Tag Archive | triggers

Change Your Hair, Transform Your Heart

My husband shaved his head this weekend. He had been telling me for the last few days that his hair was getting too unruly and he would need to cut it all off soon. And yet I was still unprepared for the moment when I turned to greet him as he walked into the kitchen after his shower. The baldness startled me. My heart received a sharp pang, and the lump in my throat that was holding back the tears from rising to my eyes grew. He knew instantly that I was dismayed. I attempted to smooth over my reaction by mumbling something about how I wouldn’t be able to run my fingers through his hair anymore.

But that wasn’t the real reason. I couldn’t even look at him. All day I managed to talk and interact with him while avoiding eye contact, and well, looking at his head at all. If my eyes naturally glanced at his face as he began to speak, they quickly bounced away before the image had a chance to embed itself in memories of pain, rejection and abuse.

My husband’s hair, or rather his lack of hair, triggers me. He doesn’t know that. He does know that it upsets me whenever he shaves his head. But I have never told him why. I have chosen not to because it is his hair, on his body, after all, and he has every right to keep his hair at whatever length he wants to. I would not appreciate my husband trying to impose his will over me for any of my personal body choices. I believe that he thinks I just prefer him with hair. Not much different from how I favour the blue T-shirt that matches his eyes over his other clothing options.

But it does go deeper than that. In the beginning stages of our dating and married life, my husband had hair. He kept it fairly short, but still, there was hair on his head. This was the man I was attracted to and fell in love with. Then he began closely shaving his head. I don’t believe it was a defining moment for either of us. How much hair he did or didn’t have was of little importance throughout our marriage.

Until four and a half years ago when I confronted him, and the depth of his sex addiction and intimacy anorexia was exposed. Corresponding with the timing of his decision to battle and enter a recovery program for his pornography use, his head began to be covered in soft, blond curls. I was quite curious and intrigued by this seeming connection of my husband seeking healing and recovery, and letting his hair grow out.

My husband is a big man. With his bald head, his appearance was somewhat intimidating. While in the throes of his pornography addiction and intimacy anorexia, he was an angry, disconnected, emotionally abusive man. The hardness of his heart was displayed on his face. For twenty five years.

As my husband embraced his recovery program, his entire body language shifted and relaxed. The tension was released from his body. His face softened. The blond curls framed his newly smiling eyes. The undeniable change in his physical presence was a gift that allowed me to trust that the same thing was happening in his heart. It was.

And now, I found it so difficult to meet my husband’s gaze. The man who loves me, cherishes me and fights daily for his freedom from addiction. His appearance propelled me back to a time when there was nothing but coldness and indifference in his eyes.

Throughout my day, God gently reminded me that an altered appearance does not reverse the restoration of a heart. Lessons I had received early in my recovery relating to change and transformation surfaced in my thoughts.  They are not the same thing.

Change can change again. It involves a modification of behaviour or actions, making something different, and is usually motivated by the realization that something is no longer working to your satisfaction or needs. Change generally seeks improvement whether it is the filing system at work, repainting your house, or cutting your hair. But it is often temporary, either returning to how it was before, or to something else again.

Transformation has a permanence to it. An overhaul. It does involve change, but also a renewal of one’s character, not just actions. It is the result of a repentant heart pursuing and finding healing and freedom. And once it happens, once awakened to the beauty of life, there is no going back. Transformation acknowledges the past, learns from it and celebrates a new way of living.

My husband changed his outward appearance. And he will again. Throughout his life. So will I. But God has transformed his heart just as He has transformed mine. My husband is a new creation. I am a new creation. Our marriage has been rebuilt and redeemed. And that remains the same whether he has hair on his head or not.

As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart. Proverbs 27:19

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What is Left When the Music Fades

Music is a paradox. At least to me it is. Many of us can attest to the healing power of music. To that extraordinary song that reached deeply into our brokenness like a salve. Possibly connecting our heart with God’s in an emotional and meaningful act of worship.  Or to the song that became a mighty anthem of courage and renewed strength providing the determination to press onward.

But what happens when the healing power of that same special song not only fades, but sends your spirit into a fast spinning downward spiral?

