Post-Trauma Growth

 

Was I asleep during the lesson on post-trauma growth, or what?

I’ve been traveling through this healing process armed with a load of information on post-traumatic stress disorder. I have done my homework for LifeStar and I’ve added additional work for my individual therapy. I’ve had a laser-like focus on kicking betrayal trauma in the butt and not letting the sinful behaviors of one individual, my husband, destroy who I am. Honestly, if I hadn’t worked so hard, I would have ended up in a mental ward somewhere because I was a big terrible mess. No exaggeration. The sudden discovery that I had been deceived for thirty-seven years hit me like a nuclear bomb. It’s been two years and there’s still some fallout from that nuclear mushroom cloud.

nuclear mushroom cloud
Photo Source: US Dept. of Energy/atomcentral.com

Maybe my focus was too narrow. I don’t know. There were many times that I read how people were blessed and found even greater happiness after trauma. I had faith that what I read was true, but it all seemed so subjective. At times, I thought the promises of a better life were reserved only for the recovering addict. After all, he was finally free from the prison of his secrets. It seemed absolutely possible that his life would be much better after finding recovery.

I, on the other hand, thought my life before the nuclear bomb was pretty awesome. So, maybe the promise of a better tomorrow, for me, meant that I would finally live with more clarity and a better understanding of who my husband really is. I would finally live without his emotional brick wall that so often separated us.

In the end, it didn’t matter. Regardless of  the potential for “better tomorrows” or an “improved and better marital relationship,” I just marched forward on my focus of becoming healed and whole again. Post-trauma life seemed like a far-away land that existed in some faint dream. I operated on pure faith that my post-trauma life would be worth the work I was doing. I operated on faith because I didn’t have enough concrete evidence to do anything else.

So, what the heck? There IS concrete evidence, folks! There’s actual scientific research on post-traumatic growth or PTG. Hey, if it has its own acronym, you know its legit! Maybe the dark fog of trauma caused me to ignore this stuff. For whatever reason, as I begin to step into a post-trauma life (I like to call it “the after-life”), I’m now bumping into all kinds of verifiable and credible research on the subject of PTG.

For all of you that are still trying to find your way out of the dark hole of trauma, the hope for a better after-trauma life is real. Keep clawing your way out, because the light and sunshine ahead can actually be brighter than you’ve known before. You have to walk through a sometimes fiery path to healing before you will understand how this can even be possible, but it’s true. I’m beginning to see a new brightness of hope and joy. And . . . studies give some proof that this is possible. Check out Google Scholar for the research like this one from Jenna Van Slyke, M. S.

Although traumatic experiences can sometimes result in severe psychological distress, they can also result in positive psychological changes as a result of the trauma survivors’ struggle with the trauma. Also known as post-traumatic growth (PTG), these positive changes may include the development of new perspectives and personal growth. Current studies have shown that 30% to 90% of people report some positive changes following trauma.

. . .  One of the better known scales, the Post-traumatic Growth Inventory (PTGI), measures five broad domains that comprise a significant amount of the variance in PTG: a greater appreciation of life, closer relationships, identification of new possibilities, increased personal strength, and positive spiritual change. Greater appreciation of life following a traumatic event can be represented by a shift in priorities and taking pleasure in aspects of life that were once taken for granted. Trauma survivors may also experience increased compassion and empathy for others, which allow them to cultivate deeper and more meaningful relationships. Identification of new possibilities and increased personal strength can also be seen in trauma survivors who display high levels of PTG. For example, an individual may display higher levels of self-efficacy or a stronger belief in his or her ability to overcome obstacles. The same individual may experience a change in values post-trauma and find that he or she is able to identify a more fulfilling path for the future. Finally, trauma survivors may also experience a positive change in spirituality, perceiving themselves as being more capable of connecting with something greater than themselves (God, the universe, nature, etc.), regardless of religious affiliation.

I will now keep a summarized list from the PTGI on my bathroom mirror. New work. New life. New focus.

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Click here for printable PDF of Post-Trama Growth seen above

Two Years

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It’s been two years since D-Day when my husband made his initial disclosure about his secret life and sex-addict behaviors.

