Detachment and Emotional Safety

I have to admit I am struggling with something. I have been going through the steps of my own healing for awhile. But now that my husband is going through his own recovery I am starting to have trouble with detachment and emotional safety.

As we have just reached four weeks sober, he is showing signs of withdrawal. He is irritable, easily agitated, sensitive in a negative way to my trauma. My emotional safety plan is messed up. In a small spat yesterday, I felt really triggered. I realized that in this situation there wasn’t a safe place for me to go, and I felt trapped. I immediately went into a traumatized state. This angered him further and all I could do was “run away.”

I don’t want to speak ill of him here, because he has made great strides in being the man he wants to be. The addiction is one of the last places where he has not done any work. Pornography and childhood abuse made him angry and devalue women. There was a time over 4 years ago, that he was emotionally abusive and even once resorted to physical violence. I assure you he is not that man anymore. However, he does from time to time resort to a few of his old tricks (not the really serious ones). Like with addiction, there is almost a ritual when he is entering that abusive place. He is good at breaking his anger ritual early, but lately I find myself triggered by the beginning even. I know that the shedding of the porn is causing his struggle. I just had no idea how much I was going to be triggered by it.

When he was working on the anger issues, we were separated for 18 months. So detachment was much easier, and we even had a no contact order in place for a while so emotionally safety was easier. Unfortunately due to financial issues and other changes, a separation now would actually cause more damage in multiple ways.

So I am having a hard time finding a way to detach a bit while he works through the withdrawal, and our little condo has a very open floor plan…so a hard place to actually go where I can emotionally process away from him. While he is home, it is unfair for me to occupy our homes only bathroom for several hours. Same with our bedroom, plus I am slightly triggered by the bedroom alone. So not a good option.

Anyone out there have a simmillar situation? I know this will pass, hopefully sooner than later. But we have both worked too hard to get this far…I hate to see it undone through this step.

Advertisements

My First Discovery Day **may contain triggers**

 

It was May 28th, 2005. It was my last day of medical leave before returning to work after having emergency abdominal surgery 6 weeks prior. It was the perfect West Michigan day. Sunny, and mid-70’s it couldn’t have been more picturesque. However if you have ever been in Michigan, we have a saying: if you don’t like the weather, wait 10 minutes it will change. I can still see the time in the corner of the computer screen 8:48 AM. I sat down,pulled up the search engine, and typed…www Intending to pull up the local news stations weather report. I was thinking, a trip to the beach would do me a bit of good and I was intent on making the most of this last day of freedom. However, what I saw come up in recent searches that included websites that were not only porn, but a site that was specifically designed for “hooking up on-line or in person.”

I couldn’t breathe. My thoughts raced, searching for a logical answer, but they never came. I knew. I knew my husband preferred images on a screen and a fake lover to the real deal.

Prior to d-day, our intimate life was almost non-existent. Even on our ten day honeymoon, we perhaps had sex once. I was told it was because my weight (while fluffy-certainly not fat) was a turn off, or he was tired, I didn’t shower immediately before bed, didn’t feel well….the list went on and on. I cannot tell you how many nights I cried myself to sleep from being rejected after trying to initiate. I was the one woman in America who was so unlovely and undesirable that her own husband couldn’t bring himself to be intimate with her, and I was ashamed.

Now I am not technically savvy, so I called our next door neighbor. A computer nerd of sorts, and asked him to help me confirm that this wasn’t a fluke. He walked me through a few things, and sure enough, there was a lot more supposedly erased.

My worst nightmare confirmed. The man who helped me build up my self esteem after a rather difficult first marriage. Knew the hell I went through & walked with me after I attempted suicide due to PTSD as a result. He waited patiently and was amazingly supportive while I worked toward positive mental health. My ex was or maybe still is a sex/porn addict, and he couldn’t get enough. Often I sold myself for a good night’s sleep and worse. My husband knew every horrible detail. He knew how I felt about porn, and in itself was a trigger for some terrible memories. He knew BEFORE we were married that it would never be allowed in our home. It was like some giant trick. Like I was the butt of one horrible joke, and it confirmed that I was unworthy of someone to love me as God intended.

