Tag Archive | intimacy anorexia

(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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Finding Me in Telling the Truth

I told my parents the truth about my marriage. Not all of it. But enough. It wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. Maybe because I had rehearsed my words and my parents’ reactions so many times it was playing in a loop through my mind. The tears of sorrow. The tears of joy. A group hug. Someone running through a meadow, arms outstretched, hair blowing in the breeze…… Well, you get the idea.

And so the response I received to what I thought would be a startling confession and revelation of my pornography ravaged and emotionally abusive marriage was rather anti climactic. As was my testimony of how God’s grace was restoring and carrying my husband and myself through it.

My nervousness only showed itself through the rabbit trails I led my parents along thinking maybe this addition to the story will elicit a comment, a question, a nod of the head, or something…… If not immediately, perhaps in the following days.

My mother did seem to be listening and following along with me. Closely watching my face the whole time. She did make one or two mostly innocuous comments. She gave me a hug afterwards and said it must have been hard for me to share with them.

My father was silent. Not only were no words spoken, but his body remained motionless. He did not look at me, fidget in his chair, clear his throat. He seemed to be making his best effort to be unnoticed, and so his silence did speak to me. Just not entirely sure what it was saying.

I chose not to share the details of either mine or my husband’s sexual sins, other than to mention the pornography addiction.  I did not mention the resulting compulsive masturbation, the twenty long years of being in a sexless marriage, the affair. Some things a girl just doesn’t want to share with her parents about her sex life.

Instead I highlighted the recovery process our sex addiction recovery therapist has guided each of us through. I told of our involvement in support groups and my working a 12 step program adapted for partners of sex addicts. I shared about our participation and commitment to the “Dailies” explaining why I was on my phone talking or emailing my husband every night. (In the Dailies we identify and share feelings from our day unrelated to our relationship or each other, give each other two praises, and pray together. We also share scripture or read a passage from the Bible together. It is a very important time of connection for people also healing from intimacy anorexia.)

Most importantly, I described the story of my husband’s salvation two months into his recovery from sex addiction, and of my own deeper and closer relationship with God. I emphasized God’s hand in the tremendous healing we have received individually and in our marriage. They needed to know that we, that I, am only where I am today because of God’s extravagant love, forgiveness, grace, mercy and redemption.

My parents needed to hear this part of the story even more than the other. I grew up in a Christian home, attending church regularly as a family until I married and moved away. Shortly after this, on a return visit home, I discovered that my parents no longer went to church. And sadly, that has been the case for the last 27 years. But maybe, just maybe, voicing God’s miracle in our home will ignite a new light and life in theirs.

Whether or not sharing my marriage crisis and its reconciliation changes anything in the hearts of my parents, it has shifted something within me. It truly did free me. Not necessarily from big things, but the small, simple every day life things. I am recognizing that conversation and relationship is becoming much easier and healthier now that I don’t have to sidestep questions, hide my whereabouts and activities, or worry about saying something that may reveal my secrets. Previously, my mother asking a seemingly straightforward and normal question about what I did on my trip to the city would cause panic and feelings of guilt within me. Sure I could tell her the truth that I went shopping or had lunch with my daughter, but when the primary reason was to attend a counselling session or support group it felt like lying by omission. And it was. And I don’t have to do that anymore!

Removing masks, being vulnerable and learning to be authentic is hard. And scary. But each time I do it I am amazed by the beautiful woman I see emerging. And the best part is that beautiful woman is me. And I like her more and more every day.

God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. Psalm 46:5

Counselling – Three’s a Crowd

I am responsible for healing my pain. I am not responsible for the pain my husband and his sex addiction inflicted on me.

He loaded the gun, pulled the trigger, and fired the poisonous bullet that ripped through my body. Leaving shattered fragments of myself along its path. Lodging the shards in the very center of my being. Infecting me.

He caused the damage. Allowing him to poke and prod at my wounds to “help” me would only compound the injury. He cannot fix me. Only I can do that. But I am wise enough to know I can’t retrieve the bullet on my own. That job is for someone who knows what they are doing. Which is not me, and certainly not my husband. This requires professional help.

This is where it may get tricky. One size fits all counselling does not exist. It may take time to find the right therapist. It did for me. This is very frustrating in a crisis situation. But don’t give up on all therapy because of a disappointing encounter. The bullet may be twisted and pushed in deeper, but it still needs to be removed.

I began therapy with a female Christian counsellor. I thought I would be most comfortable with my own gender. I also felt safer with someone I trusted to have similar beliefs and values as my own. I did not particularly trust a male therapist to know how to care for my heart.

This assumption was a mistake. I learned from it and moved on after three visits. Turns out she left an abusive marriage. Told me there was no hope for mine. I wasn’t there looking to save my marriage, but neither was I there to end it. At that point, I just wanted to stop feeling crazy and take back control of my spiralling mind and life. I really didn’t care about the future status of my marriage, and yet her taking away hope and declaring its death stung more than I anticipated.

