Tag Archives: recovery

Resistance to receiving gifts

One of my internal struggles in intimate relationships is the vulnerability associated with receiving. Allowing pleasure from someone’s gesture or gift creates an opening of awareness that the behavior of another person can impact me. It brings a desire for something that is never guaranteed because it is outside of my realm of control. It is provided by someone other than me and it’s offering is unpredictable and therefore unsettling. Even when receiving the gift brings me pleasure, the gut wrenching awareness of wanting and needing something from others can rob me of the feeling the gift was meant to evoke. Enjoying the gift feels like handing over power to the person who provided the gift because it is met with immediate knowledge that the same person can take the gift away just as fast and unexpectedly.

This pattern developed alongside the unveiling of knowledge that some of the gifts I received from a past partner came backed by ill intentions hidden to me at their offering. The person who extended the pleasure knew that they were giving me something to get something in return. There were strings attached. Once the ill intentions came into my knowledge, I no longer had a place reserved for the joy I experienced from their offering. This experience killed my ability to believe that a similar level of joy is possible from gifts or actions that are actually tied to good intentions. It is hard to trust that some gifts are about nothing more than creating an experience for me and that in itself is a motivating factor for those that love me.

The thought behind this pattern is that no one offers a gift without strings attached. Before I receive a gift, I take on the responsibility of trying to figure out what strings come attached to my pleasure. This exercise obliterates the entire experience for both the recipient (me) and for the giver. The gift giving ceases because no fun is derived from the hunt I have created. When I no longer receive gifts, fuel is added to the story I tell myself about my unworthiness for being loved by someone.

I want to believe that some gifts are offered for no larger reason. I want to invite the possibility that some people derive pleasure from just the act of giving a gift. I want to feel powerful when I receive a gift because I am worth it.

Understanding my current thoughts is the first step to changing my thought patterns. When I can develop new thoughts, new emotions will become available and I will begin to act from a set of different emotions to get the outcomes I desire in my life.


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No more bathroom floors

Last night I ended up on the bathroom floor of a restaurant curled into a fetal position, crying. I cannot count the number of times I have found myself on the floor of some random bathroom across America over the last 5.5 years since my ex-husbands arrest. I have found refuge in these bathrooms at the times where I couldn’t breathe because fear was taking over my body or because I needed a sanctuary to feel safe before breaking into tears.

Early on in my recovery,  it was all of the weddings that I said “yes” to attending or even planning (yes, I was a wedding planner and continued to plan weddings even week’s after the inciting incident). I wanted desperately to operate under the veil of business as usual – showing up for friends as I always had and celebrating their lives as I loved to do – pretending that the huge gap of not having my husband by my side would not cause the meltdowns that would creep up  in secret bathrooms everywhere. I learned to buy waterproof mascara and time my tears perfectly to the tune of the vows that caused other attendees to tear up at the same time. As the couple exited the aisle at the end of the ceremony, I would make my exit to the closest bathroom where I could have my private moment where my tiny tears turned into meltdowns.

I had forgotten most of those experiences until I found myself on the bathroom floor last night. The exact reason for the tears was not the same. I am no longer mourning the loss of my marriage or the life I thought I would have by this present moment, but can still find myself surprised by the lasting impact those events have had on my life.

Small language choices by my boyfriend during our dinner conversation last night seemed to hint that his current transitional period in his life will result in a different version of himself. I know that humans evolve over time and life pretty much guarantees that the person I share dinners with today will shift during the duration of our relationship, but the part of my brain that stores my trauma wants to react now to build safety.

As my boyfriend’s excitement grew, I disconnected into an entirely different place. Every word coming from his mouth led my body to harden further into a frozen state. I stopped breathing. I began to repeat a mantra into my head that “he is not the person I think he is.” I pulled out a microscope and began to hunt for evidence to support the idea that he was just one sentence away from a big reveal that would alter my life. I can no longer hear what he is saying because I shift into a person with limitless questions digging to find certainty where certainty doesn’t exist.

What struck me the next day is that my way of confronting the pain – alone and behind a closed door – has not changed. It is the same as it was years ago. I am still resisting acceptance that I have been impacted by the repeated 10 year span of dishonesty by the person with whom I created an intimate life.

This resistance prohibits my healing. I am not honoring my story by ignoring its existence all together. The moment I feel my breath stop,  I am given an opportunity to choose differently. I can see that I am in a triggered state of fear and ask for a pause in the conversation. I can choose a different mantra in that quiet moment that acknowledges my experience and the recovery work I’ve done over the past several years. I can pay attention to my surroundings and remember that I am in a present moment that is a far distance from the past. I can look my boyfriend in the eye and use that point of connection to see that he is not my ex-husband and I too am not the version of myself that existed years ago. I have recovery. I can take the pause to remind myself that I do trust myself and that foundation exists so I can take risks in trusting others. I can be gentle with myself and remember that I am worthy of love and loving if I love myself and give myself permission to love myself in that moment. And at a minimum, I can remember to breathe and let each inhale and exhale slow my brain and relax the frozen limbs of my body.



