Sacred Ground or Haunted Territory?

My past still haunted me … This is trauma: a near constant feeling in my gut that something is wrong, or that something terrible is about to happen, the automatic fear responses in my body telling me to run away, to take cover, to hide myself from danger everywhere. My trauma can still rise up out of mundane encounters. A sudden sight, a particular smell, can transport me back to the past.” – Edith Eva Eger

Perhaps you’ve heard it said that memory is sacred ground. But I would also argue that it’s haunted territory.

Think about it …

What happens if you live through something absolutely awful? A trauma or a horror? Something truly devastating? How are you told to handle it?

The message we pick up from society is: Bury all that stuff. Never, ever talk about it. Push it down inside. Don’t look at it again. Whatever you do, don’t ruminate on it. Don’t allow yourself go there. Just pretend it didn’t happen.

So that’s what we try so desperately to do.

The sensible – even the perfect – solution?  

But here’s the problem

This isn’t the solution – for it doesn’t go away.

When we refuse ourselves permission to face and grieve what’s lost, we doom ourselves to constantly re-living all that pain. That’s why we keep being triggered, sometimes after many years.

The past remains haunted, and it holds us in its grip.

Finding Freedom

There is a way to be free – but it’s a very different road. It’s embracing all that happened, and then facing it head-on.

Freedom means we find the courage to look at all that stuff. We make the hard decision that we’ll tear the prison down. A slow and painful task that is accomplished brick by brick.

This is not an easy choice. But it’s the best choice we can make.

But let me also warn you …

Freedom happens very slowly. Unbelievably slowly. Depressingly slowly.

But, in time, you’ll see and difference and you’ll find that you have changed.

The past is in the past, and you can move on with your life.

A Mantra for Managing Emotions

I recently came across a really helpful mantra for managing intense, overwhelming emotions. In its simplest form, the mantra is:

1. Notice

2. Accept

3. Check

4. Stay

1. Notice what you’re feeling when emotions are stirred. Don’t ignore what is happening inside your head and body. Don’t deny, or suppress, or trivialize your feelings. They are wanting your attention. They deserve to be acknowledged. They deserve to be seen. To be taken seriously.

You can do this by giving the emotion a name: “This is sorrow. This is sadness. This is anger. This is shame.”

2. Next, accept it’s your emotion. It’s your own personal reaction. The feeling is still yours, even if it has been triggered by a person, or a place, or an object, or a memory.

Also, remember there are no good or bad emotions. Our emotions simple are. There is nothing wrong with them.

You give them dignity, by accepting your emotions.

3. Check where you experience the emotions in your body. In your stomach? In your head? In your chest? In your feet? Also, keep checking in to see how this alters over time. Notice how the feelings change as they pass through your body.  

Perhaps the feeling first presents as an adrenalin rush and then, immediately, you’re conscious of a racing heart. Perhaps it pulsates through your body … then it slowly dissipates … then you notice that your fingers and your toes are tingling.

There’s a pattern you can trace. What’s the sequence that’s repeated?

4. Stay with the emotions, and then ask yourself: Is there anything else you feel like doing – that could help? Do you feel you want to scream? Do you feel you want to cry? Can you, maybe, find a safe way of expressing what you’re feeling – so it doesn’t get repressed, or get trapped inside your body?

Working through this mantra is responding, not reacting.  It can help you to recover, and prevent you getting sick.  

There is no one-size-fits-all template for healing; but there are steps that can be earned and practiced. Steps that each individual can weave together in his or her own way. Steps in the dance of freedom.” – Edith Eva Eger

Ask Us: Common Questions Asked by Partners of Sex Addicts

Below are some questions we’re often asked when spouses learn that their partner has a sex addiction – a very distressing and disorienting experience.

1. Is it possible to identify when the addiction began?

The majority of guys say they stumbled upon porn, or were actively shown porn, at around 10 years of age. They remember the adrenalin rush they experienced, and the powerful pull to view more images, or to watch more videos.

