Author Topic: The Ups and Downs of Recovery - what I am learning  (Read 3691 times)

stillme

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The Ups and Downs of Recovery - what I am learning
« on: November 27, 2016, 07:41:10 AM »
Some people's path to recovery is linear - where they simply move forward along with their recovering partner. That is awesome. The reality is the vast majority of recovery is not linear - there are ups and downs. I am finding that my own situation is very much in line with what is put forth by recovery professionals. Here are the things I am finding are true for me:

1) There are ups and downs and extreme emotions. Being at the six month mark in my husband's recovery I clearly see why no permanent decision should be made in the first year as far as what should happen in the relationship.

2) Honesty was priority number one - and my husband could NOT accomplish true honesty without professional help. If I took everything my husband said at face value, I would have been swimming on cloud nine and telling the world about my husband's perfection, his 'openness', and his fallen from the sky honesty. All I can say is that it is amazing what memories a professional polygraph test can shake from the dark recesses of the mind. Again, not everyone needs a relationship built on honesty, but for me - I needed to know just what his porn addiction entailed. I had children to think about as well as I deserved to know truth and the reality is - my husband was a liar. The vast majority of porn addicts with partners become liars to one extent or another. Lying is a very hard habit to break on one's own, especially when they are trying to rebuild the relationship. There is guilt and shame with porn addiction that makes lying feel like the better alternative to truth. For some partners, that is the case. For me, no - I want and need truth and honesty.

3) Understanding the depths at which addiction changed my husband. We have had some open and honest recovering porn addicts post recently in the forum about how much they had been willing to deceive - including playing the "I am so bad, I am a monster" game or anything else to take the heat off. If I was taking my husband at face value when he appeared as perfect as pie early in his recovery - it would have severely limited his true recovery. The truth is, I value my husband as a person above our marriage. That means, if it cost us or marriage for him to truly, honestly, fully recover from addiction - I will gladly do it. What I am finding is no matter how hard this recovery process is on the both of us, he is emerging as a better man. He is not only tackling is porn/sex addiction, he is taking on those things that made him susceptible to the addiction in the first place. He had to learn a lot of new life skills. For instance, his way of dealing with problems was simply to avoid them (thus turning to porn for release/relaxation/comfort). One doesn't learn how to go from a conflict avoider to handling conflict in a mature and meaningful way by simply stopping jacking off from porn. My husband abstained from porn since d-day. He has not had one relapse in 180 days - not one. Guess what? He is still in recovery, because abstinence and true recovery are two very different things.

4) Rebooting was only the START of my husband's recovery. I went in to this thinking my husband had a porn addiction problem. Very few people only have a porn addiction problem. As I mentioned earlier, my husband turned to porn because he was an extreme conflict avoider. He used his nature of being quiet to go into a shell and hide from all sorts of things. What is frustrating to see, but I am so glad he has come to this truthful realization - most of his problems that he was running from were all easily solvable. A bit of honest and open communication, some small lifestyle changes - and he could have easily dealt with probably 90% of the things he was running from by escaping to porn. In fact, I think my husband got so taken by porn because he was severely lacking in dopamine hits in his normal life because he just avoided life. Running from the 'problems', no matter how minor, also meant running from the good, the joy, the excitement. Porn based dopamine felt that much better because he hid from life so much he lacked the dopamine experiences that would and should have been naturally occurring. My husband wasn't just doing this in our marriage, he was doing this in his entire life. Let me give an example. Let's say one of our kids had difficulty walking due to a fixable medical issue. If my husband would see the child having difficulty and suffering - he would shut down. Because he shut down and tried to shut out the bad, he would miss when each and every victory gained through therapy. So, while me and the child would be riding high on dopamine from watching them overcome every challenge and not only learn to walk - but learn to run, jump, play, and maybe even make their first soccer goal, my husband might see only the soccer gaol. While watching that soccer goal might be good, he would also then be overcome with guilt because he didn't watch or participate in the hard work that made that goal possible. (By the way, this particular story did not happen for us, I am keeping the premise of our experience without revealing the actuals because this is the internet and I don't speak about my children's lives online.). The guilt would then draw him further into a shell - and further into seeking his emergency 'rush' from porn. Bring cam girls into the picture and that was grounds for disaster. Cam girls are always there, no matter what time of day or night you seek them. With just a couple dollars - they will tell you that you are great, amazing, and perfect in every way. So, when your wife is frustrated that you forgot to wash the dishes even though she cooked dinner, did the laundry, got the kids to bed - all the while working the same eight hours for pay as you did, you can turn on the web and listen to the cam girls tell you that your wife is horrible for being so selfish, that you are such a giver, and by the way - your penis is amazing (even though it doesn't work with your wife). This world that my husband was living in, I was completely unaware of. Mainly because I was busy with the kids and life. Of course I noticed that my husband wasn't coming to bed at night and appeared to lose all interest in sex with me, but the crisis that was occurring in his mind I was not in tuned with.

