MC: “Compulsion versus addiction.”

In my last post, I talked about porn, cybersex, and masturbation.  I don’t know that everyone who engages in these activities is necessarily on a path toward infidelity.  But, they are big red flags.  I see them as entry-level drugs.  First, even though something like masturbation seems like a solo activity, it’s not.  It includes mental or pictorial images of someone who is not your spouse.  If you do masturbate to images of your spouse, maybe that’s different, as long as she knows about it.  Either way, unless there is full discussion and mutual agreement between you and your spouse about these activities, they are probably something you are hiding from your spouse.

If the first problem is looking outside your spouse for stimulation without mutual agreement, the second problem is keeping a secret from your spouse.  The third problem is that these activities, especially if hidden from your spouse, desensitize you to sex.  You start to need harder and more bizarre porn to be aroused.  You then start to lose your inhibitions about cybersex.  Finally, you lose your inhibitions about real-life cheating.  It is a slippery slope.  Very few people try a drug with the goal of becoming addicted.

I’m not convinced that addiction is the right term for my compulsive approach to porn, masturbation, cybersex, and then cheating.  But, it’s difficult to find another word in our language that captures the way I view those behaviors.  I suppose one difference between my sex compulsion and an actual addiction is that you often can’t quit something cold-turkey if it’s an addiction.  I did quit all these things cold-turkey.  I did not experience physical, mental, or emotional withdrawals when I quit.  On the contrary, I was very happy to have been liberated from the cycle of compulsion.

What liberated me?  One thing was the reality of consequences on D-day.  I was exposed.  My marriage almost ended.  TL and I talked about it every day since.  I could no longer hide.  And, I no longer wanted to hide.  I was forced to choose between fantasy and reality, and I chose reality.  I suspect an addict can’t just implement that kind of choice without clinical intervention.  I was able to implement my choice, by myself.  I do see a therapist to help me understand, learn new coping mechanisms, and address the root causes of my unhealthy choices. Before D-day, I had difficulty making healthy choices.  I was torn between my self-pity and fantasy, on one hand, and courage and reality, on the other hand.  D-day made it clear that the consequences of self-pity and fantasy were real and far outweighed the benefits.

To continue with my story, the compulsion led me to further shame.  There was another woman I met in a chat room.  Let’s call her CR2.  The story was similar.  She met me at our apartment one morning when my wife was at work and I was supposed to be studying.  CR2 and I quickly got into bed, the bed I share with TL.  I was nervous about getting caught, and therefore hurried. There was no foreplay.  CR2 was also unappealing.  This combination of factors resulted in erectile dysfunction again.  I quickly and politely kicked her out, upset with my inability to perform and equally upset with my compulsive desire to try.

It got worse.  The chat room environment desensitized me to a point of having cybersex with men too.  I invited one man to our apartment for a real-life liaison.  When he arrived, I was immediately turned off by the idea.  I apologized for wasting his time and got rid of him.  The compulsion was serious.  The definition of insanity, I’ve heard, is doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result.  I was, in that way, insane.  I invited another man to our apartment.  He tried oral sex on me.  I was really turned off, afraid, and ashamed.  I politely put a stop to it. Thankfully, soon after, I got a job and no longer had such periods of unaccountable time to play with chat rooms.  The porn and masturbation were reduced too, but they continued.

Then came my first affair with AP1.  She was a co-worker who was occasionally assigned to travel with me.  The relationship quickly relaxed from professional to friendly.  I knew in the back of my head that I would take it to sexual level if I had the opportunity.  Sex is all I wanted from that relationship.  But, I disguised it as actual friendship.  We went to lunch together, alone and way too often.  We worked out together.  All this was my superficial strategy of spending time with her to look for an opportunity for sex.

I had worked there a year by the time we converted the relationship into a physical affair.  The physical affair lasted two and a half months.  The so-called emotional affair that preceded it lasted three months. I use the term “so-called” because I did not really invest any emotional capital into the relationship.  It fact, I had rarely invested emotional capital in any relationship in my life.  This affair was a transactional relationship for me.  There were 6 or 7 physical liaisons.  I would go to her place for sex after work. On one occasion I stayed the night at her place when TL was out of town.  On another occasion AP1 took time off work to accompany me on a business trip when she hadn’t been assigned to join me.

