Saturday, January 27, 2018

Enough for 2018

I have been struggling to write my annual post describing my word for the year for well over a month.  The word revealed itself quite early in the process; it has been the sorting out of what the word means to me or holds for the upcoming months that has been challenging.  For the first time, my word for the year has both a personal and broader intention.

In a personal sense, my word describes my intention to do more work around self-acceptance, positive affirmation and silencing my inner critic.  We are daily bombarded with messages that tell us we are not slim enough, smart enough, rich enough, talented enough. . . the list goes on and on and on.  Embracing a sense of not enoughness breeds shame and fosters all sorts of maladaptive behaviors in a futile attempt to be OK in our own skin.

According to my friend Merriam-Webster, when used as an adverb the word "enough" refers to something that occurs "in such quantity, quality or scope as to fully meet demands, needs or expectations."  I am enough; you are enough.  We are human beings created in the image and likeness of God; that makes us fully enough.

I am in a post-major birthday funk that is common during life transitions. My husband says that I
have reached an age that is considered to be the "youth of old age."  I typically do a lot of self-reflection and analysis when I make a major transition and my word for the year will be a compass to guide and correct me through the process.  The measure of my success in life is not in how much I have accumulated, the adulation of a world or in my achievements.  The true measure of success in life is how well I have loved, including myself.  This next season will bring additional losses and challenges but it seems that settling the issue of my intrinsic value and "enoughness" will give me the strength and stamina to face those losses with grace and serenity.

The broader implications of my 2018 word came this week while watching the incredibly brave women who confronted their abuser in a court of law.  It seems that every institution in our society is being forced to deal with the consequences of decades of systemic discrimination and sexual harassment and assault of women. No segment of our society has been exempt--from Hollywood to the local church, sports and news organizations and political figures.  The #MeToo campaign gave thousands of women an opportunity to finally acknowledge publicly what has been tolerated in secret.

"Enough" when used as a determiner and pronoun expresses an "impatient desire for the cessation of undesirable behavior or speech. . . [and] indicates that one is unwilling to tolerate any more."  Until we say "ENOUGH" to a culture of objectification and marginalization of women and children, we will never be able to prevent monsters like Larry Nassar from sexually molesting little girls in their mother's presence.  ENOUGH!  The laws we have passed and the protections we have put in place will never be enough until the societal and often religiously sanctioned discrimination is stopped.

It occurs to me that both the personal and broader implications of my word are intertwined.  Advocacy must begin with me.  I must embrace my intrinsic value and enoughness in order to stand and fight against the systems that are designed to keep me in an inferior or marginalized position.  If I am to fight for others, I must first fight for myself.  I must do the internal work so that I can fully engage in the external battle.  I am enough; you are enough and together we are enough to challenge and change a culture that insists we are not.  Enough and ENOUGH!

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Healing Stones

I awoke this morning after another series of dreams that seem to point to a niggling truth struggling to come to my conscious awareness.  As I prayed for discernment and understanding, I recalled the many who have been helpers along this journey of recovery and healing.  I have been blessed with wonderful professionals who have walked with me for a portion of my journey and friends and family who have made themselves available for what I needed during the critical days when life was frightening and anxiety-ridden.  For these men and women--my tribe, my healing stones--I give thanks:

