My demons took control of me

I thought knowing my demons would protect me from their power. I was wrong.

By Cary Tennis
December 12, 2008 4:02PM (UTC)
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Dear Cary,

I behaved monstrously and, like an inmate living on death row, I am only surviving on the dim hope that I will be forgiven. Am I delusional? First, a few details. I had an affair with my spouse's good friend. Our families were friends. Our young children played together. I lied and cheated and did things of which I never thought I was capable. When caught I lied and obfuscated to the very end. I've come clean since, with every embarrassing detail, but obviously my credibility is near zero, so my spouse is incredulous in addition to being murderously furious. I put my health and my spouse's health at risk and exposed my children and family to something not only toxic but very dangerous.


Why did I do it? We had everything. Money. A beautiful house in a dream location. Independence. But I was angry and hurt and couldn't see the proverbial trees through the forest. More than anything, however, I was weak.

Now I am alone and scared and want what I had. I want my children, my spouse and my beautiful life back.

I've read your column and enjoyed it, but always with a heaping scoop of skepticism and amusement. Therapy? Hah. Counseling? A crutch. Deep self-reflection? Give me a break.


For years I harbored demons I thought I could control. I knew their source, but I was master over them. Apparently I wasn't.

I'm now committed to all of it. I'm determined to find out why I did what I did and figure out a way to make sure it never happens again, whatever it takes.

I believe, but don't think my spouse ever will.


How do I prove it? Is it delusional to think I can?

Truly Sorry

Dear Truly Sorry,

For the second day, I am going to write without going back to edit. Today I will tell you why. I am on painkillers. The painkillers are affecting my ability to think. I can write OK. But the process by which I usually go back over the piece several times, rewriting sections, moving sections around, trying out different words in sentences and reordering sentences, apparently requires a mental energy and ability to concentrate that has been sapped by the Vicodin and will probably be sapped further by the Percocet, which I intend to begin taking if the pain from surgery persists.


So we will proceed thusly.

As to your question, first there are many things I appreciate. I appreciate the passion and emotional force of what you say. I appreciate your admitting that you thought you could control your demons because you knew their source. I also have had to make the difficult discovery that knowing what one's demons are and where they come from does not shield one from them or give one power over them.

However, not to be trite, but those sudden moments of insight where we grasp the true power of our demons, and their hidden influences, do offer us opportunities for change. Now that you have reached this point, I suggest that you accept another trite-sounding but inescapable reality: What matters now is your own growth, not what your spouse thinks. You are powerless over what she thinks.


So far so good. I feel like a tightrope walker. So my answer to your immediate question is really a sort of non-answer. That is, I think that whether you can prove that you have changed and can regain your spouse's trust is not the point. I don't know whether you can do that or not. I do feel strongly, however, that to concentrate on convincing her of your change would be a waste of this precious moment. The best use of your time right now, in my opinion, would be in just those areas that you so recently scoffed at. You now see, apparently, that you were wrong about your demons. You were wrong about how much of your own behavior you can control. You were wrong about how safe you were. You were not safe at all. You were in great danger. And you still are. Just as you have realized that knowing what you did about your demons would not save you, so you must realize that your current knowledge right now will not save you from further mistakes. You are not on safe ground. You are still lost in the woods.

At least you know you are lost in the woods. So take the next step. Ask for help. Take someone's hand and let them guide you out of the woods. Shut up and listen. It's a long way out. Forget your shortcuts. You're not going where you think you're going. Do this, please, now, while the shock of the truth is still fresh. Do not be lulled into complacency. Keep this shock fresh in your mind. It alone can save you.

You strongly wish for things to return to the way they were. This wish may cloud your thinking and lead you to think things are OK when they are not. You say twice in your letter that you are concerned about being delusional. So let us take this as a sign that your grasp of your situation is somewhat impaired. Remember that. Remember that you are not seeing things as others might see them. You must place some trust, now, in another set of eyes. It will be tempting, once things settle down, to believe that this was all just a strange kerfuffle, a momentary glitch. I say again, please resist that temptation. You have glimpsed a vital truth about yourself. Keep that truth in view. Keep moving toward it. It will reward you. It will also frighten you and confuse you. That is part of the price. But you are on the road. Stay on the road. You will be rewarded.


p.s. This feels so very, very strange. I am strongly tempted to go back and reword! But I will not. I know I would only make a mess of things! I am not used to having drugs in my system! I can barely think! I am holding onto reality by a thread! And, now that I think of it, this letter has a strangely personal resonance, doesn't it? "Knowing your demons," indeed. Yikes! -- ct

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Cary Tennis

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