Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Am I Really a Co-pedophile??

Someone recently quoted the childhood rhyme that most of us learned "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt them."  She wanted to encourage me but I reminded her that the rhyme is false--words have tremendous power to hurt and wound our soul and so does labels.

Here are some of the labels I have found for partners of pedophiles:

  • One organization has labeled a woman who finds out her partner is a pedophile and stays as a co-pedophile.
  •  S-Anon labels women in a relationship with an individual with sexual compulsions as a co-addict.  None of the other family groups in the 12-step groups label a family member as a "co-alcoholic" or "co-gambler."
  • A psychologist wrote recently in a major psych magazine that the wife always knows and should be considered a criminal. 
  • One prevention site calls the wife a predator-in--the-making.
  • Treatment professionals often believe that the partner of any addict is a co-dependent.
But none of these labels acknowledges what we know to be true about pedophiles:
  • They are excellent at grooming another to accept unacceptable behavior.
  • They are very often respected, up-standing professional men of the community.
  • They are master manipulators and deceivers.
  • Undifferentiated pedophiles are attracted both to adults and children.
  • The main person they target to deceive is their spouse because they need the spouse as a cover.
  • They are great at gas-lighting.
And none of these sources seem to truly know what the partner of a pedophile experiences:
  • Though she may suspect something is off, she often has nothing to hang her gut instinct on.
  •  When she does discover that her spouse is acting out in some fashion, she is incredibly traumatized and reacts accordingly.
  • Not all of life with a pedophile is confusing or difficult--there is good as well, which according to Patrick Carnes, creates a powerful betrayal bond.
  • She may have children of her own to consider.  If he has not been arrested and she leaves, she knows that he may obtain sole or unsupervised visits with the children and she fears for their safety.
  • Without proof that will stand up in a court of law, she knows that she will lose in any legal battle because she is going up against a system that still favors the man, even a pedophile.
I am not a co-pedophile; I am a woman who unknowingly fell in love with a pedophile.

I am not a co-addict--addicted to him.  I thought we were creating a life together; I thought I was in a loving relationship.

I am not a criminal but I may be married to one without knowing a thing about it.

I am not a predator-in-the-making but rather a mother, wife, daughter, sister and aunt, who has been kept in the dark about my spouse's criminal activity.

I am not codependent, though my behavior may look like I am; I am a trauma survivor.

If I have any inkling that my husband's interest in children may be sexual, I may have formed a powerful betrayal bond (think Stockholm Syndrome) that makes it very difficult to leave him. I am a victim of his grooming as well.

But skeptics ask "How is it that a wife may not know of her husband's predilections or criminal activity?"
  • According to Dr. Patrick Carnes "Addicts withhold a major portion of themselves--a pain deeply felt, but never expressed or witnessed.  They do not trust nor do they become intimate with others, especially their families." (Carnes, Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction, p. 6).
  • "But even when partners suspect something is amiss, ask questions, check computers, phone bills, credit card and bank statements--basically do everything they can short of hiring a private investigator--their mates simply lie.  This leaves them with continued suspicions, but with no concrete evidence and thus no way to prove what they only fear." (Steffens & Means, Your Sexually Addicted Spouse: How Partners Can Cope and Heal, p. 61).
What do these labels do for women still married to a pedophile?  They guarantee her silence, cause her to cower in fear and stay as deeply hidden as she possibly can.  She has been horrendously betrayed, lied to and manipulated for years.  While she is horrified at the possibility that her husband may be sexually molesting children, she also probably has children of her own to consider.  And the media coverage of high-profile cases with the vitriolic push-back against women like her who had the misfortune of marrying a predator, gives her nightmares at night.

No, I am not a co-pedophile, co-addict, criminal, predator-in-the-making or a codependent.  I am a co-victim. The vast majority of non-exclusive pedophiles (attracted to both children and adults) are married and have children.  Their partners and children are secondary and silent victims.

