Monday, October 27, 2014

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

I noticed a curious plant on a walk in my neighborhood--it is a shrub with tiny, delicate flowers on it in three shades of purple--deep purple, lavender and white.  Purple is one of my favorite colors so of course, I was intrigued.  It took some research but I discovered that the plant's name is Brunfelsia latifolia but is commonly called the Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow shrub.  I purchased one for my garden on the second anniversary of my divorce--it seemed appropriate somehow.

When the blooms open, they are dark purple in color; on the second day they fade to lavender and then become white on the third day.  At any given time, all three colors are present on the plant and the color of the blossom clues one in on how long the flower has been open.  Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow will not thrive in colder climates but will grow in any light exposure, though it prefers morning sun and afternoon shade.

The name of the plant intrigued me because my life has been in a major transition during the past few years.  The trauma I have experienced anchors me to the events of yesterday and creates fear of what may come tomorrow.  This is the very nature of trauma--it ties us to an event(s) that occurred in one or more of our yesterdays.  The world is not as safe as we believed it was so we have fear and anxiety about what my come in our tomorrows.

But recovery offers another option--one that does not deny the trauma of yesterday or dismiss the fears we harbor of tomorrow.  It teaches us to be fully present in today--to live fully in this present moment.  Indeed, orienting to the present is a technique we teach victims of trauma to use when experiencing a flashback.  During a triggering event, the trauma victim's brain cannot differentiate between the past and the present, so experiences the trigger as though the remembered event were happening in the now.  Orienting to the present--noticing the feel of my feet on the floor, the smell of the plant on my desk, the light touch as my fingers skim the keyboard and the jazz playing softly in the background--these appeals to my senses remind my brain that that was then, this is now.

Recovery assures us that the bruises of our past will fade as we process through the pain, turning the deep purple of the wound into lighter and lighter shades of lavender and white.  But the key is staying present in the now, while honoring the past and surrendering to what may come in the future.  Today is my pressing concern--this moment, now this one and again this one.

Those of us in the Western world often live with one foot planted in "yesterday" and another planted in "tomorrow."  And far too often, we miss today.  We expend so much time fretting about what has already happened in our world or what may happen that we have no energy left to enjoy the beauty and majesty of daily life on this amazing planet.  This is the epidemic that plagues our world and it is far deadlier than Ebola or terrorism or a flagging economy.

I'm reminded of the lyrics of a song that meant so much to me many years ago.  It urges the listener to "hold tight to the sound of the music of living."  It refers to the music of the moment, the music of today--the laughter of children, the touch of a loved one, the blue of the sky or the green of the forest.  These are amazing gifts that we take for granted or ignore because we are listening to the cacophony of voices engaged in rigorous debate or issuing dire warnings about what tomorrow may hold.  The music of living gets drowned out by the noise of shrill street vendors urging vigilance, anxiety and fear.

Yesterday is gone and can never be recaptured and we are not promised tomorrow.  We have this moment, this very moment of life.  And isn't that enough?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Hallway

A funny (?) thing happened at this year's Unity Conference, a 12-step recovery gathering for sex addicts (SA) and those impacted by living with or having lived with a sexually addicted or compulsive individual (S-Anon).  The hotel where the event was held also booked another major conference.  That in itself is not note-worthy, except that the other conference was an international ballroom dancing competition.

The halls that led to our breakout rooms were filled with men and women in incredibly skimpy attire--not the ballroom dancing gowns I remember!  Even the public restrooms and lobby were filled with competitors with lots and lots of exposed skin, tight-fitting clothing and exaggerated make-up.  It created a minefield of danger for our conference attendees.

But an amazing thing happened.  Men and women working hard to recover from a progressive disease took extraordinary measures to maintain their sobriety in the face of this unexpected challenge.  They found other ways to get to the breakout rooms; they avoided The Hallway at all costs.  It was inconvenient and even silly to go outside the hotel and walk all the way around it to get to a door leading directly into the desired room.  But they did.

And I learned an important lesson:  a man or woman in recovery will do all they can to stay away from The Hallway of temptation.  For you see a relapse or slip in sex addiction does not mean a momentary lustful thought, a small window of porn viewing, masturbation or one visit to a strip club.  It can and often does lead to a binge of out-of-control behavior.  For those of us who do not struggle with an addiction, this may seem extreme or foreign but for those who second-by-second contend with this monstrous disease know it as their reality 24/7.

