Emotional Sobriety and The Necklace

necklace beadsAs part of his recovery from sexual addiction and sexual compulsive behaviors, my husband has been learning to identify and feel his emotions. For me, this stuff is incredibly easy, but not so for my husband. He spent 50 years trying to numb his pain from his childhood sexual molestations. As a result of his pain-numbing, he actually buried nearly all other emotions, as well. It has been an interesting journey for us both as my husband discovers his emotions.

Let me share a story that illustrates what happens as my husband works on his emotional sobriety.

We live a bit of a distance from the temple, so I brought some casual clothes that I could wear after an early-morning temple session. I changed my clothes at my husband’s office and got ready for shopping while we were still in the city. I took off my nice long beaded necklace and draped it over my husband’s office chair. We were in a hurry and I guess I forgot to pack my necklace for the return home, so it remained on the chair over the weekend.

My husband didn’t report to his office until late afternoon when he discovered my necklace. He thought it would be a good joke to wear the necklace around his neck as he used FaceTime to contact me. I did have a nice laugh when I saw this big burly husband of mine with a dainty little necklace adorning his rugged plaid work shirt. After enjoying our little silliness, we discussed some mundane details for the rest of the day for several minutes. Then we ended the FaceTime call.

You’ve probably already guessed what happened. My husband forgot the necklace was still around his neck! He finished his office tasks and then left to pick up items he had ordered from one of his vendors. This particular vendor is one that my husband has done business with for many years. The clerk that assisted him was someone that knows my husband well.  As they finished the transaction, the clerk smiled and said, “Nice necklace.”

This is when the miracle in the story begins. Later in the day, my husband described to me how he felt this weird emotion when he realized he was wearing the necklace. “I think I was embarrassed!” he explained. “I don’t remember feeling embarrassed before. I used to just get defensive and lie, but instead I simply explained to the clerk  the truth about how I ended up wearing your necklace!”

I know, it’s seems like a really small thing, but in my world, this is really big. This is a sign of true recovery, not just the ability to abstain from lust and sexual compulsions, but the ability to connect with emotions. According to Dr. Ingrid Mathieu, “Sometimes emotional sobriety is about tolerating what you are feeling. It is about staying sober no matter what you are feeling. . . . It means that you don’t necessarily need to do something to make the feeling go away” (Psychology Today, July 2011).  My husband used pornography and lust to make his feelings go away. Now, he is learning to feel and deal with his emotions.

Beauty for Ashes

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Provo City Center Temple

I love historical buildings. I love the musty smells and the creaking floor boards. I like to imagine the human stories and events of the past the hardware and walls may have witnessed. Who touched and turned the doorknobs? What sounds reverberated off the high ceilings? Was there singing? Laughter? Crying? Old buildings have stories and I love stories.

When I heard the old Provo City Tabernacle burned down, I was disappointed. I had never been inside the building, but numerous times I had seen the striking exterior. It was a historical icon and I hated to think of losing a building of such magnificence along with its stories. Regarding this event, in October of 2013, Sister Linda S. Reeves recalls the following:

Almost three years ago a devastating fire gutted the interior of the beloved, historic tabernacle in Provo, Utah. Its loss was deemed a great tragedy by both the community and Church members. Many wondered, “Why did the Lord let this happen? Surely He could have prevented the fire or stopped its destruction.”

Ten months later, during the October 2011 general conference, there was an audible gasp when President Thomas S. Monson announced that the nearly destroyed tabernacle was to become a holy temple—a house of the Lord! Suddenly we could see what the Lord had always known! He didn’t cause the fire, but He allowed the fire to strip away the interior. He saw the tabernacle as a magnificent temple—a permanent home for making sacred, eternal covenants.

My dear sisters, the Lord allows us to be tried and tested, sometimes to our maximum capacity. We have seen the lives of loved ones—and maybe our own—figuratively burned to the ground and have wondered why a loving and caring Heavenly Father would allow such things to happen. But He does not leave us in the ashes; He stands with open arms, eagerly inviting us to come to Him. He is building our lives into magnificent temples where His Spirit can dwell eternally (October 2013 General Conference. “Claim the Blessings of Your Covenants”).