  • For Bonnie, Lou, Mari and Teri--professionals who spoke truth with compassion and love and who helped me see myself through gentle and loving eyes;
  • For Sharon and that inept MFT intern who taught me that I can and must resist help that is not helpful;
  • For Sheila and Tam--old friends who reached out when I was so fragile and simply made themselves available;
  • For the women in my small group who listened and loved well;
  • For my S-ANON sisters who cried and laughed with me as we shared our journey on the healing path out of betrayal and addiction;
  • For Crystal, a sponsor and friend extraordinaire who like her name, brings clarity and insight into the muddy waters of life's situations;
  • For Wm. Paul Young, Richard Rohr, Paula D'Arcy, Glennon Mellon, Elizabeth Gilbert, Brene Brown, Stephanie Carnes, Mari Lee, Barbara Steffens, Marsha Means, Ann Voskamp, Patricia Wiklund, Terri St. Cloud, Rachel Held Evans and Scot McKnight whose words were like a healing balm to my wounded soul, like manna from heaven that satisfied my hunger for information and that shone a bright light during very dark days when I could not find my way;
  • For Julie Anne and "Anonymous" who helped me reconnect with my inner activist;
  • For all of the partners and former partners who have dared to share their stories with me; they have reinforced the truth that we are not alone;
  • For my sweet and bestest friend, Kay--a loyal, loving and faithful sister for the past three and a half decades.  She has been a secret-keeper, a sounding board and a witness to my entire journey, not just parts of it.  We have forged a friendship that has stood the test of time, disagreements and changing life transitions.  Many miles separate us but our hearts are connected in a way that transcends geography;
  • For my children who are the very best gifts I have ever received and whose love and connection continues to bring healing and purpose to my life.  Their resiliency, courage and strength amaze me and I am so very proud of the wonderful human beings they have become.  They have been severely tried and tested, crushed and challenged and still they love and live with integrity, compassion and kindness;
  • For my gifts of grace, life and peace--"The Three," the "K's," the granddaughters who have come into our family and brought hope, giggles, snuggles and joy;
  • For my husband, whose love is healing in ways that only a healthy intimate relationship can after severe betrayal, and who has brought adventure and laughter into my life again.
"Hitherto the Lord hath helped us," is an older translation of I Samuel 7:12 that was running through my mind when I awoke this morning.  The context of this verse was a particularly difficult battle between Israel and her enemies and God's amazing intervention.  After the battle, Samuel erected a standing stone and named it "Ebenezer" which is translated "the stone of help."
The Western Wall, also called "The Wailing Wall" in Jerusalem
It occurs to me that the people of my "tribe" have been God's gifts of help.  Recovery is not a solitary journey after all but rather is more like a grand orchestra.  Papa God is the conductor who arranges and directs the music (i.e. healing) but each section of the orchestra contribute out of their gifts and wisdom and are essential to the ongoing majesty and grandeur of the masterpiece.  So at this start of a brand new year, I erect my Ebenezer in recognition of all those who have been my stones of help.  I am truly grateful and blessed.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Court Transcripts & Letters from Prison

I have not said much lately about my "qualifier" (a kinder word for the perpetrator I was married to).  Earlier this year, he violated the conditions of his probation and now sits in prison.  As a former volunteer behind bars, I had inside information on the kind of treatment child offenders receive when incarcerated.  After I learned of his foray into the dark world of child pornography, we had many "discussions" where I painted the consequence of his continued pursuit in vivid language.   He called me "paranoid" then but is now living in some pretty horrendous conditions, as I predicted.

Anyone who has been in a relationship with an addict has experienced the blame, projection, minimization, exaggeration and denial that is common to addiction, and particularly so when dealing with a narcissist.  (One therapist that I worked with asserts that she has yet to meet an addict who is not also a narcissist).  You would think that when you are caught with your hand in the proverbial cookie jar, there would be little recourse except to acknowledge your guilt and accept your punishment.  That is not what I am experiencing and after speaking with many women who have had the same misfortune of marrying a pedophile, I find that my experience is not unique.

As I did after my ex's first trial, I purchased the court transcripts from his most recent trial and received them a few months ago.  It has been enlightening and sobering to read once again the case against him, particularly the ways he "storied" his probation violation.  One paragraph in the transcript stood out to me and the words continue to reverberate in my head and are validated by past and current experiences with my qualifier.  Quoting  a clinical psychologist who treated my ex for nearly four years, the prosecutor said, "This defendant has an inordinately difficult time accepting responsibility for his behavior.  He constantly blames his [ex]wife for his offense . . . feeling that if she had been more supportive of him, he wouldn't have had to look at child pornography."  His probation officer testified about his violation in great detail (no children were directly harmed, thank God) and the prosecutor illustrated how the defendant's story about the violation changed, depending on who he was talking to.  Court transcripts are incredibly valuable, particularly when dealing with an addict/narcissist who uses a lot of gaslighting.  They are the stake in the ground that becomes unmovable and grounding when communication becomes murky and confusing.