5. It is okay to hold out for something better. I am worth it. I am worth a heck of a lot more than simply 'average' happy. I have put in the hard work, stood by in a difficult situation, and kept up my end of the bargain. Part of my own recovery is knowing my worth. My husband is noticing as well. Whether we make it or not is still up for grabs, but keeping true to my worth and not settling just to keep the family together is helpful to both of us.

6. I am not his therapist. I held fast and helped my husband find the right therapists to work with. Yes, he originally made a bad choice that would have certainly ruined any chance of our marriage surviving. But, he has found the right fit. We talk to each other, deeply and often. However, this isn't about porn, it is about addiction. It is about breaking the cycle of addiction. My mind defaults to us, our marriage, and my pain. He is getting guidance from people that understand the nature of addiction. It is through his professional counselors, that know what they are doing, that my husband and I could see that his issues started much further back than even he thought or wanted to acknowledge. There was even dysfunction in his home that he had repressed (but confirmed through communication with a sibling who had also kept the vow to just not even discuss some of the crazy that went on in the home). Those things weren't going to come to the surface if we were sitting and talking about our marriage or relationship or my upset. Having an addiction is complex.

7) I get a choice. Being married to a recovering addict is tough and there are choices I get and parameters I get to set to stay in this relationship. Full disclosure was the first, along with the relationship being fully satisfying for me. I have high hopes for my husband's full and complete recovery. He is putting in the hard work. I mean - extremely hard work that includes individual counseling as well as a group session, led by a trained professional, with all the men in the group dealing with the same issue and going through the process together. He is doing assignments that are meaningful and are getting to the heart of the issue so that he can be in complete control of his own life. However, deep work takes time and I get to choose if I am willing to wait. Some days the answer is a resounding yes, other days it feels like a no - but that is okay as well.

8) The trauma that I went through as the partner of an addict was real. Regardless of whether others see it as trauma, that is exactly what it was. I need no one's permission to take my time through my own recovery. This is my journey, and it is valid and meaningful and important. Others can minimize it all they want to, that only serves to help me to know whom to cut out of my life, whom to sit in a corner, and finding out who are the people that are actually in my corner. Being the partner of a porn/sex addict might not be traumatic for others - that is valid as well. This is my journey, unique to me.

cuppatea

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Re: The Ups and Downs of Recovery - what I am learning
« Reply #1 on: November 27, 2016, 02:19:21 PM »
Thank you, a lot of these things resonate with me. The ups and downs especially. I've felt some very strong emotions during all this and I had no idea things could be felt that deeply. I spiraled into an absolute pit of despair, I've always prided myself on being a pretty strong and resilient person but this brought me crashing down and tore me open.

My husband now seems to be getting into recovery, but because of the hell ride he's put me through I am going to need to see that maintained for a while. He's had a habit before of putting on a good show for a few days then reverting to ignoring this issue and hoping it goes away. I need to see that consistency now.

