The holidays can be a challenging time for all of us, especially those in recovery. An increase in sugary, fatty foods, plus a decrease in structure, combined with a mixture of family chaos, can quickly become a recipe for relapse. Despite the many challenges of sustaining recovery in this season, there are essential strategies that will help you maintain momentum and enjoy the peace and joy that may be possible throughout the holidays. Here are 5 ingredients that will not only help you avoid relapse but also lead you through a more enjoyable holiday experience that moves your recovery progress forward.
Recipe for Recovery
- Remain committed. Remember, while you may be on vacation from your work responsibilities, you are not on vacation from your values or your recovery work. Maintain your “Dailies” and self-care, so that you can stay on track emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually. Starting with morning inspiration and ending with healthy evening decompression will be especially important.
- Stay connected. Whether the holidays represent joy or family chaos for you, it is common for extended family involvement to bring an assortment of feelings bubbling to the surface. Reaching out to recovery group members, friends, your spouse or partner, your accountability team, or a sponsor, can help you stay grounded rather than simply reverting to your childhood role and all of the emotions associated with it. Instead of reaching for more pumpkin pie or another “drug” of choice, reach out to someone in your support system, whether by phone, text, or face-to-face conversation. Crying out to God may also provide a place of solace and refuge.
- Avoid black & white thinking. Just because you may enjoy some special treats over the holidays does not mean all of your goals must be discarded. Excess is not your friend. Staying up all night, stuffing yourself silly (repeatedly), obsessive spending, etc, will make you vulnerable to forgetting your “bottom lines”, boundaries, and values. This kind of living will leave you feeling tired, lazy, and uncommitted, all of which are dangerous mentalities for those in recovery. When you make a poor choice, forgive yourself, and recommit. Stewing in your shame is counterproductive.
- Be mindful. With new environments come new temptations. Be aware and be wise. You know your triggers. While it is important to maintain an awareness, or mindfulness, of your surroundings, it does not need to become an obsession. In fact, it may be helpful to focus on positive, enjoyable experiences rather than thinking about avoiding all the things you know you “shouldn’t” have.
- Have fun! While all of the previous recommendations are important, they do not mean you are expected to have a boring, uneventful experience. That kind of vacation is a setup for relapse. If you deprive yourself of fun, you will likely eventually seek out excitement in self-destructive ways. Recovery can be a time of learning, maybe for the first time, how to enjoy and live freely without the “drug” you once depended on. Find creative ways to enjoy yourself, relax, laugh, and savor life and time with those you love.
Staying focused over the holidays will require effort. While it may initially feel bothersome to implement the above strategies, it will actually help you experience a freer holiday season. How can this be true, you might ask? Rather than seeing these suggestions as duties, consider them keys to freedom. They provide the structure that will free you from the slavery of addiction. Keeping in mind the purpose of these strategies and your reasons for staying committed will help you remain on track in implementing them. Being proactive in this way can help you finish your holiday break feeling rested, refreshed, healthy, on track, and proud of your progress.
On January 2, 2013, a four hour conversation with my husband changed my life forever. I knew within the first 10 minutes that our marriage hung by a thread and whether or not we made it, was primarily up to him. That was the night that it became clear that my husband’s “porn problem” was actually an addiction.
For us, the diagnosis of addiction also brought us direction and resources. For the first time in our 16 years of marriage, we realized that the years of madness and Insanity actually showed cycles and patterns. In the months that followed, we isolated ourselves in a world of recovery and spent every spare second of our days reading books, blogs and forums. We found therapists, 12 step groups and group therapies. We learned that this addiction has very little to do with pornography and everything to do with Internalized Shame. As my husband dove into his recovery, I dove into my own. I learned that the wife of a pornography or sex addict, experiences Betrayal Trauma. Betrayal Trauma is often misdiagnosed as Codependency. It causes the wife to feel crazy, insane and out of control. The emotions and symptoms are very similar to PTSD. The wife of a pornography addict usually feels with the same intensity triggers, fears and trauma, as does a soldier returning home from war.
I realized early on that recovering from this deep and intense trauma was not something I could do alone. I needed help. I began to reach out. I started with a friend. Then I turned to my sister. Next was my dad and after that was a woman from one of my support groups. One by one I built my network of support, always be prayerful and cautious about who could be trusted. Today my network is extensive and each one plays a vital role in helping me receive what I need to recover.