Letters from prison have been arriving--letters that are deeply disturbing and hurtful, far more desperate than previous ones.  The latest, addressed to one of my children, includes 20 pages of hate and blame towards me.  The specifics do not merit inclusion here but once again, those court transcripts are the anchor in the swirl of blame-shifting, denial and deception.  As my friend, "Eve" discovered, the man I thought I married does not exist and never did.  He was an illusion and I was simply a prop in his elaborate scheme to hide his secret nature.  Eve and I had a conversation recently about the difficulty in removing those rose-colored glasses and accepting the truth about our former partners, a conversation I vividly remembered when reading those letters!

My ex made it clear in his letters that he does not like the fact that this blog exists and consequently I have questioned my motives in continuing to write about my experience.  While he thinks that my writing is all about him, it is really about my recovery from betrayal and trauma; he is central to my wounding but irrelevant to my recovery.  I regularly hear from women just like me who somehow discover this space on the internet and find hope in the knowledge that they are not alone.  There is risk and vulnerability in writing of such personal experiences but there is also freedom in speaking the truth rather than continuing to hide.

So the lessons I have learned from reading and re-reading court transcripts and letters from prison can be summarized by the following:
  • Denial, minimization, blame-shifting, projecting and deception are common among addicts and until they are abandoned, recovery becomes virtually impossible;
  • Gaslighting (using tactics to try to change an individual's perception of reality) is very confusing; those who experience it need frequent reality checks with trusted individuals or court transcripts;
  • Manipulation, exaggeration and distortion of facts can be very convincing and require vigilance in holding to what we know to be objective truth;
  • Perpetrators are incredibly skilled at creating and maintaining a near-perfect illusionary life, gathering props (i.e. spouse, children, academic credentials, etc.) to support the facade that hides their true nature and behavior;
  • When a narcissist is through with you, either by your choice or his, what seemed like love becomes rabid hatred.  We can't be surprised by this.
How about you?  Has your experience been similar or different to what I have described?   As always, I would love to hear from you. 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Two Marriages, Two Islands, Two Traumas

I married my first husband when I was 21 years old and left with him two weeks after our wedding for an assignment in the Caribbean.  We set up housekeeping in a multi-colored cement block house, in a small village on the edge of a rain forest.  We had running water but no hot water, electricity, refrigerator or screens on our windows.  Our only mode of transportation was a small Honda 90 motorcycle.

I've written elsewhere about the trauma that I experienced while on this gorgeous island paradise, when my husband introduced me to a young girl and insisted that she become a regular part of our lives.  I didn't know it at the time, but he was grooming her for an eventual molestation.  I didn't learn of the molestation until three years later when he confessed it to me.  I experienced the "relationship" with his young friend as an incredible trauma that I was completely confused by--nothing indicated that he was a predator, my gut was just screaming that this little girl was a threat to my marriage.  She wasn't, but he definitely was; in fact our marriage ended before it really began.  I just didn't know that for over three decades.

I met and married my current husband four years after my world and marriage exploded with my ex-husband's arrest.  During the first year of our marriage, an idyllic time of adjusting to one another and blending our families came to a rather abrupt end during the month of December.  December tends to be a trigger-month for me; my first marriage began and was pronounced dead and I gave birth to my firstborn during the last month of the year.  Our final family gathering also occurred during this month, so it can be a challenging time for me.  For a variety of reasons my current husband and I entered some treacherous waters during our first December together.

We were vacationing on the beautiful island of Hawaii when our individual triggers collided in a frightening and bewildering fashion.  I think it is fair to say that we both were confused, hurt and lost; it seems that even paradise can turn ugly, depending on our perceptions and circumstances.  I ended up leaving my new husband and returning to the mainland early.  Eventually with the help of some gifted therapists and a lot of grit and determination (i.e. hard work), we gained a better understanding of what happened; the whys are still revealing themselves as we continue to grow individually and as a couple.  But the experience was traumatic during a month that has a history of trauma and loss for me.