Looking back over these two years, I realize that I have worked dang hard on my healing. I experienced it all: panic attacks, snot-bubble cries, a new ability to cuss, curled-up-on-the-floor cries, visions of a cast-iron skillet hitting my husband’s head, pulling-the-car-over-to-the-side-of-the-road cries, a new ability to throw things in my husband’s direction with (his luck) inaccuracy, and the propensity to cry while shopping, eating at a restaurant, in the middle of a completely innocuous discussion, or any random moment.

I still revert to some of those behaviors, but I’m changing. It’s been a long, slow process, but I was determined to not let my husband’s betrayal define me. I just couldn’t let myself stay in the bitter and heartbroken stage of trauma. Stages of trauma? I don’t know if there’s any science behind this, but let me share what I experienced as phases and stages of my own healing.

Dark Days: I am a survivor and I am becoming a thriver after experiencing betrayal trauma. The trauma is real, folks. And it’s really, really ugly.  I call the time following my husband’s initial disclosure, “the dark days of trauma.” I couldn’t see any light or hope. Everything I thought I knew about my life was stripped away. The darkness even invaded my sleep with fearful dreams and restlessness. I simply existed. I didn’t feel like praying, but I did it anyway. I prayed every morning that somehow, some way, I would get through the day. I prayed every night and thanked God that I got through the day. Day by day, with  panic attacks, uncontrolled sobbing, and absolutely no hope, that’s how I lived.

Finding Light: Then, I began to see little tiny glimmers of hopeful light through the dense darkness. I felt the small flickers of hope were like tiny bread crumbs that could lead me on a path back home to a life of hope and happiness. I was on a constant search for my small snippets of hope and considered them gifts from God. I began noting these gifts in a gratitude journal and my outlook, though still clouded in trauma, began to lift a bit.

light from sun

Discovering Gleaming Hope: Slowly, with a lot of work on my part, the light emerged and I could see the possibility of healing. I could feel the positive affect from the work I was doing, so I amped up my research, self-care, daily habits of healthy living, personal therapy, and reached out to God and others. The small snippets of hope turned into big miracles that were undeniable, real, and gleaming with God’s love. I was changing. I was becoming more resilient and able to put my faith in action. I was hopeful.

Discovering Bright Joy: I am here. I am still in the process of learning about living an open-hearted and joyful life. I am learning that I can create my own joy. Instead of reacting to events and people around me, I can process my emotions and find a peaceful place. For me, the ability to find peace brings a sense of calm and joy. I feel the brightness of joy on the horizon. It’s something experienced in moments but the memory can keep a heart warm for a long time. My heart is almost healed enough that it can hold the warmth of these types of memories without filtering through the holes left by wounds. I am almost there. Almost.

sparkle heart

I don’t know what happens next in my life. Living with a sex addict, even a recovering one, can be uncertain. I just know that each day is a new day. I know that I’m a wiser and more resilient person than I was two years ago so somehow I’ll be able to manage whatever the next thing is. My goal-driven and ambitious life of the past has been quieted by God’s constant and gentle reminder to surrender my life to him. Let go. Feel the peace. Find the joy.

 

 

Trust Fall

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My husband prays every day, aloud, during our couple’s prayer, that he will act in ways that will build my trust. Every day, he works on his daily recovery routine and tries to do things that will build my faith in him. It’s working. But. BUT. I think I might be foolish to ever fully trust my husband, again. The total trust I once had in my husband fell to below-ground level when he disclosed (under a bit of coercion) his infidelities. I appreciate  my husband’s consistent efforts to win back my trust, but (there’s that word, again!) I don’t know if I can, will, or want to 100% trust him, again. Maybe, after years of healing under my belt, I’ll feel differently. Right now, the thought of giving my husband complete trust makes me cringe with fear!

Will our marriage ever fully recover if I can’t totally trust my husband? Why can’t I just close my eyes, cross my arms over my chest, and fall back with the full knowledge that my husband will catch me?  Is it because I did that for almost thirty years only to discover the person I most trusted and who was supposed to catch me wasn’t even present? My trust was betrayed!

Though I feel I have forgiven my husband, forgiveness is not the same as trusting someone.

Trust is earned; forgiveness is given freely (Rhyll Crowshaw, What Can I Do About Him Me?).