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20 thoughts on “MC: “Compulsion versus addiction.”

  1. I have to apologize right off as I have not finished reading all the posts, but I was going to comment on a previous entry when you say you were a “porn addict” but not a “sex addict.” I realize we are probably talking semantics here, but from what I have learned, porn addiction IS sex addiction, and, your behavior (from what you write) goes far beyond porn addiction. My husband, like you, has a long history of compulsive sexual behavior and feelings of self entitlement along with anger and resentment from childhood, but directed at just about everything going on his adult life as well. He hid it well behind his sexual compulsivity. From what we have learned, that is textbook sex addiction. Unlike you, my husband was diagnosed as a sex addict and like I say numerous times on my blog, it was not a death sentence, but a life line for him. Just like you, my husband was able to stop his compulsive behaviors (even though he is a sex addict). He had always wanted to stop and never understood the desire to keep going back to a life that a lot of the time he didn’t want or understand. Just like you his affairs were sexual in the guise of emotional, because that is just frankly an easier way to get women to have sex with you without having to pay for it. The difficult part of the recovery was not stopping the behaviors (those are merely symptoms), my husband hasn’t acted out with an AP for nearly two years. The difficult part was getting in touch with his emotions and his childhood wounds. Being diagnosed as a sex addict in our household holds no stigma. He did not enter a treatment program, but he did go into therapy and a 12 step program. He is very happy to have his diagnosis and the resources available to him. He had his wake up moment way before dday (call to my mobile by AP3) but it is still critical to his healing to have those resources once he got his diagnosis. Just like reconciling, healing is a life journey. One of the reasons I started my blog, other than to tell my own story, was to try and make more real this very real illness called sex addiction. Many of the guys have been able to stop the compulsive sexual behavior once they chose reality over fantasy (as you say), but that doesn’t mean they are healed. “I suspect an addict can’t just implement that kind of choice without clinical intervention.” Not one single guy in my husband’s group had “clinical intervention.” They all just go to therapy, just like you. I guess what I am saying is, if you don’t associate yourself as a sex addict, why talk about it? Why talk about something you know anything about?

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    1. CrazyKat1963, thanks for catching that. We’re still learning. I hadn’t really noticed that I had called myself a porn addict. It may be semantics. I’d feel more honest if I corrected myself and said I was not a porn addict but that I did behave compulsively with porn.

      Whatever we call it, I’m committed to a lifetime of therapy, good habits, and hard work to continue my solid three-year track record of zero compulsive behavior regarding sex or porn.

      I certainly wouldn’t consider it a death sentence if someone diagnosed me as a sex addict. We’ve asked our three therapists their views on this several times and none has hinted that sex addiction is quite accurate in my case.

      In some ways, I might be comforted to learn that I had a diagnosis and a treatment prescription. As it is, TL, our therapists, and I have to work through a lot of intangibles, devastating admissions about my past views and motivations, and problems that generate disagreement among experts.

      I certainly don’t claim to know a lot about sex addiction. One reason I write about it is because sometimes TL and I have had intense discussions about whether I should be diagnosed as a sex addict — not arguments, just shared uncertainties. Then we go ask our therapists and each has told us not to get sidetracked worrying about the label and to just stay on the path we’re on because it is a path that is working well for us. Each of our therapists agree that obsessive-compulsive disorder is a challenge for me.

      Just to be clear, unlike an addict, I have never experienced withdrawals or triggers related to sexual behavior. It’s not surprising to me that I behaved compulsively toward sex and porn, in part because I’ve struggled with many other, unrelated compulsions throughout my life. But, addiction suggests my affairs and other bad behavior were in some way not within my control. The fact is they were within my control. I arrived at them through a long series of conscious decisions. Unlike an addict, I did not experience dissonance as I acted out. I did not regret these heinous acts at the moment I chose to commit them because I was motivated by a sick self-centered narrative that I had created based on an obsession with self-pity.

