Food for thought

Comparing ourselves to others is a fool’s errand. I know MC struggled with this and allowed it to fuel a poisonous self-pity that ruled his heart and mind for too many years. I found after d-day, after so much heart-ache in my life, I struggle with this and with not allowing self-pity to overtake my heart and mind. I hate that feeling, it is not who I want to be. On the other hand, I’ve not found a way to understand and frame all of that pain in a way that allows me to harness it into the tools I need to make a better life going forward. This article really gives me something to think about. Not sure if it is the right framing or not, but simply something I think I need to sit with for a while.

Actors on the Stage of Life by the Schmuz.com

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts

-William Shakespeare

Life brings many questions: Why do some people have such difficult lives, while others have it so easy? Why is there so much suffering in the world? Why are there so many tragic deaths?

To make sense out life, we need understanding, to gain understanding we need perspective.  Let’s begin with a parable:

A famous actor receives a call from his agent.

Listen, Jack we just got a great offer. Tons of money, an all cash deal, you get the star role, playing next to the greatest co -stars in the industry. But the best part of it is the plot, it’s great. The story line really clicks, it’s a guaranteed Oscar. I’m sending the script over this morning. Tell me what you think.”

After reading the script Jack calls his agent back.

Listen Bob, forget it, no deal”.

“What do mean?”

“I mean it’s no way, no deal. I won’t do it.”

“Jack what is it? Is it the script?”

“No, the script is fine?

“Is it the other actors?”

“No, they’re fine too.”

“So Jack, what is it?”

“What is it? Bob, don’t you get it? The guy that you want me to play is penniless and not too bright either. More than that, he’s a jerk! I can’t stand anyone seeing me that way.

“But Jack, that’s only the part you are playing, it’s not you.”

“Bob, forget it, doing this production means everyone, I mean millions of people are going to see me as a creep, and a down and out. I can’t stand the embarrassment. Don’t even ask me again, I’m not doing it.” And he hangs up.

Obviously, this conversation never took place. Because any actor, as well as any person going to the theater, understands that those people up there on the stage are there playing their parts. They aren’t judged by how wealthy or poor they are in the play.  They aren’t judged by whether their role portrays a life of success or failure. There is one criterion for judging an actor: how well did he play his part. If his role is to play the part of an Idiot Savant, and he does it convincingly, he will win awards for his performance. If his role is to be the most successful man in the world and he isn’t real, the critics will rip him to shreds. He is there for only one purpose—to play his role. The characters has this type of personality, is from this type of background, has this level of intelligence—now go out there and play the part.

This is a parable to life. Each of us was given an exact set of circumstances, and a specific set of criteria. The backdrop is laid out and we are given the task of playing the role. Born into a particular time period, to a specific family, given an exact set of parameters – you will be so tall, so intelligent, have so much of this talent and so much of this one. Now, go out there and do it!  Live your life, ford those streams, cross those rivers, and sail those seas! Live up to your potential. At the end of your days you will be judged- but not you compared to me—nor me compared to you: you will be judged by a far more demanding yardstick, you will be measured by how close you came to accomplishing all that you were capable of.

The Vilna Gaon, tells us that the most painful moment in a person’s life is after you leave this earth; when you stand before the heavenly tribunal, and they hold up a picture for you to look at; a picture of a truly exceptional individual—a  person of sterling character traits, who shows intelligence, kindliness, and humility – a person of true greatness. And they say, why didn’t you do what he did?

Me?! Little me? What do you want from me? Was I some kind of genius? Was I some kind of powerful leader of men? How could I have done those things?

And they answer the most telling and most troubling line a person will ever hear: that picture is you. Not you, as you stand here now. Not you as you have lived your life. But, that is you had you accomplished what you were put on this earth to do. That is you, had you become what you were destined to be.

They don’t ask how much money you made. How attractive you were. How popular. Those are the stage settings of life—hand chosen by HASHEM as the perfect environment to allow you to reach your potential. Whether you were smarter, or richer, or more talented then the next person is irrelevant, the only issue is: How much did you accomplish compared to—you, compared to what you were capable of.

Understanding life

Most of the serious life questions we ask come from the assumption that this life we now lead is the end all and be all of existence. As if my station now in this world is the reason for creation.

From that perspective very little in life makes sense. Certainly not pain, suffering, or the inequitable distribution of talent and opportunity.  However, once a person widens their perspective, to understand that we were created, to grow, to accomplish, and in the end we will be rewarded – judged by only one criterion: how much I grew, in relation to my potential—then life begins to make sense.

HASHEM custom designed a set of circumstances for each individual to give him the ultimate setting for his growth and perfection.  Not every situation is pleasant – but they are needed to shape us, or give us the opportunity to grow. Once we understand this point, life itself takes on a very different meaning and a person can focus on the purpose of life: fulfilling our mission and purpose in existence.

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“Me too”

Many friends are posting “me too” on their timelines. I hesitate. Recent conversations regarding my FOO, made me really look at “It was not my fault.”

I was thinking of an incident in college. For years, I did think it was my fault. But, with recent conversations regarding my FOO, and all the “me too” postings, I started to realize how I had completely let this boy off-the-hook, telling myself it was my fault.

There was a boy, he was the best friend of my friend’s boyfriend. We had driven across our home state several times together. We argued from time-to-time, in a flirty, playful kind of way. He once challenged me to solve a quadratic equation, after a debate about girls and math abilities. I easily solved it. He was humbled and admitted it. One night, we were out drinking with friends. He came back with me to my downtown studio apartment, into my bed, we made out. Clothes did not come off. We slept. I woke-up with my shirt pulled up and him on top of me. . .

I told the story to MC many years ago. I was clear that it was not consensual. It was clear he didn’t want to hear about it. I never brought it up again. Until last night. MC is safe now, right? I brought the story up because I wanted to share a revelation that occurred to me just that day. I was simply trying to share with him that I had realized that, “it was not my fault.” I did not consent. It was not ok.

MC started questioning me about the incident, wanting me to rehash it moment-by-moment. Telling me, I should not have put myself in that position. He then told me he had always viewed that incident as consensual. His pre d-day self was angry at me, not at the boy.

Last night, I simply wanted to share the revelation with him. He kept questioning. He would give platitudes, followed by “but, . . . “. He would backtrack, give more platitudes, then turn to me and say, “I know this will likely make it worse, but you should’ve. . .”. You know what, I simply wanted to share a revelation, not rehash and defend myself over the incident to my husband.

I asked him if he ever climbed on top of an AP or prostitute in the middle of the night, while they were asleep, to fuck their breasts? He replied, “no, I would never do that.” I asked him more about why he would never do that, if it is ok for anyone to do that. He replied it was not ok.  I, then, asked him to apply those same standards to me, his wife.  I pointed out, it appears he is showing more compassion to a prostitute who was paid to be used, then his own wife. Why is that?

He apologized, but is that only because I was so upset with his previous responses? He is trying to tell me that he is still working to conquer his misogynistic views of the world, that this pointed out to him how much more he has to overcome. But, if a paid prostitute should expect to not be treated like that, then why shouldn’t I? I’m scared. I thought he was safe. It wasn’t meant to be a test, but it kind of turned out to be. . .

Then, I find myself wondering, “if my learning to deal with my issues is a long-term process, should I not give MC the same grace?” Then I wonder, “are these thoughts of giving him some grace simply my old pattern of putting on rose-colored glasses, when I need to allow myself to see reality in front of me?” Why does he only apply his sick misogynistic views to me?

Mom

My mother was an addict. She was addicted to prescription opiates, before it was so widely talked about. She kept a shoebox full of other prescription drugs as well. In addition to her opiate based painkillers she took ever increasing doses of Elavil. Different doctors, different pills. At 12 years old, I knew more drug names than any 12-year old should know.

My mom’s addiction overtook her body and mind. The addiction escalated requiring more and more drugs to achieve her desired affect. In the mornings, she would follow me around as I got ready for school, non-stop talking at me. By the time I got home from school, she was groggy and slurring her words. She seemed to go back and forth between those two states. There were times she attempted to manage the addiction. She would reduce dosage, gain some clarity, and pull me in with hope that it would now be better. It never lasted long and the drugs were back.

Her mind and body rotted before our eyes. When I would question her use of these drugs, she claimed she was sick and that I just didn’t understand her sickness, that she needed those drugs. She would go to Canada whenever she could, so she could stock-up,  as they sold Tylenol with Codeine over-the-counter. I was called selfish and uncaring for not “understanding” her sickness.

She used fake suicide attempts to gain sympathy and attention, to manipulate our sympathies. We moved to another state for a few years. When I was in jr. high school, she swallowed some pills and told me I needed to call an ambulance. I didn’t believe her. We had been down that road too many times before. She called the ambulance for herself. They pumped her stomach, they found nothing, but my Dad could have her observed overnight if he chose. We had no health insurance. She begged him not to let them keep her for observation, he acquiesced. We moved back “home” not long after. I remember when I was 20 years old, a junior in college in my hometown, she did it again. She ended up in the hospital. I went to visit her, at my Aunt and Grandpa’s request, and her doctor mentioned the situation as being her first suicide attempt. I was floored, what?

Her father and sister (my Grandpa and Aunt who I love dearly) protected mom from the consequences of her actions. They knew better, but let her create her own narrative. I explained her past to the doctor. He told me he would have her put in a facility to help her. I was so happy, she was finally going to get help. She threw a fit. My Grandpa stepped in. It so happens that my Grandma’s brother was a highly respected attorney and founding partner of the most distinguished firm in town. Grandpa dropped his name and threatened to sue. My mom was not sent to the facility. I was so disappointed. Her doctor suggested I learn about how to set boundaries with her and my family to protect myself emotionally and referred me to my college counseling clinic. I went.

Eventually, I came to understand that I could not save her. Though, I think until the day she died, I held a tiny piece of hope that she would eventually come to save herself. Of course, it never happened. After years of escalating drug use, my mom died at 65 years old from heart failure.

I’ve been sitting on this post for a very long time. Not sure why? I know it is part of who I am and how I relate to my world. I know it. I lost my mom to addiction, long before she ever died, I lost my mom to addiction. Deep breath.

 

Recidivism due to stress?

I had some stressful days recently. The days that come to mind were stressful in quite different ways, making me wonder what it means when people say that stress could cause a betrayer to reoffend. The first day was very busy, at work and at home. The pace was high and the rhythm of events, activities, interruptions, deadlines, and evolving daily priorities changed frequently throughout the day. It wasn’t a particularly bad, nor good, day. It was just busy. I didn’t feel bad. In some ways, I actually felt good; possibly enjoying the adrenaline and endorphins. But, I think I can say I was stressed.

At the end of that day, I had momentum. I was physically charged – perhaps too physically charged to immediately switch to a completely passive activity such as sleep. In the bad old days I could have channeled that excess energy into adultery, porn and masturbation, or even self-centered sexual approaches to my wife in a way that was inappropriately focused on physical gratification rather than on showing her affection. It was not the adrenaline-laden stress that caused me to choose inappropriate responses. Long before that, I had made conscious decisions to allow myself to choose such selfish, hurtful, and deceitful activities when the opportunity arose.

Now, after consciously choosing to not be selfish, hurtful, and deceitful, I seek more appropriate ways to transition my physical and mental energy from a stressful busy day to a restful night. I might choose a book, a walk, a brief television program with family, a single nightcap, or a single dessert. In any case, it’s not the stress that determines whether I choose something selfish and hurtful or something more benign. It is separate internal discussions with myself about what choices are acceptable and what are not.

Then there was a different type of stressful day. For whatever reason, that day, I worried about the unknown. How will my next job search go? What will my boss say about my next report? Will some bad driver cut me off in traffic? Will I fall behind schedule tomorrow? Both now and in the bad old days, that kind of stress did not lead me directly to selfish, hurtful choices. It did, however, in the bad old days , open up the possibility of self-pity. I would think things like: nothing goes my way, life is unfair, I deserve better, and the like. When I dwelled on such self-pity, I translated it to entitlement, thinking: I deserve adultery as a selfish pleasure, or I deserve seeking flattery or imagined flattery. Now, I believe it is not stress that determines whether I choose selfish, hurtful behavior, but that the self-pity and entitlement led me to the bad decisions. To prevent it, I strive to address this kind of stress with acceptance rather than with self-pity and entitlement.

Here’s what I mean by acceptance. If I worry about my next job search, I am better served by accepting that the only thing I can do about it is implement my job search strategy and accept whatever comes of it. It works the same with my next report to my boss or the next deadline I strive to meet. And, if some guy cuts me off in traffic, so what? I could not have prevented it, I can’t change it or remedy it after it happens, and unless I obsess on it, it really makes no difference to the rest of my day. Planning, execution, and humble acceptance are the remedies to this kind of stress.

Then there’s the stress surrounding unmet needs. I’m hungry, thirsty, hot, tired, or groggy. My head hurts. I want sexual release. This is stressful too. At the right time and place, I can have food, water, air conditioning, sleep, caffeine, pain reliever, and even sex. But, to have a fulfilling life, I have to balance these things against other concerns. If I want to work, study, spend time with family or friends, worship, introspect, or even read and write, I can’t constantly eat, drink, sit in the coolest rooms, sleep, drink coffee, take medication, or pursue sex. Given my own goals and values, as well as the need to treat others—such as my wife – respectfully, I can only respond to this kind of stress by focusing on balance.

The fourth kind of stress is worrying about other irrational things. Does that colleague think I’m stupid? Am I a loser because I was nerdy in high school? Do I look dorky or scrawny? It need not be a particularly busy day. I need not feel adrenaline. But, sometimes I just have these thoughts, and they are stressful. It’s a different kind of stress. Neither now nor in the bad old days do these thoughts lead directly to selfish, hurtful choices. I think, however, that in the bad old days I might have obsessed on self-pity, thinking, for example: I fear or hate that guy who possibly thinks I’m stupid. I’m angry at God because I am physically small. I’m angry at my parents because they did not allow me to experience the world. These examples of self-pity also contributed to entitlement, as I told myself I deserved selfish behavior.

The solution now, I think, is to address this stress in a more healthy way, before transferring it to self-pity and entitlement. The answer may lie in prevention. Prevent this self-doubt by focusing on healthy priorities such as family, integrity, and responsibility. Inoculate myself against self-pity by building healthy self-confidence and values. And, short-circuit this self-pity by learning to like myself even if I am short, skinny, and uncoordinated, and even if I do feel my sexual history or life experience is or was inadequate or subnormal.

In sum, it’s not stress that makes me choose selfish, hurtful behavior. Rather, what makes the difference is how I choose to respond to that stress.

Overseas connections

You know, MC and I were talking about the unique situation living overseas, moving every few years to a new country, brings to this shit storm. We are far from friends, families, and roots. In some locals, we have great access to mental health care. In other locals, very little exist. And, the type of care available is different depending upon the country. And, we move a lot, never really developing deep roots. We make great friends, for a short time, then move on. We may also feel compelled to not risk those friendships by revealing TMI about our marriage, either in fear of friends not wanting to get involved with drama, or fear of becoming the focus of gossip in our small expat community. Also, the opportunities and availability of “things” is often much more “in your face,” whether it be prostitution or locals who want to snag themselves an American (insert any developed nation) man; some (meaning me) might even refer to them as unpaid prostitutes.

