In this special Valentine’s Day edition of the R+E podcast, Craig and special co-host Roane Hunter of LifeWorks Counseling have a conversation with married couple Mark and Ellen, who vulnerably share their journey through addiction and codependency on the road to eventual marital restoration. Mark and Ellen tell our listeners that wise counsel not only saved their marriage, it probably saved their lives.
The episode was recorded on November 13, 2020 at the office of R+E by Blue Sky Media.
Mark and Ellen: The Unusual, Beautifully Crazy Journey of Redemption
Craig: Well, here we are. You’re spending more time with us on the Robertson + Easterling podcast. And I’ve got my sidekick, Roane Hunter, with me today.
Roane: Yup. Glad to be here riding shotgun once again.
Craig: So as usual, we’re sponsored by LifeWorks counseling and today we have two people that I’ve known and loved for a long time. It’s unusual that if I’m not doing an adoption, that I get to sit down with a couple, but I’m doing so today and I’m with Mark and Ellen. Ellen, thank you for joining us today.
Ellen: I’m glad to be here.
Craig: And Mark, looking great.
Mark: Thank you, Craig. I appreciate that. You look fantastic as well.
Craig: Our podcast is really about storytelling and the stories of people’s lives. Roane, that’s really how our businesses are very similar is we take people that we find in very difficult circumstances.
Roane: Yes, so much of what we do is just collecting stories; we’re going back collecting and connecting the dots and in our case we’re hoping they work it out together. But that’s not always the case, and then that’s where you get to come in.
Craig: Well, and the good news or bad news is that I don’t have to wish divorce on anybody because they seem to happen naturally.
Roane: Yeah. If it’s going to happen, typically it’s going to happen.
Craig: But today we’re not talking about divorce. We’re talking about marital restoration and Mark and Ellen have an incredible story. I’ve heard them share it before and they do it so well. Ellen, let’s just jump in; tell us a little bit about life before Mark.
Ellen: I grew up in a small town – very family oriented; everyone knew each other and my home life was wonderful. I can’t really say any bad things about it. I was loved and adored by both of my parents. I had an older brother and we both experienced wonderful things. In our childhood, my dad kind of kept me on a pedestal and always thought that I hung the moon. And I felt like that in every situation. Now he wasn’t a father that didn’t think I could do no wrong. If I did make a mistake, I was punished and there were consequences for those bad mistakes, but I felt safe and secure within my family. And I made family be my security. When I lost a grandfather, I didn’t feel safe. Or when my brother went off to college, I didn’t feel safe. I had put these people as something to make me feel safe. High school was great. I was very outgoing and I had a lot of friends. I didn’t have any problem making friends, and I had a wonderful experience through that. I didn’t really date in high school; I had no serious boyfriend. If someone did show an interest, it wasn’t for very long. I had always instilled in myself that I wasn’t going to have sex until I’m married. I accepted Jesus into my heart when I was in the eighth grade. As a child and I guess as a high schooler, I thought Christianity was performance-based; I thought if you do good and you act good, then God thinks you’re good so I always wanted to be good. I never wanted to have sex or experience that in any way. I wasn’t a big drinker; I didn’t experiment with drugs any. When I went off to college, that was really hard for me because I was by myself. I had my friends there, but no family members. I kind of kept looking for something to be my new safety. After the first night at college, I wanted to go home. I called my mom and dad crying and saying, “please come pick me up or I’m driving home.” And they said, “no, you give it two weeks and then we’ll talk again.” I’m so glad they said that because I had the best time ever at college. I made some great lifelong friends but never really had any serious boyfriends. I never felt tempted to experiment with sex or drugs or alcohol. I did drink some socially, but I didn’t choose a drug or anything to medicate some of the stresses that comes along with college while I was there. I guess I first met Mark my sophomore year. I had a date to a football game with a friend of his and met him through the friend, my date. I always thought he was so cute and fun; he was so outgoing and obnoxious that he got a lot of attention. It was so opposite of everything I was.
Craig: Now, Mark, you’ve just been called obnoxious by your wife. She’s fondly remembering her first interaction with you, but tell our listeners a little bit about your backstory.
