My name is Jessica Hargiss and I am Michael’s wife. This is my story of living with and loving an addict. I was going to write this as a series of events—I got pregnant, Michael tells me he has a problem looking at pornography sometimes, I throw up a lot because I’m pregnant, we move to Utah, somewhere in there he tells me he is having problems stopping, etc. But that’s not really how I think. Perhaps it is the fault of my gender, but I think more in terms of feelings.
When he first told me, which was, yes, after we were married, quite frankly I didn’t care that much. In the church especially, it seems like pornography is talked about a LOT. Or at least it’s warned against a lot so I assumed it must be a big problem or it wouldn’t be talked about so much. But it wasn’t going to touch my life. No way. I didn’t marry an addict. I married Michael. He was a worthy priesthood holder, we were going to have babies, hold Family Home Evening every week, he would finish school, he would get a good job and things would be great. We would fight about what movie to watch on Friday nights (Lord of the Rings or Star Wars???!) and that would be our life. So when the word pornography entered the equation I really did not think it would change our lives. It wasn’t earth-shattering. He was obviously shaken up about it, but I could handle this. I would encourage him to meet with our bishop to get things squared away, and that would be that. He would be forgiven, and our life would keep moving forward. Besides, I was puking so much I didn’t have the energy to think about much else.
Over the months that followed I know he confessed at least a few more times that he had looked at pornography again. Same reaction. We can do this! I am a strong woman! I survived a mission! I got married in the temple! We are gonna get through this! We got better filters on our computer, I made sure Michael got in to see our bishop, and things moved on from there. I still wasn’t all that upset or worried. I didn’t tell anyone in my family or any of my friends because I thought it should just be between myself and Michael, and besides, it wasn’t that big of a problem. I was fine, our marriage was fine, Michael was fine. Now I know I can call this period of my life the “denial and ignorance” phase.
Things didn’t start to get really bad for us until after the baby was born. We had a beautiful baby girl, healthy, wonderful, slept like a champ. I, however, was not fine. I developed severe postpartum depression and lived the next few months in a blur. I was anxious, paranoid, exhausted, depressed, I could not bond with our daughter and I know I did very little to take care of Michael. He was so busy at the time with work, school, and Air Force ROTC that I was hardly seeing him. I have very few memories of the first 6 months of our daughter’s life. During those early months of our daughter’s life, and after, I know my husband’s problem began to get much worse. But again, I was too depressed to give it much thought. He would tell me he had slipped up again and I would say something like, “It’s okay. We’ll figure this out.” I had no clue that he was dealing with an addiction or that he needed help outside of our bishop and the Lord. It was painful to think about so I did what I could to put it out of my mind. I felt better when I wasn’t thinking about it and was able to function much better that way.
More months went by and things with my depression were starting to get a little better, but Michael was getting worse. He had developed a bit of a temper and seemed to be angry a lot. By the time Isla was just over a year old I felt like I was living with someone I hardly knew. We could be civil most of the time but we fought frequently. I was, in a word, miserable. I didn’t know how things had gotten so bad. We were finally counseled by a bishop that perhaps this was more serious than we originally thought. Maybe this was an addiction. It wasn’t something I had planned on having in my life, but I knew it fit. Michael wasn’t the first addict I had known and after the word was attached to the problem I wondered how we hadn’t seen it sooner. And while having a “diagnosis” was a good start I still didn’t see how things were going to get any better. What was I, as the wife of an addict, supposed to do? I can’t fix the problem, I can’t permanently avoid it unless I feel divorce is the right choice to make. I can’t put filters on the world to keep my husband from being triggered. I can’t change his mood swings, or how far the moods swing when he’s going through withdrawal. I can’t cure him. So what do I do with it? He was the one with the problem, not me. So why was I so miserable? And what was I supposed to do with the fact that even though it is his addiction, I was so deeply affected by it? Prayer and scripture study are, and always will be incredible, but they didn’t feel like enough. Church, again, incredible but not enough. I was fine while I wasn’t thinking about it but a relapse or slip would happen, his temper would flare, and all the negative feelings would come rushing back. I knew the Lord had support available for me but I didn’t know where to go to access it.