Recently we revisited some of the "whys" of that island trauma and I found myself fighting hard to
not mix up the names of the two islands.  What I've learned about trauma and loss is that if left unresolved, new losses or traumas bring the old ones along for company.  So it appears that I may have some additional work to do around that first trauma on an island paradise with my ex-husband, especially as we near my "trigger" month of December.  Recovery work, I am learning, is rarely completely done in one season of life; each new growth spurt or deepening relationship can reveal new levels of healing that is necessary.

I am re-reading an excellent work by an incest survivor turned advocate.  Marilyn Van Debur's biography "Miss America by Day: Lessons Learned from Ultimate Betrayals and Unconditional Love" chronicles her molestation at the hands of her powerful father and more importantly, her recovery.  It is a stark reminder of the indelible imprint that childhood sexual molestation makes on an individual and the work that is required if recovery is to occur.  As the former wife of a pedophile, it is both a grim refresher of the seriousness of the crimes my ex-husband committed but also of the secondary victimization that occurs for the non-offending family members of the perpetrator.  Everyone in a perpetrator's sphere of influence is impacted by their behavior; no one remains untouched.

Before we move into December with all of its celebrations and potential landmines, we will pause to give thanks.  We give thanks for the good and for the challenging times and remember that forgiveness is a gift that we give ourselves; it opens the door to deeper healing, connection and freedom.  I was mesmerized by this poem that came across my desk today:

"At the year's turn,
in the days between, 
we step away
from what we know
into the spaces 
we cannot name.
Slowly the edges
begin to yield,
the hard places
the gate to forgiveness
and gratitude
-- unknown

And another by a favorite artist/poet:

"she closed her eyes
and thought of her year.
it couldn't just be
the good she was
thankful for
it had to be the all...
the fullness, the depths,
the journey.
the dance of life.
for these she gave thanks."

May we all move into those spaces we cannot name--traumas, memories, losses and betrayal--and as we do the work of recovery, watch them soften and give thanks for the gifts we find in our woundings--the depth fullness and journey.  Have a wonderful week of feasting, giving thanks and dancing to the music of life! 

Sunday, September 3, 2017

When Dreams Die

One of the gifts that I have discovered as a consequence of marriage to a pedophile has been the opportunity to work with other partners. Sharing our stories and pain has been deeply rewarding and healing for me and I think for them as well.  I'd like to introduce you to one such partner with her permission, of course, and her identity shielded.

Eve* met her husband at a church singles' group and was immediately attracted to his quiet nature and compassion.  People were drawn to his kindness and ability to be present with others so it came as no surprise when he announced plans to go to seminary in preparation for ministry.  Shortly after their marriage, Eve supported "Adam" through seminary training and joyfully joined him in ministry when  he obtained a pastorate.  She loved ministering with him and watching him minister to others.

As his ministry flourished, they began making plans to start a family.  Early one morning she kissed him goodbye as he left for an out-of-town church conference.  He never came home from that meeting.  While folding his laundry she received a phone call from him and heard the unbelievable news that he was in jail, having been arrested in a child pornography and trafficking sting.  Can you imagine how her world tilted and twirled?  Nothing in her life with him led her to believe that this was remotely possible.

Eve and I have shared our stories and our pain over the death of the dreams we had when we were brides.  While her marriage lasted three years and mine over three decades, there are similarities and profound differences in our stories.  The death of a dream is a loss and all losses must be grieved, but just as people process grief differently, variations in one's story may also impact how one processes the losses attached to broken dreams.

My dreams died a slow and agonizing death; Eve's died suddenly with one phone call.  I had time to come to terms with the loss of my marriage prior to my ex-husband's arrest; Adam's arrest required that Eve immediately take steps to end her marriage.  Both of us lost homes, ministries and friends that we dearly loved but while I lost my past, in a way Eve lost her future.  I had spent my entire adult life committed to my ex-husband and our marriage; recovery demanded that I sift through a lifetime of memories and reframe them in light of the diagnosis of pedophilia.  While Eve's recovery also involves this sifting and reframing, her immediate hopes for a family were dashed when her marriage ended.

