19 November 2015

Thoughts on Religion

I’m LDS (Mormon) which I think has been pretty obvious on my blog.  Over the years I’ve tried to write in a way that most WoPAs could relate to, but my religion has been a big part of my recovery.  Sadly, there have been occasional (for me) and frequent (for others) situations and moments where I have felt let down by my religion.  I’ve felt like the organization that was meant to support and lift me failed to live up to those roles.  This has been painful.  I’ve felt a frustration about how exactly God works, and why he wasn’t/isn’t intervening in a way that could be more helpful to individuals like myself, Pete, and other WOPA women and addicts.  I still don’t understand this.  I have also felt personally hurt by church leaders and by other church members and the ideas and methods by which they preach and live. 

On Sunday Pete did something that felt like a step away from the church.  He denies that it was, and he likely knows his own intentions better than I do, but it felt like that to me.  It shook me up more than I expected, especially in light of my own struggles with some church dogma.  It scared me. 

I have friends who are leaving, who have left, who no longer relate to the LDS church and I’ll be completely honest here and say that this has shaken me too. 

I know that I’m upset by these things because of my own fears and insecurities about my worth and my faith.  My inability to accept myself makes it difficult for me to accept others.  But the truth is, I still love Pete, and I love and respect my friends so much. 

The past two months have brought a heavy depression for me, most likely related to pregnancy.  I’m trying different things to cope with these burdensome feelings of loneliness and despair, and in desperation I went to the temple on Saturday.  I wish I could say that it was a profoundly spiritual experience for me, and that I found clarity and courage.  I didn’t.  But I did have a realization. 

One of the women I went with, I’ll call her Kate, is from the West Indies.  She sometimes wears a traditional head scarf, a cultural nod to her heritage.  It’s a tight wrap around her hair, and she looks lovely in it.   She told me once that leaders of the church have asked her not to wear it in church, but she kindly refused to acquiesce and she was wearing it Saturday at the temple. 

Kate had explained to me before that her belief in the gospel isn’t related to the people who administer the church.  She had no problem recognizing when they were asking her to do something that had no doctrinal basis.   Her deep longing to be a part of the church is related to her belief in its teachings; a Savior, an atonement, grace, a direct link to God via personal revelation, concepts like forgiveness and mercy.  To this list I would add my own personal connections to gospel teachings; a moral obligation to my fellow-man, sisterhood and service, unpaid clergy, the divinity of the human body, the sanctity of sexual intimacy, relationships and existence beyond death, personal sacrifice, integrity, honesty, humility and the power of motherhood. 

I understand that a belief in gospel teachings might not be enough to maintain the commitments the church seems to require, and to overcome the personal hurt and offense that church leaders and members inevitably cause.  When I’m seeing clearly I can see how for many people it hasn’t been enough, and I get it.  I can also see that if I don’t find something else to hold on to as my personal faith relates to my religion, I probably won’t have the strength to keep going on within it. 

I can’t reconcile many things about my religion, and I wish that it offered me more clear answers.  I wish I had more faith in God, and that I could have more trust that He would answer my questions if I ask. I wish I could more easily believe that He is involved in my life.  But that kind of faith eludes me, for whatever reason.

This is where I am.  This is who I am.  This is my effort at personal acceptance and also acceptance of others.  This is where I nurture love for both the people who criticize my faith and those who self-righteously defend it.  This blog has always been my safe place for writing, and I came here to share these thoughts because my depression has made me completely terrified of sharing my thoughts anywhere else.  Thank you for being the most loving and non-judgmental community I’ve ever encountered.  

10 May 2015

Fear of Crappy Emotions

**My writing on this blog is so sporadic.  But I'm so grateful for my little space here, and for the little community of women who share it with me.  Thanks.
Buy this print here. 
June B left a comment on my last blog post that called me out a bit.  She didn't mean to, I'm sure her question was genuine.  But she struck at something that surfaces in my therapy a lot.  And that is my undying devotion to the avoidance of what June referred to as "crappy emotions."

I do a lot of things to avoid uncomfortable circumstances which can result in uncomfortable feelings. Sometimes I refrain from sharing my thoughts with Pete, because I am worried he will get defensive or I won't be heard.  Sometimes I hide parts of my identity, things about who I am, because I fear disapproval.  There are so many social experiences I miss out on for fear of rejection.  Even just making a phone call to get a babysitter sometimes isn't worth the risk I take that the babysitter will turn me down.

