Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Living With A Certain Amount of Uncertainty

So, I had such a great response to my gaslighting post, I considered doing another post on it and really get into some of the details - how to recognize it, ways to stop it, etc.  But then I realized that my passion and excitement over the intensive I'm currently working on about gaslighting was clouding my judgement, and that trying to cover those things in a blog post was too huge of an undertaking.

So, instead, I thought I'd share my musings on a VERY common PSA struggle - uncertainty.  I've gotten somewhat personal before, but I think I'm going to share even a bit more today than I sometimes do.  This topic requires it, I think.  Not gonna lie - being vulnerable in "cyber space" makes me a bit nervous - who knows where this will end up - but as goes with this post, I'm okay with the level of uncertainty associated with this choice.

I'm not sure about you, and how you lived life (Pre- PSA), but I came into the relationship with my SA with a number of trust issues.  So, naturally, I tested him.  I'm going to say that for at least the first year of our relationship, I tested him in numerous ways.  Between his addiction being pretty minimal at that point, his gaslighting, and his ability to hide the behaviors he did already engage in, he passed all my tests.  So, naturally, I relaxed.  I thought I was safe.  I remember hearing about other women's struggles in their relationships surrounding their partner's "problematic sexual issues", and thinking to myself, "I'm so glad I don't have to worry about that."  Ha.  Little did I know.

Fast forward to the day of my discovery.  Worn down; feeling pretty lonely in my relationship; not understanding why things were the way they were - yet still - I was utterly shocked at the discovery of my SA's addiction.  The trust and safety that I THOUGHT I had found was taken from me - violently.  The certainty I had in who my SA was, what our relationship was like, and where our life together was headed - was now anything but certain.  I wasn't even certain if I could believe the next words that were going to come out of his mouth, let alone if I could EVER trust him again!!!

One of the first things I did - FOR ME - to begin to heal from the trauma was join a support group through Marsha Mean's phone groups.  Somewhere along the way of processing through the workbook, I was confronted with the question of would I marry someone else if things didn't work out with my current relationship.  The thought, quite honestly, didn't appeal to me - AT ALL.  I remember thinking, "If this doesn't work out, I will never marry another person."  "If I could be 'fooled'; if I trusted THIS guy - what's to say the next one won't end up being another SA - or an alcoholic, or...???"  It was then that I began to realize - and wrestle with - the belief that I will never again be able to trust someone 100%. There was a follow up question in that workbook - would I be able to be in a relationship where I didn't have 100% trust  (complete certainty) in the other person.  Even if it was really, really close - like 95% trust - would that be enough?

Which brings me to my point today - It's what I call, "living with a certain amount of uncertainty".  The problem: We want to be able to trust the person we love (and are in relationship with) 100%, but our trust has been broken - severely - and that just likely isn't possible.  (I reserve the right to say that I have not definitively decided my thoughts about this - that is not the point of this post - uncertainty is). So, what do we do?

I propose that we use a tool that we use dozens of times EVERY DAY.  Risk assessment.  Allow me to show you just ONE example of a fairly serious risk assessment decision you make every day - subconsciously: driving in your car.  Let me lay it out for you: 1. You are aware of the fact that car accidents happen every day (ESPECIALLY if you live in the Austin area!!!).  2. You are also aware of the need you have to get to work, class, the kid's school, etc.  3.  You decide to load your things (and/or people) in the car in spite of the risk.  4.  Because you know there is a chance, however small, that you could get in an accident, you buckle your seat-belt, and head out to your destination.

I mean, that's why one of the things we look at when buying a vehicle is their safety rating - right?  How many air bags does it have?  How's the roll bar?  We don't really think we're going to get in an accident - but just in case, we want to be as safe as possible.  We've assessed the risk, and adjusted the way we drive to compensate for the risk.

I could name quite a few more of these "risk assessment" decisions we make - day in and day out.

My point is this: in every day life, numerous times throughout the day, we decide what risks/level of uncertainty we are okay with, and what risks/level of uncertainty we are NOT okay with.  Going back to the driving example: We ARE okay with the risk that there is potential for us getting in a car accident.  However, we ARE NOT okay with the level of risk of driving WITHOUT putting our seat belt on.  Let's even extend that scenario a bit - WHEN THERE IS AN ICE STORM in Austin - which happens in the winter - I AM NOT OKAY with the level of risk/uncertainty that I may end up in an accident - so on those days, I work from home; my kids stay home from school, and we hunker down for the day (not to mention, sleep in!!!!) - we don't drive.  The level of risk/uncertainty IS NOT WORTH IT!

Are you seeing how this can translate to the life of a PSA?

Here's where I'm going to get on my "co-dependency" soap box.  Some would say that wanting/needing assurances of our SA's recovery is "co-dependent".  We need to stay on "our side" of the road.  Well, I'm sorry (sorry, NOT sorry), but if I'm going to have ANY ability to assess what level of risk is involved with the BIGGEST decision of my life, I'm going to make damn sure I have all the information I can get.  Now, of course, there are healthy ways to get this information - ways that are within the context of healthy boundaries, and ways that are unhealthy and outside the context of healthy boundaries - but that's a different topic.

