The Utah Coalition Against Pornography had their yearly conference this past week. I decided to go…and then I didn’t…and then I did…and then I didn’t. I wasn’t sure how triggering this would be for me, or if I could handle it. In the end, I decided to go, mostly because my company was providing the text messaging for the conference. This is also an issue I care about deeply, so I went. I am glad I did. The theme of the conference was “The Hope Effect” and it turned out to be very hopeful, for both addict and trauma victim. I met lots of awesome new people and re-connected with people I already know. All in all the experience was great! I did have a few very triggering moments, I am not going to lie, but I was able to breathe through them and be just fine. Tears were shed, it was just that kind of place.
I came away with a few thoughts and epiphanies that I would like to share. They were profound enough that I wrote them down.
This first one is from therapist Jeff – Speaking to the addict, he said, “Secrets are love repellant. You will feel love to the degree that you don’t keep secrets. You will get better to the degree that you don’t keep secrets” The fact that my ex-husband kept so many secrets from me was a very strong indication that he was not going to fix the problem. He never once came clean to me about anything he was doing.
Addicts build walls and they go up because they are afraid of rejection, but these walls have just the opposite effect, at least they did in my life. I ended up feeling like the rejected one. These secrets color and damage every aspect of the relationship. Addicts reject their spouses love because they think, “If you knew what I did, you would not love me.” But it is the addict who doesn’t feel the spouses, love so they end up blame the spouse.
I can attest to this. It is exactly what happened in my situation. I can imagine that my ex-husband felt so much guilt and shame for what he had done that he could not imagine that I would ever love him again. But the opposite would have been true if he had done the hard work to just get INTO recovery. I would have loved and respected him more than he could ever imagine, because he would be fighting to keep me. There is nothing more loveable or romantic than a man who will fight for the woman he loves!
“It is a contradiction to say, “I honor the human person,” while treating the human body as separable from the person using it as a tool, devouring [pornographic] images of it…One cannot at once love the beautiful and desire to defile it. It is like loving the Pieta with an ax.” Anthony Esolen
The Opposite of Addiction is Connection
Therapist Tyler Perry talked about the importance of connection in preventing and overcoming addiction. The science is becoming so clear that people turn to addictive behaviors because they are not connecting to people in the real world. We live in an addicting world. Everything from gaming, to cell phones, to pornography is addicting. Even jobs and hobbies can be addicting.
Long term recovery cannot happen unless the addict has real life connections.
Addiction + Connection = Recovery
Sobriety is only achieved by a committed effort to a lifestyle change. This is something I worked hard to show my ex-husband. But he was not convinced he needed a drastic change in his lifestyle to overcome the behavior. The truth is, that unless there is a lifestyle change, these patterns of behavior will come back. There is no doubt of that. You cannot just white knuckle your way to sobriety on sheer willpower. It won’t happen.
Studies are showing that there must be a connection to others and to your higher power. And that connection to your higher power begins with daily activities that happen with intention. Things like, scripture study, prayer, meditation, going to church, being in nature, listening to good music and keeping a journal are all things addicts should be doing every day. Over time these “dailies” cause a softness to occur in the heart and we get a confirmation that we are worthy of love. We gain perspective. We become humble and that fosters safety and connection for the partner.
Recovery from addiction is very possible, but it takes work. It takes a willingness to work. It takes humility. My ex-husband did not demonstrate any of these behaviors.
While sitting in this conference I saw men who were in recovery. I saw their light and humility. I saw their efforts and willingness to fight for their wives and children. It was a stark contrast to how my ex-husband responded. In that moment I was overwhelmed with the feeling that I was right to divorce him. He does not deserve me. He does not deserve our children. Had he fought for us, he would have been worthy of us. But he didn’t. And because he refused to fight for us we were left with no other choice but to walk away.
On Goal Setting
Lastly, I was struck by what therapists are learning about setting goals. 45% of Americans set goals for the New Year, but 92% never achieve their goals. And by February most people have given up on their goals altogether. So researchers have tried to figure out why most people do not achieve their goals.
What they found is:
That if you write down your goals and share then with someone else it will decrease the motivation to achieve the goal. This is because of something they call the “substitution effect.” What this does is that if you tell someone about your goal, the brain will actually tell you that you have already achieved the goal and convince you that you are already making progress. This cause the motivation to actually work on the goal to decline. Our brain gives us validation for just “planning” to do something. But if you do not have an outside audience then you are more likely to work harder to achieve the goal.
This is why setting a goal to not look at porn never works. When your goal becomes white and black, sobriety or addiction, you will fail. Every time. You are doing well, until you are not. You become delusional in your thinking. Everything is always bad or always good. In this state you are delusional.
So forget about setting goals like this that will set you up for failure. Instead, focus on the processes. Processes are not a destination. Processes act more like a road map.
Here are the main processes for recovery:
- Recovery Dailies – these help you stay emotionally stable, self-aware and grounded. This is like providing routine maintainance to your car. If you don’t take care of your car, it will go along fine for a while until you have a problem. By then the problem will be serious and expensive. Dailies are routine maintainance.
- Curiosity – approach healing with a curious mind. This is much different from evaluating everything that happened. Slow way down and enjoy the journey. Ask yourself important questions like, “I wonder why I feel this way?” or “That is an interesting cycle, why did that happen?” Observe your behavior and ask questions about it. This will take a lifetime to master this shift in thinking. But having curiosity is more important than intelligence when it comes to problem solving.
- Highlight Patterns – highlight your own part of the pattern first to your partner then ask, “what do you think your part of the pattern is in this situation?” This will start a healthy dialogue in identifying and fixing the pattern.
- Conflict is Diagnostic – When you have a conflict with your partner it is a chance to ask, “What is it about this pattern that got us back here?” Use conflict to find a diagnosis. Then check your own emotions to see how you handle conflict.
- Seek Personal Serenity – Do not let someone else control your emotions. This will take years of work, but it is necessary. Do not hand over your influence and power to someone else. Accepting hardships is the pathway to peace.
- Replace Fairness with Acceptance – Fairness is the enemy of serenity. Fairness does not help you to grow. Learned helplessness is not acceptance. Acceptance is not wasting your energy on things you have no influence over and spending time on the things you do. Accept things that are for what they are.
- Create a Recovery Narrative – Imagine your life as being narrated. We value stories over random facts. Create how you want your story to be in your mind. 12 Steps is critical to recovery because it creates a safe place for an addict to share their story. Your role in it is to not be overly critical or supportive of the addict in recovery. Remember that we do not throw parades for ourselves or others until the behavior is changed, if we do this it undermines recovery. Praise decreases the motivation to keep going. A better response for improvement is, “that’s interesting, it will be interesting to see if you can keep that up.”
- Breathe – Remember to breathe. This allows us to reset. Nobody can go at this 100% all of the time. Breathing is essential.
What stands out to me in these processes is how much I yearned for this to happen in my own relationship with my husband and how unwilling he was to make it happen for us. This kind of work would have been hard to do, but I would have loved it! I would have enjoyed so much working to become closer and more connected as a couple. This would have been fun for me! However, I also realize now how resistant he was to all of this. It was never going to happen, not in a million-trillion years. Like he told me over and over, he just isn’t into all that touchy-feely stuff. It’s not him. He is right. He isn’t, wasn’t, even on a good day. This is the kind of connection I wanted and needed from him throughout our marriage and he is not capable of giving it to me. And even the crisis of an addiction wasn’t enough for him to want it for himself either.
It’s better for me that I divorced him. I was really fighting a losing battle. He is a broken man with no desire to fix anything.
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Be Strong, Stay Sweet!