Monthly Archives: December 2016

If it seems too good to be true. . .

I keep thinking of the old saying, “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.”

We’ve been enjoying a staycation during the winter holidays. We’ve come to some decisions about how to handle our repatriation to America after we leave this country. We all seem to feel so good about the plans, how to make them happen, the much better academic opportunities for the kids, the greater job market for both MC and for me, the much cheaper cost of living than our home city could provide, and still be only a two hour drive from family back home. We are all looking to the future together. We are all excited by the possibilities. Our day-to-day  life in the present is based on being together, working together, re-growing our friendship and what feels like a husband and father focused on love, care, concern, and protection of our family. This is everything I ever wanted. And, yet, I cannot help but have that incessant nagging thought, “if it seems too good to be true. . .”

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Progress reports

Lesson 32 Exercise of Recovery Nation returns to the values-based action plans. It asks me to review my progress and see whether my plans need updates. Here’s my thinking on this.

Proactive action plan 1. Counting my blessings. At dinner we do the “what am I thankful for” exercise. Regularly, especially when challenged by life, I should do the exercise internally too.

A. Do the “what am I thankful for” exercise daily, at dinner time, when possible.

B. Reflect deeply on Thanksgiving, anniversaries, and family members’ birthdays, to thank God.

C. When viewing other people’s misfortunes, remind myself of my blessings.

D. When viewing other people’s blessings, remind myself that everyone has blessings and misfortunes.

Progress: After discovering the importance of this value over the past four years, I find myself now getting a bit complacent on this particular action plan. I am a much more grateful person than I ever was. But, I do need to remind myself of my blessings more regularly. For example, today I am very thankful that my wife and I have made some new plans together that give us both some hope. I am thankful that my sons are doing well academically and socially. I am thankful to find myself actively working to support my wife emotionally. And, I am thankful to have such a beautiful and intelligent woman as my partner.

Proactive action plan 2. Honesty. I should remind myself of this value when talking with others.

A. If I do, think, remember, or experience anything I hesitate to tell my wife, due to fear or embarrassment, I must tell her, right away.

Progress: I do believe I am on track with this action plan.

Proactive action plan 3. Maturity. This is really what I always wanted out of life: to be grown-up and responsible for myself. I should remind myself that it requires responsibility and courage.

A. Accept reality. Don’t focus on wishing some fact, past decision, or past action had been different.

B. Make decisions that are not conflicting or incoherent.

C. Focus on the future, not the past.

Progress: I think I am on track. An example is my acceptance that I must retire soon and change careers, as well as my acceptance of the work I must continue doing to try repairing our marriage.

Proactive action plan 4. Being a good husband. This means keeping my wife’s needs and desires prominently in mind.

A. Focus on her happiness. Search for ways to show her a fun or interesting time.

B. Focus on her need for companionship, optimism, and emotional support. Make it a priority to spend time with her. Focus on her when we are together. Do not make any sort of comment that could be negative or discouraging when she talks of her ideas.

C. Search for opportunities to highlight her abilities or accomplishments.

Progress: I am actively working on this each day, but I do need to stay focused on it.

Proactive action plan 5. Being a good father. This means enabling my kids to succeed and to be happy.

A. Make it a priority to spend time with them. Suggest fun and active things we can do together.

B. Make it a priority to discuss their questions and interests.

C. Give them structure, but try to be minimalist in that regard, to avoid creating resentment or dependence.

Progress: This is a work in progress.

Proactive action plan 6. Wanting the best for my family. This means vigilantly monitoring my decisions to avoid selfish behavior.

A. Think, before each decision, about the consequences for my family’s safety.

B. Think, before each decision, about the consequences for my family’s money.

C. Think, before each decision, about the consequences for my family’s time.

D. Think, before each decision, about the consequences for my family’s happiness.

Progress: I think I am doing fine on this effort.

Proactive action plan 7. Protecting my family. An example is summoning the courage to stand up to my mother, who has a history of criticizing my wife.

A. Think, before each decision, about the consequences for my family’s dignity, honor, and reputation.

B. Speak up quickly when anyone, be it my mother or a stranger, says anything bigoted or disparaging.

C. Drop everything, instantly, to respond to my wife’s concerns about safety, even before stopping to think about whether I fully understand the concerns.

Progress: I think I am doing fine on this, but it demands vigilance.

Proactive action plan 8. Meaningful relationships with my wife and kids. This means being mentally and emotionally present, not just physically present. It means focusing on them, and not being distracted by chores and similar compulsions.

A. When they stop to talk, I should give them my full attention; no multitasking.

B. Take time off to be there for all their special occasions and events.

C. Regularly seek ideas for weekend, holiday, and vacation activities with them, and make plans.

D. Be aware of their emotional struggles, and look for ways to be supportive.

Progress: This seems fine, but requires constant attention.

