More Than a Decision

healing is a process

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.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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

 

My Sunday

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Source: http://www.lds.org

She was sitting directly in front of me during our church sacrament meeting. She usually kept to herself, sort of quiet. Her hair was colored blond and styled simply. I don’t remember her walking into the chapel; all I remember is how the back of her head looked.

It was fast and testimony meeting day when members of the congregation are invited to go to the pulpit and share their testimonies of Christ. We do this once a month, so it’s kind of a routine thing. The meeting was spiritually up-lifting. It felt good to soak up the inspiring thoughts, stories, and testimonies of others.

I looked at the clock. It was time for the meeting to end. I picked up my hymnal and prepared to sing the closing congregational hymn as the bishop approached the pulpit to close the meeting.

That’s when it happened.

The woman in front of me stood and walked toward the pulpit. She raised her arm up toward the bishop, gesturing for him to wait. The bishop nodded his acceptance of her request and sat back down. I thought she was brave to hold up the meeting like that.

She walked to the steps that would take her on the raised platform where the pulpit stood. Then she stopped. She just stopped there. She didn’t move. She was frozen in that spot.

It didn’t take long for others to notice that there might be a problem. In one graceful motion, the Women’s Relief Society president, left her seat and approached the woman from behind. She gently rested her hand on the woman’s back and then came to her side, whispering in the woman’s ear.

At the same time, the organist quickly left her bench with an understanding smile. She was facing the woman when she moved toward her, all the while trying to reassure her with a confident “you can do this” kind of nod.

There they were in a small huddle. Three women. One was in need, and two were reaching out. The huddle lasted at least two minutes, a long time when a large congregation has nothing to do but wait.

After whispers and reassuring smiles, the two women moved aside while the other woman found her intended destination at the pulpit.

She was crying. She was embarrassed that she was crying. She didn’t want to cry and so she had stopped at the steps hoping to manage the tears. “The tears keep coming out,” she said as she broke down again.

And then her story unfolded. She used all the couched and coded messages of a betrayed wife: “alone” “family in crisis” “pain” and “hurt.” Her final statement was emphatic and her voice rang clearly through the chapel. “I am strong and I will be ok! I know I will!”

As she returned to her seat, I found myself looking at the back of her head once again. I wondered if she knew the stories of the women that came to her aid. I wondered if she knew that our Relief Society president was betrayed by her husband years ago and she now lives a life that is exemplary of the power of forgiveness. I wondered if she knew that the organist has battled depression and anxiety as she works through marital and other family issues. I wondered if she could ever guess that the sister behind her, looking at the back of her head, is also a betrayed wife. I wondered.

I tapped her on the shoulder. I swallowed the lump in my throat as I leaned forward  and whispered in her ear. “You are not alone.”

We, none of us, are alone. We are in the company of many good women that have walked through the refiner’s fire and come out on the other side with more resilience and strength. We can stand together with confidence. We are strong and we will be ok.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

Sweet Mess

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I always have mixed emotions when I return from an enjoyable vacation. I miss the adventure of being away from home, seeing exciting things, and discovering new places. At the same time, nothing beats the comfort of my own home where everything is familiar and feels safe.

That’s how it was with our most recent vacation. My heart was a little sad about the good-byes we had to say, but my comfy bed with my favorite pillow was a welcome sight. My head wouldn’t be sinking into my soft pillow, however, until after we unpacked our bags and suitcases. Ugh. I do not enjoy unpacking suitcases because it means the laundry basket will be full of items that will need my attention the next morning. Vacation officially ends when laundry begins.

As I opened my suitcase, I was greeted by the sweet scent of “clean linen” fragrance from the sachet I always keep in my luggage. Unfortunately, the sachet had broken open and covered the contents of my suitcase with a fresh-scented and dusty, sandy substance. Everything was a big mess! A big sweet-smelling mess! I was tired from traveling and just wanted to go to bed, so I shut the suitcase and tried not to think about my luggage catastrophe until morning.

Facing the dusty fragrance substance in my suitcase was no less frustrating in the morning, but I got to work. At first, I thought the scented stuff was only on the top layer of clothes, but as I removed each layer, there was more of the dust and sand substance hiding in creases and folds of clothing. Some of the sachet substance fell to the carpet, even though I tried to be very careful about my work. When I got to the bottom of the suitcase, I noticed that even more of the powdery stuff had found its way inside the lining. I ended up having to vacuum, scrub, and shake out as much of the stuff as I could. My cosmetic bag attracted the fragrance dust like a magnet, so it had to be emptied and scrubbed. When all was done, I heaved a sigh of relief and felt good about how my traveling items actually seemed cleaner than they had been for a long while.

I was curious about how this mess happened. I noticed the sachet envelope had been punctured. I checked my suitcase, and sure enough, there was evidence of some hard knocks, including a missing “Samsonsonite” label. My suitcase was all cleaned up but there was no way to get rid of all the scuffs and marks from the most recent episode of baggage abuse.

I kind of feel like my old Samsonite luggage. I’ve been around a while and I’ve endured some emotional abuse that is likely going to leave some scars – scars that will tell my story of renewal. I was thrown into an ugly mess when I learned that my husband is a sex addict. I spent months in denial and tried to keep a lid closed on what was really happening. Eventually, I was able to accept that I needed to work every day on my own healing. As I tried to sort through details and find my way through the layers or different experiences of the healing process, I often discovered more messes that needed cleaning. But I kept working. I worked through it, layer by layer. I’ve been scrubbed, cleaned up, and shaken in order to be someone that God can utilize again. The big difference between me and my luggage is that through Christ, I can be made new.

I admit, this isn’t a very poetic metaphor. It’s just a few thoughts that keep coming back to me this morning as I listen to the washing machine spin my “clean linen” scented clothing.