Monday, October 28, 2013

Isla and Patricia, and What They Teach Us About Storms

Today I have two mini-movies going on in my mind (yes, most of my life is somehow connected to a movie - just ask me about my secret life as a CIA operative!).

Seriously, though.  Sometimes in life I feel like I'm in the middle of a storm.  In fact, I once heard it said that in life, we're either on the edge of a storm, in the middle of a storm, or at the tail end of a storm.

Fatalistic?  Pessimistic?  Overly-dramatic?  Maybe.  Or maybe that's just being realistic?

So, as I'm thinking about storms, I envision these two scenarios in my head:

Scenario 1: The wealthy, yet somehow down-to-earth woman living in her seaside home, somewhere off the Florida Keys.  We'll call her Isla (Spanish for "island."  I'm very clever - I know!).

Scenario 2: The adventure seeking sailor on a sailing yacht, somewhere off the coast of Greece. (Can you tell I've played, "what I would do if I won the lottery" a time or two???)  We'll call her Patricia, in honor of Meg Ryan's character in Joe vs the Volcano (I told you - movies! And that is one of my all-time favs, by the way!!!).

The mini-movies playing in my head revolve around the lives of these two individuals, and the inevitable storms they encounter. I invite you to explore with me what we can learn from these two stories....

If storms being so prevalent (on the edge of, in the middle of, or at the tail end of) really is representative of life, then I see us having three choices.  One, we can live in denial: sitting in our houses or on our sailboat, unaware or unconcerned about the impending storm.  Two, we can let the storm define us: marked by fear, we are a perpetual victim - with our houses boarded up, or always living below deck.  Or three, we can accept the reality that life has storms: we do our best to be prepared for the different types, stages and potential outcomes of the storm(s).

Here's the problem with choices one and two.  Living in denial can only last for so long. Eventually, if we continue to live in denial long enough, the storm will likely turn into a full-blown hurricane, destroying our home or beautiful sailboat, and potentially endangering our life.  Letting the storm define us robs us of the ability to enjoy the beauty that surrounds us when it is on display for us in all its glory.  Sure, we may be "safe", but there's no room for actually living life; we're simply just surviving.

So, we're left with choice three.  Accepting the reality that storms are inevitable.  What does that mean for us? Well, let's look at our mini-movies for inspiration, shall we?

Isla and Patricia, knowing that storms are a part of life, take the time to prepare for the storms.  Both make sure they have emergency kits and extra supplies in case they need to wait out the storm for awhile.  Isla additionally makes sure she knows what her evacuation route is.  They both go about their lives, making sure they monitor tropical weather advisories.  When they know a big storm is coming, Isla boards up her house, and Patricia "batton's down the hatches."

When the storm hits, Isla rides out the storm in a safe place in her house, while Patricia makes sure her ship is "Heaving to", and then goes below deck to ride out the storm. During the storm, both Isla and Patricia do their best to asses how big/bad of a storm they are in the middle of. That way if there are any other measures that need to be taken, they are aware - like Isla needing to actually evacuate, if the storm is bad enough.  

As the storm begins to subside, Isla and Patricia come out of their safe places to determine the extent of the damage the storm caused.  Both women tend to any injuries they have.  Patricia must also re-orient herself - What is her position?  How far off course was she thrown by the storm?  Where is the closest port where she can re-supply her ship and make any repairs?

We, too, must prepare for our storms.  Our storms may come in the form of a "discovery", a triggering event, an argument, a "slip" or a relapse by our SA; not to mention the "normal" things that could be storms in our lives - problems at work, issues with extended family, physical/health related problems, or financial struggles. Sometimes, we can watch "the signs", and we may know that a storm is coming.  Many times, however, we may not know when our storms will hit.  But, IF we know how to cope/what we'll need in the middle of the storm, then at least we can make sure we're not stranded - helpless - when the storms do hit.  So, what do we need when the storms hit?  We're all different. However, I think that we all need a few essential "items" on our "storm preparedness" checklist:

1.  A list of good, healthy boundaries to put in place when needed.  These boundaries can be with our SA, family members, friends - anyone we need.  Like the glass windows of the house are more vulnerable during the storm and must be boarded up, we too are more vulnerable during the storm and must protect ourselves.  Good boundaries do just that.

