Building Walls

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I have a lot of experience at building emotional walls but today I got to build some different walls. Real walls! The kind that are made from lumber, as in a building, a structure. Me! I drilled through studs and used the big nail gun that is powered by an air compressor. Let me tell ya, using a big bad construction tool is empowering but the back story to my wall-building is even more empowering.

My story starts in my kitchen with its dark cabinets, ancient hardware, damaged linoleum, and autumn gold appliances from the 70’s. I know retro is cool, but this kitchen ain’t. Oh, how I’ve longed for a new kitchen! I’m talking 27 long years of longing since we bought this home. Lest you think I’m spoiled, please note that my husband’s occupation makes him an expert at remodels and construction.  The costs for such a project, for us, would be reasonable and doable. But, like the doctor whose family goes unattended during illness, my family’s kitchen remains the same as it did around the time Neal Diamond was singing “Song Sung Blue.” I’ve been singing the kitchen blues for seemingly forever.

Truth is, my kitchen sometimes triggers me. When I wrote down all my resentments for LifeStar, I couldn’t read through my kitchen story because of my emotions. I have been promised, as in “this is going to happen” “there’s no reason we can’t get this done” type promises, numerous times.

More than once, husband and I have shopped together for cabinets, tile, and counter-top materials. So much time and planning would get my hopes up and then I would sink into disappointment as one excuse or another simply fizzled away all our efforts. The worst thing is, as I look back in hindsight, the kitchen-promise episodes always occurred during times husband was acting out. I’ll spare you the details, but trust me, the memories are painful.

Part of the kitchen remodel will extend into what is currently our garage. So, husband decided to build a new garage in order to make the kitchen extension happen. And the new garage is actually being built as planned in part because the new Vic is determined to do what she can to keep construction rolling. It’s a bit intimidating to get building permits and look into hiring contractors when an expert in the field is in the same household. It’s a little like trying to paint a landscape with a painter-artist like the late Bob Ross looking over your shoulder. Despite my lack of experience, I’m trying to be more proactive in this endeavor in hopes of finally getting a kitchen with an oven that bakes evenly without me having to turn the pans midway through the process!

Fortunately for me, my husband is beginning to recognize this project as an opportunity to build more than a garage; he’s working hard to build my trust, as well. So, every evening for an hour or two, husband and I work together to measure, saw, and nail boards in order to create the framing walls for our new structure. Husband has been extremely patient and kind as I very slowly perform construction tasks that he can typically do in half the time.

Years ago, I would half-jokingly tell people that Husband and I had a great relationship unless we tried to work together! Today things are different.

After standing two of the outside walls, Husband and I took a short break. I noticed the sky was a deep blue, possibly signaling an oncoming change in weather. A light breeze cooled my heated face and softly lifted a wisp of hair from my eyes. The tree branches rustled with approval as I glanced at my husband. Signs of recovery are often so subtle that I find myself questioning if it is real. Today, there are undeniable signs of recovery, such as patience, humility, and the ability to accept imperfections. Though Husband and I both have more rough spots to smooth out, there is progress being made. We are literally and figuratively building something together.

 

 

 

More Than a Decision

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Patience is not one of my virtues! There were many days when I wondered why I wasn’t over it, yet. Why couldn’t I get over my husband’s betrayal and just move on?  It seemed like my husband’s recovery was on a fast-track while my healing was crawling along slower than a sloth. In fact, there were days when it seemed like my progress was going backward and I wasn’t making any forward steps at all! I felt like I should be able to make a decision to be happy again and then . . . well . . . I would be happy again!

Nope. That’s not how it works.

Healing is more than a decision. It is a process, a long and slow process.

It was easy for me to engage in negative self-talk when my process seemed to be going too slow. “Something must be wrong with me.” “I’m never going to be happy again!” “Why is this happening to me?” “I’m broken and I can’t be fixed.”

