Monday, March 31, 2014

Oceans, Undertow, and Self-Care

An Auzzie surfer at Bells Beach, Australia (I took this photo!)
A little over three years ago, I had the sublime pleasure of travelling to Australia to visit one of my besties in her homeland.  To say I'd like to go back is an understatement. Australia is a beautiful country.  The people are super friendly, the culture is rich, and the love of the ocean and recreation is contagious.

A beach near Kona, HI, that requires a ride in a
4 WD vehicle to get there!
Waipio Valley, Big Island, HI
I've also had the immense delight of going to Kona, Hawaii four times. My husband's family lived there, and every time one of his sisters got married - well, we had to suffer and go to their weddings in that stunning place.

It is my dream to one day live there.  It. Will. Happen.

So, what on earth does this have to do with this blog?  Is this turning into a travel blog? (Don't I wish!!!  Can you even?  Traveling the world, taking pictures, and getting to write about the places I'd see would just about be the best job ever!  But I digress).

No - not a travel blog.  If you've been reading my posts for any time now, you've learned that I like my visuals.  Pictures stay much more readily in my mind - if I can assign something significant to a picture, all I have to do is look at or think of that picture, and all the information/details can be more easily recalled.

So, what IS today's visual?

It has to do with oceans.  More specifically, with the dangers of the ocean.  There are a number of them (don't even get me started on my fear of SHARKS!!!).  Today I'm thinking about the "old" term and idea of an "undertow".

Set of rapidly crashing waves
The idea of an undertow is that waves come so quickly that once you get knocked down or pulled under by the first wave, you don't have time to get out of the way of the next wave.  The danger, therefore, is that you can't get to the surface and find the air you need to breathe before the next wave comes.

It's difficult to stay calm and think rationally when the waves don't let up, and you feel like you aren't going to survive.  And yet, those who enter the ocean aware of the dangers of "undertow" or rip currents, and know what to do if they get caught in one - those are the people who make it out of the dangerous waves alive.

Does anyone else feel like I've just described their life?

Last week was an "undertow" kind of week for me.  One thing after the other kept hitting me, and there were moments when the darkness that was pulling me under created palpable fear.  The things that were hitting me weren't directly related to my SA, though one thing did relate to the topic of sex addiction/pornography.  It was a HUGE trigger; a 20 foot wave, at least.

I've worked hard over the past three years to "know the dangers" of "going for a swim", and what to do if I start to get pulled under.  I'd like to share a key to surviving the undertow with you.  It's an aspect of self-care...

I was fortunate to be guided to Marsha Means, and the book and workbook she co-wrote/wrote, EARLY in my healing journey.  Much of what she bases her workbook on comes from "The Life Model."  I'd like to share a quote from her workbook that explains something VITAL to surviving undertows in life:

"It is essential... to build joy strength and assist us in returning to joy because that's what healing requires.  If a person in recovery is not empowered by joy, it may be impossible to face the pain and work through it.  In fact, the amount of joy strength available to you needs to BE HIGHER than the amount of your pain for you to heal." (Marsha Means, Journey to Healing and Joy, page 3)

So, what does that mean, exactly?  It means, basically, that we MUST do things that bring us joy.  I know, I know - sometimes, the water is so dark, and the waves are coming so fast, that we can't think of anything else but the danger we are in.  When you're in that situation, I hope that there are those around you who can see you need help; or you have people around you who you can call out to help for.  Once you are able, though, it is imperative that you build your "joy strength".  Others will call this our "resiliency" - our ability to "bounce back" or adapt properly to stress or adversity.  If our joy center is depleted, the next time a "wave" hits us, we have no reserve to draw from - our ability to bounce back is near zero.

That is why self-care is a topic I return to time and time again - for the women in my groups and for ME.  When adversity/stress hits, my joy center takes a hit.  I then intentionally take steps to refill my joy center.  For me, this means even though I really, really don't feel like it, I get my butt to the gym and go for a run.  Does it solve all my problems?  Uh, not even close.  But it does release those precious endorphins, and increases my self-confidence as well as my feelings of health and well-being.   For me, this also means I submerse myself in music that helps me connect to God.  There are other things I do, too, but you get the idea.

