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My first polygraph was life changing. My second was routine.

There had been a disclosure...another trauma, another set of lies acting like a fault line upon which the intervening good memories were shaken into rubble, another violation of trust, another time when our marriage hung in the balance. My wife declared that she was getting a divorce, and had been completely serious, taking the step of having my sister inform my aged parents. She had ejected me from the bedroom, and made her plans.

I looked for something I could do, determined to make it right this time, to do more than I had yet done, though finding little hope. I'd gone back to SA, called a counselor, confessed, and read recovery materials. An unexpected spiritual experience offered a chance, not a guarantee, that if I did it right this time, the whole 30 years could be worthwhile. A batch of books came in the mail, including Your Sexually Addicted Spouse, in the which my wife found the trauma model, which spoke to her experience, and some references to the use of a polygraph. After reading those passages, and showing them to me, she commented that the only way that she would even consider staying would be if I would consent to a polygraph. After first trying to find someone local, while we were waiting for a response, one evening she showed me the website for Hope and Freedom (www.hopeandfreedom.com). We realized this was the same therapist referred to in Your Sexually Addicted Spouse. Determined to try anything to save my marriage, or failing that, to obtain the recovery I sought for myself, I immediately slipped into the chair and filled out the online application. Then, she did so as well, softened somehow for just long enough to fill out her own application. After a few days a phone screening came, and we passed. There happened to be a serendipitous time slot we could make. And I had six weeks to write a complete sexual disclosure before taking the polygraph.

I took this very seriously, writing whenever I had the chance. I paid close attention to the instructions I received about what I should include and what peripheral information not to include. No explanations, rationalizations, excuses. Just the facts. I'd had disclosures in the past and had disclosed all the main things about the physical affair, the clubs, the porn, the recent cybersex, but I could remember sometimes hoping certain details could remain implicit, or repetitions of minor incidents that had not led to loss of sobriety. I remembered moments in the distant past when I had chosen to lie because truth caused pain. And from my current vantage point, recognizing how much more pain I had brought to my wife and my family because of that. I remember holding back details because of shame and fear. I remembered times I lied because the lies just came out, until finally, the lies had come out in ways that made their falsity obvious. For hours at a time, I wrote and wrote, determined to do this right, whatever it might cost, knowing that I had little hope but no other options for my marriage. By the time we traveled to our intensive, my disclosure document had grown to 30 pages, single spaced. I worked hard on other recovery tasks, reading, attending meetings, praying, doing everything I could everyday, knowing that if I had not done so, we'd have never made it to the intensive.

I did my formal disclosure on the first day, reading what I had written, adding more I had remembered, and that lead to a very difficult night. She said that I'm lying even when I'm telling the truth. Watching her pain that day, I journaled "How can she possibly stand it? The hurt and betrayal and lies go so far back, so deep, [and] touch so much of life." The next morning, we went back for the second day. Shortly I waited in the hallway sitting on a cushioned bench, and the thought of the detail about the clubs, that I had not yet made explicit played in my mind. I mentioned these to the therapist (Dr. Milton Magness) as soon as he came back to talk to me, adding them to my disclosures of the previous day. He had told us to expect such thoughts, that such might happen. My determination to do this right, and the overwhelming emotions of the past weeks, and culmination of the past night, and that morning combined to overcome my shame and fear. I entered the room, and the polygraph technician spoke for a time about the procedures, his own background, his experience in these sessions, and commented that no matter how anxious I felt now, that when I was done, I would feel lighter. In considering the activities in my disclosure, he probed some for some things that he thought I might have done. In this case, I had not, but I wasn't shocked or offended because I knew men in my SA groups who had done things he asked about. He had me turn my chair to face the blank wall. I raised my arms as directed so that he could attach the hoses that would measure breathing. I lowered them and he attached the blood pressure cuff that would measure heart rate. He attached clips to two finger tips to measure perspiration. The unit itself is self contained, with a computer screen, and not the rolls of paper with pens scratching out patterns. It was all silent. He announced the beginning of the session and asked me to remain perfectly still.

He asked if the lights were on in the room, then asked a battery of yes/no questions, pausing for about a minute between each one. For one question, I hesitated giving an answer, and explained that my memory was not clear about whether I had gone to a club once or twice the last month I had gone, nearly nine years before. He noted this, and went on with the test, and asked the same questions again. This time, my mind did not race to incidents as it had before, nor as it had done in the hall. He announced that it was over, not yet saying whether I had passed.

And just as he had said, I felt something had changed in me. It is difficult to explain... a lightness, a weight gone, something that had been present for so long that it could not be felt except in its absence. I could not see that my marriage been saved. Down the stairs, in the therapist's office, my wife still hurt, and there were still painful encounters to come, both during the remaining sessions of the intensive, and the months to come. But I knew something deep and profound had happened to me, that it was real, that it was important. That no matter how much anger my wife still felt towards me, no matter whether we could heal as a couple or not, I felt a change. I felt the reality of that change through the next hours, days, and weeks and months. My wife's expressions of hurt and anger were real, something I had to acknowledge were due to my actions, my lies, my betrayals, my failures of pride and sense. Yet something real had happened, and remained real whatever else happened. I had this sense even before I was taken back to the therapist and my wife, and he announced that I had passed. He said that I had fixed the hole in the bottom of my trust bucket. But there was no trust in it yet. Filling it would take time.

When I came back with my wife three months later for my first follow up polygraph session, the same polygraph technician hooked me up, as before, and asked questions which my wife had helped compose. Throughout, my mind was calm. My answers were clear, and the results showed no ambiguity whatsoever. This time, I felt no change. In between my first and second polygraph exams, I had been consistent on my recovery efforts, attending several recovery meetings per week, calling a sponsor every day, following the daily and weekly and monthly aspects of my recovery plan. I felt no anxiety. In the silence after each question and my steady answers, my mind was calm as soft white clouds in a blue sky. What is different in my recovery efforts this time? Partly because of the negative aspects of the disclosures of a few months before, partly because of the spiritual experiences we had, and the conditional hopes implicit in them, partly because I wanted so much to keep my family, partly because I was sick of the lies and trouble and waste of life my addiction left me, I found myself striving not just to keep sobriety, to stay within a set of boundaries, I found myself striving for recovery, and not even thinking about those boundaries. I haven't struggled with sobriety. I've daily hungered and thirsted for recovery. And I've found each day, even those nights when I've been alone, that I've been able to thank God each day for sobriety. Beyond all of that, which is all very important, something happened to me in taking that first polygraph, and doing it right. Something to do with shame and secrets being an essential part of the addictive system. For me, the thought that I have another polygraph coming does not feel like a constraint on what I can do. I feel free. I'm not just staying sober for months now, or even years as I have done before. I'm experiencing recovery.