If we as a country really want to protect children from sexual predators, we have to stop blaming their co-victims and find a way to reach out to her in compassion and kindness and with information.
Name-calling, labeling and blame will just keep her isolated behind a wall of self-protective silence.  And since pedophiles are usually only identified after they have molested a child or been arrested on child pornography charges, it is imperative that we find a way to engage the partner in our fight to safeguard the children in our world.  She is on the front lines of the battle and may not even know hat she is in a battle.  We need to arm her with truth about pedophilia but also about the sinister web of deception and manipulation that she is probably caught up in.  Only then will we be able to begin to create a safer world for our children.  Labels just don't work.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Serenity, Courage and Wisdom

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.

This prayer, attributed to theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, has become a beloved part of every 12-step recovery group meeting.  My own group recites it at the beginning and end of our weekly gathering and many of us use it on a regular basis to remind ourselves of the lessons we have learned in recovery.  When I was decorating my first apartment as a single woman, I found this picture and it has a place of honor in my new home. It reminds me daily of three words that have been key to my recovery process:  serenity, courage and wisdom.

Serenity is defined as the state of being serene, that is "calm, composed, tranquil, peaceful, untroubled, relaxed, at ease, unperturbed, unruffled, unworried." (New Oxford American Dictionary)  This word certainly did not describe me in the immediate aftermath of my world crashing down!  And let's be honest, it does not describe most of us on any given day or in any given situation.  We are bombarded daily by the latest crisis or tragedy in the world--news that used to take weeks to get to us is now broadcast as it is happening.  It is difficult to maintain serenity on the best of days and when trouble comes, most of us do not meet it as peaceful, tranquil or untroubled individuals.

And yet recovery promises that we can get to a state of serenity about or in spite of the circumstances in our lives.  Serenity may not be our first reaction to bad news or difficult circumstances but we can get there and the key is "accepting the things I cannot change."  "When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation--some fact of my life--unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment." (Alcoholics Anonymous 4th ed., p. 417).

"Accepting the things I cannot change" involves letting go of the past I thought I wanted or giving up the hope that the past could be any different than it was.  Read that again--it is letting go of the past I thought I wanted, deserved, was promised . . . . period.  Is this easy?  No, a thousand times no.  I have struggled so much in recent weeks with accepting that my marriage was not what I thought I had.  I struggle with accepting that I spent over three decades trying to connect emotionally with someone who was unavailable for connection, trying to build a relationship with someone protecting a deadly secret.  Serenity comes when I can accept that what was, was.  The past wasn't what I thought it was, it wasn't what I wanted or believed I had.  It wasn't what I deserved or worked for. I can fight against that cold, hard fact or I can accept it.

But "accepting the things I cannot change" also means accepting the unacceptable challenges of today. I have found the first three steps of the 12-step program helps tremendously with accepting what often seems unacceptable both in the past and in my present.  A short summary of the first three steps is, I can't; God can; I'm going to let him.

Courage is defined as "the ability to do something that frightens one; strength in the face of pain or grief" (New Oxford American Dictionary).  But the original meaning of the word was "To speak one's mind by telling all one's heart." (Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection, p. 12).  I exhibit courage when I tell my story from my heart--the unvarnished story, the one without the rose-colored glasses.  A vital prerequisite of the second stanza of this prayer--"Courage to change the things I can"--is to tell myself the truth about my life.  It means putting aside the fairy-tale version and looking at the reality.

And it takes courage to do this work but "courage does not mean the absence of fear.  Courage is the ability to walk through changes that would have overwhelmed me previously" (Reflections of Hope, p. 158).  I quickly completed steps 1-3 of my 12-step program but step 4 was very frightening to me--a thorough and complete moral inventory???  But I have found that it is insightful and affirming to speak the truth to myself about myself.  And steps 4-10 will give me an opportunity to admit my shortcomings to God, myself and another person, become ready to have God remove my defects of character, and ask him to remove them.  Then I will make a list of all persons I have harmed and work on becoming willing to make amends; I will make amends and then do the inventory all over again.  Wow--sounds intense and it is.  Does it demand courage, yes!