I engaged in my self-demeaning talk until I had the fortune of meeting with a new therapist who really understood what I was going through. She asked me how long it had been since I discovered my husband’s secret life. “Six weeks,” I told her. She smiled and said, “You need to give yourself at least a year to heal. At least a year. And it will probably take longer than that.”

Healing will take one year at the very least.  That bit of information changed everything for me.  It also helped when she explained that my husband’s recovery would not be on the same timeline as my healing. In fact, he would possibly recover from his addiction must faster than I would heal. She explained how he had been carrying his secrets, guilt, and shame for years. The weight that he had been carrying was suddenly thrown on me. Though D-Day induced trauma in me, it was liberating for him.

Everything I was told about giving myself time to heal made sense, but I still had a tendency to get impatient with my progress, especially if I allowed myself to compare my progress with the seemingly quick recovery that others experienced.  A crucial truth I had to learn: “The only person you should compare yourself to, is the person you were yesterday” (Amy Morin).

I decided that I needed a reality check. I found an old file folder and taped it to my bathroom mirror. I wrote, “Healing is a process, not a decision.” These wise words were something I remembered from counsel given to me earlier. I then wrote the date of my first day of discovery, when I found out my husband had a BIG problem. Then I wrote down the date when I discovered that my husband’s big problem included affairs with other women. I also wrote some key words of encouragement that I gleaned from a Priesthood blessing I received.

It wasn’t a pretty poster. There were no cute borders or curly-cues on it. It was an ugly manilla file folder with words written in black Sharpie pen, but it became a stabilizing factor for me. It was a constant reminder of my starting point and that I was merely at the beginning of my journey. My trauma brain was foggy, so every day I would need to recalculate how many weeks or months I had traveled in my long process toward healing.

I kept that file folder on my bathroom mirror for two years! I don’t believe healing is a final destination, but it seemed that about twenty months after D-Day, I was able to see some sparkle in my life. I could actually begin to envision a joyful future.

I think it’s important to remember that healing is not a straight and forward path. There are good days and not-so-good days. I often felt I was going backward and regressing. Keeping a journal helped me see that, though I did have days when I slipped back, overall I was making progress.

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The healing process looks like the example on the right!

I worked hard to put my life back together. I made the decision to heal, but I had to eventually accept that my decision wasn’t enough. Healing takes a lot of work over an extended period of time. For some, it might take several months. For others, it might take several years. I wrote about my two year process on another post (Two Years). The length of time we take to heal is not as important as making each day count during the process. We can only take one day at a time.

My healing journey is now my life journey. I work every day toward trying to become more Christ-like, more resilient, and better able to be present for the joy in each day. The challenges of life don’t disappear, but I feel more mentally prepared and courageous to get through the challenges.

 

 

 

Books that Don’t Go on the Shelf

There it is, sitting quietly and inconspicuously in a corner of my garage. It’s a blue tinted storage bin with a dusty dark blue lid. I hid the bin there in the garage so my house guests wouldn’t find my secret stash of self-help-for-healing-and-recovery-after -discovering-my-husband-has-a-sex-addiction collection of books. These aren’t the kinds of books you display on the living room bookshelf!

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Most of the books are also on my Kindle reader, but there’s something about being able to smell the musky paper of a book, to make handwritten notes in the margins, or double underline with a variety of colors and pens. So, while waiting for appointments or for the mechanic to change my car’s oil, I pretend to be on Facebook but I am actually reading the electronic versions of my sex addiction books. When I get home, I do my underlining  in the paper version then I put the real book away in my really well-hidden blue bin.

I didn’t intend for this post to be a book review but it’s sort of ending up that way.  I was simply pondering over the many things that have changed in my life. Little things, like where do I put the book I’m currently reading? I used to have a variety of books strewn on top, under, and around my night stand.  Having books nearby makes me feel like I’m surrounded by friends. Lately, however, I feel the need to hide what I’m reading. Maybe I should wrap each book in a brown paper bag and discreetly pull each one out while I consume its contents.

Well, let me introduce you to some of my friendly books that I keep hidden from view.