A few weeks ago we were traveling as a family and Pete and I had a conversation where I shared some of my feelings and it didn't go well.  I didn't get the empathy and understanding I was looking for, which resulted in some resentments and frustration on my part.  I decided that it just wasn't worth it to share my feelings.  What was the point?  It would be better to just keep them inside rather than take the chance that they wouldn't elicit the response I wanted.

I was discussing this with my therapist and he said to me

"Just because it didn't go well, doesn't mean you did it wrong.

Things are gonna go badly sometimes.  Conversations are going to result in hurt feelings and disappointment sometimes.  But why not give it a chance? Give Pete the chance to hear you and understand you.  I believe in you, and I believe that when it doesn't go well, you are capable of coping and feeling and getting through the disappointment."

What are crappy emotions that they must be avoided anyway? They are just guests at the party. Part of life's experiences. And not only that, but sadness consistently brings me closer to compassion, and out of pain grows empathy.

June asked, Will I ever get to a point of long-term consistent contentment and happiness?

Here's what I think. I think the course of my life is going to include crappy emotions.  But it is going to include happiness as well.  With the help of God and wise friends (and a good therapist!) I can navigate my way through it all.  Fearing and avoiding crappy emotions is not only an impossible task, but a confining one.  It's a classic risk-reward paradigm.  If I'm never willing to share my feelings, exhibit my true self, and participate socially - I'll never have the reward of a vulnerable conversation with my husband, feel loved for who I really am, and enjoy creating and nurturing meaningful relationships.

June I hope for both of us that our periods of happiness will be lengthy, and that we can learn how to lay a foundation of peace that will sustain us through the crappy emotions we will inevitably face.

30 March 2015

Qualifying My Happiness

Click here for some other really cheery rainbow photos. 

There are a few blogs I read that seem to be all sunshine and roses.  Occasionally the blog author will confess to a disappointment or a bad day, but then it seems they always qualify their negative experience with the words

“But then...”

For example.  “What an awful day, the kids were so naughty and I forgot my appointment and our dishwasher broke.  But then… my amazing husband showed up with Chinese take-out and a dozen roses.”

I feel like on my blog here, it’s a bit more dark clouds and noxious weeds, and occasionally I confess to moments of pleasure, but then I feel obligated to qualify them with “but then… my toddler pooped in his underwear and my husband acted out.”

I’m not quite sure at what point I began to feel ashamed of happiness.  But it seems that now, I’ve spent so much time in self-pity that I’m not sure how to enjoy happiness.  I don’t subscribe to the belief that happiness is the end-all, be-all object of my existence. Rather, I think sorrow and other non-happy feelings are meant to be part of our mortal experience, as teachers.  But as I’ve come to really accept anger and grief as guests at my table, I think I’ve left little room for happiness.

Who am I to be happy anyway? I’m the despairing wife of the sex addict, it is my identity and my role.  I am meant to forever be the pitiable victim.  And yet, even in my moments of martyrdom where I square my shoulders and accept that my circumstances simply are what they are, I’m still not quite feeling real happiness, but reluctant consignment.

Pete and I were discussing last night how this part of our lives can get so bogged down in the negative.  He was saying how his sponsor probably thinks his children are demons because all he ever says about them are his resentments.  And it’s true, I never think to call my sponsor when I’m basking in sunshine and my heart is filled with bliss.  I think to call her when I’m pissed or when I’ve been hurt or when things go wrong.

Lately I’ve been experiencing moments of real happiness.  I really love the place where I am living.  I really enjoy the ages of my children and their blossoming personalities. Even Pete and I are finding some common ground again to try to rebuild a relationship.

And yet each time I feel these feelings of gratitude and joy, I feel something pulling me back, telling me to hedge my bet or keep it to myself.  It’s almost as if I’ve forgotten how to be happy.  I've come a long way in learning how to sit comfortably in sadness.  So why can't I sit comfortably in happiness?


Post Edit:  As I've thought about this, it has occurred to me that I've spent a lot of my life faking happiness, and now to feel the things I've pretended to feel makes me a little uneasy.  Is it real? Am I being authentic?

Can anyone else relate?

19 March 2015

Is Your Husband Still Using?!

When I find myself obsessing about Pete's addiction there is a question I'm dying to ask all my WoPA friends. I want to call them up, spreadsheet at hand, and ask them all 

When was the last time your husband looked at porn?  And when was the time before that?