On my third and final (although neither of us knew this yet) visit to this therapist, she told me about a Christian sexual recovery therapist whom she thought could be helpful for my husband. Whether or not my marriage survived, my husband was the father of my children, and it mattered to me that their dad be as healthy as possible. Whatever that was. And so I gave my husband the information. Without tears or pleas, threats or ultimatums to make an appointment. Just handed him a piece of paper, said “I heard about this guy, maybe he can help you.” And I left it at that.

My husband called. My husband went. My husband came home and told me had a sex addiction and intimacy anorexia. I listened and said nothing. I was confused. Troubled. Didn’t know what that meant. The pieces didn’t fit together. I knew about the porn, but a sex addiction didn’t make sense for someone who avoided sex.

I searched this counsellor’s website. There was information about partner’s sexual betrayal trauma. I wanted to know more about all of this, so I set up an appointment for myself.

I didn’t know what to expect at my session. I walked into the room a messy, broken woman. I walked out messy, broken and validated. My voice was heard. Supportive words of kindness and grace were spoken to me. This was not my fault. I did not cause it. I could not fix it. Nor was I expected to. This counsellor gave me hope for my marriage, and for my husband, but most importantly he gave me hope for me.

I was told that I had a bad marriage. These words unsettled me. Made me uncomfortably squirmy. It was an odd sensation to hear these words of truth spoken out loud. I knew I didn’t have a good marriage, but I had never considered that it was bad. It just was what it was. The realization that I had a bad marriage wound its way from my head to my heart and landed as a heavy weight in my stomach.

The therapist outlined for me the recovery program that he would be introducing to my husband. I resignedly asked what I was supposed to do to help him. “Nothing,” he said. “You don’t do anything except give him to me.” What freedom I received at that moment! He went on to explain that my husband’s recovery was his to do, and mine was for me to do. And after we both had several weeks of individual therapy, we would then meet together to see how things were going and if we were ready to proceed with marriage counselling.

To have my counsellor give me the freedom and permission to put my husband and marriage aside to focus on my pain and healing was life giving.

To put a name to my experiences and pain …… betrayal, trauma, intimacy anorexia …… lifted some of the shame that this was a real thing beyond me. Not just a manifestation of my failures, flaws and weakness.

My heart began to hope that day. January 3, 2015. I was offered the gift of recovery and I accepted it.

Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. Jeremiah 6:16

So Glad to Meet You

My name is not Cynthia. Well, that is not entirely true. My birth certificate says it is, but no one has ever identified me by that name. Well, that isn’t entirely true either. When producing my passport, the agent will undoubtedly call me Cynthia as that is the name printed there. But all that does is elicit my blank stare which isn’t at all suspicious when travelling to another destination. And if you were to attempt to get my attention by shouting “Hi Cynthia” to me I would not turn my head, simply because I wouldn’t know that you were. I tell you this so you can stop crossing off the list in your mind of any Cynthias that you may know. I am not her. I also tell you this so that we may begin our journey together today with truthfulness and no traces of deception between us.

I admit that when I read the post introducing me as a guest writer for this blog, I had quite the mix of emotions. It is an absolute honour and privilege to be invited into this valuable blog community where we can heal, grow and learn together. I was completely unprepared for the gracious and kind words used to describe me and my writing. This Cynthia woman sounded amazing. And then came the moments of doubt and fear. Could I really do this? Will I be enough? Will people be disappointed? How could I possibly live up to your expectations when it was me that you were going to meet? And so by writing one and a half paragraphs on this blog so far I have already been shown two truths. One, that the telling of our stories is an integral part of our ongoing healing process and transformation into the person that God created and intended each one of us to be. And secondly, that yes, by the grace of God and through the redemption of Jesus Christ, I am enough.  And so are you.

If you are wondering what I will be writing on this blog, so am I. Because I will be leaving that decision up to God. But what I can tell you now is that you will hear of our mighty God’s miraculous healing power that has redeemed the untold pain and despair of my life and marriage. You will hear how beautifully God has designed every detail of the healing that He has available for us. You will hear that I am a wife of a man recovering from sex addiction and intimacy anorexia, married for 27 years, the last two happily. And I would be amiss if I did not tell you that I am the blessed mother of two awesome young adult children and a beautiful daughter-in-law. But most importantly, I am an extravagantly loved and cherished daughter of God which took me nearly 46 years to discover.

I am Cynthia. But if you are reading this, then quite possibly so are you. Or maybe it is the woman sitting beside you at church, your neighbour, or co-worker. It may even be your best friend, daughter or mother. There are many Cynthias living each day in invisible pain and shame.  Many Cynthias that need to know, and not only know, but believe that there is hope and healing for the wounds and pain they have kept hidden for so long. Because there is. Oh, there is. And my prayer for you is that as we journey together you will open your heart enough to glimpse the hope and healing that is within your reach. No matter how faint the glimmer may be, there is One that can and will take the smallest offering brought to Him and turn it into more than you can ever imagine. I know because His name is Jesus and He has become my best friend.

Look at the nations and watch, and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe even if you were told. Habakkuk 1:5