Last week, one of my groups and I talked for some time about the importance of filling our joy center.  I challenged them to think about one thing they could do over the course of the week that would make a "deposit into their joy center."  THEN, I asked them when they were going to do it.  Now, I pose those questions to you:

  • What are some things you can do that will help to fill your joy center?  
    • If you're having trouble thinking of things, try to recall things you did in the past that brought you a lot of joy - painting, taking pictures, playing or listening to music, going for a hike/being in nature, getting pedi/manis, talking with a friend.... 
  • WHEN will you do this activity?
    • It's SUPER important to actually plan to do self-care.  In the middle of our busy lives, if we're not intentional about filling our joy center, it's not going to happen.  
Sisters, undertows are going to happen.  They are a part of life, let alone a part of life impacted by SA.  They don't have to destroy us, though, if we take care of ourselves and make it a priority to fill our joy center.  

How do you fill your joy center?  When was the last time you did something to fill your joy center?  Can you commit to yourself (and your group, if you have one) to make it a priority to do things that will fill you up?  When will you start?  How often can you fit something in to your schedule?  I'd love to hear your thoughts - a way you fill your joy center may inspire others to try the same thing!

Monday, March 24, 2014

What Are We Going to Do?

This will probably be the first in a number of posts I may end up writing about this subject, over time, and I'm hoping that feedback will be plentiful - because this isn't just about me and my story, it's about the millions of others who are out there - sisters who, unfortunately, have had the issue of SA affect their life in traumatic ways.

What are we going to do....

For the women who are struggling to make sense of things - finding  themselves in a world that they never even knew existed?

For the women who were just blindsided by their SA's disclosure, and are so reeling from the shock of it, they can't even tell you what they need?

For the women who have had enough of empty promises from their SA, but don't know what to do?

For the women who know things aren't good, and that they should leave their SA (at least for a little while), but have no where to go?

For the women who choose to leave their unchanging, un-recovering SA, and are now forced into living life as a single mom?

For the women whose SA's acting out has crossed the legal line, and now find themselves stranded without a partner/husband/father, and can't make it on their own?

What are we going to do?

Where do we start?

Well, that's where the feedback part that I'm hoping for comes in.  Because I have a vision.  I have a passion to see a place - a center, if you will, where the needs of these stories, and more, can be met.  So, as I begin to try to formulate the whats and whys and hows; as I try to put into words the impact such a place would have in the lives of partners (to possible financial backers) - I would love to have real stories; real experiences; real desires; real needs as my foundation.

SO, wherever you are at in your journey...

What has been most helpful to you?
What has been most damaging to you?
What do you wish you knew?
What questions would you have addressed/answered?
What do you wish you could have?  Or could do?
What form of help do you wish were more available?
What resources have you looked for, but not been able to find?
What was/is missing?

Why do PSAs (Partners of Sex Addicts) need specialized help?

How would these things make an impact on your healing?
How could you be better equipped to deal with the issues facing PSAs?
How could a center for PSAs help you rebuild your life in the wake of SA?

Would you be willing to share some of your answers to these questions?  Not only will it help me as I try to get more voices speaking to these questions, but I truly believe if we can look at our pain, and find some sort of purpose in it - that can be a big aspect of healing for us.  

And, I put this out there, too - do you know others who would want to help?  I'm talking men/women who would want to contribute - through connecting me to someone, or helping with fundraising, or volunteering their talent (web design, etc.), or ....  something to answer this question, "What are we going to do?"

I want to make sure I say this - IF you are at a place where you feel you have nothing to give - no worries.  Please - we are asking this question of each other as a means to be there for each other; don't let any shaming thoughts even play in your mind if you are in that place.  WE ALL have those seasons where we need to be the ones who are on the receiving end of help - not the giving.  I've been there.  There is no shame in admitting we are too broken to help others at the moment.  None.  The only thing I ask of you is if you would share with me, how could there be more help for you?  Maybe you would have the desire to answer some of the above questions.

There's so much to do; so much I see that is needed.  I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Living in the "in-between"

Okay, I've been out of commission for a few weeks.  Busy schedule, preparing and conducting a workshop, and adjusting to a new office where there's a lot of distraction has really thrown me off!  Today, I'm back, and ready for a bit of an impassioned post! (So don't say I didn't warn you!)

There's a topic that has been brewing inside me for a couple of months now...

The in-between
I have a new phrase that is my favorite.  I like to call it, "the in-between". The in-between is the hellish time the partner of a SA has to go through that begins when the SA has finally come to the place where they accept they have a problem and are truly embracing recovery, and the time their brain has successfully become rewired, and they can say, "I am recovered".