Mark: Gosh, I grew up in a little bit larger city. I went to a small private school; I was the first child so I received a lot of attention, good and bad. It’s taken me a long time to learn things about my parents, but basically the conclusions that I’ve come up with is that my dad was somewhat emotionally absent and for that my mom over compensated and kind of became emotionally incestual so it was a very weird dynamic at my house. I can remember always feeling like something was off or maybe something was wrong with me. So unlike my wife, I needed something to medicate. I felt like I needed to medicate the feelings that were going on inside of me. I first started really struggling around ninth grade – just socially awkward. Like she said, I became somewhat crazy and obnoxious to gain attention for myself. I remember it being a really, really hard year. My parents took me all over the state to try to find me help and try to figure out what was going on with me – tried to medicate me using anxiety/depression meds, ADHD drugs – trying to figure it out. Just anything to try to help me because there certainly was a need for something, but nothing really worked. I somehow poured into sports and became a pretty good basketball player and received a lot of attention for that. Everything went away until I graduated high school. And then I went to college and there was nobody watching me in college. I could do whatever I wanted and I went absolutely nuts. My freshman year in college, I experimented with just about every drug that you can imagine. It kind of came to a head in my spring semester. I had a girlfriend and she broke up with me and I ended up trying to take my own life. And I can just remember feeling so out of control in that moment and just wanting everything to stop. All of the feelings and anxiety and pressure, I just didn’t want to be here anymore. I can look back now and feel like it was maybe just a real loud cry for help. I spent around three days in ICU for that. For some reason, my parents just allowed me to go back to Mississippi State. I ended up doing kind of the exact same things I was doing before and ended up selling drugs trying to pay for my habit. By the time the summer ended after my freshman year, I was in a drug and alcohol rehab facility. I spent six months there trying to get my life back on track. And really, to be honest with you, that’s where I felt the most safe, the most sane. That’s where I really learned what it meant to live a life of sobriety and a life of recovery – and I loved it. It was great, but it was kind of like that portion of my life had to end at some point and I had to leave the facility and I did, and eventually kind of found my way going back and doing the same exact things I’d done before. My junior year in college is when I finally met Ellen and I thought she was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen before. The only thing was that she didn’t drink, she didn’t smoke, she didn’t do drugs. She was nothing like me. But what I saw in her was somebody who could kind of reel in the train here, you know, kind of reel it in and keep the train on the tracks. That’s what I saw and felt when I was with her and that feeling made me feel safe.
Craig: Well, Ellen, now we’ve heard Mark tell a very different story about his childhood than yours. What attracted you to Mark during that season of your life?
Ellen: He thought I was the best thing; he thought I had hung the moon. He put me on that pedestal, just like my dad had done when I was a child. He adored me, he used his words to jus ooh and ahh over me. I felt that instant, “okay, I feel safe.” Someone has put me up on this pedestal again. Also he was everything I wasn’t, and it was kind of like, well maybe this is fun. Maybe, let’s go live a different way because that looks kind of fun. My parents were not strict at all; they socially partied, but this was the wild and crazy. This was the other extreme, so I was drawn to someone that was totally different than I was. The first words he said to me after coming back from rehab when I walked by, he said, “will you marry me?” I’ll never forget that.
Mark: Pretty smooth, huh, Craig.
Craig: Yeah, that was a smooth. But it turns out that you did actually agree to marry him.
Roane: You said yes!
Ellen: I did say yes then and I’ll do it again.
Craig: So let’s talk about that. Then you guys decided to make a life together. Talk about your married life together.
Ellen: Everything to last has to be built on a strong foundation and looking back now, there was not even any form of a foundation at the beginning of our marriage. I can say for myself that…your friends are all getting married, you’re going to parties, you’re having a good time. I loved Mark and I kind of got caught up in the, “Oh well, I want to get married too.”
Craig: I had a client, she was a guest on the podcast, say that the person she married was just the guy that she was standing next to when the music stopped. She looked around and everybody else was getting married and then later everybody else was having babies so it just seemed like as a Southern woman, the next step.