      Today, after d-day, I regret those decisions and feel remorse for them. But, they were my decisions. It was my fault.

      I figure every couple is different. TL and I appreciate dissent and hope we can all use such dissent as an opportunity to learn and support each other, even if our paths are not always the same. MC

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      1. Thanks for your thoughtful reply. If you have ever looked at my blog, you will see that I love good dialogue. I have to say, my husband, who is a diagnosed sex addict (I just keep saying it because I think he should be called what he is), does not blame the addiction or consider his actions not his fault, at all. This would be part of the broken system of our society by which sex addicts are scoffed at for using addiction as an excuse. It’s just not true. The hallmark of the 12 step program is to take responsibility for all your actions. At the beginning, he wanted to blame his parents for his being screwed up and neglected and abused, but of course he learned in the first month that taking responsibility is the first step. I don’t know any addict that thinks that their behavior isn’t their fault? As I have also said numerous times on my blog, being diagnosed as a sex addict is not a “get out of the consequences free” card. He is now a cheater AND a sex addict. I will say there is one big difference between you two (although like I said, my husband read your entry and said literally more than half the guys in his 12 step could have written the exact same blog entry and many actually take medication for obsessive compulsive behavior) and that is that he did in fact feel shame and remorse throughout his entire life and after every single acting out episode. So maybe that is the difference. Shame and remorse are a big factor in sex addiction diagnosis, but by no means required because manipulation and control are also at the heart of the disease. I am not a counselor or a therapist, just the wife of a sex addict and I have no experience with anyone that has done these kinds of behaviors and didn’t regret them immediately. It’s probably a good thing you guys have three therapists. I guess as long as we all get to the heart of what goes on deep inside us that would allow us to make such destructive and hurtful decisions in our lives, that is what living in reality is all about. I hope TL got, or is getting the kind of support she needs for this type of trauma situation. I look forward to reading more of your story. K

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        1. I really appreciate this dialogue. This reminds me to expand on the topic of shame. I think many of us felt shame, but I suspect it’s worth understanding the different reasons for this shame. I haven’t yet see anyone write about those distinctions. Here’s my thinking.

          First, there is the type of shame that starts a man down the path of unhealthy behavior in the first place. In my case, this was shame about not being as successful as I wished to be according to some very archaic, even sick, masculine stereotypes. I felt that shame as a child every time I was awkward athletically. As an older kid, I felt it each time I was awkward with girls or in social settings. Then comes the part I could have prevented. Instead of taking responsibility for those feelings and doing something about them, I told myself I could not control them. That was untrue. I could have practiced more at athletic endeavors. Instead, I chose not to develop resiliency. I chose not to try. I could have chosen not to obsess about awkward social interactions, to let them be water under the bridge, and to learn from them. Instead, I chose to feel sorry for myself and to think God owed me something. So, there’s the first type of shame that seems to play a role here.

          Second, when I hid and used porn or saw prostitutes, I felt shame as I did those things. It was a different kind of shame. I was ashamed because I was violating social norms and I was wasting time and money.

          Third, I was also ashamed that I was getting sexual satisfaction in a manner that detracted from my masculine (according to the aforementioned archaic, sick definition of masculine) confidence rather than contributed to it.

          Fourth, when I committed affairs, I did not feel shame at the time. I choose those as a sick means of trying to satisfy my insatiable desire for sex, self-validation, and empty flattery. I only felt shame about those experiences after I was forced to confront the pain they caused TL and the fact that I did those things for very unhealthy reasons.

          TL asked why I was ashamed on account of societal norms with regard to porn and prostitution but not with regard to affairs. The answer says something even more disappointing about my previous, sick and wrong way of thinking. I actually thought affairs were less threatening to my pride than porn and prostitution were. In fact, my concern about societal norms was tied to my view of what was more masculine — not to some view of what was more moral. Maybe most people see societal norms as important because they indicate morality. I did not see it that way. Societal norms were important to me only for purely self-centered, Machiavellian reasons. They were a means to an end, not an end in and of themselves. That has all changed for me now, but only through therapy, religious study, and lots of ongoing hard work.