She remarked recently that the "shock of adjusting to the difference between trying to have a baby with this man to suddenly divorcing him [after his arrest]" continues to be a challenge to recovery and moving on. I had grown children who were devastated by their father's arrest but I had children and a grandchild on the way! Eve understands that it is advantageous that she did not have a child with Adam but the lost potential of children underscores the devastation that he brought into her life.  This is not what she signed up for when she took her sacred vows; it is unfair and tragic.  When dreams die, sometimes hope does as well. 

I've been musing recently on the dreams that I cherished on my first wedding day--dreams of living a long full life with the man I loved, creating and raising a family and eventually growing old together.  This week my third granddaughter came into our lives and even now, after all of the pain, I feel a bit of nostalgia and regret that the man who helped me create this family is not sharing in the joy of watching them thrive and in welcoming new little ones.  The dreams I had long ago as a bride have died and life demands new dreams and a reframing of old ones.  And new dreams birth hope.

Eve is just beginning to nurse hope again--sober hope but hope nevertheless.  I am reminded of a quote I used when I named this year and it seems a good place to end this post.  Hope (and new dreams) "comes into play when our circumstances are dire--things are not going well or at least there's considerable uncertainty about how things will turn out."  SOURCE  My friend Eve is daring to choose hope and to dream again  That is the definition of courage.

*pseudonym; some details changed to protect her anonymity

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Language of Addiction

Recently I've been amused by my almost two-year-old granddaughter's attempts at learning to communicate and have noted the importance of how and what we communicate to our children and to each other, often without full awareness of what we are actually communicating.  For example, the word she has chosen for the fuzzy stuff on her head is "Ow," because she often hears her older sister cry "ow" when her hair is combed.  So "ow" have become her word for "hair."  Eventually she will correct herself but for now she is excited that she has added a new word to her growing vocabulary.

How we language addiction or compulsive behavior is also interesting to me.  Is it a "slip," or a "relapse?"  One word communicates a rather minor fall from the sobriety wagon that is to be expected, while the other signals a more serious and dangerous condition.  I recall my ex-husband referring to his sexual compulsion and illegal activity as "almost an addiction," but "not quite one."  Falling back into illegal activity becomes a "probation violation" rather than "engaging in a compulsory behavior or an addiction."  The former is innocuous and could cover any number of behaviors while the second description indicates something over which a person has little or no control.

Addicts are known for their attempts to intellectualize, minimize, blame-shift, project and deny their behavior.  Manipulating how they language their compulsions may provide a level of protection for the addict but true recovery cannot begin until most if not all, of these defense mechanisms are abandoned.  Telling the truth about and to one's self is critical for transformation and change.

I've also found it interesting to note how institutions have used and abused language when referencing an addict, especially the high-profile ones.  While Bill Cosby's accusers tell the same story of being drugged and raped, his defenders minimize his behavior by the language they use.  He is not a "rapist" but rather someone who has engaged in compulsive sexual relationships outside of his marriage.  In religious circles terms such as "sinner," or "hypocrite" implies behavior that is a minor, discordant part of life and common to all.  By lumping all "sin" into one category we overlook or marginalize abhorrent behavior and minimize the pain of victims.  It's all in the language we use.

And I've also noticed how often the organization or church or political party focus on forgiving the offense and restoring the offender rather than on the real pain of the victims.  Forgiveness is an important part of recovery from any injury but the cheap forgiveness our language references denies the seriousness of the offense and the nature of the behavior.  How we language sexual compulsions and addiction matters, particularly addiction that victimizes another. 

The alcoholic who stops by the bar on the way home is not engaging in criminal or immoral behavior unless he gets behind the wheel while under the influence; the porn addict or pedophile who engages with his drug of choice is minimally guilty of a moral offense and most often engaged in criminal behavior as well as behavior that involves the victimization and/or trafficking of another human being.  There is a big difference but our language lumps them all together.  Unfortunately, the language of addiction is often one of minimizing and denying the horror of victimization, betrayal and criminal activity.  Collectively we collude with the addict's efforts when we embrace his language of addiction.

