Tag Archive | emotional pain

Can’t We Just Be Broken Together?

My husband doesn’t know what to do with my tears. I often don’t know what to do with them either. Three years into our recovery from his sex addiction and intimacy anorexia, the presence of my tears still distresses both of us, often leaving them unheeded.

I say both of us, because living with the emotional abuse and sexual betrayal of my husband’s addiction for twenty five years left me in a state of emotional numbness. I did not laugh. I did not cry. I wasn’t happy, but neither was I miserable. Life was okay that way.

Until it wasn’t. Until the pain became so strong, and overwhelming, and exhausting, that I no longer had the energy to smother it with nothingness. As I wrote previously in I Gave God an Ultimatum:

I wept. Well, more like blubbered. And I am not a crier, so the depth of my grief manifesting in ugly sobs was a betrayal that bewildered me. It was not a pretty sight. Or sound. But it was just me and God and He was okay with that.

It was just me and God sitting alone together in a hotel room far away from my husband. Or from anyone that might witness my brokenness. I don’t remember crying again for a few more months. And when I did, it was in the solitude of my car. On my own. With no one to see my anguish. With no one to look at me with disdain or pity. With no one to comfort me.

Barely two months into our healing journey, we had to make the heartbreaking decision to say goodbye to our dog. As an empty nester in a home where love was routinely withheld from me, it was particularly true that my beloved dog was my best friend and companion. My source of affection. But also the one who readily accepted the love I offered.

I was very close to crying that day. The tears puddled in my eyes, and a few, though not many, trickled down my cheeks. My husband thanked me for showing my emotions. He was sad. I was sad. At the same time. In the same place. For the same reason. And yet my heart still felt disconnected. I was mystified at the absurdity of his praise, the approval of my tears, and the new experience of sharing a loss together.

Learning to experience and identify feelings is a new thing for me. For both of us. Our communication has improved significantly because of these new skills. But…..

We don’t know how to cry together. We falter in our ability to receive and allow each other’s sadness and pain.

As any recovering addict must, my husband has courageously worked through his need to numb emotional pain through his drug of choice, pornography and masturbation. He has also fully embraced a recovery program providing him freedom and healing from the immense damage porn inflicted on him. And he has recognized the devastation and pain his choices thrust upon me, our marriage, and our children. Porn is not harmless. Ever.

My husband is filled with remorse over the effects his addiction had on all of us. He has a truly repentant heart. Yet he struggles to forgive himself. Tears flow freely and easily for him. That makes him doubt his manliness. But I don’t. He is a man of both great strength and gentleness. His vulnerability allowed me to trust his heart and invite him back into mine.

But frequently, his tears stop mine. When his flow, mine don’t. Often when I approach him feeling hurt or troubled about something, his heart fractures from the reality and magnitude of the pain his sexual sin has caused all of us. He begins crying. My natural response is to comfort him. Which means I withdraw from my own hurt and tuck it back away so I can make him feel better with hugs and encouraging words. And then I feel bitter. Because this was about me. And my pain. But it somehow becomes about his.

It is not a manipulative maneuver on his part. He doesn’t ask me to console him. I’m not even sure he expects that. I just do it because the alternative would be awkwardly watching him grapple with his own pain. Which adds discomfort to my growing resentment.

Recently, as this all too familiar scenario played out, I physically felt my heart constricting and getting harder and smaller. I understood it was time for me to change my behaviour and response to our tears. It was okay to let my husband sit in his sorrow and grief. And it was necessary for both of us to accept my brokenness and expressions of sadness. Maybe we could just cry together. Maybe we could find comfort and hope for our full healing in mingled tears.

The last two months we have made a commitment to delve deeper into building the sexual intimacy that was missing in our marriage. This process has reintroduced emotions that haven’t been regularly experienced since the early stages of our recovery three years ago. Thus, the re-emergence of tears, and need to respond to them in a more healthy way.

My first attempt at allowing my tears to remain, while refraining from extending instant consolation to my husband once his began, left me feeling discouraged. He seemed oblivious to my tears, and although I didn’t speak, my hands reached out to soothe him with my touch. My eyes dried up, and resentment seeped into my heart.

The second time this happened, I sat on my hands and forced my mouth shut to resist comforting my husband. It was awkward and uncomfortable witnessing his despair and doing nothing but let him feel it. The focused effort on my part detached me from my emotions. And yet it was still a small victory.

The next opportunity we had to practice crying together, we cried together. It was a breakthrough for me. And yet I can’t tell you much more than that. Even though it was just last week, I can’t recall my thoughts or emotions. And honestly, that kind of puzzles me. The emotional intimacy connection I was seeking occurred, and yet the memories of it elude me. Positive or negative. I have no explanation as to why.

