Fan the Flame – Part 4

Hello Lovely Ladies!  Here is the fourth and final installment of the Fan the Flame series.  In part one – we looked at some of the things that hinder our confidence and then in parts two and three – we looked at strategies to start to rebuild our confidence. 

As you read what Erika is sharing below – I want you to look for how she is using some of the strategies I mentioned in parts two and three.  Specifically – investing in herself.  You will see other things as well – subtle maybe – but there.

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As truths tumbled out of his mouth, I felt like the stitches were being ripped out, and the crocheted blanket that was my life began to unravel rapidly. Through the process of trying to put my life back together over the past 6 months, I am now starting to gain clarity on the lies I had bought in to.

Lie #1: I have to take care of myself because God may fail me
When I was 7 months pregnant, my husband asked me for a divorce. He said he never loved me. He denied having an affair and blamed me instead. I stayed and worked on myself. I found out much, much later that he lied.

If you had asked me at the time, I would say I relied on God.

I still think that is true to a degree.

But after my husband’s recent disclosure, I remembered a long-ago (18 years!) conversation I had with my sister. It went something like this… “I have done everything God has wanted me to do. I was an obedient child, neglected, and thrown away by our parents. I am a good wife and mom only to be rejected and blamed again. I need to have a backup plan.” (As in – I need to take care of myself because God isn’t getting it done and has disappointed me).

My backup plan was food. It was there to comfort me tangibly. Every time my husband would gaslight me (manipulate, blame, lie), act in (stare at me blankly, sleep versus connect, avoid being home), act out (although I did not know any of these terms at the time) I turned to food. Living in a world not understanding what was really going on ratcheted up my anxiety level. Food was like a warm cocoon, making me feel safe and secure. The problem is, its positive effects were short-term while doing long-term damage.

My physical health declined.

I have learned over the last couple of months that my vow—the backup plan—was harmful. That despite how it may look, God was ALWAYS there waiting to tend to my broken and wounded heart. I had to be willing to trust Him MORE than trusting the comfort of food. The short-term benefits of turning to food to numb my feelings pale to the long-term damaging health effects. Not to mention that food can never fill the hole that only God can.

Lie #2: If I were thinner, my husband would not have had affairs.
My husband repeatedly told me if I was thinner, he would be more attracted to me. He even went so far as to buy literature that supported the claim that men are designed by God to desire a thin wife.

I bought into it.

I spent many years using unhealthy techniques to lose weight to make him happy. I would lose significant amounts of weight for a while, only to gain it back, especially as my husband became increasingly absent in our marriage.

When I found out about his numerous affairs in May, I was sucked into the lie again, but thankfully not for long. This time, I realized that my weight is NOT a source of his addiction. No matter what I weigh, my husband would have still made the same choices.

I went back and looked at photos from the time that the first affair began, and I was shocked. In the photo was a young woman not who he had conjured, but a woman who was healthy and fit.

Seeing that picture and knowing how many times he (falsely) rejected me, sent me down a path of freedom. No matter how fit I have been (or not been), my spouse has never been satisfied. I was able to separate his unrealistic, unhealthy, unattainable lustful ideals from my intrinsic value as a person God lovingly designed. I no longer feel pressure to chase after my husband’s skewed vision and am able to stop berating myself. The figurative weight of trying to measure up was lifted.

Two months ago, I began a weight loss journey with the assistance of a weight loss coach. It is NOT for my husband. It is for ME– to be a healthier ME, and to honor and trust God completely. It has been challenging. I am learning to manage stress better, get more sleep, drink more water, only eat what my body needs, and telling my emotions to take a back seat (more on that in a minute).

This requires INTENTIONALITY.

There are times I fail, but as I make more successful decisions, it gets easier to make the better choice.

Telling my emotions to take a back seat does NOT mean stuffing them for good. It requires me not to eat at that moment and set aside time to work through the emotions. Using tools such as digging deep and identifying where the feelings are coming from, praying, journaling, listening to praise music, exercising, talking with a friend or accountability partner, and recognizing success.

When I crave carbs to cope, I choose to eat a radish instead. Radishes work for me because they are crunchy, and the process of chewing is satisfying. The peppery flavor wakes up my taste buds, unlike the mindless swallowing of ice cream that leaves me feeling drained.

