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.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

What I Am Worth

 

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Had I known years ago, when we remodeled our bathrooms, what I know now, I would have invested in magnetic mirrors! My bathroom mirrors are my favorite places to stick encouraging quotes and inspirational messages. During my dark days of trauma, I started to run out of mirror space until my husband politely asked if I could please remove some of my quotable quotes that were encroaching on his mirror space with clear tape and various hues of colored paper.  The job would have been much simpler if I had the ease of posting things with cute magnets onto magnetic mirrors.

Since then, I have reserved space for only my most important messages and now my husband is joining me with his own collection of quotes and thoughts. The latest inspirational message he asked me to save for him was something that was shared in his group:  “What My Wife Is Worth,” by Forest Benedict. Earlier, I had seen this floating around online and I also loved the truth spoken in this piece.  I couldn’t find a printable copy of this message, so I created my own and am including it here for others to download:

What My Wife Is Worth

My husband acknowledges that he felt shame as he read through this list. He wants to do better. He believes the list will be a good reminder for him to keep working every day to win my heart.

My work is to believe that I am truly worth everything on this remarkable list. I need to live and act in a way that others can see that I know my true value. I can do this by maintaining my personal boundaries, practicing self-care, and having faith in my ability to forgive. I need to know that I am enough and that my worth is “innate and can’t be tarnished.” I think I will read this list and replace the words “she deserves” with “I deserve” and change other words, as needed, to make this a message for me. It would look something like this:

  • I am a woman of infinite worth. Because of this, I deserve my husband’s best efforts.
  • I deserve a husband who only has eyes for me. 
  • I deserve a husband in active recovery, not passively going with the flow.

I love the feeling I get when God’s truth pierces my heart. Words are powerful. I am already looking for mirror space so I can tape this up!

Update: I created a printable with the words changed so we can be reminded of our own worth! Here it is:

What I Am Worth

 

Hope and Healing

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I’ve been off my blog for a while and for good reasons. I’m happy to be part of this incredible movement:

Women married to men with porn addictions find help on blog, forum | KSL.com

Here is the story from the link above:

SALT LAKE CITY — Women who are married to men recovering from a pornography addiction can find help at the Hope & Healing blog and forum.

Michelle Linford, administrator of the blog and forum, said she created the Hope & Healing blog and forum in 2012 as a place for women in need to obtain information and connect with other women.

“I had a friend reach out to me who … had walked this path, and I asked her if she would help create a forum,” she said. “So she got some of her friends who’d been through this, and they helped write some of the questions that they had when they first found out about their husband’s addiction, and as I did research, I became like a resource manager in the forum. And it just grew from there.”

About 700 women have signed up for the forum since 2012. Linford said the forum is a place for women to come that is private, anonymous and free of charge. The blog is public and provides information about sex addiction and recovery.

“The blog is there to share information and resources, but the forum is really what Hope and Healing is about,” Linford told KSL.com in an email. “Only women who have personal experience with a loved one in addiction (or someone struggling with unwanted sexual behaviors) are allowed to join. As admin and resource manager, I am here to help keep it all running.

“The forum is a place where women can first know they are not alone and are not crazy for feeling so devastated by the addiction. … Women need healing support as much as addicts need help recovering,” she said.

Linford said she hasn’t been able to post a lot of content on the blog over the last few months, and some of the women in the forum wanted to bring some of their experience out to help other people.

After one of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Face to Face events, where someone asked what they should do if they are dating someone who has had a problem with pornography, some of the women in the forum wanted to be able to bring their experience to the conversation, Linford said.

A handful of women who wanted to carry on the conversation that was started at the Face to Face event started a series on the blog the first of April, she said. So far, there are nine blog posts in the series, which address “education on and recovery from pornography addiction and betrayal trauma,” according to the blog.

One of the women writing the series, who would like to remain anonymous, said she first discovered a problem with lust in her marriage just after her first baby was born.

“We discussed it. He said he was sorry and that he wouldn’t do it again. We got some outside help and then he said that he was cured,” she said. “This was a pattern that we followed over and over again for 28 years.”

When she learned of the problem again a few years ago, she asked him to move out, which was one of the hardest things she has ever done, she said.

“We don’t learn how to ask our husbands to move out in young women’s or in relief society,” the blogger said. “Asking him to leave went against everything I believed in or had been taught about having a strong marriage but being married to an addict is a unique situation and doesn’t follow normal ‘How to Have a Strong Marriage rules.’”

Her husband moved to a nearby city and joined his family for church, Sunday dinner and holidays, she said.

“During this separation, I gave up on the idea that it was my job to save my husband and I started working on saving myself,” she said. “I went to a professional therapist, LifeStar, I started attending a 12-step group, and I wrote up some boundaries to keep myself safe. It was a sacred recovery time for me where I was able to detach from the craziness of my situation.”

