The Long Way Back to Me: Finding Normal

Prior to exploring trauma with a new cljozwlqkegtewqncmpsnk5rzwhl5t3lvsrfavzctrxxazlc0ipng0fa8aheic-e2st6d_kgs154ient, I assess their needs and ability to cope with traumatic symptoms. After ensuring stabilization and increasing coping strategies we are ready to begin the arduous journey of unpacking the damage from all the psychological and emotional wounding. For me, writing is a coping skill I use to deal with the traumatic symptoms of adultery. It is a way to make sense of nonsensical things. A way to re-write my life narrative, gain clarity and leave a legacy.

Not every marriage can be saved after an affair. Not every marriage should be saved. Mine was, but it’s been a long way back to me. Since my husband’s confession 16 months ago, I have laboriously toiled through the wreckage of my feelings in an attempt at finding normal (again). I have cycled through intense emotions that at times have been dark and frightening and on other occasions, completely out of character.

Affairs rip families apart; they are devastating to everyone involved. My initial emotions were shock and fear. Shocked that the one person who stood with me before God, family and friends and covenanted to forsake all others had rammed a dagger in my back. This affair partner (AP) actually thought she was taking my man. In my one communication with her I told her to leave my husband alone and she replied, “…It is not for you to say with whom I am in contact with at this time. This is out of line.” In an email exchange earlier that day she told my husband, “I have interviews in North Carolina in December.” Now she was plotting to move to my zip code! The fear that my husband might actually abandon our family for this desperate person enslaved me. I could not shake loose the shackles of anxiety.

His betrayal left no area of my life untouched. As I crossed the threshold from 2015 to 2016, I had but one goal: saving my marriage. We attended marriage therapy for months sifting through the affair details. We stabilized our relationship, repaired the breaches and increased our emotional intimacy. Yet there are still questions I will never have answers to, questions that haunt me to this day. As I stand on the precipice of 2017, my chief goal is to rediscover me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Milestones

imagesI just passed a crucial milestone. A year ago on September 9th I discovered my husband was having an affair and planning to abandon our family. What a difference a year makes! This September 9th, we were in Asheville, NC with five of his closest high school buddies and their wives celebrating the occasion of turning a half-century-old (well, not the ladies- just the men). Over the past 12 months, we have worked diligently to restore our relationship. This has not been an easy journey for either of us, but it has been worthwhile. Although I am not in a place where I can say I am thankful the affair occurred, I can say that I am thankful for the wake up call the liaison gave us.

My heart was crucified. I lost my identity, my confidence. I lost me and for the exception of pastoring a small church and my job as a therapist, I withdrew from every event and organization I participated in and retreated inward. A strong extravert, I even stopped connecting with friends. After spending months in individual and couples therapy, I am feeling invigorated. I am slowly coming back- not to the person I was, rather I am transforming into a new self. God is remaking me and I am rediscovering my gifts and talents.

I have much to be excited about. I have a new grandson, a book in the works and very soon I will be redesigning my website and introducing the fascinating services I will be offering my clients. Stay tuned!

 

The Hurt and The Healer

images-1All of the articles prior to this one were written in October 2015, just weeks after discovering the affair. All articles published from this day forward, I am writing now. Writing about the affair has been instrumental in the healing process. I am not there yet, but each sunrise brings me a day closer to the truth that one day I will be able to look back on this experience without that familiar stab of pain in my soul. My marriage is prospering; we haven’t been this close in years! Personally, it’s a long way back and I feel like I’m clawing my way out of a dark pit.

I lost who I was- I know I am Todd’s wife, I am the mother of Nathan, Kelly, Teagan and Noah. I am a licensed professional counselor and an ordained minister of God. Beyond that, I simply don’t know who I am anymore. I closed my counseling practice in December 2015 and began full time as a therapist at a local psychiatric hospital. I needed a change. I needed to know that I still have some measure of control in what happens to me. I’m just getting through the days the best I can. Praying and hoping God will make sense of my husband’s adulterous affair. For now, I plan to continue writing my blog on A Broken Vow and New Beginning, but I need time to think and process before I publish anymore of my thoughts.

