Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The good, the bad, and all that lies in between: A look back at the year 2013.

Well, it is the end of 2013, and like most humans, I can't help but reflect on the year that has been...

But wait, this isn't just a blog about Sarah and her life.  This is a blog about how things relate to women who are partners of sex addicts.  SO, I find myself asking myself, "Self, how is even this 'normal' end-of-the-year activity different for partners of SAs?"

As I've mulled this question over in my mind, conversation upon conversation that I've had with other women over the past three years began to flood my mind.  Through those recollections, I've come to this conclusion...

One of the painful realities of being the partner of a SA is facing the (sometimes seemingly endless) ways our loved one has lied to and deceived us.  Many of us have had to endure hearing about times our SA acted out on a day, or at a time, that had otherwise seemed meaningful or important.  The result?  Too often, when we look back over our lives, being able to determine what was real, or untainted by the addiction, becomes a confusing, foggy mess.  We can't determine what was real, so EVERYTHING becomes tainted.  If we're not careful, we fall into an "all or nothing" mentality.  Another way to put this is, "all good or all bad."

"My husband couldn't have loved me and do what he did."  Either he loved, or he didn't, based on his addictive behavior.  That is "All or nothing" thinking.  Could it be "both" and?  Meaning, "My husband BOTH loved me AND he did what he did."?

Does this take away the tainting of a day, or experience?  NO!  HOWEVER, what it does do is remove us from the "victim" role, or the "less than" role.  It takes ANY and EVERY ounce of responsibility that we might be carrying, and puts it squarely where it belongs - on the shoulders of the addict. It takes any self-worth we have assigned to the issue, and removes it from the equation.  The result - a freer US!  Once we free ourselves like this, then we can take an empowered look at the situation, and determine if it can be redeemed.

How does this tie into reminiscing the year that was 2013?  When we take a look back at 2013, how do we see it?  Has our SA's addiction and addictive behaviors so tainted the view we have that we see things as "all good" or "all bad", or can we accept that life is both?  Are we able to see, and even more - be thankful for things throughout the year, as well as grieve the losses?

For me, 2013 was yet again a year of change for me: some changes that I'd hoped for but never dreamed would happen (or happen so quickly); some changes that I've feared, hoped to never have to deal with, and forced to face.  Good and bad, and all that lay between - all things considered, this was a year of great growth for me, and for that I am eternally grateful.  2013, au revoir.


Monday, December 23, 2013

"All I Want for Christmas..."

Big sigh.

I'm feeling a bit of writer's block.  I think it's because I'm in a bit of a quandary about what to write with Christmas just two days away.  I don't want to be a "Grinch" - always talking about the difficult aspects of being or having been the partner of a SA.  I know there are SA's out there, living in a solid, sustained recovery; their partners are healing, and the relationship mending.  However, the majority of the women I know are struggling.  And it would feel superficial to ignore the pain and loss these women feel during the holidays.  And yet, I hear the cries of the women out there who want to know there's hope.

So, since I can't "please all the people all the time", what is on my heart this Christmas Eve's Eve?  

Validation.  Permission. Freedom.  If I could leave all the women I've come to know these past few years gifts "under their tree", these would be the things I would give.

Validation:  Whether you are brand new to this roller-coaster ride of being the partner of a SA, or been on this journey for years; whether you and your SA are well on your way to recovery and healing, or his recovery is shaky and you are feeling very broken and fragile; whether you are still in relationship with your SA, have ended the relationship with your SA, or can't figure out what the h-e-double-toothpicks you want to do about the relationship... Your thoughts, your feelings, your confusion, your indecisiveness - OR, on the flip-side - your confidence, your hope, your love - wherever you are at, is VALID.  My earnest desire is that you could use this gift of being able to put aside the "shoulds" and just feel the peace of simply being you.

Permission: This is NOT about ME giving you permission for anything.  This is about you being empowered to give YOURSELF permission: Permission to engage OR detach; permission to speak up and make your needs and desires known; permission to take the time to practice self-care (this is NOT selfish, to put yourself and your needs first sometimes); permission to take "time-outs" from family gatherings (if needed) and re-group; and permission to  "live in the moment".

Which leads me to Freedom: Oh, sisters, how I desire that you would be able to receive freedom this Christmas season.  Freedom from the past; freedom from the memories; freedom from the pain...even if it's just moments of freedom from these things.  Freedom to not feel like everything is tainted.  Freedom from feeling damaged.  Freedom to live in the moment, especially for those of us who have kids or grand-kids - freedom to get caught up in the magic and wonder that sparkles in their eyes.  Tiny moments where you're completely free!

You know, as I sit here and I think of what I would want "under my tree", the thought came to me that some of the things I wish for are not really attainable in this life. Like certainty.  THAT would be the best present EVER!!!!!  Which then led me to the first part of "The Serenity Prayer": 

"God grant me the serenity 
to accept the things I cannot change; 
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference."

