Finding Hope when you don’t Feel Hopeful

Sometimes you feel that you can’t face the battle. Sometimes you don’t feel courageous at all. Sometimes it all feels too much. Too overwhelming. Sometimes you feel that you just can’t go on.     

On days like this, when you’re fighting all the darkness, is there something you can do? Are there steps that you can take? It can often be helpful if you have ideas at hand – for you won’t have the energy to think at those bleak times. So here are some thoughts; a few things that you could try:

1. Acknowledge how you feel. Don’t try to sugar-coat it. You need to be authentic; you deserve to be authentic. Also, you can’t keep pretending, or keep faking how you feel. Eventually you’ll crack, and the feelings will seep through.

2. Work on developing a self-care routine. It will give you something to look forward to, and there’s a chance it will help to raise your self-esteem.

3. Try to notice any patterns in your thinking. Do you always tend to see things in the same old way? Are you stuck in a groove? Are you going round circles? Do you have expectations that cannot be realized? Is there one small ray of hope? Is there something you could change?

4. Remind yourself that you still have control over certain aspects of your daily life. Do you choose your meals and clothes? What you download on your phone? What you do in the evenings? Who you see in your free time? Do you still have some freedom and autonomy?

5. Lean into friendships where you feel fully accepted, where you’re free to be yourself, and you feel that you are safe.  If you can spend time with these people – or check in with them at times – you will probably feel stronger and more able to hold on.

“Hope is not pretending that troubles don’t exist. It is the hope that they won’t last forever. That hurts will be healed and difficulties overcome. That we will be led out of darkness and into the sunshine.”  

An Interview with Sanja

In this post, we interview Sanja, the wife of a recovering sex addict.

Counsellor: Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Sanja: I’m Sanja, and I have been married to a physician, Charles, for 13 years. My husband is a recovering sex addict.  We have triplet daughters, who were conceived through IVF.

Counsellor: How did you discover your husband had a sex addiction?

Sanja: He actually told me he had been using different online sites when the Ashley Maddison scandal first broke. He was afraid I would find out from someone else, or his name would become public.

Counsellor: Was that the full picture – using Ashley Maddison?

Sanja: Unfortunately – no. It wasn’t.  At first it sounded like he was only interested in porn, and had only chatted to 3 or 4 women. But I learned, over time, that it was a lot more going on than that. There were years and years of using webcams and chatrooms. Also, he kept the online relationships alive with some of these women for several years.

Also, I only built up a total picture over the course of about 10 months. Can you believe it!! That whole experience was really hard because, ironically, I felt awkward asking him any kind of probing question and, initially, he didn’t volunteer much information. I felt like I was accusing him of things he would never do (but of course had done), and I didn’t want to believe it was true either.

I had never thought my husband would betray me, so it was like meeting a completely new person. A person I never knew. It was all so shocking and distasteful to me.

Counsellor: How did you react?

Sanja:  My whole world was blow apart. I was a total mess. I cried all the time. I had anxiety and panic attacks at night. Honestly, I could hardly function. I took care of my kids – and that was about all. I couldn’t do my part-time job anymore. I couldn’t volunteer, or even hang out with family and friends. I just didn’t have the energy and mental head space for it. I was too much of a basket case.

Also, I felt like I could no longer distinguish between truth and lies. I felt like I couldn’t believe a word that came out of my husband’s mouth.

I felt like I was rewriting my whole past. Our whole past.

I didn’t know if I wanted to stay with him. I didn’t know if it was wise to stay with him. I didn’t know if I could ever trust him again. I didn’t know if he would change, and be faithful for a while, and then change back to this person he’d become. Honestly, how can you know something like that?

Counsellor: In retrospect, were there any signs which might have alerted you to what was going on?

Sanja: No. I can honestly say there were none at all. He’s a doctor. He’s an attentive and doting father. He’s a soccer coach. He’s very active in the local community. There was nothing to indicate he was anything other than the person he appeared to be. In fact, he was using an email account for his addiction that I didn’t even know he had. It was a secret account. You know, addicts are extremely skilled at covering their tracks, and being secretive.

Also, what kind of life do you have if you’re always checking up on your spouse, and wondering if they’re really telling you the truth!

Counsellor: You decided to stay with him. What led you to make that decision?

Sanja: Once things were out in the open, he was completely remorseful, and wanted to get help. And he did get help. He was also completely devastated when he observed the impact all of this had had on me. To be fair to him, he always tried to be there for me when I was experiencing the effects of betrayal trauma (even although I hated him, and raged against him at times.)  

One thing that was very important was: he honestly tried to uncover the roots of the addiction. Also, he answered every question I had. He saw a counsellor and had an accountability mentor.

In addition, I took over all the computers and set the passwords on his phone, ipad and laptop. He let me check up on him any time I wanted to – which I needed to do for at least two years. He was totally Ok with that.

