03: More of This and That


Affair Recovery

I decided to take Affair Recovery’s 17 Week Hope for Healing program because I realize the work I have done has happened largely in the silo of weekly one-on-one therapy, Twitter’s anger chambers, reflective writing and the love and support of friends that don’t judge my shames or failures.

It’s been an interesting treat.

Below are some thoughts on this and that as I’ve read the general forum wall open to all, the men’s unfaithful forum, and the conversations in the small group.


Heartache

I’m rolling into Week 5 of Affair Recovery’s 17 week program and I find myself discouraged. The small group of six people is shrinking. I’m fairly certain one of the men will be gone this week. Too busy chasing solutions to chase away the risk and uncertainty instead of sitting and listening to the questions.

My heart hurts for him because I hear the loneliness and self-aggression. His question over and over is “how to convince her I love her more now…” I cry for him as I project my experience and pain onto his. I spent a very long time trying to convince my X “she is the one, she was always the one” to only hear a soul crushing, physically debilitating silence.

Trying to convince someone is simply another way of phrasing the desire to pursue relevance, approval, acceptance, love. As Dr. Stan Tatkin says in his interview with Therapist Uncensored, “Love isn’t enough.”

I cannot prove my truth to others. It is my truth not their truth. The harsh reality is love isn’t enough…


Dis-heart-ened

I really think this is a great question: “questioning if I feel anything for my spouse or if I ever did, or if it was more off a roller-coaster or if I was just scared of being alone.

It took me a long time to recognize that we are all more than one thing and as such we feel more than one thing at a time. And frankly, because I feel ashamed about what I feel, I’m not sure I was able to own what was true for a long time. Real change didn’t set in until I could separate my shame’s stories from how I feel — an area where I still am learning and practicing.

From the day I knew the truth that I love my X, I was afraid to lose her. I thought there must be something wrong with me, and eventually she would leave me when she saw what a lousy lover, partner, friend, and person I was.

This isn’t new. I feel constantly on the defensiveness in relationships trying to prove my worth and value and hiding my mistakes and ignorance. I felt this way long before the act of cheating occured to me.

It was only months after my X and I split and her boyfriend and monkey’s threatened me did I realize the problems in our relationship were not all of my making and that by virtue of my mistakes and wounds I dismissed her mistakes and wounds as I overcompensated for mine. While she isn’t responsible for my betrayal, secrets, or escalating series of lies, she is responsible for her actions that were undermining the relationship financially, emotionally, sexually, and creatively.

As I told someone recently, I always felt my X and my ex-Wife were better people. I realize that is a story I made up based on how I felt.

I appreciate what Dr. Susan David writes about emotional agility when she says, “Feelings are data, not directives.” Too often I acted like they were the same thing.

Just because I do or don’t “feel” something doesn’t mean I need to do something.

Stay on the rollercoaster, get off the rollercoaster, but there is always a rollercoaster. Security and safety are not a right and are not guaranteed. No one is entitled to a smooth ride.


Heartburns

“I have difficulty defining what love is, and questioning also if I love.”

Dr. Shefali Tsabary has been incredible helpful in helping me decode my experience with love from the intention of love to loving acts. She has really helped me connect with the principles and values I am trying to apply.

One of the core concepts is feeling love for someone is like a tide: it ebbs and flows from moment to moment. It is unreasonable to expect to love someone with the same intensity all the time across a lifetime. That concept of expecting to be loved, or loving others, with the same intensity is a serious misunderstanding of feelings and love.

This is why it is essential to disconnect my feelings from simply directives. What I feel emotionally is often involuntary or symptomatic of other factors.

For example, I’m really tired today and feel emotionally low. Before I would have thought it meant something had to be fixed. I know now it simply means I am tired and feel emotionally low. Nothing needs done. Not everyday can be the best day.

I realize for me, I felt entitled to love because I saw other people “in love” and envied it. Meanwhile, I also felt unloveable so I set out to prove how I felt wrong. I took my feelings as directives. It had nothing to do with the relationships.

