This TED talk gives some great insight on addiction:
10 Years into Recovery: 3 Things I’m Grateful For
My husband struggled with sex addiction for the first 10 years of our marriage, but it has now been 10 years since he relapsed. Along this journey I have had bad days, really REALLY bad days, worse days than even that, moments of joy, peace, and now a profound gratitude for the journey. I admit that I used to hate women who said they felt grateful for the journey. I would shoot daggers at them with my eyes. How dare they use words like “grateful” when my life was falling apart? Yet, as I sit and reflect on this whole journey I have to admit that I have actually turned into one of those “grateful “sorts of women. Here are three things I learned on the journey that I am grateful for.
1. I am grateful for hope.
At times it seemed like my life was destined to include one disastrous event after another. However, over the past few weeks I have been stunned by how much life has changed in the past year alone. I don’t think I could have imagined 10 years ago the life I am living now. It would have been mind blowing. I couldn’t have imagined being almost two years into a graduate degree. I couldn’t have imagined that a struggling teenage son would turn his life around and start to thrive. I couldn’t have imagined how much better the relationship with my husband would become. Many of the things I despaired over have turned out much better than I could have ever foreseen. Knowing this gives me hope that no matter what happens, there is always hope for a brighter future.
2. I am grateful for my imperfections and the imperfections of my loved ones.
I haven’t always felt this way. There was once a time when I wanted everything in my world to be perfect. Perfection meant I was doing everything right and therefore could be lovable. Now I know that love isn’t earned through being perfect. It is about allowing my weaknesses to be seen, and in that process know that I am loved even with my weaknesses. I’m learning that one really doesn’t love fully until they love both the strengths and the weaknesses of another person. Imperfection doesn’t take away from our beauty; it is what makes us beautiful. We are all a wonderful combination of both strengths and weaknesses. Being aware of my own weaknesses has helped me to be more patient with the weaknesses of others. I’m not perfect at letting go of trying to be perfect, I still have my moments. Yet I see the beauty in all of my life’s landscape because I know that it makes me who I am and is making me into who I can be.
3. I am grateful that there are challenges in life.
I know it sounds crazy, but the very thing that I thought was destroying my life – was actually trying to give me my life. I definitely didn’t see it that way in the beginning. At first I believed that I must have done something horribly wrong to deserve a husband with this addiction. Having hard times meant that I was somehow not enough as a person. I had this belief that if I was good enough then life should be smooth sailing.
I don’t believe this is true anymore. Instead of wanting a life of smooth sailing, I want my life to be one of constant growth. Unfortunately, growth comes from unpleasant circumstances and lots of discomfort. Challenges are like a gift that gives us the chance to move to the next level, they are not a curse because we are not doing all the wrong things. It’s not that I like going through hard times- I don’t. But during these hard times I am learning to anchor myself in the knowledge that this is something I can learn from, and that someday I will be able to see the trial with a new perspective.
Last summer in a human sexuality course, the professor started by discussing how awkward it is to talk about human sexuality. One student asked the question, “Why is it that something as basic to our human nature and survival as a race is so uncomfortable to talk about?” There was a long and lively class discussion about religious sexual shaming, the mystery of human sexuality, and how the dark side of sexuality makes us reluctant to talk about any sexuality. Then one student raised her hand and said, “I’m more worried that our culture and media talks about sex too much!” Then it hit me. Unhealthy sexuality is flaunted all around us, and yet we are embarrassed about talking about healthy sexuality. This paradox struck me as absurd and really sad at the same time. We can’t combat unhealthy sexualization if we don’t talk about what healthy sexuality is.
For many, honestly addressing sexuality at an individual level is scary, let alone discussing sexuality with someone else. Whether it is comfortable or not, we are all sexual beings. We pay a high price when we don’t talk about sex because being able to talk about sex is crucial in couple relationships as well as helping children navigate the journey to sexual maturity.
We’ve all seen those awkward moments on TV, and in the movies, where a child asks their parent a question relating to sex and the parent, taken off guard, comes up with a vague funny answer. We laugh at these scenes, but the reality is miscommunication in teaching children about sexual health is no laughing matter. John Chirban stated that, “The fact is, sex is one of the most important, but least talked about subjects in parenting” (2007, xiv). Some parents do not talk sex with their child because they are afraid that discussing sex will make the child more curious about risky sexual behavior. However, Jill Manning, a therapist who specializes in pornography addiction, suggests children who have not been taught about sex by their parents are MORE likely to experiment with risky sexual behavior (2010). Manning also suggests that children prefer to hear about sexuality from their parents over other resources (2008).
