Before beginning my first graduate degree, I worked as a practical nurse on the locked wing of a nursing home. Residents were confused about big things and little things. Sometimes I resolved the confusion with careful attention and practical help. Other times it persisted, re-inventing itself as the day unfolded. Then, I hoped my commitment to comfort the person in their confusion would offer momentary relief.
I hadn’t thought of that brush with persistent confusion until I began focussing on the role of confusion in destabilizing and demoralizing wives and partners of the men called sex addicts. It’s there at the start and continues to be a hallmark of our experience in searching for truth, information, options, and safety. Its tools are gaslighting, denial, diminishing, and lying.
In the early days (before you know that he is leading a secret life) confusion arises over missed appointments or late arrivals—usually because the explanation doesn’t make sense. But if you challenge him, you end up dealing with sudden rage which overtakes your other confusion! Strange phone calls or texts, cell phone privacy, remarks from friends about seeing him somewhere unexpected happen sporadically over long periods of time so you aren’t really adding them up. You set aside the confusion because your reference point for him is as someone you can trust—someone whose core values protect you from harm.
People describe the confusion differently. I experienced it like being in a head on collision. He was driving. We knew where we were going. Then we were hit head on by a huge truck that came out of nowhere. When my eyes opened it was night. I didn’t know where we were. The road was deep in a forest. There were no streetlights. It was raining. I didn’t know how I ended up on that road or where I was going. And the truck that hit us was gone. It was just us trapped in mangled wreckage. I tried to make sense of it but I couldn’t. Nothing made sense—the accident, the road, the time of day, the location. I was completely confused. It was like I had stepped into someone else’s catastrophic life.
Of course, I was living in the same house, working at the same job, had the same children, the same friends, and was married to the same man. But nothing about this life was the same at all. He had been living another whole secret life that mattered more to him than the one he lived with me and our children. And in discovery, I had lost consciousness and woken up in his secret life and was expected to live here now, and be fine with it. I looked down at myself and suddenly didn’t know where I should go, or why. I was confused. My feet wouldn’t move me anywhere. I was stuck. And he just kept going along as if nothing had changed. No apology for how he had abused our trust. No remorse. No shame. No regret. Instead he seemed to gain steam now that I was confused. His arrogance increased. That confused me more. He was cruel. More painful confusion. He seemed to think I should be ashamed, I should be embarrassed, I should be apologizing. That confused me even more. What was I missing here? He just blew up our covenanted relationship, revealing his infidelity to every vow he had ever made—but more importantly his utter contempt for me and our children, and he kept putting me on the defensive. Finding out the truth became the next opportunity to create more confusion for me. He didn’t want me to ever be sure of anything ever again. He wanted to destroy me.
They love confusion. Anything that makes us doubt ourselves is a victory.
Then comes “therapy” and “support groups” and “recovery”. And that’s when you think relief is coming. Finally—you will get some help sorting through the facts and the lies. You will learn what can be done. You will receive the compassion, support and safety that you need so desperately. You will finally begin to think clearly again.
At this stage of my “accident” vision, I saw myself trying to get out of the wreckage. Emergency teams arrived. They rushed over to my husband, working feverishly to free him—talking to him and encouraging him. It was like I wasn’t there. I tried to feel my limbs and see what I could move. I called out. No one came. Slowly and in great pain I wriggled myself out the front smashed window—tearing my flesh as I went. I crawled over the side bleeding and in pain, and landed in the dirt. I was crying. Still no one came. I stumbled over to the ambulance and tried to get an attendant’s attention. “Something happened. I’m hurt. I may have internal injuries. Nothing seems right. Maybe my brain is injured”. He looked past me. I finally gave up and stumbled down the dark, wet road alone. As it turns out, entering the world of the prevailing treatment model was actually worse than that.
Instead of you finally finding safety with professional help, he learns brand new ways to disrespect you, sitting silently while his therapist, his support group, his treatment program, and sometimes his family call you names, accuse you of vile things you never did, blame you for who he really is and what his sexual and sexualized activities are. He is emboldened to abuse you in ways even he never imagined. Definitely a confusing time, for sure. When you try and talk about the real issues at hand in his lying, his cultivation of a secret life, his putting you at terrible risk for disease, his financial thievery and deception, you will find no one—NO ONE—in the recovery community will let you. You will be accused of shaming him and not “moving on”. You sit in your trauma—your PTSD—and suffer.