Ironically one of my first calls was to my ex-husband. In a moment of insanity I actually accused the two of them of cooking this up as a way of getting back at me for divorcing him. Seriously thought, someone somewhere was having a good laugh at my expense. There was no other way in my mind that this could be anything else. The pain was unimaginable. It’s a wonder my mind didn’t break fully then. I have never felt before or since that kind of soul searing, gut wrenching, breath stealing pain.

After calming me down, and in a rare moment of sincere graciousness, my ex through tears said “I am genuinely sorry you are about to do this again.” He begged me to believe that wasn’t about me, and he asked me to extend my current husband (a man he hates by the way) grace. My ex came and picked up the kids from school and kept them for dinner that night so I could just focus on me. Most of which I spent pacing, mind racing, praying that God give me strength and wisdom, crying A LOT, running through every possible scenario on what his reaction might be, wanting to die, wanting to kill him, and still hoping for a logical explanation.

I waited for hubby to come home. He worked erratic hours, and most days was home early. Of course, this waste of the one day he wasn’t…it was a very very long day. I am the kind of girl who prefers to rip the band aid off, and I longed to get this confrontation over. Almost 9 hours later he arrived home. I met him in the driveway, pacing…and all I said was “We need to talk.” Apparently my face said it all, because his shoulders dropped, and he said “You know, don’t you.”

He never tried to hide it from me that night, he could have lied and didn’t. It all came out. Things that I thought were odd and people I was jealous over before we were married and what was really happening, why he lost his wedding ring…everything. That night truth was revealed in full light. I learned he had a problem long before me, and thought marriage would fix it. He thought I would run if I had known before we were married….all of it.

Of course it would take many attempts at recovery, many non-attempts, severe co-dependency on my part, and massive emotional trauma inflicted by both parties to bring us here to this point. Honestly, I am spent at this time and I do not think I can write more tonight. But trust me when I say, there are years of what not to do tell you.

 

 

Walking with a Traumatized Spouse

I belong to a wonderful group of women who are simply committed to praying for one another. I asked these women months ago to pray for a fledgling support group of women whose spouses are addicts. In recent days, I have had three women approach me and tell me that their friend is a spouse of an addict & they are struggling to know how to help her. Each one expressed how overwhelmed they felt. I could see the deep sadness each carried for their dear friend, and their own helplessness. One woman admitted she was having a hard time maintaining the friendship, because she couldn’t take the intense emotional trauma that she felt was being thrown at her from every direction. This woman genuinely wanted to be there, but she personally had no experience to provide support. She found herself withdrawing from, and avoiding, her friend, and even becoming angry with her. Could her friend talk to me, she asked. Which I am happy to do, anytime. Then it occurred to me that this woman’s response to her friend’s emotional pain could make what her friend is going through worse. It could be seen as another betrayal, equal to, if not even worse, than the betrayal by her spouse. I therefore dedicate this post to the friends and loved ones of traumatized spouses.

First, let me acknowledge your grief. Chances are you are not only a friend of the hurt spouse, but also of the offending spouse. I am so sorry. I am sure you feel caught in the middle. Angry at the offender, furious even. At the same time there is a bond of friendship that has been damaged because you love them, too. Maybe you feel guilt because your level of anger and pain doesn’t match that of the traumatized spouse. Perhaps you even feel sympathy for the offender at the embarrassment of having this painful secret broadcast to you. It has to be awful. As a traumatized spouse, myself, I want to say thank you. I am so sorry you are in this position. Please hang in there! The loving support of others is essential to both of your friends’ healing.

Second, try to recognize that you have been given a pretty big honor. It may not feel like it, but you have been asked to walk with your friend through one of the most devastatingly painful journies a woman and a marriage can face. The very nature of this addiction is a HUGE secret and people will not talk about it. It is shameful. The fact that you now know is perhaps one of the biggest blessings of personal trust another woman can bestow upon you. It is a big responsibility, and you will want to manage it with the care you would give her newborn.