But, "As I enlist God's help, my shortcomings have changed into more positive ways of acting.  I consciously think of the way I want to act, and then implement new behaviors.  It hasn't been easy, but the results have been worth it." (Reflections of Hope, p. 158).

Wisdom is defined as "the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment" (New Oxford American Dictionary).  It is by drawing on our cumulative experiences, knowledge and judgment that we determine what we can change and what we cannot change.  Wisdom is learning what I can and cannot do; it is respecting the boundary that separates me from another; it is staying on my side of the street and not assuming responsibility for or taking ownership of problems that do not belong to me.  It is quite simple and yet quite profound.

Wisdom reminds me that powerlessness is not the same as helplessness; teaches me that if I didn't cause it, I can't control it or cure it; urges me to detach with love and compassion; nudges me away from people-pleasing; and shows me how to be gentle to myself and to trust my Higher Power and the process.  Wisdom values the experience, strength and hope of others in recovery; it causes me to reach out when I need a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on or a pat on the back.  Steps 11-12 indicate that by improving my conscious contact with the God of my understanding, I will have wisdom and experience a true spiritual awakening.  I can then be a beacon of hope to others struggling in the storms of life.

Three words:  serenity, courage and wisdom--much more than a beautiful wall hanging--a prescription for doing life differently, a road map for recovery.  There are far more eloquent prayers one can pray but none with more power to change lives than this one.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

"Who is My Neighbor?"

The tone of this post is very different from that of more recent ones; the nature of grief is that one's emotional climate can and does change rapidly.  Sometimes it is hard to keep up but it is the reality of recovery from loss, betrayal or trauma.

I called my old pharmacy recently--the one I used in my former life.  I spoke with Tom, the owner of the pharmacy and as soon as I identified myself he said, "Oh, Brenda, how are you?  We've been thinking about you."  I was moved to tears by the compassion and genuine concern in his voice.  Here's what I know about Tom:  he is old and has a slight tremor in his hand, he is the owner of a mom and pop pharmacy and he still uses glass beakers in the compounding part of his store.  That's it.  But he knows me and my story because of the publicity surrounding it and he used my call about prescriptions to reach out in kindness to me.  I was overwhelmed.

Road referenced in the story
That phone call reminded me of a question a young lawyer asked of a great teacher:  "Who is my neighbor?" The teacher used a parable or story to answer the question.  (You can read the story here.)  The cast of characters in the story include a victim, a band of villains, two professional men and a man considered to be "from the other side of the tracks," in that region.  The setting for the story was a treacherous road connecting the religious center of the country to a popular village on the other side of the mountain.  The route was considered dangerous because bands of thieves often ambushed solitary travelers, robbing and beating them.

Which is exactly what happened to the victim in the story.  He was robbed, beaten and left for dead along the side of the road.  But wait, there are more characters in the story--help is on the way, isn't it?  The first and then the second potential helper approaches, looks at the victim, crosses to the other side of the road and passes him by.  But the teacher points to the third potential helper as the hero in the story.  He stopped, rendered aid, transported the victim to a place of healing and paid for the injured man's care out of his personal funds.  He got involved and stayed involved until the victim recovered.  The teacher pointed to this man as a true neighbor, in answer to the lawyer's question.

A nice story with the moral being the importance of looking out for one's neighbor, right?  Yes, but there is more, so much more.  Because the victim and the uncaring professionals were from the same "neighborhood," so to speak.  The hero helper was not from their neighborhood but rather was from the despised one on the other side of town.  The injured man was ignored by his "neighbors" but helped by someone he may have avoided had he been in a condition to do so.  The great teacher turned the definition of the word "neighbor" upside down when he answered this important question.  His answer reframed the question from "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?" to "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?"