This is not to say I don’t love many things about the expatriate experience. I really do love it on many levels. It is to say that it adds a unique twist to an already gut-wrenching situation. And, I think, perhaps we need to find a way to reach other people like us (expats dealing with infidelity) to support one another. I know having discussions with others, in general, has been helpful. But, the identifying with others (like LAA, E and SBE) adds a level of understanding that is so helpful!

Compassion

Sharing again.

Source: Compassion

We talk of how MC suffers from SOB syndrome. Yes, partially it is making fun, but it is also reality. He was a Selfish Oppressive Bastard and we have a very specific description of what that means that is foundational to his recovery. We talk of how MC was truly sick. Not a sickness as in a disease, but sick because he was spiritually unsound and morally corrupt. He was a morally corrupt coward. This was his reality. Some may say that I lack compassion for discussing his reality in this way. I say that facing reality is a necessary part of recovery. Coddling MC, hiding from these truths, simply would enable a continued ignorance of these core problems, these core realities. These discussions are not weapons to hurt MC. In fact, these discussions are based on his descriptions of his motivating factors and fears throughout his life. We openly discuss these factors and fears, for him and for me. We are learning to walk by each other’s side through each of our pain, but ultimately each of us is responsible for healing our own pain within. And, I think this is the difference between compassion and enabling.

A compassionate person is neither a martyr, nor a messiah. Compassion walks with another in their pain, if and when they are ready to take that walk, but understands that they are not capable of fixing that pain for the other.  Compassion does not push, pull, or carry another into walking into their pain, but rather offers to walk by their side if they are willing to do so. Compassion does not allow the other to avoid natural consequences of not wanting to take that walk. Compassion does not sacrifice one’s own mental, emotional, spiritual and/or physical health and well being to do any of this.

Loving with an open hand by Ruth Sanford

A compassionate person, seeing a butterfly struggling to free itself from its cocoon, and wanting to help, very gently loosened the filaments to form an opening. The butterfly was freed, emerged from the cocoon, and fluttered about — but could not fly. What the compassionate person did not know was that only through the birth struggle can the wings grow strong enough for flight. Its shortened life was spent on the ground; it never knew freedom, never really lived.

I call it learning to love with an open hand. It is a learning which has come slowly to me and has been wrought in the fires of pain and in the waters of patience. I am learning that I must free one I love, for if I clutch or cling, try to control, I lose what I try to hold.

If I try to change someone I love because I feel I know how that person should be, I rob him or her of a precious right, the right to take responsibility for one’s own life and choices and way of being. Whenever I impose my wish or want or try to exert power over another, I rob him or her of the full realisation of growth and maturation; I limit and thwart by my act of possession, no matter how kind my intention.

I can limit and injure by the kindest acts of protecting – and protection or concern over-extended can say to the other person more eloquently than words, ‘You are unable to care for yourself; I must take care of you because you are mine. I am responsible for you’.

As I learn and practise more and more, I can say to one I love, ‘I love you, I value you, I respect you and I trust that you have or can develop the strength to become all that it is possible for you to become — if I don’t get in your way. I love you so much that I can set you free to walk beside me in joy and sadness’.

I will share your tears but I will not ask you not to cry. I will respond to your need, I will care and comfort you but I will not hold you up when you can walk alone. I will stand ready to be with you in your grief and loneliness but I will not take it away from you. I will strive to listen to your meaning as well as your words but I shall not always agree.

Sometimes I will be angry and when I am, I will try to tell you openly so that I need not resent our differences or feel estranged. I cannot always be with you or hear what you say for there are times when I must listen to myself and care for myself, and when that happens I will be as honest with you as I can be.

I am learning to say this, whether it be in words or in my way of being with others and myself, to those I love and for whom I care. And this I call loving with an open hand.  I cannot always keep my hands off the cocoon, but I am getting better at it!

I have absolutely no respect for the MC that I now know existed prior to d-day, that is true. But, I have an immense amount of respect for the person, for the man, he is working to become now. But, it is his work to do. And, when I really think through why I sometimes want to gently help the cocoon along, I can see that it may have more to do with my wanting a sense of control in the chaos, a sense of control over the future. It is hard to embrace uncertainty. But, in the end, keeping my hands off that cocoon is healthier for us both. I work hard to remember that, though admittedly sometimes it is easier said than done!

Growing up, in darkness

Mom seemed absolutely traumatized, even morally outraged, at the idea that I might become an adolescent, and then an adult. So, I tried to protect her from that truth. I hid that fact from the light. Peter Pan, many classic Disney tales, and the entire Santa Claus industry do make most middle class developed world families hold back a tear when children start to grow beyond the emotional boundaries of the hundred acre woods.

But, most families hold back that tear, and let – or even encourage – their children to grow up. And, often the tear is more joyful than sorrowful. I got the impression it was different with my mother. She seemed truly distressed – sometimes scornful and angry —when I showed interest in things, people, activities, interests, and concepts that lived outside the nursery room. Having children was somehow important to her. Having those children grow up represented a loss to her.

So, I endeavored to lead a double-life: pretending to remain an eternal child when near my mother, and secretly struggling to appear mature when with peers. I became interested in girls, secretly. My body developed and my interests diversified, secretly. I learned to hide my relationships. I associated with friends and with girls, covertly. I tried alcohol and tobacco, covertly. I viewed porn, covertly.

I can’t help but wonder whether the double-life of adultery, porn, and lies that nearly destroyed us actually began in elementary school or even earlier.

As a parent, I don’t want my sons to be afraid or ashamed to talk to us about growing up: about girls, beer, smoking, drugs, safe sex, porn, desires, fears, and indecision. I don’t want them to be ashamed or afraid to disagree with us. I don’t want to push them to be a particular thing nor discourage them from being some other thing. I want them to be themselves in front of me, just as they are in front of peers, teachers, girls, grandparents, bosses, friends, enemies, and total strangers.

Dogmatically Anti-Dogmatic

I try so hard to keep elements of our non-recovery life out of the blog. Something happened at the beginning of the year and I told myself it was unrelated, but I’m beginning to see just how related it may be.

When we arrived to our new home a year ago, we met a family that took us under their wing. They showed us where all the best groceries stores were located, took us to a couple of the local expat clubs, invited us over for drinks, really made us feel welcome. I thought, wow, we are really finding some nice friends here.

A few comments here and there sparked my attention. The first occurred a few months down the line when it was casually mentioned that they founded and ran a youth ministry when they lived back in the US and missed it very much. She would talk about it from time-to-time and it always sounded like just some positive youth group experience to which she and her husband were devoted.

One night we joined them for drinks. They asked what Judaism means to our family. I have no problem with that at all. Clearly, they had very little exposure to Jewish people and were curious. We explained how it is an important part of our identity, how we try to do a little more each year to honor our Jewish heritage and identity (keep mitzvah), but that we don’t see G-d as some corporeal being in the sky granting special wishes. Somewhere in the conversation they explained to us that Jesus is their Lord and Savior and path to redemption. There was also a comment in there about the earth being less than 10,000 years old and, yes, I was in a bit of shock over that statement. But, I didn’t see any of that as a deal-breaker. I’ve always been the type of person who does not need you to believe everything I believe, as long as you are willing to do the same for me.

Then, I got an e-mail from her, saying she was studying scripture from Romans, and she would love to hear my thoughts on what she was reading. This was someone I considered a friend. So, you know what, I read it and made a very considered, studied, respectful, while staying authentic to my own beliefs, response. I spent hours on it. She responded with, “I really love your response and cherish our friendship! Looking forward to spending more time together with our families throughout the next year!!” Ok, phew, got through that sticky situation. We can just go back to focusing on our similarities. But, then she sent another reading from her study of Romans. WTF? It went over the exact same ideas, with repeating the same “evidence” as the previous thing sent. I’m all for two-way academic discussions, but this felt very different. There was no conversation. She just sent “readings” from her studies. It seemed like she just wanted me to read Romans, not really exchange thoughts, ideas and understandings. I did not respond. I just ignored it.

Things went downhill from there. Her kids, who had been so friendly to ours, started asking them why they don’t believe in Jesus? My oldest would answer and they would ask again, as if they had not heard a word he said. During this time, the family started another “youth ministry” here. I looked into who they were and what they believed. It really confirmed my fears, they were using friendship as a way to build trust with our family, so then they could walk us down “Romans Road.”

While I am proud of myself for seeing “red flags” sooner than I would have in the past. For understanding I needed to disengage sooner than I would have in the past, I was still upset.

And, it reminds me of the black and white thinking, the dogmatic thinking we have encountered on our recovery journey. And, if anything, I feel more dogmatically anti-dogmatic than I ever have before. In my view, there is NO book that is inerrant. Life is evolving, literally and figuratively. There is more than one right path.

It is ok if you don’t agree. I do not need you to believe everything I believe, as long as you are willing to do the same for me. I, however, must also admit to myself that if both cannot work from that premise, then it will result in an emotionally unsafe relationship. I’m learning. I just wish I didn’t have to keep learning the hard way. Because it really hurt.

WOW!

I watched this video today. The trauma experienced by this woman and her ability to forgive are mind-blowing. All I can say is “wow.” I always hear, “Forgiveness is more for the forgiver than the forgiven,” but I never saw what that looks like in practice. Though in theory it sounds nice, I never understood how that could be true in anything beyond theory. This video has certainly given me food-for-thought.

I survived the Holocaust

Unforgivable

What if I grabbed your infant out of your arms, tortured him, mutilated him, and then dashed his brains against the ground while you were forced to watch helplessly? What if I threw acid in your face, leaving you blinded and scarred for life? What if after years of apparently close friendship I sold you out to the nazi regime? 

What if I later said I was really sorry, I had changed, and I understood how you felt? Would you believe me? Would it matter if you did?

I altered the course of your life, terribly and irreversibly.

I get that. Though it probably doesn’t change anything, I do get it.

My loyal spouse, I beg your forgiveness. I do not expect forgiveness. I must beg for it nonetheless.

The villain in disguise

Movies often have a scene where it becomes shockingly clear that a seemingly good character has in fact been a bad guy all along. Chancellor Palpatine, the theatrically-minor character who leads the Republic, turns out to be Darth Sidious. Grandma seems really hungry for Red Riding Hood’s baked goods. But, wait. Why does Grandma have a long snout today? A teacher or coach seems like a great mentor for youth, until you read that he was arrested for child abuse.

I was Darth Sidious, the Big Bad Wolf, and the deceitful abuser. TL was the victim. It’s not just that I treated her with contempt. Any criminal, bully, bureaucrat, or bad driver does that, regularly. It’s that I did it with stealth and deception. I was supposed to be her champion, her greatest hero, protector, promoter, fan, friend, lover, family member, and confidant. I was Delilah and she was Samson. I was the wolf in the fold.

There’s neither excuse nor remedy for what I’ve done. Even having to live with the knowledge of what I’ve done is insignificant compared to the pain with which TL must live.

I’m not even sure what I want readers to do with this story. Maybe I want other victims to see that some betrayers can understand, on some level, the pain they caused.

Maybe I want other betrayers to be inspired to share their stories. Stop hiding behind shame, sex addiction, childhood problems, or victim blaming, and share the hurtful things you did and the hurtful reasons you did them. I wonder whether I’m alone in discussing these things.

I became my mother

I never felt emotionally safe with my mother, and still do not. Even when she seems to be having a rather normal conversation with me, I always worry that anything I say might sharply and surprisingly set off some criticism, judgement, or hard feelings. As a child, and even now, it was not clear to me that she wants a relationship with me. She wants me in her life and near her. But, she does not want a relationship with me. She wants to brag about me to other people. She is disappointed when I don’t give her fantastic fodder for bragging to her family and acquaintances about her son. She wanted to control my every choice and action: who I chose as friends or acquaintances, what I pursued for education and career, what I thought, who I married, whether I had children, and what I said and did. She did not want me to grow up and learn independence. She did not want a real son. She wanted an image of a son. She wanted a thing she could take off the shelf and display to any neighbor or third-degree relative, and then put back on the shelf to stay quiet and predictable. I wanted nothing more than to get away from my mother. 

Then I started seeing TL, and soon married her. I sought to control with whom she associated, her preferences and opinions, and her aptitudes and interests. I wanted to control how she viewed sex, me, the past, and the present. When she showed an aptitude or interest that intimidated me, whether in the bedroom or in the garage, I reacted with childish jealousy, insecurity, and defensiveness, rather than with respect, gratitude, and support. In short, I constantly tried to replace the real TL with the image I had of the perfect wife. I was angry with TL for not being the image.

I became my mother. I made TL fear me in the same way I feared my mother. I denied TL freedom and individuality, the same way my mother denied me freedom and individuality.

The image, by the way, is unobtainable. There is no such person in real life, nor should there be. The image is a two-dimensional caricature of a woman. An image can’t be a friend. But, then, until D-day I didn’t want to be a friend. I only wanted the image to make me feel better about myself and about life.

Now I’m focused on friendship in our marriage. It is a work in progress.

What I did and how I view it

I had an image of TL in my mind long before I even met her. I started to form the image even before I knew she existed. The image was a virgin woman who was very impressed by me and by sex with me. She never disagreed with me. She never surprised me by having a unique or unexpected preference, behavior, or past experience. She was exciting and strong, but never nearly as exciting and strong as me. She was great. But, I was greater.

Then I met TL and eventually married her. There was mounting evidence that she was not a virgin, and that she had unique and unexpected opinions, past experiences, skills, aptitudes, relationships, and preferences. I began to suspect she was an independent adult human being. I began to fear she was as great as or greater than me.

That threatened me. It made me feel anger, jealousy, and resentment. I was infatuated with “the image.” I was cruel and neglectful toward TL, the real woman.

I pursued years of adultery, porn, and masturbation to feel greater than I was. It didn’t work. I hoped it would give me control over sex and how women view me. It did not.

Now, since D-day, I have learned about love and friendship. I’m trying to give TL love and friendship.

But, the damage has already been done. I’ve already driven away all her old friends by pouting and moaning when she might see them, with me feeling intimidated that they encouraged TL, the non-virgin woman with her own thoughts and opinions, to be herself instead of being “the image.” I’ve already made TL afraid to be herself and even made her forget who herself is. I’ve already missed a million opportunities to support her and encourage her for her own strengths, for being herself.

I love TL, not “the image” nor anyone else. But, my years of obsession with the childish image were sick and hurtful.

Does anyone else out there understand this? I was not a sex addict. I was obsessed with a sick fantasy, at the expense of a real woman. I wasn’t tempted by other women. I was seduced by jealousy, feelings of inferiority, and anger at TL for not being “the image.” I didn’t just make bad choices. I was motivated by bad thinking and bad feelings.

TL deserved much better.

Today’s e-mail conversation

MC:

I love fried chicken. I love skiing. I love my cast iron skillet.

Those are all incorrect uses of the verb.

I like fried chicken more than I like other foods. I like skiing more than I like other activities. I like my cast iron skillet more than I like other cookware. I liked you more than I liked other people. I liked my children. I liked self-indulgence and flattery.

I do not love fried chicken. I do not love skiing. I do not love my cast iron skillet. I did not love you. I did not love Son1. I did not love Son2.

Then I learned what love is, and devoted significant time and energy to practicing it. I’m still working on it.

I love you. I love Son1. I love Son2. I love Dog.