2.  Have a plan for "evacuation."  As devastating as it may be, we need to know when things have gotten to the place where the storm is endangering our well being.  One way to know if we are living from a co-dependent place is if we "can't live without" our SA.  We may not want to live with out them, but can we?  Though it may break our heart and the unknown may scare us, can we walk away if it means ending the destruction and chaos of living in a hurricane-force storm?  IF it ever gets to that place, we'll need a plan to follow.

3. Have an "emergency kit" ready.  In your "kit" would be things that will help you through the storm.  This may be letters or journal entries that remind you of times/events where you previously went through a storm and made it out safe.  It may be sayings or Bible passages that are encouraging to you when facing a storm.  Maybe it's knowing that working out releases those precious endorphins and you need to get your butt to the gym! This is where self-knowledge = power.  The more we know ourselves, and what helps us, the more we can access those things when we need them.  Ask yourself: What will help me relax/feel safe/empowered when I'm facing a storm?

When our storms hit, we board up our windows, grab our emergency kit, and find our safe place.  (Our safe places may include people, too.)  Of utmost importance when we're in a storm is to realize what it is - a storm.  You can't stop a storm.  You can't fix a storm.  You have to ride it out.  The best thing we can do when we're in the middle of the storm is to not isolate or hide.  As tempting as that is, we can't assess how big/bad of a storm it is if we hide.  We can't access our emergency kit, and we definitely can't evacuate if we stay in hiding.

The goal is to get to the other side of the storm; be able to do some self-care, re-orient ourselves if necessary, and make any repairs that are needed.

Let me be clear on something:  I'm not talking about becoming a storm chaser.  I don't like the storms of life. They're scary.  They bring me down.  Sometimes, they're so big I can't see past the storm.  My storms can cause me to loose my direction.  I'm like Patricia on that sailboat - the storm is so big that I can barely see past the end of my ship; I can't tell which way land is.  I can't see the sun, moon or stars to navigate by. Storms can leave destruction behind them.  And sometimes, just the memory of a past storm can send me running for my safe place.  Emotionally, I curl up into a fetal position and block the rest of the world out.

No - what I'm talking about is living in such a way that the storms don't define me.  Yes, I've gone through some frightening, life-threatening storms.  But I don't want to let the trauma from those storms cause me to board up my house every time I feel a drop of rain. I want to live in a way that IF I temporarily loose my direction, I know how to find it again.  IF I'm feeling scared or down, I know how to access the things that will point me towards peace and strength and truth.

Life isn't always a storm.  I believe we can experience the joys of life, while being aware that a storm may be just around the corner.  If we've done the work and prepared, we can live life unafraid of the storms, knowing that we're ready when they fall on us.

Because when I'm not in the storm,  I want to live my life to the full!  I want you to find me - drinking in every moment - enthralled by the adventures, enraptured in the beauty, engaged in the tranquility!

When it comes to the storms of life - Where are you?  Are you currently in a storm?  What is your storm?  Are you prepared?  What do you have in your "emergency kit"?  What is your "evacuation plan"?  How are you "drinking in the moment" when you are not in your storm?

If you are in the middle of a storm, and don't have hope that you'll make it through, or need some ideas of how to make it through, please email me at:

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Fantasy or Genuine Hope? - A Partner's Perspective on Hope, Part 3

Sorry for the delay on the blog this week.  My wonderful, beautiful, amazing daughter had a field trip yesterday that I was a chaperon for.  All I have to say after that experience is that I could NEVER be a Middle School teacher. NE-VER.  God bless those who do!  Anyways, on to this weeks blog...