Ellen: Exactly. That’s what people ask…where are you going to college, where are you going to get your job, when are you getting married, when are you going to have a baby. And so it was like I would get glimpses of a good guy and so that’s one of the reasons I think that kept me there too with Mark is that I saw the good guy inside; then I would see this totally different guy that I didn’t know sometimes. Marriage, even the first year was really hard. We both had jobs. We were both working. I was teaching school and he was still wanting to party and go out and go to the bars. I had to be at work at seven and I didn’t want to be a part of that. I kind of thought, okay, we’re grownups now; we can have a good time on the weekends, but we need to settle down a little bit more. I felt like my needs didn’t matter then, so I suppressed all of that and kept all that in for so long. I thought, if he’s happy then we’ll be happy. I really lost myself for many, many years in the marriage. Alcohol was present all the time, like any social event we went to, there was always alcohol and there was always way too much to drink and he was very ugly and disrespectful to me
Craig: Roane, just to pull you into the conversation, it seems like what Ellen is describing is kind of a common vernacular among people that are married and when there’s trouble.
Roane: Oh yeah. What I hear is just that you grew up with a dad and you’ve got a dad who puts you on a pedestal, but you had him on one too. Then certainly that’s just your model. So you get married, you’ve got a husband and you put him on the pedestal thinking that he’s just going to be like your dad and he’s going to do the next right thing and it was a little different story. So often when we get married, everybody’s putting their best foot forward; a lot of this was hidden and you did not see it. Then once you get married is when it all starts to show.
Craig: So Mark, what about you? You asked this girl that you apparently hardly knew to marry you at first, and then later you actually talked her into doing it for real. So what about you? What was that first season of marriage like for you?
Mark: I remember it being very, very hard. I remember arguing a lot. It was like, we were both (I’m going to speak for me), I was so selfish. I felt like every desire and every need that I had, she needed to meet. I put a lot of emphasis on her meeting my needs and desires at all times. I really truly thought, I mean it’s a very narcissistic way of thinking, but I thought that I was the only person on the earth that mattered and really what I saw growing up was I saw my mom attempting to do that with my dad. He never had to lift a finger at home, and that’s what I expected when I got married and that is not the way it really goes in real life. You know, later I figured out that my mom was doing that for my dad because of a codependency problem. She also felt like if she made him happy, therefore she was going to be happy so there was no separation between the two people. It was all about one guy and his needs and as long as those needs were met, then everybody was going to be happy.
Roane: Mark, I think you’ve described the way that I describe the way most proposals go, right? It’s like we get down on one knee and we look at our future wife and we say, “honey, I love me and I love me so much. I want you to love me like I love me and I know you’re going to love me the way that I love me. I’m so excited. Will you love me and will you marry me?”
Mark: 100%! Could not agree more.
Roane: That’s the way it starts out.
Mark: I cannot agree more. And then you throw in (as I’ve stated earlier), I medicate, that’s what I’ve done in my past. Then you throw in the need and desire for sex; I always felt that I was entitled to sex. That started kind of throwing me down a bad path when sex was being withheld for any reason whatsoever. I felt entitled to go outside of our marriage and find it elsewhere, which is one of the worst seasons of our life in our marriage.
Craig: Let’s talk a little bit more about that. So, you guys are married, you have this sense of Ellen’s job to make you happy and when that didn’t work out just right, you tried to find that in other places.
Mark: I certainly felt like I needed more and if it felt good, I needed more. Well, I want to say that the first time that I ever cheated on my wife was on my bachelor party. I met a girl at a bar out of control, ended up sleeping with her and that kind of started me on a path of “gosh, that felt good.” The rush felt so good and having someone different want me felt so good. And I knew that I wanted that feeling more and more so I began to pursue other women. It always starts out like that – like I go on a trip and I do it out of town. Okay, well, I’m not going to do it in town or with anybody I know; then the next thing you know, I’m doing it with somebody in town that I know that’s a friend of both of ours, and that turns into a long-term affair. Man, it just kept snowballing and snowballing; Ellen started finding out smaller things and started asking questions.
Ellen: But those times that I did ask questions, I was quickly made to feel really stupid and dumb and put down for even thinking that. And so then I would start to tell myself, “okay, well maybe I am dumb.” I was starting to believe the things that would come out of Mark’s mouth about myself.
Craig: Well, what you were experiencing was gaslighting, obviously.