Let's go back to the driving analogy:  If my partner is the one who normally drives, and he's gotten in accidents in the past due to driving while slightly intoxicated, would I be okay with him driving me?  Yes, I would.  As long as I knew he was sober HOWEVER - It would be irresponsible and dangerous for me to just assume that while he was out with his friends that he didn't have a drink.  I would be risking my life - literally.  Depending on where he was at in his recovery, and where we were at in rebuilding trust - me "assessing" to see if it's safe for me to get in the car could be as simple as me just paying attention to how he's behaving - behavior that is in line with a sober person or an intoxicated person.  Another, slightly more overt way to assess might be simply asking - "Are we good to go?".  Or, if I'm not feeling safe, I may need a little more than just his word.  I may need to say, "I'm not feeling very safe.  Would it be okay with you if we sit here for a few minutes while I listen to how you're talking with me and engaging me?"  And then I would listen for slurred speech and incoherent communication.

Now, would I rather be in a relationship where I didn't even have to think or worry about my safety - ever?  Absolutely!  But I don't think I can ever go back to that.  We want assurances (certainty) that recovery will "stick".  We want a guarantee that if our SA is in recovery, he will never go back to his addiction.  Dear ones, we don't get to have this.  As much as our SA may intend, WITH EVERY OUNCE OF THEIR BEING, to stay in recovery and NEVER go back to their addiction - I don't believe they can 100% guarantee this to us.  Maybe they can get pretty darn close - like 95%, 98%...

Is your level of risk "ice storm" or...
clear, "normal" day?
So, where does that leave us? Assessing the risk:  What does it mean to stay in relationship with your/an SA?  What level of trust AM I okay with?  What are the risks of staying?  What are you doing to "assess" the risk/uncertainty?  Is your relationship with your SA on par with the level of risk/uncertainty of an ice storm - where the danger isn't worth the risk?  Or, is your relationship with your SA on par with a "regular" driving day, and you're okay with the level of risk/uncertainty?  If you find yourself in the second scenario - what are your "seat-belts"?  Because there are risks - the question is, how are you preparing for them.

My goal and my hope is that I have a relationship where there is trust - with what I have defined as an acceptable amount of uncertainty - namely, that I am aware of the fact that there is a chance - no matter how small - that my SA may relapse.  At the same time, I'm assessing the circumstances, and it looks like a clear day with light traffic - so I buckle up for the ride.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

What IS "Gaslighting"?

Hello my readers!  I can't even believe how long it's been since I put up a new post!!! It feels so good to be back at my computer writing!  Today I'd like to broach the subject of gaslighting.  

I'm going to give a disclaimer/warning - IF you've not previously been informed on what gaslighting is, I SINCERELY ADVISE that you don't just casually read this post - it could be very triggering.  I suggest that you set up a time to read this when you know you'll have  your support group/therapist/life coach readily (soon) available - or, at the VERY least, a friend or family member that can be a support/comfort/help you process.

If you've been around the SA world long enough, you've probably stumbled across the word  "gaslighting".  Or maybe you've heard someone mention it - "My husband was gaslighting me!"

But what, exactly, IS gaslighting???

Let me be clear: whole books, workshops, intensives, and multitudes of articles can be found on this topic.  I am, in no way, attempting to offer a comprehensive blog post on the topic.  My goal, in my post today, is to introduce you to the topic; or, if you've already been introduced, to refresh your memory or place some tools in your hand to help you recognize, reduce, and remove gaslighting from your relationships.  

Gaslight (1944) Poster
First, a bit of background information:  The term "gaslighting" is derived from the story of Paula - a woman who is pursued and married by a man that is truly only after a treasure in the house she inherited.  He begins to drive her crazy through manipulating her surroundings and her emotions.  One specific example is how the husband would leave the house under the pretense of going to work and  then would sneak into the attic through an adjoining house. The (gas powered) lights would go down when he snuck into the attic and lit a light in there, causing the lights in the rest of the house to go down.  Paula was the only one who notices, and when she brings it up to Gregory (the husband), he tells her she is just seeing/imagining things.  This was first a play, and then adapted into two films, the most famous being the one released in 1944, starring Ingrid Bergman.

So, that's the history of the term, but what IS it?
There are variations of definitions.  I read a number of them.  My favorite actually came from  Let's read what they say gaslighting is:

"A form of intimidation or psychological abuse, sometimes called Ambient Abuse, where false information is presented to the victim, making them doubt their own memoryperception and quite often, their sanity. The classic example ofgaslighting is to switch something around on someone that you know they're sure to notice, but then deny knowing anything about it, and to explain that they "must be imagining things" when they challenge these changes.

A more psychological definition of gaslighting is an increasing frequency of systematically withholding factual information from, and/or providing false information to, the victim - having the gradual effect of making them anxiousconfused, and less able to trust theirown memory and perception." -

Sound familiar?

Unfortunately, all too many of us are intimately acquainted with this experience - we just didn't know what it was.  In fact, many of us really did think we were going crazy - because, after all, how could this person we love and trust be leading us astray?  It surely must be us.  How many times did I think to myself, "I wish I had a tape recorder so I could record this conversation", because I knew when the time came, I wouldn't be able to remember or would be challenged in such a way that I wouldn't trust my recollection of a "discussion".   

Here are a few SA specific examples of gaslighing: "You're just insecure.  I would never....."  "You must be thinking about having an affair yourself!"  "I wasn't looking at that woman - you're imagining things."