Today, in this moment, thirty-three months later, I feel compelled to write my X. Fifteen months ago I would have but I know now feelings are not directives. I know not to spend resources on bankrupt situations.


Heartthrobs

I read a grown man write, “I am 3 weeks in on celibacy (going up to 90 days to see if I’m addicted) and 2.5 months porn free.”

I found the responses so heartbreaking it made my head throb.

The responses reminded me of the conversations I often heard around alcoholism and addiction. Many newly evangalied AAs and Al-Anoners treat people that drink as either problems or problems in the making. The reality is the vast majority of men and women that drink are not alcoholics or alcoholics in the making.

However, because AR, and other religions groups, are echo chambers at best and cults at worse, fears tend to be reinforced. Free thinking is a sin. Hence chastity balls, nofap movements, and christian incels.

I am not living my truth if I’m simply conforming to the expectations of others so I can fit in. Trying to fit in is why I kept secrets and told lies. Sometimes it wasn’t that I was even doing something “wrong” but I defined my choices based on what I imagined someone else imagined about what I was doing.

It is one more time when I was pursuing approval and acceptance.

Instead, I encouraged him to work with a certified sex therapist on this issue.

Maybe not masterbating and not watching porn is the right choice for him, maybe it is just a different avenue for self-shame, or simply a new way to seeking approval. However, many people in AR share the opinion that porn and masterbation are inextricably tied to emotional, sexual, spiritual, and physical infidelity.

They will not see beyond the echo chamber of entitlements, labels, and stereotypes. Because of their own pain they assume it is other people’s pain too. A one-size-fits-all approach to pain management.

Frankly, religion and its disciples have some pretty self-serving and rigid perspectives on the issues of porn and masterbation even when infidelity isn’t involved. Those perspectives certainly drive a lot of behaviors underground ad fuel a great amount of cultural and self-shaming. Responses that aren’t always emotionally healthy or science based.

Of course, I tend to be the heretic anyway in cloistered groups and could be wrong. At a orgy I’d probably be offering alternative perspectives and asking questions about whether what we are doing is appropriate.

I’m great fun at parties.


Achy Breaky Heart

Ouch: “Is it normal to not feel anything/minimal emotions to your spouse, but still enjoy hugging them and being aroused on a physical level? I am scared of being ambivalent. Is it my brain doing tricks on me that I’m better off alone or?

I’m not sure so soon after the trauma of the discovery/reveal of my dishonesty and betrayal I was capable of honestly confronting these issues. I just need to keep showing up and focusing on conscious skill development and vulnerability.

It’s really revealing to me that we hold ourselves to such a brutal expectation of resiliency and trauma response. I think part of that is a toxic cultural approach to pain and grieving. An approach build on a toxic positivity.

After my father’s quadruple bypass heart surgery he thought he could walk off the pain but pain is part of the healing process. Pain requires so much resource everything else becomes secondary. The deeper the trauma, the more the pain, the higher the resource required to manage the pain, the longer to find the lessons and healing.

Dr. Candyce Ossefort-Russell, one of the foremost experts in trauma and grief writes, “Unfortunately, we live in a culture that espouses positive thinking for every circumstance and solution-focused answers to every problem, so most people have no idea how to respond to a friend or loved one who’s going through something that cannot be fixed.

If I cannot see how to help others to navigate things that cannot be fixed, I’m even more blind to what I need when people around me expect me to “fix” feelings or unring a bell.

I still struggle with the desire to fix things. Whatever else might be true, I recognize now I didn’t “break” my relationships, they were always broken and impermanent in the Eastern philosophical sense.

No mono aware.

Saudade.

With that perspective I recognize there are dynamic and patterns at play I cannot fix. However, I can grow and by growing myself I am embracing the dynamics and thereby living the change my life and relationships.

Contrary to what people claim, not everyone wants their loved ones to grow, they simply want them to change.