Accidentally Brave

A few years ago, my world turned upside down. One early morning, my husband of 17 years was arrested on child pornography charges. The floor dropped out from under me and I didn’t know how to move forward. I had no idea how to take my next step, or even my next breath. Then, because my story was in the news, a total stranger, an angel of a human being reached out to me and her incredible support, wisdom, and willingness to share her own story kept me from falling into darkness and despair. Around a year ago, I asked my “angel” how I could ever repay her, and she said, “It’s simple: just do it for someone else.” I truly believe that sharing our stories, even the messy, dark, complicated parts of those stories, can help us process the pain and help other people feel less alone.

When trauma strikes a family, it is every mother’s instinct to wrap her arms around her kids and try to shield them from the pain. My angel was very clear that I had to “put my oxygen mask on first,” and she was right. I quickly learned that there was no way that I could be any help to my kids if I wasn’t trying to help myself. I was having regular panic attacks, lost 10 pounds in 6 days, and I needed to get into some radical self-care… not just an occasional bubble bath. Shame and fear can be a lethal cocktail, and I was knee deep in both. Sex addiction is a taboo topic, and the nature of my husband’s problem made me feel isolated and alone. There seemed to be plenty of resources for my husband, but frighteningly little support for people like me: the partners of sex addicts.

Early on it was suggested to me (by my angel!) that I see a C-SAT (Certified Sex Addiction Therapist), and when I started treatment with Jenifer Acker, I could finally exhale and let go of some of my fear, finally even seeing some light in my life. I trusted her; she had a deep knowledge that made me feel safe and protected. Many friends and family members were asking me if I would stay married or get divorced. Jen was calm and clear: she encouraged me to take a breath and not make any huge decisions for at least six months. She also told me that regardless of what I decided that I would have to “do the work” because, even if I left, the pain would come along with me. I asked about couple’s therapy and she encouraged me to work on myself for a while before even thinking about working on the marriage. I started attending 12 step groups, specifically S-Anon and AlAnon, and eventually I joined a support group for partners of sex addicts.

My husband went to inpatient rehab, and I was invited to go to join him for “family week.” Initially, I resisted going. Full disclosure, “resisted” is a very polite way of saying that I was dead-set against going. In the moment, I was horrified by his acting-out behavior and had no desire to leave my already traumatized children and head to the desert to see someone who had once been my biggest source of comfort, but who now was the source of my deepest pain. However, both my angel and my therapist insisted that I go, so I headed to family week with my shattered heart and a gigantic chip on my shoulder.

At family week, I was able to scream and sob and not even try to hold it together—which was actually a big relief. I learned so much from the therapists, workshops, and exercises—not to mention the shared grief of being there and going through everything that got us all there. One of the very best things to come out of family week was the bond that I formed with the other spouses there. We healed together, and these ladies have become part of my tribe. Almost four years later, we are still in constant contact. They have seen me at my ugliest, know my whole story, and love me anyway… and I love them back. We have nothing in common—except that we have everything in common. I am there for them day or night as they are for me, and we support one another as we practice being accidentally brave together. It was also incredibly valuable for me to get to know their husbands. As I witnessed their deep remorse and heard their stories, I started to feel compassion for these decent human beings who had done unspeakable things. I could easily see the abused boy in these other men, and that was a big step towards my own healing, and towards healing my relationship.

Even with all of the therapy and support of my new “sisters” and of my family and friends, there was still no way I could process all of this pain, fear, and uncertainty on my own. The depth of my pain went beyond what could be fixed with a pill, book, conversation, or meeting. I developed a deep relationship with a Higher Power, mostly because I had no other choice: all this pain was too big and too deep for me to navigate alone, or even with another human being. I needed a spiritual solution along with an intellectual one.

I am a work in progress, but I’m really working at it and am hopeful for a lot more growth. There was a time when I believed that I would never know happiness ever again. My angel promised me that I would indeed know free endless joy. She was right. I have some really joyful days and I have some really rough nights, but I can say without a doubt that when the pain shows up, I am no longer afraid. Instead, I am brave because I know feelings are not facts, and I have lived through deep pain passing.

Maddie Corman is an actress and playwright with a tenured career in film, television, and onstage. When her world fell apart, she turned to writing in the hopes that her experience could be a tool to help others heal. Now she shares her story on stage every night in her award-winning play, Accidentally Brave – playing at the DR2 Theatre in New York City through June 30th. Use discount code FRIEND1 for tickets starting at $49.

Follow the show @ABravePlay on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.