One of the commenters on a recent post said it sounds like I have an addiction. This is actually a very insightful observation. I’ve heard affairs discussed as an addiction in several books as well as in therapy, but it’s not necessarily an obvious comparison. So how is an affair like an addiction? Well, lets see…
It’s tempting to start with the physical aspects of the affair, but one common thread I’ve seen is that people who have affairs are usually trying to escape something. Yes, there are people for whom it’s simply a matter of being in the right place at the right time with the right person, but very often the people who have affairs are depressed, lonely, or feeling unfulfilled (aka bored). The affair is both an escape as well as a stimulant for the mind and body. These people might also be having problems with alcohol or other substance abuse (raises hand), addictions to pornography (raises the other hand), or other escapist behaviors. In other words, cheaters are prone to addiction already whether they have had past addictions or not.
As for the physical, there’s no easy way to say this to someone who’s been cheated on. Affairs are fun. They are exciting and exhilarating. In my case, the sex was not that great for me, but being desired and desiring another person as strongly as one does early in a relationship was a physical high. The anticipation, the flirting, and the explicit fantasies puts one in a hypersexual state that is definitely addictive. As long as I’m writing frankly about the subject, I was very good with her. I don’t say that to brag, I’m just saying as a matter of fact that knowing I was some kind of sexual kung fu master with Scarlet, even if I didn’t get that much physical pleasure back, gave me a confidence I hadn’t felt in a long time.
Emotionally, having an affair means having a new love, with all the excitement that goes with that. Getting to know the affair partner, devoting time and energy to make them happy and feeling a jolt of happiness when you succeed, and having them do the same for you – it’s an emotional high. The affair gives you a reason to get up in the morning or to take care of yourself and your appearance. I had most of my contact with Scarlet through work, so she gave me a reason to not only go to work, but to be excited about it. We emailed a lot, so I was checking my email constantly and every time I saw a message from her it was like taking a hit of something.
Of course, the main reason parallels are drawn between affairs and addictions is not because of how they make you feel while you’re in them, but how you feel when they’re gone. As high as you soar while having an affair, you crash utterly and completely when they’re over. Having your affair discovered is like a junkie hitting rock bottom.
You are physically sick. From the Friday when I decided to tell my wife about the affair on Sunday night until late the following Monday, I didn’t eat anything except a single bag of Fritos. Honestly, I was too sick and numb even to feel suicidal until Tuesday. Oh God, that week was horrible. That was my detox week. Even now, thinking about it in detail makes me ill. I have no idea how I made it through without killing myself and there have been a lot of times I wished I had.
But time moved on and the initial “Oh God, let me just die” phase passed. That’s when the cravings started in earnest. In spite of the pain you’ve just been through, you long for another hit – another email, another IM, another kiss, another time of passing them in the hall and exchanging a meaningful look. Maybe because of the pain you’re going through, you want to return to the bliss of the affair, or at least to have a little taste of pleasure in the midst of the pain. Logically you know that’s crazy, but if you haven’t already figured it out, your heart is your enemy and it is sly and crafty.
If you should fall off the wagon here, it’s going to be so much worse. Any trust you’ve started to earn back, any commitments you’ve remade or ever will make are void and null in the eyes of those who know you. You’re not starting over at square one, you’re starting over at square negative one million.
For the sake of argument, lets say you stay on the wagon. Those cravings will start to fade and life will slowly transition to the new normal – the one you and your spouse have wrought from your horrible mistake. But like the recovering alcoholic, this is always going to have a hold over you. That does not mean you are going to fall back into the affair or even that you are going to fall into another affair. You are still responsible for your actions and I’m not making excuses. However, you and I have tasted the forbidden fruit. We’ve smoked the physical and emotional crystal meth of an affair. And we know, like the alcoholic, where a little taste will lead, both highs and lows, because we’ve been there. We must be cautious.
Whenever things go badly in life, don’t be surprised if you hear the siren song of your addiction singing to you from out of the fog you find yourself in. Don’t listen to it. Run. For God’s sake, run with everything you have as if your life depended on it. Because if you don’t, you’re dead.