Unlike her sister, my nearly five-year-old granddaughter has language that is precise, descriptive and often beyond her years.  She has learned the art of communication and her vocabulary is huge, thanks in large part to her love of books and reading.  It is time for the rest of us to "grow up" in the language we use around addiction.  We need to speak the truth in love and with compassion.  Softening the language does nothing to really help the addict and minimizes the tremendous human cost tied to addiction.  We heal what we name and speak; we cannot hope to end addiction in our society until and unless we speak the truth about it.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Betrayal by Pedophilia

I had an interesting discussion with a marriage therapist recently regarding the unique experience of having been betrayed by a pedophile partner.  In the course of our dialogue, I stated that it would have been easier had he betrayed me with another consenting adult--male or female.  She was surprised, believing after many years of working with couples, that an affair with a consenting adult is far more difficult.  She concluded that this is true because everyone knows that a sexual attraction to a child is taboo, so the pain of betrayal that a pedophile's partner may feel is not as severe as it would be had her partner chosen a consenting adult.  Really?

It is a mistake for any of us to try to assign levels of pain to an experience for another and I in no way mean to minimize the very real pain of betrayal within a committed relationship.  Betrayal is horrendous no matter how or with whom it occurs.  But betrayal by pedophilia is unique in its devastation and that is what I tried to explain to my friend.  There are elements to the betrayal that simply are not present in a "normal" case of adultery.

First and foremost, conducting a sexual relationship with an adult other than your spouse is not against the law.  The criminal element present in the betrayal a pedophile's partner experiences adds an incredibly frightening element.  Partners have often been charged or threatened with criminal charges by law enforcement and are sometimes seen as colluding with the perpetrator.   Additionally, personal privacy has often been invaded by means of an executed search warrant.  My personal diary was taken by law enforcement during the raid on our house because it was on an external hard drive that my ex-husband had access to.  Intimate details of one's relationship are often testified to in open court with hungry journalists ready to report each tidbit to the public.

The scandal that often follows the arrest of a perpetrator is frequently more widespread than that generated by an affair, particularly when the media become involved.  The humiliation a partner and her children feel as friends, family, work colleagues and acquaintances learn of the arrest or accusation is intense.  And all too often, the family is unable to comment on the details of the case because of the criminal investigation.  They are forced to enclose themselves within a cone of silence and shame while speculation and judgment swirl around them.

Devastating financial consequences often follow a pedophile's betrayal with loss of family income, health insurance, retirement and sometimes the family home.  A number of years ago I wrote a post about the psychological misinformation, bordering on malpractice that is often applied to the partner of a pedophile.  Labels such as co-pedophile, co-conspirator, or co-dependent victimize and stigmatize an already traumatized woman!

Gaslighting is a deliberate attempt to redefine another's reality.  The partner of a pedophile has
probably experienced this tactic throughout her relationship.  Her concerns or fears, if realized or expressed, are minimized, denied or blamed on her faulty perception, etc.  She has probably been told that the problems in the relationship are due to some deficiency or failing on her part.  He justifies his behavior by blaming it on her. While this phenomenon is not unique to pedophiles, the secrecy and shame that surrounds this disease makes it nearly impossible for her to find information or hep, if she suspects anything at all. l She has very little ability to do a reality-check because she most often knows nothing of his secret behavior though she may have a gut feeling that something is wrong.  Imagine her horror when she discovers that the real reason there were problems in their relationship was not due to a deficiency on her part but to a secret so huge and devastating.  Imagine how it feels to know that your partner was not attracted to you but to a child!  Yes, another adult would be easier to accept than this reality and the years of gaslighting, blame and denial only add to the wound.

After our conversation, I had a terrifying dream in which one of my sons was being threatened by a group of ignorant guys who believed that my son should bear the punishment for the crimes his father committed.  I woke, grateful that it was just a bad dream but in essence, it reflects a measure of truth for the partner and children of a convicted pedophile.  We feel the "guilt by association" in the silence, stares or avoidant behavior of those we once called friends. We live in the fear that we will be held responsible for his despicable behavior.  It is a unique experience and recovery requires specialized, professional help.*

I highly recommend a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist (CSAT) for partners of pedophiles because I have learned from personal and professional experience that not all therapists are equipped to deal with the unique challenges that this issue present.  For more information or to find a CSAT provider, see the International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals.