Monday, February 27, 2017

The Gift of Presence

We have experienced two deaths in my extended family in the past few months with another two beloved family members on death's cusp.  Yesterday I sat at the internment of cremains for a husband, father, brother and son who was taken too soon.  I have been to many funerals and graveside services but never to one like this.  It occurred almost two months after the death and celebration of life service and it involved an urn rather than a casket.  Only immediate family members were present.  After a few comforting words by a family friend, we sat in silence--nothing was said, we were just present with this great and overwhelming loss.

At times, I felt a bit uncomfortable--shouldn't we DO something?  Shouldn't someone SAY something?  Should we really just sit in silence?  Three kids and a young widow had to process the enormity of what we were there to do and those of us who love them sat and offered the best gift of all:  the gift of silent presence.  There are no words to explain or make right this loss; there never is.  Silencing our need to somehow make sense of the senseless by filling the air with lots of words is incredibly difficult.  But the gift of silent presence says more than all of the words in the world could possibly convey; it communicates solidarity, safety and connection.  It exudes love.

There are other priceless gifts that when offered subsequent to loss, tragedy or betrayal comfort immensely:  the gifts of a listening ear, empathy or tears.  These gifts require that we set aside our own pain and enter into that of another.  They require us to deal with the discomfort we feel at the pain of someone we love and demand an ability to "see" or "feel" the experience through the eyes and heart of another.  It is far easier to offer advice, evaluation or analysis of the loss than it is to sit still in silence and simply listen to and feel the pain of another.

A family member sent me a picture this afternoon that perfectly illustrates this wonderful gift of presence.  Her aged mother is near the end of the dying process; the family has spent a grueling few days providing round-the-clock care and comfort and saying their goodbyes.  Pain and dementia have complicated the care-giving.  Last night her son curled up on the narrow hospital bed, wrapped his arms around his mother and offered her the priceless gift of presence.  There is nothing more to be said, no unfinished business, just the opportunity to be present with another as they transition from this life to the next.  I have never seen a more perfect depiction of love empathy and presence than this.

Life breaks and falls apart for all of us at one time or another.  It may be through death, divorce or betrayal.  We are indeed fortunate if during these pain-filled times we have individuals who will come along side us and simply and profoundly offer these grace-filled gifts.  This is what brings solace and comfort to those of us living in the shadow of the Fall.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Hope for the New Year

In 2011 I "accidentally" fell into the practice of giving each year a name as a way of establishing my hopes or goals for the upcoming year.  I knew that I was facing a divorce but had no idea of just how traumatic life would become in the coming weeks but my name for 2012 established my belief or hope that while I might be a single woman again, I would never be alone.  This phrase derived from my faith that God was a very real presence and that He would be with me throughout the year, no matter what it might bring.
2012 ~ Never Alone
2013 ~ Provision
2014 ~ Prosper, Transform & Delight
2015 ~ Healthy Connections
2016 ~ Living Loved
I almost forgot about this practice in the joy and festivities of the past holiday season, which in itself is a testament to the level of healing that has been accomplished in my life.  In publishing my last post, however, the word for 2017 became obvious.  And in a world that grows increasingly chaotic and fearful, it is an appropriate word.  My word for 2017 is HOPE.

Hope refers to an optimistic attitude, a feeling of trust or anticipation of good things to come.  It is a desire for something specific and can either be a noun or a verb.  We look through the cinders of what was once our beautiful life in the HOPE (noun) of finding a treasured memento or we are HOPING (verb) for our perpetrating partner to change.  But unlike more positive emotions we may experience such as joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, inspiration, awe and love, hope comes with a unique characteristic.

According to Dr. Barbara L. Fredrickson, a social psychologist, hope "comes into play when our circumstances are dire--things are not going well or at least there's considerable uncertainty about how things will turn out." (Psychology Today, March 23, 2009)  She goes on to assert that "Hope literally opens us up.  It removes the blinders of fear and despair and allows us to see the big picture.  We become creative, unleashing our dreams for the future." (Ibid)  The opposite of hope, then, is fear.