I do need to control my frustrations. This has been a difficult topic for me to understand and to articulate.

Thank you for your patience.

TL: I’m not sure you even liked me. I certainly didn’t rate as one of your three favorite things.

MC: I liked you.  I am sorry I let that get lost in a mountain of jealousy, resentment, anger, and self-pity.

TL: You didn’t treat me like someone you liked.

MC: I know.  I was like a kid who does not take care of his toys, and then cries when they are broken or lost.

TL: Changing the word “love” to “like” doesn’t make it any more true.

MC: I disagree.  It’s what I’ve been trying to say all these years.

TL: Treating a human like a toy does not equate to loving or liking a human, only to liking an object. There is no relationship with an object. It is all one sided. I’m not an object.

MC: I know.  That’s one of the many problems I had.

TL: If you know, how can you claim to have even liked me (a person with my own thoughts and feelings). You only liked an image of me as an object, you never liked me.

MC: I guess that’s what I’m saying.  It was wrong of me.  I am sorry.  I am working to correct it.

TL: You didn’t like me. You didn’t love me. You only had occasional like or love for an object-like image of me that was actually never really me. And, then you spent years being angry at me for being me, not your object-like image. You liked fried chicken, you really did. You liked skiing, you really did. Not an image, but the reality of those things. You cannot say the same of me. In fact, you hated the real me.

MC: That’s basically true.   I am sorry.

What is going on in the LilyCraft home?

You’ve all seen the discussion of the last few days. I am so grateful for the input of betrayed friends who have so helped to both pinpoint the source of my doubts, as well help me recognize the strength and rarity of all the work thus far.

When we started on this recovery journey, we began to learn the meaning of “love.” We learned that love is wanting the best for the other. We, also, learned that love never means allowing yourself to be in an unsafe situation with an unsafe partner. What was and has continued to be confusing for me is how MC, after learning this definition, could ever say he loved me prior to D-day.

He has discussed separately how he saw me as a possession to be controlled. And, how he was angry and disappointed that, as his prized possession, I was not all he wanted; I was not the virgin wife he thought he deserved. Whenever I write that, I feel so shocked that a modern man can have such hypocritical, misogynistic ideas. I am proud of him for admitting these truths, for facing this ugly reality over the course of the last five years. But, I am still dismayed by it!

Possessing and controlling are NOT love. Infatuation is also NOT love. Treating me like a prized toy on a shelf, to be played with at his convenience and to be put away and forgotten about otherwise is NOT love. Being angry with me for not being in bubble wrapped condition upon marrying me is also NOT love. And, I know he knows that.

He now admits that at the time of the affairs, he did think he loved AP 1 and AP 3 on some level at some points. He can (and does) easily say and mean he didn’t truly LOVE the others, given the definition of “love” he now knows. But, then, how in the world is the same not true for me. I personally think he was confusing not wanting me to stop loving him, for him loving me. And, that too is NOT love.

The one truth he has had trouble seeing was that there is NO definition of love, on any level, that describes his feelings for me prior to d-day. On some level, I knew this all along, but perhaps I too didn’t want face the ultimate ugly of uglies. But, I felt it, couldn’t quite put a name to it, and it has been eating away at me. I cannot help but wonder what other truths is he hiding from himself? It feels so overwhelmingly important, like a block I could see, but couldn’t name and couldn’t remove. This is a brick in the wall between us. Perhaps the last brick, perhaps the biggest brick, I don’t know, but if feels very very important. Is he willing to truly remove this brick and expose the ugly to himself? This feels like a make or break point for us.

Things I did to make affair partners think I chose them over my wife

TL often asks what I did or said to make each affair partner think I would choose them over my wife. I don’t exactly know the answer to this question, nor do I feel confident that I understand why she asks. Nonetheless, if trying to answer this question could possibly be helpful to my betrayed spouse, here’s my attempt. 

One. The first affair partner (AP1) once during the affair asked whether I was still having sex with TL. I said something like, “Well, sometimes I still have to do command performances.” That comment was aimed at making AP1 think I preferred her to TL. That was, in fact, not true. I very much wanted and preferred sex with TL, and did not want to admit that to AP1 for fear that AP1 would then realize I was just using her for illicit sex and flattery. But, it makes sense that the whole incident would be hurtful to TL in any case, and that TL would have no reason to believe that I did not really prefer AP1

Two. During one illicit rendezvous with AP1, I said something like, “Oh, I’m so happy.” I was happy. But, not because of AP1. I was happy because I was selfishly indulging myself. I was happy to be stealing cookies from the cookie jar. The cookies themselves were rather tasteless. Still, AP1 probably interpreted my comment as saying I preferred her.

Three. I cannot think of any specific thing I said or did with the second affair partner (AP2) to make her think I preferred her. However, I frequently rather brazenly approached her for sex and told her I wanted her. This probably made AP2 think I preferred her to TL.

Four. I do not think there was any specific thing I said or did with the third and final affair partner (AP3) to make her think I would choose her over TL. However, I gave AP3 significant quantities of time and attention, no doubt making her think I preferred her to TL.

That’s what I know on this topic. I also know that I did choose TL and have always preferred TL to anyone else. One of the many reasons that was not properly evident was that I buried my love and desire for TL under a rotting pile of jealousy, self-pity, anger, and selfishness. My work now is aimed at hauling away that mountain of filth of my creation and trying to salvage the love that was suffocating under it.

10 Days to Self-Esteem

I’m now working with a book called 10 Days to Self-Esteem. The first chapter said to identify my goals with regard to self-esteem. 

Goals for self-esteem:

Stop wishing the past had been different.

Stop being disappointed in myself.

Stop being disappointed in my life.

The chapter concluded by asking me to evaluate what it had just told me, to summarize what I learned, and to say if there were things I liked or did not like about what I read.

Evaluation of step one:

I learned that right now I have minimal depression and borderline anxiety. I am somewhat dissatisfied with my marriage in terms of how we relate to each other. It will require consistent work to become mentally healthy.

What I didn’t like about step one was that it did not explain how depression, anxiety, and relationship quality are necessarily the beginning of a discussion about self-esteem. Is it not possible that one has low self-esteem despite not being terribly depressed or anxious and having a decent relationship? I was disappointed that step one did not include any ideas that were really new to me. I was disappointed that step one was a bit elementary.

I liked the suggestion that self-help could be more effective than just continuously talking to a psychoanalyst. I liked the idea that success is determined in large part by how much effort you put into it, and your sincere commitment. I think there was some practical value to finally articulating my goals with regard to self-esteem. Just aiming to have more self-esteem is a bit imprecise and hard to measure.

I won’t blog about everything I read and do in 10 Days to Self-Esteem because most of the thoughts I would share are not new to readers of this blog. But, here are a couple thoughts from it that I do really want to share.

Epictetus said, “Men are not disturbed by things, but by the views they take of them.” This is just like Buddhism. If wanting something is making you suffer, stop wanting that thing.

Life is not fair, and it’s counterproductive to wish it was fair. That’s not from the book. It’s my own thought that the book helped me find. Of all such thoughts, this one is particularly meaningful to me. I wasted much of my life mourning the loss of some childhood fantasy. I really wish to stop wasting my life.

Chapter four says do a cost-benefit analysis of feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Among other things, it suggests a technique for untwisting thinking called “the acceptance paradox,” which is really a Buddhist principle.

Teachings of Buddha

After converting to Judaism three years ago, I’m finally using my mental health time on the sabbath to just read the Hebrew Bible. I’m still in Genesis. I’ll have more to say on this topic, I hope, when I get beyond the portion of that tome that is the mythical ethnic history of a particular tribe. Meanwhile, during recent travel, I found a copy of The Teachings of Buddha in a hotel room. I read it front to cover. It is a quick read. It too has portions that are the mythical ethnic history of some tribes. It also has other portions that are clearly-written advice on mental health. Some of the advice struck me as applicable to my own struggles with mental health. 

Satisfying desire is like quenching thirst with salt water, the text said. In the bad old days, I desired flattery and erotic ego-stroking. Every time I thought I was obtaining those things, from an affair partner for example, I found them not credible, insufficient, and unsatisfying. I also desired sexual stimulus, to the point where I would regularly see prostitutes or masturbate to porn to obtain it. No quantity of those things was ever enough. I always walked away wanting more. They didn’t give me what I really wanted from them: the confidence and comfort of seeing myself as a desirable adult man. I have now quit drinking the seawater. It has been five years since I last used adultery, prostitutes, or porn. The less I use them, the less I want them. It is a self-generating virtuous cycle.

If the mind is filled with wise and pure and unselfish thoughts, there will be no place for worldly passions to take root, the text continued. Here’s my interpretation. Every bad apple in your fruit bowl leaves you with that much less room for fresh, healthy fruit. Conversely, every good piece of fruit leaves that much less room for bad apples. I’ve spent the last five years filling my bowl with good, fresh fruit, in the form of healthy goals, giving friendship, and showing compassion. There is almost no space left in my mind for self-pity or desire for ego-stroking.

The book continued. One kind of person is like letters carved in rock. They hold grudges. Another is like letters carved in sand. They anger, but it passes. Another is like letters carved in running water. The anger does not have an impact. They keep moving forward. This thought reminded me that I used to get very angry, and often held that anger for years. The anger usually wasted my time and energy while achieving nothing. I was angry at my wife for not being a virgin when we married. I was angry at drivers who cut me off. I was angry at women who did not make me see myself as a desirable adult man. I was angry at colleagues and bureaucrats who did not immediately see my point of view or wish to make my life easier. What did all this anger get me? Nothing. Who did this anger affect? Me. I have been working to not take things personally, and to not expend energy on anger.

Eliminate thoughts that stimulate greed, anger, and foolishness, and encourage thoughts that stimulate charity and kindness, the book said. Here’s my interpretation. So, it is not unhealthy to avoid bad thoughts as long as one also encourages good thoughts. Bad thoughts may erupt if suppressed and not replaced. But, if bad thoughts are eliminated and replaced with good thoughts, there will be no place for the bad thoughts.

The work should be directed toward the future, not the past. I had to study the past to identify the sources of my bad decisions. I know those sources. They are not a mystery. They are my cultural internal conflict, jealousy, self-pity, and thinking my wife owed me something. These ways of thinking can not recur by surprise. I know the signs. I am not suppressing them, only to have them erupt unexpectedly. I am not just avoiding unhealthy thoughts, as I should. I am also replacing them with healthy thoughts. This practice of unearthing old thoughts of jealousy and insecurity can and must cease now.

The book went on. True offering is not followed by regret or self-praise. Poor men can offer labor, life, compassion, kind glances, smiles, kind words, a seat, and shelter. This thought just struck me as a useful guide for future acts of kindness.

Here is more from Buddha. If a person has a repentant spirit, his sins will disappear. If he is unrepentant, his sins will continue and condemn him forever. I’m no expert on Christian teachings, but that thought sounds familiar. I guess it’s meant as encouragement to sinners, to tell them it is never too late to start trying to be a better person.

To worry in anticipation or to cherish regret for the past are like reeds that are cut and whither away, the book said. Dead reeds. That’s what I spent too much of my life creating. As Jon Marsh said in Recovery Nation, I hurt myself by not living to my potential. I’v thrown away too much of my life. To me, that’s good motivation to not throw away more of it, especially now that the years behind me no doubt outweigh those ahead of me and the most productive period of my life is winding to a close. Buddha continued on this theme. The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, not to worry about the future, not to anticipate troubles, but to live wisely and earnestly for the present. Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.

I made her feel like I settled for her

I understand why TL feels like a consolation prize, an afterthought, or a plan B. Perhaps she fears I loved my first affair partner (AP1), would have divorced TL for AP1 if I’d had the balls to do so or if AP1 had been a virgin, and only stayed with TL because we moved to a new city and AP1 finally realized I was just using her. Perhaps TL fears I long for the love of AP1, but just settled for TL to avoid being alone and divorced. 

Perhaps TL fears I loved my second affair partner (AP2), only stayed with TL because we again moved to a different city, and that I spend time inside my head reminiscing about sex with AP2.

Perhaps TL fears I loved my third affair partner (AP3), only returned to TL because AP3 moved to a different city, and that I would have gone on to pursue AP3 permanently had TL kicked me out of the house when she discovered that affair.

None of those fears are true. I never loved anyone but TL.

But, if the roles were reversed, I’m sure I would have those same fears, despite the unfaithful spouse’s attempts to reassure me. I get it. It reminds me a little of my fears that TL had better sex with more desirable men before she started seeing me and that she just settled for me for practical reasons. I don’t mean to suggest that my fears were equivalent to hers nor that mine were healthy. They were not. I just mean to say that I’m trying to empathize with TL regarding her fears.

What can I do to help TL? Really, I could use some advice.

I want her to know that those APs were meaningless and remain meaningless to me. I want her to know that I never loved anyone but her, despite the fact that I told APs I loved them.

I want everyone to know that if TL and I were on a sinking ship with those three APs and a two-person life raft, I’d put TL in the life raft with me immediately and leave the others to perish.

After 18 years of being disloyal, and only five years of trying to be a good husband and friend, how can I prove to TL that she is and always will be my first, best, and only love?

Self-pity

We know self-pity was one of my root problems, giving me excuses for my selfish and hurtful behavior. I read quite a bit on overcoming self-pity, and found some common themes: identify and accept sources of your pain; accomplish something, even something small; list good things and be grateful; give selflessly; refuse to waste time and energy on misery; and focus on duties, goals, plans. The basic source of my pain was my jealousy. I remember being jealous of a cousin who was better at video games than I was when we were nine-years old. I was jealous of other children, then jealous of girlfriends and peers, and finally jealous of my wife. Similar to self-pity, the common prescriptions for jealousy include gratitude, mindfulness, and becoming less self-centered. 

Self-pity is the opposite of self-esteem. Internal low self esteem can cause attention seeking through self pity, I read. In self-pity you have an inner childish desire to be dependent. In my case, could this have come from being taught by my parents that independence is not good, kind, and expected? Could it come from not being encouraged to be independent? Self pity is alluring because it rejects responsibility and blames others. Self pity is abandoning responsibility instead of taking loving action to help yourself; it is trying to manipulate others into giving you the compassion you ought to give yourself.

Another prescription says ask myself, “What makes me unhappy?” Then, it says, change it. If not possible, change my attitude toward it. That basically comes from Buddhism; life is suffering, and if you’re suffering from wanting something then stop wanting it. So, if I want to change reality, I can either suffer from wanting that impossibility, or simply stop wanting it.

How to stop being jealous of her premarital experiences?

This is a difficult topic to discuss. Women, as well as modern men with even half a brain, may say it is ridiculous or misogynist for me to have been jealous of my wife for having one-night stands before marriage.. They’re right. It is ridiculous and misogynist, especially considering that she is relatively liberal and progressive and that I would also like to be liberal and progressive. The following fact may make your jaws drop further. Prior to our marriage, I had more sexual experience than she had, with a roughly similar number of previous partners. So, how could I be jealous? I had no right to be jealous. Of course, I had no right to be jealous.

Nonetheless, I was jealous. I was jealous that she had several successful one-night stands with people she had met only a few hours before intercourse while I, on the other hand, had never had even one one-night stand with a complete stranger. Yes, it’s still ridiculous and misogynist for me to have such jealousy. But, I was jealous. And, it drove me insane – or, more insane.