Her husband found that he had to choose between having a wife and family or having his lust experiences. He began working on his own recovery by journaling, going to a professional therapist, attending LifeStar and deciding to go to 12-step groups for as long as he lives, the blogger said.

About six months after the couple separated, he moved back home.

“Being in recovery from the effects of addiction has been a miraculous process for us both. I believe that many times people are attracted to addictions because they are seeking intimacy and the addiction feels like intimacy, at least temporarily,” she said. “Now that my husband has given up the lust, there is nothing in the way of him having true intimacy with me. This is lasting and deep and it is what his heart was after all along.”

The blogger said she would advise anyone who has a loved one struggling with addiction to find some close friends or family members to confide in, write up some boundaries to keep themselves safe and find a certified sexual addiction therapist.

Anthony Hughes, Ph.D., owner of Covenant Sex Therapy, would advise women who are married to men who currently struggle or have struggled with a pornography addiction to understand they are not accountable for their partner’s recovery, to address enabling or codependent behavior and to participate in their own trauma recovery if they need, he said.

The blogger said the Hope & Healing blog and forum was one of the first places she felt she could share her secret story and be safe and understood.

“At Hope and Healing we understand each other, we strengthen each other and share the latest and best resources with one another so that we can continue to build each other up,” the blogger said. “There are a group of us there now that have had solid recovery for a while, and so we’ve decided to share what we know by writing blog posts together with the hashtag #hopelds.”

The Lady in Green Heels

It was a small cafe with a view of the water. Like the few other dining patrons there, my husband and I were dressed in casual shirts and blue jeans. So, when she sauntered in wearing a tight dress and green heels, it was hard not to notice her. We stood in line to make our order at the rustic wood counter. She eased up behind us.  She made a friendly wave to her friends who were already seated at a table. She turned toward the counter again, let out a high-pitched laugh and yelled, “If I were a bottle of beer, how much would I cost?” She tossed her hair and laughed again.

By this time, the lady in green heels had caught the attention of everyone in the dining area. I tried not to stare, but I have to admit, I was mesmerized by her presence.  She was at least 30 pounds overweight and wore too much make-up. Her long blonde hair was in stylish but messy curls.  She wasn’t very pretty, and yet, there was something about her that captured my attention. What was it?

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Suddenly, I was on high alert. I quickly realized the captivation I had with this woman was that she reeked of sexuality. It was subtle, but undeniable. This woman was a seductress on the prowl.

My heart beat fast as I remembered encountering women like this before. My husband would interact with them and join in their loud conversations. He would never allow anyone to upstage him, especially a lady wearing cute green heels. I shuddered at those foul memories and searched my husband’s face for his reaction.

He was quiet. He was obviously uncomfortable.

I watched the male servers behind the counter. She was still addressing them in a loud voice, but they didn’t smile or oblige her in any way. She was nothing to them. A thought came to me, “Those guys behind the counter . . . not sex addicts.” That thought was followed by “Your husband . . .  SEX ADDICT!”

In a panic, I studied my husband’s face again. By now, he was at the counter trying to stutter through our order. He was upset by something and I knew it was that lady. That lady in the green heels.

He drew me close to him and whispered, “Can you please find us a table where we are facing the water? There’s one over there where our backs would be turned to everyone else. I like that table.”

I nodded that I understood. And I did. I understood more than my husband realized. I placed our soda cups on the table to mark it as ours. Then I hovered near my husband at the counter to be sure he was safe from the green temptress. The lady in green heels smiled and raised her eyebrows as my husband nervously walked past her while balancing our lunch in his hands. He didn’t acknowledge her. In the past, my husband would have responded with a clever quip to keep her attention. At the very least he would have given her a long glance and a knowing smile.

Recovery has changed him.

I felt a sense of relief.

Then an impression came to me that felt as heavy as a ton of bricks. It crashed on me with a thud. I waited for the right moment, then asked, “The ‘other woman’ . . . was she like that? Was she really forward and obvious with her  . . . her . . . sexual intentions?”

“Yes,” he answered. “And I don’t like how I’m feeling right now. Thank you for getting a table facing away from the other people in here.” When he said “other people” I knew he meant her, the woman in green heels.

I felt sick inside that my husband actually used to fall for such obvious and ridiculous sexual advances. I could imagine the lady in green heels as the “other woman” who teased and tempted my husband. I don’t blame the other woman for my husband’s choices, but I feel like I have unraveled some of the mystery about her allure. My husband said the other woman wasn’t that pretty. I get it now. She wasn’t pretty, smart, or amazing in any way. She was simply . . . available.

 

 

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.