2. Why did my partner hide it from me?Why did he choose to lie and deceive me?

Although guys know lots of people look at porn all the time, they’re usually convinced that their partner will be shocked. And their greatest fear is that you’ll walk away.

So, coming clean with you feels incredibly threatening. They’re terrified they’ll lose you, and their life will fall apart. There is also shame and guilt around a sex addiction being negatively judged by society. All of this adds to the need for secrecy.

3. How much do I need to know about the past, and his level of involvement?

If you work with a counsellor on a formal disclosure, your partner will be asked to list everything he’s been involved in (pornography, webcams, dating sites and apps, sensual massages, escorts, prostitutes, emotional affairs, etc.). He’ll also be asked to put dates to these behaviours, and to be honest about the frequency.

It is important that you know the extent of the addiction, and to also be aware of what you might have been exposed to (STDs etc.). However, most counsellors discourage pushing too hard for specific details (What was she wearing? What was her figure like? What exactly did you do?) The reason? Once you have those pictures in your mind, it’s almost impossible to extricate them. Hence, they can intensify your suffering and become extremely powerful triggers.

4.  What was going through his mind, as he became more and more addicted?

Feelings of guilt and shame intensify – because of what he’s doing and the double life he’s leading. One way to deal with this, and to cope with life in general, is to compartmentalize, and deny he has a problem. This is a very common coping strategy.

In reality, most addicts want to stop eventually. They want to gain control of their lives. They tell themselves repeatedly that: “This is the last time.” But because they are addicted, they get drawn in again.

5. What is the turning point; what makes the addict come clean?

Very few guys come clean on their own. Most of them are caught by their wife or their boss. Sometimes they are blackmailed, or an affair partner threatens to reveal their secret. This is usually a crisis for the addict.

Saying that, very few addicts reveal everything at first. They admit to the minimum they think they can get away with. Then they drip feed the truth over weeks, months, or years. This adds to the trauma for the partner or spouse.

6. What could I have done to stop this happening?

Nothing. In almost every case, we find the partner was a user, and was going down this road, before they met their spouse or partner. The most important thing to take away from all of this is: you didn’t play a part. It was not your fault AT ALL.

Paradise Lost

Try this.

Picture yourself as happy, carefree child – maybe 6 or 7 years of age.

Where are you? What are you doing? Try to identify what you might be thinking and feeling.

What makes this child so adorable? What makes your heart fill with love for her?

This is the real you.

The you you used to be. Before all those painful, damaging experiences. Before you stopped liking and loving yourself.

This is the you who got lost along the way.

But that you still exists – beneath the layers of the years.

That you is still there – maybe buried, but still there.

Oh, wouldn’t it be wonderful to reconnect with her!

If only you could access that child once again.

“This is the beginning of loving yourself. Welcome home.”

I Want to be Remembered as ….

When my kids were small, we used to really enjoy making pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. Tossing them, however, was another matter.

Often, we would have to scrape them off the frying pan. And occasionally we scraped them off the walls and floor. But most of the time, they made it on to our plates, and then we would cover them in chocolate and fruit … and all sorts of other delicious things.

Yes, Shrove Tuesday was a lot of fun.

I was vaguely aware that the day after that was something called Ash Wednesday. But, honestly, Ash Wednesday meant nothing to me.

And it’s only recently that I’ve heard the phrase: “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The words associated with Ash Wednesday.

An interesting phrase. One that really made me think.

We tend to live our lives as if we’re never going to die. And the more we enjoy life, the harder it can be to contemplate the fact that one day our life will end.  

It’s not the kind of thing we really want to think about.

But knowing we will die can also help us to live well. It can help us each to think about the legacy we’ll leave. And that can be a really good thing.  

So maybe take some time today to stop and ask yourself:

“How do I want to be remembered?”  

The Reality of Grief

Here’s what I most want you to know: this really is as bad as you think.

No matter what anyone else says, this sucks.

What has happened cannot be made right. What is lost, cannot be restored.

Acknowledgement is everything. You’re in pain. It can’t be made better.