This is the basic jealousy that I used to motivate and justify my attitude within our marriage that my wife owed me sex, my insatiable demand for sex and ego-stroking, and my adultery. With my goal of preventing future adultery and selfishness on my part, I should be certain to prevent a recurrence of this ridiculous and misogynist jealousy. How?

First, I can reason that whether I become more sexually desirable than her previous partners or not, it will not affect our relationship, her view of me, or my view of myself, and it will be impossible to verify it. Can I get a bigger penis than her previous partners? No. Can I get a better body than her previous partners? I can improve my body, gradually and within my genetically predetermined limits. Otherwise, no, I can’t. Can I give her more physical pleasure than her previous partners? I can pay more attention to the things she prefers. I should do that anyway. Will it work? Who knows? There is no way for me to know. I’m not her. And, what does all this matter? If I become more sexually desirable to her, will she want me more or love me more? Who knows? Will she compliment me more than she already does?  If she did, would I believe it? No. If I become better or more desirable, would I like myself more? How would I know? Probably not. If I fail to become more desirable than her previous partners, will she leave me? No.

She’s probably had bigger penises, more muscular dudes, and guys that made her orgasm more. I can’t change that. Wanting to change that just hurts me. It does not help me, in any way. She was able to score one-night stands. I was, and am, too impatient and self-conscious to try. I can’t change that in the past, and it’s not really worth it to me to try changing it in the future, even in some hypothetical future in which I become single again. One reason I never had one-night stands is that they were not worth the effort for me. Women can have them with relatively low investment in time and bruised egos. For a skinny, short, average guy like me, the investment in time and bruised egos is just too high. I need to stop blaming her, me, and God for that fact. It’s just a fact. I must stop, definitively, wanting to change that fact that cannot be changed. Wanting to change it caused me suffering. To prevent future suffering, I must not allow myself to want to change that fact.

Second, I can stop blaming her for things that are not her fault. It’s not her fault she had opportunities and took them while I was too impatient and insecure to invest the time and take the chances. It’s not her fault God made me the way I am and made her the way she is.

Third, I can try to keep it in my thick skull that marriage is primarily about friendship, and not primarily about sex, possessing my spouse, nor about meeting my needs for ego-stroking. One example of behaving as a friend is to be happy for her that she had some good experiences rather than being jealous of her.

So, again, it’s clearly self-defeating and even cruel of me to be jealous of her. What do you think of my strategy for excising the jealousy? Am I missing anything? Will it work? Or, is managing my negative conditioning the only realistic approach to it?

How to extinguish negative conditioning?

My most basic problem is that whenever I think of sex, intoxication, tobacco, or marijuana, I have an immediate, instinctive, almost subconscious negative feeling. Since before I could walk or talk, my parents and community taught me, perhaps without even much conscious effort, that those things were repulsive and should be avoided. Now, like Pavlov’s dog trying to learn a new trick, years after the formative experiment, I struggle to eliminate those subconscious impulses, those subconscious negative views of otherwise normal, modern human activities.   

As I grew through childhood and adolescence, I learned from television, literature, music, films, peers, and other sources that most modern adults, at least most in the cultural milieu where I wanted to live, view sex, intoxication, tobacco, and marijuana more objectively. They apparently see those things more matter-of-factly, without judgment, the same way I had viewed common activities such as eating caloric foods, luxuriating in a steam bath, or appreciating a work of art. By the way, I can understand now how some people can learn to be judgmental about other activities that I consider mundane, things such as coffee or certain types of art. Back to my point, I grew up to have an internal conflict, with one part of my mind having learned to be judgmental about sex, intoxication, tobacco, and marijuana, and another part of my mind simultaneously drawn to those forbidden fruits.

Problem one was that I went on to abuse each of those four things in a self-destructive manner. While an inner voice told me sex was bad, another component of my own mind rebelled against those thoughts and indulged in adultery, porn, and masturbation. Similarly, I sought out intoxication and fell to unspoken peer pressure to use marijuana during my twenties. Similarly, I used tobacco at several points in my life. I’m confidently and comfortably beyond all those problems now. Marijuana is, as it once had been, simply uninteresting to me. I might have a cigar again one day, maybe; but the thought of it is not very appealing now. I drink alcohol in moderation. And, I am faithful and moderate regarding sex now.

Problem two was that, despite my hypocritical behavior, I struggled to stop myself from judging other people unfairly when they engaged in those things. I used to be terribly critical of other people for engaging in smoking, getting drunk, or having premarital sex, despite my own awful history with those things. Even now, when I encounter talk of or hints of smoking, intoxication, or premarital sex, I am forced to have a quick internal dialogue in my head. “They’re doing something immoral and shameful,” says a voice in my head. “No, dammit, stop thinking that,” says another voice, recalling the words of our first marriage counselor who said those thoughts were “sick obsessions.” “That’s unhealthy, self-destructive thinking,” I now tell myself. It works well enough. However, it’s still necessary, even after all the evidence that my moral judgments are harmful. And, the temptation to judge not only pings in my head when I am faced with real examples of smoking, intoxication, and premarital sex. It also pings when I encounter references in film, music, literature, and pop culture.

My personal mental and marital health objective is to eliminate my conditioned negative views of those four things. I don’t really know how. Is it possible to extinguish those impulses to judge other people? Or, is managing them the most realistic goal? I don’t feel they will drive me to again commit adultery or deceit. But, the impulses to view those four things critically are irritating.

The “Lynn” Incident

I’ve tried to trace the roots, or at least the history, of my retroactive jealousy. Clearly, I experienced it in my relationship with TL. I clearly recall experiencing it with my long-time girlfriend prior to TL. What about before that? Perhaps the first, albeit brief, time was an incident during my senior or junior year of high school. I’ll try to recount the story here. Tell me what you think. 

Here’s the story, from my writer’s sketchbook of ideas. This is a true story. The names are changed.

Mindless focused on his work, carefully counting items on the grocery store shelves, rearranging cans that were out of place, and noting items that were running low in stock.

“Mindless,” a woman’s voice called sweetly from behind him. By the time he raised his eyes, she was standing before him.

“Mindless,” she said, looking at him temptingly. She actually looked more attractive than when he had last seen her. Something was different. She was older. Yes. But, there was something more.

“Lynn,” he said, not even trying to conceal his surprise. He stood to greet her. Suddenly, she was right up next to him, gently touching his upper arm and looking flirtatiously into his eyes. Her perfume smelled of musk and spice.

“How have you been?” she asked.

“Okay,” he said, wondering why she asked. “You?”

“I’m wonderful,” Lynn cooed.

“Why her? Why now?” Mindless asked himself. “I left her long ago because she was not ready. She was not willing to give herself to me.”

“We should get together,” she said, as though that year, when they were both sophomores, was only yesterday.

“Maybe.” Mindless was suddenly suspicious. He didn’t know why.

“I have a secret to tell you.”

He took the bait. “What secret?”

“I’m different now,” she said. “Remember that thing I wouldn’t do?”

“Uh huh.”

“Well, I did it,” she said, as though he should be happy.

“What in the hell is she talking about?” he asked himself. “Is she saying she gave herself to someone else?” He stood there, a bit dumbfounded.

“Do you want to know who it was?” she whispered, seemingly excited to share the news.

“Okay,” Mindless lied.

“It’s one of your friends,” she said.

“Oh.”

“Yes.”

“Who?”

“Guess.”

Mindless paused, “I really have no idea.”

“Think about it,” she teased him. “He’s the brother of one of my good friends.”

Mindless thought, “That actually shows how little I know this girl. Who are her friends? I really don’t know.”

“I don’t know,” he said out loud.

“Jay Johnston,” she announced, as if he should have guessed by now.

“Huh?”Mindless asked himself. “How should I have guessed that? Who the hell is Jay Johnston? Sure, we went to school together. We know the same people. Beyond that, he is nothing to me. And, why would she tell me that? Why should I want to know that?”

“Oh,” he said aloud. “I see.”

“So,” Lynn said, seductively, “why don’t you meet me tonight when you finish here?”

“Maybe.” He knew as he said it that he would not meet her. She could go to hell.

“What a stupid girl?,” he thought. “Why would she think I would want her after another man had her? Why did she give herself to him before giving herself to me? I don’t need her. She’s not worth it.”

So, that’s the “Lynn” incident. I’ve never really understood it. Why did she think I would want sex with her after she had denied it to me, given it to someone else, and then forced me to confront the fact? Why didn’t I just cast off my pride and enjoy the chance for sex? In any case, that may be the first time in my life that I experienced that retroactive jealousy. Is it normal? Did I never recover from it? Am I missing something else here?

Chasing Amy Syndrome

Okay, now let’s get back to what really seems to be my problem. I’ve seen a few people write about Chasing Amy Syndrome, referring to a guy who is unhealthily insecure about his perception/his perception that his mate is more sexually experienced than he. The term is a reference to a Ben Affleck movie.
“Kevin Smith once explained why he made it—it’s well known that the story was based on his real-life relationship with Joey Lauren Adams and the way he unfairly projected his insecurities onto her.”

“He wrote in this 2000 piece: “The day I saw disbelief, outrage, and hurt reflected in the eyes of the woman I loved as she realized I was insisting that she apologize for her life up until the moment we met… well, that was the day it struck me that I wasn’t quite as liberal as I fancied myself and instead came to grips with the fact that I was rather conservative. And rather than enter therapy, I decided to exorcise my demons on screen. Chasing Amy was conceived as a sort of penance/valentine for the woman who made me grow up, more or less—a thank-you homage that marked a major milestone in my life, both personally and professionally.”

There’s not much written about how to exorcise this syndrome. Suggestions seem to include: therapy, “get over yourself,” and cognitive behavior therapy techniques to reduce the symptoms. I’ve been working on all three, with some success. I do need to specifically discuss this with my therapist, and get her off of the time-wasting tangents we otherwise discuss. As for “get over yourself,” gratitude is a helpful tool for me. Compassion and friendship are also helpful. And, the cognitive behavior therapy techniques do help: interrupting unhealthy thoughts and redirecting my thoughts.

I would be interested to find others who have struggled with this syndrome, and to learn more about it.

Done with Recovery Nation

I finished it. I’m not sure what I think about that. I guess the main point was that I should keep a close eye on my values and be sure my behavior lines up with them. 
The good thing about being done with Recovery Nation is that I can now use my daily “mental health study time” (I need a better name for it) to read some more specific things about self-esteem, retroactive jealousy, and problems with my birth family.

STDs and Testing

I figured the Recovery Nation chapter on STDs would be redundant. TL and I are already painfully aware that I gave her herpes after contracting it from a prostitute. But, the following passage is a haunting reminder of what I have done. 

“One of the most devastating consequences of having engaged in sexually compulsive behavior is the potential that you may have compromised your physical health and/or the health of your partner. What complicates this is the reality that most who engage in such behavior also tend to engage in ‘magical thinking’ in terms of contracting such diseases. That being, ‘they likely won’t; don’t have an STD and so, there is no need to admit the possibility that they may’. ”

This “magical thinking” is real. That’s exactly what I did. That concept itself probably suggests further research I can do. How did I let myself engage in magical thinking? I don’t really understand it. I must have subconsciously calculated that my insecurity and obsessions were more important to me than health. It’s very sad.

Five positive statements

Recovery Nation offers a couple prescriptions for handling self-talk. 
“1) Every negative self-thought must be challenged. Every time.”

“2) Create a list of five important affirmations (positive statements) about you, your life and/or your long-term goals. And every morning for the next forty-four days, read this list to yourself before you leave the house.”

Five statements? Hmm. First, I have two sons whom I want to raise to be successful, or at least happy. Second, I have a beautiful wife who is a great friend and supporter. Third, I’m pretty good at writing and speaking. Fourth, my dog loves me. Fifth, I enjoy skiing and diving.

Wow. That was surprisingly difficult. I know it should not have been. But, it was. Could I have done that 14 years ago, before my oldest son was born? How about before I was married? As an adolescent? Perhaps not. And, had I tried to do it back then, would I have become depressed, or would I have considered doing a better job of setting goals and striving for them? 

This, self-esteem, I believe, is where I really ought to focus my attention, for the sake of understanding the root cause of my infidelity and preventing recidivism.

Exploring sexual intimacy 

Recovery Nation’s supplemental chapter on sexual intimacy was a bit confusing. It began with the following. 

“Intimacy is a limited value. By this, we are referring to the limited, finite scale of which the positive stimulation produced by the value exists. There are other limited values: honesty, for one; order, another. In each, there exists a maximum amount of positive energy that can be generated, and once that maximum has been achieved, there is only way for the stimulation to go…negatively. When a limited value is at its threshold (that threshold being, you are completely satisfied with the role this value is playing in your life), you have achieved the maximum emotional benefit that this value provides, and the focus then turns to maintaining it. Unlike compulsive behaviors, there is no habituation that takes place with values. Self-esteem, honesty, intimacy…such values do not require more and more to achieve the same emotional results. They simply need to be maintained. Which is a major reason why, once the compulsive behaviors have ended, and the underlying roles those behaviors were fulfilling have been replaced, the potential for relapse not only diminishes, but disappears altogether.”

I’m struggling to see the practical application of that passage. I think Jon Marsh, with his unfortunately piss-poor grasp of the English language and the skill of writing, is trying to say.that one can rid oneself of compulsive behaviors by replacing those behaviors with healthy values. That fits with the following passage later in the chapter.

“That means, the next time you are about to pick up another addiction recovery book to read, or the next time you are about to make yet another post on your online recovery support board, read a book on one of your values. Learn how to be honest. Develop the skills that it takes to have self-respect. Or, go to a discussion board that focuses on something that you are interested in, outside of recovery. Begin expanding as a person. Begin allowing yourself to make real changes in your life. Begin the transition from recovery to health…by focusing on the health.”

I’ll summarize the next part of this lesson by saying that Marsh believes there are eight elements of sexual intimacy. He says: “As we examine each of the elements, keep in mind your role in past relationships (or the role of your partner). What parts of the wheel were missing? What parts have you yet to develop properly?”

Elements Involved in Sexual Intimacy

“Reality: the knowledge that your perceptions of the relationship are similar to your partner’s perceptions of the relationship.” Obviously, by leading a double-life, lying, and cheating, I robbed TL of this important element of sexual intimacy. I believe I am safe now in knowing my perception of the relationship is the same as hers, from my point of view. I think I may have had some distorted, irrational views on reality in the past, at the beginning of our relationship. I think I may have irrationally feared that she was less interested in our relationship than I was.

“Choice: the feeling that you openly choose to be with the person that you are experiencing intimacy with; the feeling of “not being stuck” in the relationship.” Now, TL perhaps feels stuck in our relationship. Though I betrayed her, she may feel that our children and our weak financial situation leave her stuck with me. I have never felt stuck with TL. But, I do recall that feeling in a previous long-term relationship. Accurately or not, one part of me kept thinking, “I should be able to find a more attractive girlfriend.” Another part of me would respond, “No, I can’t. This is the best I can do.”

“Trust: the knowledge that your partner is honest with you; that you are honest with your partner; that your partner knows that you are being honest; and that you know that your partner is being honest.” Here’s another aspect of sexual intimacy I obviously destroyed for TL. On the other hand, TL has never given me anything but honesty.

