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.

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

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!

 

Okay, so not a good start.

Okay, so not a good start.

 

So I am a bad blogger. I did the unthinkable. I started a blog, yes two years ago, wrote my first post and fear gripped my heart. I couldn’t post it. Not because it wasn’t how I felt, but because I was afraid of what the world wide web would think. I don’t know what I am doing. I can barely figure this thing out. It’s a miracle I got this far and let’s be frank….the subject matter is depressing and deeply personal. However, here I am again at the precipice of trying to navigate the world of blogging. Reader, I write for you and for me. Simply to have you know you are not alone, and for me to not go all Lorena Bobbit. I beg your grace.

Let me start by saying, two years ago I thought I was okay. I really thought that despite his lack of recovery….I was in a good place. I thought, hey he’s not dead. He still has his man parts, and that is a good day any day when dealing with this crazy train. I even thought I was prepared to really tell you how I got there. Looking back, man was I dead wrong. Perhaps a part of me knew that, and that is why I never had the nerve to publish that first post. P.S. I did finally post it earlier today. Last thing I want to seem is phony. So here it is, you get me being real and often raw. Spelling and grammar mistakes, and truth. Nothing glossy or poetic…as I think I attempted back then. Just the real deal.

Back to the Begining

I have known about this damned addiction of his  10 1/2 years. Yep, that long. We have been married for just over 12 1/2 years. I knew something was up when we got married, but never in my wildest dreams thought it would be porn addiction. Really I just thought he was a bit of a man-child that needed a little extra hand holding. Truth be told, I was madly in love-still am. I was willing to overlook a few things, especially when I was bringing my own complicated baggage to the party as well. So when I had my first discovery day…forever known as D-Day, my world shattered. It broke into tiny little pieces, scattered about on the ground, stomped on, and placed in a bag to be all shook up. Then it was handed back to me to make sense of it all and to be put back together with out a picture of what my new normal should look like. Doing all of this while not telling a soul of my secret pain and shame, and somehow pretend that I was all right. Does any of this sound familiar?  I have this mind image of some poor old woman, who looks a lot like Alice in the Brady Bunch sweeping up the pieces of my life while Marsha, Jan & Cindy are smiling completely oblivious to the ruin around them. I will write more about that fateful day in another post, but for now know it was the first time I couldn’t breathe.

My baggage was a failed marriage that brought into the world amazing three children. That marriage ended because of pornography/sex addiction, and the mess it made of our life. Because my kids may someday read this, I will under no circumstances discuss the horror I lived with and through while married to him. I want them to know their dad for he is to them, not to me. But let’s just say, the last 10 1/2 years are still preferable to the 5 years I was married to my ex. However as a result I had a strict rule, and was very vocal prior to my second marriage that porn WAS NOT going to be welcome in my home.

I cannot even begin to describe the pain, the betrayal, the disheartening sinking feeling. By rights, he is lucky I stuck it out after that. But alas…we begin. I am really on the path to actual healing. He, supposedly is taking recovery seriously and getting started. I could write a whole lot more, but it seems it will be better if I save it for future posts.

 

Changing the Tide

 

Psalm 23 (NIV)

A psalm of David.

“1 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever.”

I have found myself pondering these verses for the last few weeks.  Particularly the word image of being lead beside quiet water. I live near the Great Lakes and it is a rare thing to see the lakes “quiet.”  They seem to be always in a state of hustle and bustle.  Whether there are whitecaps on the waves, ships, boats, jet skis, etc..they are in constant motion.  Even on a sailboat in the middle of Lake Michigan, the chop of small waves indicates action.  Of course, there are still areas that do appear.  A small thin section of water that can stretch hundreds of feet like glass seemly undisturbed by anything the outside world could throw at it.  Honestly it is mesmerizing to see the sun dance on the surface. Beautiful and peaceful ; serenity at its best.  I have often thought I could reach out my hand and smooth it more with a slow and steady motion & the water would not waiver or ripple.  It just is.

However, growing up with the Lakes like I did we learned as children that the still part was to be feared & most certainly not to be entered.  I didn’t understand. As a child I thought it was because the grown ups didn’t want the glass water to break or some other nonsensical reasoning adults have when they don’t want you to have fun. Although any good 4th grader in a state with five giant lakes can tell you, the quiet water on the big lakes is a rip tide.  Tides that are so fierce and quick they literally rip you away and into the under-toe.  Even advance swimmers have been known to not be able to break its grasp and ultimately lose a deadly battle with the lake as a result of the tide’s siren song.

As I pondered the Psalm, and the image of Lake Michigan firmly in my mind, I realized my life is just like the Lake.  Ships passing in and out, children like jet skis on the water zipping here and there (they even whine like kids too). At times beautiful moments like the sunrise or sunset on the water, waves that batter me sometimes big and sometimes small.  The occasional boater that stays for a while to drop anchor near the sand bar, friends and family.  Sadly even the rip tide is present.  Although on the surface it all looked  so smooth & unphased, the rip tide of my life has a nasty under-toe.

My husband is a porn addict.  It’s insidious nature was just like the rip tide.  His addiction was hidden from me for years.  However even after it was revealed We really had no idea the impact of the addiction to our marriage, in his relationship with my children and of course him.  It took 10 1/2 years of living in this valley to even begin to understand the lengths his addiction would go to pull this family under.

God is bringing us through the toughest valley of our lives.  It is a dark & lonely journey.  I endeavor to find true quiet water in Him.  He is my resting place, my green pasture.  This is my story. One wave, one seemingly peaceful momen at a time.