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.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Not a Victimless Crime

I knew better but I did it anyway.  I watched a rerun of Law and Order, Special Victims Unit.  The episode focused on the fall-out of child pornography on the victims, and the fact that once an image is on the world-wide web, it is there forever.  Victims are re-traumatized with each download of their image.  Perpetrators view the memorialization of a child's rape, molestation and abuse for sexual gratification.  I remember the detectives' mantra during the long hours I sat with them while my house was searched:  "Child pornography is not a victimless crime."

What the detectives did not know that cold February morning, however, was that I had heard countless stories of childhood victimization, mostly from the women I worked with in a prison setting.  The impact of childhood sexual exploitation can be codified in the details of their drug and criminal records.  None of them escaped without harm.  Not one.  The devastation lasts a lifetime.  Pornography, no matter how "tame" some would judge it to be is never without victims, especially child pornography.

Yet how often, as a society, do we minimize or trivialize the seriousness of a media presentation containing child nudity?  How often do we determine just how serious the crime is based on how offensive we judge the material to be?  Isn't that a technical definition of pornography--material that a "normal" person would find offensive?  Is child nudity in a sexual context ever innocent or non-offensive?  For a pedophile any image of a child, nude or fully clothed, can be sexualized so where do we draw the line?

The episode of SVU was a poignant reminder of the countless ways that pornography impacts all of us, not least of which are the victims.  So while I should not have watched it, I'm glad I did.  The grief and horror are necessary--we must not fail to be horrified when someone is victimized.  We must not grow complacent in our fight to end all victimization and to protect our most vulnerable.  We must not draw back from looking evil in its face and calling it what it is.  When we cease to be horrified, when we refuse to disrupt the quietude of our lives with a look at the dark side of rampant pornography, when we bury our heads in the sand and pretend that this is not our problem, we condemn innocent children, men and women to continued exploitation and victimization.

"I knew better but I did it anyway; I couldn't help myself," is an excuse often given by the one caught in a pornography sting.  I've heard variations of that from the addict I was previously married to.  But this time, I'm glad I went ahead and watched something that I knew would trigger my trauma.  I need to be reminded.  There are children to be protected, and some of them are very dear to my heart.

Monday, February 27, 2017

The Gift of Presence

We have experienced two deaths in my extended family in the past few months with another two beloved family members on death's cusp.  Yesterday I sat at the internment of cremains for a husband, father, brother and son who was taken too soon.  I have been to many funerals and graveside services but never to one like this.  It occurred almost two months after the death and celebration of life service and it involved an urn rather than a casket.  Only immediate family members were present.  After a few comforting words by a family friend, we sat in silence--nothing was said, we were just present with this great and overwhelming loss.

At times, I felt a bit uncomfortable--shouldn't we DO something?  Shouldn't someone SAY something?  Should we really just sit in silence?  Three kids and a young widow had to process the enormity of what we were there to do and those of us who love them sat and offered the best gift of all:  the gift of silent presence.  There are no words to explain or make right this loss; there never is.  Silencing our need to somehow make sense of the senseless by filling the air with lots of words is incredibly difficult.  But the gift of silent presence says more than all of the words in the world could possibly convey; it communicates solidarity, safety and connection.  It exudes love.

There are other priceless gifts that when offered subsequent to loss, tragedy or betrayal comfort immensely:  the gifts of a listening ear, empathy or tears.  These gifts require that we set aside our own pain and enter into that of another.  They require us to deal with the discomfort we feel at the pain of someone we love and demand an ability to "see" or "feel" the experience through the eyes and heart of another.  It is far easier to offer advice, evaluation or analysis of the loss than it is to sit still in silence and simply listen to and feel the pain of another.

A family member sent me a picture this afternoon that perfectly illustrates this wonderful gift of presence.  Her aged mother is near the end of the dying process; the family has spent a grueling few days providing round-the-clock care and comfort and saying their goodbyes.  Pain and dementia have complicated the care-giving.  Last night her son curled up on the narrow hospital bed, wrapped his arms around his mother and offered her the priceless gift of presence.  There is nothing more to be said, no unfinished business, just the opportunity to be present with another as they transition from this life to the next.  I have never seen a more perfect depiction of love empathy and presence than this.

Life breaks and falls apart for all of us at one time or another.  It may be through death, divorce or betrayal.  We are indeed fortunate if during these pain-filled times we have individuals who will come along side us and simply and profoundly offer these grace-filled gifts.  This is what brings solace and comfort to those of us living in the shadow of the Fall.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Hope for the New Year

In 2011 I "accidentally" fell into the practice of giving each year a name as a way of establishing my hopes or goals for the upcoming year.  I knew that I was facing a divorce but had no idea of just how traumatic life would become in the coming weeks but my name for 2012 established my belief or hope that while I might be a single woman again, I would never be alone.  This phrase derived from my faith that God was a very real presence and that He would be with me throughout the year, no matter what it might bring.
2012 ~ Never Alone
2013 ~ Provision
2014 ~ Prosper, Transform & Delight
2015 ~ Healthy Connections
2016 ~ Living Loved
I almost forgot about this practice in the joy and festivities of the past holiday season, which in itself is a testament to the level of healing that has been accomplished in my life.  In publishing my last post, however, the word for 2017 became obvious.  And in a world that grows increasingly chaotic and fearful, it is an appropriate word.  My word for 2017 is HOPE.