Why would someone do this?  According to Dr. Robin Stern, when a gaslighter is confronted with an issue that threatens his agenda, they will react by trying to control the feelings, thoughts, or actions of the Gaslightee.

Here's where I need to make a VERY important clarification - some gaslighters manipulate knowingly, intentionally; I would venture that more gaslighters are so caught up in their addiction and lifestyle of lying that they are not explicitly attempting to abuse or be coercive - they aren't even consciously aware that they are doing it.  This DOES NOT, however, make it okay.  It still is what it is - abuse.

So, what can you do about it?

1. Educate yourself. (Education is power!)
2. Recognize when it's happening.
3. Recognize how you've been a part of "the dance"
4. Opt out of "the dance"

To get you started:
1. Educate yourself - 

  • There's a FABULOUS book out there - an easy read, full of LOTS of practical, helpful tools that you can begin using IMMEDIATELY.  It's called "the gaslight effect", by Dr. Robin Stern.
  • Here's an exerpt from one of Dr. Stern's articles on gaslighting. (If you'd like, you can Read the full article here. ) It's basically a sefl-evaluation tool...."How do you know if you are being gaslighted? If any of the following warning signs ring true, you may be dancing the Gaslight Tango. Take care of yourself by taking another look at your relationship, talking to a trusted friend; and, begin to think about changing the dynamic of your relationship . Here are the signs: 
    • 1. You are constantly second-guessing yourself
    • 2. You ask yourself, "Am I too sensitive?" a dozen times a day.
    • 3. You often feel confused and even crazy at work.
    • 4. You're always apologizing to your mother, father, boyfriend,, boss.
    • 5. You can't understand why, with so many apparently good things in your life, you aren't happier.
    • 6. You frequently make excuses for your partner's behavior to friends and family.
    • 7. You find yourself withholding information from friends and family so you don't have to explain or make excuses.
    • 8. You know something is terribly wrong, but you can never quite express what it is, even to yourself.
    • 9. You start lying to avoid the put downs and reality twists. 
    • 10. You have trouble making simple decisions.
    • 11. You have the sense that you used to be a very different person - more confident, more fun-loving, more relaxed.
    • 12. You feel hopeless and joyless.
    • 13. You feel as though you can't do anything right.
    • 14. You wonder if you are a "good enough" girlfriend/ wife/employee/ friend; daughter.
    • 15. You find yourself withholding information from friends and family so you don't have to explain or make excuses."
It's my strong conviction that numbers 2 - 4 should only be attempted with the education well started.  Whether that be by reading the book, going through it in a group, or with a therapist/life coach.  This is tricky business - understanding, recognizing, and dealing with gaslighting.  The BEST bit of advise I can give you - without the education - is this: PAY RIGOROUS ATTENTION TO YOUR FEELINGS.  When we've been traumatized through gaslighting, we loose the empowerment of knowing our feelings are enough. We have to explain, justify, rationalize, or prove that what we like/don't like, want/don't want, etc is acceptable.  Your feelings are enough.  Let me say that again: YOUR FEELINGS ARE ENOUGH!!!!  Ask yourself: "Is this what I want?"  "Do I like being treated this way?"  "Is my gut telling me something's not right here?"

Finding freedom from gaslighting is possible - both for the gaslighter and the gaslightee. Step one is seeing that it's a part of your life and wanting to be free.

Oh, my dear sisters, I am concerned about you - are you seeing gaslighting in your relationship(s)? How is this making you feel?  Do you have someone you can talk to about it?  My sincere hope is that this post on gaslighting, though difficult to read, will lead you to a place of wanting to fight - to be free of any gaslighting there may be in your relationship(s).

For my local readers - writing this post has made me want to do a gaslighting intensive again - the last one I did was over a year ago.  It's a LONG, emotional day, but there is SO MUCH good information and tools in it.  Anyone interested?

For my non-local readers - if this has struck a chord with you - get the book.  Find a local therapist that knows what gaslighting  is and will help you find freedom.  If you can't find someone local, contact me - we can do phone sessions and work this stuff through!

And finally - feedback.  Those of you who have been on this path of dealing with gaslighting - what words would you share?  Examples from your own life?  Words of encouragement?  Tools that helped you?  Questions you still have?

After a "difficult" read like this - make sure you take some time for some self-care.  Take some deep, cleansing breaths; meditate; pray; listen to some music; call a trusted friend.  

Until next time, 
Take care, my sisters.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Big D, Part 2

The big “D”, Part 2..

In my last post, I began what I felt was an important discussion on divorce.  There's not a single PSA that I've ever come across that hasn't asked herself whether divorce is the best path for her or not.  The other week I spent some time addressing those of you who have made the decision to divorce, and are either in the process of, or on the other side of finalizing the divorce.  Today, I will do my best to give some thought to those of us who are undecided and those of us who care about those going through this process.  Again, for the sake of conversation, the end of any committed, exclusive relationship is encompassed in the term, "divorce". 

For me, there have been three distinct times I've strongly considered divorce.  So today, when I speak about what do we do when we're not sure about divorce - well, it's based a bit more on experience rather than observation.

Again, where do I start?

Just the other day I was reminded of the feeling, "I didn't deserve this."  Not so much because of something I was experiencing, but because of something one of my clients was going through.  As she was sharing, I recalled thinking/feeling, "I saved myself for this guy and THIS is  what I got?  Ch.  What was the point of that?!"  (Disclaimer - this is not how I still feel.  I made that decision for me, and I don't regret it.  At the time, that was how I felt).  