I've thought a lot about who my neighbors are during the past months of recovery. The individuals who I thought were neighbors turned out not to be so, which is a source of deep pain to me.  Former colleagues, professors, pastors and friends seemingly passed by in horror at the damage I had suffered.  I was messy and the situation I found myself in was messy--not a topic for polite conversation at a dinner party.  The kind of mess that creates a stench and makes neighbors feel ill at ease--that threatening kind of mess that we all tend to move away from.  It is costly to really be a good neighbor to someone suffering--it is a risk and you will get dirty.

To be fair, a few did immediately reach out, but this many months later, their numbers are quickly dwindling.  I find myself yearning for a "Good Samaritan" these days.  Yes the crisis has passed but the grief has not.  It comes in waves--phantom pains that remind me grimly of what has been lost.  It is exhausting.  The challenge of beginning life again after a devastating loss is overwhelming; the details that must be attended to are without end.  Have I mentioned that it is exhausting? And it is lonely, and frightening.

It is tempting to become cynical, particularly of members of my faith tradition and of those within the helping and legal professions.  It is very tempting.  And yet, I know it is a lot to ask--I know that living up to the standard of neighborliness that the great teacher set is time consuming and scarey.  It means sacrifice and it means moving out of one's comfort zone and tolerating inconvenience.  It means giving of one's resources, time and maybe even reputation. True neighborliness demands much from us and most of us just are not willing to pay the cost.

So, today I know that true neighbors are hard to come by.  Today I renew my commitment to be a Good Samaritan to those I meet or know who have been beaten up by life, robbed by opportunists and abandoned by those they trusted.  Today I recommit myself to following the great Teacher's standard for neighborliness.  To ask not "What will this cost me?" but rather "What will happen to this person if I fail to act?"Today I choose to embrace compassion, empathy and forgiveness rather than anger, resentment and cynicism.  These are my gifts in the wounds of the past months.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Victim? Survivor? Or Something More?

Over four decades ago, my uncle walked out of his marriage and my aunt has never recovered.  Even though he has been dead for a number of years, she sees herself as his rejected, cast-off spouse.  For some reason she never moved on and today though her mind is foggy with dementia, she still carries the shame, rejection and resentment birthed on that terrible, no-good day.  She is frozen in time, a victim still defined by the devastating actions of another.

Advocates who work with individuals impacted by abuse and domestic violence feel that the terms used to refer to their clients are important.  They prefer the term "survivor" to "victim" feeling that the former is more empowering than the latter.  And terminology is important for the impacted individual in terms of their recovery--a name or label has incredible power over how we view our self in relationship to others and the world.

Researchers have established that past victimization is a risk factor for future victimization, which is a compelling reason to help victims move forward in the healing process--to move from being a victim to becoming a survivor.  But is surviving enough or is there something more?  I contend there is.

A victim says, "Something bad happened to me through no fault of my own."
A survivor says, Though something bad happened to me through no fault of my own, I did not succumb."
But a thriver says, "I've found many gifts in the wounds as a consequence of something bad that happened to me through no fault of my own."

A person who is a thriver has moved beyond defining herself by the bad thing that happened to her.  She says, "I've learned much about myself in relationship to others and to the world because something bad happened to me through no fault of my own.  I realize I am stronger than I thought I was; I have a greater awareness of people.  I've learned to not give anyone the benefit of the doubt but to withhold judgement until I have enough evidence to believe they are a trustworthy person.  I've learned to forgive the person or persons through whom something bad happened to me.  More importantly, I've learned to forgive myself.  I look forward to life; I embrace the future with eagerness and happiness.  I'm no longer a victim paralyzed by the bad that happened to me; nor am I a survivor  defined by the bad that happened to me but I am a thriver in spite of and because of the bad that happened to me.  I am flourishing; I am growing; I am alive.  I have a future, I have a hope."

The victim and the survivor see themselves through the narrow lens of that bad thing that happened; they are still defined by it--it is the major key in the music of their life.  The thriver does not deny the bad thing that happened but sees it as one movement of life's symphony--there is so much more music waiting to be expressed.