For me personally this has caused everything in my own life that I had blocked out and locked away and avoided to also come out. I can take one positive from this and that is that I'm now dealing with my own issues in a healthy way and learning my own healthy coping skills. I hadn't gone into addiction like he had but I certainly I had/have my own issues and unhealthy coping skills etc. In many ways we are quite similar, both low self esteem, both self deprecating, both conflict avoiders and bad communicators etc. My husband has swapped to my counselor now, this is now his third counselor but I'm hopeful this is the one that will really work. She wants to really get him to the root cause and because we are both using her she can help keep us on the same page and has said us both using the same style of therapy will help us too as we'll learn the same skills etc. For instance I've been learning mindfulness and she's now said to hubby she would like him to use that so that is an area we can share and work on together etc. And yes I'm finding we are talking less about what he watched etc and more getting into the why now, which is exactly what I've needed. I need to know why he did it and I need to know he knows why, because only then can he make the right changes and stop himself slipping back into it.

stillme

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Re: The Ups and Downs of Recovery - what I am learning
« Reply #2 on: November 27, 2016, 03:50:58 PM »
cuppatea - oh my goodness you hit the nail on the head - consistency! My husband would be absolutely perfect - for one or two days. Compassionate, caring, open and expressive, understanding of my needs. As a result, I would relax and feel more free and open and things would get markedly better. However, as soon as things got better he would almost immediately revert back to be closed off or would forget that I was still healing emotionally, or forget that he had not yet earned my trust - so he didn't need to be alone in a room with the computer on or close down his phone when I walked into the room. Mind you - he wasn't looking at porn or doing anything of the sort, but he still has not yet earned my trust and we had agreed he wouldn't do those things. To my husband, a good day meant all my healing was done and we could 'move on'.

It has taken him this long to realize we aren't going 'back' to what we had. What we had created an environment in which porn addiction could take hold, what we had was a situation in which I would accept sex once or twice a year as 'normal', what we had was an environment in which he was living a separate life. We can't go back to what we had, we need to be focused on creating something new, something better, something healthy, satisfying, and enjoyable for the both of us. Doing the right thing for one day or one week or even one month isn't enough. Doing those things has to become the normal for how we operate.

Why do they understand that 90 days of consistently avoiding PMO is needed to break the habit or porn use, but don't seem to understand that need 90 days (or 180 days or whatever) of consistently being 'present' in the marriage, open in their communication, attentive to their spouse and children, etc. to create the habit of a healthy and functional marriage.

Absolutely - consistency!

Emerald Blue

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Re: The Ups and Downs of Recovery - what I am learning
« Reply #3 on: November 28, 2016, 08:09:34 PM »
Stillme, your post says so much about the complexities of the recovery process. It's absolutely not linear in my situation. There are frequently unexpected stumbling blocks that arise from the recovery process itself. There can never be a "going back" because that would be like returning to a state of delusion and naivety.

The most fundamental part of recovery is that our partners have to quit. If that doesn't happen then the relationship certainly won't. We need to state our boundaries, what we are prepared to accept or not. We need to tell our partners more than once because they do "forget" the peripheral issues that surrounded their habit.

Communication skills almost very have to be improved. I don't think a relationship will recover sufficiently without a commitment to better communication. We have to learn how to have those difficult conversations but experience has taught me this is easy to say, easy to agree to but almost impossible to put into practice with someone who has used hiding, evasiveness and lying for many years. It's been a huge barrier to progress in my relationship. It's not great but it's better than it was. The trouble is, he is the one who has something to hide. I don't. He thinks dishonesty is "better" because if I don't know I can't get upset and he doesn't have to take any risk. It's a selfish excuse because it's not about sparing my feelings, it's about him protecting himself and remaining in control. So, I keep trying. The improvements are slow and minimal. It's not quite enough, though. I'm motivated to improve communication. He seems to want to go along with it as long as it's not too challenging. Professional help may be what's needed, but I don't know whether he would still hide behind his "good guy" act. Obviously I am not able to trust him completely. And I will admit to that.