Ellen: Yes, and so I didn’t know what to believe at the time. There were times when we would be at a social event and it would be late in the night and I’d say, “okay, let’s head home” and he’s like, “well, I’m not ready to go home. You can go home, but I’m not coming home.” I was starting to feel uncomfortable; there were people that were really drunk and so I would leave. Well, he would turn his cell phone off and I wouldn’t see him until the next morning. Then the next day he was mad at me because I left; I left him in a situation where he had to stay somewhere else. I almost caught him with the mutual friend that he discussed. I was stopping at the post office and I saw him coming from an apartment complex and I knew that the friend lived there and I said, “what are you doing?” and he pulled into the post office and said, “oh, I’m getting the mail for work.” While I knew that at work, they had someone that did that. He quickly made me feel dumb about that again and minimized any feelings that I might be having about figuring out something was going on.
Craig: Let’s talk about that just a little bit. What I’ve heard you describe is that there were clues, there were things that were happening and your intuition was telling you that things weren’t right. But the language being spoken into you from Mark was one of “no, that’s not the way things are” and it made you almost question your intuition and the clues that were being left behind that maybe things weren’t right.
Ellen: Exactly. Yes, and it was again, another dark time when I lost myself. Losing Mark meant I wasn’t safe, so again he became my drug at the time. You know, I still need this around. I want to feel safe. If I say something or confront him or leave him, then I’m not safe anymore, which is not a healthy message. Our children were born during all of this, or one was, and the dynamic in the house was not very stable for her. I tried so hard to protect her from the things that were going on. People would come over – there’s lots of alcohol, Daddy’s had too much to drink tonight, beer bottles were on the kitchen counter, etc. and never once did I’ve put my foot down and say this can’t happen anymore, or I’m leaving and taking our child with me. Which I do regret sometimes, not removing her from those situations; it was a dark time for her.
Craig: So Mark, I’m hearing Ellen’s version of the story, and it sounds like in a lot of ways you were having her doubt herself. But now there were other people around you that weren’t being fooled by that.
Mark: Yes. So as each of you know, addicts can make those closest to you crazy. And I think I was definitely doing that to Ellen. I had a weekend I was down on the Gulf coast and kind of went nuts. I want to say that it was something like three different partners in three different nights and it was out in the open where some of my friends saw. I have a really good friend, a person that I’ve known my whole life, who actually took me to lunch and confronted me and said “hey, this is what I know is going on” and actually for me, it was a relief to be honest with you. I had been living this way and I was tired of living this way and I was going to continue to spin out until I blew everything up in my world. In a way it was kind of like, okay, here’s the blow up; this behavior can now stop. I immediately left and went home. And actually, I want to say, I called a pastor friend of ours and kind of asked him how should I disclose this to my wife? No training wheels – just went right home and told her. I did not tell her everything; I did not tell her details. I did not tell her with who – I held back as much as I could to try to protect myself. At the time I felt like I was protecting her, but really it was about protecting myself.
Craig: Ellen, Mark comes home and he says this to you. Did you immediately pick up the phone and call a divorce lawyer and say I’m done with him and that I’m going to move forward in a different direction?
Ellen: That probably should have been my first step, but a few days before that I could see the marriage was spiraling and I had a prayer that said, “Lord, whatever you have to do to bring this marriage together, please do it.” And He brought it all crashing down. I mean, He brought us both to our knees; I found the information out. I remember there was a cup by the bathtub and I threw the cup and I think I got sick to my stomach and I left and immediately went to a friend’s house. I was afraid of divorce. I was afraid what the other side looked like financially. I had always been told if we argued about “is there somebody else”, where divorce came up, he threatened that I was not going to be able to afford an attorney because he has all the money. I wasn’t working, so I feared my own protection. It’s almost like, let me stay and have a horrible life because I can’t do this outside on my own. And I did not want to upset my parents who had, I will say, do a great job of sweeping things under the rug and everything looks good. So when I did find out, I really wanted to control who knew and who didn’t know because I’m supposed to have it all together. I’m supposed to be good; like I have this outward appearance, but I was dying inside and I was crushed. The girl was actually a tennis partner of mine, but I didn’t know at the time. It happened on a Monday or Tuesday, and we were immediately hooked up with Roane and Eva on a Thursday. I remember driving to their house and they sat with us at their kitchen table and Eva started sharing their story. And I remember crying, but she was so stoic; I thought, how can she even talk about this without crying? I didn’t even know what was waiting for us on the other side. They are such great examples of that – that there can be hope in this, but at the time I was so broken. I was getting staggered information from Mark so it was almost like I was re-hurt over and over. I didn’t know who it was, but then three weeks later I found out and then I find out where and then other people; so it was staggered to where I was hurt over and over.