You know that feeling, when you're thinking that if you could just get your questions answered you would surely feel better about life?  If I could just hear that other husbands were still relapsing, surely I would find acceptance and peace.  

Fortunately I've made some progress and I don't obsess about Pete's addiction too often.  But Pete is still relapsing.  Sometimes he is sober for a few days, sometimes a few weeks, and other times he can go months without acting out.  

And here I am, still learning lessons about how I am powerless over Pete's addiction.  About how I can. not. make. him. change.  No matter how subtle I get in my codependency.  Last night I asked my therapist if I needed sobriety in my marriage.  He told me that he couldn't answer that, I would have to decide for myself.  To which I responded 

"I think I'm going to decide I need it."  

"Okay Jane.  But just remember, that if you need sobriety in your marriage, you might have to leave your marriage.  Because you are not getting it."  

Immediately I saw what I was doing.  I was giving myself another shot at changing Pete.  I was thinking-  If I tell Pete that I need sobriety in our marriage, then he'll have to get sober.  By golly THAT will be the thing that will make him sober. But it won't.  

In Al-Anon they teach that relationships can exist when the addict is still using.  This is really difficult for me.  But I'm exploring it.  It looks like this: 

Old boundary: If Pete acts out we don't have sex for one week. 
New boundary:  If I don't feel present and connected with Pete, I decline sexual advances. 

Old boundary: If Pete is acting like an addict, I emotionally and physically detach. 
New boundary: If Pete is unpleasant, unkind or grumpy, I don't need to be around him.  I can make my own plans, do my own thing.  

Old boundary: If Pete has a relapse, he sleeps in another room. 
New boundary: If Pete has a relapse and I feel upset, I practice self-care.  

This new way of having a relationship with Pete is terrifying and liberating at the same time.  It's terrifying because I am relinquishing so much [artificial/percieved] control.  But it's liberating because  I don't have to analyze his behavior looking for signs of recovery or addiction.  I just go with my gut, use my feelings to gauge how much I can trust and connect, and go with it. 

It doesn't mean that I approve of Pete using porn.  It doesn't mean that I'm in denial about his addiction.  It just means that I'm accepting my reality. I'm making a deliberate choice about having a relationship with my husband that is vulnerable and has inherent risk.  And I'm honest about how I can not manage his behavior.  

12 March 2015

My Foes


There is a hymn I've always loved.  Since I was a teenager I've always felt STRONG when I sing it.  Often the pianist will slow it down for the last first, and let the congregation really feel it as they sing

That soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose, 
I will not, I can not, desert to [her] foes. 
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake
I'll never, no never, no never forsake. 

But I couldn't ever really figure out who my foes were.  I don't really have any real enemies to speak of. I'm certainly not fighting any kind of literal war.  So when God has my back, who does He have my back against?

The past couple months have had me reeling in self-doubt. I'm not sure where it came from, but all of the sudden I became painfully aware of my shriveled and suffering self-worth.  One day as I was walking, and listening to this hymn, it occurred to me that in my life, my foes aren't any awful people that prevent me from loving my life and myself. My foes are the voices in my head that tell me that I'm not okay the way I am.  The voice that tells me to be embarrassed of what I have, or don't have.  The voice that tells me to hide parts of myself around certain people.  The voice that tells me I need to change before I can be acceptable.  The voices that constantly over-think and over-analyze something as simple as a comment on Facebook or a message sent on Voxer.  Those voices are my own personal enemies.

And I started to cry, walking down the bustling streets of my city.  Why is self-esteem so elusive? My goodness it teases me!

Accepting myself, loving myself, sharing myself with confidence has become the object of my existence for the last few weeks.

On a somewhat related note, for International Women's Day some friends and I recited [most of] this poem in an assembly at our children's school.  It is so beautiful.

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken? 
Bowed head and lowered eyes? 
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
I rise
I rise. 

(Still I Rise  - Maya Angelou.  Read the entire poem or hear it read, here.)

02 February 2015

Gratitude crashes the Pity Party

A couple weeks ago during that therapy appointment where I was so angry about my "illness" my therapist asked me if I was feeling any gratitude about it, or around it.  I think I looked at him like he was the crazy one.

"No."  I said, emphatically.  He took the hint and backed off that point for the moment and we moved on to something else.  But then later in the week at an Al-Anon meeting a friend said to me

"I just feel so grateful that I live in a time and place where I can get good help and support for my problems."