Which brings me to what I consider to be the most important aspect of us figuring out if we want to stay in the relationship or not.  And it has NOTHING to do with our SA.  It's the realization EVERY single one of us must come to, and that is that we DESERVE to be loved WELL.  

So just as I did last week, I'd like to say a few things that will hopefully either validate, encourage, or aid you as you struggle through the craziness that can be trying to decide whether to divorce or stay in the relationship.
  1. You are an amazing woman, worthy of being loved well; worthy of being honored and respected and held in high esteem.  You are worthy of being loved in a way that will give wings to your dreams.
  2. You are strong.  It takes an incredible amount of strength to get up,day after day, and face the collateral damage of Hurricane SA.  Don't be hard on yourself for not being where you think, or others say, you "should" be.  As my mom would say, "Don't should all over yourself."  (Thanks, mom, for that gem!)
  3. You are brave.  It's scary living with uncertainty.  And if being in relationship with a SA is one thing - it's uncertain.  Facing the fear of the unknown and wrestling with making a healthy decision is brave.
  4. This isn't your fault.  Yes, we all have our weaknesses, and God knows we haven't been the picture of perfection when it comes to our relationships.  DOESN'T MATTER.  You could have been the supermodel perfect girlfriend, wife, mother, etc. and your SA still would have been an SA.  Like I said last week, you didn't cause the addiction, you can't control the addiction, and you definitely can't cure it. 
  5. YOU can heal even if the relationship doesn't.  You can find yourself again.  You can have empowerment, and healthy boundaries, and so much more!  
  6. It's not only okay, I maintain it's necessary to demand honesty.  Living in a world of lies creates crazy-making in our lives, and destroys any chance of safety.  Without safety, there can not be true intimacy - we can never let our guard down if we don't feel safe.  
  7. Give yourself permission to take your time.  You don't have to decide what to do right away.  At the same time, in your other hand hold onto the idea that you don't want to stay where you are forever - a decision one way or the other will need to happen at some point.  Otherwise, you're stuck in purgatory.  And that is NOT being loved well!
Now that I've shared those messages, I'd like to propose some tools that may help as you try to sort through the confusion of "should I stay or should I go?".  There are so many different thoughts/beliefs/emotions/small decisions that have to be sorted through to reach this HUGE decision:
  1. Let's begin with a definition.  I said you are worthy of being loved well.  How would you define that?  What would that look like/sound like?  How would you love someone well?  What kind of things would you do for them?  This is very important.  Living without defining this is like shooting and arrow with no target.  You don't know what you're missing if you have no target to aim for. 
  2. Are there any family of origin or religious beliefs that are adding to the confusion?  If so, is there a safe person you can talk to about these conflicting thoughts/beliefs?
  3. I mentioned that living with a SA means living with a certain amount of uncertainty (Isn't this all of life, actually?).  The question that needs to be asked is, HOW MUCH uncertainty are you willing/able to live with?  What are the risks of staying in the relationship?  What risks are you willing to take?  What risks are you NOT willing to take?  It's important that we face these uncertainties and empower ourselves to take a stand on our limits. 
  4. If you have kids, what is the impact on them if you leave?  If you stay?  (Sometimes, staying is more harmful than leaving).
  5. How much more do you have left?  Or phrased another way, how much more can you endure before you've lost so much of yourself, you don't know if you'll be able to find your way back?  We must be honest with ourselves about what we can endure and what we can't.  We must know our limits.
  6. What is/has been the overall trajectory of your SA's recovery?  Is he moving forward, stagnant, moving backward, never began?  We can't expect perfection in recovery/healing, but we can watch the overall trajectory and see if there is some evidence for hope that a solid recovery and healing is possible and sustainable.  
  7. Lastly, what things do you need to do so that you can be independent if it DOES come to divorce?  If you feel trapped, start looking for ways to empower yourself in this area.
In addition to the above questions, here are some other ideas of things that may be helpful:

  1. Support groups.  In these groups you can find not only emotional and practical support - you can find other women in the same place you are; women who can be a tether to sanity - sorting out what's real and healthy from the crazy-making we can sometimes endure.  In these groups (the good ones, at least), we find our voice again - it's a place to test it out and get it heard.  You may want to consider groups like S-Anon or PULSE.  I'm hesitant to recommend any other groups because some groups are NOT a safe place.
  2. Use this decision making time as a time to re-discover yourself.  It may seem counter-intuitive, but indulging in your passions and joy-filling activities are empowering.  The more you get back in touch with yourself, the more you become aware of what you want, the more empowered you become.
  3. If you're feeling like you've been stuck in the same place longer than you'd like, and can't seem to make any progress or changes in your healing and decision making, then maybe consider reaching out to a helping professional.  Again, therapists and life coaches are around FOR THIS REASON.  I, for one, am very, VERY passionate about this!  I recommend going to APSATS to find a helping professional that you can know is safe.  These helping professionals have been trained in the trauma model approach. 
  4. If you're feeling there's enough safety and sustained recovery/sobriety, consider seeking out a marriage therapist to help with the healing of the marriage.  I am a HUGE proponent of EFT therapists.  Or someone trained in the Gottman Therapy.  Both of these methods are focused on healing attachment injuries.  They're amazing.
Remember, as I said last week, no matter what happens, "This is not the end of the story."  “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” - Winston Churchill. Have hope.  Cling to the promise that there can be beauty and joy and life and love again, no matter what you decide.

