Rejection is bad enough, it feels awful. However when it ever it comes around it never comes alone. Rejection brings its unwanted twin siblings shame and contempt. When rejection arrives it delivers its punch, and lets lose the other two holy terrors on my life. What’s worse, after the initial rejection sting…these two stick around for a while. In this crazy train of his addiction, the part that gets me is why do I feel bad? I shouldn’t right? But nonetheless there I am. Turning the rejection inward, and now I am in shame. I am going to say it again, shame is nothing more than rejection turned inward.
I use shame as a way of rejecting myself, and I am really good at it. Since childhood I have lived with I am not good enough. So I then use whatever slight was hurled upon me as a way of justifying the heap of shame I lob my way. I don’t stop there, I then proceed to make my case not only with the current slight, but with every other one from the past. Like a prosecutor presenting a case before a judge and jury…I bring up every failure to be paraded in front of my soul to win my case.
The funny part is, I hate losing. I hate losing with a passion. Even when I am the one at stake, I will take rejection and run with it until all that is left is a shell of the woman I could have been. So not only am I the prosecutor, I am the defendant, the judge, the jury…and ultimately the executioner. The defendant never takes the stand, and judgement is passed quite swiftly and just like that I become the martyr. How twisted is that?
Shame, I believe is what gives rejection it’s true power. With out shame exploiting my own insecurities, his actions or anyone else’s would not have power over me. I wouldn’t buy into the lie that ‘I am not good enough’. There would be no case to present, and no life to destroy.
Shame is the insidious bastard that has ruined my life. It is the one thing that has prevents me from recognizing any story of redemption in my life, and I let it repeat the message ‘I am not good enough’ with a mega phone. I am constantly amazed at how it can hone in on the things I am insecure about the most. It’s like a missile on a seek and destroy mission, whipping through twists and turns until it finds its target, and blows it up for the world to see-or so it feels like it anyway. In order to remain “safe” I isolate. I hide. I distract myself with work, children and victim hood. I wear fear like a piece of armor, and use supposed rational thinking as a defense for not taking risk. All the while shame is having a field day preventing me from experiencing life the way I was meant to. Suddenly I can’t breathe, and I circle back to my failures. How did I let it get that far out of control? More shame.
This addiction, by its very design ruins lives. It uses gorilla warfare tactics and my personal belief is shame is the secret weapon. The operative word here, is secret. I let shame keep and exploit my secrets, it stuns me into silence about all my past failures-real or imagined. I don’t call them out, I tuck them away. I pretend they don’t exist, and I certainly (heaven forbid) don’t forgive myself for them. I don’t name my failures, and learn from them. I use shame to destroy me.
So how do I stop it? The truth is I don’t know. I don’t know if I can-completely. But I can minimize its effect. I can recognize when I am crossing the border from healthy examination to shame. I can bring that shame into the light, and ask a trusted friend to hear my fear/ confession. I can ask forgiveness, and I can use my affirming emotional safety plan to build myself up in the heat of battle. Most importantly I can acknowledge it exists and let grace cover it all.
As I wrote in part one, I have allowed rejection to write a reoccurring theme of “I am just not good enough” on my life. I wish these messages came to me with ex-h, however my journey with rejection started much earlier. Unfortunately too early.
I can’t remember a time in my life when rejection wasn’t a prominent part of my day. My mom is mentally ill, and that time manic depression or more commonly known as bi-polar disorder was a relatively “new” thing. My earliest memories of her caring for us are mixed in with her own messages of self-depreciation. It feels like every day she would cry, wail, carry-on about how she was stupid, dumb, unlovely, etc. As a young child (and I mean young 4-5 years old), I thought she was the greatest thing to walk the earth. And why shouldn’t I? However, these daily barrages of how awful she saw herself, had me questioning if my perceptions were untrue. At first I would affirm and praise her, only to have it continue. More questioning. Soon, it was a tired game, and I believed her. What this ultimately begat was a notion that “I just wasn’t good enough.”
I just wasn’t good enough, at the ripe old age of 6 to soothe her self perceptions. I wasn’t good enough by accident or default of birth. I reasoned that even if my father was the polar opposite of her, by birth I was at least 50% stupid, dumb, unlovely and that was already failing. My odds of being anything more were certainly stacked against me. I wasn’t good enough to cover her tracks and create a normal life for us. And I wasn’t good enough to be rescued.
By age 6, I was already caring for my brothers full-time (ages 4 & 2). Making us food, cleaning what I could and keeping my four year old brother from her screaming fits-as he was usually the subject. She would lay in bed for days-crying. Unable to care for us…until my dad was about to come home. Then she was magically better. My efforts were completely unnoticed or if they were, it was expected and certainly not praise worthy. Of course my dad didn’t really know who had done the work, and so he would come home and say little things like “these dishes need re-washing” or “it must have been a rough day, this ‘insert meal’ is a little over done”. To which she responded with “I guess I just can’t do anything right!” Run off and cry some more. Of course I died inside.
