Are You Normalizing His Abusive or Addictive Behaviors?
Last week I told the story of my initial discovery at a local event called Story Department that is hosted by the Austin Bat Cave, a nonprofit that offers writing programs for underprivileged kids. I attended my first Story Department back in January of 2018 on the one-year anniversary of my divorce. My friend Kristy and I vowed that we would tell a story of our own in 2019 and, so, last Tuesday – I got mine in just under the wire!
I started off the story by first explaining to the audience that the husband/ex-husband I refer to in the story is not the current husband who I have now who is not a sex addict and that we are happily married.
I also offered up that even though I was about to share with them the worst day of my entire life, it was okay for them to laugh because some of the elements in the story (i.e. vomiting 18-month old, me wearing a sock monkey t-shirt and happy but clueless civil servants) are FUNNY.
Don’t get me wrong – it is an absolutely awful and heart-wrenching story, but I have definitely learned through this process that you have to laugh in order to stay sane. You have to.
But they didn’t laugh.
As I was telling my story, they didn’t laugh. I mean, they did laugh a little from time to time, but they did not find it nearly as funny as I did. Or at least as I do now.
This made me curious about why I find it so funny and whether I should. I know that I laugh when I am nervous or uncomfortable. It’s this weird coping mechanism that I have. I think that it just be some kind of freeze response and it also allows me to discharge nervous energy.
I used to make self-deprecating jokes about how many times I’ve been married (and divorced) and I made a commitment to myself to give that up.
So, why was I joking about the worst day of my life? Should I be?
This line of thinking led me back to how I felt when I was still married to my ex-husband and I went to see my divorce lawyer for the first time. She told me that I had been like a frog in a pot of boiling water, which is a phrase often used to describe abusive relationships. She said this after she had picked her jaw up off the floor when I told her my story. She found it so shocking, but I could no longer see it for what it was because it had been so progressively bad for so long that I had “normalized” it. Which I know now is a trauma response. I knew that his behavior wasn’t okay, but I had trouble really seeing it for what it was.
I simply could not see or believe how truly awful his behavior was.
And it wasn’t like I discovered his most intolerable behaviors first. It was a slow drip of discovery and disclosure and it literally took years for me to find out the whole truth. Although, honestly, I don’t know if I ever really found out everything, but I found out enough to know I couldn’t stay married to him.
Part of the reason why it took so long was because I didn’t understand that there was a process that I needed to follow and that it involved something called a therapeutic disclosure wherein he would reveal to me all the ways that he “acted out,” which is the term used to describe his problematic, sexual behaviors.
Also, back then, the use of polygraphs was not as widely accepted in the sex addiction community as it is today. Again, until you are forced into this world, who would ever imagine asking your husband to take a polygraph? But sex addiction is such a shameful and terrible disease that sex addicts simply cannot tell the truth on their own. They can’t.
So, as I tried to tie all this back up to sharing my story and the audience not laughing…I think I have to reconsider that what happened to me is not funny. Or it’s like one of those terribly violent scenes in a Quentin Tarantino film where you are simultaneously aware that it is so awful that you shouldn’t laugh and yet you are…because it is so awful.
I would also ask to consider whether are normalizing your husband’s behavior, too. We don’t want to believe that someone we love is capable of such terrible things. Remember when Sarah Silverman wrote about Louis C.K. and asked whether you can love someone who did bad things? Yes, you can.
I will close with reminding you that denial and minimization are both trauma responses. They don’t mean that you are codependent. There is nothing wrong with you. Your husband’s behavior is not your fault. Until next time…