We're all guilty of it - aren't we?  We grew up watching Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Ariel, Belle and Jasmine; daydreaming of the day our Prince Charming would sweep us off our feet - we'd fall madly in love, get married and live "happily ever after."  

Better yet!  How many times did I watch "The Princess Bride,"  where TRUE LOVE conquers all - even death! (Well, mostly dead.  As we all know, mostly dead means slightly alive, right?)  "Death can not stop true love.  All it can do is delay it for awhile."  Buttercup's true love never stopped fighting for her.  How my heart welled up within me as I  waited to find my "Wesley" and hear him say, "As you wish."!

Fast forward to the present.  How the @#%*! did we end up here?  This is not the fantasy we envisioned!  Our Wesleys (or Prince Charmings) ended up more like the Prince Charming from the Shrek movies than the one we had envisioned! (Yes, I am having too much fun with this post and pictures!)  The "happily ever after" we dreamed of turned into "A Nightmare on _______ Street."  And TRUE LOVE?  Well, we learned that true love doesn't necessarily conquer all.

Or does it?

Is there still a scenario for us where it's possible to have the "happily ever after?"  Is there a way that true love can be the driving force for forgiveness, freedom and healing? Or am I a fool, setting myself up for more pain by believing that "our story will be one of the great ones?"  When and how can I determine if what I'm living in is a state of genuine hope for these things, or in fantasy-land?

Because I don't know about you, but I have no desire to stay stuck in fantasy land!   

So, I bring it back again, for part three, to the statement that Hope is based on "facts and promises."  I think there IS a way to determine if we're living in a fantasy, OR if there is reason to have hope for the relationship (there's always hope for us to heal - even if the relationship doesn't).   I've already suggested that maybe we need to adjust our perspective of what hope is - I say we can also adjust our idea of what "happily ever after" may look like for us.  If we are going to differentiate between fantasy and genuine hope, we need to begin by embracing our reality.  

Part of us embracing our reality, and adjusting our idea of "happily ever after", is to recognize OUR responsibility in making sure we do not continue to live in fantasy-land.  We take a long, hard look at who we are in relationship with, where they're at in recovery (see last week's blog on recovery timeline), and WHAT THEY'RE DOING IN RECOVERY.

This is where a check-in is a valuable tool.  Part of adjusting my idea for my "happily ever after" was for me to embrace the fact that recovery ISN'T a phase of life - it's a LIFESTYLE.  One that I will have to commit to work out with my partner for the rest of our lives.  And part of that lifestyle is transparency and honesty.  And a BIG part of that is our check-ins.  That is the time when I am allowed, by my partner, to "gather information" as he shares with me what he's doing to actively continue to pursue a life marked by sobriety, health, and freedom.  He includes me in his recovery by sharing with me how he's dealt with his emotionally risky states/triggers, as well as what recovery activities he's participated in.  As he shares this information, I can be informed of how he's working his recovery - I can actually SEE what he did/does to change from his old, addictive mind-set way of doing things, to his new, "sober" minded way of doing things.  

But what can I expect would be a part of these check-ins?  Well, I'm glad you asked!  Last week, I gave you the resource of Dr. Milton Magness, and his recovery timeline.  Today I'm going to give a list of "recovery activities", again taken from "the experts".  These recovery activities are examples of what SA's who are SERIOUS about their recovery would be expected to be doing by their specialist.