When parents choose to not talk about sex with their child they are leaving their child to interpret sexual information outside of the context of their parent’s value system. And unfortunately, much of what is conveyed in the media objectifies human bodies, places too much value on visual stimuli, devalues human nature, and promotes selfish sexual behavior. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines sexual health as, “. . . a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity” (2006, para. 4). If parents do not teach their children about sexual health, who will?
Recently, I ran across some research by Drs. John and Julie Gottman concerning couples and their sexuality. They suggest that couples who can comfortably talk about sex with each other are significantly more satisfied sexually than couples who are not able to talk comfortably about sex (Gottman & Gottman, 2013). I couldn’t help but think that learning how to discuss sexuality comfortably in a couple relationship starts with whether or not sexuality was comfortably discussed within the homes of each partner in the relationship. Children need to know that their parents are at ease when talking about sex and comfortable setting boundaries on what appropriate sexual behavior is. This helps children develop into sexually mature adults.
Convinced that you need to talk about sex with your children, but are not sure where to start? There are many books on the market to help aid you in the task. Most library systems and bookstores have several books on this topic on their shelves. Skim through the content of the books to see if there is a good fit for your belief system. It is also a good idea to talk with other parents in your faith system or school or play groups about resources that they have found helpful. I like What’s Love Got to do with it: Talking with Your Kids about Sex by John Chirban. Chirban does a good job addressing not only the physical aspects of sex, but also the spiritual, social, emotional, and relational aspects of sex. However I also understand that this book may not be a good fit for everyone. It is important that as a parent you use resources that fit your value system.
Chirban, J. (2007). What’s love got to do with it: Talking with your kids about sex? Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.
Gottman, J., & Gottman, J. (2013). The art and science of lovemaking. Seattle, WA: The Gottman Institute, Inc.
Manning, J. (2008). What’s the big deal about pornography?. Ann Arbor, MI: Shadow Mountain.
Manning, J. (2010). Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Audiobook. Deseret Book.
World Health Organization. (2006). Defining sexual health. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/topics/sexual_health/sh_definitions/en/
The Heart Of The Matter: AKA Sometimes God “Taketh Away”
So That You Learn To Give More
Many thanks to NWCHI for hosting a screening of my documentary film, The Heart of the Matter, in September 2014 and also for allowing me to guest blog and plug my wonderful film to you all. I am going to share with you a little of how this film came to be.
It was October of 2011. Despite being in conversations with a cable station for months, I had just found out that my production company was not going to be hired for a regular series. I had been so sure that I would be getting the biggest contract of my career, but my concepts were ultimately rejected. I’d been so blindly confident that I’d be heading up a new show, that I literally had no plan B.
Weeks later I was lamenting about it all to my wonderful sister-in-law and expressing to her that I had NO IDEA what to do next. And she said to me, in effect, “You know what, maybe it’s God’s plan. Maybe he wants you to start working on your documentary.” Then it hit me – hard – Yeah, that’s what I am supposed to do. So Holly is really to thank for getting me off my whiney butt and in gear pursuing a project I’d had in mind for over 2 years.
As early as the fall of 2009, the seed was planted. I was sifting through footage for my job, repurposing old content. (Good times :).) It was here that I came across a few programs that mentioned pornography addiction and how it was affecting marriages and families. Although I didn’t know anyone who struggled with a pornography addiction (Or so I thought.), it got me thinking and eventually researching on the topic, because I had heard frequently in church that it was a problem.
I read books, blogs, and research papers; watched videos; and listened to many personal accounts. During 2010, I began talking about the issues out loud with people. I’d learned enough to know that shame was the biggest roadblock to healing and prevention. So just talking about it in casual ways opened my eyes to how much it did affect people I cared about. A few male co-workers allowed themselves to admit that they “struggled in the past”. A few of my college girl friends began talking about the real reasons their marriages had ended. Eventually, I began to see the red flags in people’s behaviors and know that several of my own family members were struggling with pornography in their lives.
But my drive for this project got lost in 2011 because I had plenty of contract work. It wasn’t until I had ZERO WORK on my plate did I think to pursue the film again. My work and income had to dry up in order for me to push myself down a new path – and become an independent film producer and director. I’ve had this gut feeling that I would not get any lasting work until I made this film. And it’s been hard. Really hard.
Over the 3-year process of working on this film, I’ve continued to be stripped down and humbled. I’ve gone from having an over-inflated view of my talents to simply trying to rely on God to make things work the way He wants them to. I lost my home, a dear friend, and my savings. But I gained a lot of valuable knowledge on the issues, met a host of amazing new people, and continue to learn some hard but important life lessons. I feel like God took me down to almost nothing, so that I could be in the right frame of mind to make something truly useful for Him and for all of you.