Hope demands action--it requires that we do something.  It offers an opportunity or invitation for us to choose optimism over pessimism, to trust rather than to fear and to believe that this circumstance is not our defining moment.  It urges us to trust that this situation is not our story's ending.  According to Dr. Fredrickson, this choice is vital.  "Hope and fear are not mere words or facial gestures.  They're deeply felt neurochemical stances toward our current circumstances--stances that alter our outlooks, our actions, as well as the life paths that unfold before us." (Ibid)

I can vividly recall the sense of despair and hopelessness that I felt in the days and weeks after my door and life came crashing down.  I felt powerless and very fearful of my future.  I was easily triggered from the trauma I had experienced and terror kept me awake at night.  Hope seemed elusive but inexplicably, it rose up in my core.  I chose to hope even when my circumstances remained unchanged.  In a sense, hope was all that I had left and I hung onto it like a drowning person clings to a proffered lifesaver.

It seems to me that we all need a healthy dose of hope about now.  Fear closes us down and causes us to cower but hope requires that we open ourselves to the future and to finding creative solutions both personally and corporately.  It is time to figure out how to rebuild and repair our broken doors and hope offers the key.  So for 2017, I choose HOPE.  Won't you join me?

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Scrambled Eggs on Christmas Morning

As I stared at the bubbling eggs cooking in the skillet Christmas morning, my mind immediately flashed back to Christmas morning five years ago.  My ex and I had returned from a family Christmas trip the evening before and were alone in our cold Midwestern home.  Our refrigerator had turned into a freezer while we were gone and the only thing I could muster up for our Christmas brunch that lonely morning was some semi-frozen eggs that I scrambled.  It was after our make-shift meal that my ex told me he was tired of being in a marriage where he could not be his true self and he wanted a divorce.  It was a dark, dark Christmas day.

But this Christmas, exactly five years after that sinister day, I scrambled eggs for my newly reconstituted family.  Four new members have been added to our group in the past five years, including my new husband, a daughter-in-love and two adorable granddaughters.  As our family gathered this Christmas, there was laughter, raucous play and teasing but no tears.  We are healing, we are recovering.  Hope is alive and well in our family.

Each week, it seems, I connect with yet another partner or former partner of a perpetrating pedophile.  While the details of each story may be slightly different, the general themes are so achingly familiar.  The shock of betrayal and the horror of discovery are overwhelming and grief incapacitates even the strongest of women.  Unless you have lived through it, it is impossible to grasp how comprehensive and devastating this journey is.  Nothing makes sense anymore and yet so many confusing elements of life with a pedophile begin to come into focus.  The one commodity, however, that is scarce with each one is hope.

Learning that you have been or are married to a pedophile robs you of a future you had believed in as well as the past memories you treasured.  Every memory is now tainted with the knowledge that the one you were/are married to is not who he claimed to be.  Hope for the future fades quickly and despair becomes a constant companion.  My story and the countless others who have come before me is one of hope rising from utter despair--our narratives declare that as long as there is breath, there is hope.

While I felt like my life was over five years ago after scrambling those eggs, it wasn't.  Those were dark days and darker ones were on the horizon--days when doors would come crashing down and my ex's secrets would be broadcast on the nightly news.  But like the seed nestled in the dark soil waiting for the warmth of spring hope was alive, even when I felt hopeless.  Life was not over and my little family was not destroyed.  Hope called forth resiliency and strength--it was life-giving.  And it is something I gratefully pass on to those who feel robbed of hope by the betrayal of their perpetrating partner.