Hope refers to an optimistic attitude, a feeling of trust or anticipation of good things to come.  It is a desire for something specific and can either be a noun or a verb.  We look through the cinders of what was once our beautiful life in the HOPE (noun) of finding a treasured memento or we are HOPING (verb) for our perpetrating partner to change.  But unlike more positive emotions we may experience such as joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, inspiration, awe and love, hope comes with a unique characteristic.

According to Dr. Barbara L. Fredrickson, a social psychologist, hope "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." (Psychology Today, March 23, 2009)  She goes on to assert that "Hope literally opens us up.  It removes the blinders of fear and despair and allows us to see the big picture.  We become creative, unleashing our dreams for the future." (Ibid)  The opposite of hope, then, is fear.

Hope demands action--it requires that we do something.  It offers an opportunity or invitation for us to choose optimism over pessimism, to trust rather than to fear and to believe that this circumstance is not our defining moment.  It urges us to trust that this situation is not our story's ending.  According to Dr. Fredrickson, this choice is vital.  "Hope and fear are not mere words or facial gestures.  They're deeply felt neurochemical stances toward our current circumstances--stances that alter our outlooks, our actions, as well as the life paths that unfold before us." (Ibid)

I can vividly recall the sense of despair and hopelessness that I felt in the days and weeks after my door and life came crashing down.  I felt powerless and very fearful of my future.  I was easily triggered from the trauma I had experienced and terror kept me awake at night.  Hope seemed elusive but inexplicably, it rose up in my core.  I chose to hope even when my circumstances remained unchanged.  In a sense, hope was all that I had left and I hung onto it like a drowning person clings to a proffered lifesaver.

It seems to me that we all need a healthy dose of hope about now.  Fear closes us down and causes us to cower but hope requires that we open ourselves to the future and to finding creative solutions both personally and corporately.  It is time to figure out how to rebuild and repair our broken doors and hope offers the key.  So for 2017, I choose HOPE.  Won't you join me?

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Scrambled Eggs on Christmas Morning

As I stared at the bubbling eggs cooking in the skillet Christmas morning, my mind immediately flashed back to Christmas morning five years ago.  My ex and I had returned from a family Christmas trip the evening before and were alone in our cold Midwestern home.  Our refrigerator had turned into a freezer while we were gone and the only thing I could muster up for our Christmas brunch that lonely morning was some semi-frozen eggs that I scrambled.  It was after our make-shift meal that my ex told me he was tired of being in a marriage where he could not be his true self and he wanted a divorce.  It was a dark, dark Christmas day.

But this Christmas, exactly five years after that sinister day, I scrambled eggs for my newly reconstituted family.  Four new members have been added to our group in the past five years, including my new husband, a daughter-in-love and two adorable granddaughters.  As our family gathered this Christmas, there was laughter, raucous play and teasing but no tears.  We are healing, we are recovering.  Hope is alive and well in our family.

Each week, it seems, I connect with yet another partner or former partner of a perpetrating pedophile.  While the details of each story may be slightly different, the general themes are so achingly familiar.  The shock of betrayal and the horror of discovery are overwhelming and grief incapacitates even the strongest of women.  Unless you have lived through it, it is impossible to grasp how comprehensive and devastating this journey is.  Nothing makes sense anymore and yet so many confusing elements of life with a pedophile begin to come into focus.  The one commodity, however, that is scarce with each one is hope.

Learning that you have been or are married to a pedophile robs you of a future you had believed in as well as the past memories you treasured.  Every memory is now tainted with the knowledge that the one you were/are married to is not who he claimed to be.  Hope for the future fades quickly and despair becomes a constant companion.  My story and the countless others who have come before me is one of hope rising from utter despair--our narratives declare that as long as there is breath, there is hope.

While I felt like my life was over five years ago after scrambling those eggs, it wasn't.  Those were dark days and darker ones were on the horizon--days when doors would come crashing down and my ex's secrets would be broadcast on the nightly news.  But like the seed nestled in the dark soil waiting for the warmth of spring hope was alive, even when I felt hopeless.  Life was not over and my little family was not destroyed.  Hope called forth resiliency and strength--it was life-giving.  And it is something I gratefully pass on to those who feel robbed of hope by the betrayal of their perpetrating partner.