For me, using food to cope results in weight gain and muscle aches. I have not entirely done away with carbs; I just do not let them reign my daily food intake. Most importantly, I have learned that no amount of cardio or kale or carbs is going to heal the pain. Only God can do that.

What about you? Have you ever felt that God has disappointed you? Have you struggled with Him not showing up the way you expected? Like me, have you believed the lie from your spouse, society, friend, or relative that if you were thinner, your partner would not have had an affair or struggle with addiction?

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A little about Erika – she enjoys listening to audio books, working on jigsaw puzzles, and mentoring people with cerebral palsy.

The Dear Me Series – #2

One of the final exercises I instruct the ladies to do as apart of the RLFW support groups is to write a “Dear Me” letter.  Although there is a ton of trepidation to take part in this exercise – time and time again, it proves to be really meaningful.  To be able to look back and talk to your younger you and encourage and inspire her!  To look back and tell her that she’s going to make it – it’s powerful.

I was inspired to include this in the workbook after reading about others that wrote a letter to their sixteen year-old selves.  You can read a couple of examples here and here.

The letters the ladies in my groups write are to the younger version of themselves when everything hit the fan and they felt lost, without hope, and were looking for that life preserver to get them through the day in front of them – not the next week, not the next year – just the next day.  Can any of you relate?

Thank you, Kim for sharing your letter with such courage here today.

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Dear Me,

Never underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit or the protection of your angel. You were listening to that inner voice (the Holy Spirit’s guidance) on the night of discovery. The voice that directed you to check his phone despite your belief that he was totally faithful. There was no reason for you to wake up in the middle of the night and check. But you did and that started a journey you could have never imagined. God knew that you and your husband were ready to begin a new kind of healing. One that would be mostly out of your hands and in the willingness of your husband to work and to change. That is where God will show you how to depend on Him and Him alone for your comfort.

Don’t be too hard on yourself as you doubt things the first year after discovery. You will try to understand what is going on and how to address your doubts but you just won’t have the tools yet.

Continue to trust in God’s timing and the need for process, because the recovery road will be a process for you and your husband.

Good job on listening to the Holy Spirit again and for finding your voice to say that things were still not right and the connection was not there. Good job for insisting that you both seek help as you reached out for counseling. Good job on trusting your inner voice that there was more to learn and for braving through more discovery. God will be there during this time providing you a super spiritual ability to hold onto God while you fight for your marriage. God will provide even as you doubt.

You don’t know this, but your courage to reach out for help will be where God meets you with true healing. As you join Shelley and the other ladies you will think it’s a group that will provide comfort to you on this journey. It will be much more than that. It is where you will learn how to use your voice, set boundaries and gain tools for true redemption. You will work with your group and you will ultimately become closer to the women God wants/needs you to be. You will use what you learn, not only in your marriage but in your parenting and friendships. You will have a better understanding of community and the way God intended it for good. This process is ordained by God and he will meet you there to offer you protection and healing.

Dear Me, I promise that you will feel God’s presence throughout this journey.

Perhaps His closeness will be felt most as you forgive your husband on the mountain top where you married him. It is something you could never have imagined on the night of discovery or even during that first year of recovery. Use your righteous anger to get to the depths of your hurt. Don’t push yourself to forgive because when you finally feel God’s leading to forgive, it will provide you true freedom. You will feel ready to forgive your husband even though God’s work in him is not complete.

Be patient. You will understand God’s redemption like never before as you watch your husband fight for your trust and learn how to connect with you in a deeper and more spiritual way.

You could never know this on the night of discovery, but the timing for all of this is ordained by God. You know this because of the healing that has occurred over the past 3 years. Although there have been many ups and downs, stops and restarts, God has carried you. You now rest in a place of connection with your husband, trust in God’s process and true healing for yourself. Know that this will be a lifelong process of healing and keep trusting that God will show up.

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A little about Kim – she loves to spend time with her two adult daughters and go on adventures with her husband as they enter this new phase of empty-nesting.  She is happy eating enchiladas, volunteering and searching for profound quotes to get her through the day.

And if you missed the first Dear Me Letter – you can read it here.