There is pain in this world you can’t be cheered out of.

You don’t need solutions. You don’t need to move on from your grief.

You need someone to see your grief, to acknowledge it.

You need someone to hold your hand while you stand there in blinking horror, staring at the hole that was your life.

Some things cannot be fixed.

They can only be carried.”

—Megan Devine

Someone needs to hear this today.

There are some things in life that can never be restored. There are some things in life that can never be put right.

Sometimes we just need to call a spade a spade – for it really doesn’t help to minimize the shock and pain.

The facts are the facts, and that’s reality.

If only people ‘got that’, it would really, really help.

Your world’s been blown apart, and things can never be the same.

Of course you’re traumatized. This awful nightmare is your life.

The Footprints of Trauma

When you’re processing a trauma, and are in a state of shock, you experience emotions you’ve never felt before. Also, you sometimes act in ways that you almost can’t believe. You are in a scary place where you hardly know yourself.

The following information might help you see and grasp what is actually quite normal when you’re in a state of crisis.

Important facts to be aware of include:

  1. To be violated or betrayed by a person you trust and depend on has much more serious consequences than being harmed by a stranger, or experiencing an impersonal trauma like an earthquake.
  2. Memories of traumatic events are like shards of shattered glass. Our memories of the trauma itself come in pieces, turn up in unexpected places, and pierce and cut us at unexpected times. Our reactions to these triggers are generally intense and overwhelming. In this way, traumatic memories are very different from normal memory recall.
  3. Trauma leaves its footprints on the body and the mind. Understanding how trauma affects the body can help us understand what is going on when we experience distressing, and frightening, symptoms. It can also stop us blaming ourselves for these symptoms.
  4. Trauma responses include both arousal and shutting down, and we tend to go back and forwards between these two responses.
  5. When it becomes too painful or threatening for us to stay present, our subconscious mind finds a way for us to leave, psychologically. One way of achieving this is through dissociation, where we temporarily split off some part of ourselves. Another common strategies is numbing – where we don’t have to feel anything at all.
  6. When the emotional brain is on overdrive, it overpowers the brain’s higher cortical centers. This makes it almost impossible to focus, concentrate, think clearly, recall information, and remember information.
  7. It’s crucial that we learn how to contain intense, negative and overwhelming feelings. These can feel too powerful for us to manage, so we feel helpless and out of control.
  8. The majority of trauma reactions are caused by excessive levels of cortisol being released into the body and brain.
  9. It takes a long time for the body to recover after it’s been flooded with stress hormones. Often, the most effective strategy is to create a safe place for yourself, and wait for the stress hormones to subside.
  10. Unprocessed trauma does not go away. Thus, we need to confront and integrate what’s happened in order to heal, and to pick up life again. Doing this will make you more resilient as well.
  11. The only way to effectively heal from trauma is to face, and open up to the anguish and terror. But the suffering has a purpose; it won’t last forever, and will set you free.
  12. Traumatic experiences are so intense that they often affect your whole worldview. They end up distorting your entire outlook and vision. However, support mitigates the effect of trauma. It’s easier to lie through if you don’t feel so alone

Getting What You Deserve

“Darling, you deserve it all.

Love, and peace, and joy dancing in your eyes.

Heart, deep belly laughter,

and the right to let those tears fall and water the soil.

You deserve freedom, and goodness, and company, and days of bliss and quiet.

You deserve happy, and healed, and content and safe.

So keep going. Go realize into being the life you deserve.”

You deserve it all.

Happiness. Deep happiness. A rich, contented meaningful life.

The right to be authentic and genuine. The right to be who you were meant to be.

Unique you. Beautiful you.

The right to feel your feelings. The right to express your feelings.

The right to be healed. The right to feel safe.

Don’t ever believe you deserve less than this.

This is the life you were meant to live.

When the Past Won’t Go Away

If you could distill your whole life into one moment, what would that moment be? What would be the image you hold in your mind?