“Pride: the willingness and desire to tell others about your relationship.” I have always felt proud of my relationship with TL. Again, I undermined this good aspect of our relationship by hiding my relationship with TL from potential affair partners. Thus, TL does not believe that I am proud of our relationship. She, on the other hand, has always been proud of our relationship, and shown it. I, however, wallowing in self-doubt, refused to believe that she was proud of our relationship.

“Respect: the feeling of wonder and amazement towards your partner as a human being; equality.” I began our relationship feeling this kind of respect for TL. Then I soon buried it under jealousy, insecurity, and unhealthy expectations.

“Vulnerability: the willingness to risk emotional damage in the attempt to grow as a person/couple; the knowledge that your partner will use the information/experiences you share in positive, fulfilling ways.” This is an interesting topic. I’m not sure I completely understand it. In the early years of our relationship, I was irrationally possessive of TL. I whined and pouted to prevent her from going out without me. I was manipulative and unfair. Was I afraid that would make me vulnerable? Is that what it means to be vulnerable, in this context? Or, does vulnerable mean being willing to share private, intimate thoughts, feelings, and ideas? If that’s what it means, then I have been vulnerable with TL. I think she has been vulnerable with me. If not, how would I know?

“Self-love: the knowledge that the more you love yourself in healthy, productive ways, the more positive emotions that you will have to share with your partner; the more accepting of yourself that you are, the more accepting of your partner you will be.” This is a rather new concept. It makes sense. If I’m not so insecure, I should be freer to accept her, unburdened by jealousy, fear, or doubt. This is a work in progress for me. If I had to guess which one aspect of intimacy was the most difficult for me, this would be the one. In fact, this one concept may be the root of many of my problems. For so many decades, I just wasn’t at ease with myself. I wasn’t confident, relaxed, focused, or natural. Instead, I was always imagining what others might be thinking about me. I’m much happier with myself now, but it came severs decades too late.

“Sensory Stimulation: the understanding that all sensory stimulation between you and your partner is geared towards communicating to that person’s soul; the use of intentional sensory manipulation to bring emotional pleasure to one or both.” I’m not very good at this. I’ve tried to improve. I do have some difficulty understanding it. I need to remember to focus on this.

Exploring the Concept of Love

I read Recovery Nation’s supplemental chapter on the concept of love. The following passage is helpful enough that I want to save it and use it again. 
“Love is not attraction. One does not fall in love with a person based on their physical appearance. In other words, love at first sight does not exist in a healthy reality.”

“Love is not stability. Though stability can and should play a big part in a long-term, committed relationship…remaining in that relationship for the sole sake of stability does not equate to love. There must be some interest in seeing the relationship and/or the individuals grow.”

“Love is not a distraction, nor a shortcut. To often, rather than looking at one’s own chaotic life, a person seeks out “love” from others in an effort to distract them from having to deal with that life. Or to artificially produce the esteem that would otherwise require years to develop.”

“Love is not selfish. For love to occur, it must be by choice. It must be through the desire to care for, nurture, share and experience certain parts of your life with that person…and for those feelings to be reciprocated. This isn’t to suggest that love cannot include selfish acts…it can and should. Individual boundaries that include clear expectations of the other’s behavior within the relationship are examples of this. Without these boundaries and “selfish expectations”, it would be too easy to be taken advantage of by a selfish partner.”

“Love is not a guess. In love, it is the responsibility of each partner to share his or her true self with the other. Let’s repeat that. In love, it is the responsibility of EACH PARTNER to share his or her true self with the other. Without this, the experience of love can achieve nothing more than an illusion. Without honesty and the sharing of one’s inner self…any emotions experienced are based on projections and images. Additionally, love is never having to guess how your partner really feels. To trust that they are sharing their true selves with you.”

“Love is not desperate. When feelings of love are not reciprocated, or when the target of your love does not treat you in a way that reflects the way that you want to be treated…then the relationship is not based in love. Most likely, when someone continues to pursue such a relationship, there are unresolved issues from one’s past, or emotional deficiencies (e.g. low self-esteem)…but the feelings that are being experienced are not love. Love does not have to be won. It does not have to be proven.”

“Love is not a savior. Love should never be sought in an attempt to “rescue” your otherwise unsatisfying and/or chaotic life. Additionally, love should never be used as a bargaining tool after “rescuing” another person. Love is best experienced when you have first learned to love yourself. That is more than a cliché…it is absolutely true in terms of the fulfillment that love can bring.”

“Love is not dangerous. In love, there should never be a worry that your vulnerabilities will ever be used against you. Or that something you share in complete sincerity is later taken out of context or used to judge you. Communication is open and instant. Even if that means to communicate that you are not in an emotional state to effectively communicate at a particular moment.”

The exercise says: “Post your own understanding of what love is. The role that love plays in your life (or the role that you would like love to play in your life).”

Maybe this will be easier if I break it down to the specific subtopics Jon Marsh suggested. What can I say, for example, about self-love? I’m sure I have spent too much of my life being unhappy with my physical body, my abilities, and my accomplishments. Conversely, I spent too little time realizing that I have some control over each of those things. Do I love myself? Did I love myself? I don’t know. Perhaps I worried so much about how others viewed me that I neglected to consider how I view myself. Actually, I’d welcome some feedback on this topic. How does one know whether one loves oneself? How does that look? How does that feel?

How about romantic love? I want the best for TL, I want to be with her, and I don’t expect anything in return. I wasn’t always that way. I used to expect her to be perfect, to meet my every need or whim, and to make me feel better about myself or about life. In that regard, I didn’t learn what romantic love is until after I had already caused terrible damage to TL, until after D-day.

What about familial love? I know I have unconditional love for my children. I just know it. I would love them no matter what they did or didn’t do. I also know that I have struggled to stop myself from putting too many expectations on them with regard to sports, homework, extracurricular activities, and anything that does not involve them sitting on their butts playing video games or watching television. Is expecting too much of them an unloving act on my part?

Speaking of familial love, what about my parents and brother? I do think I love them. Yet, I don’t really like talking to them or being with them and I do carry around varying degrees of anger toward them. Is that contradiction really possible?

That’s the extent of love in my life, except for the unconditional love I have for my pet dog. But, even she makes me very angry at times, when she bites too much or destroys something in the house.

Is that enough love in my life? I think it is. Why not? I think the main thing I need to remember is to keep my love for TL unconditional.

Addiction Recovery and Your Family of Origin

I read the Recovery Nation supplemental lesson on family of origin. Again, I want to quote a few passages that seemed relevant to me. 
“Further development involving this person’s “family values” might include taking the time to understand the toxic effects of the environment in which they were raised, or learning to integrate associated values (like forgiveness and compassion). The point is, no matter what your past holds, from abuse to blissfulness, if you are struggling with compulsive sexual and/or romantic behavior–further developing the values associated with your family of origin will help to balance/stimulate your emotional life.”

“For children, one of the most important roles a family can play is to provide them with a safe, nurturing environment where they have the opportunity to test and develop their social boundaries–boundaries that will later be used to develop healthy relationships outside of their family structure. Too often, when these boundaries are not properly developed, further social development is retarded, thus creating an additional stressor throughout the person’s life. A common example of this would be the domineering parent who extorted nearly constant behavioral control over the child throughout their childhood and early teen years, thus stripping them of the critical ability to develop confidence in managing their own emotional awareness and decision-making.”

“Additional sources of familial stress might stem from the parenting style in which you were raised: with authoritative, critical and/or perfectionistic parenting styles triggering lifelong issues with anxiety, lack of confidence and overall emotional imbalance/low self-esteem. Or, you may have derived stress from a constant parental pressure to succeed in all areas of your life. For some, after many years of struggling with such “family issues”, you may have even made the conscious decision to resign yourself to the fact that you will never have the opportunity to experience the power and positive emotions that can be produced by an association with a healthy family. Which, of course, is a deception…but one that provides a temporary relief over the alternative.”

“Can one be happy without ever experiencing it? Yes, but it will take an extraordinary emotional adjustment, with the family being replaced by some other significant nurturing target–like God, or animals.”

“Otherwise, it is not hard to see how the development of relationship addictions and romantic obsessions might be used to balance the enormous emotional burden of not experiencing the unconditional love sought through one’s family. Even those adults who go on to connect with their own spouse/children in a deeply emotional way, continue to require a personal connection to their family or origin (whether that family is biological or not is irrelevant). Those who have broken their ties with their family of origin (either through choice or through circumstance) will continue to suffer emotional consequences as a result of this disruption. Granted, the amount of relief gained from the disruption may outweigh the stress that continuing the relationship would have otherwise caused, but stress will be experienced when a person has no healthy connection to their “family of origin”–and their parents, in particular.”

The exercise with this lesson says: “Spend fifteen minutes thinking about the role your family has played in your life. As you think, consider the following:”

“1) What does unconditional love mean to you, and have you ever experienced it? From whom? Towards whom?”

“2) How did the parental style in which you were raised affect you both positively/negatively?”

I think I had unconditional love from my father, and he was present in my life. But, I think the amount of time I spent with my mother dwarfed the amount of time I spent with my father, or with any other human being. She was omnipresent, in my mind. And, in my admittedly biased memories, hardly any other person was ever present. My only sibling was born when I was five-years old. In my memory, other relatives, friends, neighbors, or others were rarely present, very rarely. I thought that my mother went out of her way to discourage friends and acquaintances, even shunning her own friendships and her own relatives. I’m sure I exaggerate that situation in my own memories, but it does capture my feelings.

I never thought much about whether my mother loved me, unconditionally or otherwise. She often said she loved me, so I figured she did. She probably did, and does. But, I recall constantly resenting her. Though it may be another exaggeration in my own mind, I thought she inappropriately controlled every aspect of my life: where I went, what I did, what I ate, what I wore, my entire grooming and appearance, with whom I associated, what I watched on television, what music I heard, and more. I also always thought that all my peers had enormous amounts of freedom that I did not have. I’m sure I focused too much on my negative view of the situation. I especially say that now that I have one son who is constantly complaining that everyone in the world except him gets to watch raunchy movies and have no bedtime.

Did I have unconditional love from my parents? Maybe I did. But, I didn’t think I did. Did I give unconditional love? No, probably never. I think I only gave unconditional love to pets. I thought I was giving unconditional love to my own children, but later realized I was somehow communicating some sort of unrealistic expectations about athletic interests to them. As for giving unconditional love to TL, that’s something I’ve been trying to learn since D-day.

I have long blamed my mother’s parenting style for preventing me from learning how to make my own healthy decisions. I do learn rather slowly from my own mistakes. Perhaps my mother assumed that meant I would never learn. I’ve also written about how I believe my mother’s own inner struggle between freedom and her Victorian upbringing was passed down to me. In short, she told me progressive modernism was smart and good, but she behaved as though anything other than a strictly conservative lifestyle was evil. She also taught me that sex was an unspeakably evil act, women were only for marrying, and she did not want me to marry or grow up. Among other things, that upbringing put little or no value on maturity and taking on adult responsibilities. In fact, I believed those things were discouraged, and that they would hurt my mother’s feelings too much.

Your Search for Meaning

I read the supplemental lesson called “Your Search for Meaning” in Recovery Nation. It does not include exercises or questions. It is just a lecture. But, it is encouraging. Just as I have put real emphasis on spirituality in my life since D-day, Marsh describes his own individual approach to it and how it helps with changing compulsive or hurtful behavior patterns. I hate to just quote large portions of what he wrote. But, aside from his habitual disregard for English grammar and syntax, Marsh did a pretty good job of capturing some thoughts I found helpful. Here they are: 

“Developing your own understanding of “why you are here” can be a tremendous source of strength, guidance, energy and stability in your life. From a strictly “recovery” standpoint, it is not important what you believe, only that you do believe.”

“Having a clear understanding of the reason for your existence allows you to not take yourself so seriously. It allows you to keep your perceptions in perspective.”

 

“Being agnostic for many years, I searched for answers my entire life. I studied anthropology, world religions…talked endlessly to stout Christians, Muslims…I wanted desperately to “feel” God in my life. When I was truly honest with myself, I knew that that feeling had never come. In reading the Bible, I just couldn’t get past the thoughts that it was man’s word I was reading, not God’s. And knowing how manipulative, controlling, selfish and domineering man has been throughout the ages…I was not too receptive to the Bible’s messages. Was I sincere about wanting to feel Him? If you have completed the Recovery Workshop, you should have no more doubts as to how deep my sincerity runs. I prayed…and prayed…and prayed…alone, when it was just me and God. I would spend hours sitting alone in my house…my car…in the middle of a forest…anywhere where I could to finally feel His presence. It never came. Then, after many years of searching, logic finally got the better of me. I had always considered myself a logical person, and realized that, logically, I had only two choices: I could go on believing that there is no God, and that my life is essentially meaningless (existentially); or I could have faith that God does exist and in return, be rewarded with a purpose and “meaning” that will last for the rest of my life. If I was wrong? Then it wouldn’t matter anyway.”

“Logically, there was no down side to developing my spirituality. Of course, it had to be one that I believed in, and one that made sense to me…I couldn’t openly lie to myself…that would destroy the value of spirituality altogether. And after many, many years of intense searching… I developed my own understanding of God and Heaven and the role it plays in my life. I won’t go in to what those beliefs are; though if you, as an individual struggling with similar issues would like to know…I would be more than happy to share them with you individually. There will be no conversion attempts, only God as I see Him. Or, more accurately, as He has guided me towards seeing Him.”

“Being that there are thousands of books having been written on the soul, I will share only the most basic thoughts as they apply to recovery and health. The soul is a metaphysical concept that many believe to be the true self. Beyond your senses, beyond your muscles and bones and skin, beyond your emotions lies your energy source–your soul. Others will argue that a soul could not exist without emotions, and without senses. What is the truth? Nobody knows. Logically, it makes sense that if our life is perceived through our senses, and our senses elicit the emotional responses that make up our “soul”, then our soul’s could not exist without our senses. This is one of the more frustrating points for me to understand about most people’s perception of Heaven…because it contradicts their perception of the soul as an energy force, separate from the body. “It is your soul that goes to Heaven.” Why then, is it assumed that our soul will continue to experience thought, emotion and other such traits once it has left the very body that produced them? Not really looking for an answer, just emphasizing the point that nobody really knows what the “soul” is.”

“For me, it is when I close my eyes. All of the feelings, emotions, sensations, thoughts…that is what makes up my soul. When I communicate with people, that is what I am trying to communicate with. Not whether they are young or old…fat or thin…tall of short…black or white…I close my eyes and try to get in touch with their soul. Or at least what I believe to be their soul. If I’m wrong, and that isn’t actually their soul, so what. It works for me, it works for my value system, and it promotes healthy relationships with others. That is all that matters. The truth is relative.”

“When considering your soul, like spirituality, it doesn’t matter what you believe, only that you develop a thorough understanding of this belief and that you use it to promote your life. In recovery, once you have a clearly defined “soul”, the process of separating your emotions from your behavior becomes that much easier.”

What is Love Addiction

I don’t really think I have or had what Jon Marsh calls love addiction. But, I read the relevant supplemental lesson in Recovery Nation to be sure. Marsh listed his own symptoms. Here they are, with my thoughts on whether I experienced them. 