As I have reached out and depended on the people around me who love me for support, I have come to understand that just as I needed information and education about the nature and effects of this addiction so do they. The people around me love me and hurt when they see me hurting, but sometimes because they do not understand the delicate nature of the circumstances, the advice they offer can be damaging, harmful and even traumatizing. Well intentioned clergy, therapists, family and friends, in an effort to help, using their best, but uneducated judgment offered advice that was not in the best interest of my recovery or my husband’s.
Recently, I received some of this bad advice. Due to the nature of the source and circumstances, it was intensely traumatizing to me. It sent me into a downward spiral that I had to fight tooth and nail to climb out of. As I pulled myself out of the Insanity that held me captive, I turned to my support. As a result of my recovery efforts, my network of other recovering spouses (often termed WoPAs for Wives of Porn Addicts) has become extensive. Their examples of similar experiences were validating to me, yet at the same time utterly shocking. I came to realize after surveying these brave women, that we are sometimes taught and advised on the same myths. Over and over this incorrect and often traumatizing advice was given to us as factual. You can paint a donkey and present it as a zebra, but it will in fact, always be a donkey.
I would like to dispel some of the most commonly advised myths that are given when sexual/pornography addiction is present.
1. You should protect your wife/yourself from the more damaging details and effects of the addiction.
“I’m not sure that she needs to know all of the serious details, it would just hurt her.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t tell her everything.”
“You don’t really want to know all of the details. It would be too painful.”
Often times the wife is treated with kid gloves and given the impression that she is weak and fragile. As if too much information may be irreparably damaging to her. Maybe a wife shouldn’t know every detail, but that is her place to decide that. Not her clergy, not her family or friends and it is certainly not her husband’s decision. No one knows her strength and capability better than she does. Listen to the advice you are given, feel it out in your heart and make the choice that is best for you. When deciding how much information you need, one therapist recommended asking yourself, “How would knowing this information help me heal?” And if you choose to leave out details or receive less information, which many women do, that does not make you weak or fragile, it makes you self aware. Self awareness is strength.
2. The spouse’s job is to be forgiving and be a support to her husband.
“You need to put this behind you.”
“It is ideal for the wife to be the husband’s main support person.”
“You need to forgive and forget.”
The spouse’s job is to heal from the trauma inflicted upon her first and foremost. She should never at any time sacrifice her own recovery for the recovery of her husband. She should not be pushed or pressured into forgiving him too quickly but rather should be open to allowing it to happen as she turns to the Lord to heal her. Forgiveness is a gift she gives to herself, not her husband and should sometimes be reserved for after some healing has taken place. There is no ideal or main way to heal, there is only the right way for you. You should never feel pressured to do anything that doesn’t feel right to you. If you do not feel like it is in the best interest of your healing to be your husband’s main support person, and many women feel it is not in their best interest, then that is the right answer for you and not a reflection of your lack of recovery. It is a reflection in the strength of your self awareness.
3. You need to keep the secret.
“You shouldn’t tell your friend/clergy/family member. That would betray your husband’s confidence.”
“It’s his secret, you don’t have the right to share it.”
“Telling people would shame the family.”
“We keep these things ‘in house’”.
When your husband brought addiction into your marriage, he made it your secret too. And that secret brought pain and trauma into your life. Trauma that can be healed from. But, it is a burden so intense and deep that it is usually unmanageable when tried to handle alone. We don’t have to suffer in silence and isolation. There are forums and support groups, blogs and group therapies filled with women who are supporting each other as they heal from this trial. Reach out and allow others to support you and help you heal. My life is filled with strong, loving, capable people who love me and I would be foolish and judgmental to think that they can’t be trusted with this trial in my life. That doesn’t mean that I should tell everyone I meet but it does mean that the Lord will place the people in my path that can be the most support to me and He will tell me who they are if I but ask Him. A safe person is non judgmental, respectful and won’t betray your trust. Ask the Lord who is safe for you.
4. Your response to his addiction is an over reaction.
“All guys do this.”
“Why are you so upset about this?”
“Its just porn (or masturbation or news websites). It only happens every few months.”
“You are over reacting.”