Scrambled eggs on Christmas morning remind me that eggs must be broken and beaten, much like the promises tying two individuals together when pedophilia is present.  But it is in their breaking that they yield the hope of a delicious and nourishing meal.  I regret that my children had to experience the heartbreak of their father's betrayal and of our divorce.  But I do not regret the freedom from the impact of pedophilia that we now enjoy.  I am grateful for the hope we now experience and for the opportunity to pass it on to others who are where we once were.  I think I might just go and scramble some more eggs.  Happy New Year and hang on to hope, dear ones!

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Art of Grieving

Someone recently asked me to elaborate on the importance of fully grieving any loss, particularly those associated with having been married to a perpetrator.  I was intrigued by her description of the grief process as an art.  Images of artists painting a masterpiece or fashioning a pot of clay sprang to mind.  Art, I've learned, is a messy process--paint splatters and drips, clay hardens under fingernails and clings to any surface it comes into contact with.  And like art, grief is unpredictable, time consuming and messy.
Grief is Unpredictable

The inspiration for creative artistic expression does not appear on command but rather comes when the time is right--when the muse strikes.  We've all heard of the writer with writer's block and I assume the same phenomenon happens with other artists.  And so it is with grief--we cannot orchestrate when it will arrive--like the wave crashing onto the shore, it comes in and threatens our sense of stability and balance.  It does not come on our schedule so often catches us by surprise.  But grief, like the wave, ebbs and flows.  When it floods into our hearts and minds, we remember that it does not come to stay, it will flow out into the deep once again.

Grief Takes Time

Artistic masterpieces take time to create.  It took Michelangelo fifty-four months to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  It was a huge investment of time and yet his work is still revered and admired today.  To fully grieve a loss, we must be willing to invest the time necessary to grieve.  Too many of us are so uncomfortable with grief work that we try to shortchange the work--stuff the pain, deny or minimize it.  We prefer to complete a simple paint-by-number piece rather than invest the time and allow grief to create the masterpiece it is capable of creating in our life.  Losses that are not fully grieved come back to haunt us when we encounter a future loss.  Like the stubborn clay that sticks to everything it comes into contact with, the pain of our unresolved or ungrieved losses come along for the ride when a new loss is incurred.

Grief is Messy

Have you ever envied the person who can cry gracefully?  Dainty tears streak down a face without gathering makeup or mascara, eyes do not grow puffy nor does the face become red and splotchy.  This is not me!  There is nothing dainty or neat about my appearance when I have been crying.  I am a mess.  The work of grieving is messy.  It is not linear, circular or logical.  It just is.  We often cycle back through the same phase again and again.  There is no right or wrong way to do the work of grief, it simply must be done.  Friends and family may be uncomfortable with the messiness of our grief; they may urge us to "just get over it" and we soon learn that not all help offered is helpful.

So what are the guidelines that can help us during a season of grief?  Here are some things that have been helpful for me:
  • Learn to lovingly contain grief.  Give yourself time and space to experience the pain and to grieve but then lovingly and carefully pack it away for another day.  This is different from stuffing or denying the pain; it is learning that you can contain it to an extent.  I like to imagine packing my grief away in a white box with a large red ribbon and placing it on a prominent shelf in my closet, with the promise that I will return and retrieve the contents another day.
  • Practice extra special self-care during periods of grief.  Be sure that you eat regular meals, stay hydrated, get plenty of rest and do those things that soothe and comfort you.  It may be watching a funny or sad movie, taking a long hot bath, talking to a friend, listening to music, praying, journaling or going for a walk.  Be gentle with yourself and give yourself losts of tender, loving care.
  • Lower the expectations you have for yourself during a seson of grief.  Carefully manage those expectations so you can avoid "shoulding" yourself, i.e. "I should . . . " or "I shouldn't be . . ."  there is no guidebook, no right or wrong way to navigate this season.
  • Invite someone along for the joruney.  Again, remember that not everyone who signs up for this assignment will be able to help.  You only need one or two individuals who know how to be present with you when you are grieving.  Avoid individuals who need you to comfort them;  this isn't the time for that.  It is so easy to get lost in the grief--you need a midwife to coach you through the really tough times.
  • Remember that as long as there is breath, there is hope.  This is not the end of your story!  There is a plan and God is always redeeming the pain in our lives.  The things that Satan meant for harm, He is turning for our good.  Hang onto hope, however small.  Nurture it and allow its warmth to invade the wounded and broken places of your heart.  