And here it is. It is finished. I am so pleased with the final product. I could not have done it without God, Holly, Jordan, my parents, Nathan and so many others.
I hope you watch this amazing film. It could save your life or the life of someone you love. Sadly pornography is tearing apart our families and marriages, but here is a film that in just 75 minutes brings a remedy by finding honest, vulnerable, and non-shaming ways to talk about a difficult subject. There is hope. There is healing.
Purchase your copy here.
May God continue to bless all of our lives.
Recently, I purchased a set of walkie talkies for my nine-year-old son. Instantly, he wanted to try them out to see how far he could go before there was no connection. He would go to a different room in our home, press the button on his walkie talkie and say, “Hello, are you there, can you hear me?” Hearing this question on my end of the walkie talkie made me think about hundreds of calls I have answered as a volunteer suicide intervention call worker. While the people calling the hotline may not say it outright like my son did, I know that many callers are wondering, “Will she judge me for my pain? Will she be there for me? Will she understand me? Will she care for me? Will she hear me?”
As a graduate student in marriage, couple, and family therapy I have repeatedly heard the phrase, “We are hard-wired for human connection”. Human connection is just as vital to our well-being as food and water. We need human connection to thrive. This is just as true for adults as it is for children.
When my son went in the other room with his walkie talkie, he wanted to know if I could still hear him. Don’t we all want to know that we are heard, seen, accepted, and valued? Garry Landreth, noted play therapist, suggests that there are four healing messages play therapists must strive to communicate to a child. The healing messages are: “I am here, I hear you, I understand, and I care” (Landreth, 2012, p. 209-210). We don’t ever outgrow the need for these healing messages.
It fact, Sue Johnson, world renowned couple’s therapist and EFT pioneer, is saying something very similar about the needs of adults in relationship. She says that emotional connectivity has three main components:
How do we create this kind of connection in our relationships? It comes from a deep respect for self and our partner. When we know, and accept, our own weaknesses and vulnerability we are more accepting of our partner’s vulnerability and weaknesses. As a result, we become more open to our partner’s experience as a human being. When we are open to our partner we are less judgmental and are not as threatened by perceived differences. Then we are able to enter our partner’s realm more fully. Once we have entered that realm, we show compassion and understanding for their world and experience. When we remain fully engaged, and show our acceptance, we let our partner’s know that we deeply value them.
While training to take suicide intervention calls, I was instructed to, “sit in the muck” with my callers. “Sitting in the muck” means that I “get” the caller by understanding the caller’s experience to the best of my ability and then I reflect that understanding back including the caller’s emotions. Just by understanding the caller’s experience I show that I can be reached by their story, and can respond to their emotions. I also let them know that I value them as a person and what they contribute to the world. Letting callers know that, “I am here, I hear you, I understand, and I care” helps them to heal.
Sounds fairly easy, right? It’s not always easy to create healthy connection in our relationships. Sometimes life gets busy, and there is too much distance between our walkie talkie and our partner’s walkie talkie for them to connect. The good news is that a temporary disconnect in the relationship doesn’t matter as much as what we do to repair the relationship when there is disconnect. As long as we acknowledge our mistakes and move toward connection, our relationships will grow and remain healthy. A lifetime of showing that you are available, emotionally responsive, and value the relationship, can cover a multitude of connection mistakes.
Johnson, S. (2008). Hold me tight: seven conversations for a lifetime of love. New York, NY: Little, Brown, and company.
Landreth, G. L. (2012). Play therapy: the art of the relationship (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge .
My wife just got back from an out of town retreat with her mom and sisters. I found her on the couch studying and I came and sat by her. I made sure that I could lightly touch her arm. I observed the emotional and physical state that she was wrapped in. I understood she was feeling tired, worn, and needing to get back to life. She was overwhelmed with trying to catch up with a busy schedule after taking a couple of days for herself. I expressed my connecting emotions to her with accuracy, allowing us to connect on an intimate level. Knowing where she was, I knew my part, and how better to love and accept her. I haven’t always been this way; I have reformed my behavior over time.
Sitting there, I realized that that there would have been many times in our marriage where similar circumstances would have triggered me. In our old dance, I might have said something like this (and would have thought all of it):
“Okay, it’s time for some sex fulfillment tonight. You know that tomorrow you are leaving me. That means I won’t be able to have any sex until you get home, and maybe not even then, cause you will be tired like always. I mean, you get home at midnight. So that shoots the return night out from having any physical intimacy. So we’d better be able to do something tonight.