He Restoreth My Soul  by Donald L. Hilton was the first book I read. It is rich in research, real stories and examples, and offers a Christ-like perspective to sex addiction. I spent a lot of time in this book and gleaned some small glimmers of hope from it while I was in the early stages of trauma.

I always have extra copies available of What Can I Do About Him Me?  so I can share with others. I like to put a copy of  this book in a pretty gift bag and give it to a devastated wife rather than tell her to download the book or buy it for herself.  I think Rhyll Croshaw, the author, will always be my hero for 1) being courageous enough to share her experiences, 2) having the intellect to figure out effective ways to deal with a sex-addicted husband. If I ever feel fear creeping back into my thinking, I go back and review Rhyll’s practical tools and suggestions.

I also have several copies of Sitting in a Rowboat Throwing Marbles at a Battleship and I’ve shared this book with both men and women that want to know the basics of sex addiction or as Andrew, the writer of Sitting in a Rowboat, calls it: lust addiction.  Andrew has a knack for describing sex addiction in simple and understandable terms. If you want to crawl inside the mind of a sex addict, this is a must-read!

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The newest published book in my collection is Life After Lust by Forest Benedict. This is a straightforward book with practical helps and strategies for those struggling with pornography addiction. Though it is written mainly for addicts, there are fresh cutting-edge ideas and explanations that can also help spouses understand sex addiction. The emphasis is on mindset, mastery, and mission (finding purpose) in recovery.  This book might become my new favorite.

Here is a list of other books I’ve read that won’t be on display in my house:

Boundaries in Marriage (Cloud & Townsend) 

Codependent No More (Melody Beattie).  I also recommend Beyond Codependency (Melody Beattie)

Getting Past the Affair (Snyder, Baucom, Gordon).

Moving Beyond Betrayal: The 5-Step Boundary Solution for Partners of Sex Addicts (Vicki Tidwell Palmer).  Excellent resource for creating and keeping boundaries! I prefer this over the Cloud & Townsend book.

Your Sexually Addicted Spouse: How Partners Can Cope and Heal (Steffens, Means).

Worthy of Her Trust (Arterburn, Martinkus). Your husband needs to read this!

I’ve also read all of Brene Brown’s books along with several Christ-centered books written by LDS authors.

Everyone must find their own process for finding healing and peace. Some people focus on their physical health and fitness. Others might find solace in service or volunteer work. Music brings comfort to many people seeking healing. For me, reading is my tool for finding safety and my source for knowledge. I’ve got to have my books, even if I have to hide them somewhere!

 

 

4-7-8

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I could feel my heart race as I thought about the circumstances my friend was facing. The trauma, fear and confusion from betrayal that I once experienced all came back to me. As my friend’s story of heartbreak, infidelity, and lies unfolded, I felt a cold and unwelcome darkness begin to wrap around me. Then the panic began to set in.

Though I’ve been working on my healing for over two years, I still have triggers that set me back a bit. Thankfully, the triggers are much less intense and far less frequent than they used to be. I’ve learned that I can manage my triggers before they send me into a full-blown panic attack. I’ve tried a few different methods to control my triggers and lately I’ve found some success with breathing.

Breathing exercises were not very effective for me in the early days of trauma. At times I came close to hyper-ventilating as I tried to breathe through my panic. I thought the simple act of breathing was supposed to make some miraculous change in my emotions, but that never happened. I was also a bit confused about how breathing, something I do every minute of every day, was supposed to be helpful with triggers. When I got the advice to “just breathe” I was confused. I was already breathing! Duh! Otherwise, I would be passed out!

I didn’t give much value to breathing exercises until I witnessed my 11 year-old grandson successfully use breathing to calm down. He was very upset over the possibility of missing an application deadline for honor choir. It was difficult to help him figure out solutions because he was so focused on the challenges that could prevent him from making the nearing deadline. He became visibly agitated and impatient with his mother who was trying to explain some of his options.

