Tag Archive | courage

(Mis)Adventures in Joining a Recovery Support Group

So much about recovery involves scary leaps out of your comfort zone. That safe place you are in is likely unhealthy, but it is where you are, and what you know, and that can count for an awful lot of points when your life is falling apart around you. Maybe I should be a little more personal here and replace these “you” and “your” words with “I” and “my” because it is me that I am really talking about.

Knowing how to quietly walk on eggshells and when to tiptoe around the perimeter. When to keep my mouth shut. Which is almost always because everything will come out wrong or stupidly. Learning how to camouflage into the background. Trying so hard to be unnoticed. By everyone.

This was my comfort zone. The isolation and security of me. Not letting anyone see the dark places of my soul, but also not the unique beauty of it either. Certain that it would be rejected and ridiculed. Because it was. Daily. By the person who I freely and trustingly gave it to. If my husband so thoroughly disliked me, logically, everyone else would as well. I lived in constant fear of being humiliated and rejected by everyone.

And there was my problem with embracing a recovery program. Recovery is not a “me” journey to be taken alone. At my first counselling session, my therapist introduced me to the five vital components to treatment and recovery for partners of sex addicts.

Number one, one on one counselling. I could do that. I was cautious, but desperate for guidance. It was his paid job to sit and listen to me without fleeing from the room repulsed by my thoughts and emotions. I trusted this counsellor who validated my pain and offered me hope and practical ways to achieve healing. He thought I was worth it and I began to believe that too.

Number four, reading. I was encouraged to read sex addiction recovery resources for partners and other personal growth books. Again, a reasonable suggestion. Especially with a list of recommended materials provided to me.

Number five, prayer. In the words of my counsellor, “When God is at the center of your life, long-term health and maintenance is much more likely. You can be okay no matter what happens in your relationship.” Nothing much to argue there. I believed in God so talking to Him wasn’t a stretch.

But ah, yes. Components two and three. For me, the tough, scary ones that I was inclined to skip over. The people ones. The relationships. The ones where other women will look me in the eyes, and listen to my wobbly, foolish words, and recognize instantly that I am a waste of their time.

Number two, participate in a recovery group. I was told that I would receive support, validation and strategies for recovery. That I was not alone. My counsellor’s wife, herself a recovering partner, led a weekly teleconference group that I was welcome and encouraged to join.

Number three, accountability. Meeting other women who have gone through what I am going through will help me stay accountable to a recovery and healing process. Okay. Doubtful, but maybe. But then my counsellor lost me completely by suggesting these women would become my friends. I was unconvinced. And saddened that he would say something so outlandish to me.

Nevertheless, out of my comfort zone I stumbled. Literally. On my first attempt to connect with my counsellor’s wife, (after staring at the phone in my hand for several minutes beforehand), I panicked and hung up the phone when I heard my counsellor’s voice on the line. Ridiculous, but it seemed like the right thing to do.

Only minutes later, after a few deep breaths, I dialled again wondering if they had call display. He answered again. This time I identified myself. With my real name.

Later that week I bravely called in to the teleconference recovery group for the first time. It was awful. I said two words. “Cynthia” when I had to identify myself as the caller. And “no” when I was asked if I wanted to do a check-in. It was overwhelming, confusing, discouraging. It was quickly evident that I had no idea what was ahead of me. This was an unknown culture with an entirely new vocabulary. Triggers. Disclosures. Polygraphs. Boundaries. What?!?!

I hung up the phone that night and sobbed. Crushed by the overpowering raw emotions of myself and the other women I heard. Too much pain.

As my tears turned to stillness, I heard a tiny whisper. I called the group leader. Explained how much the call had distressed me. Through her words and beautiful spirit, God deeply ministered to my brokenness. A calm settled over my heart that could only come from my Abba Daddy.

I would like to say that my second time participating in group went more smoothly. But that would be untrue. I did hobble through a partial check in. Choked on the words, “Hi my name is Cynthia and I am the partner of a sex addict and intimacy anorexic.” The foreign recovery lingo was still there. I hung up in a worse state than I was in an hour earlier.