Image credits here and here.

The Dear Me Series – #1

One of the final exercises I instruct the ladies to do as apart of the RLFW support groups is to write a “Dear Me” letter.  Although there is a ton of trepidation to take part in this exercise – time and time again, it proves to be really meaningful.  To be able to look back and talk to your younger you and encourage and inspire her!  To look back and tell her that she’s going to make it – it’s powerful.

I was inspired to include this in the workbook after reading about others that wrote a letter to their sixteen year-old selves.  You can read a couple of examples here and here.

The letters the ladies in my groups write are to the younger version of themselves when everything hit the fan and they felt lost, without hope, and were looking for that life preserver to get them through the day in front of them – not the next week, not the next year – just the next day.  Can any of you relate?

Thank you, Erika, for going first.  I hope each of you enjoys this first installment of the Dear Me series.

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When you think of the early days and all the tears you cried. The number of times you cried yourself to sleep and even wept while you were sleeping. Only to wake up to a wet pillow, praying that it was just a dream. Know that God holds your tears. He was there crying right beside you.

You’ve come a long way since discovery. You waited many, many months for disclosure, and are still waiting for the amends letter. You constantly struggled with replaying all these years over and over in your mind hoping for a different outcome that is not going to happen. Slowly, you’ve learned to live with the facts of the past and forgive, not for him but you. Although it has been a long journey and came at the cost of innocence, you have peace you didn’t have two years ago.

You may never fully understand his choices of betrayal. But rest assured that his decisions do not mean you failed as a wife, or as a woman. Contrary to well-meaning advice, it wasn’t due to your lack of prayer, or encouragement, or availability to have sex or any other thing a Christian wife is “supposed to do and be.” Remember that no matter whom he married he would be this way. Your disability has not made you worth less than other women.

I know how desperately you wished you knew the truth a long time ago, especially before your health deteriorated. At times you have felt cheated, and that life is unfair. That’s because you were and it is. It is OK to feel this way at times. At the same time recall how God has been there with you, drawing you closer to Him.

Be kind to yourself that you didn’t put the pieces together. How could you? Who would think he was doing the things he was while at the same time having a fruitful ministry? Who thinks their husband is capable of such things? He was a master liar and manipulator who worked carefully to hide the facts and make you doubt the things you raised.

Be proud that you stand up for yourself now. That you realize you do not need to protect everyone and try to make sure everyone else is happy, especially at your own expense. As you continue to forge new patterns in your relationships, remember what you want matters at least just as much as others want. It is not selfish for you to want others to give and not just take.

As you go forward, listen to that inner voice. Let your words continue to match your feelings. Stand your ground and enforce your boundaries. It’s OK to be scared right now because you don’t know if your marriage will survive.

You’re not ready for this to be your story. That’s OK. You promised yourself that you would not let this experience harden your heart and make you bitter. Hold onto that promise.

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A little about Erika – she enjoys listening to audio books, working on jigsaw puzzles, and mentoring people with cerebral palsy.

Photo credits here and here.

Guest Writer Caroline Writes About the Importance of a Support Community

As we wrap up our November series on connection (I know, it’s December, just roll with me!) allow me to introduce you to Caroline.  This lady knows how to keep it real and there is something SO refreshing about that.  She shares a similar story to you and me and is working hard to move forward on her journey.  If you missed the other blog posts on connection, you can read them here, here and here.

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I was drifting off after getting the new baby back to sleep when a little face pressed in close, right up next to mine.

“Mom,” he whispered, “can I get in wiff you?”  My  hand felt in the dark for the space between my husband and the tiny bundle tucked in next to me. There was room enough. “Climb on up here with us.” He wiggled his  little four year old self into the middle and curled up close to dad’s back.

“Did you have a bad dream?” I asked.
“Yes.”
“Do you want to tell me about it?” I asked.
“No.  I just need to be in here wiff you.”

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I guess it never really goes away does it, this desire to crawl up between some really safe people when things go all scary? The dark night closes in, and morning seems so far away – you can sometimes forget there is such a thing as morning. A crisis comes into your life and all you can see is the dark.

There in the darkness, everything looks like a bear.