          I’d be curious to hear from other unfaithful spouses about the different types of shame they experienced. MC

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  2. Wow. From your comment here, my guess is you thought about your behavior over the years and while you were doing it a lot more than my husband did. He always felt shame, but I’m pretty sure he didn’t evaluate the behavior from childhood, or even really know how it was defined. He just knew he felt inadequate, and like he was a bad person. Through intensive therapy sessions, therapists believe my husband was probably neglected from birth. His mother is an extreme narcissist. His father worked all the time and his time with his sons was scheduled by the mother, not that the father is much better since he lacks basic human emotion. My husband never knew any other kind of treatment, only neglect and ridicule and verbal abuse. No excuse, just how he grew up and what shaped his personality. He started masturbating to medicate his feelings of inadequacy when he was probably 10. He had two stress induced immune deficiency illnesses from the age of 8. When his body failed him, he felt further shame. He really had no other compulsions as a child, but when he was in law school, he compulsively studied (and unbeknownst to me, due to stress, he also compulsively masturbated). His parents were constantly telling him he was going to fail. When he started working, he became an extreme workaholic (he was always a sexaholic, but I only knew about the workaholic part, because you know… secrets and lies). He never felt like he could work enough to be successful in the eyes of his parents. He was living in a very well defined man box, as he calls it. Have you seen the Tony Porter Ted Talk, A Call To Men? It’s pretty good. My husband used to recommend it all the time.From what he has said, my husband felt shame around all his acting out behaviors. He never hired escorts or prostitutes as that is illegal and he is an attorney. Pretty sure doing something illegal never even entered his mind. I asked him if cheating was illegal, would he have done it. He told me he had no idea because it’s not illegal, so that never entered his mind. It’s a “crime” to me. Blows my mind. Anyway, maybe I can get my husband to write about shame himself, since he is the sex addict, not me. He doesn’t read blogs, but he does use his blog for getting thoughts out and for working on assignments for his therapist. Thanks a lot for sharing. K

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    1. Kat, very interesting! I wonder, would your husband have used prostitutes if they were legal?

      Mindless only used them in countries where they were exceptionally cheap, very available and where there was no real law enforcement to speak of. He wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole in some place like the US. Of course, health and safety never did figure into that equation. TL

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      1. Good question.He grew up in the US and I’m sure in his family it was not a profession you associated with in any way. His parents never liked me, so I’m sure he could rationalize that they wouldn’t care if he was cheating on me, or even think it was wrong. Again, his whole life was about trying to please his parents. He has worked in and traveled to many many countries where as you say prostitutes are cheap, available and not enforced and he never used them. Health and safety did not enter in my husband’s equation either since he had unprotected sex with his last AP, intermittently, for eight years. Who really knows what went through his head. A lot of the really weird baggage does come straight from his parents though. Not an excuse, just a reality. When he went through therapy, he kept telling me about how the therapists interpreted what he told them about his parents and his family… as if it was so difficult to figure out??? He was brainwashed. Just glad he is healing now. K

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        1. My mother didn’t really neglect me. She was omnipresent in my life. Perhaps she wasn’t much into hugs and touchy-freely emotions. I remember her as sad, bitter, angry, and intimidating. My biggest problem with my mother is that I felt she micro-managed my life. She didn’t even treat me as a human being — more like a pet or a toy doll. And, she never learned to treat me as an adult. Of course, I did a piss-poor job of learning to behave like an adult.

          Masturbation wasn’t about medicating feelings of inadequacy for me. I think it started as just curiosity and natural sex-drive. As a teenager, it may have been sort of “normal.” I’m not sure. I think it was abnormal that I continued to do it in my marriage, instead of directing that sexual energy toward TL in a non-threatening, non-demanding way.

          We’ll have to look into Tony Porter’s TED talk. Thanks for the tip.