What should you do next? It really depends on how recent it has been since discovery day. For the purpose of this post, I will assume that the spouse has just recently discovered the addiction. Many of the following suggestions are appropriate for a spouse who has known for a long time, but there are a few things that are unique to the discovery day.

Just Listen. This may seem obvious, but you might be surprised how many well-meaning friends offer advice at this time. Of course there may be a few nuggets of wisdom you can offer, but sharing them at this time runs a serious risk of damaging the relationship with your friend, and even further damaging the marriage. It is crucial that you keep your opinions to yourself-especially pertaining to the status of the marriage. The time will come when the traumatized spouse is open to advice, but that should wait until after the dust settles. It is very important to understand that each new disclosure or discovery is like Day One again, and should be treated as such.

Accept that your friend is in crisis. This is a hard one to explain to a person who may never have gone through something like this, but their discovery should be treated as if their closest loved one has just died. In a way it has. Their eyes were just opened to what their marriage really is: a sham. All of the dreams they had on their wedding day, all of their hopes in one horrible moment, gone. The relationship they loved and committed to, destroyed. They have been tricked, lied to, made to feel crazy. They are questioning their self-worth, their physical attractiveness, and wrestling with the possibility of it all being her fault somehow. Even if the marriage survives, it is forever changed. She is in deep emotional turmoil, and she may feel as if she is drowning. I urge you not to downplay her emotions at this time. Above all, do not suggest that she is overreacting. She is almost certainly not, and even if she is, don’t be the one to point it out.

Help her create a safe place and an emotional safety plan. This could be in her home, or not, if simply being there continues to traumatize her. She needs to create or have a place where she can feel safe emotionally. Emotional safety doesn’t mean that she doesn’t feel the loss. It is simply a space where she is not surrounded by triggers that actually cause or bring up new trauma. So as she is triggered she has a plan of where to go, and what to do. Examples are: a favorite candle that calms her; a music playlist that brings her happiness; perhaps it is essential oils; a craft that brings her joy or peace. For me, it is a bath. For a friend it is going to the gym.

Do some of the simple things. One good friend and survivor said she wished someone would have just had a pizza delivered. In her devastation and isolation, she struggled even to make a meal. Her mind was swirling. She knew her kids needed to eat but the thought of food simply turned her stomach. Truly in the trauma, putting one foot in front of the other is perhaps the most difficult thing to do. Take some of the simple day-to-day burdens away. Don’t ask; she will feel guilty that she can’t measure up right now. Just do it. Perhaps it is sweeping the floor, ordering a pizza from 5 states away if you’re on the phone, calling in a babysitter or better yet take the kids for an hour or two. Once she is past the initial shock, she won’t need it as much. However, girl time is important all the way through.

Encourage her to seek help. She cannot do this alone. I am sure you are pretty stellar, but unless you are a trained addiction counselor you are both in way over your heads. She may be not able to do this for herself right away. It is okay to do a few Google searches on her behalf. However, do not do the contacting. This is something she must do for herself. But a few well placed websites next to her computer or in her purse, are not such a bad thing. Remain positive. “I wanted to know more, so I looked these up. I think they may help you.”

The Don’ts. Don’t man bash. This is kinda like….I can pick on my baby brother, but don’t you dare pick on my baby brother….kind of thing. He sure deserves it, but just tell her it is okay for her to feel that way, and you get it.

Don’t run away. She already feels abandoned by her husband. Don’t abandon her too.

Do not tell anyone else. This is not your secret to tell. Do not call her pastor, your mutual friends (unless you have permission), her parents, the tabloids, your manicurist….etc. the list goes on and on. You never know who knows who, and dots could get connected that should not have been. If you need help coping personally, your pastor or couselor should be the only ones you talk to. I am not in favor of keeping secrets from your spouse, but this is a grey area. Ask permission first, but if you don’t get it, you can say, “so and so are having a hard time right now. I promised I would not go into details.”