As my husband and I went through the open house tour for the new Provo City Center Temple, we appreciated that such care was taken to replicate many unique architectural details of the original building. Exquisitely carved railings and wood trim adorned the stairwells. Light filtered through colorful stained glass windows. Detail after detail in each room resonated of times past while at the same time presenting new flourishes and designs.

We felt a reverent awe as we walked hand in hand through each divinely-purposed room. It was our first time together in a temple building since my husband was asked to give up his temple recommend. I was prepared for some emotional triggers, but there were none. Instead, I reveled in the symbolic nature of our experience. We were standing in a holy edifice which portrayed the beauty of its purpose; an edifice that, from blackened rubble, was renewed to something even more glorious and beautiful.

During the early days of betrayal trauma, I felt like my marriage had been totally destroyed. The fragments of memories that were left all seemed to be tarnished by the sooty blackness of deceit, addiction, and broken covenants.

I’ve spent 18 months sifting through the rubble of my marriage. I have found things worth keeping. I have found the foundation to rebuild. And like the magnificent Provo City Center Temple, I hope to work with my husband to create something even more glorious and beautiful than we had before.

I thought we had a great marriage before D-Day when our marriage was gutted, but the Lord knew differently. I have changed. My husband has changed. As Sister Reeves said of our Heavenly Father, “He is building our lives into magnificent temples where His Spirit can dwell eternally.” The prophet Isaiah prophesied that the coming Messiah would “comfort all that mourn” and “give unto them beauty for ashes” (Isaiah 61:2-3).  I’m still brushing off some of my soot, but I can see the possibility of a beautiful life rising before me in the future.

 

 

 

Where Trust Is

Two days after discovering my husband’s secret life, I took a drive to get away from home. I found a quiet place, parked my car, and pondered. I wasn’t prepared to write down my thoughts, so I had to improvise by jotting down notes on a small strip of card stock I found in my purse. My writing surface was no bigger than a 3×5 card, but the notes that fit on that small space made a big difference in the days ahead.

I finished my notes at my daughter’s house. She was the one who discovered my husband’s online dating emails. After sobbing for what seemed to be forever, I went through my notes with her and added a few more. I needed someone to confirm that I was being reasonable.

Those notes were things that I needed in order to feel ok about giving my marriage a chance. They came from somewhere deep within me. The list included things like using internet filters, taking another employee or family member on business trips, and having another individual take care of business and personal finances.

I presented my list to my husband soon after writing it. The list was still written in a rough format on my tiny card stock slip. I hadn’t read Melodie Beattie’s book, yet. And I hadn’t heard of “boundaries” in a marriage. I just followed my instincts that told me I needed to know things were going to change and they were going to change MY way.

My husband enthusiastically embraced my list when I first presented it, but when I started talking about boundaries, his response was a gruff, “You can’t control me!” He was right. I can’t control him nor can I control anybody else in my sphere of influence. I revised my boundaries so that my expectations were clear and the consequences were such that I could control them. For example, “If my husband lies, I will not sleep in the same bed with him until I feel safer.”   

As I worked on formalizing my boundaries, I constantly referred to my first list, which actually seemed to cover most everything I needed. I tried to write my boundaries without letting my emotions take over, so they ended up reading like a business document. I took advantage of that and made my boundaries into a contract and had my husband sign it.

But I wasn’t satisfied.

I wanted a short bulleted list so my husband could always remember our contractual agreement. Then it hit me. If my husband could just be honest and transparent about everything, I could feel safe. Honesty also coincides with many of my boundaries regarding reporting slip-ups and financial integrity. Honesty. That is the core of everything I need.

The Healing Through Christ workbook has a beautiful quote from Sister Barbara B. Smith:

“Trust is to human relationships what faith is to gospel living. It is the beginning place, the foundation upon which more can be built. Where trust is, love can flourish.”