And finally, to those of us who care about someone either trying to decide what to do or have decided to end the relationship - here's some tips on how to be a good friend/family member:

  1. BE.  Sometimes, the best thing we can do for someone is just be there with them. No judgement.  No questions.  No advice.  No trying to inform their decision.  Just be with them.  Let them know that WHATEVER they are feeling - it's okay.  Love them, accept them, hold them (if they ask for it).  
  2. Ask, "What can I do?".
  3. BE PATIENT.  This may be the biggest decision they'll ever make/have made.  
  4. Put on your marathon shoes.  IF YOU REALLY WANT TO BE A GOOD FRIEND/RELATIVE, then don't just be there at the beginning, when the initial crisis hits.  Be prepared to walk this journey out with them.  
  5. Be an example.  Live out love and health in front of them.  They need to see what that looks/sounds/feels like.  They need to have hope that it still exists in this world!
  6. If the situation calls for it, be ready/willing to show tough love.  Support they need, enabling they don't.  IF the relationship is harmful to them (I'm not talking about the pain of the journey, I'm talking about some form of abuse), and they are not taking steps to leave for their own safety or the safety of their children - IN LOVE, tell them of your concern.  BUT, I humbly suggest that you don't make this stand without being willing to be a part of the solution - whatever part that may be.
  7. Ask yourself, "What would I want from my friend if this horror happened in my life?" Then go and do it.
  8. This isn't a what to do - this is a statement.  THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!  I would not be where I am, or who I am, without people like you who were willing to be and do these things for me.  You are our life preservers in the raging waters surrounding the sinking ship we found ourselves on.
Sisters, did I miss anything you would like to share?  For those of you who are going through this, what messages would you say to each other?  What resources would you want to give to someone out there who is in the middle of it?  What has helped you/is helping you?

As I wrap up my two week delve into the topic of divorce, I end with the hope that everyone who reads my thoughts, whether divorce is an issue or not, can find something they can glean and use in their lives.  

My parting thoughts after this heavy topic: You are amazing women.  You are worthy of being loved well.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Big "D"

The big “D”...

A few weeks ago, I was on my way to starting this post (and then I got sidetracked by that "Sorry not Sorry video). Heavy on my heart were a few PSAs I know who are at various stages of the divorce process.  I realized that I have never directly addressed PSAs and dealing with this heartbreak.  Today, I remedy that.  To those who have had to make the tough choice of ending your marriage (or engagement, or relationship); to those who are in the middle of dealing with the process of divorce; to those who are trying to decide if this is the choice we have to make, and to those who care about them, I offer up the next two posts.  I want to treat this topic with the compassion and thought it deserves, so I'm going to address it in stages, over a couple of posts.

Now I, personally, have not had to make this decision.  I've contemplated it.  I've strongly considered it – weighing the pros/cons and benefits/risks, etc.  AND, it’s not a done deal.  My SA knows that if he ever chooses his addiction again over his recovery, healing, freedom and his family, it’s over.  I, personally, will NOT be in relationship with an addict that is not intentionally working his recovery.  I just can't.  So, “the big D” has not been completely ruled out forever for me.

So when I speak about divorce (for purpose of ease, the ending of any type of committed relationship will be referred to as divorce), I’m sharing from the observations I've made over the years of working with and knowing PSAs who have had to go through the process and make this difficult choice.

Where do I start?

It’s unfair that we even have to face this issue.  All we wanted was someone who would love us and be committed to us; someone who would cherish us and respect us and the commitment we made to each other; a relationship where we could feel safe.   Then the destructive power of sex addiction wreaked havoc in our lives and relationships.  We were faced with the knowledge of our partner's sex addiction - of our partner not being who we thought they were and the relationship not being what we thought it was, either.

I dedicate today's post to those who have already made the decision and are either in the middle of the messiness of divorce or on the other side of the difficult, painful process of ending the relationship:

There are so many different thoughts/beliefs/emotions/small decisions that had to be sorted through to reach this HUGE decision: kids (if there were any), and the impact divorce would have on them; family of origin or religious beliefs about divorce; financial security; loss of friends and family; loss of dreams; loss of relationship; loss of parts of yourself; not to mention the collateral damage of the acting out behaviors our SA was involved in!  Whether it’s been 5 years or 5 months since the decision to divorce was made, there are some things that I’d love to say; either to validate, encourage, or aid you in your healing journey. *Disclaimer: We all are broken; we all bring our own stuff to a relationship.  Sometimes, we don't do all we need to do in order to heal and salvage a relationship that is salvageable.  That is another topic, so for this post, I am going to talk as if all that could be done was done - capisce?