If you are lucky enough to be part of a team of friends and loved ones, be careful not to gossip amongst each other. This is a fine line we walk, but ladies let’s be honest: we have a tendency to cross the fine line of genuine concern to gossip pretty easily. Put an end to it if it starts to happen. If she catches wind that you all are talking behind her back, you risk sending her into utter isolation, which will be devastating to her emotional health. Worse, you will all lose a friend and have committed a serious trust violation. Especially in a time when her trust has already been damaged.

Do not ask, “What are you going to do?” This one is particularly personal to me. After a very traumatic event in our marriage, almost immediately I was being asked this very question. It seemed logical to the person I was speaking with, but I couldn’t have told you how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich at that time let alone figure out if I was going to file for divorce. She needs healing and time to get over the initial trauma. She needs to work with someone outside of her immediate circle to figure out what is best for her and her marriage. Please do not ask, give her the time and space.

Lastly, take care of yourself. You are a vital piece to her recovery. Set healthy boundaries for yourself, and be firm but gentle. “I love that you trust me, but I need you to use your safe place & safety plan at 1 am first.” Do a little self care for yourself after spending time with your damaged friend. If you are running on empty, she will be stealing from you what little reserve you have left. This leads to resentment and anger on your part. You again risk losing a dear friend, and missing out on the opportunity to see her grow stronger and more beautiful inside & out than ever before.

 

 

 

Grace

Ugh! Sometimes I think God asks of me things he knows are traditionally very hard. Especially when it comes to the crazy train addiction thing. Today marks three weeks sober for my husband. While I know that it is a good thing, earlier this week I was really questioning if we could actually use the word “sober”. Somewhat sober, pseudo sober sure I would go with that, but actual honest-to-God sobriety from pornography -nope. He blew that on Monday. So here’s the scoop.

I had an opportunity to have coffee with someone and I wouldn’t be quite home when he came home from work. It is important to note here that one of my triggers for anxiety and traumatization is when he is home alone. ESPECIALLY this new into recovery. Coffee date, and I get home and as I was preparing dinner he says “I have a small confession to make.” Here we go. Heart is pounding, I swear my palms are getting sweaty…and I am bracing myself. Do I really want to hear this?

“So as you know I am having a hard time fighting my urges…and I was on my way to the bathroom and I saw this book on our book shelf. I knew it had a rape scene in it so I flipped to where it was and read it. But then I shut the book, and quickly threw it out. I didn’t act out or anything. I just wanted you to know it won’t happen again and I am sorry.”

In my head I was, “You stupid SOB. Now what? I have to move the book shelf because clearly you cannot even walk to the bathroom with out temptation. I have to read every book there, and worse I for sure cannot ever have coffee with any one ever again…because you can’t be trusted to be left alone. Oh, and right now I hate you.”  But what came out was, “Okay, thank you for telling me. I appreciate your honesty. But forgive me for not being all congratulatory.” His response, “So we are cool?”

Really? Really? Are we cool? No, no we are not cool. No you are not cool this is not cool. But I said nothing. You see I put a strict boundary in place when I gave him this last chance. No porn was to enter this home again. If it did, it was an automatic separation for 30 days or until I felt like I was okay to be in his presence. I wanted to scream, what am I supposed to do with grey!? God, I get black and white…but this….this was grey. Needless to say I was pissed.

I was mad because I felt bamboozeled. He found the grey, the fringe where it was questionable, and he put his toe in to see what I would do. And I froze.

Thankfully for me I had my support group meeting that night and resolved to ask the girls. Let me preface something, my husband has been working really hard. He has been going to groups, doing his daily homework assignments from his manual to recovery, and has been calling almost everyday all of his addict peeps for check-ins. And he was genuinely really sorry. He kept apologizing and asking me if I was okay. So I knew he really did feel bad…but I still couldn’t get past the “Are we cool?”