For a client of mine, it was being sexually assaulted, when she was a student, over 20 years ago. She has worked on the trauma but its legacy persists. Even though she’s made progress, it still haunts her at times. Here she describes what it’s like to live with trauma:

“All it takes is hearing heavy footsteps in the dark. I get that sense in my gut that something awful is about to happen. I feel anxious – terrified actually – and everything in me wants to run and take cover. Sometime really mundane things can cause the same reaction.

There’s nothing I can do to change the past. The fact is it happened. That can’t be changed. 

However, I’ve learned that I can take control of the feelings. They don’t have to turn into a panic attack. I talk to myself. I tell myself:

That was one event, on one day, decades ago. You survived it. Life is good. You are going to be fine.

Of course, I wasn’t always this adept at managing my trauma. For years, “I didn’t go there”. I tried to hide from the past.

But the secret that I held … it refused to lie down. It would torment me in my sleep, and I knew I was its prisoner

In the end, I had to face it, and accept what had happened. That was absolutely awful. I didn’t want to do it. But I needed to be honest, and to mourn over my suffering.

And I’m glad that I did – because I’m freer, now, today.

I’m not frozen and stuck, even though there still are triggers.

My client’s words reminded me of Dr Edith Eger, a holocaust survivor, and psychologist. She states the following, with respect to her attempts to process her experience in the concentration camps:

“I worked very hard to keep my pain hidden. But in choosing not to face the past, decades after my literal imprisonment had ended, I was choosing not to be free. I had my secret and my secret had me.

Far from diminishing pain, when we don’t allow ourselves to grieve our losses, wounds and disappointments, we are doomed to keep reliving them.

Freedom lies in learning to embrace what happened. Freedom means we muster the courage to dismantle the prison brick by brick.

Being a survivor, being a ‘thriver’ requires absolute acceptance of what was, and what is.”

What Now?

Learning of betrayal is extremely traumatic, and you’re likely to be living in a fog for a while. Below are some guidelines that can help you navigate the weeks and months ahead, when you’re in a state of shock.

1. You might feel pushed to make a decision related to whether or not you should end the relationship. Resist that pressure while you’re in a state of shock. This is not the time to be making crucial life-altering decisions. Your emotions are going to be all over the place. In fact, experts suggest you wait at least 6 months before deciding on a question like this.

2. Give yourself permission to experience all emotions. Many of these will be intense and overwhelming. But it’s important to allow yourself to feel them. Don’t repress them.

3. Don’t allow your partner or spouse to accuse, or put any of the blame on, you (including attacking you for snooping around). He chose the behaviour and he alone is responsible for the choices he made.

4. Get information and answers. You have a right to know who you are married to (or in a committed relationship with). Also, you will want to know how often he betrayed you, who he betrayed you with, where, and so on. These are all reasonable questions. Honesty and trust are the necessary bedrock of any meaningful relationship.

Also, you are going to want, and need, to keep talking about things. This is essential for being able to forgive (and forgiveness is a process, not a one-time event.)

5. Don’t seek revenge.  Anger and rage are normal emotions. Expect to experience them. Give voice to them. But remember to always behave in line with your own moral values.

6. After the initial emotions have subsided, and you’re able to think more rationally again, take the time to analyze how things really were before you learned about the betrayal. In retrospect, had the relationship been deteriorating for a long time? Had your partner grown distant and cold? Was he detached and narcissistic? Is this the first betrayal, or is there a pattern of deception and betrayal? Or perhaps the relationship was actually quite good, and you shared lots of fun and laughs as couple (which can make the betrayal much more shocking and surprising.)

7.   Remember that how you feel today is not how you are always going to feel.  The intensity of the emotions will subside (even although may seem hard to believe). If your partner is willing to do the work, and change, you may not want to end the relationship.

8. Related to no.7, think about the reasons to stay as well as go. The chances are your lives are deeply intertwined. For example, perhaps you have raised (or are raising) children together; you may share a business, or hobbies and interests, friends, and lot of other good memories. These matter too.  Add them into the equation.