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.
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.
As a child, my favorite fall activity was going to local county fair. I loved the crowds, the smells, the sights, and most especially – the rides. My first stop was always the carousel, and then the Ferris wheel, followed by bumper cars. I loved all the rides but one – the funhouse. Every year I would stand in front of the funhouse wondering if I really wanted to go in. It always took some coaxing from my mom and friends, but would eventually go in. Trying to forgive during my husband’s addiction reminds me of finding my way through a funhouse. The process was full of distortions, uneven footing, and sometimes I was very confused and lost. I did find my way out eventually, but it wasn’t an easy journey.
When you think of healthy physical intimacy what images come to mind? Unfortunately, many individuals grew up with images of physical intimacy in the media that were diluted at best, and all too often completely warped. So, what does healthy sex look like?
Healthy sex is more than physical mechanics. It is whole-hearted and felt emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Healthy sex is not about receiving physical pleasure alone, it’s about conscientiously loving another. The best sex isn’t a duty to be fulfilled, and it is never degrading or exploiting. Healthy sex is a journey of respect, honesty, vulnerability, connection, and love. Healthy intimacy is based on what happens outside the bedroom, not in the bedroom. Here are three building blocks of healthy intimacy:
#1 Be there for each other. How well couples respond to each other outside the bedroom can be a strong predictor of what happens inside. A willingness to share in another person’s journey without defensiveness, criticism, and judgment is important. We all experience life differently. We all need comfort at different times. Take the time to respond to your partner in a way that works for them.
#2 Remember to keep friendship alive. Remember the good old days of dating when you would talk for hours like good friends? Do you know what your partner’s goals and dreams are for the future? Are you supporting your partner in those goals and dreams? If not this could be impacting your sexuality. Friendship in the relationship is essential to romantic life. Find out what your partner is thinking on a deeper level.
#3 Be trustworthy. The very foundation of healthy sexuality is trust. If partners are not able to share their most vulnerable parts because of broken trust, sexuality will be impacted. Gottman (2011) suggests that honesty, transparency, accountability, ethics, and alliance are ways we can evaluate trustworthiness (p. 336). Make it a point to show your partner that you are trustworthy.
You can have healthy intimacy. Remember to take the time to be there for your partner and build friendship. Being trustworthy makes all the difference. Enjoy the journey together!
Reference: Gottman, J.M. (2011). The science of trust. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc..
I wanted to be Wonder Woman. Instead I turned into a worn out Velveteen Rabbit. There was a time in my life where I might have worn a shirt with the logo, “Perfection or Bust.” I wanted everything in my world to appear to be perfect. I was determined to have the perfect house, the perfect husband, and the perfect children. I would be Wonder Woman and save the world with my beauty and passion for looking like I had it all together. I couldn’t stand the thought of anyone knowing that I was just a person like everyone else. Having anyone see that I had flaws was not acceptable. Being seen as human was scary business. I laugh at it now, but at the time it was no laughing matter.
Nowadays I wear a shirt that reads, “Work in Progress.” It’s my favorite shirt, and I am comfortable wearing it. I know I have flaws and I accept my humanity. It’s not nearly as ego boosting as being Wonder Woman, but I am a whole ton happier. Instead of having my perfect little world, I got something better. I love more, and I am more lovable. It’s the Velveteen Rabbit way of living life. It’s not all that glamorous, but it’s better than anything I could have ever imagined in my Wonder Woman world. It’s sure a good thing that I don’t always get what I want.
Much like the Velveteen Rabbit, my process of getting “real” has been a long and hard. Becoming “real” was never a part of what I pictured for my life. Therefore it was something to be fought tooth and nail. Like the Velveteen rabbit I have been subjected to hard experiences. Things I would never want anyone else to go through. Things I didn’t believe I should have to go through. At times I have been torn, my stuffing hanging out, with my fuzz rubbed off. Truly humiliating for sure! Taking out what is inside of me and restuffing myself with better material has been worth the journey even in the pain. Sometimes I still have to take a look inside to see what work needs to be done. Painful, but necessary.
As a self-proclaimed Wonder Woman I would have never let anyone see my Velveteen stitches. That was way too shameful. As a WIP (work-in-progress) I know that showing my stitches is what builds my relationships with others. I share my heart, and I hear theirs. It’s a beautiful thing to be vulnerable in relationships. It’s a frightening and exhilarating thing to have your weaknesses exposed and still know that you can still be loved. It is also a beautiful thing when another person exposes their weaknesses and my heart opens with full acceptance. Nothing is more beautiful than grace.
Grace to me is more than a random word. Grace is everything to me. Grace is what allows me to be a work in progress. It’s being kind to myself in my brokenness. A place where brokenness is welcomed, accepted, and harnessed for good. A place where my weaknesses are not ugly blights but like the knots in knotty wood making me more beautiful. A place where all of me is accepted, not just what is good. The place of grace is the best place to be. Whether you see grace as a religious term or not, allowing grace for yourself is more stunning than any sunset. When it comes down to it, there really is no comparison between Wonder Woman and the Velveteen Rabbit. The Velveteen Rabbit wins in my eyes every time.