Here's the thing.  As embarrassed as I am to admit to how selfish and materialistic I was as a child, I remember Christmases past where I CRIED because I didn't get the present I wanted. Here I had people who loved me, sacrificing their hard-earned money - investing time, energy, and thought into wonderful gifts.  And I wasn't thankful for what I was being given, because it wasn't what I most wanted.  

I don't want to be like that when it comes to how I view the gifts that ARE there for me.  I don't want to focus on the gifts I want, but don't/can't have.  So, like the Serenity Prayer...

May we be women who have eyes to see and hearts able to receive the gifts that ARE waiting for us; may we cherish them, and use them; and may we share them with others.

What are the gifts you would want to give this Christmas season?  What gifts would you ask for for yourself?  How can you "use" your gifts?  How can you share them?

Here's to validation, permission, and moments of freedom for you this Christmas season.  If I got what I wanted for Christmas this year, you truly would have these things "under your tree."  

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Facing our Everest

A few years ago, one of my very best friends climbed to base camp Mt. Everest (Yes, she's amazing, I know!  I couldn't even.  Ever.)  It was through watching her experience that I came up with the phrase, "We each have our own Everest to climb."  Now, before we read that and think, "Oh, that's a cutsie little saying.", let's get a better understanding of what it means to climb Mt. Everest.

Everest's peak is 29,035 feet in altitude.  Now, that number is fairly incomprehensible to me, so let me put it in perspective.  The tallest building in the U.S. is the One World Trade Center, which registers at.... wait for it... a whopping 1,776 feet. Wait - what?  The tallest building in the U.S. would have to be stacked 16 times to be as tall as Mt. Everest!  How's that for perspective?!

Here are a few more MIND BLOWING facts about Everest... On Everest:
  • The wind can blow over 200 mph.
  • The temperature can be -80F (And you think Texas winter is cold!  Ha!).
  • There is 66% less oxygen in each breath on the summit of Everest than at sea level.
  • Almost all climbers use bottled oxygen because it is so high. 
  • Climbers burn over 10,000 calories each day, double that on the summit climb (What?!!).
  • Climbers will lose 10 to 20 lbs during the expedition (Oh, I like this one!).
  • It typically takes 40 days to climb. 
  • And finally, 249 people HAVE DIED trying to climb Mt. Everest since the first expedition in 1922.
So, when I say, "We each have our own Everest to climb.", do you now understand the intensity of that statement I was trying to convey?  This statement is meant to be a statement of validation for the terrifying, grueling, all-consuming work it takes to climb back from the pain, loss, trauma, and confusion of being in relationship (current or past) with a SA.

One of the things I love about this statement is that it is inclusive - I've said, many times, that the "face" that I have to climb might be different than yours, but either way, it's EVEREST!!!!  Then I read there's around 18 different routes to the summit.  PERFECT!  We are a sisterhood - there's no need to compare our stories - figuring out who "has it worst" or who "has it best".  There is no best (that's for darn sure).  Climbing Everest is a (potentially) life-threatening endeavor.  We all have an extremely difficult and scary climb.  Each one of us.

So, other than finding validation from this statement, what else can we learn from this analogy?  (You know I love my analogies!)  How do we "face our personal Everest"?

1. Understand the dangers.  Climbing Everest isn't something a person does on a whim; neither should trying to decide whether or not to stay in relationship with a SA.  Try to find understanding about what SA is, and what your Everest will entail.
2. Have a route, and a back-up route, planned.  Knowing what your goal is, and how to get there is an important piece to having clarity in what can be a confusing situation.  Sometimes we are on our planned route and an "avalanche" occurs.  Having a secondary route already in mind can mean the difference between being able to press on to reach your goal and seeing no other option than turning around.
3. Have an "escape" plan.  If it becomes apparent that things are becoming too dangerous, make sure you have an escape plan already thought through.  Knowledge is power, and if you know what to do if/when the time comes to "escape" the dangers, you will feel more empowered and less a victim.
4. Be mindful of your surroundings.  On Everest, staying aware of the weather, the consistency of the snow/ice beneath your feet, and even your own health (altitude sickness) can mean the difference between life and death.  Similarly, we need to stay aware of our surroundings.  Pay attention to our intuition, our SA's recovery and emotional/mental/physical health, and, most importantly, our own emotional/mental/physical health.  Paying attention to these things can help us avoid "deadly" situations in our lives.
5. Take your time.  In our society, where we can watch years of a life unfold, and a couple fall in love, encounter difficulty, and find their happy ending in 2.5 hours or less (movies), it's easy to fall into the trap of rushing into our "happy ending".  In each phase of an Everest trip - from the planning, to the training, to the ascent, to the decent - all phases take time, and careful thought.  Again, rushing through any one of these phases could mean your life - or the life of someone in your climbing party.  We need to take our time, and give careful thought to the different phases of our healing/recovery, and that of our SA.
6. Never climb alone.  And speaking of your "climbing party", it's the exception, not the rule, where someone would even try to climb Everest alone - let alone be successful or even make it back alive.  In the addiction world (this includes the loved ones of the addict), isolation = death.  I'm not exaggerating.  Maybe not physical death, but death to sobriety, recovery, good mental and emotional health.  You must have people you trust with your life joining you, supporting you, and watching out for you.  If you don't have safe family or friends, find a S-Anon group or a group like PULSE.  Don't try to climb your Everest alone.
7. Lastly, consider hiring a guide.  Sherpas dedicate their life to understanding Everest - the routes, the weather, the dangers, the warning signs; they know the tools that are needed to make the climb, and they know the right pace to set.  Likewise, an experienced/qualified therapist (or other helping professional) can help you understand the dangers, recognize the signs, help you plan healthy routes and escape plans, and help you set a healthy pace for your healing/recovery.  They can warn you when you're going too fast, or headed into a storm.  They CAN be the difference between making it to the summit, or surviving a life-threatening storm.

