Monday, November 24, 2014

All Because He Had the Guts to Get Real with Her

Chad had a regular porn habit from age 13 to 31. Eventually he got into strip clubs and erotic massages. Off and on throughout that entire time he tried to quit acting out sexually, but never could stay away from it for long.

After two decades addicted, Chad's been sober for just over a year now. When I asked him what has helped most, he identified some key fundamental changes:

  • He has deepened his connection with his values, goals, and sense of purpose in life. When temptations hit he has a distinct sense: "That's not me to get involved in that stuff anymore. That's not where my life is going." When he feels the draw of temptation, he turns his attention back to what he's trying to accomplish in life.
  • He no longer spends time roaming the internet. He uses it for a specific purpose and then gets off again.
  • He has worked to develop a some helpful ways to manage his stress. When he's not able to wind down at night, he will use one of the relaxation videos he found on YouTube. When he's confused or weighed down with burdens, he writes in a journal. When he gets anxious and sick to his stomach, he practices a mindfulness meditation technique. 
  • He has made a real effort to stop objectifying women. He looks them in the eye. He considers who they are as individual human beings with thoughts and feelings of their own.

Despite how much the above changes have helped, he claims that one final, key change has made the biggest difference of all:

One year ago Chad opened up in total honesty and got his wife, Samantha, involved in his recovery.

Here's an example of how it goes for them these days:

"At work I took a quick lunch with a buddy. As we chatted in the break room, on the TV screen behind him there was a scene of a woman taking her shirt off. Combined with all the long hours I've been working, that made for a rough day. I noticed a heightened susceptibility. It felt like my mind was weaker and I was less able to hold my focus on work tasks.

"I called Samantha and put it out on the table. It helps to talk to her about those kind of things. She was understanding. She appreciates it. It helps her to feel included.

"In the beginning I really had to face down my shame in order to bring up something like that. It's become routine for us now though. The moment I talked her about it, things shifted. It was like the temptation was neutralized in some way. The wildfire was stopped in its tracks and it didn't spread anymore.

"It was so hard to start letting my wife into my thoughts. I was accustomed to hiding not only my actions, but my temptations and cravings. But communicating about it has definitely had a positive influence on our relationship. We're more connected. I'm no longer keeping those walls up. We're in it together, I'm not grappling with this alone anymore. It's an 'us' thing now."

Even now that Samantha knows everything about him, she still loves and supports him. In fact, they're closer than ever. His transparency has elicited her support, and her understanding makes it easier for him to open up.

I can see the difference this has made in Chad. He carries himself with more dignity. Instead of hanging his head, feeling like a terrible person with a shameful habit, he seems to see himself more as a respectable guy who's dealing with a fairly common struggle. His sexual issues no longer define and isolate him. They're something he's learned to manage--with the help and support of a loving wife.

Friday, November 14, 2014

How He Helps When Her Wounds Get Reopened

She tried to call him on his cell phone, but he didn't answer. It was 4:30 Friday afternoon. She tried again, no answer.

An old familiar sick feeling swept over her.

Emily pinched her eyes closed, trying to ignore the tidal wave that had just swept her up. She dialed the number of his desk phone. With a lump in her throat and her heart pounding, she waited. Dennis picked up after two rings.

"I've been calling you. Why didn't you pick up?" She was doing her best to sound calm.

His stomach dropped. He looked down at his phone. "Sweetie, I don't show any missed calls." He braced himself.

Talk about bad timing. He was heading to South Carolina on business the following Tuesday and still had so much to do to get ready. He had been planning on leaving the office around six. But now, who knew when he'd get out of there? This could take hours. Even worse, it could ruin their weekend together. 

But Dennis also knew that this was an ordeal of his own making. He settled in for the process. He reminded himself, "This takes her right back to when she couldn't reach me before. She thinks I'm involved with other women again." 

Instead of accusing Emily of overreacting and throwing up his hands, he sat and pondered the reasons her worries were justified. He coached himself through it: "I need to be humble and patient. Eventually the truth will win and she'll know that I haven't gone back off track. But right now she's upset, she's doubtful." He reminded himself what he'd been reading in Philippians: Don't worry. Pray. God will provide what's needed. 

"I can't explain why the call didn't ring through," he said, "but... I'm sorry you have to feel this way because of my old behaviors."

"I was doing fine," Emily said. "But now I can't stop shaking."

"Oh, Sweetie," he said. He cried for her, for what he'd put her through.

Later he thought, "I've spent three years in therapy trying to get to where I can do that: open up, try to understand where her feelings come from, receive them. Mark's been reminding me that for our relationship to heal, I need to show up so that she has someone who's THERE to bond to. No matter where we are, even if it's in hell, if we're there together and there's understanding and closeness, we're still connected. And that's what matters most, being together through it all. If I hang in there and stay with it, we can get to the point where that closeness matters even more--and carries more weight--than all the hell I've put her through."

They talked for 45 minutes. 

Later, they spent the whole evening together and had a good time. 

In bed, with the lights off, she said, "It made a big difference, the way you handled it when I called. You didn't get upset. You didn't raise your voice. You didn't defend yourself." During the call she could tell that he stayed tender and connected to her throughout. When his voice cracked and she knew how distraught he was over it, she'd realized that she wasn't going through it alone. She didn't have to go through that hell alone anymore. "If you can keep reacting this way, we'll keep working through whatever comes up. We'll make it."

Hearing Emily say that meant more to Dennis than anything. "We will make it," he promised. "No matter what comes up, we'll work through it together."