I need trust. I need love. I need honesty from my husband. I figured if my husband could remember those things, everything else would fall into place. So, I made him a small card that fits in his wallet with a message that has become our marriage foundation and pact:

Our marriage will be based upon a relationship in which there is transparency, honesty, and trust. These elements are the foundation for an enduring, eternal, and fulfilling relationship. “Trust is to human relationships what faith is to gospel living. It is the beginning place, the foundation upon which more can be built. Where trust is, love can flourish” (Sister Barbara B. Smith). I want our love to flourish.

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My husband put the card in the front flap of his wallet because he wanted to see it often. Every time he opens his wallet, I can see the card and it reminds me that my husband is doing whatever it takes to work on his recovery.  This little card has become a nice gift for both of us.

Looking for Solid Narrative Ground

I’ve been robbed of my story.

I’ve always seen my life as a series of stories that collectively created the big story – my life. And now . . . I’m not sure how to find my stories. They don’t look the same anymore. They are tainted and tarnished. My life story has been stolen.

 

My married life story began when I was sealed for time and eternity to the man I adored. I prayed and prayed about my decision to marry. I never felt so confident about anything in my life. He was the guy for me. I had no doubts.

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My husband was a returned missionary and a natural leader. Even before we were married, he spent a great deal of time fulfilling church callings and assignments. I knew before I married him, that he would always be busy in the church. And he was! He was in numerous church leadership positions. The good saints that he served loved him. He gave his all. Nothing was too good for the Lord. His church obligations often left me at home alone with the kids, but I knew that we would be blessed as a family as we both faithfully served.

People often complimented us. “You guys are such a cute couple!” “You have such a neat family.” “You are so lucky!” We certainly seemed to be the family that had everything together. By all appearances, our marriage was everything it should be. My husband opened my car door, bought me flowers, washed dishes, and treated me with kindness. We were happy. We laughed together and sometimes we cried together. We fought through financial difficulties and the loss of loved ones. We were asked to share our successful marriage tips with others at firesides and Relief Society meetings. We shared our life stories with humor and spiritual strength. We prayed together. We attended the temple together. We listened to scriptures together. We weren’t perfect, but I thought we had an excellent marriage relationship.

That’s my “before” story. D-day changed everything. And now, when I look at family photos and recall happy memories, there is another story that is running in the background. The other story is full of deceit and betrayal. It’s black tendrils slowly creep to the surface until all my stories are clouded and distorted.

Being robbed of knowing my past as I used to know it, is a painful thing. Equally painful is not being able to trust the story of my future. Nobody can predict the outcome of their life story, but in the past I felt that I could rely on the strength of my marriage to get through whatever life threw at me. I anticipated joys, hardships, achievements, struggles, and everything else typical in life. The starting point for all my stories would be my eternal marriage and family. My eternal marriage would be the one thing that could hold all the other story lines together. Now, I must find new solid narrative ground to begin my stories. This is a heavy loss and it makes me grieve.

“Moving forward in life is hard or even, at times impossible, without owning a narrative of one’s past. Isak Dinesan has been quoted as saying ‘all sorrows can be borne if you put them in a story or tell a story about them.’ Perhaps robbing someone of his or her story is the greatest betrayal of all” (Fels, Anna. “Great Betrayals.” New York Times. Oct. 5, 2013).

 

 

Simple Man

I’ve been participating in Brene’ Brown’s online courses through her website, Courage Works. The lesson for this week was to select our own personal anthem to give us courage. An anthem is usually a song or piece of music that uplifts or encourages a group of people. Sometimes the anthem is a musical call for the troops to rally together before stepping onto the battlefield. Though typically, an anthem is associated with organizations or groups, I think it is important to have our own individual anthem selected and ready to use when our courage falters, when life seems too tough, or when it seems easier to just give up on life’s battles.

I like to listen to different music for whatever mood I’m in, so narrowing my song choices down was a challenge. After looking through my music playlists, it was easy for me to choose my anthem, “It’s My Life” by Bon Jovi. It’s a great reminder to trust my gut and live life “my way.” There is a bit of defiance in the song. I like that.

Sometimes I feel a rebellious defiance as I look for ways to rebuild a new life by kicking out old mindsets and traditions.

Basically, the song encapsulates my attempts to be present in the moment, to “live while I’m alive.”