It distressed my husband to see me so upset with my recovery group. He was finding life and freedom in his support group and thought I should quit mine if it was making me miserable. He handed me an out. I was in enough pain as it was. We both wondered why I would intentionally add to it.

But I heard that tiny whisper again that refused to let my flickering hope be snuffed out. God gently nudged me forward. Drawing me through. Asking me to trust the process and path laid before me. Giving me the courage to do it. Making me brave.

The next week I walked into an in person recovery group and said “Hi, my name is Cynthia. The thing I like about myself today is that I am here.”

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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The Gift of Pain

We change our behavior when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing. – Dr. Henry Cloud

I love this quote. It speaks truth. This was me the day I resolved that although pornography had its insidious grip on my husband and marriage, it was no longer going to ruin me. This has been me every day since as I walk in the newfound confidence of my worthiness and purpose.

When that pivotal time came, there were so many overwhelming, unrelenting, unanswerable questions. It took every ounce of strength I could muster to remind my body that it needed to both inhale and exhale, all the while holding back tears that were ready to escape at any moment.

Anger is a typical, common response to sexual betrayal. Often escalating to rage. I did not experience anger or rage. I felt a profound sense of sorrow, loss and grief.  I had been betrayed and neglected for the duration of my marriage. It had become my normal. And now that I was no longer able to function in my normal, it was extreme pain and sadness that enveloped me.

Oh, the questions. What do I do now? Will I ever stop hurting? Is this the end of my marriage? Has he done anything illegal? Where will I live? Should I purchase new underwear and socks while I still have money? Will the police show up at my door one day? Who will get the dog? Will anyone ever love me? What will our children think? Why is this happening to me? Am I crazy?

It really did feel as if my head might explode. I always thought that expression was rather embellished until the despair and pressure became so intense that it was not possible to contain it. The exaggerated cartoon image of steam erupting from the character’s ears and head suddenly became plausible. I took a deep breath, and with shaking hands, a churning stomach and unexpected courage, picked up the phone and made a counselling appointment.

There is no shame or disgrace in seeking professional help from a qualified therapist. It is not a sign of weakness. Admitting that our pain is more than we can handle on our own, and being willing to face it head on requires uncommon strength, courage and bravery. It is much more difficult to be vulnerable and ask for help than it is to run and hide from your anguish.

Most family members, friends and pastors are not able to deal with the adverse and explosive effects of sexual betrayal trauma. These people can be a wonderful support system, but are generally ill equipped to offer the assistance necessary to lead you through a true healing and recovery process. It is important to find a counsellor trained and experienced in the partner’s sexual betrayal trauma as well as sex and pornography addiction. At this point, it is you, the partner, who matters most. Not the addict. Not the marriage. You. It is essential to begin healing, changing your behaviours, and becoming healthy individually before making any attempt to rebuild your marriage. Jumping straight into marriage counselling is largely ineffective. The expectation of a healthy, thriving marriage consisting of two hurting, unhealthy people is somewhat baffling.

No one wants pain. And most of us fear change. But often the transformation compelled by pain becomes an incredibly precious gift. Our very own miracle.

The Lord is close to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18

Hope is the Lump in Your Throat

You can live in hope or you can live in hopelessness. Or you can merely exist in numbness devoid of hope in any form. This was my chosen method for fifteen long years. Shutting down my emotions eased the agony of an emotionally abusive marriage. Some days I could almost forget it was there. I learned how to hide my scars and secrets. I functioned well. I did the best I could to protect my children. I didn’t know from what at the time. Just that I needed to be more than enough for them.

For me, numbness relieved some of the suffering some of the time. That is what made it a viable survival technique. However, it also reduced my ability to experience positive emotions. You cannot choose which feelings to avoid and which ones to embrace. It is all or nothing.

Unlike the day I chose numbness over hopelessness, I did not make a conscious decision to leave numbness behind in search of a hope filled life. It was my Heavenly Father that set me on that path. But before I could find hope, it was necessary for me to sink into the despair of hopelessness again. You see, God can and will reach down and pull us out of the miry pit, but He can’t do that if we are content to be stuck in the sludge. Often God will set a plan in motion that brings us to our knees in desperation where our only option is to call out to Him.

