In the 2014/2015 Survey of Wives of Sex Addicts I conducted for the Beyond Betrayal book, I asked a question about regrets. One of the answers that frequently came up (8% of respondents) was around using addictive substances (or engaging in an addiction). Another 8% considered, or took, sexual revenge.
Unfortunately it is the nature of trauma to make us act in ways that are not typical of us. Whether that's raging, crying or using addictive substances (or revenge) to numb the pain. Topping the list of addictive substances women in the survey said they used was ‘alcohol’ (second was drugs). However, when it came to an ongoing struggle with addiction, women listed ‘food’ as their most common issue (others included shopping and sex addiction).
The Purpose of Pain
All pain stinks and the pain of betrayal is particularly traumatic. I wouldn't wish it on anyone. That said I wouldn't wish "living under false pretences" on anyone either, and unfortunately getting to the truth of our husband's double life will bring deep betrayal pain with it.
And while I don't believe any of us were created to live with the pain of betrayal (or any other effects of sin), I do see that God uses pain in this fallen world in ways that can (in time) be seen as redemptive.
For example, in nature, pain serves an important purpose. Think about what happens when we accidentally put our hand on a hot stove element. We almost immediately feel a strong pain reaction and then yank our hand away. Thus with a burn we instinctively know: move away from the source of the problem and apply cold (and possibly medicine, bandages, etc).
Similarly, emotional pain warns us that we are in danger and need to act. However, in this more complex situation ‘how’ we should act is more of a question.
I believe that, as in our burn scenario, we do want to put some distance between us and the source of the problem (i.e. our sex addict/betrayer husband). To begin with, this is probably going to be emotional distance (though there are some situations — e.g. abuse — where physical distance is immediately required). Women intuitively understand this need for emotional space, as seen by the fact that 85% of survey respondents said they had practiced "healthy detachment."
Boundaries (with consequences) is a very common next step – like the cold water for our burn. There are a number of excellent resources that explain boundaries, such as Boundaries in Marriage, and also Boundaries with a sex addict, including Beyond Betrayal, Rescued (Shelley Martinkus) and Moving Beyond Betrayal (Vickie Tidwell Palmer).
When we engage in addictions or mis-use addictive substances like alcohol, it’s like leaving our hand on the stove and trying to distract ourselves by banging our head on the hood vent. Not only does it not help us protect our hand, it worsens our pain.
Of course, I don’t really need to tell you that. As I said, these issues were listed as ‘regrets’ in the survey.
For any woman engaging the battle with addiction I pray God’s healing on your heart and body – and the strength to turn to Him (and supportive sisters) in times of temptation. For those with an embarrassing incident/incidents with alcohol, an affair, or other regretable conduct with other men, I pray you would look to God for healing from your shame. He is so very willing to forgive you. (see Hosea 4:14 for an example of God's grace (not license, however) for the fallen/betrayed...)
For both sets of women, I hope that the knowledge that you are far from alone strengthens you. Satan wants you to think you’re the only one struggling and (at times) failing. I can assure you, you are in excellent company. So don’t let shame keep you from reaching out to God and others.
Sometimes we just need a little help to step away from the stove. Consider prayerfully reaching out to a counsellor/coach, support group, safe Christian friend or church-leader if you need that help.