Dear Bishop, Please Help Me
Years ago I found myself in a bishop’s office folded over onto my lap heaving sobs of pain into my knees. I had made an emergency appointment late at night and he was kind enough to leave his warm home and sit in his office with a hysterical woman. I was aware enough to recognize that I was not acting in a dignified manner and I certainly wasn’t acting like the Relief Society president of the ward should act.
I didn’t care.
I couldn’t stop the sorrow from weeping out of my body.
The years and years of being in a marriage with a practicing sex addict had finally taken its toll on my physical and emotional health.
I don’t remember much from that appointment but I do remember hearing my bishop say, “I am just an accountant. I am not sure how to help you.”
Five years before that when I scheduled a visit with a previous bishop, one of the things he told me was to not tell anyone about my husband’s sins. Saying, “Please don’t hang your husband’s dirty laundry in the front yard for everyone to see.” And about 5 years before that, when I was meeting with even another bishop, he asked me to “pray for a stronger sex drive” to curb my husband’s appetite for pornography and other lustful activities.
I don’t feel any negative feelings towards all the bishops that I have visited with during my 30 years of marriage who sometimes gave me advice that wasn’t helpful. I understand that they can’t be specialists in every area of life. They are accountants, farmers, bankers, UPS drivers, businessmen or cowboys that have been called to preside over congregations of hundreds of people with varieties of problems. I believe that they are truly Men of God and for me they have been my First Responders when my pain and sorrows were more than I could bear alone. After every visit, I felt a little better.
Now that I have been in recovery for over 2 years and have been heavily involved in circles of other women suffering from Betrayal Trauma, I want to share with bishops and other church leaders some ideas on what would have helped me so that they can succor other women (or men) who have been betrayed. These ideas come from my own years of experience and also from other ladies that I am in contact with as one of the admins of the forum at www.hopeandhealinglds.com and also the forum at www.bloomforwomen.com.
- Please understand that being sexually betrayed hurts deep. Many women have endured years of lies and emotional abuse from her husband and are suffering from symptoms akin to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Listen to her until the words and the tears stop. This is going to take longer than a 15-minute time slot and be sure to validate her pain.
- Don’t give her any advice that would communicate to her that this is her fault. Many times these issues began long before she even met her husband. She didn’t cause this and she can’t cure it.
- Please don’t encourage her to forgive quickly. Forgiveness is going to take time as she needs to process her feelings at her own speed so that anger doesn’t come back to haunt her (or her husband) later.
- Know that you are the First Responder, not the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). These women will need more resources like a qualified therapist. (It would be ideal if the therapist was a CSAT (Certified Sexual Addiction Therapist) because this problem cannot be cured by a general practitioner—specialists are required.) 12 step groups are good medicine too. Some good 12 step group options for partners are SAL Lifeline, S-Anon, and LDS Family Support groups.
- Encourage her to get support from a family member or close friend. You are only in your calling for a short time and she is going to need long-term support.
- Assure her that she will feel better but that it’s going to be a long road. The first year is going to be the worst. Every year afterwards should get better if she is working on her own RECOVERY.
- If this sister’s name comes to mind, days or weeks or months after her initial visit, then make a follow-up appointment with her. Many times she will feel much much worse before she starts to get better.
- When you meet with the addict, be sure to get the rest of the story from the spouse because addicts will usually hide the truth. Include the spouse in your meetings with the addict to the level that she is comfortable. Please don’t think that it is enough to encourage the addict to read his scriptures, fast, say his prayers more regularly and attend the temple more. This is only a good starting point. Overcoming these issues are complicated and recovery is a lifelong process.
- Point him to more resources such as an experienced therapist and a 12 step group to attend such as SA, SA Lifeline and LDS Support Groups. It is also helpful if the addict finds an accountability partner or sponsor. (His wife would not be the best option here.) Encourage the husband to give a full disclosure of his secret life to his wife.
- The Lord has condemned sexual sins and understands that these sins break hearts. When we are heartbroken, it is hard for us when our husbands come in to visit with you and sometimes there is no consequence. It makes us question everything (What is wrong with us?, Does God love us?, Is the Church really true?….) In Hebrews 12:7-9,11 the Lord talks about how chastening yields “fruits of righteousness.”
- One of the most helpful things you can do is to offer to provide us a Priesthood blessing. We need to know that Heavenly Father is aware of us and that he loves us and that we will be okay. In one blessing that a bishop gave me he said that someday my husband would be “whole, pure and white”. That didn’t happen the next day or the next week or for the next 10 years but it’s happening now. Those words gave me something to hang onto while I waited.
Dr Adam Moore, CSAT has written some guidelines for clergy on how best to work with addicts and their partners. He admits that working with a women in trauma can be difficult and that listening to her experience is a good indicator of how her husband’s recovery is going.
When a man comes in with an addiction problem, many times the initial and main focus and support is for him. The spouse, however, has been the victim, and it would be best to support her first. Most of the ladies that I have become acquainted with in my 12-step groups and on the forums, adore their husbands and would do anything to help them overcome this problem. If you are able to support these women, then this will be one of the best things you can do for the addict and for their whole family.