Anyway, like me…the girls also saw the grey and felt my anger. VINDICATION! But at the same time, he was proud of himself for not actually acting out. He stopped the routine mid way through…how do you not reward that a little?  So we thought, you know what I don’t have to decide tonight.

It has been two days, and all I have been hearing is one word. Grace. Like a petulant child I want to kick and scream. I don’t wanna. “Just as I have shown you grace…..” Oh man…God is really good at the guilt trip. He must have taken lessons from my mother. The difference here is he is right. If there had been any other signs of lack of sincerity my justice would have been mighty. But for now, I guess I have to settle for a little bit of grace.

 

 

Is SAA the Answer?

Yesterday I had the honor and privilege to reconnect with an old friend. During the course of our conversation she confesses that she too is the spouse of an addict. Fortunately for her, her husband has been working an active recovery plan for a few years now. He has been using a program similar to AA’s twelve steps or SAA, and fortunately for him and her it has mostly been working. She mentioned that for the most part her husband, she believes, has remained sober. She did a acknowledge that he did have a few relapses, but they were far and few between.

The irony here is that my husband went to his first SAA meeting last night. Now, he is also involved in another program. But their regular meeting wasn’t available so he decided it was best to go to any meeting. My husband in his recovery plan has been very open about the processes he experiences. Now I am going to issue a disclaimer here: One, I wasn’t there. Two, I am repeating second hand what I was told by a person who is still early in his recovery. Three, this is only observations on one SAA meeting AND not a reflection on SAA as a whole. He was grateful for the meeting and even had an overall positive experience.

There were things he observed that appeared to treat sexual addiction like other addictions. First was that there was not much in the way of accountability. Sponsors, yes. But little talk of what had prevented sobriety today or that week. Many of the guys were not even “sober” for more than a day or two. In addition, if they were sober many seem to be in abstaining mode…not addressing the heart of their issues. An example  was a guy spoke of another group that was co-ed and that there was a lot of hugging. This man bearing his heart remarked that he found this co-ed group triggering. Another spoke up and said with much laughter…”where is this group?” Much laughter ensued, but to his surprise no one said….perhaps that is not appropriate. It was almost too accepting. Each person at their own rate at their own time will move forward when or if ever they decide to do so. In the mean time keep coming, and eventually they might realize that this floating through will cause them to dig deeper. My question to my husband then was, where are the steps? A clear cut plan to move forward to gain freedom? His answer, “I don’t know. I thought perhaps they would have talked about that, but they really didn’t.”

I was crushed. I had high hopes for my spouse and this group. They had an opportunity to help a man seeking freedom in their midst and were so wrapped in their own boys hour to care or notice.

It feels to me that at least this group missed the big difference between other addictions and sex addiction. And that is it really isn’t an addiction. It is a symptom of a much bigger problem; an attachment disorder. At some point in their early years these men failed to learn how to attach healthily. Now there are a myriad of reasons for that, and that is a subject for another day. But they never grow emotionally as a result. They chose to attach to themselves as a way of coping.

The real key for getting clean and staying clean is relationships. Healthy, positive, affirming relationships. Isn’t that what the AA/SAA model is all about? Help me understand. Can’t one be affirming and still hold people accountable? We do it with children all the time. And let’s be real, all addicts are infants. I don’t say this to be demeaning. I say it because their relational capabilities is on par with an infant/toddler. It is demand, after demand, center of attention, me focused, petulance, and downright selfishness. Was that harsh? Sorry, but the truth hurts.

I guess my question is, can this model work if you have toddlers leading infants? Who holds them accountable? And is there a group leader that is at least past his pre-pubescent stage emotionally facilitating the group?

I think, as a wife who’s own emotional security actually hinges on these groups…I have a right to know and understand the process. Somebody please give me a clue here.

 

 

 

Bombs Away

Bombs Away

I have been down the road of traumitization after traumitization so many times I cannot even count. I have read books, studied medical journals, read statistics all in an effort to heal myself from the hurt caused by his addiction. When I started a 12 week course with another friend on healing….I kinda thought I knew it all.  I even fancied myself somewhat an expert on the subject. But this one, this course took me by surprise. I explored hurt I thought was well done and buried. I learned for the first time why it was important to have emotional safety plans and how to take care of mysel in the process. Yeah, what? Seriously, I am not kidding.