Her illness also left me wondering why we were not enough for her to feel joy? Why wasn’t my dad enough to sustain her through out the day? Why when it came to school did I not have the energy or the desire to care about it? Why wasn’t I normal?
Rejection whispered so loudly into my ear that I believed I was so faulty that there really was no point in trying. Teachers sent home with report cards with comments like “she is such a bright kid, if only she would try.” I wondered how they knew that. Didn’t they know my mom was dumb? And since I didn’t try, there was no evidence to support their statements. Thus they became liars in my eyes. Rejected again by people who wanted to justify their failures. Not good enough to care about.
The playground was an even more cruel place. Neighborhood kids were aware of the crazy I lived with, and like me they instantly knew I was 50% defective-and exploited it. Rejected again. I had a few friends-mostly social misfits like myself. Many of whom became bright spots in my life. One in particular, who is officially my oldest friend. She moved away in fourth grade-rejected again by circumstance. Not good enough to stay.
Fast forward to the truly awkward years of teenage hood. I craved complete acceptance . I desired more than anything for someone to love me as I truly was. But I couldn’t believe for a second that I was worthy or good enough for anyone to see me. Enter Holmy.
Holmy, was this goofy guy in geometry class that couldn’t remember my name half of the time. He simply called me “hey you”. He was popular, every one loved him and he noticed ME! We became friends, and even dated a little off and on over the years. But what is important about him, he was the first person with whom I allowed even a hint of vulnerability. He held it like a precious gift. He never spurned me, or rejected my notions. As far as I know, he never whispered behind my back-it wasn’t like him to do so. We would spend nights talking until the sun would begin to rise, about life, love the future, we would laugh and dance-more like boogie, and sometime be silent together. My appetite for acceptance-his acceptance grew. You know when you haven’t eaten for a long time, and you get a hint of food & your stomach becomes ferociously hungry…it was like that. What does every girl desperate for affection at the age of 15 do? She seeks it any way she can. Let’s just say, I scared him off. I didn’t realize at the time he too was dealing with quite a bit-and years later I learned the battle he faced was far more complex than the one I was begging him to soothe for me. (That is his story to tell-not mine.)Nonetheless, our friendship/ somewhat romantic life went on like that for about four years. One day he disappeared (it was his journey that took him places. But I didn’t know or understand the depth of that journey, and it would take almost 20 years to reconnect again. Not good enough to be around.
By the time I married the first time, I was willing to settle for someone-anyone to see me as special, beautiful and amazing. Rejection had whispered so much pain so much heart ache that I could not see any value in my self. And why bother trying. It masked some of the things in life that were truly beautiful. I became a mother 5 months after my wedding day. It was the first time I experienced-so I thought….unconditional love. But even then rejection whispered…20 years old and already a failure. I failed to do the marriage thing properly. Failed to be the good girl I was taught to be. I failed at being a good friend, and failed to learn how to live life appropriately. I didn’t know how to budget, or manage money. I let my ex-h do all of that. Not good enough for this little baby.
Suddenly I understood the hurt my mother hurled upon herself. The feelings of inadequacy in caring for such a small human being. How easy it was to hide all the fear and rejection for the sake of another. And I let it whisper quietly, never to be spoken out loud lest my daughter feel the pain of rejection by a parent. It ate at my soul, it paralyzed me with fear. And primed me to become a sexual assault and domestic violence victim. I deserved it all. The twisted lies whispered more.
I stand today, the spouse of an addict. Who knowing every bit of this history…its sordid details. The intense pain, took the most sacred part of my life/ our life and use the one thing that I perceived to be the only pure thing in marriage to betray and reject me. I have already discussed my discovery day, so I will not rehash that here. The ultimate rejection, and it because the final whisper “You, Sarah, are just not good enough.” Rejection my one constant companion. It became the thing that I could rely on for sure…and my heart closed. I pulled inward. It whispered more and it grew into a monster I could not contain. I lived in deep shame, and projected contempt.
I hate rejection. When it happens real or perceived…I become a wilted flower. So give me a minute….I am going to straighten up…force those leaves to unfurl….open up the petals. Here I go.
Rejection-I reject you. I reject the hold you have had on my life. I reject the notion that you are my only faithful companion. I denounce you. You can no longer take up residency here. I am good enough. I am good enough for long-lost friends to return. I am good enough to be a faithful and beautiful wife. I am good enough to have a mom who loves me, and she doesn’t have to be biological. I can chose my mom. I can be an amazing mother, and I don’t have to dwell on the past. I was exactly who God needed me to be at the time, good,bad and ugly so that I could shout this today: “I AM AMAZING!!!!”