It doesn’t matter if it was once every few years or every day, the effect is the same- Deep Trauma. Diagnosable Trauma. The pain is so intense because when you chose to marry, you were on even playing fields, but the moment he chose to allow addiction into your life and marriage and hide it from you, you lost that even playing field. He had the upper hand and he hid that upper hand from you. There is nothing that you can do to even the playing fields. Nothing. It is all up to him and whether or not he chooses recovery and that reality is terrifying. It is traumatizing. So, the month you spent on the bathroom floor is normal. The showers you took, fully dressed, so your kids wouldn’t hear you cry? Normal. The time you freaked out in the grocery store and had a panic attack because the other women in the aisle was showing major cleavage? Normal. Your inability to watch regular TV without crying? Normal. Obsessively checking computer histories? Normal. Crying through church? Normal. It is all normal and a result of your Betrayal Trauma. It is what you actually feel and that is not an over reaction. One therapist said, “You are not crazy, you were betrayed. Your feelings are valid.”
5. Sex will solve the “problem”.
“You need to have more/better/more intimate sex with your husband so that he doesn’t need to look at porn.”
This was the most commonly advised myth by far. We are physiologically designed to crave a loving, emotionally, intimate connection but an addict in his addiction doesn’t crave this kind of love or true connection, he craves lust. Advising a wife of a pornography/sex addict to have more sex with their spouse to try to help with his addiction is like advising the wife of an alcoholic to drink more wine with her husband to help him get better.
Some think that porn addictions will just stop with marriage and the ability to have sex, but this is also a myth. Having a pornography addiction has absolutely nothing to do with the frequency or spiciness of sex. More/better lingerie or creativity in the bedroom won’t work. This addiction will never be solved with lust filled sex, and unfortunately, lust-driven sex is usually all the addict knows.
Sexual addiction is an emotional and intimate connection disorder and throwing more UNHEALTHY sex at it won’t solve anything. Lust is only about physical appetite, where love/true marital intimacy is a whole-self (mental, emotional, spiritual, physical) connection. The addict has to start back at the beginning and learn how to have true connection and emotional intimacy, and then physical intimacy when both partners feel things are healthy and safe.
Telling the wife to have more/better/spicier sex will only put the blame and responsibility on her, which will cause deeper trauma. The wife didn’t cause this problem and she can’t fix it.
If any of these myths sound familiar to you and cause you to recognize that addiction is in your life, I plead with you to reach out. If you have been given advice that feels off to you, trust yourself. There is a huge community of women that are healing by learning from and leaning on each other. You are not alone. You are SO NOT ALONE. Come and be a part of us and heal.
And if you are placed in a position where you are the support person to such a tender heart, before you offer advice, please do some research. Pornography addiction is a plague that is sweeping the globe and ripping the hearts and souls out of our marriages and families. It is unlike anything we have ever seen and will never be solved or fixed by the ways of the world. Help us heal by learning about the true nature of this addiction and the rippling effects that is causes. Together we can overcome this. Together we are strong.
To read more from Shay go to awiferedeemed.blogspot.com
Shedding Light on Pornography Addiction
by Lisa Larson
The St. George Spectrum
November 13, 2013
It’s a vice that was once limited to back alleys, adult stores and shady parts of town; an addiction that required a little bit of effort to pursue.
Now it’s available no matter where you are, regardless of your age — all you have to do is click the mouse, type a keyword or follow a link and pornography is instantly on your screen.
Despite its pervasiveness, pornography is a topic of discussion that is still very much taboo in some circles. The Utah Coalition Against Pornography plans to address this aspect of the issue at this weekend’s regional conference titled Protecting Children and Families from Pornography.
“Every parent who has children in their home and an Internet connection needs to be at this conference,” said Geoff Steurer, a licensed marriage and family therapist who is involved in putting on the conference. “You say the word ‘pornography’ and everyone wants to be as far away from it as possible, (but) we want parents to be empowered and armed with good information.” … read the rest of the article
While I’m not a huge fan of Oprah, I do think Brene Brown has some points worth considering. She does a great job explaining what kinds of people with whom we should share our “shame story.” We all have shame and we have all done things we are terrified to share with others (however big or small). I agree with Brene that we should be careful who we tell. As she has said previously, telling the wrong person can turn them into a piece of flying debris in our already swirling tornado. It’s critical that men and women in recovery talk openly with safe people about their struggles. It’s even more critical that they carefully choose who they tell. Recovery is hard enough when you have good support. Trying to recovery while managing the poor boundaries of others is even harder.
by Geoff Steurer, MS, LMFT
Founder and Director
LifeStar of St. George, Utah
The Washington Times recently reported that about 80% of children exposed to pornography actually encounter it in their own homes. Some may be frightened by this report, however, I choose to see it as an opportunity to better protect my children.