First of all, emotional safety. The very nature of his actions consistently puts me in emotional harm. Even when he wasn’t acting out the memories of the past hurts kept triggering new trauma. I almost laughed out loud at the concept. There is no way, I could be emotionally safe. Okay, I will acknowledge that healthy boundaries can help with trauma moving forward….but what about the hurts of the past? How pray tell, when those experiences creep up am I supposed to protect myself from them? Besides stuffing them deep down somewhere in an abyss of emotional crap or avoiding any potential situation that could possibly be a trigger…like going to the mall. (Ladies you know what store I am talking about.) What on earth could possibly cause me to feel emotionally safe?

Well the first part was figuring out that emotional safety isn’t not feeling the pain. It was feeling the pain in a time and space where I was safe. Safe from ridicule or memory of additional trauma. So let me suggest that your bedroom may not be the place for this. And a sister who is or has walked this road is a great place to start. Not necessarily the answer…but a place to start.

Second was taking care of myself while experiencing the trauma whether old or new. This was even a tougher concept. I am a notorious self sacrificer. Yep it’s a word, I just made it up and now you have permission to use it. I would sacrifice my body, my money, my time, my heart, and my energy for my friends, my family, my spouse, my job & bosses with out so much as batting an eye. It made me feel good. At least until I would collapse…usually physically. And then, start again. The real pain is that I was actually killing myself slowly, and it was okay with me as long as everyone else around me was happy and well adjusted. I actually saw that as taking care of me…no boat rocking here.

So when the most recent discovery day happened (number 10 million give or take a few), my dear friend said…”I want to make sure you are taking care of yourself.” I about died. Seriously, what the heck does that mean? And then it hit, going back to one of our previous lessons. Doing something strictly for me that is healthy, soothing and restores my soul. I knew just the thing…and it meant a trip to the mall.

My self care plan looks something like this….first a Venti Fully Fatted Extra Caramel Drizzel Caramel Machiatto from Starbucks. Second, either bath salts from Bath and Body Works or my personal fave…the Lush bath bomb, and you know what? Despite the pain, despite the crap fest happening….all is right with the world in those moments. So today, Bombs Away!

 

In the Quiet of the Morning

In the Quiet of the Morning

It is early in the morning and I am sitting on my couch with my sweet dog. We have already taken my husband to work, had a cup of joe, and gone for a walk. I live in an area where there is such beauty and a strong sense of historical preservation. Surrounded by Victorian homes it is awe inspiring to see their granduer. It got me thinking how these edifices have withstood time. Some show their age more than others, but in the quiet of the morning they all look beautiful and flawless. But as the sun rises, their age begins to show.

Honestly, that is how I feel today. In the quiet of the morning I feel beautiful. It feels safe, the sun has not risen and it is hard to see the cracks and the chipping paint. Like the houses, in the shadows of the street lamps I stand tall, unaffected by time and abuse. I wear a mask of strength and peace.

But I know I cannot stop the sun from rising and the world from seeing the bags around my eyes or fine lines from years of stress and pain. Then I will feel exposed. Laid bare for all the world to see and that is a place I have never wanted to be. I have spent years blaming my “unattractiveness” as the reason my husband has chosen pornography over me. I even had a counselor once suggest that if I just lost a little weight, my husband wouldn’t feel compelled to use his fantasy life. I have scrutinized my hair color, eye color, stretch marks, surgical scars all with shame. Shame begat helplessness, begat more shame, a spiraling downward into a place where all I could feel and see was despair.

Twice today I have been drawn to 1 Peter 3:3-4.

3 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. 4 Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.

As I reflected on these verses I was blessed with this overwhelming sense of YES I AM BEAUTIFUL! God in the quiet of the morning said, “my precious daughter you are of great worth in MY eyes.” And I feel peace.