I recently had the pleasure of going through a class called the “Re-Telling”. It is all about taking our story/stories and holding them as a gift-examining them as we experienced them…how does it impact us now…and where does the redemption of God reveal itself in the Retelling. We worked in small groups each week and listened to one another and spoke out hurts/ slights and perceptions out loud. Extremely powerful stuff.
I dreaded going each week, doing the homework etc. I kept asking myself why would I pay and subject myself to a ripping of my heart out just so it can be thrown on the ground and kicked about each week. Each week I would leave the class learning new and powerful things about myself, and ultimately glad I went. It was horribly affirming. Yes-I do mean that exact combo of words.
I became acutely aware the power rejection has had on my life. I wore it like a merit badge. I allowed real and imagined rejection to force me into a position of fear instead of empowerment, and I learned I was indeed a fighter…but more importantly I discovered I was also a protector. A protector of my brothers and my fear protected my children-and it was okay to let go of the things and experiences I failed to protect. Friendships, relationships, my dignity, my pride.
I allowed rejection to form my life’s story. I allowed it to tell the story “I am just not good enough” and it gave me shame and contempt to carry with me-for myself and rightfully so for others.
I was able to see how I could take that pain that sorrowful intense emotional trauma and use it for good. That if I hadn’t felt the fear, hadn’t experienced the rejection and lived it..I couldn’t bless others with empathy. More importantly I could now forgive myself for the road not traveled. I could let go of the coulda, woulda, shouldas.
In the face of this addiction I have journeyed with rejection like it was a lover. I could hide behind it, and use it to keep my heart at a distance-no risk. But nothing gained either. And while it served to protect at times it has cost me dearly. Time to say good bye and give it power no more. The next few posts I will say good bye to this unwanted lover of my soul.
It has been awhile since I could even feel like opening this blog again. The last six weeks have been some of the hardest of my life, and I am just starting to taste the air again. I have been through some really hard things in my life, divorce, domestic violence, emotional abuse, life threatening illness of a child, personal debilitating illness, and even sexual assault. All of them horrific in their own right. Each time I have prevailed, even rose to the occasion fought through and came out the other side stronger. For some reason, this-this healing process from his addiction-his recovery-has knocked me for a loop. It is like the culmination of all of my past and this has just broken me. I have experienced these past few weeks an emotional sensory overload that has opened a floodgate of triggers and feelings I never thought possible. It is like someone put toothpicks in my eyelids and held them open while strapped in a chair and forced me to be exposed to emotional trauma past and present over and over again. If I were to take the events of the past three weeks and separate them out from the previous hurt…it was really nothing, small and perhaps a mountain out of a mole hill…but it just collapsed me.
We had the full disclosure meeting three weeks ago. I should have been smarter, I should have prepared-at all. But I really thought I was ready. I had heard the warnings. I had been advised to prepare. I even thought, I have a bath bomb-hit me with it. I longed to rip that band aid off and get it done. So when he came to me and said, I am ready for you to read my sexual inventory. I was alright let’s do this-now. Yeah, bad idea. Very bad idea.
Let this be a lesson for anyone else not matter how prepared you think you are-you are not. It is not a head issue. It is a heart issue. Do what you can to protect it. Have your support team on standby, have your emotional safety plan in place and ready to go. Get your boundaries for what will happen immediately after firmly in place and buy stock in facial tissue. Do NOT take this lightly. I so wish I hadn’t. I can’t go back, but I can beg anyone who will hear me to prepare. And addicts if you are reading, please encourage your spouse to do this. It may just save your marriage. Share with them my heart ache if you need to…just please make sure it is done.
I cannot emphasize this enough. Very little in there was a surprise to me. Actually I knew 95% of it already. I knew his particular brand of fettish, and if I accepted that…there couldn’t be anything else. The one thing I didn’t know, however has messed me up big time. Sorry for now that will be another post. Not sure I can write about it yet. What I will say about it is that it was the one thing I wasn’t prepared for at all. I had considered a ton of other things, like prostitutes, homosexual tendencies, perhaps a role play he engaged in prior to marriage, or even an affair. I was prepared for all the major stuff. But it was this one fantasy, yep just a fantasy…that hurt like nothing else has hurt before.
Even as I typed that last sentence the emotion welled up, had to walk away, anxiety rose and tears just broke through. I didn’t even tell you what it was! How messed up is that? But I titled this post Coming Out of the Fog, and that is where I am today. For the first time in weeks, I can think…even just a little. I don’t want to isolate…too much. I finally feel like a little healing has taken place. I still want to cry out to God and ask Him to take all this pain away. I still want to feel joy or happiness again. But now I can smile-a little. And I am going to call that a triumph and sure sign that darkness will eventually be defeated and the sun can shine once more.