The Japanese, it turns out, have discovered a perfect artistic expression that illustrates the art of grieving.  Valuable ceramics that have been broken are repaired using a resin with gold powder in it.  One artisan puts it this way "Many Japanese have come to cherish the imperfection of a broken pot repaired in this way, seeing it as a creative addition and/or re-birth to the pot's life story. . . when something has suffered damage and has a history, it becomes more beautiful:  SOURCE

We all experience times of breaking, losses that shatter our lives, hopes, dreams and aspirations.  Allowing the art of grieving to work its way into the jagged edges of our breaking can create a far more beautiful masterpiece of our lives that we were before the shattering, a stunningly beautiful new work of art!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

For Better or Worse: Really?

After nearly four decades, I can still remember making these promises to my ex-husband:
For better or worse,
For richer or poorer,
In sickness and in health,
To love and to cherish,
Til death do us part.

While the vows seemed to encompass all of the possibilities that life can bring--wealth, poverty, sickness, health, good times and bad times--they don't really address what happens to a marriage when pedophilia is present.  Maybe the last line should be amended to read "Til death or pedophilia do us part."  How many brides would agree to that promise?

Aside from the very serious implications of criminal behavior towards a child, pedophilia impacts every facet of the relationship, even if miraculously the pedophilia is contained and no illegal activities take place.  I recently described it this way:

Here's what I know about child pornography or pedophilia from a personal and professional perspective.  It is progressive--what titillates and excites today won't work tomorrow so more graphic material must be found.  It is all-consuming--it will demand more and more of his time and energy.  It requires secrecy and hiding, which will spill over into all of his relationships.  Even when he seems to be present to you and your children, he isn't completely--his mind is absorbed with maintaining his secret life or reliving what he has watched or viewed.  It will eventually render him incapable of normal relationships and work productivity.  One day he will be caught and you and your children may be in harm's way when that occurs.
If I could give advice to that pregnant 23 year old who was me when I first learned of my ex's behavior, I would say "Run!"  I am remarried and the layers of grief and pain that are now healing are rooted in my marriage to a man who was and is a fake.  I have over three decades of junk to heal from--times when I was blamed and accepted the blame for his criminal behavior, times when I felt less than as a woman and wife because I could not satisfy him after I "grew up."  I still struggle with disrupted sleep because I learned as a 23 year old to stay alert during my sleep to the potential cry from one of my children.  I struggle with trust and with shame  I struggle with fear and anxiety.  I live waiting for the other shoe to drop.  I live with trauma responses.
I went on to note that pedophiles have a different relationship to truth than do most people.  The deceptions inherent in living a life of secrecy and of hiding your true self, colors every day and impacts every facet of a marriage.  My ex and I once spent days, if not weeks, arguing about what constituted a lie.  For most of us, this is pretty straightforward and simple--a lie is something that is intended to deceive.  My ex argued that it was not a lie if it could be construed to be technically true, though the intent was to deceive.  It was maddening!  But for someone whose entire life was a lie, his definition didn't seem too important or too big a stretch for him.

Trust is foundational to the living out of those vows and if trust is broken, the vows have been broken.  It is astounding how easy it is for some perpetrators to discard those vows and see them as meaningless.  They never became meaningless to me but I was dumbfounded to discover how little my ex-husband thought of them.  Maybe they were never meaningful to him in the first place.  I don't know.

If marriage is based on promises that are made between two people, and one of the individuals has no intention of keeping the promises, is it a marriage? Is it possible for a pedophile who is intent on hiding his true self from his partner, to honestly make such promises?