• “The relationships all involved instant intimacy.” In my marriage and in other relationships did I proceed to intimacy instantly? If that means physical intimacy, then no, I did not. If it means emotional intimacy, maybe. Maybe it is my habit to either awkwardly avoid women or, alternately, to approach them with slightly more emotional intimacy than would be considered normal. I’m not sure. In any case, I now make a conscious effort to avoid emotional intimacy with any woman except TL.

• “Most required an intense, deeply-rooted need to have them like me. To tell me they love me. Until that happened, most actions within the relationship were geared towards achieving that goal.” This does seem familiar.

• “There was a sense of desperation involved with establishing/maintaining the relationship.” Maybe.

• “As the relationships began to lose their intensity…so too went the feelings of ‘love’.” Maybe.

• “There was a willingness to sacrifice any and everything for the relationship to succeed.” Though I didn’t recognize it at the time, in retrospect, my approach to some relationships did seem that way.

• “When the relationship would end while that intensity was still intact, I would experience a completely inappropriate sense of rejection, failure and desperation.” I don’t believe this ever happened to me.

• “There was a completely unrealistic perception of the person’s qualities at the beginning of the relationship; completely unrealistic expectations of their abilities towards the end.” This does seem familiar.

• “There was an intense, constant hypersensitivity/pressure within the relationship; and a constant need for reassurance.” Maybe. Perhaps that fits with some examples of me being overly or awkwardly jealous or possessive.

• “Many relationships were brief, intensely emotional sexual relationships, to experience the aura of that initial love and awe.” No, that doesn’t seem to fit.

• “In many relationships, there was an obsessive nature behind my acts – constantly checking up on my partners to assure that they weren’t cheating on me.” This may fit with my awkward, outsized jealousy, including retroactive jealousy.

• “In many relationships, there was a considerable, hair-triggered sense of jealousy – which was triggered from the fear of them meeting someone ‘better’ than me and/or leaving me.” Yes, I guess that’s true.

• “In many relationships, there was the need to be the end-all to their existence. Healthy boundaries…mutual growth…partnership? No idea what you are talking about.” Yes, I think I did this.

• “In several relationships, experiencing incredibly intense, emotional devastation that lasted for years after the relationship ended. The inability to let go. That I couldn’t live my life without that person.” No, this never happened.

Marsh says: “ . . .[B]ecause the root of most love addiction can be found in early relationships (childhood trauma involving . . .parental . . . domination/extreme performance pressure), the foundation of the healthy transition must involve a commitment to relearn/rebuild healthy relationships – which may or may not include the need to rebuild sexual values/boundaries. In sexual addiction, the foundation is to relearn/rebuild healthy sexual values/boundaries – and then to integrate those skills into healthy relationships.”

Marsh then lists his standard recommended steps for addressing sex addiction, which I’ve done, and says, “For love addiction, the path would be similar, but the following areas would need to be added:”

• “The need to initially isolate yourself from all obsessive relationships (in which the target is an active participant in the relationship).” I’ve done this, unless it’s possible to say that I behaved obsessively in my relationship with TL, my wife, too. In fact, I think that I was obsessive toward TL, and that overcoming that view of her has been an important part of improving myself as a person and improving our relationship since D-day. I used to treat her as a possession, putting unrealistic expectations on her. Now, I’m learning to treat her as a true friend and individual, something I never really understood nor valued in my earlier years.

• “The ability to redefine yourself as an individual.” Yes, this is a challenging, ongoing, and crucial task for me. It’s something I should have done as a child or adolescent, but perhaps didn’t do fully or properly.

• “The need to redefine the health/boundaries of all existing relationships early on in the recovery process.” Yes, this is done.

• “Learning the role that others play (both consciously and subconsciously) in actively prolonging your unhealthy behavioral patterns/addiction.” I think this is done.

• “Learning the role that society plays in encouraging/promoting love addiction (society actively recruits sexual addicts for profit; it promotes love addiction as an actual value to be admired/emulated – this is an important distinction).” Yes, this is done, and it us a helpful reminder.

• “Learning the process of redeveloping healthy relationships from ones that were once obsessive.” Right, I think that is what I am doing regarding my relationship with TL.

• “Dealing with loss as a choice, versus a consequence.” I don’t think this particular line item is relevant for me.

Marsh says, “Love is a universal need/experience in all healthy individuals. It is not like alcohol or porn – where the behaviors can be seen in terms of absolute abstinence. So, while past factors that led to the development of a love addiction cannot be permanently removed, the ability to develop permanently mature, healthy life management skills – and thus eliminate the need for that addiction – is most certainly attainable.” This suggests to me that “love addiction” might not even be the right term. Maybe a more accurate term would be “relationship addiction.”

Damn, I did it again!

Yesterday, TL noticed that I had gotten several lights in our son’s room repaired. Several days before that she had specifically asked me not to do so. The reason is unique to our house. Our son needs a nightlight, and the number of non-functioning bulbs in his room had reached the perfect balance for use as a nightlight: not too bright but not too dark. I told TL, as I had told myself, that the bulbs burn out so quickly that the repaired light would soon return to the balance she sought. Of course, that was not the point. The point was that TL had asked me to do something a certain way, I had said I would do so, and then I did the opposite.   

What happened? How did I make such a poor decision, and how can I do better in the future? First, faced with a choice between my commitment to do what I had told TL I would do and my neat-freak, checklist-driven compulsion to have everything repaired, I chose my compulsion. Second, I think that when she originally told me not to have it all repaired, I heard her and acknowledged her without truly listening to her. I still listened to that crazy voice in my head that insisted it would be just as good if all the bulbs were repaired. Third, I think that I did disagree with her original suggestion about not repairing the light, but for some reason I failed to verbalize it and discuss it. Yes, I can think of other examples, in my youth, and even in my professional life, when I disagreed silently, failed to discuss the issue out loud, and then just acted unilaterally. It seems to be a very bad habit I have.

What should I do about all this? I welcome suggestions. Here are my ideas. Perhaps by the time I was standing in that room with the repairman it was already too late for me to take preventive measures. By that time there was about a fifty percent chance that I would decide to do as I had told TL I would do and a fifty percent chance that I would do the wrong thing.

Perhaps my best chance to prevent a bad decision was back when TL originally suggested not repairing the light. So, I should have listened. But, how? How can I do better at making myself listen in such situations? Certainly, I need to make listening a big priority in my efforts to improve myself. But, is there more I could do?

What if I focused on summoning the courage and energy and investing the time to have a real discussion about a suggestion such as the one TL made? Perhaps my habit when I disagree with a suggestion is to quickly and subconsciously tell myself something counterproductive such as: “Expressing my disagreement will take too much time and energy. I’ll just rush past this point and deal with it later.” I think that’s part of it. I have a tendency to rush from one to-do list item to another without taking enough time to focus on quality, especially the quality of human interactions and human relationships. Perhaps I am comforted by schedules, checklists, and routines and uncomfortable with meaningful human interactions. I remember such feelings going way back to childhood. My habit is to rush through human interactions and assign them little value.

That’s the habit I need to break, I think. How? In the past few days I have been making a renewed effort to put spending time with my family, be it one of them or all of them, before doing other things. I was feeling good about my progress, but I was aware of the mental discomfort I still face, with my to-do list calling me like a seductress. Back when TL told me her thoughts about the light, I failed to see that even such a mundane topic was an opportunity to invest in a human interaction with her, to invest in our relationship. With my efforts to focus on values, perhaps I need to specifically focus on the value of human interactions and the value of investing in relationships with my family, even through seemingly mundane topics or relatively brief interactions. Let’s see if that helps.

Poly-Addictions & Switching

Lesson 67 of Recovery Nation says: “a) List the most likely behavior that you will need to monitor for potential ‘switching’ and/or compulsivity now that the sexual rituals have subsided. b) Are these listed anywhere on your weekly monitoring so that you can objectively assess them?” 

I recall that I’ve recently categorized my “compulsions” as either responses to nighttime restless energy, self-protecting cowardice, comfort-seeking inflexibility, or obsession with feelings of inadequacy. The value in categorizing these behaviors is to remember that while some may not fit easily into the standard language about compulsions, some do. This question is a good example. Three of these categories just don’t fit with the question.

One does: compulsive responses to nighttime restless energy. In the bad old days, I used porn, masturbation, prostitutes, and affair partners to address that energy. There were also occasions at the beginning of our marriage when I expected my wife to help me address that energy by giving me sex without proper emotional context, an approach that made her question my motives for initiating sex with her even after I stopped the negative approach. Later, after D-day, there was an unfortunate period when I used tobacco instead of sex to address that restless energy. Now, I think I have good self-control regarding my approach to that restless nighttime energy. But, I do need to monitor myself to be sure I don’t turn to alcohol, food, or any other inappropriate means of addressing that energy.

Recovery Triggers vs Relapse Triggers

Lesson 66 of Recovery Nation says: “a) Consider your perspective towards potential triggers when you were in early recovery. Consider your perspective now. How has this changed? b) List five potential triggers for you — that may lead you into a compulsive crisis. How can you shift your perspective of each so that they are not only NOT a threat to your values, but you can actually use these triggers to strengthen those values?” 
In the early part of recovery, I probably underestimated and misunderstood these triggers. I thought that the real cause of my malfeasance was not triggers and compulsions, but rather my own selfish, conscious choices. That remains true. The worst things I have done in life resulted from active, conscious decisions I made. That said, perhaps there are things I can learn by using this trigger concept now. There are indeed times when I am tempted to do or think self-defeating things.

Usually this does not happen now. But, occasionally, a reference to promiscuity in a magazine, television show, or overhead conversation will tempt me to ruminate on the past. Occasionally, an ad on an Internet page will tempt me to click on pictures of scantily-clad women. I am also occasionally tempted to lie, by omission, to protect myself from consequences, to cowardly remain silent when someone – usually my mother – attacks my wife, or to be inflexible when faced with emerging suggestions or needs.

My new, evolved perspective on these five types of “triggers” is recognition that they are not only real, but also relevant. In early recovery, I thought a trigger of this nature meant that I would see some woman and be attempted to touch her or talk with her, a temptation I knew was not a real problem for me. Now, I see that there are more subtle steps that are important temptations to overcome. How can I use these triggers to strengthen my values? I can look at them as much-needed opportunities to prove to myself, as well as to my wife and others, that I can consistently make good decisions.

What will become of our children?

One of my greatest worries is how all of this will impact, has impacted, our children.

Our older one remembers d-day and ultimate d-day. MC had to talk with him about it because I was a walking zombie and everybody around us noticed, especially him. Our older son knew that Daddy had an inappropriate friendship, he cheated. Our youngest son, at that time was told that Daddy hurt Mommy’s feelings really badly by being selfish and not being a good friend, husband or father.

We didn’t know, but our older son told our younger son exactly how Daddy had hurt Mommy’s feelings. For the last several years he would ask “Why is Daddy so extra nice to Mommy?” or, after hearing one of the many songs on the radio about the topic, ask, “Why do people cheat?” He finally came out and told us that big brother had shared things with him and asked, “is it true, Daddy cheated on Mommy?” We answered his questions, simply, letting him lead the way.  Also, including big brother in this to ensure he asked any questions he wanted to ask.  It was all little brother who asked the questions. They don’t know who or how many, or what types of people. They do know that Dad broke Mom’s heart by cheating throughout our marriage, more than once. Mom only found out about it in 2012. Yes, we knew one of them. Yes, they knew Daddy was married with a family. Yes, those weekly appointments we had for several years were to help us figure this all out. Yes, Daddy’s special Skype call that cannot be interrupted is with a counselor. Yes, we still talk about it. And, yes, we still work on it. And, as to the whys, MC has explained the selfishness, the self-pity, the never counting his blessings and what he is doing to change those ways of thinking and why we make it such a priority that the boys don’t approach life in that way. The boys still see me in pain. The boys see MC trying.

Our older son makes comments about how Dad is really trying, he’s a much better Dad now and how being married for so long is so rare and special. I think he is worried I will divorce MC. I want to reassure him, but I also cannot make promises when I don’t know what the future holds. The questions from younger son about Daddy being so nice to Mommy have largely stopped. We’ve told them we can arrange for them to talk to a counselor any time, or they can ask us anything or talk to another family member who knows. But, we’ve also explained that this is something private for our family and not for discussion with those who do not already know. I worry that this is asking too much of them. What are we doing to our kids? How can we help them best?

I’ve asked each counselor, should we bring in the kids? Each one has had some variation of, “If school, hobbies or friendships begin to suffer, if they become withdrawn, or they want to just talk to someone besides MC or me, then it is worth doing. Otherwise, do not force counseling upon them.” Still, I do worry.

Life After Recovery

Lesson 65 of Recovery Nation says: “Envision your life after recovery. Compare it to the vision that you began back in Lesson Two of the workshop. They should be nearly identical. Are they?” 

Here’s what I wrote back during Lesson Two.

“Iwant to demonstrate to my wife that I can love and protect her. If she is alive for my funeral, I want her to feel more positive about my life than negative. I want to have been a positive factor in her life. My lying and cheating have hurt her so badly that she has lost faith in me and lost respect for me. This fact truly disappoints me, even though — perhaps especially because — it was my own doing.

Likewise, I want to maintain an active, growing, useful relationship with my sons until I die. I see, with some disappointment, how my own relationship with my parents devolved, long ago, into nothing more than superficial gestures. I lost faith in their ability to teach me anything without an accompaniment of criticism and judgment. I don’t want my kids to ever fear telling me about themselves and their lives, as they grow and change. I want them to know that I am there to support them emotionally (not financially), and not think that they exist to act out my dreams or to be constrained by my fears.

I want to be active, mentally and physically, as long as my health allows. I’ve learned from experience that doing so makes me happy. But, I want to do it in a way that complements my other values: my wife and sons. I want to look back and know that I actively exercised my mind and body regularly, and that I accomplished something, no matter how small. I want to know that I did not waste my life with idleness or self-defeating behaviors. Whether it’s working, teaching, or writing, I want to feel I was continuously exploring, learning, and creating, even in small ways. Even if the scale is small, I want to feel I made a difference, in some positive way.”

It does still seem applicable.

Transitioning to Health

Lesson 64 of Recovery Nation asks, “What skills do you feel you have worked hard to develop? What skills need additional work?” 

I feel I have spent a lot of time developing values. What about skills? Is constant communication with my wife a skill? I have made progress on that. I still need more work on the following skills: listening, adapting to urgent events, and remaining focused on my highest priorities rather than being distracted by busy work or time fillers.

“Explore your attitude in regards to whether or not ‘addiction’ is a part of you; or merely a pattern that developed in your life.”

I still reject the term “addiction” in this endeavor. But, what about my unhealthy behaviors? What about lying, selfishness, inflexibility, backwards priorities, lack of empathy, and turning to self-destructive or time-wasting activities to make myself feel better? Lying, backwards priorities, lack of empathy, and time-wasting activities were terrible habits that began during childhood. I think they were developed patterns rather than a part of me. I’m working to learn and ingrain honesty and integrity in place of lying. I’m likewise learning to make and maintain healthy priorities. I’m trying to develop empathy. I have some, but more would be helpful. I have so far done a decent job of eliminating the time-wasting activities.

Selfishness and inflexibility strike me as more than just terrible habits that I learned. They might be personality traits for me; traits that I must manage for the rest of my life.

“Explore your awareness as to the role that your compulsive rituals played…and what it would mean should they return. Explore how you would respond? Explore your confidence level in that response.”