Proactive action plan 9. Being active. I love exercise and outdoor activity. This also means looking for efficient ways to be active, such as focusing on intensity instead of quantity and being active with other people so that exercise does not distract from my commitments to family.

A. When my wife or kids are available to do something together, invite them to do something active, such as walking, swimming, biking, playing catch, or whatever else might be accessible.

B. Continue my habit of getting 35 minutes of exercise before each normal work day, and don’t increase that quantity until I’m certain I’m working to 100 percent intensity for each of those 35 minutes each time.

C. Look for vacation activities that keep us active, such as skiing or walking tours.

Progress: I’m doing fine on this. Examples include taking advantage of my family’s interest in jumping on the trampoline, playing dodgeball, and riding bikes.

Proactive action plan 10. Being useful. For now, I enjoy this luxury at work and at home. I will thank God if I can continue having the time and opportunity to do work that is useful, for several more decades.

A. Search for my next job.

Progress: On track.

Proactive action plan 11. Lifelong learning. This comes with my career and my wife. In finding my next career, I need to remember this value.

A. Learn new skills or knowledge for my next job.

Progress: I’m practicing teaching.

Proactive action plan 12. Creating new ideas throughout life. My job allows me to exercise some creativity. Writing also helps. I want to be sure my next job also allows me to be creative.

A. Find a job that allows me to lead, create, speak, teach, or write.

Progress: On track. Our newest career change plan opens up more options.

Proactive action plan 13. Improving the community or world. I often look for ways to improve my neighborhood or community.

A. When I inevitably come across something that I want improved in my next community, talk with my wife about my ideas for getting involved and taking action. Consider the school or housing community.

Progress: On track.

Proactive action plan 14. Living with integrity. When faced with daily decisions or interactions, I must keep up my inner dialogue about honesty and courage.

A. Look for ways to be transparent in professional, personal, and business interactions.

B. When I think twice about speaking my mind, remind myself to have courage. As long as I behave in a way I can proudly describe to my wife, I have nothing to fear.

C. When tempted to adapt my behavior in the presence of bosses, co-workers, my birth family, attractive strangers, fellow parents, or other categories of people, remember that I want my behavior to be consistent, regardless of who is there to see me or hear me.

Progress: In progress.

Proactive action plan 15. Living with compassion. When relating to other people, I must maintain my inner dialogue about being empathetic and not being judgmental. There, but for the grace of God, go I.

A. When others, be they family or strangers, treat me harshly, remember to consider their emotional struggles or possible emotional struggles instead of taking it personally.

B. Before judging other people’s behavior, remember they may have faced difficulties that shaped their behavior.

Progress: on track, but this requires vigilance.

I don’t believe the plans need updates now.

Aligning values with stressors and rewards

Lesson 31 of Recovery Nation had some interesting questions.

A. Make a list of all identifiable stressors that have affected your emotional health over the past week. For each, document whether it is a mild, moderate, severe or extreme stressor. 

1) Supporting my wife in dealing with the trauma and grief I caused as well as with other “normal, routine” stressful issues: severe; 2) preparing for forced retirement, relocation, and job hunting: severe; 3) adjusting to fluid travel schedules and other responsibilities at work and as a parent-volunteer leader: moderate; 4) dealing with parents, dog, traffic, co-workers, and other people and events in general: mild

B. Return to your values list created earlier in the workshop. In a healthy life, the majority of energy being drained (e.g. stress) should be related to the pursuit of your highest prioritized values (top fifteen or so). Do you see this pattern in your life? If not, what do you think this means in terms of the way that you are expending your energy? 

Here, again, are my top fifteen values

1. Counting my blessings

2. Honesty

3. Maturity 

4. Being a good husband 

5. Being a good father 

6. Wanting the best for my family

7. Protecting my family

8. Meaningful relationships with my wife and kids

9. Being active

10. Being useful

11. Lifelong learning 

12. Creating new ideas throughout life

13. Improving the community or world

14. Living with integrity 

15. Living with compassion 

Yes, in my view, it does appear that the stressors I listed above are basically related to the several top values that relate to family and earning a living.

C. Likewise, in a healthy life, the majority of meaning and stimulation that you gain should also be related to your highest values. Do you see this pattern in your life? If not, what do you think this means in terms of the quality of life you are living?

Yes, it does seem to match. Five years ago I don’t believe it did match.