A victim says "This is my story."
A survivor says "This is not the end of my story."
But a thriver says "I am now writing the rest of my story."

So, something bad happened to me through no fault of my own.  I was a victim.  I survived that bad thing that happened to me but I am now thriving.  Unlike my embittered and resentful aunt, I am writing the rest of my story--making music with the life I have been given.  And it is glorious!  Can you hear it?

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Cast Away at a Crossroads

Words from an old song have reverberated through my brain in recent weeks--so much so that I finally tracked down the lyrics:

Cast Away
You've come walking with a scar on your soul
Taking too much too lightly.
And it is no wonder that you're feeling so cold
Shivering so politely.

Cast away, cast away
You can find your way.
Cast away, cast away
It will be okay.

You stand a looking with a hurt in your eye,
Gray in the sky above you.
You'll feel much better if you go on and cry
You've found Somebody who will love you.
(c) 1979 Mark Heard, Autumn Balm Music, BMI

A simple song with a profound message--one that completely expresses the grief of betrayal, abandonment and loss as well as the hope of recovery.  No wonder it is on a continuous loop in my mind these days!

The word "cast away" has three potential meanings:
  1. An individual who is discarded, thrown away or rejected;
  2. An individual cast adrift or ashore as a survivor of a shipwreck;
  3. An individual who is thrown out or left without friends or resources.
For those of us recovering from or living within a toxic, abusive or addictive relationship, all three meanings apply.  We feel discarded and rejected by our significant other and certainly know that our life or relationship feels like a shipwreck.  And if we choose to leave or are abruptly thrown out of the relationship, we often are left without friends or resources.  We live as cast aways with scars on our souls and hurt in our eyes.  And we often are guilty of "taking too much too lightly" and "shivering so politely."  We abhor being a burden to another even in our pain and devastation.

And of course, the term "cast away" calls to mind the movie by that name featuring Tom Hanks.  Tom's character, Chuck, is a time-consumed executive who is marooned on a deserted island after the plane he is flying in goes down in a storm.  Because humans are created for connection, Chuck forms an emotional tie to his only companion, a soccer ball that washes ashore from the downed plane,  who he appropriately  names "Wilson."  After four years on the island where time has little meaning, Chuck attempts an escape but in the process loses "Wilson."  Chuck is rescued and returns home only to discover that his life has also been shipwrecked and he has some choices to make. 

Several themes from the movie resonate with me as I contemplate my own shipwrecked life.  First, when Chuck loses "Wilson," his grief is palpable.  "Wilson" was his only companion--the person he talked to endlessly.  This scene in the movie reflects the character's pivotal decision to let go of personal illusions in exchange for real life.  Had he held on to the illusion of "Wilson," he may have missed the cargo ship waiting to rescue him.

And so it is with recovery from a toxic relationship.  We must let go of the illusions, accept the truth and cold realities of our relationship or life before we can enter into true life and begin the process of recovery.  We discard the rose-colored glasses and look at our life or relationship through the lens of truth and reality.  It is painful for sure but essential if we are to recover.

(c) Dreamworks
The second scene from the movie that resonates deeply with me is the final scene.  Chuck has
returned home, discovered that his significant other has declared him dead and remarried and he is faced with a crossroads in life.  This scene was filmed in a remote area of Texas and while the landscape appears barren and incompatible with life, each road offers the potential for adventure, connection and the possibility of happiness.  The movie ends without us knowing which road Chuck chooses--a poignant reminder that his story does not end just because the movie is over.

The crossroads are a metaphor for life after loss.  And like the song, they remind me that I can find my way.  I can focus on the barrenness of the landscape, the magnitude of my loss or I can focus on the possibilities and potential available to me.  I do have choices.  While I did not choose to be a cast away--who would, right?  I do have choices about my future.  So yet again, I must remind myself that this is not the end of my story--it is just a crossroads.  I am no longer a cast away but rather an adventurer, a pioneer charting a new course for my life.