What should I consider compulsive rituals, for the sake of this exercise? They might fall into four categories. First, there were compulsive rituals I used to deal with restless energy, physical and mental energy that was not properly used in daily life nor stored through sleep. In this category I would include porn use, masturbation, habitual smoking, habitual drinking, and habitual – as opposed to relationship appropriate – sex, even with my wife. My concern about returning to any of those behaviors is, primarily, that it may be difficult to stop again. They’re like potato chips: bad for you, and it’s hard to have just one. Further, they might signal, to myself and to those around me, that I am neglecting my priorities and commitments.

I can think of three useful responses. One, tell my wife, immediately. If I can’t speak to her immediately, write to her about it. If I can’t do that, tell someone – anyone trustworthy – immediately. Telling someone will help me fortify the willpower to prevent it from recurring. Two, develop, discuss with my wife, and implement new, additional mechanisms for accountability, transparency, and self-control. Three, with the future in mind, and perhaps consulting literature and other people, I can try to figure out what thoughts or behaviors led to the problematic behavior. That could provide clues for preventing recurrence. I have a high level of confidence that those responses are realistic and helpful.

Second, there were rituals I used to try and compensate for feelings of inadequacy or a false sense of injustice. This is where I would list seeking sex, paid or available, outside my marriage. Obviously, a return to that behavior would end my marriage and perhaps destroy any remaining respect my sons or others might have for me. It could also bring renewed damage to health and reputation as well as further loss of money and time. And, it would violate my hard-won commitments to integrity, compassion, and empathy.

As for helpful responses, perhaps it would be useful to recall that the offensive behavior in this case is not just adultery, but also even seeking the opportunity or conditions that could permit adultery. It’s not just asking a prostitute to name her price. It’s also seriously thinking about approaching a prostitute for the discussion. It’s not just touching or propositioning an available woman. It’s also conversing, verbally or non-verbally, with a woman in an attempt to determine whether she is available. So, to capture all this, how can I respond if I find myself seriously considering talking to a woman inappropriately? Viewing it that way, I can apply the same three responses I described above: tell someone, devise additional accountability mechanisms, and find the root cause. I am confident those responses are realistic and helpful.

Third, there were rituals I used for self-defense. This means lying or failing to defend the truth due to fear of confrontation. Returning to those behaviors would violate my developing commitments to integrity and courage. Upon discovering such behavior, the first response is to immediately correct the lie or confront the truth. Then, telling someone and exploring the root causes should help. Fourth, perhaps, were rituals for retaining the comfort of control. By this I mean inflexibility, failure to adapt to an emergent need to respond to my wife, son, or even boss or colleague. Returning to that inflexibility would, in addition to disappointing my family or others, disappoint me as I work to become more flexible. Again, the response is to immediately correct the inflexibility with flexibility, tell someone, and explore root causes with a view toward preventing recurrence. I am confident those responses are realistic and helpful.

“Explore your overall balance and stability…how much of your life is spent ‘fighting urges, managing urges, acting out, engaging in recovery activities, etc.’ versus how much of your life is spent just living”

I can lump the first three categories of compulsive rituals together: those related to restless energy, feelings of inadequacy, and self-defense. For the sake of trying to quantify the time and energy I spend managing such urges now, I’d put it at something less than one percent of my time and energy. The rituals related to comfort and control still require a bit more of my time and energy; let’s say one percent instead of less than one percent.

“Assess your identity for hyper-sexuality. How prevalent is it?”

Hyper-sexuality is definitely not part of my life today. I can regularly go to sleep without sex, and without feeling any insecurity or resentment nor having obsessive thoughts about it. I still frequently have a nagging desire for sex, but I am able to put it out of my mind and think of other things.

Was it before D-day? I certainly thought about sex many times more frequently and more intensely than I do now, and it was usually with associated feelings of dissatisfaction or insecurity.

“Assess your value system. How efficient are you in using it to make decisions, achieve balance, etc.?”

Without looking back at my notes, the values I want to keep near the top of my mind are integrity, family, flexibility, honesty, mindfulness, empathy, and courage. They are the right values. I think I need further practice at staying focused on them. They are a necessary counterweight to my negative instincts of selfishness and self-centeredness.

Evolving Weekly Monitoring

Lesson 63 of Recovery Nation says: “Review your current weekly monitoring and assess whether or not the areas you are assessing are 1) necessary and 2) adequate in strengthening your value system.  

Back in Lesson 35, I said I should do the following each week: “evaluate myself on whether and how I made my wife, sons, and dog my highest priority for my time and energy during the week” Also, I wrote myself a note and placed it near my cuff links, which I use every morning. The note said: “I will think of supporting TL before anything else today.”

How have I been doing on that? I think I have been inconsistent. I’ve had good days and not so good days on this topic. And, the note near my cuff links has really not helped. So, yes, I think the weekly monitoring on this topic is still necessary and adequate for strengthening my value system. But, it appears I need a new means of ensuring I remember and adhere to this goal each day and each week. Instead of relying on the note near my cuff links, I will start sending myself a daily electronic reminder each morning with the phrase “family first.”

Managing Relapse

 Lesson 62 of Recovery Nation says: “Develop three-five ‘most-likely’ scenarios where you might face relapse. Role play (in your head or with someone you trust) how you will manage these situations.” 

What is a “most likely scenario” for facing relapse? One scenario might be the next time we move, when we are developing new routines related to work, parenting, and everything. I might be tempted to slack on my daily recovery work and counseling. Perhaps to manage that temptation I could tell myself my favorite story about how to fit stones, pebbles, sand, and water in one container by putting the big rocks in first. Then, that should put me in a healthy frame of mind for starting on the top priorities.

Another scenario might be that TL calls or writes me with an urgent matter or brings up an urgent matter during the “sleeping hours.” That same story about stones and pebbles should help.

A third scenario might be that I am unexpectedly struck by a memory I had not previously shared with TL and I find the thought of telling her to be particularly intimidating. I could just remind myself that the trust, respect, and attraction she may have once had for me can’t really become any more damaged than they already are. Then I can remind myself that telling her the scary memory will at least be an opportunity for me to honor my commitment to tell her such things.

“Explore one unlikely situation where you might face relapse. A situation that you couldn’t possibly prepare for. Will your Relapse Plan allow you to manage it? Why or why not?”

This is a tough question. If I can’t prepare for it, how could I even imagine it now? Perhaps I could imagine the unlikely example of some woman unexpectedly propositioning me, with absolutely no provocation on my part. Reactive action plan number five should apply. Here I will reiterate it, with some minor tweaks to tailor it to the situation of being tempted by actual available sex.

Five. I am tempted to use sex alleviate my restlessness or actual physiological desire. I should recall my values of integrity and self-control. When I turn from temptations to values, in this case, I may feel anxiety. The mind game to avoid is the temptation to think that I can cover my indulgence with a lie. That, of course, conflicts with my attempt to develop my values of honest and integrity.

What if I fail at this? What if I catch myself in the act of flirting or even touching? Recalling my values of integrity, self-control, and honesty, it may help to tell myself it’s not too late to change course. It’s not too late to literally step back, mentally review my priorities and values, tell the woman I am happily married and not even interested, walk away, call my wife, and make a new and improved plan for prevention.

Reactive Action Plan Number Six: Behavior Modification

 The other morning I walked around the house with dirty shoes, telling myself, “I’m really in a hurry, and the maid ought to clean the floor anyway.” TL reminded me that she had asked me before, on more than one occasion, not to wear dirty shoes in the house. I think that I had responded to each of those previous requests with something like, “okay, okay.” What I had failed to do was stop myself at those moments and make a plan for following through. Ultimately, the plan was quite simple: move my work shoes so that I keep them near the back door rather than in the bedroom, and keep slippers there too so I can change shoes before walking through the house. This incident made me think I should add another reactive action plan, this one to address listening and follow-through. 

Six. TL asks me to stop or change some behavior. Recalling that the consequences of not responding immediately greatly outweigh the costs of immediately investing time and energy into the issue, I will choose to respond immediately, adjusting the rest of my objectives and expectations for the day to something more realistic. The response must be to create an action plan for the behavior in question. After that good decision, I may initially feel stress, as I labor to shift my mind’s momentum. One potential mind game to avoid is the possibility I will tell myself, “Changing this behavior will be easy so I don’t need a plan.” Time and again I find I can’t modify my own behavior without a plan.

Another brain worm

Here is what has been eating away at my brain. I’m not sure why this entered my thoughts when it did, but here it is eating away.

When MC was with his first AP (a COW) back in 1998, she tagged along on a business trip to Chicago with him. During this trip he told her, “I am happier than I’ve been in years.” Now, understand, MC and I had only been together for 4 years at this point. So, what I hear is “I’m happier with you than I ever was with my wife.” Add to that the reality that, prior to d-day, MC never expressed that level of happiness about his life with me, not even when our kids were born. He can say those words all he wants now, but such words now seem like an after-the-fact lame attempt that just leaves me feeling empty inside.

We stayed up late talking last night. He tried explaining to me that he was happy for the wrong reasons, it was shallow and based on the illicitness of the behavior itself. That didn’t really help me at all. He tried putting it in writing today, sending me this e-mail:

I’ll have to remember to specifically ask Counselor J if there is something — aside from the obvious — psychologically significant about people deriving pleasure from illicit behavior.  Regardless, that’s the whole point of the values-focused RN study; to change the source of pleasure from wrong values to right values.  That’s what all sixty-one of those lessons has addressed so far.

Anyway, yesterday was wonderful, in my view; full of genuinely and correctly happy moments for me.

Somehow that doesn’t really help me either. I don’t know what to do or even explain what it is I need from him in all of this, what I need for me, what I need from me. I just don’t know, but I know it is something.

ETA: Actually it is clear to me what triggered this thinking. MC’s affair with this co-worker started with them eating meals alone together. . .

Managing Slips

The Lesson 61 of Recovery Nation is largely a troubleshooting guide to be used in the case of future problems. It also includes the following practical exercise. 

2. Consider your current vision. See how it has evolved from it’s initial state (Lesson Two). See which areas of this vision continue to guide you, which you have come to evolve, which you have come to neglect and which are now irrelevant.

Following is a re-print of my vision statement from lesson two. As I re-read it, it still seems timely and relevant.

I want to demonstrate to my wife that I can love and protect her. If she is alive for my funeral, I want her to feel more positive about my life than negative. I want to have been a positive factor in her life. My lying and cheating have hurt her so badly that she has lost faith in me and lost respect for me. This fact truly disappoints me, even though — perhaps especially because — it was my own doing.

Likewise, I want to maintain an active, growing, useful relationship with my sons until I die. I see, with some disappointment, how my own relationship with my parents devolved, long ago, into nothing more than superficial gestures. I lost faith in their ability to teach me anything without an accompaniment of criticism and judgment. I don’t want my kids to ever fear telling me about themselves and their lives, as they grow and change. I want them to know that I am there to support them emotionally (not financially), and not think that they exist to act out my dreams or to be constrained by my fears.

I want to be active, mentally and physically, as long as my health allows. I’ve learned from experience that doing so makes me happy. But, I want to do it in a way that complements my other values: my wife and sons. I want to look back and know that I actively exercised my mind and body regularly, and that I accomplished something, no matter how small. I want to know that I did not waste my life with idleness or self-defeating behaviors. Whether it’s working, teaching, or writing, I want to feel I was continuously exploring, learning, and creating, even in small ways. Even if the scale is small, I want to feel I made a difference, in some positive way.

A Pence for your thoughts

Ok, all, I’ve been seeing much to-do about VP Pence, his wife and their agreement to not have a meal alone with a person of the opposite sex, nor to attend functions where alcohol is featured without the other also in attendance. I do not support Pence’s politics in any way, shape or form. I, also, see many of my liberal friends trash talking the Pence’s decision for their marriage. And, I find myself so very sad to see such lack of understanding for such a decision. But, also find myself asking how far is too far?

Here is where I am at on this topic. Every actual professional lunch or dinner Mindless has attended, included more than one other person. When a lunch or dinner invitation was given by a colleague, it was not because work was needing to be done, but more to build a social connection. And, after all we’ve been through, that is not a pertinent enough reason to go to lunch or dinner alone with a colleague of the opposite gender. Surely, there are one or two more colleagues that can be invited, or spouses could be included?

Thoughts anyone?

Preventing Slips/Relapse

Lesson sixty of Recovery Nation seems to say to make a plan, or several plans, for sustaining a lifetime commitment to preventing problem behavior.

“Many individuals convince themselves into believing that addiction is permanent, and so they must fear potential relapse every day for the rest of their lives. How effective of a strategy is this? Well, for some it works. Of course, it is impossible to measure the effects of such an approach on that person’s quality of life, but from an abstinence standpoint, it works. But for very few individuals. The great majority instead fall victim to reality (e.g. it is impossible to remain so intensely focused on recovery/relapse every single day) and complacency.”

“And so, while the efforts people made in recovery have been an important value in regaining stability, these efforts are not sufficient to maintain that stability in a healthy life. Why? Because life is not stable; it is fluid. And because this is so, a continued reliance on ‘recovery’ to manage life will fall way short in redeveloping a healthy, fulfilling life. New values must be developed. New skills must be mastered. Otherwise, people will be trapped in a life management strategy that is focused on avoiding the past, and will be incapable of adapting to new, healthy challenges in the future.”

“Lesson 60 Exercise:

1. Develop a Plan”
I view what I just read in lesson 60 as a reference checklist. When trouble arises, I plan to come back to lesson 60 and troubleshoot. Moreover, on a day-to-day basis, I see the guide that I created in lesson 59 as the best tool for preventing trouble. My plan is to re-read that list I wrote, in full detail, each week. Why? Because I know that’s how to effectively remain disciplined.  

I suspect many people are different from me in that regard. I can learn things well enough. Often, I can even do them well enough. My weakness is consistency. For example, I know pretty well how to do a deadlift without hurting myself, how to hit a golf ball, or how to grill a steak. But, every once in a while I lose focus, get distracted, or get hurried. Then, I hurt my back while lifting, top the golf ball, or burn the steak. It’s all about forming good habits. It’s also about constant renewal of focus, concentration, momentum, and commitment. For me, it’s not about seeing a doctor and being cured. Rather, it’s about remembering to eat an apple every day.

“2. Motivators

A fundamental of early recovery is to establish a list of positive motivators that can be used to sustain one’s focus and energy throughout the transition to health. Go back and examine your own motivators (Lesson One) — note those that continue to motivate you today and those that have lost their intensity. You will almost universally conclude that it is the positive motivators that have survived the crisis. Those based on negativity and fear (e.g. I don’t want to lose my marriage; I hate who I have become) tend to lose their ability to motivate as the initial crisis wanes.”

Here’s my list from lesson one. All these reasons are still relevant.

Reasons I seek to permanently change my life

1. I want the quiet confidence that comes from striving for integrity and morality.

2. I want the relative calm that comes with having my priorities straight, instead of the harried existence of a double life.

3. I want my wife to feel safe and to be able to find courage to pursue her own goals.

4. I want to be a good example for my children and for others.

5. I want to earn my wife’s trust, love, and respect.

6. I want to continue using my time productively and investing in meaningful relationships, instead of wasting time with porn, affairs, and prostitutes.

7. I want to continue using money wisely, rather than wasting it on prostitutes and affairs.

8. I want to be able to speak freely about anything I do, feel, or think, without fear that any of it will bring me shame.