According to Dr. Patrick Carnes, people who "had the greatest success (in recovery) took the same steps in a relatively predictable fashion.  Sobriety was but one part of their life changes.  They all had made a deeper commitment to making their lives better.... Here is the general profile of those who succeed in recovery:
  1. They had a primary therapist.
  2. They were in a therapy group.
  3. They went regularly to 12 step meetings.
  4. If other addictions were present, they were addressed as well.
  5. They worked to find clarity and resolution in their family-of-origin and childhood issues.
  6. Their families were involved early in therapy.
  7. If they were in a primary relationship, the couple went to a 12 step couples group such as Recovering Couples Anonymous.
  8. They developed a spiritual life.
  9. They actively worked to maintain regular exercise and good nutrition." 
(From "Facing the Shadow, page 302)

These are the kinds of activities our SA could (should?) be telling us they are doing in their recovery during their check in (If you don't do a check-in, you can still observe if your SA is doing most, if not all, of these things).  So we look at this list, and ask ourselves - Is my SA demonstrating a deep commitment to not only their sobriety, but making their lives better?  If yes, then I say there's reason to have genuine hope (NOT a guarantee, mind you - hope).  IF not, and we are sitting around waiting for something miraculous to happen that will suddenly change everything, we may need to consider whether or not we are living in fantasy-land.  IF we want to be free of living in fantasy-land, we MUST ask ourselves the difficult questions - How is his addiction going to change if he's not doing any of the work?  How will things be different in 5 years if he's only half-assing it - doing just enough to appease me?  

If we're looking for promises to base our hope on - what about this as a promise - that our SA is relentless in his pursuit of freedom from his addiction; he's not merely interested in the minimal amount of work he "has" to do, but is voracious is learning and doing all he can?  What if it wasn't simply about abstaining from acting out - but a drive to be free of the broken places and twisted desires that lead to acting out in the first place?

These are SOME of the facts and promises that we can base our hope on, and decipher if it's genuine hope, or fantasy.  This is not an "end-all be-all" answer to the question of "should I stay or should I go?  I'd love to have your feedback - 

Do you have any suggestions to add to this list?  What else can we look for when we're looking for facts or promises to base our hope on?  How else can we avoid fantasy?  Or, WHY do you think we should want to avoid fantasy-land?  I'd also love your questions.  If you don't feel comfortable posting your question(s) here, you can always email me at:  You can also email me to ask for more resources on this topic.  I've got plenty more lists!

To wrap up this three-part blog, I end with where it all began:"Hope is a confident expectation of future blessing based on facts and promises".

Because even if I need to adjust my idea of what "happily ever after" may look like - I can do that.  I'd rather embrace my reality and experience genuine hope than cling to a fantasy.  What about you?

Monday, October 14, 2013

A Partner's Pespective on Hope - Part 2

Last week I introduced the topic of hope, based on a "definition" I found in something I was reading.  I talked about life with a sex addict being like gambling with our life and used an analogy of two bridges - a rickety one and a safe one.  The fears we have about our relationship are often tied to the uncertainties we have regarding our partner's recovery.  Are we going to be led down the rickety bridge again?  How can we be sure?  IF we are being asked to place our hope in our partner and their recovery (gambling with our lives), then we need facts to base our hopes upon.

Last week, I said that "in our attempt to 'focus on ourselves' and 'work our recovery' (both good things), we can go into this extreme belief that it's not right or okay for us to even be aware of our partner's recovery."

This week, I go one step further and say that it's not just our right to be informed about our partner's recovery, it's our responsibility.  Yes, I said it - our responsibility.  But what does that look like?  What are these facts?  What is the difference between "controlling" our partner's recovery and BEING INFORMED of our partner's recovery?

Let's first take a look at this word, "responsible", and the difference between controlling our partner's recovery and being informed of our partner's recovery.  My friends at say that responsibility is: "the state or fact of being responsible, answerable, or accountable for something within one's power, control, or management."  Now let me be clear - we are NOT responsible for our partner's recovery.  We didn't cause the issue, we can't control it, and we can't cure it!  I have enough to handle just focusing on my own stuff.  No thanks!  I have NO desire to dictate to my partner what he should be doing in his recovery; what books he should be reading, what groups he should be going to, what therapist he should be seeing, or how he should be behaving.  I'm no puppeteer.