A client gave me permission to share some of her “confusion” at the high profile treatment centre where she and her physician husband went for help. She had just “found out” his activities included things classified under bestiality as well as fondling the breasts of his incapacitated nursing home patients. She was traumatized, confused and hoping for help. What she got instead was a group exercise in which she was to imagine her husband forgot to bring home the dry cleaning as he promised, and to learn how to not speak too harshly to him about it. Her trauma was cut down to manageable size for the incompetent therapist. It was confusing. Try as she might, she just couldn’t get the family dog out of her head long enough to worry about the dry cleaning.
Then, to make matters even more confusing for that client, when she suggested to the program head that her husband’s sexual assaults against defenceless nursing home patients should be reported, he dismissed it. Confusing, for sure. Then, the same “therapist” sent them home with a “sex plan” so that she could stay on schedule to service her husband sexually again. Confused about her safety, she took it to her own doctor and asked if she needed STD/STI testing before having sex with him. Luckily, her doctor was not confused and ordered it immediately.
Confusion also may be worsened by therapists saying “you chose someone who would do this to you”, “you say you didn’t know but you really did know”, “you enabled his behaviours,” “you say you are trying to find the truth but you are really pain-shopping.” There are women driven to self-harm and suicidality by the utter hopelessness that these accusations engender in those who know they did none of these things. The ongoing and ever deepening confusion deliberately created by the treatment industry is a travesty of therapeutic abuse that is life-threatening.
Confusion also has reigned in the articles, blogs and lectures to which I turned for help and knowledge over these past nearly nine years. I was brought up short over and over again trying to find credible discussion of anything among the prevailing treatment model “experts”. These people would talk about “studies” but when you tried to find them, you would discover they were little more than online survey money initiatives, or “tests” undertaken without proper research protocols, or data cobbled from their own patients, the results of which did not warrant the conclusions drawn. Research complying with the most basic academic standards was absent, and the analysis of any results they had were depressingly unconvincing and intellectually unsupported by logic, never mind the data. It is confusing to realize this field has no compelling scholarship supporting it or directing it.
Oh we could go on and on and on about the role confusion plays in this whole experience. But the one that is surely the most lasting confusion, is the confusion of trying to hold two contradictory propositions about the man you have loved so completely and for so very long: He’s the most wonderful man you know who can be trusted with you and your children’s lives vs. He’s someone capable of complete betrayal who will throw you and your children under the bus in a heartbeat. The clinical term is “cognitive dissonance”, but mostly we would call it confusion. We know it as the irreconcilable question of “which reality is the real reality?” In that torture zone your mind, heart, spirit and body stew all day and all night long, knowing that so much is at stake in how you answer it. And even when you answer it, it’s never really over. The question of “how could he be that cruel to me” may live inside you for a long time. It’s confusing.
How do you find your way in the midst of the worst confusion you have ever known?
Go back to your core values. List them out. Choose your top three values that you bring to your relationships—including your marriage or life partnership, and your relationship with yourself. Stop slip-sliding around in those values trying to find the ones that will allow this kind of abuse to continue and give it moral justification. I use the “one value” caution. Losing one of those three top values in a primary relationship changes the kind of relationship it can be—as in not a primary relationship anymore. You will find that returning to your true core values will bring clarity. You cannot continue in this world as “you” if your core values are diminished or lost. I believe that abusive people intend that you are destroyed in the ways that you are most powerful. That always involves your core values. When they destroy those values—even one of them—as the things that hold you together, interpret your life, reveal meaning outside of your own life, and guide you along life’s path, you are not “you” anymore. Now that’s confusing in a brand new terrifying way. Don’t go there.
Just like when I worked in the nursing home, I am committed to comforting you in your confusion and helping you put reality together as clearly as we can. If you are confused, your story is safe here. Contact me email@example.com