Lying can be VERY sophisticated with a porn addict. I'm only just getting my head around the "I behaved badly, I'm so awful" routine as a technique to manipulate and take the heat off his accountability for his behavior. I'm very aware of his facade of hypocrisy that he maintained whilst he was using porn, and I'm tuning into the possibility that he could be using the same strategy to distance himself from his previous porn behaviors but also as a way of diverting me from communication about the very issues we need to be talking about. It's also another technique of deception. The problem is he starts accusing me of being "suspicious" or whatever, but considering the ways he used to deceive me by creating diversions and smokescreens he has to at least acknowledge his own contribution to the problem.

Conflict avoidance – yes! That sums up my husband very well. It's also why some issues escalate over time because he can't say what is or isn't a problem for him, nor is he able to state his needs clearly. If I raise an issue about something I'm having difficulties about in our relationship, or if I have questions that require answers from him, his first response is to deny whatever it is I'm asking about or feign ignorance. He turns things around to make out I'm the one creating difficulties. It's really, really tough. He's a very intelligent man and he's a pretty skilled at avoiding what he doesn't want to own up to, and ultimately not take full responsibility.

That's my gripe with the dopamine theories. I know it's what goes on inside the addict brain but what I don't like is that it offers an escape clause. It's the same with the "I'm such a bad person" shame tendency which I've definitely noticed my husband using as a get out of jail free card. When I discovered the p subs that he'd looked at after d day, he reacted with extreme aggression, refused to admit to it, and then a couple days later it was "I know I've done some stupid things" or whatever. I was aware at the time he was still not admitting to anything. I felt the blanket apology was a bit of a trick, to placate me. I don't know. But I knew it was the best I was going to get.

Sexually, it's a very complicated scenario after porn addiction. There are so many issues that arise, especially emotional issues, that seem to throw off the sexual recovery process. It's not easy. Certainly not linear.
His porn addiction: you didn't cause it - you can't control it - you can't cure it

BuddhaAwake

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Re: The Ups and Downs of Recovery - what I am learning
« Reply #4 on: November 29, 2016, 11:27:46 AM »
Emerald Blue-

In regards to the "I'm so ashamed" response, real or feigned, I've found there are three basic responses-

1. "You should be ashamed!" While anger is an understandable response, shaming the person who feels shame compounds the problem. It can even be used to divert the issue as an argument erupts- the addict can perceive him/herself as the victim of an attack.

2. "Don't feel that way" - First of all, it tells the addict his/her feelings are wrong. It could also be perceived as a way to comfort the addict to the point of minimizing what they've done. This is tough not to do for someone who wants to be supportive and comforting.

3. "WHY do you feel ashamed?"- This focuses the attention on what the ADDICT HAS DONE, especially when narrowed to specifics. "Which values did you violate? How did you violate them? Okay, so you feel ashamed of violating your values- what are you going to do about it?" "How did you betray me? Why does this matter to you? Okay, so you betrayed me and lost my trust, what are you going to do about it?"

The first time my therapist responded by asking me "why?" when I said I felt so ashamed of myself it was a revelation- there was nowhere to hide and no way to spin the conversation. I was pinned down to specifics of my behaviors and how they affected others and what was I going to DO about it.

 

stillme

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Re: The Ups and Downs of Recovery - what I am learning
« Reply #5 on: November 29, 2016, 11:52:46 AM »
See number six - the partner is NOT the therapist. The partner should not be required to coddle the feelings or wrap up their own hurt in a bow to ensure the recovering porn addict doesn't feel bad. At what point does the porn addict put the feelings, emotions, and needs of the betrayed partner in the forefront of the relationship? The therapist should absolutely be the person to ask "why do you feel ashamed?", the betrayed partner often times has zero reserves left to try and prop up a recovering porn addict that has been lying, deceiving, and overall demolishing the relationship, the family, the household for years and years. Nope, nope, and nope. At some point, if the recovering addict says they love their partner, they need to be the one to do the supporting, not the other way around.

BuddhaAwake

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Re: The Ups and Downs of Recovery - what I am learning
« Reply #6 on: November 29, 2016, 12:34:43 PM »
I agree, stillme.