  1. IT'S. NOT. YOUR. FAULT.  Even if (and that's an IF, not a given) you had to work through some enabling behaviors - YOU did NOT cause the addiction.   YOU were not in ANY WAY responsible for controlling your SA's addiction.  YOU could not cure the addiction.  You could have been the perfect woman and your SA still may not have chosen recovery and healing.  This is NOT about you not being good enough or lovable enough (If he loved me more...)
  2. I’m sorry.  I’m sorry your dream of a life with the person you loved was ripped out from under you.  I’m sorry that either the damage that was done was so severe, it could not be healed; or that your SA never did the work that was necessary to recover, be sober and bring safety and trust back into the relationship.  I’m sorry for all the loss you've had to endure.
  3. I’m proud of you.  Yes, you heard me right: I’m proud of you.  It takes an enormous amount of strength to fight through all the pain, loss, confusion, other voices – not to mention our own emotions – and do what truly was the best thing for you (and your children).
  4. Grieving is not only okay, it's necessary.  The loss of the relationship is a death of sorts, and the grieving process is also part of the healing process.  Accepting that it hurts, despite what our SA has done, to say goodbye and allowing ourselves to grieve is what helps us process THROUGH the pain - it's the way of release.  So give yourself permission to grieve as though it hurts like hell, because that's exactly what the ripping apart of divorce is.
  5. As a women in one of my groups has said, "This is not the end of the story."  The end of a chapter in the story, yes, but NOT the end of the story.  I heard a quote recently that ties into this so perfectly.  It's from Winston Churchill – “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”  Have hope.  Cling to the promise that there can be beauty and joy and life and love again. This was not the end of the story; this decision did not induce fatality.
  6. Depending on where you're at in your journey, or which chapter you are in your story, you will experience different needs.  Here are some tools that might help meet your needs:
    1. Support groups; which do not necessarily need to focus on PSA topics or addictions.  In these groups you can find not only emotional support, but practical support - like what resources are there to help with finding a lawyer, or childcare, or....  You may want to consider groups like DivorceCare. DivorceCare (DC) is a divorce recovery support group where both women and men can find help and healing for the hurt of separation and divorce. Some DC chapters also offer DivorceCare for Kids - a divorce recovery support group to help children, 5-12 years of age.  Google DC in your local city.  Typically there is often a range of support group options in a large(ish) city. 
    2. Online communities: During her 19 years of marriage, author Elisabeth Klein experienced the challenges of her husband’s addiction and abuse. See  for her story.  Elisabeth offers closed (but moderated) Facebook groups for women who are looking for a safe place to share their experiencesclick here to read more about her groups.
    3. Again, depending on where you are at, you may be ready for your own version of, "Eat, Pray, Love" (Does anybody else wish they could have a girls night to watch this movie right now?).  If you're not familiar with this book/movie, it's about a woman's journey after divorce to find herself again - to get in touch with her passions (eat); find her peace in spirituality (pray); and begin to dream again (love).  Always wanted to take those salsa classes?  Why not now?  Or maybe it's an art class, or kickboxing, or.....   Maybe it's time to focus on inner peace and connect anew with your higher power.  The main character (in the movie) says, "I used to have an appetite for my life and now it's gone." and, "Since I was 15, I've always either been with a guy or breaking up with a guy...I've not given myself two weeks of a breather just to deal with myself."  Sound familiar?  Could it be time to awaken that appetite for life?
    4. IF you're feeling like your season of grieving is lessening, yet you're still feeling stuck, it may be time to "invest in your future".  Helping professionals are around for just this reason.  Consider spending some time with either a therapist or a life coach (depending on your needs).  If you're nervous about reaching out for help this way because you've been "burned" by a "helping" professional before, go to  There you will find both therapists and life coaches that have been trained to work SPECIFICALLY with a trauma awareness/focused approach.  
    5. When you reach the day you find yourself beginning to entertain the possibilities of being in a relationship again, take this time to REALLY do some soul searching.  Have you worked on "your stuff" (We ALL have some stuff - right!)?  Do you know what healthy boundaries are, and will be, in this new relationship?  Do you know what healthy intimacy and sexuality is? Again, if you're in this place, and need help, this is where life coaching can play a huge role.
Sisters, what am I missing?  For those of you who have gone through this, or are going through this, what messages would you say to each other?  What resources would you want to give to someone out there who is in the middle of it?  What has helped you/is helping you?

Next week I'll share my thoughts for those who haven't decided if divorce is the answer or not, and for those of us who have decided to stay, but care about those who needed to move on.  Until then, I hope everyone who reads my thoughts, whether divorce is an issue or not, can find something they can glean and use in their lives.  

My parting thoughts: This is not the end of the story.  There is always hope.  You can have life and joy and love again.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Sorry Not Sorry

So, I was watching a show on my computer the other day with my kids (American Ninja Warrior RULES!!!), and this ad came on.  Usually I mute the commercials, since it's not DVR and I can't skip them, but this one came up and caught my attention IMMEDIATELY! My heart rate picked up, and I wanted to run through the streets shouting, YES!!!!! THIS!!!!!  This is what we need to hear!  Even now, when I think about many of you I know out there, reading my blog, and how excited I am for you to see this, my heart is racing a little!  Please take a minute (literally, it's only 1:01 long) and watch this video.  It is worth every second.  In fact, if you're anything like me, you may watch it a number of times to let the full message truly sink in and let the seed be planted.  Here's the link:  Sorry Not Sorry

There's been some push-back to this video - people saying some stupid thing like "Way to teach women to not be polite".  I disagree.  Vehemently.  I have to admit, this topic gets my water boiling a bit - so to speak.  (You may pick up on this in just a bit).