Staying away from The Hallway means that the person in recovery won't:
  • underestimate the severity and complexity of his disease or over-estimate his ability to control it.
  • minimize the power of temptation or inflate his ability to resist.
  • deny that The Hallway exists or deceive himself into believing that it is safe for him to enter.
So hats off to all those brave men and women who daily choose the long way around rather than risking the dangers of The Hallway.  Theirs is a courageous, gut-wrenching battle with huge implications for failure.  I'm grateful for the opportunity of knowing brave hearts who daily prove that addiction can be beaten with vigilance, courage and a tenacious commitment to staying out of The Hallway.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Deja Vu All Over Again

Another headline, another hidden perpetrator, another brave wife, more individuals wounded grievously in childhood . . . when is it ever going to end?  When the Stephen Collins' story first broke last week, the sordid tale of molestation, betrayal, manipulation and deceit triggered my own quieted grief and anger.  It was deja vu all over again so it was not hard to feel great empathy for his wife--not hard at all.

While the details and timetable of the Collins' situation are still somewhat sketchy, with what I have gleaned from numerous sources, it seems that the pattern of behavior is quite typical of what many partners/former partners have experienced.  Deja vu--it has "already been seen" before.

And maybe by looking at the typical pattern of behavior of a pedophile/perpetrator we can find pieces of information that will prove helpful in formulating an earlier detection plan.
  • He targets an unsuspecting woman and pursues her as a romantic partner, playing to her insecurities and vulnerabilities.
  • When the relationship is secure from his perspective, he manipulates, deceives, minimizes and distorts her perception of reality (gaslighting) if she suspects anything is off in the relationship.
  • He is now free to molest because he is perceived as a "safe" person in that he has a wife and family of his own.  His plan to create just the perfect cover for deviancy is now in place and she has no clue she is part of this grand scheme.
  • If and when his perpetrating behavior is revealed, either through voluntary disclosure, discovery or involvement with the criminal justice system, he feigns just enough remorse and contempt for his behavior to lull her into believing that there is hope, with help, for their relationship.  She believes whatever explanation he provides because he is just that good at fooling others.
  • He agrees to therapy, accountability, boundaries, honesty, etc. in an attempt to persuade her that he really is going to change or truly address his deviant behavior.
  • When she has relaxed a bit into believing he is in "recovery," he will abruptly leave the relationship, either by actually leaving the marriage or by a pseudo-leaving.  Pseudo-leaving involves being even more unavailable for relationships as his disease and preoccupation with perpetrating behaviors escalates.
  • All the while he is engaged in illegal activities, he will project all of the blame and shame for the relationship difficulties onto her.  She may balk at carrying the heavier responsibility for the marital woes but far too often carries it anyway.
  • When he no longer wants of feels that he needs her, he will change his stripes dramatically.  He may become vindictive or retaliatory, work hard to disrupt or destroy her reputation, friendships or relationships with their children and be incredibly selfish with their joint assets.  He becomes the man he has always been on the inside--predatory--and she is shocked because she discovers that the man she thought she married never existed.

With all the stories that are dominating the news about yet another actor, youth pastor, teacher or counselor preying on children, what gets lost in the lurid details is the pattern. These guys are not very creative and it seems behind every one of them is a woman who is absolutely devastated by the behavior of her partner.  And while the public scrutiny and shock is initially correctly placed on the behavior of the perpetrator, eventually the tide turns and her behavior is called into question as well.  This has been so clearly illustrated in the Stephen Collins' story.  One actress was quoted as saying, "He was such a nice man."  Meanwhile his wife has been portrayed as a money-hungry extortionist who probably broke the law by secretly recording their conversations.

It is easier to believe that the affable, sweet man who charms us and is sensitive and kind is less guilty than his innocent and betrayed spouse.  The individual who has caused such irreparable harm to children is judged less grievous than his romantic partner who is just trying to survive a world that has suddenly and inexplicably turned upside down.

There is a "tedious familiarity" to these stories and they definitely are "unpleasantly familiar."  If we fail to learn from them, however, they becomes just another horrendous tragedy with no redeeming element.  There is a pattern; it eventually becomes detectible with enough education and awareness.  Perpetrators are actually quite predictable and that is how we can catch them earlier.