Heavens, no- I'm not saying the partner should be the therapist- just that someone wrote in a post:

"That's my gripe with the dopamine theories. I know it's what goes on inside the addict brain but what I don't like is that it offers an escape clause. It's the same with the "I'm such a bad person" shame tendency which I've definitely noticed my husband using as a get out of jail free card."

My suggestion was just to let the addict know that the "shame tendency" is not a get out of jail free card- the addict must still be accountable for his/her actions. By stating exactly what he/she feels ashamed about they have to own it as opposed to brushing it off as an "escape clause."

Otherwise, it can wind up being a, "I'm ashamed, please forgive me, let's move on" short-circuited discussion. How many times have you heard, "I already said I'm sorry, what more do you want?" The partner has every right to say exactly what they want and the addict has the responsibility to respect the partner's needs and respond appropriately.

My suggestion was that if someone wants to respond to the "shame tendency" was to turn the focus of conversation on the addict's behavior and how it affects others, rather than suck the partner into a debate over whether the addict should feel ashamed or manipulate the partner into comforting the addict.

I only mentioned my therapist because she was the one who turned my "shame tendency" towards my actions and their consequences, as well as challenging me to do something about it.

But you are right- it is not up to the partner to "fix" the addict and the addict does need to place the needs of the partner ahead of his/hers.

I see so much complaining about how hard it is for the PAs in the PA forum and so little acknowledgment of the pain they have caused and their plans to make amends. The PAs seem to focus on how difficult it is not to "use" and their fears about flat-lining and PIED.

If more PAs read the partners section PERHAPS they'd be less selfish and direct more attention and compassion to their partners.



Emerald Blue

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Re: The Ups and Downs of Recovery - what I am learning
« Reply #7 on: November 29, 2016, 09:01:03 PM »
It's really up to my husband to work out his feelings of shame but shame seems to be a very complex, multi layered emotion, certainly in his case. In some respects the brain chemistry/addictive process can explain aspects of the behavior and the damage it causes over time. Emotional literacy and not being able to deal with difficult feelings and life events is another reason. But the addict also has to take responsibility for his decisions as an adult too. He seems to be working out his shame slowly and gradually.

I can't be his therapist although I have sought to understand his difficulties and tried to guide him gently out of the shame mindset as it has been a barrier to our recovery as a couple. I have asked him what his shame was about but I don't think there's a simple answer. He couldn't quite articulate it. At this point, asking him why isn't relevant. We talk about various aspects of how we felt when he was actively using porn and what we've been through since d day, the difficulties we've dealt with together and individually. It's been a slow process.

Recovering a relationship has been very difficult at times because each partner has their own quite separate recovery process and every stage of recovery brings its own challenges. Ultimately the decisions were all his. The porn and whatever else he did were deliberate choices that he made as an adult. It wasn't his parents who made him do it, he wasn't 7 years old, it wasn't even a midlife crisis like I used to believe it was. He was an adult. He was watching "adult" content, not cartoons made for kids. So he still has to step up and take responsibility. If he figured there were no consequences for our relationship and that it was "harmless entertainment " then why the secrecy and lies? We're getting past the shame slowly.
His porn addiction: you didn't cause it - you can't control it - you can't cure it

stillme

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Re: The Ups and Downs of Recovery - what I am learning
« Reply #8 on: November 30, 2016, 07:40:49 AM »
I think it is hard for some recovering addicts to accept the truth of the situation. Like many addictions, porn addiction starts with the foundation of selfishness, especially for those with partners. They decided it was okay for them to get their sexual needs met, without any consideration for the sexual needs of their partners. Getting their sexual needs met outside of the relationship caused a rift in more than just sex - but also intimacy, trust, and commitment. It is impossible to be truly intimate with a person when your mind is focused on your next PMO session - can't be done, nope. Regardless of what recovering addicts tell themselves, they lost true connection with their partner during their addiction. Trust is gone because even if they don't start off lying about porn use, they eventually turn to lying, hiding, being deceptive. They lie about frequency as well as what it all means to them. Commitment to the relationship and for those of us that are married - the vows. When you vowed to "forsake all others" and you don't, even if those others are just images on a screen - you broke the vows. Every single PMO session is a rip in the fabric of the relationship.