The message, as I see it, goes so much deeper than many people realize.  We all bring our own stories; our own "filters" into the way we view things.  My "filter" includes not just my story, but the stories of the women I've come across over the past three years. Women who are so tired of feeling like they're the "bad guy" for asking for ______ (fill in the blank).  Women who have been gaslighted and told they were being too demanding; expecting too much; too co-dependent and should be focusing on themselves NOT the behavior of their SA; women who have been told they need to "move on" and "heal", even though safety has NOT been established in the relationship.

The result, far too often, has been that we feel like we have to apologize for wanting what we want.  Like wanting a healthy relationship is unreasonable.  Like wanting to feel safety in our relationship is asking WAY to much.  Like wanting to see evidence of change or remorse or desperation for freedom (from our SA) is just absurd!!!

I'm sorry, but I'M NOT SORRY!!!!
Add c

  • I'm NOT sorry that I expect my SA to live like he's desperate to be free - for life!
  • I'm NOT sorry that I require honesty and accountability in his recovery AND in our relationship!
  • I'm NOT sorry that I expect my SA to connect with and validate the pain I've felt and CONTINUE to feel due to his past acting out, and the collateral damage it's brought us!
  • I'm NOT sorry for wanting and expecting fidelity from myself AND my partner!
  • I'm NOT sorry for being broken, feeling broken, and needing things because of my brokenness!


Now hear me - I'm NOT saying I expect perfection.  I'm NOT saying that I don't expect recovery and healing to be a difficult, messy, and LONG road.  I know this takes time and hard work - I DON'T expect either of us to get there overnight.

I'm also NOT using this as an excuse to be demanding.   I don't use the things I want as something to hold over my SA's head.  This is not my point NOR my heart.

What I am saying is that I refuse to apologize, back down from, or feel like I have to beg for what is healthy and good.  And you don't have to, either.

What I am saying is that I will live my life, free from guilt, expecting certain things from the person I am in relationship with.  I will ask for those things, with love and respect - knowing I will gladly give in return anything I am asking for.  And so can you.

I will say I'm sorry when the situation calls for it (after all, I'm not perfect!).  I will say my "please" and "thank you's" - because I believe people have value, and I want to treat them as such - not for some stupid rule, and DEFINITELY not because I feel I owe it to them.

So, now I've shared my little impassioned speech on the topic of "sorry, not sorry"... what does this stir in you?  How do you relate?  Do you or have you struggled with this in your past?  Are you stuck there now?  If not, what helped you find empowerment?  

If this is a message you hear from people around you, and don't know how to respond, let me know.  I'd love to help you find the tools you need to be able to live from a place of "sorry, not sorry"!

Until next time, ladies, take care!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Musings on Authenticity

So, this post is a first for me, and I'm very excited.  Humbled, honored, and excited.
Curious yet?  I got my first request to blog about a specific topic!!!  
One of the women that reads my blog emailed me and asked me to blog about the topic of authenticity, and the challenges PSAs face as it pertains to this difficult attribute.  It came on the heels of my post about kintsugi, and was inspired by a blog she read about the "habits of highly authentic people". For a look at that blog, follow this link:
I've been chewing on this topic for almost two weeks now.  Questioning myself; reflecting on what it's taken for me and others I've observed to be authentic; letting the thoughts grow and refine over time.

So, where do I start?  

I'm kind of a word nerd.  I'm not too great with spelling, but the meanings of words are interesting and powerful to me.  So, let's start there.  What, EXACTLY, does authentic mean?  There are variations, depending on which source you use, but the online Merriam-Webster dictionary describes authentic as: "real or genuine; not copied or false... true and accurate".  We can take it one step further and go to Wikipedia, to read the "philosophical" definition of authenticity.  Here it is: "authenticity is the degree to which one is true to one's own personality, spirit, or character, despite external pressures."
Being authentic is a struggle.  Period. ESPECIALLY for women - We're told how a "lady" should act, talk, look, dress... We're pressured both externally and internally to conform to what society says is "attractive", "fun" or "desirable". Being a little tongue-in-cheek, I'll quote Jane Austin's Pride and Prejudice... 
"No (woman) can be really esteemed accomplished who does not greatly surpass what is usually met with.  A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half-deserved."  I love Elizabeth's response to this, "I am no longer surprised at your knowing only six accomplished women.  I rather wonder now at your knowing any."  (Side note - if you've not seen this movie, I HIGHLY recommend it!)
In addition to that, we live in a culture that repeatedly tells us to present our best self.  Our strengths; our accomplishments - those are the things we put on display for others to see.  If we were to expose our weaknesses - the things we DON'T like about ourselves - well, we're conditioned to believe that people will run for the hills if they knew those parts of us.
So, authenticity, even in "normal", everyday life, is difficult to live in OR find in others.
Add to that the complexities of being (or having been) in relationship with a SA.
According to the blog referenced above, authentic people could be summed up like this: They take care of themselves, exude and invite transparency, know themselves well, make the most of every situation, listen to others, don't complain, take full responsibility for their lives, support others, have high self-esteem, and don't get upset when someone doesn't like them.  I feel like Elizabeth - are there really any such people?!?  I'd be surprised if you know of any!
Now, I don't know about you, but the more I read and reflected on the messages of this blog, the more frustrated and angry I became.  *Point of clarification - I'm not disagreeing with this other blog, just challenging how this "simplistic" approach to authenticity is EXTREMELY difficult to MOST PSAs, not to mention minimizing of the damage that has been done to us.  There are nuances here that with a little change of wording or explanation can make a WORLD of difference to a PSA. 
She states, (Authentic people) "aren't afraid to express their opinions even though those opinions might be different than the opinions of the majority".  Well, as nice as this sounds, when you've been in a relationship where there is gaslighing, this is easier said than done.  Over years and years of your opinion being questioned and challenged by the person who's supposed to be on your side - well, you eventually begin to doubt that your opinions are valid or accurate.  If this goes on long enough, you begin to not only doubt your opinion - you loose it.  You don't even know what your opinion is anymore!  How can you express your opinion if you don't know what it is?!!!
"Being driven by inner-motion rather than external triggers".  In addition to the afore mentioned issues PSAs have with knowing and trusting their "voice" (or as this woman says, "inner-motion"), this statement, to me, is a bit minimizing of the trauma-response that PSAs have to deal with.  This isn't just a "mind over matter" kind of thing.  When we're triggered, we go into a trauma-response on the BIOLOGICAL level.  The amount of effort and intentionality required to "be driven by inner-motion rather than ... triggers", especially in the beginning of our journey (OR, if our SA is not stable in his recovery, and thus continually re-traumatizing us), is ENORMOUS.  
Our stories are different, but put them all together and PSA's have been gaslighted, dis-empowered, forced to face consequences that have NOTHING to do with their choices, told we're the reason for the issue/we're not good enough, and been isolated.  
So, what's the answer?  How do we, as PSAs, go about this fight to gain authenticity?  
As I was thinking about this topic, I was reminded of that movie, "Runaway Bride".  A part of the story that has always stood out to me was a very subtle part of the plot.  As Richard Gere's character was interviewing the grooms that Julia Robert's character had run away from, he always asked them, "How did she like her eggs?"  Their answer.... "_______, just like me." The point was that she always liked whatever kind of eggs the guy she was with liked - she didn't know herself. At the end of the movie, she takes time to find herself.  She even cooks eggs every way you can to figure out which style of eggs she likes the best.  