When crisis comes in the form of sexual betrayal, that bear is so close you can feels it’s breath and hear its long claws clicking. You long for someone big and safe to put their arms around you, say its just a heap of blankets and tell you morning is coming. Maybe a big safe someone who has wrestled a few bears in their time.

When my own betrayal crisis came, I had just recently found a wellspring of safe people. In His mercy, God had already brought me to a community of women in varying stages of healing. When my own darkness was circling in on me,  they were there to say “Climb on up here with us” and “Morning is coming”. They did this by bravely sharing their own stories of betrayal, trauma, and healing.

Some of the stories were much like my own, some were very different. Some women were just finding out about their husband’s double life , and some were several years into the process. Some husbands had entered wholeheartedly into recovery, some were still heartlessly pursuing their addiction. Some marriages were being reconciled, some were at a standstill. Some women were separated, some were divorced.

The point was never that our marriages were all going to be saved and made beautiful. The point was just that we were there for each other. We understood each other. No need to describe what a trigger was, why the nights were so long, why photo albums were painful and holidays nearly impossible. In the company of other sufferers, we could let down the walls and be known. As our stories were shared, the healing magic of community began.

We know a support community is vitally important to the process of all addiction recovery. Whoever tries to make it alone there will have great difficulty maintaining their sobriety. But this element sometimes gets overlooked for those of us healing from betrayal and trauma from a husband’s sexual addiction. It’s just as essential! Isolation will drain the life and hope out of us, where community pours it back in.

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Looking back at my own experience of finding safety in community, a few things stick out as being very important lessons for my journey.

#1. I learned I was not alone.

This was not just a misery-loves-company kind of companionship. It was an I’ve-been-there-too and here’s-how-I’m-handling-it kind. It was friendship and lay counseling and church all in one. As other women offered their stories to me, it forced me outside my own broken heart.  I saw that many others were in pain too. They were moving forward, and so could I. It took my focus off just me, and saved me from drowning in self pity.  In their presence, I found comfort.

#2. I learned I had something to give.

The longer I stayed and shared and listened, I saw that there was meaning in suffering. My pain did not have to be wasted. My story, my insights, my forward movement, all this could actually helps others. Reaching back and reaching out transformed the hard work I was doing. This wasn’t just for me and my family, but God was using my story to tell His story. In giving back, I found purpose.

#3. I learned I had options.

I saw other women who refused to be trapped by their circumstances. They were risking. Just like me, they were learning to set boundaries for the first time with their husbands. We were cautiously drawing lines, holding feet to the fire, taking to the stands to watch, and enacting other colorful metaphors.  We were not in control of the final outcome, but at least we were living honestly before God. In the options, I found hope.

#4. I learned to accept only the truth.

As I read the details of other addict marriages, very familiar patterns began to emerge. So many things I had been asked to swallow were exposed as horrendous lies.  Though I had been choking them down with difficulty for years, I still would not have known to question them except other brave women had already wrestled out the truth and shared it with the rest of us. It was in reading the detailed story of another woman that gave me the courage to demand the whole truth from my husband. In the truth, I found freedom.

This last one was probably the most profoundly life changing for me.  Marriage with a sex addict can be both lonely and suffocating. Much like living in a small dark prison cell.

Everything is secret and hidden.

Something is very wrong, but you’re not allowed to know what it is. For a time the addict himself is the only source of information. He spins a tangled web of lies and the wife must exist within that false world. Even in recovery a man may continue to hold all the power if he alone knows the truth.

Joining a community of wives all on a similar journey loosened my husband’s hold on me. As I read story after story, I saw us. We were not the exception. I knew too much to be fooled anymore. “Oh Yeah?” I’d think as he lamely tried to explain something away. “This doesn’t sound true…it sounds very much like So & So, only his decline ended very differently”.  After 20 years together I was no longer caught in his web.

Ask my husband today and he will tell you how very grateful he is for my support community of women. He has definitely benefited from my new found empowerment. He was trapped in a web of lies himself and he needed someone to come along and cut him down with one clean swipe.  I was the only one who loved him enough to get that close, and without the support from other wives I would have had neither strength nor courage enough to take that risk.