The trust issue has been on my mind since a few days ago, after my husband got a text from a female client. The text popped up when I was using his phone while mine was charging. The text was strictly business. I have known about this client, but I haven’t met her.  So, I started to ask the betrayed-wife kind of questions. “Is she pretty?” “Are your conversations always professional?” “Is there any flirting or even a hint of flirting?”

My husband was defensive, at first, but then he patiently answered every single question. Then he paused before asking me, “Do you remember us having this conversation weeks ago?”

Nope! I sure didn’t remember. That doesn’t mean that we didn’t talk about it. My trauma brain doesn’t remember much.

Things changed for a short time after that. My husband kind of detached from me for the rest of the day. That evening, he said, “I’m tired. I’m burned out.” I didn’t understand exactly what he meant until he added, “Can you take care of dinner on Sunday?” That’s when I realized what “burned out” meant. You see, my husband, ever since D-Day, has taken charge of our Sunday family dinners. It is one of the many things he does to demonstrate to me that he is worthy of my love, that he is worthy of my trust. I never asked him to do it, nor have I expected him to do that or anything else! He just insists on making Sunday dinner, driving me the long distance to group meetings, complimenting me when it’s appropriate, calling or texting throughout the day, etc., etc., and etc. .  Well,  he took a very short hiatus from his trust-building activities when he realized his efforts might not produce perfect results.

book
My husband uses this book for inspiration as he works to rebuild trust.

And I don’t blame him! This is a dilemma for both of us! He works hard to have me trust him while I’m working hard to never have a trust fall experience again. How is this resolved? It seems our efforts are in conflict.

Maybe, just maybe, we both have to accept that trust between us is going to look differently from the way it looks for other couples. Our trust is a “wise trust” that, unlike the ease of blind trust, requires work and a process. My husband must accept there are consequences to his past behaviors and that my wise trust in him will not be regained easily or quickly. I have to accept that, in order to live whole-heartedly, I must be willing to take a few risks that allow my wise trust to grow a little while still keeping myself safe from deceit. I believe that as long as we are both diligently working to improve the trust in our relationship, we are going to have a favorable outcome. In fact, research shows that working on this trust process can actually make relationships stronger.

Rebuilding trust after a betrayal is a gamble for both people.  . . . Rebuilding trust after a betrayal isn’t easy and it’s rarely fast, with many pitfalls along the way for both people. But most couples who succeed find that their relationships are much stronger for the effort (Joshua Coleman, “Surviving Betrayal”, Greater Good, Sept. 1, 2008).

“Stronger for the effort.” The end result may never be 100% trust. The end result will be a stronger relationship because we are making the effort to restore trust.  I can accept that and I trust that it can happen.

I should mention that my husband’s hiatus ended after I made Sunday’s family dinner. I don’t know if my meatloaf was subpar or if my husband simply came back to recovery behavior. I think it’s the latter because I really am quite capable in the kitchen!  We’re both back on track with our trust restoration work and that’s all that matters.

 

 

 

Boundaries and Self Worth

house construction

 

My support group recently watched a video that featured, along with some weird-looking zombies, the importance of creating boundaries.

The point of this video (see below) is that the way we see ourselves can determine how well we are able to enforce our personal boundaries. If you see yourself as a beautiful mansion that has been maintained well, you will want to put up a secure fence to keep your mansion house safe.

On the other hand, if you’ve abandoned your house and left it in disarray for a while, you might not feel the need for a strong fence or any fence at all to protect your house. I think living with an addict year after year can do a lot of damage to our personal houses that are built in our hearts. I have to admit, there have been times in my life when I felt like my house, (or me), was in a neglected state and in need of repair. When I viewed the abandoned house depicted in the video, I felt sad because I could relate to the feeling of being that kind of house.

Fortunately, I’m a good fixer-upper and I have spent periods of time here and there for house-cleaning, repairing, and sprucing up my house-self. I count this as a gift from God. I didn’t discover my husband’s addiction until decades into our marriage and I often wondered why God hid these secrets from me. I may never know the answers for sure, but I can now see this as a huge blessing because God gave me time to really work at fixing up my house. I didn’t end up with a mansion, but I feel my foundation has always been solid and my framework is sturdy and reliable. You see, I’ve never doubted that I am a daughter of God and that He loves me. My foundation is built on that testimony. The knowledge that I have divine worth, has helped me keep my house in good condition, but it has taken years of work to get to that point.