BUT - and this is a BIG BUT (I can hear my 12 and 9 year old children giggling) - we MUST be informed and stay informed of our partner's recovery IF we stay in relationship with them.  One of my favorite analogies of an exclusive, committed relationship is that of being allies.  (There's actually a book titled, "Intimate Allies").  That is what our relationships are MEANT to be like.  You and your partner against the world - NOT against each other.  Yet, if we take this analogy, and apply it to our situation - who in their right mind would go into battle with an ally that has lied to you and betrayed you?  When the time came, we wouldn't know if we could trust whether or not they'd fight with us, or end up shooting us in the back!  It would be our responsibility to gather Intel to support our decision to ever go into battle again with this ally again!

I propose that the first step in being informed about our partner's recovery is to understand what recovery looks like - according to the "experts".   I find it VITAL to understand just what we are "getting into", or "staying on board" for.  How much work is this going to take?  How LONG is this going to take?  How can I tell where my partner is at in his recovery?

So, as promised, here are a few things/sources to go to, to find some "facts":

One FANTASTIC resource is Dr. Milton Magness.  Among the many things you can find on his website is a list describing the stages of the "recovery timeline" (for the addict).  Here's the list of the names of the stages, and the AVERAGE time it takes to go through each stage (for a more detailed description of the stages, go the "getting help" tab, and then click on "recovery timeline"):
  • Survival Phase: This phase begins when recovery begins and lasts from 6 months to 1 year or more.
  • Stability Phase: Begins from 6 months to 2 years into recovery and lasts for 1 year or more.
  • Sustaining Phase: Begins from 1 1/2 to 3 years into recovery and lasts for 1 year or more.
  • Maintenance/Freedom Phase: People in this phase have been in recovery for 2 1/2 years or more.  This phase is the ultimate phase one aspires to in recovery.  
As you can see, there is a phrase he uses for every single phase - "or more".  This is because each person is unique, and therefore, their recovery is unique.  The way I see this as helpful to us, as partners of sex addicts, is to use this as a means to "gather Intel" - to use it as a guide to gauge where our partner is at, and if they seem "stuck", or unable to get past a certain phase. So, for example, if our partner has been saying he's "in recovery" for the past 5 years, but hasn't gotten out of survival phase, it might be time to start asking ourselves, and him, if his recovery is real.  It's not to take it to him and inform him of where he's at, and tell him what he needs to do to get to the next phase.  That's where we step into controlling, verses being informed.

Going back to the bridge analogy I used last week - we use this information to "test the bridge" and see if it's trustworthy.  Recovery that is stuck for years in survival phase is weak, at best, if not about to fall apart.

Unless we want to end up on the battlefield with an ally we're not sure isn't going to turn on us, we MUST recognize the responsibility we have to ourselves to be aware of our partner's recovery, and asses if it's "safe" for us to consider them as an ally.  IF their recovery is not looking at least stable, we may want to begin to reconsider whether or not it's safe for us to align ourselves with them if things don't change.

This all began with the statement,  "Hope is a confident expectation of future blessing based on facts and promises".  We are in the middle of discussing what it looks like to find those facts we need to base our hope upon.  Join me next week as we dive even deeper into what kind of facts we can look for to "gather Intel" and sustain our hope (or, to help us realize our hope is misguided, and we need to focus our hope on something else!).

Until then, I again leave you with the same parting thought.  Life without hope is no life at all.  Sometimes we just need to adjust our perspective of what Hope is, and what it takes to have it.  It is possible.  And when we have it, it's beautiful.

Monday, October 7, 2013

A Partner's Perspective of Hope

I came across this "definition" of hope last night in something I was reading:

"Hope is a confident expectation of future blessing based on facts and promises".

Now let me tell you why this hit me as MORE than just an interesting thought.  I knew that tonight (Monday, Oct. 7th), we would be discussing in our on-going support group what it looks like for our partner to be in recovery.  This definition expressed so perfectly what I believe is necessary for partners of sex addicts to have in order to have hope.