Craig: Roane, is what you’re hearing from Ellen about how these disclosures happen, is that pretty common?
Roane: Oh, it is. It’s even the way that Ava and I did it back in the day, but it’s certainly not what we recommend. We call it the kitchen table disclosure, the staggered disclosure. When we’re working with a couple, we take them through a very formal process of disclosure. Just for our listeners, when y’all came to our house, we did not have our counseling practice so we were at that time marriage mentors with our church; so that’s why you came to our house. Now we obviously started our practice, but just to see where you guys were and you are today, it’s certainly hopeful for so many people because it was a tough spot. There’s no doubt.
Craig: Let’s talk about that a little bit because so far we’ve heard from Ellen about that experience. Mark, so I guess that was a wake-up call? Your friend had confronted you and had told you that this behavior needed to stop. And you, out of fear, you were going to be found out, go and you tell Ellen yourself. And it’s kind of the slow drip method – you tell her a little bit, and then a little bit later she finds out more. She expressed that it was kind of like she was being re-hurt over and over again. At that point, I’m sure that you thought that you learned your lesson – that this was never going to happen again?
Mark: 100%. I thought – I’m never going through this again. I can remember having this weight lifted off; that’s what I felt like. I felt like I dropped a bomb and it had been there for a long time – five, seven or eight years, something like that. I’d been doing this for a long time and it was finally lifted off of me. But through that, I was just absolutely destroying my wife. Each time another disclosure happened of an event, or a person (because there was a lot), it was a lot to put on her. And I felt like what we did was we kept sweeping those things under the rug and just putting on a happy face and acting like everything was okay. And to a certain extent it was, I started for the first time really kind of digging in. I went to see Roane privately for a while. He was working on his counseling degree at the time, so I would get to go see Roane for free. And we’d have a great time for an hour just talking about, gosh knows what – it was great. And you know, he kind of got to know me and I got to know him and we loved being around each other, so it was really good thing for me.
Craig: What was the turning point in your life, Mark?
Mark: After the affairs stopped, the anxiety and depression and all of that is still there. So the acting out behaviors have finally stopped, but I’m still having to medicate the anxiety and all of the really bad feelings that I kept having about myself.
Roane: Legitimately medicate.
Mark: Legitimately medicating – so the drinking ramped up and I started taking opiates and diving back into drugs just trying to keep it all together. Kind of trying to keep it all down, trying to medicate all the shame and the guilt and anxiety that I’ve had throughout my whole life. Ellen noticed that and she became unsafe again and didn’t feel like this was a home that she wanted our children being raised in.
Ellen: Yeah, and let me go back to when we started with Roane and Eva. They were both working on their counseling degree and we probably went four or five times and we thought “we’ve got it all together, we’ve got the tools now, we can go out and do this.” And we really believed that; so we thought, let’s just try this again. For a while it was really great, but now looking back, we had just opened the book. Like we hadn’t even started reading any of it and so things kind of came to a head again about six years later. Yes, the drinking ramped up, the drugs were there and I was not aware of any of that. I thought, “oh he’s drunk, oh he’s tired,” and I made excuses in my head for it. I had some friends start in my ear saying, “Hey, Mark was at the pool and he was kind of inappropriately with another woman in the swimming pool in front of several people.” And my children were there with him and he had been drinking, so I was really more concerned with him drinking and driving my kids home. So again, I confronted him with everything and was made to feel stupid. “I was not doing that…so-and-so was drunk too.” He minimized all of it again. Well, I remember him getting so drunk the following weekend and I knew, “this is it – I can’t do this anymore.” So I grabbed both of my girls by the hand, walked down the hallway and said, “I can’t do this anymore” and jumped in my car. He immediately called me and said, “come home” and I said, “no.” I just rode around and listened to probably a princess movie. He begged me to come home and for once I was kind of trying to put my foot down, but then I’m thinking, “oh, he’s going to change all the money over, can I go stay at a hotel can I go to my parents?” I didn’t know, so I came back home being the co-dependent person I am and I ended up going to church on that Wednesday night. He laid in the fetal position in the bed and said, “I need to talk to Roane, I need to talk to Roane, I need to talk to Roane.” He was too afraid to talk to me about everything until he saw Roane, but everything came to blows again; there were multiple more affairs. I would have been the first person to tell their best friend, “pack your stuff up and leave, get out of there”, but I didn’t do any of that.