There is so much we can do as parents to protect our children from the impact of pornography. However, most parents don’t know where to start, or, worse, aren’t paying attention.
Our children are at great risk of being exposed to the fraudulent messages of pornography, which include sexual mis-education, violence, exaggerated body types, and other gross distortions.
We need both “high-tech” and “low-tech” solutions to these challenges. High-tech solutions include learning more about the ways children can electronically access pornography and how to stay on top of the ever-changing technological landscape.
Low-tech solutions include knowing how to teach children about healthy emotion regulation and how they can reach out for help when they are exposed to pornography and other harmful materials.
Parents need to know they’re not helpless and alone in the battle to protect their children.
Concerned citizens of Southern Utah have an opportunity next month to arm themselves with cutting-edge information from some of the field’s leading experts.
On Saturday, November 16, 2013, the Utah Coalition Against Pornography (UCAP) is hosting the conference “Protecting Children and Families from Pornography and Other Harmful Materials” at the Dixie Center in St. George from 9am-2pm (visit www.utahcoalition.org for more information).
This conference was held in St. George three years ago and drew a crowd of almost 1,000 attendees. The conference originated in Salt Lake City over 12 years ago and receives the support of multi-faith groups, major corporations, and other groups.
Not only will there be top-notch presentations, there will be vendors and other groups offering parents, church leaders, and other concerned community members the latest resources to protect children and families.
The conference will open with a keynote presentation by Clay Olson, the founder of “Fight the New Drug” (www.fightthenewdrug.org). There will be two hours of workshops to educate participants on how they can help support and protect children, how to help women who have been betrayed, and understanding what couples need to heal from the impact of pornography.
Terry Wade, a local attorney and church leader, will offer the closing keynote. A panel discussion will follow.
Every day I sit with individuals and couples reeling from the devastating effects pornography has on their lives. Most of the individuals I work with were exposed to pornography in their early teen years. Now that they understand the impact pornography has had on their lives, they are motivated to better protect their own families.
Be proactive and attend this conference so you can gather the latest tools and resources to protect those you love.
What: The Utah Coalition Against Pornography regional conference – “Protecting Children and Families Against Pornography and Other Harmful Materials”
When: Saturday, November 16, 2013, 9am-2pm (registration and resource booths begin at 8am)
Where: The Dixie Center – St. George, UT
Cost: $15 pre-registration online (www.utahcoalition.org) or $20 at the door.
I regularly meet with men who tell me they have given up pornography and sexual acting for good and have no intentions of going back. They share how they’ve moved from darkness to light. They talk about the mighty change in their heart. I have no doubt they’re experiencing changes in their thoughts, feelings, and intentions.
However, their wives are full of doubt.
One minute he admits to having a secret life filled with sexual behaviors and the next minute he tells her he’s healed and never going back to that life. She’s wondering what happened in-between those two very distant points on the continuum.
This scenario reminds me of when I was in school doing math problems and trying convince my math teacher that I really did know the answer to the math problem, even though I wasn’t showing my work on paper. For all she knew, I was looking up the answer in the back of the book or using a calculator. No matter how hard I tried to convince her I knew how to do algebra, she wanted to see my work.
A betrayed wife needs to know how her husband moved from a life of secrets and addiction to a life of integrity. She wants to see evidence of his journey. This is critical so she can trust what she sees in front of her.
Not only does she need to see his work, but he also needs to know he can do the work. I believe in miracles and I believe that the change of heart is the first miracle that gives a man the power to face his story and make the necessary physical, emotional, spiritual, sexual, and relational changes necessary for long-term recovery. However, I don’t believe that one change of heart is enough to sustain any man in long-term recovery without him doing additional work.
Since there are no shortcuts with true recovery, showing how he went from addiction to recovery shouldn’t be difficult if he’s really doing the work. If he can’t show his work, then he’s not doing the work.
He can show his work by reaching out and opening up about his process. He can talk about what he’s learning in therapy, group therapy, 12-step meetings, his readings, and meetings with his church leader. He can show his work by interacting differently with his wife, children, and family members. His priorities will change as he spends less time in front of the TV or computer and more time in healthy living. If things look and feel the same as they did when he was active in his addiction, even though he says he’s changed, he’s not going to convince anyone until he can show his work.