Scrambled eggs on Christmas morning remind me that eggs must be broken and beaten, much like the promises tying two individuals together when pedophilia is present.  But it is in their breaking that they yield the hope of a delicious and nourishing meal.  I regret that my children had to experience the heartbreak of their father's betrayal and of our divorce.  But I do not regret the freedom from the impact of pedophilia that we now enjoy.  I am grateful for the hope we now experience and for the opportunity to pass it on to others who are where we once were.  I think I might just go and scramble some more eggs.  Happy New Year and hang on to hope, dear ones!

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Art of Grieving

Someone recently asked me to elaborate on the importance of fully grieving any loss, particularly those associated with having been married to a perpetrator.  I was intrigued by her description of the grief process as an art.  Images of artists painting a masterpiece or fashioning a pot of clay sprang to mind.  Art, I've learned, is a messy process--paint splatters and drips, clay hardens under fingernails and clings to any surface it comes into contact with.  And like art, grief is unpredictable, time consuming and messy.
Grief is Unpredictable

The inspiration for creative artistic expression does not appear on command but rather comes when the time is right--when the muse strikes.  We've all heard of the writer with writer's block and I assume the same phenomenon happens with other artists.  And so it is with grief--we cannot orchestrate when it will arrive--like the wave crashing onto the shore, it comes in and threatens our sense of stability and balance.  It does not come on our schedule so often catches us by surprise.  But grief, like the wave, ebbs and flows.  When it floods into our hearts and minds, we remember that it does not come to stay, it will flow out into the deep once again.

Grief Takes Time

Artistic masterpieces take time to create.  It took Michelangelo fifty-four months to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  It was a huge investment of time and yet his work is still revered and admired today.  To fully grieve a loss, we must be willing to invest the time necessary to grieve.  Too many of us are so uncomfortable with grief work that we try to shortchange the work--stuff the pain, deny or minimize it.  We prefer to complete a simple paint-by-number piece rather than invest the time and allow grief to create the masterpiece it is capable of creating in our life.  Losses that are not fully grieved come back to haunt us when we encounter a future loss.  Like the stubborn clay that sticks to everything it comes into contact with, the pain of our unresolved or ungrieved losses come along for the ride when a new loss is incurred.

Grief is Messy

Have you ever envied the person who can cry gracefully?  Dainty tears streak down a face without gathering makeup or mascara, eyes do not grow puffy nor does the face become red and splotchy.  This is not me!  There is nothing dainty or neat about my appearance when I have been crying.  I am a mess.  The work of grieving is messy.  It is not linear, circular or logical.  It just is.  We often cycle back through the same phase again and again.  There is no right or wrong way to do the work of grief, it simply must be done.  Friends and family may be uncomfortable with the messiness of our grief; they may urge us to "just get over it" and we soon learn that not all help offered is helpful.

So what are the guidelines that can help us during a season of grief?  Here are some things that have been helpful for me:
  • Learn to lovingly contain grief.  Give yourself time and space to experience the pain and to grieve but then lovingly and carefully pack it away for another day.  This is different from stuffing or denying the pain; it is learning that you can contain it to an extent.  I like to imagine packing my grief away in a white box with a large red ribbon and placing it on a prominent shelf in my closet, with the promise that I will return and retrieve the contents another day.
  • Practice extra special self-care during periods of grief.  Be sure that you eat regular meals, stay hydrated, get plenty of rest and do those things that soothe and comfort you.  It may be watching a funny or sad movie, taking a long hot bath, talking to a friend, listening to music, praying, journaling or going for a walk.  Be gentle with yourself and give yourself losts of tender, loving care.
  • Lower the expectations you have for yourself during a seson of grief.  Carefully manage those expectations so you can avoid "shoulding" yourself, i.e. "I should . . . " or "I shouldn't be . . ."  there is no guidebook, no right or wrong way to navigate this season.
  • Invite someone along for the joruney.  Again, remember that not everyone who signs up for this assignment will be able to help.  You only need one or two individuals who know how to be present with you when you are grieving.  Avoid individuals who need you to comfort them;  this isn't the time for that.  It is so easy to get lost in the grief--you need a midwife to coach you through the really tough times.
  • Remember that as long as there is breath, there is hope.  This is not the end of your story!  There is a plan and God is always redeeming the pain in our lives.  The things that Satan meant for harm, He is turning for our good.  Hang onto hope, however small.  Nurture it and allow its warmth to invade the wounded and broken places of your heart.  

The Japanese, it turns out, have discovered a perfect artistic expression that illustrates the art of grieving.  Valuable ceramics that have been broken are repaired using a resin with gold powder in it.  One artisan puts it this way "Many Japanese have come to cherish the imperfection of a broken pot repaired in this way, seeing it as a creative addition and/or re-birth to the pot's life story. . . when something has suffered damage and has a history, it becomes more beautiful:  SOURCE

We all experience times of breaking, losses that shatter our lives, hopes, dreams and aspirations.  Allowing the art of grieving to work its way into the jagged edges of our breaking can create a far more beautiful masterpiece of our lives that we were before the shattering, a stunningly beautiful new work of art!