It is overwhelming and terrifying to have the bandaids pulled off your carefully concealed wounds and watch the bleeding resume all over again. The pain is just as intense the second time around. I wept. I prayed. Or more accurately, I brought the broken and shattered pieces of my heart to God. I did not ask God to mend the fragments. I did not ask God to heal my pain. I simply cried that I didn’t want to hurt anymore. That was it. No requests for love, joy, peace or hope for my future. That was an impossible prayer, a far away dream that I didn’t dare put into words able to betray me. Asking not to hurt anymore was difficult enough.

I recently read a description in Brene Brown’s book “Daring Greatly” of what vulnerability feels like. Someone described it as “A lump in my throat and a knot in my chest.” And I thought, yes, that is also what the beginning of hope feels like. When hope was first offered to me it emerged as a tiny ball in the pit of my stomach, ascended to my chest, my throat, and finally became a pressure behind my eyes that I fought to keep there. Behind my eyes. Where I could deny it and push it away again. Not betraying me by leaking down my cheeks to be seen and felt. My mind fought the possibility of hope, but my body believed and responded before the rest of me was able.

At one time or another you have been advised to listen to your body. Pay attention to its signals. Sleep when you are tired. Eat when you are hungry. Drink when you are thirsty. So, I ask, why not hope when your body is desiring the promise of healing?

Hope is challenging. Hope takes courage. But hope will not disappoint when you place it in the hands of our Abba Father, the One who will wipe every precious tear from your eyes.

Now hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. Romans 5:5

Choices!

Back in July I wrote about going to see my spiritual counselor and what God showed me at that time. I also mentioned that my counselor made a second observation and I would share it in the next post, well, I didn’t….because honestly, I was truly grappling with it. I didn’t like her suggestion or observation. I didn’t want to look at it and to some degree I am still wrestling with it.

What she shared with me was the Serenity Prayer; the first part of it. If you are familiar with Alcoholics Anonymous then you have encountered the Serenity Prayer. The prayer has worked its way into so many cultural outlets that many non-Christians know it, or at least the beginning, by heart:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.serenity 1

The rest of the prayer goes like this:

Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next.
Amen.

I admit I reacted to her strongly because deep down I was truly afraid to accept the things I could not change and feared I didn’t have the courage to change what I could…..and would I really know the difference??

Why did I struggle to “accept” things? Because I believed that accepting something was laziness. I was afraid that accepting that there are some things I could not change would make me complacent. But slowly (very slowly) I am beginning to realize instead that acceptance constitutes a leap of faith — an ability to trust, as the prayer goes on to say, “that He [God] will make all things right if I surrender to His Will.” I then make the choice to let go and have faith in the outcome.

acceptance

Accepting or surrendering takes courage…..for me the word “surrender” like acceptance, had mostly negative connotations. I associated it with resignation, failure and weakness. But the Serenity Prayer reframes the notion of surrender as an act of faith and trust. The wisdom of the prayer lies in exchanging a life of endless “what ifs” for a life of trust in powers beyond ourselves. That changes my perspective!

Another thing I am coming to realize is that acceptance takes courage, it takes courage to change ourselves. And I didn’t want to be courageous anymore, it was too much work.

One of life’s greatest challenges is imagining how our lives could be different than they are now. Often, my own deeply-ingrained habits are my own worst enemies, and simply identifying them is half the battle. Since habits gain power through repetition, it takes real focus and perspective to take a look at ourselves and our habits and ask, “Is this how I really want to live?” As the prayer states, this act of self-investigation is nothing less than an act of “courage.”

And in my mind it also meant that I must accept “hardships as the pathway to peace.” What??? I didn’t want hardship, I wanted easy, painless even!!
Yet, every person confronts obstacles in the course of his or her life. Yet, it’s what I do with these obstacles. Do I view them as frustrations or failures, or as opportunities for growth and learning? If I choose the latter then I can transcend my circumstances.
courage
Accepting what I don’t like may be one of the most difficult aspects of life, because there will be people, situations, and events I don’t like and I am not able to change.