My point?  Authenticity begins with knowing yourself.  Or, in some cases, rediscovering who you are.  Some of us have lost so much of ourselves that doing this will take a lot of work!  

As I see it, authenticity requires three things: knowing yourself, accepting yourself, and sharing yourself (living out who you truly are).

So, firstly, what are some keys to finding yourself again?  I pose three questions to help you find yourself -either again, or deeper than you know now... (You should know, these three questions can't be answered quickly; this is a PROCESS that takes time, intentionality, and energy.)

     1. Who am I?
  • What am I good at?
  • What do I like about myself?
  • How would my friends describe me?
  • Where am I weak?
  • What do I NOT like about myself?
Here's where I change the wording of things.  In the way I look at it, authentic people don't necessarily focus on "self-esteem" (the confidence in one's own worth or abilities; self-respect) , but rather acceptance of who they are.  Acceptance.  Meaning, acceptance of yourself; acceptance that there are beautiful, wonderful things about you AS WELL AS broken and "ugly" things, too.  There's no need to defend your brokenness - you are what you are.  Stand in the freedom of being okay with who you are, right now, knowing that you are on a journey toward healing and wholeness.  

     2. Who do I want to be?
  • What characteristics do I want to exhibit?
    • As a person
    • As a wife/girlfriend/fiancee, etc
    • As a mom
    • As a friend
  • What do I see as beautiful and valuable...
    • Internally
    • Externally
  • How do I want to react/respond when faced with...
    • Triggers
    • Communication breakdowns
    • Scary or difficult circumstances
This is where vision comes into play.  Take away all the "What if's", and just let yourself imagine how you most wish you could be - ENVISION it!  Don't let any of the "I should be ... or I should want... or I should do..." enter into this visioning time.  We are trying to know ourselves - NOT what other people MIGHT say we should be.  This is also where thinking outside the box and trying new things can come into play.  Sometimes, a shift in perspective makes a huge difference - look at rediscovering yourself as an adventure, not a chore.  Have fun with it!

     3. What can I do to become this person?
  • Are there books or articles written on the virtues I want to grow in?
  • Are there activities that will draw out the qualities I want to exhibit?
  • Is there something new I can try that will help me get in touch with my likes and dislikes?
The last thing I see authentic people doing is sharing themselves.  As a PSA, this can be tricky - who can I share my true struggles and brokenness with? Who is safe?  This, to me, is where the value of support and process groups come in.  Whether it's one of my groups, S-Anon, COSA, church group... a "community" of authentic people is the best place to find healing and freedom; to live out our authentic selves.  If the group dynamic is too overwhelming to you, not appealing to you, or not available to you, then finding a person here or there - whether it's family, friends, or a helping professional - is crucial to living out authenticity. 

The other blogger said, "These (authentic) people are rare – it takes courage and self-confidence to be who you really are despite...".  I would agree.  It takes A LOT of courage - ESPECIALLY when some of us have been so knocked down - to take on this challenge of finding, accepting, and sharing ourselves.  But there's a freedom and empowerment that comes along with living from an authentic place.  I believe it's worth the effort, and then some.

How about you?  Where do you run up against roadblocks to being authentic?  What kinds of qualities do authentic people you know exude?  

And to my reader who requested this topic - I hope you have enjoyed this post.