I have long been aware that there is a significant contrast in the way my heart and mind will respond to different songs. Or perhaps more accurately, to the memories and emotions associated with the songs. There are entire time periods of music, and not just a particular song or artist, from dark seasons of my life that I have learned to avoid. Within the first few seconds of hearing the melody and lyrics I am transported back to a time of confusion, bad choices and pain. The flood of regret and shame is instantaneous as I am reminded of how grievously I sinned against myself and others. The darkness threatens to overtake me and the fight to put it all back in the past where it belongs is so tiring that sometimes I allow it to linger longer than is necessary or healthy. And so, I intentionally strive to control the negative emotions that secular music triggers within me.

My husband once asked me why I only listen to Christian music. I don’t believe there is anything inherently wrong or evil with most secular music. But for me, it has the ability to slice through the healing I have achieved and plant poisonous seeds in my heart and mind. And even if it doesn’t cause harm, the weeds seldom inspire or infuse my soul with joy or peace.

But lately I have been recognizing a growing discomfort and aversion to some Christian music that once  soothed, comforted, empowered and energized my weary soul. And I am finding myself needing to disassociate from the memories and feelings they currently evoke.

Firstly, are my old favourites from my teenage and young adult years. One of the same time periods where I find the secular music particularly triggering for me. I feel a pang of emptiness and my body physically reacts every time I scroll through my playlist and my eyes alight on those artists or albums. It doesn’t seem that my mind wants to revisit either the good or bad moments of those years.

Secondly, are a couple of the songs that provided me immense comfort and strength as I began healing from sexual betrayal trauma and the effects of my husband’s sex addiction three years ago. Anointed songs that enveloped me in God’s loving arms where the tears were wiped from my eyes and a foundation was built beneath my feet for the recovery journey ahead of me. Lyrics that once spoke so deeply to my heart that I had them printed out and close beside me on my desk at work available to encourage me throughout the day. Now I can barely tolerate these songs. Maybe it is a case of too much of a good thing. It parallels my twenty eight year aversion to apple juice. I had an extreme case of hyperemesis during my first pregnancy and the only sustenance I received was from sips of apple juice. It nourished my body. The songs nurtured my soul. They both did their job in bringing healing to my sickness. But I’m not sick anymore. And remembering that I was elicits sadness and makes me feel less whole. When I feel less whole, I am easily deceived and susceptible to spiritual attacks. I am quite adept at filling the void with lies of hopelessness and despair.

For me, music is both healing and destructive. It mends my shattered pieces. And it threatens to break them apart again. My spirit may soar, or it may plummet. Sometimes I am aware, and sometimes I am caught by surprise. That is the nature of triggers. I forever must stand on guard to protect my salvation, recovery and ongoing healing journey to wholeness. Some things are black and white. Good or bad. But so much more are caught in the middle ready and waiting to change the direction of my heart. Good or bad…..

Be self controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 1 Peter 5:8-10

Restoring Sexual Intimacy After Betrayal

I almost made it through last week’s D-Day anniversary and birthday celebrating. Of course, that depends somewhat on how you define celebrating. There wasn’t a party or a cake, but since Halloween is a day of significance in my story of betrayal, there were costumes, smiles and mini chocolate bars involved.

I regret telling my husband that Halloween was a triggering day for me. He did not know that until this week. Now we will both experience a layer of darkness to this holiday that has nothing to do with scary or sexy costumes, trick or treaters, pranks or stomach aches from eating too much candy.

My husband and I have chosen not to reveal our triggers to each other. We decided that knowing these things provided little or no benefit to either of us in our healing and recovery from sex addiction and each other’s sexual betrayals. There may be times it is necessary to communicate when something is bothering us, but for the most part, details have remained unspoken. It does not cause me to wonder or obsess. It allows me the freedom to walk beside my husband not worrying about who or what may be vying for his attention. I am not responsible for his recovery, nor can I control it. There is no point in me watching and questioning everything he does, or heaping more pain upon myself by avoiding places and situations that I have always enjoyed. I will save my energy for my own recovery and growing a healthy me.

To explain my emotional instability and edginess the last few days, I could have just indicated I was being triggered. That would have been enough said. I instantly felt remorseful and defeated for providing details that hurt my husband but that also made me feel like I had just fallen backwards in my own recovery. Because, truthfully, although I was being triggered, that wasn’t the main cause of my unhealthy behaviour. It was just the easiest excuse.

I was anxious. I was scared. I was feeling challenged and stressed. I was taking a risk. A risk that I initiated, but nonetheless, was about to stretch me thin as I began picking at the scabs mending the sexual wounds of my life and marriage.