On the anniversary of my divorce, I can truly say that pedophilia brought the worst of times and left me below the poverty line.  The actions of a very sick man who was unable to love or cherish anyone other than himself destroyed all that I thought we had built together.  So death would have been an easier separation than this.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Living Loved: Random Musings on Loving Self

As is normally the case for me, I'm reading three books at once and it occurs to me that there is a common theme to be found in all three.  Brene Brown provides an intriguing definition of love in The Power of Vulnerability.  Brown says that
"Love is not something we give or get but something we nurture and grow; a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them.  We can only love others as much as we love ourselves."
Hmmm . . .

She goes on to assert that behaviors that damage love include shaming, blame, disrespect, betrayal and withholding of affection.  If loving self is a prerequisite to loving another it seems logical that shaming, blaming or disrespecting myself impacts my love of self  OK, that hurts--a lot!  I think all of us struggle with self-shaming, blaming and disrespect towards self; all of us abandon or betray ourselves at some point, especially if we are impacted by addiction or dysfunction.  These behaviors do not lend themselves to love but rather destroy or damage love.

Brown's research indicates that knowing ourselves is important but that how we treat ourselves is more important.  I learned the Golden Rule as a child but was never taught that in order to know how to treat others in a loving manner, I had to learn how to treat myself lovingly.  So much of religion focuses on self-denial or self-abasement and teaches that self-care is selfish but not so, I'm learning.

Knowing, accepting and loving self are major themes in Glennon Doyle Melton's memoir titled Love Warrior.  She chronicles her struggles with alcoholism, promiscuity and bulimia and poignantly describes her crushing desire for acceptance, connection and belonging.  By the end of middle school she had learned that the only way to survive was to send out her "Representative" and to keep her true self hidden and protected.  Alcohol and risky behaviors helped to numb the pain of not having her true self be seen and accepted.  Like Glennon, we often believe that acceptance and connection hinge upon fitting in, but according to Brown this is the primary barrier to true belonging.  The thing we long for the most--belonging, that innate human desire to be a part of something larger than ourselves--is sabotaged by our attempts to gain approval and acceptance by fitting into a prescribed mold.

Elizabeth Smart was 14 when she was abducted from her bed at knife-point and and held for over nine months.  She details her experience in My Story. Immediately after her abduction and every day of her captivity, she was brutally raped.  She describes her horror, despair and sense of being incredibly soiled, repulsive and not worthy of love or belonging after her initial rape.  She believed that God and her parents could never love her again.  She describes several events early in her captivity that changed her view of what had happened to her and that enabled her to believe again in God's extravagant and unconditional love for her.  Early in her ordeal, Elizabeth made the decision to do whatever she had to in order to survive.  She had come to believe again in her intrinsic value and refused to accept the view that her rapist had of her.  She was able to transcend the daily assault to her body and sense of self by seeing herself as someone worthy of love and belonging and who was loved lavishly and without restraint by God.

After her rescue and reunion with her family, her mother held her and whispered these words to her:
Elizabeth, what this man has done is terrible.  There aren't any words that are strong enough to describe how wicked and evil he is!  He has taken nine months of your life that you will never get back again.  But the best punishment you could ever give him is to be happy.  To move forward with your life.  To do exactly what you want.
You be happy, Elizabeth  Just be happy.  If you go and feel sorry for yourself, or if you dwell on what has happened, if you hold onto your pain, that is allowing him to steal more of your life away.  So don't you do that!  Don't you let him!  There is no way that he deserves that.  Not one more second of your life.  You keep every second for yourself.  You keep them and be happy.  God will take care of the rest.
This became the mantra of her recovery.