One of my breathing exercises suddenly came to my mind, and I calmly asked my grandson  to sit with me for a moment and try something. He agreed. Together we did the 4-7-8 method of breathing.  For 4 seconds, we slowly inhaled. Then we held our breath for 7 seconds before slowly exhaling for 8 seconds. We repeated our breathing one more time.

“How are you feeling, now?” I asked my grandson.

“Better!” he replied. Though his concerns didn’t disappear, he was more calm and able to listen to his mom’s suggestions.

I realize the actual breathing was only one factor in my grandson’s shift to calm. The real magic was in distracting his thinking as he concentrated on counting the seconds of inhaling, holding, then exhaling his breath. He was able to focus his mind on something else just long enough to stop the downward spiral of his thinking. Counting his breath helped him to clear his mind from the muddle of his panic.

It was the very next day that I felt the panic of reliving my trauma from betrayal as my friend shared with me. As soon as I felt the panic begin to overtake me, I began my 4-7-8 breathing. I repeated my breathing four times. It was slow and subtle, but eventually I could feel a sense of peace.

There are scientific reasons to explain why breathing through triggers can work. I think the science is interesting, but I really just need something that I can use easily and instantly. There are other breathing techniques that I may use in the future, but for now, 4-7-8 is working for me.

 

 

 

Core Values

 

As part of my early trauma therapy, I was asked to write down my core values and beliefs.

Say what? core-values

My foggy trauma brain wasn’t functioning at full capacity so I remember writing three or four sentences that included obvious statements like: “Pornography destroys marriages.” “My family is worth fighting for.” I couldn’t pull much from my core because at the time it was enveloped in a dark cloud of deep pain.

Supposedly, my core beliefs were going to help me formulate boundaries. I had written some clear “expectations” before going to therapy, so I thought writing my core values and beliefs was kind of pointless. I figured I would simply re-write my list of expectations into therapese language and voila! My boundaries would be done. No need for all this preliminary writing on bottom lines or core values.

And then a recent situation came up that forced me to ponder my core values, again. I felt the need for a declaration of my beliefs. I wanted a written document that would become the foundation for possible decisions in the future regarding addictions in general, not just sexual addictions. I wanted something that would explain my decisions to anybody that might need to know: bishop, children, husband, other betrayed wives, addicts (not just sex addicts), and therapists, if needed.

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These are my beliefs regarding addiction that I have acquired in my two-plus years of seeking healing and peace after experiencing the devastating aftermath of addiction in my marriage. They are living in my core, deep inside of me, so they’re firmly planted. I might change some of the wording or add additional beliefs, but for the most part, I feel like these are solid. It’s nice to have something solid to stand on!

An unexpected reward came from my work. I shared the core values document with my husband. He appreciated it enough to email a copy to others he thought could use it. In fact, my husband and I are creating an additional document that changes the “I” to “we” and sending it off to family and couples we work with!

I pondered on my core beliefs for a long time. I can now see the value of using these as a basis for boundaries in my relationship. Today, I feel empowered because I know where I’m standing.

Download pdf here.

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Fire Safety

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I’m listening to the constant rumble of planes overhead in my otherwise quiet community. For me and my neighbors, circling planes are a sign that there’s a wildfire close by. We usually come out of our homes when we hear the planes and start to look for smoke so we can figure out, from the direction of the smoke’s plume, if the fire is coming our way. As a safeguard, we check, once again, to be sure we have 100 feet clearance of dry grass or shrubs around our homes. Even if the danger of fire is not imminent, we are always wary and ready. (Just a note: this particular fire is no threat to my home, so I am safe to write this post!)

I always thought containing a fire was the equivalent of putting a fire out. Not so. Containing a fire involves creating a perimeter around the fire so it cannot burn beyond designated boundaries. In our area, bull-dozers scrape away vegetation and other fuel that the fire needs to continue its growth. Wide scathes of land that have been scraped and then saturated with water or fire retardant material from the planes create a “line of control” which provides safety for any structures outside the containment area. When a line of control completely encircles the fire, we say it is “contained.”