I invited my family to participate in this activity and the results were both interesting and entertaining. I challenged my family to narrow their choices down to ONE song title, though Brene’ acknowledges that many people like to create an actual playlist of multiple songs. More than once, my son and I changed our anthem song choice. My husband, on the other hand, made one simple choice. Literally, it was a simple choice. He chose “Simple Man” performed by Lynyrd Skynrd. I hadn’t paid much attention to the lyrics before, but when I did, I thought this was a perfect selection for a recovering addict. The song is written as advice from a mother to a son. Here are some of the lyrics:

Don't you worry simple man“Oh take your time, don’t live too fast
Troubles will come, and they will pass
You’ll find a woman, and you’ll find love
And don’t forget that, there is someone up above”

“And be a simple kind of man
Be something you love and understand
Baby be a simple kind of man
Oh, won’t you do this for me son, if you can, if you can”

“Boy don’t you worry, you’ll find yourself
Follow your heart, and nothing else
And you can do this, oh baby, if you try
All that I want from you my son, is to be satisfied”

After leading a double life for 50 years, it is reassuring to know that my husband now just wants to be a simple man, the kind of man that he can “love and understand.”

I think the lyrics give good advice to everyone, “Follow your heart, and nothing else.” It’s so . . . simple!

 

 

 

Source of Song Lyrics: MetroLyrics

Celestial Bodies

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A beauty of the late 1800’s: Lillian Russell

I’ve often wondered if I was born during the wrong time period. My values and interests are more in line with earlier days. Even my body type seems to fit better in a time far from the present. Had I lived in the latter part of the 1800’s when voluptuous women were adored, I might have gotten a few whistles or admiring glances. As fate would have it, my idea of the perfect body was developed while the famous model, Twiggy, was at the tale-end of her career. Twiggy, as her professional name implies, was super skinny. My classmates and I wanted to look just like this model that society considered to be a real beauty. We cut our hair, wore short shift-style dresses, and tried to look skinny. Even at my lowest weight, I had curves.

I didn’t fit into skinny.

 

Twiggy Models Her Own Line
Twiggy

I don’t fault Twiggy for my warped vision of the perfect body type. There are many factors that contributed to my unappreciative view of my own healthy, strong, and youthful body. Discovering my husband was addicted to viewing pornography and lust added a whole lot more to my already failing sense of worth when it came to my personal appearance. I’ve had to grapple with this issue in order to find healing from my betrayal trauma. I’m nearing my 60th birthday so the hope of having a body that can compete with online painted and photoshopped ladies isn’t realistic. I’m working on making my body more healthy and strong, but I can’t change my body to look like the young models and celebrities on social media. I can, however, change the way my mind thinks about my body.

I’ve learned to recognize the inner dialogue that goes through my head as I look in the mirror. I go through a progression of thoughts until I finally come around to what I call the “celestial body” talk. I am of the LDS faith, so I believe that there are three kingdoms of glory that we can attain in the next life. These degrees of glory are often compared to the celestial bodies we find in the skies: the sun, the moon, and the stars. So, the phrase “celestial body” has multiple meanings to me. My  personal celestial body talk helps me focus on the truer sense of beauty.

Telestial Beauty: At the telestial level, my beauty is only about my appearance or what I see in the mirror. I often use the mantra,

“I may not be totally perfect, but parts of me are excellent”

as I consider the imperfections and flaws of my aging body while also acknowledging that I have some excellent features that have not changed so much: fingernails, eyes, lips, etc. Telestial beauty is dictated by the values of society that are ever changing. Without expensive surgeries and extensive cosmetic assistance, very few, if any, women are able to touch the impossible-to-reach and narrow view of beauty defined by today’s world.

Terrestrial Beauty: Terrestrial beauty takes on a more worthy perspective. This is where I see and appreciate the functionality of my body. My body works for me, is healthy, can take care of others and myself, and is therefore beautiful. My body enables me to perform the tasks I need to do while I’m alive on this earth. My body allows me to experience the gifts of movement and creativity. The miracle that my body is full of life makes it a thing of beauty.