I didn’t get any good answers until a dear friend of mine (let’s call her Shantel) told me her husband was struggling with a pornography addiction, and she had started attending the Addiction Recovery Program (ARP) meetings. Here in Utah we’re lucky enough to have meetings specifically for women whose loved ones struggle with pornography addictions. I wasn’t sure these meetings would be a good fit for me but I was desperate and decided to give it a try.
Turned out to be one of the best decisions I have ever made and I will be forever grateful to “Shantel” for introducing me to the program. Michael also, with Shantel’s husband “Joaquin” (not really his name), began attending his own ARP meetings. I didn’t share anything in group for the first few months but was grateful to hear what these wonderful women were sharing. And I was learning a lot. If I began the meetings thinking progress would be swift, I soon learned it was going to be gradual. Very gradual. At first things between Michael and I got worse (culminating in a horrible fight on our way home from California that I thought was going to end in our separation). But soon after I started to see progress. As I began attending my own ARP meetings each week I started to realize that my focus needed to shift from my husband and all the things he was doing or not doing, to myself. I needed to be taking care of myself first. Those inspired 12 steps were not just for my husband, the addict. They were also for me. Because I had my own healing that needed to happen. My marriage was out of control. My life was out of my hands. I had been severely depressed for a long time and I had a husband I didn’t know what to do with. He had done a lot of things to hurt me, and I needed help. I needed hope. I needed to know that no matter what he chose to do, I could be fine. And not just fine, but actually happy and at peace with my life.
A woman in group a few weeks ago shared the following poem:
As children bring their broken toys
with tears for us to mend,
I brought my broken dreams to God
because He was my friend.
But then, instead of leaving Him
in peace to work alone,
I hung around and tried to help
with ways that were my own.
At last I snatched them back and cried,
“How can you be so slow?”
“My child,” He said, “What could I do?
You never did let go.”
It is a hard thing to be married to an addict. It is a terribly difficult thing to watch someone you love lose themselves in such filth. To have their very nature changed by something they obviously hate. It is hard to know with absolute certainty that there is nothing I can do to keep my husband sober or to change him. His recovery is between himself and the Lord. And my recovery is up to me. Whether or not I will be happy is up to me. My marriage does not have to be what it has been. My feelings do not have to be what they have been. My life does not have to be what it has been. It is a hard thing to turn my life over to the Lord and say, “do with me what you will.” But I have been made all the better as I’ve tried to do that. The hurt, the despair, the hopelessness that at times threatened to swallow me whole, has been replaced with hope. Hope in the saving grace of my Savior, Jesus Christ. He saved me. Through His power, and in working the 12 steps for myself, He has given me my whole life back. I was lost. And He found me and brought me back. New hurts will come. But no longer am I weighed down by any hurts of the past. Trials still come. My husband is still not recovered. But then neither am I. I am still a work in progress. And my life, my happiness, my well-being, are not dependent on what my husband does. I see myself becoming a better mother. I see myself looking at Michael in a way I wasn’t able to do for a long time. I see myself once again glad I married him. I see the relationship of trust I have with the Savior and can’t help but feel grateful for the trials of the last few years, not all of which even have to do with Michael’s addiction.
My husband’s addiction is not what I wanted for my life. But I love my husband. I have been so blessed to witness his learning and growth. I see him as the man he is working to become, not just as the addict he is now. I see him the way I saw him across the altar when I looked in to his eyes and saw an eternity of joy with him. And that may be one of the greatest miracles of all — that even after 2+ years of hell, I can once again envision such a future. And it’s only been possible through the Lord.
One final thought to leave you with, from the Old Testament. I wrote it in the front of my ARP manual so I can be reminded of it as often as possible. They are words I try to live by. “Have I not commanded thee? Be strong and of good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee withersoever thou goest” (Joshua 1:9).