          Let me know if your husband does write about shame. I’m eager to see other perspectives on this. MC

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    2. Kat,

      I’m just now reading through this entire site. Your conversation with Mindless has been very helpful to me.

      I have one question for you on your husband’s sex addiction. You stated, “He never hired escorts or prostitutes as that is illegal and he is an attorney. Pretty sure doing something illegal never even entered his mind.” Do you know this for sure?

      How can he both be an addict and also be sure he would not have escalated his behaviors to illegal activity. The whole point of being an addict is that the addiction, left untreated, can, will and does escalate regardless of someones profession or professed words. In fact, that too is part of what makes an addiction an addiction, a true addict could and would take such risks, regardless of their profession.

      Escalation is a fundamental part of addiction. Knowing that, knowing that he was able to evade your gut feeling for years, have you done a polygraph to see just how far his addiction went? I’m a little scared for you to believe that he is an addict and yet not subject to the premises of addiction, escalation in spite of risks.

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      1. EdiSA, This conversation with MC and TL was quite some time ago, so I had to read back through the comments and try to remember under what context it was written and realizing almost a year of recovery has passed. If there is anything we have learned in the past two years, it is that no one addict is exactly like another and they all have their own pathology, their own proclivities, and their own escalation behavior. On my blog (and to him many times) I have stated that I wish he had had sex with 80 prostitutes versus one woman for a period of 8 years. I wish I had been called to pick him up at the police station instead of some strange woman calling my mobile phone. I doubt very much the prostitutes would have stalked me (like his acting out partner did)… although we do know of one addict whose “favorite” prostitute and her “boyfriend” robbed his house at gun point! To be honest, we now know addicts who have only used prostitutes and massages with happy endings, we know addicts who have one night stands and long term affairs, we know addicts who only use porn, and we know addicts who do all of the above. Escalation exhibits itself in many different ways as well.

        I really don’t know what to tell you other than his escalation was going from long term grooming efforts and short term sexual relations with women he knew in real life (they worked for him) to putting in a Craig’s List Ad during a particularly difficult time with his parents, “to see where it went.” He communicated with a perfect stranger (who could have been anyone) and then met her blindly at her house not knowing if he would be blackmailed, beat up, or killed. He didn’t even think about those scenarios, he says. Considering my husband is a pretty self protective guy, I find this astonishing in and of itself. He also took her on business trips (business being a big part of his life and persona, so very important to him) with a bunch of “safety” stipulations. That was of huge risk both personally and business-wise. At this point, I don’t really care. He is an addict. I’m not sure I have ever said he would NEVER have used a prostitute, he just never did use a prostitute and I stated my thinking on it and what he said… No one can be sure, not even him, that he would not have escalated his behaviors to illegal activity, he just didn’t. He was an addict for 40 years. He went from excessive masturbation to porn to flirting obsessively (grooming) to short term affairs with known women, to a long term affair with someone whom he thought would never cross over into his “real life.” He saw this woman approximately twice a YEAR. In between he used porn. That’s the story. He is in recovery. That is what matters to both of us.

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        1. I just found this statement, “He never hired escorts or prostitutes as that is illegal and he is an attorney. Pretty sure doing something illegal never even entered his mind,” to be either naïve or a touch holier-than-thou. As a recovering SA, I didn’t think it was a fair assessment either way. I just found this blog, so I do apologize for responding to something that is old news. I do hope your husband’s Step 9 was followed up by a polygraph. Regardless, wishing continued peace and healing for us all.

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          1. I don’t think my statement was naive or holier than thou, just his reality, and not a judgment of anyone else or their situation. Not sure how you, not knowing me or my husband, feel the need to assess his behavior or my words? I’m totally confused. Likewise I wish you peace and healing on your journey. Still confused by your judgment though.

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            1. Kat,

              Please, just for a moment, imagine an SA and/or spouse reads your statement. The SA happens to be an attorney who did engage in illegal acts. It happens a lot. Kat, of course it is fine to say, your SA didn’t hire prostitutes when true and proven. That is not the part of the statement that sounds holier-than-thou. This part of that statement “as that is illegal and he is an attorney” sounds exceptionally judgmental. I want to encourage those needing help to get it. It has nothing to do with knowing you or not. I just think such statements are judgmental and not helpful to anyone.