Yeah, I know I will be home late from work. But it won’t be that late. So you will just have to be prepared for me. Never mind how your day might have been. (That consideration would not have been in my thoughts or caring). You knew you were to come home late from school, so you should have packed for your trip earlier today, that way when are both home, we can have some ‘goodbye sex’ time.”
After my wife would have returned home I would have thought:
“So now you are home, I know it’s late and you’re probably not interested in sex. But I am. Okay, so we can wait till the morning. You should be ready then, you know it’s been over a week now. I need to know that you still care for and love me. When we have sex at least we will be close and I will know you still want to be with me.” (Oh, the old erroneous thoughts with no consideration for her and her feelings!)
This is what I did in my new recovery dance:
I knew that my beautiful wife was busy with school work, volunteer work, house work, mothering, and more. So I figured she had not been able to pack herself for her trip. I asked our children to help any way they could. I showed my love and caring for her. I helped where I could; I even stayed home from my work the next morning to be with a sick child. I had not built up my self-centered thoughts of the need for sex. I knew that pushing physical intimacy the way I used to was not an expression of loving intimacy from her to me. I loved her with real love not lust.
I used to force sexuality upon her with unsaid (or even said) guilt trips. For her, sex became strictly a duty. I am now not interested in her giving up her body as a “wifely duty” to please my lust. I have come to understand that this is not the closeness I want. I was not noticing or making any effort to meet her needs before. I did not show caring and love for her.
As I sat on the couch next to my wife after her retreat, I became aware of my growth. I understood that being empathetic and not pushy would create between us a stronger bond of whole life intimacy. Sex would come and it would be better at the time she could be whole with me. Sexual intimacy would happen eventually because she felt secure in our emotional connection. I also knew that our sexual experience would be one where both of us were meeting each other’s needs, instead of just one person having their needs met.
This change happened when I learned and understood how to meet my wife’s needs first.
As a recovering sexaholic there is a lot of shame that goes along with pornography for me. This shame creates quite a conundrum for me when I think about trying to talk about this with my kids who are pretty young and really have no concept of what pornography is and how it can affect a person. I start feeling anxious and overwhelmed when I
Some years ago our family took a trip to the Big Island of Hawaii. I was awestruck by a little fern growing in the middle of a vast lava field where no other plant life could be found. Somehow it was growing against all of the odds. I’ve thought about that fern over the years. I felt a deep connection to it. Perhaps the connection is stronger because my middle name is Fern. But I also think that at some level I related deeply with the little fern’s struggle to just keep growing one day at a time. Whether it is emotional, relational, spiritual, or physical, personal development is often painfully slow. A lot can be learned from the little fern in the lava.
When looking at the little plant, I did not berate it for where it was at in its growth process. Nor did I compare it to other larger ferns that were growing in richer soil. I admired the little fern for its tenacity to keep growing. I wish I could say that I have always been kind to myself in my growth process. But sometimes I have become impatient and have berated myself for not growing any faster. When I look at others, sometimes it appears they are growing much faster than I am. I have to remember to look at how much I have grown, and just how much persistence that growth has taken. Instead of scolding myself for my slow growth process, I can appreciate and admire how I have grown so far in difficult circumstances. Some soil is richer than other soil, and it really does no good to compare myself to someone else’s growth.
I sometimes wonder what would have happened if someone had tried to rescue the fern and transplant it into more fertile soil. Perhaps it could have flourished in rich soil. But then again being moved to too rich of soil in a very different climate could have done damage to the fern. Maybe the lava field was the best place for the fern to grow into the mighty fern it can someday be. Sometimes I have wished I could be moved to more fertile soil, when really I was planted in the right place all along.
What if I had tried to force the fern to grow more quickly than it was ready? Sometimes we want our process, or our loved one’s process, to go much more quickly than what is best for the situation. I generally want my growth process to be over the moment I see that I need growth. But I have also learned that short cuts in personal growth do not work. I can see where there were times in my life where I wanted a quick fix. Now I know it was better to go through a long, hard process.
The little fern did not have to question what it needed to do to grow. It naturally grew toward the sunlight. Sometimes I forget to pay attention to what my heart tells me is the natural way for me to grow and fulfill my mission. I can learn to let go and trust that my heart knows the right way to grow.
I haven’t seen the fern in years. Maybe it is still growing like I am. Maybe someday I will cross that fern’s path again. It might be a large fern that is unrecognizable to me now. I hope that my changes and growth will be enough that the fern will have a have a hard time recognizing me too.