I assume that rebuilding and restoring genuine sexual intimacy after a relationship has been ravaged by a porn addiction, affair, or any sexual betrayal or infidelity is challenging for many. I say assume, because apart from my own experience, I have heard or read very little about it. The silence roars and adds to the shame and stigma of the struggle. It is incomprehensible to me that other couples affected by sinful sexual behaviours aren’t having difficulty returning to the mutually fulfilling emotional, spiritual and physical intimacy of sex as God created, designed and intended it to be in marriage.

I have suffered immensely through twenty five years of a sexless marriage filled with neglect, rejection and emotional abuse. In our case, we are not rebuilding, but building something that we have never had. The inexperience and awkwardness of new lovers; the harmful and destructive effects of a porn addiction; the baggage of an affair and past sexual history and abuse; and age and health issues combine for a long, slow process of recovering healthy sexuality and intimacy.

I have become frustrated, disappointed, discouraged and impatient. I am angry at God. I have never received the gift of sexual intimacy in my marriage, and even now, with the wonderful healing and recovery we have received individually and in our marriage, it remains elusive. And that makes me cry. And it made me cry last week. I grieve for what I have lost. I grieve for what has not been returned. And when I dare to hope for more, my heart aches.

Last week, my husband and I bravely took a giant leap of faith for our sexual recovery. We have begun working through a book, 31 Days to Great Sex, by Christian author Sheila Wray Gregoire, which has daily readings and challenges designed to improve emotional, spiritual and physical intimacy in marriage. I am nervous, and it scares the heck out of me, but feels so right at the same time. I feel empowered by the format that is holding us accountable to having uncomfortable conversations, while providing a safe environment to do so. I am proud of myself, for both of us, for persevering and pushing through the hard stuff in search of God’s complete plan for marriage.

God sees my tears. And He cares. God knows the desires of my heart. He put them there. I am learning through this process that mutually fulfilling sexual intimacy is a gift in marriage. None of us are entitled to it. I try to reconcile in my mind that it may be something I never experience. That makes me sad.

I am holding on to the truth that God is a Redeemer. I must believe that He either is, or He isn’t. He either redeems, or He doesn’t. And if I trust God is a Redeemer, then I must have confidence that He is able to redeem all of my marriage. Not 50%, not 80%, but 100%. If redemption seems to halt somewhere along the way, it is not because God stopped. It is because I did. I don’t want to do that anymore.

As I wept and prayed last week, my Heavenly Father spoke these words to my heart:

For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their Shepherd; He will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Revelation 7:17

I am listening. I am trusting. I have hope in my Redeemer.

What to Do about Triggers

Sometimes is can be hard to recognize when we are having triggers in the first place, so it can be difficult to do anything about it. But if you find yourself thinking about memories of abuse there are some things you can do.

First, I find it helps to share with your spouse and closest friends so they can support & pray for you through these difficult times. I have found also that it is important to identify what your triggers are because they often occur at the worst of times and sometimes it can be awkward & embarrassing to experience triggers while in public places or while being intimate with your spouse.  I believe it is also very important to come up with a specific plan of what to do the next time it happens.

 

 

 According to the Childhood Sexual Abuse Survivor Network, the following guidelines can help a person stop having triggers:

1. STOP and become aware

2. CALM yourself

3. AFFIRM your present reality

4. CHOOSE a new response.

As soon as you find yourself reacting in a sudden, upsetting irrational way that feels out of control, stop.

Calm your body. Tell yourself something reassuring, such as “I’m safe, no one can hurt me now.”

Affirm your present reality, remind yourself that what you are doing and experiencing now is different from what happened during the abuse.

Choose a new response. Stop and realize what’s happening, calm yourself and affirm your present reality. And remember, practice makes perfect!

Other ways to manage triggers are:

1.) Have a notepad or a journal handy to write your thoughts and feelings down.

2.) Make sure that you are in a comfortable place.

3.) Sometimes it helps to remind yourself of the goals and aspirations you seek in life and the outcome they will bring in the long run and to remind you that you have a new life now and it can exist without the pain of the past.

5.) Learn to process your triggers, instead of getting angry at them or fearing them…find out what significance they have.  Learning to address those feelings help you heal so that you can begin to look at life in a new light without the fear tied to your past.

6.) Honor and comfort your pain. Trust your feelings; and learn to trust your perceptions in order to validate your experience.

 

If you have other techniques or have found steps to help you deal with triggers I would really like to hear about them and invite you to share them with us here.