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I Choose What to See (Sort of)

I recognized almost immediately following my ex-husband’s arrest that I would need help navigating my path into whatever future version of life would unfold. I sought a therapist to support my journey and was shocked to find two things.

  1. Every therapist discussed divorce in my initial meeting. This robbed me of my agency to know what decision was best for me and superimposed a timeline that ignored every personal value in favor of something that was societally comfortable.
  2. “What weren’t you seeing?” was the most prominent question across every conversation with a therapist. This had a hidden undertone that there were signs that existed that I had willingly and consciously tuned out of my vision. I believe things are revealed to us when we are ready. We don’t need to be on a vigilant hunt.

Neither of these were helpful. Eventually I chose someone who supported my own discovery and unfolding of the first point, but who pushed me to think through the second often and early.

While I am an advocate for understanding my side of the street, a 12-stepper phrase that symbolizes my responsibility in any situation, doing so early on in the grieving process did not serve me as a client. It is not exactly like asking “what did you do to cause this?,” but it felt that way. It created a deep doubt in myself to be witness to my own experience.

That doubt still surfaces today. When my current partner and I experience the same event differently, I assume that I am wrong. I convince myself that there is some detail that I am simply unable to see because I have chosen to be blind and if only I can search for and find that detail, then everything will be OK. In this hunt, I define OK as having the same experience. I am fine to contort myself in any way required to find that alignment because my fear of discovering that I am living a very different reality alongside a romantic partner is debilitating.

The logical part of me understands that the lens each of us uses to filter our world is unique and built from the accumulation of each of our experiences. The problem is that I don’t trust my lens because it’s been wrong in the past. The questioning by the professionals early on in my journey caused me to question my very being. I took on an overblown level of responsibility and created a story that everything was my fault. I didn’t think I was the reason that my ex-husband had become an addict but I was responsible being in a relationship with an addict.

What I see now, with the space over the last several years, is that they were right in a sense. The lens I use for filtering is my choice. Before making that choice, I must be aware of my default lens and accept that lens. Only then can I examine how it’s flawed and distorted. When I ignore the original lens, I discount my experience in a way that does not serve me. Seeing my default story – that my experience is a figment of my imagination – creates the choice to see something different. That choice releases me from my desire to have someone validate my original lens. I have done it myself by acknowledging everything that exists for me, including my flawed lens.

That is the key to freeing myself from assigning the value of an experience as right or wrong and instead shifts my focus to trusting my own experience.

What do you need to trust today?

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Then and now

I am back after a hiatus from blogging for more than 4 years. I hope to unfold the story of what has occurred between then and now over the coming weeks. My blog entries from today forward will represent what is true today as I reflect back on the events that were the catalyst for my creating this site. I am in the process of writing a book about my experience. My goal in doing so is to be a voice for secondary victims – the women who are impacted by the sex addiction of others and whose trauma and story, while intertwined, stand on their own.

My original intent in creating this site was to reflect on my own life – a life that seemed to evolve without my consent – and to send a calling out to the internet world to find others like me. I was stunned (and still am in searches today) about how little voice our group holds in the Internet space. I know far more today than I did years ago and have the pleasure of meeting women from all walks of life impacted by their significant other’s sex addiction. There have been tiny signs calling me to revisit my story publicly and those signs have grown stronger over the last year.

As women, we put tremendous pressure on ourselves to keep everything together, even when life brings us chaos. In my writing this week I was reflecting on the extent of the pressure I put on myself to handle trauma perfectly, partially because of the plethora of opinions coming into my world, but more so because I thought keeping it together would somehow make things easier. Pretending can disguise itself as a savior.

With each step on my journey, I was fearful that any misstep would somehow end me and begin an unraveling that happened anyway. The months between my husband’s arrest and our therapist assisted disclosure process seemed to drag on endlessly. When the time finally arrived, the pressure to create the list of questions to guide the discussion felt a lot like trying to drive from Point A (total lack of knowledge) to Point B (perfect knowledge) without any road signs or assistance. Until the few months prior, I hadn’t known that sex addiction existed and I was somehow supposed to know the exact questions I should ask to uncover the extent of the life that was happening behind the scenes. It felt oddly like my only opportunity to procure information from my husband. One of the pieces of feedback that came back from my therapist at the sex addiction center was “it feels like you are really focussed on communication, which seems good between you and your husband” and “you should end with questions 3 and 4.” I was dumbfounded. How could communication be good when he had been hiding a big secret from me for nearly 10 years. I simultaneously felt like an idiot for being introduced to an idea that the questions should follow a certain order. I could hardly keep my thoughts straight let alone a line of questions that was supposed to uncover the truth of our existence as a couple.

What I wish I had known then, and which I now know, is that disclosure was just a starting point. It was one step in a long chain of information gathering which still exists today, many years later. The things that were important then became less important over time and new places of focus and curiosity emerged later in the process. There is no proper unfolding or one single event that will reveal everything magically. The only part of my experience that happened in an instance was a phone call from my husband’s mother letting me know he was in jail for soliciting minors online. Everything else was an evolution. And while we all know that patience is a virtue, what I wish I could give to the version of myself back then is patience for myself and a gentle affirmation that buying a matching bra and underwear set to wear during disclosure is ok. Anything I needed as OK. It sill is.