Here’s the tricky part. A fire that is 100% contained can continue to burn for days and days. As long as no structures are threatened inside the lines of control, firefighters may choose to let the fire burn itself out. Firefighters monitor the lines of control and make sure the fire doesn’t “jump” or cross over the lines. Their vigilance in keeping their lines clear and effective is imperative in keeping citizens and their homes safe.

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Our personal boundaries have some similarities to the firefighter’s lines of control. Though the word “control” might give us the idea that we can control our addict, we can’t. We don’t control our addict. In fact, our addict may choose to engage in his addiction behaviors until he burns out. We can, however, keep ourselves safe from being burned. Similar to the firefighters who create a line of containment around a fire (addict), we also need to put strong perimeters or boundaries around our own homes, ourselves.

Keeping boundaries is not an easy thing. Just like a wildfire, an addict can blow a lot of smoke! They can become defensive, minimize, or actually shift blame to others.  They might test the effectiveness of our boundaries by skirting along the edges, looking for places where we are weak so they can plunge through and continue their destructive behavior. When this happens, depending on how unsafe we are, it might be necessary to evacuate our homes or the relationship until we know our safety is ensured.

I’m often asked what boundaries look like. Well, my boundaries are not going to look like your boundaries, just like the clearance around my home, does not look like my neighbors’. I have slopes, rocks, shrubs, and trees that are unique to my property. So, I have to prune, weed, and clear around the perimeter of my home differently than someone else who has corrals, barns, or fencing to save.

Though each of our boundaries are unique, it sometimes helps to see an example of boundaries in order to have a starting point for our own. I have permission to share these partner-boundaries (click here) from an LDS wife and mother. I appreciate the loving tone of these boundaries. They seem to be written from someone who feels empowered.  Again, everyone’s boundaries should be unique, but I do believe they are best written from a place that indicates we know our worth. Fire on the horizon can instill a great deal of fear in us, but fear does not create a good foundation from which we make sound decisions.

As a final thought, firefighters sometimes fight fire with fire. If you’re living with an addict on fire, someone who bullies or demeans your self-worth, then you need to light your own fire. You need to know that you are a child of God who is worth better treatment. Feel the love of God burn within you and use that empowering feeling to guide your next loving step.

“I survived because the fire within me burned brighter than the fire around me” (Joshua Graham).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Morning Walk

 

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Owls often perch in this old oak.

I have to say that there was a time when I would have titled this, “Mourning Walk” because I often tried to use my walks as a time to mourn and grieve, but I discovered something in the process of trying to simultaneously walk and grieve. It was difficult to do both.  I would leave my house with intentions of being alone so I could cry, but the tears usually disappeared ten to twenty minutes into the walk. For me, taking a walk can do miracles for creating a bit of peace in my mind. Sometimes just a tiny “bit” of peace is enough.

Unless I have an appointment or need to meet a deadline, the purpose of my walks is not to reach a specified destination. The purpose of my walks is to deliberately take in each moment, to let my senses soak in the scenes, and to let my mind and soul connect with God’s grandeur. Sometimes I have to slow down my brisk pace in order to let the experience go through me. I enjoyed one of my recent morning walks so much; I wanted to share the experience with others, so I slowed down and took a few photos (Please don’t judge the photos. They were taken with my phone!).

I have many walking routes that I enjoy, but none of them have sidewalks or busy streets. I walk in the woods. I walk where I can hear the rustle of quail as they fly from their hiding places. I can smell the pungent fragrances of wild grasses that leave my walking shoes wet from their dewey blades. A breeze might gently move a wisp of hair over my face, tickling my nose. Overhead, in the soft blue cloudless sky, I often hear the shrill cry of a hawk looking for prey.

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A rare close-up encounter with a vulture!

The glorious sensory experiences fill my mind and nudge the pain and realities of life into  faraway back-corners of my thoughts, giving me a bit of peace from the noise of trauma. And that is why I go on a morning walk.

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

-Henry David Thoreau