Celestial Beauty: When I can see myself as God sees me, I have reached the understanding of beauty at the celestial level. It is difficult to have negative feelings about my body when I see myself as a spiritual being with a kind and loving Father in Heaven in whose image I am created. When I look in the mirror and know that my heart is soft and yearning for spiritual growth, I feel my inner beauty shine through.

Because of my age, it is an impossibility that I will ever find the physical beauty that is now valued by the world, so I am no longer seeking that type of beauty. Instead, I focus on what is possible: to live a righteous life so I will someday see the face of my Savior. He will see that I’ve done the best with what I have been given. I will feel his love and I will feel beautiful.

 

 

Source of Quote: “I may not be totally perfect but parts of me are excellent” is from the Brilliant Thought Series, No. 1, by Ashleigh Brilliant.

Photo Credit Lillian Russell:  Medical Daily. “History Of Body Image In America: How The ‘Ideal’ Female And Male Body Has Changed Over Time.”

Photo Credit Twiggy: Huffington Post. “Twiggy, 64, Models Leather Collection For M&S Proving She Hasn’t Lost Her Edge.”

Disclaimer: My experiences and opinions are mine alone and do not represent any public expressions of policy by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The Cookie Connection

It’s the start of a new year and, like so many others, I have tried to focus on eating more healthy foods. I love food! I especially love ice cream, cookies, brownies, and cake! None of my favorite foods fit in the “healthy food” category. So, I have to maintain willpower and self-restraint as I work the sugar cravings out of my system. I have had some success over the past week until . . . two cookies were left on the kitchen counter! Gasp!

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They were oatmeal raisin cookies. They were over-baked so the raisins had turned into hard little wrinkled pellets. I don’t know how long they had been sitting on the counter, but I’m sure the open air didn’t help the quality of the cookies. Their brown rough texture made them even less appealing.  Except. They were cookies! That’s all my mind needed to know. The tempting voice in my head kept sending me cookie thoughts: “They are so little. They can’t have too many calories.” “Nobody will know.” “You did take a walk this morning, so a few extra calories won’t matter.” “You can eat healthy tomorrow. Today, eat those cookies!”

My self-restraint lasted . . . oh, about a minute. Each cookie was devoured in two bites. The calories burned in my 90 minute walk was suddenly consumed in about the same amount of time it took me to put on my walking shoes. No matter. The pleasure of that sugar high lingered. And then I added the cookie data into the “MyFitnessPal” app. That’s when the self-loathing began.

“What is wrong with you? Those cookies weren’t even that great-tasting! You’ve wasted all your efforts toward healthy eating!” Interesting. The self-loathing voice sounded just like the one that told me to eat those darn cookies!

As I was in the midst of my negative self-talk and cookie remorse, a chilling thought hit me.

I expect my husband to use self-restraint to stay away from porn and lustful thoughts and yet, I can’t even control myself from eating two ugly little cookies!

My face suddenly felt hot and my throat tightened, the physical reactions I have when I feel shame. I felt terrible. I needed something to feel better. Obviously, eating cookies was not the answer.

Chips! Tortilla chips with salsa! Hey. They’re not sweets. Surely, the dipping motion of my hand to secure those chunky salsa bits on the chip will eat up some calories!

Stop! Get off the shame train! Eating cookies, chips, or whatever does not involve the same pattern of behavior as a sex addict who is fighting off cravings for lust! I don’t want to accept that idea. It can’t be true. Eating cookies does not destroy families (unless my health deteriorates to the point that I can’t function as a wife, mother or grandmother). Eating cookies is not a sin (unless I let my cravings consume me and keep me from focusing on God). Eating cookies does not lead me to strip clubs and places I shouldn’t be (like fast-food restaurants?).  Eating cookies does not break the commandments of God (unless you believe that your body is a temple and gift from God). Dang those parenthetical thoughts!

I am uncomfortable thinking that there might be some connections between my own weaknesses and my husband’s lustful addictions. Obviously, there are differences, but as I write this, the lines between them become more and more blurred. I don’t think my cookie experience should make me feel sinful or devalue my self worth. The lesson I need to remember from this is to have some understanding toward my husband as he works on his recovery and repentance from sex addictions and sins.

I think we’ll have grilled chicken and a green salad for dinner!

No dessert.