Craig: I’m really interested because we’ve heard about Mark’s drugs and medicating with opioids and with sex and with alcohol, but you said it earlier, as we were talking, you said that he became your drug and you weren’t finished with him. What was the transformation that took place that puts you in a situation where you’re even here today – talking about this as a married couple.
Ellen: Um, also we’ll say shopping was another drug of mine – spending money. He seemed again broken but he was committed. He was surrounded by all the tools and all the community that he needed to get through this. And so again, we start going to Roane and Eva again, and I still have a distorted view and I’m thinking, “well, let’s just fix him…he’s the broken one” and then our marriage will be okay. It wasn’t until a few years later, or maybe a year later, that we started looking at Ellen. But it was time in counseling to start looking at Ellen and why I was allowing these things to continue in my marriage. I will say at that point we started into counseling, we were committed every single week; no matter if we had to eat tuna fish out of the can, we were going to be there and it was not always great. You know, some days we would leave holding hands and some days we would leave not even speaking. I can look back and it’s like, man, if you just put your head down and go through it, it’s so worth it! I know that’s easier said than done, but what we dug up inside both of us and through our lives, everything came to light. I became fully known by my husband and he became fully known by me, which was so unique where you see so many people are on the surface and the way that I lived was always on the surface.
Craig: Ellen, what was a key to you? What do you see looking back now, thinking about your life, thinking about your marriage and relationship with Mark, what would you say was the key to you guys turning the corner in your marriage?
Ellen: Well, the key would be Roane and Eva. The key would be the knowledge of our counselors to believe in us and to guide us along the path of restoration. We could not have done that on our own – and we tried it. We attempted that and then it all failed again. We went to an intensive and that (to me) was kind of my turning point. That was when one of the leaders of the intensive, Eli, told me to lie on the floor (on my stomach) and Mark put his foot on my back. And he said, “That’s how your relationship is right now. Is this how you want to stay?” And I said, “No, I want to get up!”
Craig: Not only did that happen, that happened with other couples observing what was taking place. What you’ve described is that you were laying on your stomach on the ground, and he had his foot on your back. That was a representation of how you guys have been living your life. What a powerful picture!
Ellen: It was. It definitely was.
Craig: Roane, for our listeners who aren’t familiar with the intensive weekends that you guys do for married couples, talk a little bit about that.
Roane: We bring in two therapists, Jim Cress and Eli Machen. It’s three days and the couples are working, not individually, but they’re working in a group with five other couples. You’ve got two therapists and six couples in a room; more of the most powerful pieces, and I think you guys would attest, is watching the other couples do their work and how much you absolutely learn and become aware of even your own stuff because it’s so much easier to see it in the other couples oftentimes than it is to see it in ourselves. It’s just a powerful three days of how this stuff plays out in every marriage – whether there’s infidelity or not, we all have some kind of crazy dance…some kind of drama that we all play out and it usually winds up in intensity instead of intimacy and in the process, we’re moving to true intimacy and not intensity.
Craig: Mark, if I gave you a microphone and put you in front of a room full of people who are living out the same story that you were, what do you think would be the key thing that you would want to communicate to that group of people in your life? What was the catalyst for change in your life?
Mark: For me, it was that I saw somebody (and his name is Roane Hunter), but I saw somebody who had been through the things that I’d been through and who was on the other side of it, who was living really well. I decided I want that – that’s what I want and thankfully this guy happened to be my counselor so whatever he did, whatever he told me to do, I did it. That’s how it started for me.
Craig: So what I’ve heard both of you say is essentially you connected with wise counsel and you listened to what they said, and you tried to follow as best you could, their advice and you kept showing up in the process.