I didn’t decide whether to stay or go for a year. I didn’t want to have to make any decisions until I was in a better place mentally and emotionally. And he accepted that without ever pressurizing me.

Counsellor: D-day (discovery day) for you was about five years ago. How are you coping with all of this today?

Sanja: I’m in a different place, and my husband is a different person. I believe he no longer lives in a fantasy world, and our relationship feels genuine and honest to me (but how can you ever know for sure!)

As far as my own recovery goes, I have accepted that I’ve been living with betrayal trauma, and I’ve allowed myself to work through the shock and grief as it comes up, in its own way, and in its own time. Will I ever be fully healed? I really don’t know. I’m not even sure it’s possible. I think there will always be some triggers and a degree of sadness, even although it’s muted sadness now.

But a lot of healing has taken place and I’m at a comfortable place in my life. Perhaps better than I ever thought was possible when I first learned about the addiction.

Will this Pain Ever Go Away?

“If the pain was deep, you will have to let go many times.” Yung Pueblo

We often feel surprised by how long the pain lasts. By the fact that we’re not free – even years after the trauma.

There are no easy answers.

There is no magic bullet.

The memory is ingrained and it doesn’t go away.

Letting go is a process we repeat a million times.

Every time it helps a little. Just a little – not a lot.

It’s a hard reality. A truth we’d rather not embrace.

But we are making some progress, every time we let it go.

Let’s Talk about Cheating and Broken Trust

“Cheating isn’t an accident. Falling off your bike is an accident. Cheating is a choice.”

Many cheating partners have argued the case that it was only some porn, or a lap dance, or webcams. It wasn’t a relationship and, therefore, didn’t count.

But that’s not what their partner, or their spouse, is going to think.

To them it’s a deliberate and blatant breach of trust. It’s engaging in behaviour that they know will break your heart. It’s cheating. Infidelity. Unfaithfulness.

And intimate relationships are based on openness. On not having secrets. On honesty and trust.

So when you choose to deceive her, or you lie to her face, then it totally destroys that strong foundation of trust.  And once it has been broken it is hard to rebuild.

For if I can’t be confident that you care about my heart, and I don’t know if you’ll hurt me, and I need to doubt your words, then how can I feel safe and trust myself to you?

And it’s not just about sex. It is believing you don’t count. It’s feeling you’re not valued, or respected, any more. And it’s having to feel anxious and uneasy all the time. For how can you be certain when your partner’s lied to you?

Ask any betrayed partner – and they’ll tell you that it’s this that’s hardest to get over – for we can’t forget the past. And we have an innate instinct to protect ourselves from harm – and that includes protection from emotional harm, as well.

But trust CAN be recovered – though it’s going to take some time. It’s rebuilt brick by brick – and it is not an easy road.

For some, it isn’t worth it. There is way too much at stake.

But others might decide that they are going to take the risk.

But only you can really know what’s best and right for you.

There are Things You’ll Never Forget

The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again, but you will never be the same.” Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

You don’t ever forget that your partner was unfaithful. You don’t ever forget that you lost a precious child. You don’t ever forget the day your whole world fell apart. You don’t ever forget that you’re a victim of abuse.

We may heal to some extent, and build a very different future.

Our partner may change, or we might marry someone else.

We might still have other children.

And our fortunes might reverse.

We might laugh, and find fulfillment, and decide ‘life must go on’.

Even so, we still remember – for we can’t erase those memories.

There will always be an ache for what could, and should, have been.

It is simply a fact that a heartache is a heartache.

And what happened left an imprint, and a sadness, and a scar.  

 “It has been said: ‘Time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The scars remain and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.”  

It’s Worth Hanging On!

“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

This quote by the tennis player Arthur Ashe appears frequently on social media. It’s the kind of quote you might expect to see there.

It’s the kind of quote I’ve posted myself when life has been happy, or at least humdrum.

It’s the kind of quote that can give you a lift, and inspire you to try, and to go for your dreams.

But it’s not the right quote if you’re curled up in a ball, and you’re dealing with a trauma, and you think you’re going to die.

No! That’s not the kind of quote that you want to hear right now.

Then, one day you decide that your life must go on.

You are made of stronger stuff.

You are going to survive.

Yes, the pain’s unbearable, and you don’t know what to do. Yes, the options all look bad. None of this was in the script.

So, you rip up the old script and you start where you are.

But your self-esteem is shattered. You have lost your confidence. It is hard to open up, and to take a risk, trust.

Work and hobbies? What are those? They don’t interest you at all. And because you never sleep, you have zero energy.

Still, you make a vague attempt to retain a normal life. You take the kids to school and you drag yourself to work.

Yes, you try to act the part – even though you’re in a mess.

And you find you have reserves.  You can manage minor tasks.

