which focuses on maintaining and enhancing sobriety for people new in recovery. He and I gravitated toward each other; we were both east coast guys and every night after group I would wait with him curbside for his wife to come pick him up since he had lost his license. She and I really connected. She is a powerful career woman also from NY who does not pull her punches nor mince words. During my work with him I could see the sex addiction was an underlining issue even though we were at an alcohol treatment center and sex addiction wasn’t supposed to be anyone’s focus. The trouble in the marriage was not driven by the DUI or even his alcohol consumption, it was driven by a lack of emotional and physical intimacy, his general passivity, and his relationship to porn. When I started NMS, I invited him to join my first group. He was the only member of my first group that I had known before.
We started with a written sexual inventory, life history and started to de-construct the distorted belief that porn was as harmless as popcorn. We also did a few “couple” check ins to give his wife a sense of what was going on, as their marriage started to improve. I was confident that he was not going to drink again but as for the porn my fingers were crossed. Eighteen months into group, she was pregnant with their first. All appeared well.
Our group back then was held on Saturday mornings from 10am until 1pm. As I arrived at the office early for group to my surprise, I saw this man already in my parking lot. He was asleep in his car. I woke him up, he had been crying all night. He told me that his wife had caught him looking at porn, exploded and threw him out. In her anger, rage and hurt, she told him that she would have the baby alone and did not need his name even on the birth certificate. He was devastated. The baby was due in less than a month and they had a visit planned that very day to go to the delivery room for a tour of the hospital. She told him not to come. He was despondent to say the least.
My suggestion, and with the group’s urging we told him to show up at the tour, even if she did not talk to him or stand next to him. He needed to establish his role as his baby’s dad and not shrink away from the dis/ease of the situation. Like most of the NMS men throughout the years, he avoided conflict at all cost, we encouraged him to find his “warrior”, fight through his fear and show up, just because it was the right thing to do. With our encouragement and to our amazement he did show up. Today they both are grateful he did. She got to see a different side of him, and he got to start to find his voice. That day was a seminal moment for them both.
We started couples counseling again but this time they both got much more honest and very vulnerable. I use an expression because it is my truth: time takes time and the acronym for TIME is: Things I Must Earn. In fact, over time their marriage got extraordinarily strong, three years later they had another child. They were the very first NMS couple whose marriage came back from the brink of divorce to make it, due in part to NMS and our recovering community. Betrayal’s a bitch but it does not have to be a relational death sentence. I am forever grateful that they trusted me enough to try and the experience did reaffirm to me that misery is optional.
I remained in contact with them throughout the years, mostly at our NMS holiday parties, NMS picnics, and NMS trips to the baseball game. Then last summer I got a call from the man about his brother who lived out of state whose marriage was falling apart due to his sex addiction coming to the surface. When he threw out the S.O.S. to his brother, he knew what to say. I was not surprised, after all, addiction is a family illness. I stuck my nose in there initially ending up referring them [wife also] to a counselor specialized on substance abuse treatment friend of mine in their area.
A few weeks later was our 15th annual excursion to see the Seattle Mariners play and the entire family came. We sat next to each other and talked for nine innings. Their two children now 17 & 14 were there also. It’s hard to think how quickly time flies, the young man is now in his senior “COVID-19” year of high school. The kids grew up with two healthy parents in an intact family, how cool is that. That day at the ballpark, I felt like I had hit a home run.
In our tenth group which started in 2009 we had a man and eventually his wife came into recovery who I introduced in my book in the June 4th chapter. Keith and Elaine have a special place in the history of NMS. If these walls could talk, they would certainly recall one our my most memorable “disclosures”. Over the course of my twenty-year career I must have conducted a hundred disclosures. It is a painful but necessary process to allow the betrayed spouse an opportunity to see the exact nature of the betrayal. Only with all the cards face up is there any real chance of moving past the infidelity towards forgiveness and healing.
The couple sit face to face two feet apart with me on the couch in the middle, tissues on the floor along with a palpable amount of fear and anxiety. There of course have been a wide range of reactions, mostly tears, sadness, and disbelief during and post disclosure, several were more noteworthy than others. Theirs was one of them.
I always assess the addictive behavior into four basics easily understood categories. Will the behavior get someone: dead, arrested, fired and least of all divorced or keep them forever non partnered? I have always felt that the divorced category can be handled in-house. NMS has a good track record keeping men sexually sober and repairing severed marriages, not to downplay the harm of pornography has on a marriage but certainly it is less impactful then say spending one hundred thousand dollars of communal money on a stripper! The first three behaviors usually need a higher level of care. Keith’s shadow side took him to very dark places, with unhealthy playgrounds and unhealthy playmates. I thought he needed in-patient treatment but because of extenuating circumstances that avenue for wellness was not available to him or for them. We needed to handle this in-house. So, the stage was set.