Mark: We connected with their story, which to us was beautiful. It was about redemption and it was about God and it was about change – and how you can go from one end of the spectrum to the other and that’s what we needed because we were so broken. Ellen talked earlier about me being in the fetal position and that 100% happened. I didn’t know what to do; I thought, “I’m so bad, no one should love me, could love me ever.” And you know, from that day forward, I just started moving forward. Whatever Roane told me to do, I did and slowly by doing that, trust started to be built. Ellen started to look at me and say, “wow, what’s going on with him? He truly is different.” On January 11th of 2015, that’s the day I stopped drinking. I have never taken opiates again, porn and masturbation were gone, affairs outside of my marriage were gone, any type of unhealthy sexual behavior was gone. That’s the day that everything changed for us.
Craig: Sobriety is what changed things for you guys.
Craig: But sobriety is not just the the freedom from alcohol or drugs or sex. What does sobriety look like for you?
Mark: For me, sobriety is living well and living healthy and whole…healthy and holy.
Craig: Only you can’t do it alone.
Mark: 100%, you cannot do this alone. What is broken in a relationship can also be healed in relationship. I have a community of people out there who are just like me – who think like me, feel like me, and we do life together. We talk, we get in there deep – it’s been an amazing journey. It’s been the most difficult thing that I’ve ever done, but it’s also been the most rewarding thing that I’ve ever done. And through all of it, Ellen and I were talking the other day, we genuinely enjoy spending time together. It’s something that we look forward to. I was the guy that you could never get to leave the party, and now I don’t want to go to the party as long as Ellen and I can sit around together and laugh. It’s been an unusual beautifully, crazy journey.
Craig: Wow, that sounds like the title of the podcast.
Roane: I think that’s it – that’s a good one. You know, Ellen, I sat with someone earlier today and she’s really stuck in that anger phase; she’s having a hard time letting go of that. Eva looked at her and said, “you need some other women.” Because right now her husband can’t comfort that hurt. I know you’ve experienced that.
Ellen: Yes. I’m going to just make a weird reference, but as a mother, you look around when your children are potty training and are not sleeping through the night and you can get counsel through that – like, “hey, what worked for you?” Or you’ve got people to turn to. Well, when something like this happens, you can’t turn to your friends because it’s not happening to them. You walk in the grocery store and I can remember thinking, has her husband cheated on her? I felt alone and isolated until we started coming to you and Eva; that was when a foundation that had never been there before was starting to be built. Y’all hooked us up with a community; I feared the community because I feared of being known to other women. I thought that was a fear, but actually it was freedom. And when I sat with them the first night, I think I cried the whole first night, but then it was like I couldn’t wait to go back and to connect and to ask questions and to have women that were further along in this journey than I was. Every communication was just so freeing. And I want to say during this restoration time (as I referred to Mark being my drug), Ellen came back. Her needs mattered, her emotions mattered; the girl that I had lost for so many years (and I had pushed down) was finally back. That was so freeing for me as a person and to be loved and safe with these women in the community. And like you said (with the intensive), seeing the other couples play out and verbalize what’s going on in their marriage, that felt really awesome too – to have that connection.
Craig: Guys, we’re unfortunately almost out of time, but I do want to ask you guys one last little series of questions. Mark, what are you looking forward to?
Mark: I kind of just take this day-by-day, but as for today I’m looking forward to going home tonight and hanging out with my wife and not having any shame or guilt about it. I look forward to the intimacy with her, and I’m not referring to sex; we have a beautifully intimate relationship. I enjoy just being with her.
Craig: Ellen, how about you?
Ellen: Mine’s kind of the same. We usually have a time in the evening where we sit down and kind of say, “hey, what went on during your day, or what are you looking forward to, or what are you anxious about?” It’s being heard and having conversations and intimacy that’s non-sexual, that feels safe and it feels good.
Craig: Roane, any last thoughts?
Roane: I would say, you guys are a picture of willingness – what can happen when two people are willing. When we talk about adultery being grounds for divorce, and certainly it is, but Jesus said the reason that was given was because of the hardness of heart and that just indicates a lack of willingness. When the addict or the offending spouse is willing to do the work – to repent, to put the time in, to make the effort, then by all means it’s worth giving it a shot for sure. The willingness has to be there and certainly you guys are a beautiful picture of that process. Love you both.