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What is the lesson

I started off the week sitting heavily with the idea that my marriage would not survive. My husband plead into a felony charge which has its own set of repercussions, but most prominently in my mind was the sex offender registration. A label required as a result of his conviction. We spent last weekend having some open conversations about the imminent changes and I was on a high horse about the open flow of communication and then it hit me like a brick wall. We were at dinner on Sunday – his treat, celebrating my recent promotion – and I said something along the lines of “I am the only shot you have to a normal future; I am your light to what would otherwise be darkness. You are the only darkness in my future that would otherwise be light and full of opportunity.”

Two major things occurred as the result of those few words:

1. He agreed. Initially I felt validated, but a day passed and I was beside myself. This was one of the core issues. My continued practice of mandating our emotions on every issue and his tendency to just go along with it – even when it is completely diminishing his self worth. Wasn’t all his therapy supposed to be helping him find his self worth and speak his truth?

2. My thinking needed to change if I wanted my marriage to survive. At the suggestion of my therapist I was to do some serious thinking around where I could see my husband bringing expansion and light into my future, despite the legal repercussions and why I wanted to continue living in this partnership and marriage.

Each time I sat down to put words on paper, attempting to answer those two questions, I found myself completely stumped – unable to verbalize this connection I had been holding onto for years. I felt total insecurity about any thought that popped into my mind – struggling to determine if this or that was reason enough, convinced there had to be something more. And so I left each session frustrated and doubtful. And my actions the remainder of the week fed into those insecurities.

Trust – as my insecurities grew, I lost my trust in our relationship and particularly in my husband. I convinced myself that if I was having such a difficult time identifying the light in our future and the reasons why I wanted to remain his wife, there must not be a foundation to our partnership. So I doubted everything.

  • I came home in the evenings looking for evidence that he had been on my computer
  • I left work a couple hours early one day and thought it best to surprise him rather than calling to say I was on my way
  • I discovered he had thrown away a dying plant and instead of asking him about it in a straightforward manner I said “do you have something to tell me,” wondering what tidbit of honesty may pour from his mouth
  • I became anxious when he texted me to say he would call when he was off work and his call came 30 minutes later than he normally gets off work

So how did I deal with these surfacing emotions? I had brief conversations with him about how I was feeling, but felt paralyzed by expressing the actual largeness of my feelings. What was the point? How far can I really drive the message into our conversations without causing total discouragement all together – how will we build the trust back up effectively? Is it even possible?

And so I shifted my thinking. I fantasized about what I would accomplish without him. The opportunity to move internationally with work – something we have both dreamt of in the past but where the possibility is now real for me. I took strides into making myself look and feel more attractive. I changed the motions for getting ready in the morning – laying emphasis on things I generally pass over. I bought a few new pieces of clothes to highlight the weight I have lost over the past year. I began to look at men as possibilities – both those that I interact closely with and those that I passed by in the course of life.

I took my insecurities and lack of trust and shifted to a place where rather than putting work into getting to the root of those issues, I assumed this marriage could not survive and started living life accordingly.

And last night I played a fine game of manipulation. I had spent part of the afternoon at a child’s birthday party which brought up a separate set of emotions that I was not in the mindset to face. When Steve got off work we had planned to head into Denver for a street food event – originally presented between us as a fun date night idea. But that idea quickly dwindled and we fell into our old, pre-recovery roles. The night played out as it would have years ago, before we even got engaged.

He invited another couple. I got excited about heading into Denver and mentioned it to a couple of my coworkers and friends. I started planning what else we could do since we were already going to be in Denver. I made commitments without discussing them with my husband and spent the original event and reason for going into Denver thinking about how I was going to convince my husband to get the rest of the evening I had planned to play out.

One of those plans was to meet a male coworker at a bar. That alone should have been a red flag but more importantly, this is a male coworker who knows what is happening in my personal life, whose wife was out of town, who was drunk and asking me to meet him at a bar. I focussed mentally on the innocence of meeting him – my husband is with me, we have a professional relationship, he is just a good friend. But my subconscious flirted along the lines of the scandalous possibilities. And that is where it went. Though we were at the bar for less than an hour, I spent my time evenly balanced between participating in a group game of Jenga with my husband and our friend that had gone into Denver with us and having sidebar inappropriate discussions with my coworker, eating up his compliments and sexual innuendos. And my interactions with this coworker validated the idea that my marriage was not going to survive and gave me satisfaction because I was taking the upper hand – I was setting into motion the events that would lead to its demise. I was owning a role as an unfaithful wife, not the wife of a sex addict.

I woke up feeling awful this morning. What was I thinking? Where do I go from here?

I need more time to answer the original questions posed by my therapist. Could there be a lesson in this?

If you believe in it, it will happen. I have the power to make a choice. I have to determine what I want that choice to be. And if its to end my marriage, I need to expect better for myself – repeating this pattern is unimaginable and my actions last night didn’t show promise.

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