Like a good math teacher, a good recovery program will help a man break down his recovery into manageable steps so he can know what he’s doing, how he’s doing it, and how to maintain it for life. He’ll also learn how to reach out to his wife and other supports to show his work. Recovery is not a mystery. It’s possible because of measurable steps taken every day to build a life of integrity and connection.
Geoff Steurer, founding director of LifeStar of St. George, Utah, talks about why recovery needs to be REAL and involve REAL people, REAL answers, and REAL tools.
by Jill Call, AMFT
“I must be crazy!” A woman recently expressed to me. “I want to love and feel emotionally safe with my husband at the same time that I want nothing to do with him.” Maybe you’ve felt like this woman – caught between competing feelings of “come close” and “get away.” Well, you’re not crazy. You’re experiencing the pull and drama of attachment.
You may feel “crazy” because you want to push your partner away and yet long for his support and understanding too. This is natural. You are attached to your partner and naturally depend on him for emotional support. What makes this difficult is that, in the case of sexual addiction, he is the source of your pain and so you reflexively want to push him away.
Especially when you have been hurt by your partner’s actions, you might feel this tug-of-war between wanting to protect yourself from the hurt (and fear of future hurt), and wanting to feel reassured that your partner is still there for you. This can create feelings of confusion or thinking that you must be “crazy.” Actually, this is quite common, and is better understood by knowing about primary attachment.
Primary attachment is the inborn need we have to be emotionally connected to someone who will be there for us. In early childhood, primary attachment is with our parents. In adult love relationships, it’s the emotional bonding that occurs between intimate partners. You have an innate and lifelong need to feel loved, accepted, and understood by your partner.
Attachment is a biological wiring to need others. It’s not needy. It’s not co-dependent. There is nothing maladaptive about it. It is innate and good and healthy.
There is a myth about intimate relationships that if you’re “healthy” you should be able to keep yourself emotionally distant enough from your partner so that his actions and emotions will not affect you. This is simply not possible. Once you are attached to your partner, the two of you form a shared physiological unit. Dr. Levine, in his book, “Attached”, says, “our partner regulates our blood pressure, our heart rate, our breathing, and the levels of hormones in our blood. We are no longer separate entities.” In a very real sense, then, you are one with your partner.
When you think your partner has acted out sexually, you may notice your pulse starts racing, your breathing becomes shallow, and your body speeds up. You might feel sick to your stomach. You may have tightness in your neck and shoulders. You’ll likely feel a full range of emotions like anger, hurt, sadness, hopelessness, irritation, frustration, helplessness and anxiety.
Since we are wired to seek comfort from our primary attachment figure when we’re in pain, we naturally seek out comfort from our partner when attachment needs are activated. In other words, we have an urgent need to feel safe and reassured. However, because of the effects of sexual addiction, your partner may not feel like a “safe” person to reach for when you need reassurance. The effect of sexual addiction on attachment relationships is relational trauma, also called an attachment injury. Noelle Christensen expertly addressed relational trauma in the LifeStar newsletter from September 2013.
Attachment injuries can change the climate of the relationship. You will have trauma triggers and your sense of attachment security will be undermined. Hence, the tug-of-war between needing to feel reassurance from your partner and wanting to push him away.
If your partner isn’t able to reassure you, your attachment system will continue to seek for comfort and closeness until it is sufficiently calmed. This is when it is critical to reach out to others for comfort and support. While they are not your primary attachment system and will not calm you as deeply as primary attachment, they are a healthy substitute and will give you support and strength.
Reaching out to another person will help to calm your physical and emotional reactions to an activated attachment need and help you feel some safety and reassurance.
Call a group member. Call a family member or friend who has earned the right to know your story. Talk to a neighbor. You don’t even have to share the details of what is going on. Just feeling connected to a compassionate person will help to calm your attachment system.
Once you better understand your need for attachment, you will be better able to get your attachment needs met in helpful ways – and then you can stop feeling “crazy.”
Levine & Heller, 2010. Attached. The new science of adult attachment and how it can help you find – and keep – love. Penguin Group Publishing, New York, NY.
Jeff Ford of LifeStar of St. George, UT explains how to manage shame in recovery from pornography and sexual addiction.keep looking »