Step by step you’re managing. You are using what you have.

And we might as well be real. You don’t “just get over this.” No, you’re going to be in pain, and be bleeding, for some years.

You can wear a plaster cast. Get some stitches for the wounds. Change the soiled bandages. Buy some ointment. Take some pills.

Even so, it will take time. You can’t rush this process up.

But you’re caring for yourself.

You are doing what you can.

And those small acts of self-love help to change you bit by bit.

Till, one day, you catch a glimpse of the self you thought you’d lost.

Wow! You can’t believe it’s true. You had missed that self so much.

It was worth the tears and work. There was truth in that old quote:

“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

Don’t Give Up

Remind yourself of what you’ve been able to overcome. All the times when you thought you weren’t going to make it through, and you proved yourself wrong. You are more powerful than you feel.” – Unknown

Remind yourself of this when you feel anxious, scared, weak, worn-out, worn-down, or overwhelmed.

There are days when we believe that we simply cannot cope.  But we take the next step, and then the step after that.

We keep on going, and we do the best we can.

We force ourselves to try.

We don’t give in. We must be strong.

And when we look back at our day: We‘re glad it’s over; it’s been tough.

But, yet, we made it through. 

And we are here.

And we survived.

Taming Feelings of Anxiety

I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night, but I did get a few solid hours of anxiety in.”

I’m sure this is something we can all relate to. Anxiety is something that we all have to manage – and it’s really challenging when it disturbs our sleep. So what can we do to relieve anxiety, and to dissipate the worry and the stress in our lives?

1. First, be compassionate with yourself. The fact that you’re anxious and are seriously stressed means you likely need some comfort and support right now. Make sure you offer this to yourself. Self-kindness is important. Don’t criticize yourself.

2. Notice every little gesture of kindness that other people extend to you. A thoughtful act. A sympathetic comment. Some practical help. An unexpected compliment. A word, or a response, which communicates to you that someone understands what you are going through. These are powerful and impactful as they show us others care. So do your best to notice all these tiny little things.

3. Open up, and share with someone that you’re having a hard time. We benefit when others share their strength with us, so we don’t feel we’re shouldering our challenges alone. Also, if you’re a person of faith, it can help to pray … or to ask other people to pray for you.

4. Deliberately do something that will build you up. Do something that you know has made a difference in the past. And we’re all very different in terms of what this is It might be doing something physical like cycling or skiing. It might be going for a meal with some friends that you enjoy. For someone else, it might be taking their dog for a walk. Find out what work for you, and make sure you do that!

5. Listening to music can relax the mind. For example, slow-paced instrumental music lowers heart rate and blood pressure. And we all have favourite playlists that can soothe our minds. It’s amazing how transformative the right music can be. Again, choose whatever styles and pieces work for you.

Tell me What Happened to You

“The relevant question in psychiatry shouldn’t be what’s wrong with you, but what happened to you.” – Eleanor Longden          

In counselling we ask that very question.

People are shaped by their relationships, and by significant life experiences. So rather than just treating the symptoms or effects, or diagnosing someone with an inappropriate label, in counselling we ask questions like:

1. What significant event has just happened in their life? Are they reeling from a devastating trauma? Has their whole world just been turned upside down? Is this the kind of thing that any normal person would find disorienting and too much to handle?  Do they have adequate support?

2. Related to this, how many other traumatic events has this individual had to deal with? If previous traumas haven’t been properly processed, then they won’t have the resources and reserves to cope with another devastating life event.

3. Have they suffered a significant loss? Are these normal reactions for someone who is grieving? How many other losses has this loss precipitated? How life-changing is this loss/ or are these losses? Has the person been allowed to grieve properly?

4. What was their early childhood like? What kinds of attachment relationships did they form with their parents, or their main caregivers? Were the attachments secure (safe, unconditional, loving, accepting, healthy, reliable and predictable)? Anxious-ambivalent (where love and acceptance were conditional, and they never knew for sure if the important people in their life would be there for them, or not)? Dismissive Avoidant (where they have to hide their true thoughts and feelings – so they became detached and emotionally distant)? Dismissive Avoidant (where they have buried and still carry unresolved losses and traumas, or mistreatments and abuses associated with their childhood)?   

These all leave their mark on the individual’s mind. There is nothing wrong with them. All their reactions are quite normal. They are people who’ve been harmed, and who carry the deep scars of a shocking, painful past that still needs to be addressed.

Where Healing Begins

Sometimes that’s all you need. Someone who gets it. A light in the darkness. Some empathy in a cold world. A little understanding of the chaos inside.” – JmStorm

Isn’t that what we all long for at times.

It hurts to be alone with all the chaos and the pain.

It feels too much to handle, and we don’t know where to turn.

But the kindness of someone who is simply there for us, can make all the difference.

All the difference in the world.