So loving myself is a prerequisite to loving my spouse, my children, my family of choice or family  of origin, my friends, my neighbors and my God.  Loving self means that I "Don't shrink; don't puff up, but just stand my sacred ground." (Brown)  I show up and allow myself, the real me and not my "representative" to be seen.  It means that I do not abandon or betray myself and that I root my intrinsic value in my existence and in God's extravagant love for me rather than the values or opinions of others.  It means that no matter what happens to me, my past or pain does not have to define me or my future.  I can choose health, recovery and yes, even happiness.  I can choose love.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Living Loved After Betrayal

When I named 2016 the "Year of Living Loved", as is often the case, I had no idea how hard the year would be.  It seems inevitable that driving a stake in the ground and setting such an ambitious goal would be the perfect set-up for multiple challenges to that goal. And they have come--in droves. Living loved requires letting go of the wounds of the past--of those times when we were not loved for who and what we are.  It requires daring to believe that love is possible, that betrayal of trust is not a given and taking this plunge into belief can be downright terrifying!

It seems like nearly every week I hear from yet another partner of a pedophile.  The stories are gut-wrenching and tragic.  One common theme is the shock of discovery and the dawning of the realization that the man they love and have built a life with is not who or what they thought he was.  Whether he is alive or dead, in prison or walking free, still married to them or divorced, the devastation and totality of this betrayal is unfathomable.  How does one even begin to recover after learning that her husband and lover preferred sex with a child to sex with her?  And how does one begin to love again?

Living loved, as I am learning, must begin with loving one's self.  And while this is a big enough challenge without adding in betrayal and pedophilia, it can become overwhelming to the devastated partner.  She may blame herself, believing that if she were just _____, he wouldn't have turned to a child.  She may hold herself responsible for his crimes, or feel that somehow she should have known.  It is incredibly difficult to love one's self after marriage to a predator!  And if the discovery involved a public scandal, she may feel the wrath of a community, church or the judicial system.

Living loved is the dawning realization that at the core of who we are, there is love--it is God within.  No, we are not gods, but as image-bearers of God, underneath all of the pain and wounds of our past, there is love--love deeper and wider than we can imagine, love that is pure and abundant.  Living loved requires tapping into that love so that we can love ourselves and others from a source that is uncontaminated and without end.

My husband often quips that he is "waiting for the other shoe to drop."  That expression pretty much sums up the stance that one takes after trust has been betrayed or love not been forthcoming from significant others in our life.  We expectantly wait for evidence of betrayal or that we really are not loved as we thought we were.  It is a trauma stance and as survivors of incredible interpersonal trauma, partners of pedophiles have to work on laying down that expectation and dare to believe that love is possible, that faithfulness and loyalty are not outdated concepts, and that we can trust again.

But we trust with eyes wide open.  We trust with a strong connection to our second brain--the gut.  Most of us can look back after the devastation of discovery and recall times when we thought something odd, or felt that something was off in our partner's behavior or attitude.  That was our gut talking to us, we just did not have enough information to take it seriously or we discounted it and didn't pay attention to its warning.  But now we pay attention and listen attentively to that intuitive nudge.  We choose to trust until we have evidence that a person is not trustworthy.  It is a gamble for sure but the only other choice we have is to remain in the devastation of our betrayal, to become bitter and lonely women who fear love and connection.

Brene Brown asserts that we break in community so we must heal in community.  This year I am discovering the brutiful work of healing within an intimate relationship, that community of two.  It is both brutal and beautiful!  It takes courage and grit and most of all, patience when triggers come.  It is a daily choice to trust and to believe and to recommit to both my marriage and my own personal healing.  Because I am learning that living loved is a blending of both--it is living in authenticity and truth, showing up and allowing myself--that true self, that core of love--to be seen and loved.  And the result?  The result is glorious and transformative and is worth the work and grit that living in that sacred space demands.

Living loved is refusing to allow the pain of the past to dictate my future; it is a fight that is definitely worth the struggle!  It is a goal I will continue to press towards, long after 2016 melts into 2017 and my hope is that you will as well.