Side note - This is a VERY complicated and complex issue.  This is NOT a post about the SA's recovery; this is a post about what partners have to go through.  It should be said, though, that there are different theories and ideas out there.  A LOT of new data suggests that sexual addiction, as opposed to, say, alcoholism, is basically "curable".  I read an article recently by Linda Hatch, PhD, where she discusses her belief that a SA can come to the place where they can truthfully make the statement, "I am recovered."  This doesn't mean that the SA wouldn't still need to live life with an awareness of their susceptibility to sexual misbehavior - like I said, it's a complex issue.  There are others who would say that a SA will never be fully recovered - just like an alcoholic.  I am writing this post from the view/belief that an SA's brain CAN be rewired, and they CAN be recovered (as opposed to eternally being "in recovery").

So, back to the in-between.

Most "experts" will say that once a SA truly enters recovery (NOT just simply: "I promise I won't ever do it again), it takes an average of 5 years to come out the other side and enter the world of "I'm recovered."

5 YEARS!!!!!

It could take more or less time, depending on the severity of the addiction, the quality of the help (CSAT, etc), and the dedication to recovery.

But 5 years?!?!?!

Yes.  5 years.  5 years is what we have to REALISTICALLY consider when we are contemplating what it means to be in relationship with a recovering SA.  (At least ) 5 years is what we MUST look at when we are formulating our boundaries and their "consequences".  When we look at how our SA is doing in his recovery: how diligently he's pursuing recovery; how often he's "slipping"; the types of "slips"; and if he relapses - 5 years is what we MUST keep in mind when we ask ourselves: CAN I MAKE IT???

5 years is the "slap in your face" reality that hits us when, 3 years into sobriety, our partner's slip.

Recovery is messy.  It's not the same for everyone, but almost always - it's messy.

And this is what we have to deal with during the in-between.

Any other view of this situation is idealistic, unrealistic, and, quite possibly, denial.

Listen, sisters, there are three things we can not do, for our own healing and safety.

  1. We CAN NOT live in denial about how long this is going to take, and how messy this could be.
  2. We CAN NOT have idealistic and unrealistic expectations of what recovery is going to be like for our SA, nor what our healing journey is going to be like.  BOTH MUST BE INTENTIONAL AND BOTH TAKE HARD WORK!!!
This is why I do what I do.  This is why I write this blog.  This is why I facilitate support and educational groups.  This is why I coach partners of SAs.  We can't do this alone!

5 years.  IF we decide our SA is pursuing recovery the way he should be... IF we are being able to heal, and our relationship is mending - we are STILL looking at dealing with 5 years of the in-between, where slips and messiness is NORMAL.  Milton Magness, one of the leading experts dealing with SA, will cite that only 2% of SA's NEVER SLIP.  

So, let's roll up our sleeves and deal with the crux of the matter for a few moments, shall we?

If you haven't done so already, I encourage you to take some time and make a realistic assessment of YOUR situation (yours is different than mine, which is different from hers....).  Here are some questions to consider:
Assessing what it takes to survive
the in-between
  • Has my SA gotten to the point where he has accepted he has a problem?  (Starting point for the in-between).
  • Has my SA truly embraced recovery?
  • Have I accepted the reality that recovery is messy?
  • Am I preparing myself for the possibility/likelihood of slips?
And here are two VERY important questions:
  • Do I have the support I need to feel safe, heal, grow, stay strong, and make it through the in-between?
  • Based on where I am at in this "in-between", can I endure?  Can I work through the messiness of recovery?  What is my breaking point?  Where is the line that says, "This is too much.  I will loose too much of myself/I can't take much more of this before I crumble internally."?
It is my strong, STRONG belief that if we are NOT asking ourselves these kinds of questions, we are doing ourselves a dis-service.  I've said it before, I'll say it again: knowledge = power.  IF we are to make it through the in-between, then we need to:
  • Know and understand what we are facing.
  • Be prepared for the messiness.
  • Have a strong support base.  For a LONG time.
Again - this is why I do what I do.  IF you are NOT a part of a support group, may I lovingly and imploringly ask you to consider joining one?  We. can. not. do. this. alone.  Can not. Can't.  

Navigating the in-between
Sisters, we can make it.  The in-between is messy, and scary, and potentially dangerous. But we can make it through.  I'd love to hear your questions or your thoughts on this "in-between" time, and what it takes to make it through!!!!

Here's a parting visual for you:

Making it safely through to the end of the in-between