She braces for the informational onslaught. She knows that much of his behavior is unknown to her. She clutches a handful of tissues, takes a deep breath, and readies herself. He is fidgety, the usual bravado and bluster of his persona is all but gone. I instruct him to read slowly and make eye contact. I tell her to not interrupt and that she will have all the time she needs to ask clarifying questions later. With a heavy heart he begins.
He struggles to maintain eye contact. She is squeezing the arms of the chair. The event crescendos and she is emotionally flooded. She escalates into a white rage. In an instance she jumps out of her seat, flipping the chair upside down as she screams F@#K YOU, F@#K YOU, F@#K YOU Keith and runs out of the room slamming the door so hard that the building shakes, a picture comes down from the wall and the down stairs management office people come running up to see if I’m ok. Now that was a first.
Take a moment, catch your breath and let’s fast forward to August 2015. It’s our NMS eleventh annual BBQ/Softball Picnic and as usual over a hundred folks show up between noon and 6pm. The men bring wives and children, parents, grandparents, siblings, and friends. The women of the program bring even more people. The event is a potluck and after eating is recovery softball: no keeping score or balls and strikes. Everyone wins. In between food and softball at around 3pm we take our annual photo including puppies and babies, but this year was different. With everyone there, Keith and Elaine renewed their wedding vows and I had the privilege of leading the ceremony. For those in attendance who witnessed the transformation we were touched in an incredibly special way. For those who had come to NMS after their reconciliation they could feel and see the communal love, hear the story of what happened and see what they are like now. Hopefully for the newer couples still in a fractured marriage it might give them hope and courage to walk through the fire and not run. This event was proof that happiness is attainable, and it might just get them to stay. Miracles do happen.
Today that recovering couple is at the epicenter of NMS and Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA). Both have facilitated an NMS group, both sponsor and make themselves available to the newcomer. They both have had leadership roles in our retreats, and they have made and continue to make an indelible mark, all with much love.
Based on two decades of groundbreaking research, the book, The Good Divorce written by Constance Ahrons in 1994 presents the surprising finding that in more than fifty percent of divorces couples end their marriages, yet preserve their families. Dr. Ahrons shows couples how they can move beyond the confusing, even terrifying early stages of breakup and learn to deal with the transition from a nuclear to a “binuclear” family–one that spans two households and continues to meet the needs of children.
Using her book as a model I introduced that concept to a couple I had been working with for six years. He walked into my office in May of 2010. It took until January 2011 for her to come in and self-identify. After that we all rolled up our sleeves and got to work. Over the twenty years of NMS we have seen our share of divorce. “Please don’t leave me” is always the third sentence a spouse says after getting caught, the first being “I only did it this one time”, followed by “I promise to never do it again”. The first two are always a lie and third is not. They do not want the relationship to end and yet their addictive behavior guarantees that at some moment they will be left. That is a classic illustration of distorted thinking.
The difference with this couple is that they both stayed in program even as their attempt to reconcile never really materialized. They both did their own work; both finished their four-year commitment to their own NMS group. They both stayed in SLAA, had sponsors, and sponsored. They both went to some form of in-patient treatment for their own trauma that pre-dated the relationship and they were both committed to the process. In wellness they decided to re-design their relationship.
Today five plus years past divorce, they both show up yet separate at our events, often with their children. The oldest child is now a college graduate working on a secondary degree and the youngest is a junior in high school. The woman even brought someone she was dating at the time to our holiday party. Their maturity and commitment to themselves and their children has created that “binuclear” family. It did not get ugly; they keep their eye on the prize. People say the marriage failed and they would say that their relationship got re-shaped. Sometimes staying together for the sake of the children is not the best way to proceed.
My twenty-year NMS journey could fill another five books of the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Our fifteenth holiday party in December 2019 was in fact my retirement party. This one was the only one of the fifteen I did not organize. The men and women of NMS just had me show up with my wife and we did just that. It was an evening I will never forget. There were men and women there from my first group in 2002 and all the men in my current group that ended this past June 2020.
Below you will find the copy of the words our now divorced couple put to music during the entertainment portion of our holiday party: The Twelve Night of Christmas never sounded so good.
I have passed the torch, NMS lives on, but I have not gone away. COVID-19 has changed my planned retirement goals for now. I am still seeing folks on zoom calls and at zoom meetings. More than twenty people came to my office as I was closing it down to say goodbye and take a piece of memorabilia from the walls. Each visit was a gift from God. I am going to still write my blogs at this site, and I will continue to fight for the eradication of this deadly dis/ease that does not come uninvited.