I don’t know what will happen next time. But I have come to learn on my healing journey that my progress doesn’t always leap directly from discouragement to joy. It often sits somewhere in the middle while I adjust to new behaviours and thought patterns. My progress isn’t perfect, but it is progress, and so I celebrate.

Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Luke 6:21

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Name That Feeling

Name That Feeling. Right now. As you paused to read this. As you have been scrolling down your page scanning posts to read. Are you curious, intrigued, bored, impatient, hopeful, disappointed……? What is the feeling you were feeling then? Now? An hour ago?

Identifying feelings and emotions is a skill. It needs to be learned. And practiced. Which I have been doing for two years and five months now. I still struggle to Name That Feeling. If it was a game show, I would be the last contestant to buzz in. This continues to be a very real side effect of numbing and medicating emotional pain for most of my life.

Feelings are exactly that. Feelings. An emotional response. What they are not is right or wrong, fact or truth. When God created humans in His image, He intentionally gave us emotions. All of them. Even Jesus, the only sinless, perfect person to ever live on earth experienced feelings that many of us consider sinful, negative, to be avoided. Anger. Grief. Sorrow. Loneliness. These feelings were a part of the life of God’s Son, and yet I chose to do everything I could to not make them a part of mine.

In one of my early counselling sessions, my therapist handed me a list of feelings. I handed it back to him. He didn’t take it. I was left holding the paper in my hand. I sighed. As per his instructions, I reluctantly closed my eyes and let my finger fall on the chart. Whichever word my finger landed on, I was to share a time when I experienced that feeling. Oddly enough, the feeling was distressed. I looked up, smiled and said “I feel distressed right now talking about identifying feelings.” Aha. Win for me. He did laugh. But then he asked me to remember the first time I felt that way. That took longer to answer. And I always dislike paying for those extended moments of silence in the counsellor’s office. I also still disliked talking about feelings. Or having them. It was vulnerable. Risky. It came too close to uncovering the buried monsters that I worked tirelessly to push back down every time they reached towards the surface. It was much more comfortable to share my story as a disconnected bystander, not the person living in and experiencing the pain. I was still afraid of my boogeyman becoming exposed even though I no longer wanted to be held in its grip.

Not being able to identify my feelings naturally led to not being able to express or experience my feelings. I seldom cried or laughed. Generally, I lacked emotional responses to people and situations. I have been perceived as snobbish and cold hearted. No one saw the terrified and battered little girl hiding within my adult body who just didn’t know how to access her emotional database.

When we had to make the heartbreaking decision to put our dog down two months into our recoveries, a few tears threatened to escape from my eyes. My husband praised me for showing sadness. He wanted and needed to share his emotional experience with me, but I didn’t know how to do that. So he encouraged me to just be sad in the moment because I was sad in the moment. I squirmed with the unfamiliarity of purposefully opening my heart to unpleasant emotions.

Experiencing, identifying and expressing feelings is an essential skill to learn in recovery. Upon completion and continued practice of an empowerment exercise on identifying and communicating feelings in Dr. Doug Weiss’ Partner’s Recovery Guide for partner’s of sex addicts, I have learned:

When I had a feeling and didn’t know what it was, I could ignore it or suppress it until it went away. I had many methods of doing this. The problem with that is I also could not meet my own real needs. I didn’t know what they were.

It is easier for me to prevent relapsing into old unhealthy behaviours because I know better how to handle and manage my feelings now that I am more successful at identifying them. If I am hungry or desiring dessert, it is okay (well, kind of) to eat a couple spoonfuls of peanut butter and chocolate chips. If I am bored or anxious, it is not. Then I need to find a healthier alternative to medicating my emotional pain such as going for a walk.

If I have relapsed and find myself staring guiltily or woefully at an empty chocolate chip container, it is easier for me to go back through my day and track down what happened. What emotions preceded my setback. Perhaps this time I was disappointed or angry that my husband hadn’t made supper so I stuffed my mouth full of soothing yumminess before grudgingly beginning to prepare a meal.

Identifying and communicating my feelings, whether internally or externally, has improved all my relationships. With my husband, kids, friends, co-workers. It allows and creates more intimacy. Life is just better.

So, yes, I have been learning these things. Learn-ing. Not completely learn-ed. A visit to my kitchen would show you that. But that’s okay. I don’t need to experience every feeling on my list in one day. I just need to open my heart and mind to experience the feeling of the moment whatever it may be. A feeling doesn’t have the power to hurt me. Or betray me. But a feeling does have the ability to expand my love and gratitude for living a full and abundant life in God’s glorious creation.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: …………..           A time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance. Ecclesiastes 3:1,4