My grandmother always said trouble comes in threes. Usually she was referring to me and my two brothers, but the old adage does seem to hold. Last week, hubby fell. Yesterday our only car blew a head gasket on the expressway, and I am sicker than a dog-boarding on a case of bronchitis.
So instead of hubby staying in a hotel for the mandatory separation period, all the remaining money we have left is to pay for the repair and a rental until the repair shop can fix it. Not until next week Tuesday.
I am so sick that I can barely care for myself, and I needed him here because just moving off the couch to the 15′ to our kitchen makes me want to nap for three hours. Getting food for myself is so exhausting I can hardly stay awake to actually eat.
I am so mad. It feels like the world is conspiring against me. I wonder what God is trying to tell me. “You can’t have boundaries. You don’t deserve space.” I would cry, but since I cannot breathe through nose and having a hard time with my chest already I am actually worried I will pass out due to lack of oxygen.
Seriously!!? I just want to punch him. It feels like because of everything that is going on, he “gets away” with it once again. The best I can do is have him sleep on the couch and it just feels so unfair. On top of that he is being extra nice, and keeps asking me if he is giving me enough space? Do I have everything I need? What angers me the most is not him, but me. I am questioning his motives. Laying bets in my head on how long this is going to last. Is it all going to last? I want it to so badly, but I don’t think I can survive another head game. I am so mad that THIS has to be my reality.
I have increased anxiety over getting sicker, because the last time ended so very badly for me/us. Let’s just say he ended up in a jail cell for 5 days and an 18 moth separation was needed to heal that mess. All of it because of his damned addiction. Our financial problems, my anxiety, his anger issues…all of it because of this. It is almost too much. Too much for me. Too much to take.
It has been a tough week, and amongst the business I have not even have had a breath to process the events. Two months ago I confronted my husband and said, choose; Me or it. I am sure it wasn’t without some struggle, he chose me. He began a program and was doing fairly well. Not without pain, not without real hardship but he was 7 weeks pure. Pure from porn, masturbation, and yes even sex.
He was just a little over halfway through a 90 day detox. We had marked the day on calendars of when we could be intimate again, and frankly I was starting to look forward to true intimacy with him. Since he chose porn over his wife our entire marriage, it felt to me like we were waiting for our wedding day all over again. Never one to initiate intimacy, he confessed on Tuesday that he was yearning for me. I couldn’t have been more excited. I honestly felt so desired. This was actually new, in 12 1/2 years of marriage I can say with absolute certainty we were heading in the right direction. I was elated! Progress at last!
Truth be told there was serious temptation on both our parts to say that 90 days may not be necessary. After all just because the man who designed his program felt that the time span of 90 days was what it took to detox didn’t mean that it wasn’t what we needed. However, terrified that Darrell and S, his sponsor, might be right. It was ultimately decided to wait it out, not without real internal conflict mind you. We were better than half way through and why potentially mess up what was to be a sure thing, right?
No less then 24 hours later, he fell. He went searching for porn. He brought it into my home, right after such a powerfully positive experience the night before. He confessed right away, lest I find out the hard way. Instantly, the pain returned. My new found security although tentative was destroyed. My heart broken. I kept saying “you ruined everything”. He destroyed the magic I felt the night before. He destroyed a dream I have held for years in just 10-15 minutes of searching. He ripped my emotion security away, and with it my financial security.
He is clearly remorseful, which makes this worse. I almost prefer the jerk from years ago that would tell me to “get over it” because I am strong enough now to know what to do with that guy. But here we are, me having to enforce boundaries of a temporary separation on a person whom despite everything I still love. He looks shattered, and I am pissed.
I am pissed that what little money we had left is paying for a hotel. I am pissed because I think he had started to get lax in the daily homework, choosing play over the work he needed to do to keep me-us emotionally safe. I am pissed, he abandoned me again to women on a screen. He put his personal comfort in front of his supposed favorite person in the world. I am beyond angry that a new forming confidence was stolen, especially with an important job interview coming up on Friday. I am pissed that because he fell, I am the one who gets to be broken.
I want to punch him. I want him to feel just a little of the pain he caused for what really? Was it worth it? I know he would say of course not. I know says “I didn’t realize how serious this is” and “I understand now”. It’s not like I haven’t heard this before, but I will say this is the first time he has been in any true recovery. What is it going to take for his ass to remember? Perhaps it will take losing it all, and that is what scares and angers me the most.
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.
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.
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.