I was able to read some of the emails my husband exchanged with his affair partner. I can’t get one of the comments she made to him out of my head “Each hour I feel that a part of my soul is being torn apart.” This she said in response to his ending the affair. I can’t discard the thought because if she thinks her soul is being torn apart…imagine being the wife of the same man for almost 20 years…I knew we had some problems, but nothing that couldn’t be fixed and suddenly I discover my husband was considering throwing me away like trash for someone who couldn’t measure up to me when I roll out of bed in the morning. This unimpressive affair partner has caused unimaginable pain and sorrow in my soul and our family. Our children, parents, extended family members and a few friends are aware of what happened and they are all deeply hurt.

MercyMe sings a song called: The Hurt & The Healer. I’m including the lyrics in this post because nothing else seems to capture my emotions quiet like these:

Why?
The question that is never far away
The healing doesn’t come from being explained
Jesus please don’t let this go in vain
You’re all I have
All that remains

So here I am
What’s left of me
Where glory meets my suffering

I’m alive
Even though a part of me has died
You take my heart and breathe it back to life
I fall into Your arms open wide
When the hurt and the healer collide

Breathe
Sometimes I feel it’s all that I can do
Pain so deep that I can hardly move
Just keep my eyes completely fixed on You
Lord take hold and pull me through

So here I am
What’s left of me
Where glory meets my suffering

I’m alive
Even though a part of me has died
You take my heart and breathe it back to life
I fall into your arms open wide
When the hurt and the healer collide

It’s the moment when humanity
Is overcome by majesty
When grace is ushered in for good
And all our scars are understood
When mercy takes it’s rightful place
And all these questions fade away
When out of the weakness we must bow
And hear You say “It’s over now”

I’m alive
Even though a part of me has died
You take this heart and breathe it back to life
I fall into your arms open wide
When The hurt and the healer collide

[x2:]
Jesus come and break my fear
Wake my heart and take my tears
Find Your glory even here
When the hurt and the healer collide

Jesus come and break my fear
Wake my heart and take my tears
And find Your glory even here

 

 

A Broken Vow and New Beginning: An Epic Love Story of Betrayal and Redemption

Part XI: Saving Grace

DSC_0053The saying, “What you have done, you will do again,” in the context of adultery means: once a cheater always a cheater. I reject that belief. As God’s children, when we repent (change our mind about our sin) and turn to God, sin no longer has dominion over us (Romans 6:14). Having one affair is not the same as being a serial cheater. Todd and I have history together, I know my husband’s personality and behaviors and because I know him so well I am able to say with a great degree of confidence that prior to the summer of 2015, he was never unfaithful to me.

Of course I don’t have a guarantee that Todd will never cheat again, but then I never had a guarantee to begin with. No human is above falling. Our saving grace was that beneath his hardened heart, Todd still had a conscience and he still loved me profoundly. Together we made a decision to honor our marriage vows and rebuild our relationship. There has been no magic recipe for healing, but these twelve steps have been instrumental in the rebuilding process.