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Caroline lives in a little house in the big woods of Alaska where she stumbles forward with her husband.  Bring your heart and your story and join Caroline at http://restoringgodsdaughters.ning.com/ a brand new online community of wives supporting each other as they recover from betrayal.

Guest Writer Amy Garcia Sharing About Her Experience With Anger

I’m SO thrilled to have my first EVER guest writer on this blog.  (I know, it’s about time, right?)  Amy recently graduated from one of my support groups – but more than that, she’s a friend I’ve known since 6th grade.  I kept thinking about her and what she shared on one of our calls regarding anger.  So much so that I asked her to write about it…

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“We can not selectively numb emotions.  When we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.” – Brene’ Brown
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Anger. Ugh…

I don’t know about you but expressing anger has never been easy for me.  Most of my life I would either just shove my anger deep or explode on someone that usually was not the culprit of my being angry in the first place.

Sorry, Mom.

My therapist says that anger is merely the visible tip of a huge iceberg of many other emotions.  The other emotions that actually fuel the anger can be found just below the surface; namely hurt, sadness, betrayal and rejection.

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Throughout my 14 year marriage, I definitely did more shoving down than I did exploding.  But we had our moments of that, too.  When I discovered my husband’s sex addiction 15 months ago, my relationship with anger started to change.  It was no longer an option to shove my anger down.  It had to come out.  And so did all the underlying emotions with it.

When my husband and I separated for five months, I dove into my own recovery.  I joined Shelley’s support group for women and began to see a therapist that specialized in trauma treatment associated with sex addiction.  A great deal of that work centered around expressing the emotions behind the anger toward my husband (and the trauma associated with his addiction) as well as very old trauma from my childhood.  I began to notice a pattern emerge each and every time something was very difficult for me to work through.  Whenever I was asked to examine my pain or to trust God in a new way, a resistance would rise up in me that caused me to fight what I knew in my heart needed to be done.

I always find when I push past that resistance, forcing myself to lean into the painful parts of the healing process, I not only gain a greater understanding of my needs but it also allows me to reach a new level of spiritual growth I would have never had access to before.  The greater the resistance, the greater the potential for growth.

When Shelley asked our group to write an anger letter the resistance in me surfaced immediately.  I remember actually telling myself, “this doesn’t really apply to me…I already got out my anger.  Many, MANY times, in fact.”

Oh how I can fool myself when I have to do hard things.

Several days pass.  No anger letter.

Shelley asks about my progress and I assure her I’m “working on an outline.”  If I’m honest, it looked a whole lot like this:

Anger Letter

A) I Don’t

1. Want To

a. What’s on TV?

 

When I finally give up the struggle and sit down to write, the words flow so freely.  There are definitely parts of my anger that have been voiced but what I don’t discover until I start writing is how much is actually still there.  I write not only about the obvious sexual betrayals but also the YEARS of emotional distance between us and the lack of involvement in raising our two boys that hurts just as much.

I write for over an hour.  My hand hurts and I’m too exhausted to actually feel the weight of what those pages held.  I put the letter away.

The next day, I read my anger letter to my therapist.  This time, I let myself feel every word.  Every betrayal, every manipulation and lies too numerous to count.  As I describe the pain out loud, it’s as if a cork is slowly being removed from a full glass bottle of bitterness.  My anger finally gives a voice to my hurt and the years of rejection and resentment.  The bottle has tipped and the pain can finally pour out, making way for joy and peace to be poured back in.  I begin to feel a freedom I hadn’t felt my whole life.

Now I am learning how to express the emotions behind the anger rather than just the anger itself.  It’s a slow process, but it’s a huge leap from where I used to be.  But isn’t that what this recovery process is all about?

Pushing forward.

Finding purpose in our pain.

Now it’s your turn…what is it you find yourself resisting?  It could just be your biggest leap yet!

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amygarcia

Amy Garcia loves writing, anywhere there’s a sandy beach and could survive off only chips, guacamole and Vanilla Bean Talenti gelato. She hopes to grow up someday and actually use her degree in journalism. Amy is Texas born and bred but now calls Chandler, AZ home where she is a wife, a mom to 2 very baseball obsessed boys and a 15 year old fully deaf and partially blind Chihuahua. (Don’t you for one second feel sorry for him, he’s livin’ the good life.)