Wait- did she just say grateful?

Then she compared it to Autism, and how today's autistic children (and adults) have much better resources and more social awareness than past generations.  And hopefully with time, future generations will have even more of those things.  But she was just grateful to have meetings, where she was understood and loved, and literature that helped her feel validated and also helped her cope with and understand her alcoholic.  A little light went on in my head as I started to entertain the idea of gratitude.

The concept of gratitude has been part of recovery since the get-go for me, but I have to admit I often approach it with some reluctance.  Gratitude is a total pity-party crasher, and I love me a good pity party.  I have also felt like gratitude was kind of made-up, giving credit to a Higher Power when maybe some things were just coincidence and didn't deserve any special attention.

But this week my therapist called me out on that.  He talked about how gratitude is a gift of peace we give ourselves, and it isn't any more made up than the things I choose to be angry about, such as blame. Blame is a funny thing.  It's like I have this human instinct to place blame, once I know who's FAULT it is then I can get over it.

I've blamed Pete's parents for a long time, for raising Pete in an environment of shame. Not long ago I had an interesting discussion with some friends about whether we become who we are in spite of our upbringing, or because of our upbringing.  I don't think we can ever really know for sure, but when my therapist told me I could choose gratitude it occurred to me that I could choose to be grateful for Pete's parents. I am grateful for the things they did teach him that have influenced his life and helped mold his character.

In college I learned about fallacies.  Hypothesis contrary to fact is "offering a poorly supported claim about what might have happened in the past or future, if circumstances or conditions were different." (Codependency is a breading ground for hypotheses contrary to facts. If I have more sex with my husband he won't look at porn, for example.) Saying that Pete wouldn't be an addict if his parents had raised him differently is a fallacy.  

My point is- I can make assumptions, speculate and assign blame until the sun goes down and it isn't going to make me feel any better.  Or I can offer myself the gift of gratitude, which inevitably and immediately offers me peace and comfort.  


So maybe it's time to dust off that damn gratitude journal.  Do you keep a gratitude journal? Does it work for you? 

23 January 2015

I'm PISSED About My Illness

I've had a really bad week.  I couldn't put my finger on it, so I was grateful to have a therapy appointment last night.  I have to say, doing therapy on my own couch isn't too shabby.  Sometimes I even wear pajama pants because my appointments are at 10:00 at night and my therapist can only see the top half of me on his computer.

“You have an illness.” He said to me.

I do have an illness.  My illness is a broken brain. Faulty ways of thinking.  Misleading beliefs.  Its symptoms are a compulsive urge to control, lousy self-esteem, persistent self-doubt and bouts of anxiety.  I learned two important things about my illness while talking with my therapist last night.

1- I’m mad that I’m sick.  I’m PISSED actually.  I’m angry that I am perpetually plagued with feelings of inadequacy. I’m ticked that I feel so emotionally fragile. And I’m so damn frustrated that I can’t stop trying to control people and things.

2- My illness is not my fault.  But it seems to me like it is.  It seems to me that if I were better at recovery, if I were more clever, if I were less needy – then I wouldn't be so sick.  But no.

“You’re illness came with you.” He tells me.

It’s as much a part of me as my blue eyes and my long toes.  My illness was influenced by my upbringing just like my personality and sense of humor have been influenced.  But I didn't earn my illness.  Which means I can’t un-earn it by being more clever and less needy.

It also means that my illness wasn't caused by Pete’s addiction.  My illness is no more his fault, than his addiction is my fault.  Yes, his addiction has exasperated my symptoms.  But just as certainly, my illness has exasperated his symptoms too.

It’s like getting strep for the third time in the same winter and being so pissed about it.  But it’s there nonetheless.  And all you can do is see a professional and take care of yourself.  So that’s my game plan.

I have an illness.  I’m pissed about it.  But it’s not my fault.


Disclaimer:  I understand that this language may not resonate with everyone.  And that’s okay.  I use the word illness at the very least, as a metaphorical convenience, at most- a statement of fact. An unhealthy condition of the body or mind. I don’t mean to sound critical of myself, or make it seem like I am damaged or inferior. Rather, I feel like this perspective is a liberating and compassionate way of viewing my messy self.  And the first step in accepting my messy self.  I imagine it is a similar experience for someone acknowledging the presence of chronic depression.  It sucks.  But it’s there. And depression doesn't make anyone damaged or inferior, because depression is an illness too.