Yet, it is true, acceptance is not the same as resignation or passivity. I can continue to push forward despite accepting that there are things beyond my control. It is not passive when I lean into and trust God with my life, situations and relationships. It is not passive when I seek His wisdom and ask for His supernatural courage. It doesn’t take resignation it takes strength, perseverance, faith and trust.

Please understand what I am not saying….if you are in an abusive relationship or have been abused, I am not saying that you should just accept what is happening or what happened. I am not talking about abuse. I am talking about situations and circumstances that affect us and that we feel we have no control over, maybe in our workplace, our marriage or our relationships.
It truly takes supernatural wisdom to know the difference of what we can or cannot change.

serenity-quotes-7

As you can see I am still chewing on this, wrestling with it and walking this out…..to be continued!

What about you? How do you see “acceptance” or “surrender”?

No Longer Victims of Fear

Women, especially those have been sexually abused, oftentimes carry deep fears. Men can as well, it just looks different for men then it does for women.

While fear is normal and valuable because it can keep a person from dangerous situations and mobilize a person to flee when danger approaches, it can also be an enemy, wearing a person down, robbing one of health and keep us from enjoying positive relationships.

One area I have had to deal with specifically in my life is that of changing my expectations and not viewing everything through the lens of fear.

expect-great-things

People tend to both see and experience what they expect. How do you feel about that statement?

None of us entered life expecting to be abused, and although there are exceptions to the rule regarding the statement,  generally speaking, I think it is pretty accurate.

Let me use the following story to illustrate.

A King wanted to find out whether his kingdom contained more weeds or flowers. He called two men into his court. To the first he gave the assignment of cataloging all the weeks in his kingdom. The second man was given the assignment of cataloging all the flowers. They were given two months to complete their assignment.

At the end of the two months they returned to the king. The first said, “O mighty king, your kingdom is covered in weeds! It’s a horrible sight! You must do something about it. It’s sad to have so many weeds invading your kingdom.”

The second man said, “O mighty king, our kingdom is absolutely overrun with flowers of every kind and color. They are glorious. They make your kingdom fresh and alive. It is a joy to be part of your kingdom.”

Talk about two very different perspectives.

What we expect to see colors what we do see in life!! 

believe

Because I have been talking a lot lately about “words” I’d like to share something I have discovered over the years.

While it’s true that although words can be thrown at us carelessly and sometimes they can be hurled with the intent to injure, I can’t help but wonder how often we filter situations or words from others through our already gaping wounds….words from friends, family, co-workers, Christian brothers and sisters…..how often are words spoken and we assume they are insinuating something when it was really the farthest thing from their minds?

Yet their words can pierce deeply because we are hearing them through words and wounds long ago spoken that have left a fracture in our spirits and we tend to filter everything through that.

And so we react, we turn away, we put up a wall, we take offence, we write that person off, we withdraw deeper into ourselves instead of taking the wound or the assumption or the questions to Jesus. How often do we find the courage to go to the person and ask what they really meant, asking them to elaborate, or to risk telling them the effect their words had on us.

I am not saying this to heap more guilt or shame, I am not suggesting that it didn’t hurt, I am never denying the pain….but perhaps it is time to honestly look at our reactions through the lens of Jesus rather than our fears.

Please understand that I am not talking about words that are abusive, insulting , harmful or offensive, words used to control, wound or manipulate us. I am talking about our everyday relationships with friends, co-workers, those with whom we are in community.

Isaiah

 

In dealing with fear, changing my expectations has been a part of my healing process. I was hurt many times as a child, but there are flowers in the kingdom, I had to make the choice to look for them. I had to realize that my life was not totally ruined because of the weeds unless I decided to quit on myself.

 

Our fears are frequently tied to our pasts….maybe it’s time to look at the present for what it is.

 

Because if we live our lives expecting to be hurt, expecting to see weeds wherever we look, expecting others to always let us down, wrong us or think the worst of us….then our abuser wins again.

Remember…..today and tomorrow have no writing on them yet……. 

My hope is that your story will be about changing your expectations, about allowing God to birth something beautiful inside of you, that you will trust Him, and  that you will learn to love without fear.

writing