Facing our Everest can be so overwhelming that we can just shut down.  Take courage, my sisters.  YOU can do it!  

How about you?  What is YOUR Everest?  How are you tackling it?  What have you found that has helped you through?  What has been a part of your route?  Who is on your climbing team?

As always, if you don't have a safe place to process these things, email me at sarah@therapyworksaustin.org, or visit our website at PULSEAustin.org.

Til next time, ladies - take care of yourself!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Escaping - Healthy or Unhealthy? Self-Care, Part 3

As somewhat juvenile as it feels to admit it - I LOVE THE HUNGER GAMES TRILOGY!!!!!  Yes, I really do.  I've read the entire trilogy at least three times; I saw the first movie in the theater twice; I own the dvd, and have watched it at least two more times at home.  And I can't wait to see Catching Fire!!!

So, what does this have to do with self-care, you might ask?  

Sometimes, our mind and heart need a BREAK!  So often, most of what we do is consumed with "recovery" - either our "recovery" (I prefer the word, "healing") or our SA's - that we never get rest from it.  We talk with our partner about it; we talk with our friends and family about it; we talk with a therapist about it; when we pray, we talk to God about it; when we journal, we are journaling about it.... see what I mean?  It can be overwhelming and all consuming!

In fact, if we're not careful, we become completely obsessed with our and/or our partner's recovery, and things that can be healthy (see above list) actually become UNHEALTHY.  In our attempt to find peace, we embark on an endless pursuit of reading/talking/working on recovery related issues.  

So I propose that it's actually good for us, at times, to find an escape from it all.  Escape can be healthy or unhealthy, so let me clarify how I see the difference: 

Healthy Escape = a pause or a time out from our thoughts and emotions, with the intent to resume work on healing/recovery.
Unhealthy Escape = pushing away, shoving, or stopping our thoughts and emotions, without any intention/plan to resume our work.  I say unhealthy escape = denial.

Also, it should be noted, that healthy escape does NOT mean we put a pause on our boundaries, or making choices that are not concurrent with our beliefs/morals/etc.  That is DEFINITELY unhealthy.

What I'm talking about is finding a good book (or series of books) that will allow you, just for a time, to let your brain and heart relax.  Or maybe it's a TV show/series.  How about joining a site like luminosity, where you can spend time engaging your brain in games that enhance your brain function.  

Over the holiday last week, I took my kids to see "Frozen."  THIS is exactly the kind of thing I'm talking about.  We laughed, and laughed, and laughed, and enjoyed a sweet story and amazing visual moments. (Honestly, this is one of the reasons I've enjoyed having kids - an excuse to see any and every Disney movie that interests me!)  For those two hours, I was pleasantly engrossed in this beautiful, animated, frozen world. The sadness of my husband's absence, the stress over financial difficulties, work - everything - was temporarily put on hold while I watched this movie.  And, as a bonus, I got to make a fun memory with my kids.  (They so loved the movie, they keep singing the songs, and were fighting over one of our snowmen decorations yesterday!)

The important thing to recognize when you are planning an "escape" activity, is that it needs to be something that will engage your mind.  Meaning, something like simply listening to music isn't really an escape - PLAYING an instrument, yes.  But in order for it to be an activity that is a healthy escape, your mind needs to not have a high likelihood of wandering back to your situation.  

Depending on where you are at in your journey, this may have to be an intentional activity.  You may not FEEL like reading a book, or watching a movie, or playing games on your computer.  I encourage you to make the time.  The break will do your heart and mind good.  

One word of warning - be mindful about escaping.  In balance, it can be a beneficial thing.  However, escaping can become an unhealthy coping method fairly quickly.  So, be intentional in returning to engaging in your healing/recovery work.  Return to your reading, journaling, praying, talking, etc.

I gave a few suggestions of things to do to escape that are healthy, engaging, and (fairly safe to say) non-triggering.  What are some things that you like to do to escape?  How do you give your heart and mind "breaks" from the work and trauma?  I would love to hear your thoughts/comments.

I hope you find some fun things, and are even able to make some good memories "escaping" this month!  I know I will.  Catching Fire, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, and The Grinch are just a few movies on my list over the next few weeks!  

As always, if you need someone to talk to, you can find me at www.PULSEAustin.org