9. I want to be able to look back on the remaining few decades of my life with fewer regrets than I have about the first four decades.

10. I want to accomplish things that bring me pride, rather than waste time and energy on things I’m embarrassed to share.

Evolving Reactive Action Plans

Lesson 59 of Recovery Nation says: “There doesn’t need to be an exercise associated with this lesson. At this stage of your transition to health, you should be seeking out ways of strengthening your foundation on your own. And so, just by reading the above, you should already know what to do with it. How it should be applied to your existing reactive action plans.”

I think the best way to approach this is to go back to the five action plans I discussed in the previous lesson and see if I can develop a second level action plan as insurance, to strengthen each plan.

One. TL asks me for urgent action or discussion, and I am tempted to ignore her in favor of my routine or task list. Recalling that the consequences of not responding immediately greatly outweigh the costs of immediately investing time and energy into the issue, I will choose to respond immediately, adjusting the rest of my objectives and expectations for the day to something more realistic. After that good decision, I may initially feel stress, as I labor to shift my mind’s momentum. One potential mind game to avoid is the possibility I will tell myself, “Let me just finish this one thing.” Often that “one thing” turns out to take far more time than anticipated, or can lead to another “one more thing.”

If this action plan fails, how will I know? I think the clue would be that I would find myself engaged in that “one more thing.” I might find myself in the gym, tidying the house, or doing that one additional e-mail or routine task at the office. What should I do? Stop the workout. So what if I am standing around in my gym clothes while I engage with my wife? There’s nothing wrong with that. So what if I miss one workout that week. Often, I can lift more if I take an extra day off.  

So what if the house remains a bit untidy a bit longer. Having a tidy house is meant to make my life more convenient in the long run. But, having a tidy house should not distract me from the main point, which is actually having a life and living that life. So what if I don’t complete that one more e-mail or one more routine task at work. It seems to me that I am equally or more successful at work when I focus on quality instead of quantity. Instead of trying to do ten things every day, for example, I should focus on excellence, even if that means only doing eight things but doing them well. And, if something personal arises that reduces my work accomplishments to only one or two on a given day, I should just be sure that they are the most important one or two things and that I do them well.  

At times like these it helps me to mentally review my favorite parable. Put a cup of water into an empty pint glass. Add a cup of sugar, then a cup of marbles, then a cup of golf balls. It will overflow. Do it in reverse. It will not overflow, or at least not much. The big items will be in there. They are priorities. The smallest will probably fit too, if you add them last. And, if the smallest things don’t all fit, remember that they are indeed small things.

Two. Quite randomly, some topic of conversation arises that reminds me of something I once did that has remained hidden, and I am tempted to lie by omission. Recalling my promises to myself about integrity, honesty, and friendship, I will choose to tell my wife, TL, the story. As I have an internal dialogue, my emotion is fear, fear of what she will say or do. A mind game to avoid is the temptation to tell myself, “No, maybe she won’t find this topic to be relevant.”

What if this first line of defense fails? How will I know? After putting the thought out of my mind for hours, days, or longer, it may come back to me. At that point I must again recall values of honesty, integrity, and friendship, and weigh them against the temptation to listen to an inner voice saying, “It’s too late to mention it,” or “It’s no longer important.”

Three. During a move or other time of many changes, I am tempted to do other tasks before doing my daily recovery work and my monthly counseling session. Recalling that integrity means keeping my commitment and doing my responsibilities, I should choose to do whatever it takes to keep the daily recovery work and monthly counseling sessions at the top of my priority task list. As I do that, I will feel stress, as I struggle to remain the master of my task list, routines, and tidiness instead of falling back into being a slave to those things. As in my first example here, the dangerous mind game is the temptation to say, “I almost ready, almost done with this one last thing.”

I will know I failed at this if a week passes and I miss my self-imposed goal of spending a particular amount of time on daily recovery work each week. I will know if I don’t always have an upcoming counseling session on my calendar. If I miss my goal for daily recovery time, I should make myself do make-up work until I am caught up. If I don’t have an upcoming counseling session on my calendar, I should make it an urgent priority to talk to my counselor and get something on my calendar, or to identify a new counselor if necessary and schedule something.

Four. During a busy time, I am tempted to complain about lack of complete tidiness in the house, thereby making my wife feel I am blaming her. Recalling my value of empathy, I must choose to truly understand why she would not want to hear me say such things, and to keep my mouth shut. I will feel stress, wishing I could plead for help, for permission to indulge my tidiness compulsion. A dangerous mind game might be a temptation to tell myself, “Don’t worry, this is a general comment and she won’t take it personally.”

I’ll know I failed when the hurtful comment rolls off my lips. The next line of defense is to recognize what I’ve said so that I don’t continue and make it worse and so I might be able to repair some of the emotional damage. How? Maybe it would help to start reviewing every conversation in which I am speaking and my wife is the primary or secondary audience. Maybe I should ask myself whether I may have said anything that directly or indirectly reflects on her, our relationship, our lives together, or our agreement about goals and values. Did I say something that could imply dissatisfaction with any of those things? If so, I should stop and think about it, and then talk about it.

Five. Being alone during travel or some other occasion, I am tempted to use tobacco, alcohol, ruminating, or something else to alleviate my restlessness. By the way, I see an important thing I just said. I put ruminating in the same category or self-destructive, self-indulgent behaviors as alcohol or tobacco. Sitting around wishing to change the past, feeling sorry for myself, or focusing on retroactive jealousy is as unhealthy as substance abuse. Back to the topic at hand, faced with any of those temptations, I should recall my values of health, self-control, and accomplishment, remembering how those temptations are obstacles to those values. When I turn from temptations to values, in this case, I may feel anxiety. The mind game to avoid is the temptation to think that those indulgences will make me feel better. Invariably, they do not. Tobacco ruins my respiratory health and comfort. Alcohol is empty calories. And, ruminating or fantasizing have enormous costs in time and opportunity.

What if I fail at this? What if I catch myself in the act of buying a cigarette, opening a drink, or sitting and ruminating on some unhealthy thought? Recalling my values of health, self-control, and accomplishment, it may help to tell myself it’s not too late to change course. It’s not too late to trash the pack of cigarettes before even opening it, and then tell my wife or someone about it. It’s not too late to pour out the drink without finishing it, and then tell someone. It’s not too late to stand up from sitting and ruminating and do something physical or social (including a call to my wife) to reset my mind.

Constructing Reactive Action Plans

Lesson 58 of Recovery Nation tasks me to: “Define the five rituals that you will most likely face in the next two years. For each, develop an action plan in five minutes or less…that focuses specifically on the immediate action you will take upon the awareness of the ritual; the anticipated emotions you will feel after you engage in that behavior; and the likely mind-games that you will play to get you to abandon your values-based decision making for emotion based decision making.”

One. TL asks me for urgent action or discussion, and I am tempted to ignore her in favor of my routine or task list. Recalling that the consequences of not responding immediately greatly outweigh the costs of immediately investing time and energy into the issue, I will choose to respond immediately, adjusting the rest of my objectives and expectations for the day to something more realistic. After that good decision, I may initially feel stress, as I labor to shift my mind’s momentum. One potential mind game to avoid is the possibility I will tell myself, “Let me just finish this one thing.” Often that “one thing” turns out to take far more time than anticipated, or can lead to another “one more thing.”

Two. Quite randomly, some topic of conversation arises that reminds me of something I once did that has remained hidden, and I am tempted to lie by omission. Recalling my promises to myself about integrity, honesty, and friendship, I will choose to tell my wife, TL, the story. As I have an internal dialogue, my emotion is fear, fear of what she will say or do. A mind game to avoid is the temptation to tell myself, “No, maybe she won’t find this topic to be relevant.”

Three. During a move or other time of many changes, I am tempted to do other tasks before doing my daily recovery work and my monthly counseling session. Recalling that integrity means keeping my commitment and doing my responsibilities, I should choose to do whatever it takes to keep the daily recovery work and monthly counseling sessions at the top of my priority task list. As I do that, I will feel stress, as I struggle to remain the master of my task list, routines, and tidiness instead of falling back into being a slave to those things. As in my first example here, the dangerous mind game is the temptation to say, “I almost ready, almost done with this one last thing.”

Four. During a busy time, I am tempted to complain about lack of complete tidiness in the house, thereby making my wife feel I am blaming her. Recalling my value of empathy, I must choose to truly understand why she would not want to hear me say such things, and to keep my mouth shut. I will feel stress, wishing I could plead for help, for permission to indulge my tidiness compulsion. A dangerous mind game might be a temptation to tell myself, “Don’t worry, this is a general comment and she won’t take it personally.”

Five. Being alone during travel or some other occasion, I am tempted to use tobacco, alcohol, ruminating, or something else to alleviate my restlessness. By the way, I see an important thing I just said. I put ruminating in the same category or self-destructive, self-indulgent behaviors as alcohol or tobacco. Sitting around wishing to change the past, feeling sorry for myself, or focusing on retroactive jealousy is as unhealthy as substance abuse. Back to the topic at hand, faced with any of those temptations, I should recall my values of health, self-control, and accomplishment, remembering how those temptations are obstacles to those values. When I turn from temptations to values, in this case, I may feel anxiety. The mind game to avoid is the temptation to think that those indulgences will make me feel better. Invariably, they do not. Tobacco ruins my respiratory health and comfort. Alcohol is empty calories. And, ruminating or fantasizing have enormous costs in time and opportunity.

Reactive Action Plans

Lesson fifty-seven of Recovery Nation contained one familiar nugget of wisdom: “This stimuli can come in the form of something you see (a picture, a person), a way that you feel (bored, angry, depressed), or in just about any form that is capable of triggering an emotional connection.” As B used to say, in my case the vulnerabilities that dog me are emotional states, not physical temptations. She used the acronym HALT, for hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. For me, I think the vulnerable states are bored, anonymous, and restless. I guess the acronym would be BAR.

Lesson 57 says: “Create an action plan for managing your most common compulsive ritual using the following guide:”

Let’s be clear. The following passage refers to the future, not the past. It refers to a hypothetical future situation, not a real event from the past.

“1) Define the situation.” I’m at work — in my office, not out of town in a hotel room — rushing to finish my most urgent tasks for the day so I can fit in a workout when my wife calls and says she needs me to read something she just sent me and discuss it with her. In this hypothetical future scenario, I missed my workout yesterday, and I know tomorrow will be super busy. I’m also low on food and sleep.  

The item she brings to my attention may or may not be complex. I don’t know. But, I am tempted to assume it is complex, and I must resist the temptation to overdramatize the situation.

“2) Evaluate all realistic options.” I could drop everything, and engage with my wife immediately. Or, I could rudely and hurriedly tell her the day is really busy, and insist we talk that evening, at home. Or, I could engage with her in a hurried and unfocused manner. Or, I could talk to her briefly but sincerely, and suggest we talk further later that night.

“3) Evaluate the potential consequences of the option(s) that you choose.” The consequences of dropping everything and engaging with her immediately could include: I miss my workout; I can’t do everything I want to do that day and the next day due to catching-up; I prevent further erosion of trust in our relationship; I prevent or mitigate the need to address the issue later; and I preserve my commitment to empathy, compassion, friendship, and integrity.  

The consequences of rudely and hurriedly telling her I’m busy and insisting we talk later could include: I do workout; I finish things I wanted to finish that day; I invest time and energy into the issue later that day; I invest additional time and energy into repairing the damage I cause to our relationship; I further damage the trust in our relationship; and I damage my values of compassion, empathy, friendship, and integrity.  

The consequences of engaging with her immediately but in a hurried and unfocused manner could include: I possibly workout; I possibly finish things I wanted to finish that day; I invest time and energy into the issue immediately; having engaged half-heartedly, I am not helpful; having engaged half-heartedly, I probably leave reason to address the issue further later that day; I invest additional time and energy into repairing the damage I cause to our relationship; I further damage the trust in our relationship; and I damage my values of compassion, empathy, friendship, and integrity.

The consequences of briefly but sincerely talking to her and suggesting we talk more later could include: I do workout; I finish things I wanted to finish that day; I invest time and energy into the issue later that day; and I possibly strike a balance between my selfish objectives and my values of compassion, empathy, and friendship.

“4) Make a decision as to which value-based option you would choose.” Once you have selected an option, role-play the situation over and over again in your mind — seeing yourself choosing this option every time.

Obviously, the best decision is to drop everything and talk to her immediately, in a wholehearted and focused manner. If we agree to talk further later, that should be a mutual decision.

Practical Decision-Making: Present

Lesson fifty-six of Recovery Nation says: “You will face many decisions in the coming days, weeks and months that can potentially be greatly influenced by your emotions. Choose a potential compulsive sexual event and assess your decision-making in relation to that event. Assess for the following:”

“Will you be aware that a compulsive sexual event is occurring? (at this stage, you should be)”

It seems I can lump these challenges into two overarching categories: the fear-driven temptation to lie for self-protection, and the selfish desire to be inflexible or to hoard my time rather than adjusting to respond to others or giving my time to therapy and behavior modification.

At this point I’m not talking about sex. Will I be aware a compulsive event is occurring, in the case of a lie? I think so. In the past two instances, my smoking lie and my click-bait lie, I was aware. But, perhaps the question is, how fast can I translate that awareness into problem-solving internal discussion and then action? I think the same analysis would describe my awareness, and the challenge, in the case of choosing between selfishness and flexibility.

“How intense do you anticipate the emotions triggered by this event to be?”

How intense will the fear be, in the case of fear-driven lying? Again, I’d put it at about a five on a scale of one to ten. How intense will the selfishness be in the case of wanting to hoard my time and be inflexible? I think it varies. On average, I might give it a six or seven on that same scale.

“At what point in the decision-making process will you look to your values for guidance?”

In the case of lying, the relevant values are honesty and integrity. In the case of hoarding my time, the values are compassion, empathy, and integrity (keeping my commitments). How soon will I turn to them? I must turn to them immediately when I realize I am struggling with a compulsion to lie or to hoard my time.

“Should you make the decision to act on this sexual event, how long do you anticipate the emotions elicited from the event will last? Hours, days, weeks, years? (e.g. online chatting will provide me with two hours of stimulation)”

Forget about sex here. What if I decide to lie? It may alleviate my fear temporarily, but not for long. As soon as I realize what I’m doing, my telltale heart should start beating, hopefully requiring minutes instead of hours to cause an internal discussion. I think the same should be true when tempted to hoard my time. The key is to catch myself behaving selfishly before it is too late.

“Anticipate the consequences of your decision to act on the compulsive urge. What consequences might there be if you were caught? If you weren’t?”

If I lie, the consequences will include damage to my sense of honesty and integrity and damage to our relationship. If I were not caught, it would still damage my sense of honesty and integrity. If I hoard my time, the consequences would be damage to my developing skills of compassion, empathy, and integrity, as well as damage to our relationship. If I were not caught, it would still damage my development of compassion, empathy, and integrity.

“If there are consequences, how intense do you anticipate the emotions elicited from those consequences might be? How long might they last? Hours, days, weeks, years?”

How intense would the emotions associated with damaging my values be? Perhaps I would give the intensity a five on a scale of one to ten. How long would they last? I think they would last forever, but the intensity would gradually decrease from five to one, over a period of days or weeks.