You see, I liken staying in a relationship with a sexual addict to gambling with your life.  We are like women standing at the edge of a rushing river, and there are two bridges to choose from.  One is rickety.  Old.  Untrustworthy and Unsafe.  The other is well built.  Solid.  Steady and Safe.

When we are trying to decide whether or not to stay in the relationship, it's like trying to choose which bridge to take.  The problem is, in the past (and potentially our present), our partner has distorted our reality - through their betrayal and lies, they told us the relationship we had was safe and strong - trustworthy. All the while the relationship WAS NOT safe OR he trustworthy.  What we thought was the solid bridge ended up being the old, rickety one.  And here we are, AGAIN, looking at the choice(s) in front of us, knowing the risks, and desperately wanting to know if the bridge that APPEARS to be the strong, sturdy one REALLY IS the trustworthy bridge we see in front of us.

And so we are forced to gamble.  Is he really in recovery?  Will he be able to sustain his sobriety?  Can I trust him?  Can I trust what he is saying?

We want so badly to believe that the hope we have for a relationship with this person we love - free of their addiction; free of the lies and manipulation -is not going to lead us down the rickety bridge.  But how can we be sure?

That's where I come back to the part of that saying where it says that hope is "based on facts".  So often, in our attempt to "focus on ourselves" and "work our recovery"(both good things), we go into this extreme belief that it's not right or okay for us to even be aware of our partner's recovery.

FOUL!  I call foul on that belief!  Facts!  We NEED facts to base our hope on.  If we are expected to gamble with our lives, and stay in relationship with our recovering partner, we must have facts and (fulfilled) promises to give us the confidence we need to expect future blessing.

The questions are: What are these facts we can look for when we are in relationship with a (hopefully) recovering sex addict?  What is the difference between "controlling" our partner's recovery and BEING INFORMED of our partner's recovery?

We will discuss all this, and probably more, tonight in our group.  I can't wait to be a part of the discussion.  Join me next week as I continue this topic, and bring in some feedback from our group tonight.  I invite you to leave me feedback here!

Until then, I leave you with this parting thought and image.  Life without hope is no life at all.  Sometimes we just need to adjust our perspective of what Hope is, and what it takes to have it.  It is possible.  And when we have it, it's beautiful.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

What is PULSE, anyway?

Passageways through Understanding Loss, Safety, and Empowerment.

Say what?

I know, I know.  It's doesn't exactly roll off the tongue!  I didn't come up with the name.  But in the nine months I've been working here, not only has the name grown on me, I've come to embrace it's significance and meaning.  Allow me to expound.

Our primary focus here at PULSE is to be a safe place for women whose lives have been torn apart by their partners' infidelity or sexual addiction.  (Partner meaning husband/boyfriend/significant other).  When a woman first discovers her partner has betrayed her, it's like a 7.0 earthquake has ravaged her entire life.                                                
Devastation.  Confusion.  Helplessness.  Doubt.  Anger.  Fear.  Pain.  And questions.  SO many questions. "How could this have happened to me, to us?  What do I do now?  Should I stay in this relationship?  What is real?  What is truth?  What is this thing called sex addiction?  Is there ANY hope?"  Looking at this picture of this woman surrounded by the rubble of a physical earthquake is just how it feels - looking at the rubble of their lives is often overwhelming.  Where do they even begin to pick up the pieces?

That's where the word picture of "Passages through..." comes in.  There is no easy answer; no quick fix.  This is a long and difficult journey, and it requires a lot of hard work.  But we can help these women find the answers to their questions. - Passages through Understanding.  We can help these women find validation and process their losses - Passages through Loss and safety.  We can help these women regain their sense of strength and self, and help them find their voice again - Passages through Empowerment.

And when it's all said and done, whether they stay in the relationship or not, our goal is to be there - guiding and accompanying these women through the dark, lonely passages they must take to find freedom and healing.  And so, I proudly proclaim, "We are PULSE Austin."

For more on PULSE Austin, visit our website