So, when it was time for me to create personal boundaries, I was blessed with some good building material from my fixer-upper house inside my heart. There was just enough left in my house to build my safety fence. In fact, some of my first attempts at fence-building probably ended up looking more like a brick wall with razor wire on the top instead of a boundary fence! I may have made a few ultimatums, but they worked for me until I figured out a better approach.

Betrayed wives are often counseled to create boundaries right away. I think an important step is missed in such counsel. I think betrayed wives must first learn to love themselves and discover their true value. I believe this comes from relying on God and believing that He values us as His children.  When we believe in our own self worth, we understand the need for protecting ourselves, the houses for our souls, from behaviors that show no respect for our true value.

In the end, loving yourself is not about tooting your own horn or conforming to the world’s view of self-esteem. It’s about being who you are—a unique child of God—and knowing that who you are is a good thing. When you understand your eternal worth and you live in a way consistent with your divine heritage, you will gain a lasting self-esteem that is better than anything the world can offer (Truth, Lies, and Your Self-Worth, By Mindy Raye Friedman, New Era, Jan. 2014).

A strong sense of our eternal worth is the best thing to keep the homes in our souls, our heart houses, beautiful and strong.  I once took a white board marker and wrote on my mirror, “You are a daughter of God.” I left that message on the mirror and daily repeated the words until I felt like I regained my sense of worth. Regardless of our circumstances, our mistakes, or our moments of faltering faith, we are daughters of God and we deserve houses that are safe.

 

What’s in a Name?

Juliet:
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

romeo-and-juliet
Romeo and Juliet (picture found on Shakespearequotesandplays.com)

Shakespeare nailed it. It doesn’t really matter what we call ourselves. It’s the person we are and not our name that defines us.

I have a real name and it’s not Avalon Vic. I bought some lotion at a boutique and it had the name “Avalon” on the bottle. I liked the lotion and I liked the name. When I looked up the meaning for “Avalon” I found the following:

Urban Dictionary: Avalon is derived from the welsh name “afal”; often associated with the island that King Arther’s sword Caliburn was forged. The island of Avalon is also often associated with an island that yields beautiful apples. The name “Avalon” as used in the context of a feminine name, describes one who possesses beauty unrivaled by any other. In the modern context, those who possess the name Avalon are seen as ‘One who is as rare as the legendary sword forged for a king Arther’, thus, “Avalon” is one of a kind- a woman .

I also like the name, Vic. It sounds strong and reminds me that I can be the victor over the trauma of betrayal.

Though I think my pretend name is pretty, anonymity is not. In fact, anonymity stinks. It limits how I tell my stories. Sometimes I feel like I’m split into two people: the real me and this other “Avalon Vic” person. So, why do I, and so many other women, choose pseudonyms for our blogs?

For me, anonymity helps limit the number of people involved in my husband’s recovery efforts and my healing. I love my ward members and neighbors, but sorting out the messiness of betrayal, addiction, trauma, and everything else, . . . well . . . it is something that the two of us need to do without too much outside help. We get plenty of assistance from professional therapists, church leaders, and therapy group members and they are the only ones, beyond our immediate family and one close friend, that knows about us.

Anonymity protects me from the ignorance of others. It’s been almost two years since D-day and I’m still not ready to hear the ignorant remark, “If she had only taken care of her husband’s needs, this wouldn’t have happened.”  It may be unwarranted, but it’s a fear I have. My husband is popular and he knows a lot of people. Most people would never believe he is capable of doing what he did, so I assume they will simply blame me, the less-known and more reserved one in our relationship.

Having my husband’s Priesthood blessings restored is very important to me and my extended family. I feel safe keeping our story under wraps until those blessings are restored. And then . . .

And then, I hope to have Avalon Vic merge with the real me. I hope I can be brave, come out of hiding, and tell the world that sex addiction is real and it’s spreading like a plague. There is so much more to me than this pornographic sex and lust crap. The reality is, I may have to join the fight against porn, despite my desire to rid myself of everything associated with it and never look back. I don’t know what the Lord has in store for me. ME. Not Avalon Vic. But I do know that the time will come when Avalon Vic will fade away and the real me will emerge as one person . . .  with one name.

 

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).