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              1. Those are NOT my words of judgment. That is simply how he viewed the situation in his messed up SA mind. It is simply how one SA felt about his own situation. You are reading way too much into this and I find it completely ironic that this is your sticking point considering the nature of the reason for me commenting here on this blog in the first place.

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                1. I am hoping TL will consider a point I also made in her direction elsewhere. I can only speak toward the SA process as it is what I know.

                  I know that fear and shame rule much of the SA’s mind. I know that Step 9 is scary and difficult. I also know that when a spouse holds so tightly to a narrative of what the SA was and was not capable of doing, it simply makes the disclosure process that much more difficult.

                  The fact is that being SA means, regardless of profession, religion or upbringing, the ability to gate keep oneself from crossing a line during active addiction runs counter to what addiction is all about. Let your defenses down on this, open yourself up to the possibility that your husband may still feel great shame and holds tight to a narrative that he knows you believe. This is why we so encourage polygraph in our group. This is why I stick to this point. There are so many out there who so want to believe there was and is a line that their active addict would not cross. That line is not reality. I think it is important for those looking into an SA diagnosis and treatment to not feel as if there is something extra wrong with their SA because they did not have that line. That is SA, the line for an active addict does not exist. That is my sticking point.

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                  1. You are completely misinterpreting me, my comments, and our process. I am sorry that you are so stuck on this one concept and that you have no idea who you are speaking to or what my story is and you don’t seem to care. I WISH, let me say that again, I WISH MY HUSBAND HAD SEEN PROSTITUTES… because I believe they would not have stalked me and they would have required protection. Perhaps that is just my misguided ideas about the profession and in fact all “other women” are just women after all. Just like me, but different. I have NO DEFENSES. I have been stripped bare and punched in the gut. I have been knocked to the ground and kicked on and spit on is the way I look at it. What my husband did is beyond words for me. I am not rationalizing that my husband is better than anyone else, far from it. Also, I am not limiting his story to suit my own. FAR FROM IT!!!!!! I wish you would just let this go. If you want to read about me or my husband, we both have blogs. My story is mine and his story is his and we do not fit into this narrative you seem to have concocted in your mind after reading a couple comments on one blog. My husband was knocked on his ass by Dr. Omar Minwalla for weeks, also stripped bare and his eyes opened to the sexual abuse perpetrated on him. We have both been through extensive treatment and I have been dealing with the trauma for two years. LAY OFF!!! There are many sides to this story and you have no idea what you are talking about. Focus on yourself. I get to express my feelings about my situation in whatever way I want. ONLY YOU HAVE CONCOCTED A LINE. I only speak of what my husband did and where his mind was at based on HIS OWN WORDS. It is not my fault that fear and shame rule an SA’s mind, but I dare say you have no idea how my husband thinks or what he has been through, or what he has said, so I am not sure why you think you should be able to change how he feels. Once again, his words about why he did not hire prostitutes are HIS WORDS, that he actually spoke, not my line in the sand, not my story.

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                  2. Posting this here too. All I really want to say here is that there appears to be so many different opinions on even the definitions we are all using. It seems we each have our own interpretations of what the experts are telling us. And, yes, those interpretations are based on our individual views of the world, how could they not be?

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          2. Edi, Always glad to have a new reader. I’ll just say that Kat has her own blog that you may want to check out. It may give you a fuller picture. I think if you click on her gravatar it will take you there. I’m still thinking on the question you posted to me, may take me a few days to give it some careful thought.

            Happy Purim to all who celebrate! TL xx

            Liked by 1 person

              1. I’m just not so creative and still trying to catch up on work after finally finishing up my Masters last week. So, the boys went in pre-made costumes. We did go to an awesome Sushi Purim party. My kids LOVE sushi. Speaking of which, I better make a donation to the synagogue after all the sushi they ate. 🙂 Hope you had a lovely Purim.

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