Regardless of how well their recovery from porn addiction goes, if they can't deal with the selfishness, the relationship is not going to heal. Sure, for the first 90 days of the 'emergency' reboot - they can be selfish as that is the kickstart to their overall recovery. However, the only way to break the cycle of the addictive personality is to stop being selfish and to put the needs of someone else (their partner, their children, the family) above their own.

One of the biggest issues my husband and I had to deal with was him 'using' me as a part of his recovery. "Oh, I need to connect with my wife." Yeah, but he wasn't trying to connect with me because I had been suffering from loneliness or his abandonment of the relationship for the sake of porn, his focus on connecting with me was so that he would be less open to the pull of porn and needed to connect with a real person versus pixels on a screen. In the beginning of his recovery, sex was about examining how well he was recovering from ED/DE. His thought was that fact that I was sexually neglected and abandoned for years of our marriage, it was about him realizing what 'he' was missing by jacking off to porn rather than having sex with his real life wife. Communication wasn't about the fact that I had been reaching out to him to talk and revitalize the friendship that was an integral part of our marriage, it was about him learning to better express himself for his own personal recover and growth. So, even when it came to things that were on the surface beneficial to me, it was really about him getting his own needs met. That is why when he hit a flatline during his reboot - sex stopped. So, even though I, as his wife, have willingly and enthusiastically engaged in sexual intimacy even when I didn't really feel like it - when he was flatlining sexual intimacy was off the table. Everything was about what 'he' needed for recovery and I was supposed to enjoy the crumbs of satisfaction that feel from the table.

The reason why the jury is still out on whether or marriage makes it or not (things are looking up, but still - the jury is out) is because I refuse to spend another thirteen years with someone that is so selfish. He needs to show me, consistently and over an extended period of time, that he is no longer functioning as a toddler that believes the world should revolve around him. He is finding dropping selfishness to be the hardest part of his recovery. He admits he has to get up every morning and intentionally ask himself what he is going to do that do to put his focus on me and/or the children. People that aren't selfish don't have to do this. From the time I wake up in the morning to the time I go to be at night - I am naturally focused on what I need to do to meet the needs of my family, honor my work commitments, etc. In fact, I often have to be forced/reminded to do things for myself. For most people, there is a natural balance. They figure out how to get their own needs met, but also meet the needs of those for who they have commitments (family, work friends). Spending time reading the accounts of recovering porn addicts about what their focus is on throughout their day - yes, the selfishness is there and runs deep. The truth is - the reek the havoc they do in the lives of their partners, selfishness is the only way to describe it. For my own household I can see that my husband didn't start to truly recovery until he started to actually, on purpose, think about someone other than himself. Because even in the first few months of his recovery process and successfully abstaining from porn - it was all for selfish reasons. Even not wanting to lose his wife and kids was selfish. He could barely verbalize why it was best for the kids not have him out of the house and he absolutely could not verbalize what "I" was going to get out of staying married to him. He is now just beginning to be able to have that conversation in a meaningful way.

BuddhaAwake

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Re: The Ups and Downs of Recovery - what I am learning
« Reply #9 on: November 30, 2016, 01:18:52 PM »
Awesome post, stillme, and one that every PA should read.

I just copied and pasted it into my Word document journal, minus your screen name to protect your anonymity.

Have you considered posting it on the PA forum? I know you would be risking some pretty ignorant responses, but I think many PAs could benefit from your openness and wisdom.

AnonymousAnnaXO

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Re: The Ups and Downs of Recovery - what I am learning
« Reply #10 on: December 01, 2016, 10:38:53 AM »
Love this post Stillme! This is very relatable, and honestly the thing I identify with most is valuing my partner as a person more than our relationship, in the way that I see what an amazing person he is turning into, and honestly, even if for whatever reason we were ever to part ways, I would be glad knowing that he has grown as a person. I am so proud of all the progress he has made, and no matter what I would never change a thing knowing that he is becoming a better person.
"Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive" - sir Walter Scott

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