  1. Forgiveness– I didn’t forgive the man I love because he deserved it; I forgave him because love covers a multitude of sin (1 Peter 4:8). I wanted to save my marriage and failure to forgive would not help me achieve that goal. More importantly I didn’t want to become bitter. There is nothing fair about forgiveness; it is a costly gift the betrayed spouse offers to the unfaithful one.
  1. Recommitment– Commitment is the most important ingredient to a long-term successful relationship. The higher the commitment level, the more likely you will be to stay together when the storm winds blow. Trust can be re-established, love can be revived, but once you throw in the commitment towel, the relationship is essentially dead. Fortunately in our situation, we were still committed and refused to quit.
  1. Communication– As in “cutting off” communication with the other woman. This conversation flowed logically (and within seconds) after deciding to reconcile our marriage. Although he initially lied to me and said he cut strings with her, he did not. He continued with the deception for another seven weeks, his “insurance policy” (his words) in case I was just trying to win his heart back and then revert to putting him last again. After Relapse Day, he suggested we craft a “no contact” message to inform her that all communication should cease immediately. He blocked her from his cell phone, social media and email accounts.
  1. Disclosure–I advocate for full disclosure as both a therapist and wife. Details for me did not necessarily mean I wanted to know every spoken word and read every text/email sent. While some people may need that information, I did read a few and opted out on the rest. I just wanted a summary of who/what/when/where and why. I do make it a rule to ask questions based on my strength and ability to hear the truth.
  1. Secrets– Affairs thrive in secrets and marriages thrive in transparency. When all secrets were on the table, I knew who and what I was up against and I could move forward in the healing process. We agreed to an open communication style where my husband said he would “squeal” if he heard from the affair partner. He got this very opportunity three weeks after Relapse Day. The affair partner “butt dialed” him twice and sent a follow-up “apology, I miss you” text. He brought the phone home, showed me and together we deleted the text and blocked her number. We also agreed to share our social media accounts. Passwords are hard coded in our computer and we never change the passwords without consulting with the other partner.
  1. Remembrance– Emerson Eggerichs introduces the 80:20 ratio in his book Love and Respect. This concept says that 80 percent of the marriage can be categorized as good or great while 20 percent is troubling. This was certainly true of our marriage, but we were hyper focused on everything wrong with each other. We had to make a conscious decision to remember the good, get the derailed back on track, forgive the flaws and make new memories.
  1. Romance– We were sabotaging our marriage by spending more time on things that annoyed us about the other partner. We were watering the weeds and strangling the romance. Our attraction for each other was still there, but we had to make a deliberate choice to revive the expression of our chemistry. That meant flirting, laughing, kissing, and when going on dates- leaving cell phones in the car and not talking about the other woman.
  1. Counseling– Attending weekly sessions helped us concentrate on meeting each others needs by speaking our partner’s love language. We evaluated the strengths and weaknesses of our relationship, defined realistic goals and established a core vision statement for our marriage. Through introspection, Todd was able to process his character deficits that led him to go outside the marriage. More importantly, counseling gave both of us a safe place to voice our opinions and concerns about the affair.
  1. Partnership– Both of us have felt alone for the last three years. Most evenings would find us in separate corners of the house pursing our own interests. Not so any longer! We now prepare meals together, pull weeds, plant flowers, tend the garden and take long walks by the river. This amazing man I love, now leads our prayer ministry at church and asks daily how he can make my life easier by transporting the kids to their events. We are a team once again!
  1. Grief– One of the best gifts I gave to myself was permission to grieve the death of my marriage, as I knew it. I can never again say that my lover has only been with me since our wedding night; our marriage bed has been defiled (Hebrews 13:4). I set up a support system of friends who allowed me the freedom to be real and writing helps me express my anger so I don’t take it out on my husband.
  1. Boundaries– Trust can be re-established, but it takes time and patience. My man used to have boundaries; apparently they went by the wayside when he cheated. New boundaries were set in place, which include: not discussing our relationship problems with women and no meeting with women in private settings without other people present. I know some folks who include their spouse in all manner of dealings with the opposite gender, but that is not always feasible for me. I cannot drop everything and run up the road to RTP and sit in on a work luncheon with him and I don’t expect him to attend my gynecological visits with my male doctor. Although, I do have his cell phone and email passwords-I do trust, but I also verify. I can’t police his every move, he has to live above reproach (Philippians 2:15
  2.  Prayer– After Reconciliation Day, Todd and I returned to our nightly routine of devotional reading and prayer. Even when he travels we are faithful to read and pray together over the phone, but that can get a little tricky when he travels outside the Eastern Time Zone. We have to make it a priority.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 Responses to Valley Experiences

Spring and early summer is typically when local communities gear up for Relay for Life; an organization whose tagline “celebrate, remember, and fight back” inspires its participants to raise money for cancer research for the American Cancer Society (relayforlife.org, 2014). It’s also the time of year that triggers a flood of memories from my own experience with cancer.

me and noah rflI frequently refer to my encounter as “the valley of the shadow of death” because those were some of the darkest hours of my life. It was an emotionally charged journey, filled with questions and uncertainty about my tomorrows. “Will I live?” “Will I die?” “Will I always feel this miserable?” These represent just a few of the questions that reverberated through my mind at any given moment. During periods of tribulation our faith is often tested and we learn what we are made of. People usually respond to valley experiences in one of two ways:

1. Grow closer to Jesus – These folks make an intentional decision to grow closer to Jesus; it doesn’t happen by chance. Although their suffering seems unbearable, they cry out to God in raw pain and He answers in tangible ways resulting in growth and greater intimacy.

2. Move further away from Him – Moving away from the Lord in times of tribulation is also a choice, although it may not always be a conscious one. Sometimes, people simply drift from God; usually because He did not answer them in the way that was hoped for.

After some deep soul searching, I chose to grow closer to Jesus. So I sought Him with my whole heart and in the midst of my suffering, I found Him walking with me, holding me, wiping away my tears and equipping me with promises I could hold on to. The most tangible promise God gave me came from 2 Chronicles 20:15-17:

15 “…This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s. 16 Tomorrow march down against them. They will be climbing up by the Pass of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the gorge in the Desert of Jeruel. 17 You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you’” (italics added for emphasis).

Are you currently walking through your own “valley of the shadow of death?” Perhaps your valley isn’t cancer, but the death of a loved one, job loss, financial woes, a wayward child, infidelity, divorce, you fill in the _____________. Choose your response to your valley experience wisely my friend. Refuse to waver in your faith, even in the face of uncertainty. Go out and face whatever mighty army is coming against you and commit this truth to your heart…when God fights, God wins!

 

6 Reasons to Seek Counseling

Everyone experiences periods of stress, sadness and loss. Successfully navigating through those seasons in life is challenging enough, but what if you are not successful in working through negative or even positive life events? You might find the quality of your mental health compromised.

Psychotherapy can be a potent tool for resolving many of life’s problems, but you shouldn’t see your shrink for every little problem life throws your way either. You don’t have to be “crazy” or on the verge of a nervous breakdown to go to therapy. So how do you know when it’s time to call a professional? How bad do things need to get before you seek help? When you’re dealing with debilitating depression or you get stuck in the grief cycle,  the signs might be obvious, but at other times, it might not be so cut and dry so you shuffle through life until things become unbearable.

Most people don’t go to counseling until things get to the “unbearable” point, prolonging their misery and angst. The obvious truth here; however, is the sooner you seek help, the quicker you will be on the road to recovery and feeling better. In fact, it might actually make the problem worse by avoiding professional help so, before things get to the point of being unmanageable, here are six reasons to seek counseling now:

1. The problem is causing significant distress

Deeply intense emotions such as explosive anger, overwhelming sadness, fluctuating moods, complicated grief, or anxiety that impairs your ability to function may be signs that counseling is needed. If you are having thoughts of suicide, thoughts of harming someone else or if you are participating in self-injurious behaviors (i.e. cutting, burning or choking), seek help from a professional immediately. Disturbances in your normal sleep patterns such as sleeping too much, trouble falling or staying asleep, withdrawing from family and friends, and appetite changes, can also be telling signs that its time to talk with someone. Therapy can also help with strained relationships and marital conflict.

2. You’re self-medicating in order to cope

It is easier to numb the pain by self-medicating than to deal with the issues that are causing the problems in the first place. However, not dealing effectively with your problems creates new ones and makes a bad situation worse. If you are self-medicating with alcohol, drugs, sex, shopping, or food [to name a few] and you need one of these substances to get through the day in order to deal with life stressors, it is a sign that you are trying to numb feelings that need to be addressed in counseling.

3. Something traumatic has happened

If you have a history of sexual trauma, emotional, physical or spiritual abuse, neglect or some other traumatic event that you have not fully dealt with, counseling could be a powerful tool in bringing necessary healing.

4. You’re stuck in the grieving process

Not everyone who has experienced loss (even major loss) needs counseling, but if you find yourself stuck in the grieving process and you’re unable to move forward, you might find therapy helpful. Grief can get complicated and doesn’t always resolve on its own. Some people respond to grief by withdrawing from family, friends and activities while others over engage and throw themselves into relationship after relationship. Counseling can be effective in working through the grieving process and help you to unpack suppressed emotions.

5. You no longer participate in activities or with friends

You avoid the things that used to bring enjoyment, including family and friends. Perhaps you feel you’ve lost direction or no longer find purpose or meaning in activities that you once could not live without. Many people pull back in seasons of painful emotions. This could be a sign that something isn’t right. Seeing a counselor might help bring clarity or assist you with a new start.

6. There’s no medical cause for your physical symptoms

Mood disturbances can cause a host of bodily aches and pains such as recurrent headaches, neck and muscle pain, gastrointestinal problems, general fatigue, frequent colds and a diminished sex drive. If your doctor has been unable to find a cause for your physical symptoms, it might be time to call a counselor. It just makes sense that when we are emotionally sick, our bodies are negatively affected.

If you do decide to give counseling a try, it doesn’t mean you’ll be in therapy forever. Many people feel better after one session and a lot of problems can be resolved in under ten sessions. Talking about your thoughts and feelings with an empathic, supportive person can not only make you feel better, it can be life changing by bringing about the emotional healing you desperately need.

Therapy can provide you with the tools for transformation. You can learn new coping skills, improve relationships, and build the life you’ve always envisioned for yourself. What are you waiting for? Lets get started!