Emotions versus values: impulsive decisions versus logical decisions 

Lesson 30 of Recovery Nation is more helpful to me than several of the previous lessons. This passage is reassuring to me:

“Unlike emotions, which change rapidly and are heavily influenced by perceptions (and yes, our perceptions are also influenced by our emotions), values are the foundation of stability in a person’s life. They remain relatively consistent throughout the course of your life and in adults, only change through focused effort.

That’s good and bad. It’s bad in the sense that you will have to make the effort to learn a new way of looking at what you have previously taken for granted — that being, your decision-making process. It’s good in the fact that, once these new patterns are established, it will take another conscious effort to change them again. This durability aids those who are committed to a permanent recovery by ensuring that one misstep will not lead them to an instant and devastating crisis.”

The following passage helps me answer the question of how and why I did things that were not even in my own overall self-interest: “Most people struggling with compulsive behavior have learned to see their life in the here and now. Yes, they have memories of the past, and yes they can consider and plan for the future; but in dealing with their EMOTIONAL self, the only focus is on how they feel at the moment. And, it is this EMOTIONAL self that dictates their immediate actions.” Despite the fact that I don’t consider compulsion as the explanation of all my years of selfish behavior, this passage still makes sense to me in explaining how a person can do things that even conflict with their own beliefs, values, and long-term self-interest.

Emotions, compulsion, and anxiety 

I continued on to Lesson 29 of Recovery Nation. It took me through following exercises 

A. Find a place where you will be alone and safe. Ensure that, for the next fifteen minutes, you won’t be interrupted for any reason. Fifteen minutes (or longer, but not less than). Then close your eyes and just feel. Think of things that are important to you. Think of your values. Think of your regrets. Think of trauma that you have experienced. Think of wonderful moments. Let yourself experience whatever emotions that come freely. Focus on each of the emotions, and DO NOT OPEN YOUR EYES! (this is an important part of the exercise). Stay in touch with the feelings. Experience the emotions that come with these thoughts. Forget about your physical self…focus only on the emotions that you are experiencing. 

Now, consider one of your milder compulsive behaviors. Try to get in touch with the feelings that are generated with this behavior. If you find yourself getting triggered to act, forbid yourself. Then focus on the anxiety that is produced with that decision. Really allow yourself to get in touch with the stress that is building. Consider the reality that, either during this exercise or soon thereafter, you will face the challenge of deciding whether or not you should act on these feelings. Begin to feel the consequences of both your decision to masturbate, and your decision to remain committed to recovery. 

After you have done this for fifteen minutes (or longer), and before you engage in any compulsive behavior, open your eyes and complete the following: 

A. Describe the emotions that you experienced and the thoughts that triggered them. What is the question? Is this asking what emotions I experienced during the initial fifteen minutes of feeling about values, regrets, trauma, and wonderful moments? I thought about valuing my family. I thought about wanting to achieve financial security. That made me feel anxiety. I thought about wishing I had been more serious about academics and fitness in my younger years. That made me feel regret. I thought about my love of travel, outdoor activities, and new experiences. That made me feel comfortable and joyful.

Or, is the question what did I feel when thinking about a minor compulsion? The first compulsion that came to mind was this recently-developed habit of picking inside my ear. It started with some recent congestion that made me worry about a sinus and ear infection. Now, when I do it — not often, but often enough that my wife and I notice it — it is entirely without thought, almost like an instinct. I have to actively think to avoid doing it, if my mind is not otherwise fully engaged. When I start doing it, I have to actively think to cease doing it. Does it provoke or arise from an emotion? No. I think it just happens when I have untapped excess energy. I’ve always had a bit of trouble sitting still. Some of my family members can sit still for great lengths of time. That’s simply difficult for me.

B. In assessing your own anxiety, describe the extremes of your personal experiences with anxiety. What has been the least anxious state you have experienced and the most extreme anxious state you have experienced?  

This is interesting. What was the least anxious state I experienced? I don’t know. I can’t recall a time without anxiety about something: feeling I was missing out on experiences other kids were having; fearing being pushed around, teased, or disrespected; fearing my mother’s disapproving sighs and mumbles; fearing looking foolish or naive; fearing being inadequate; and, finally, fearing the future, especially in terms of financial security and relationship stability. What was my least anxious state? In fact, I think when I had relatively few problems, I went about creating problems for myself: comparing myself to others; agonizing about the past; and wanting contradicting, and therefore, unattainable things. As for a “least anxious state,” I think I could only describe it as being those times when I was relatively very focused on a discrete (not “discreet”) project or activity, be it work, family time, or fitness. Those are moments when my mind is so fully engaged that there is no room in my head for anxiety or other stray voltage.

What was the most extreme anxious state I experienced? I think that is each time my wife and I have an acutely intense discussion about the pain and injustice I caused her. This topic is with us constantly. But, once in a while, usually for a few days at a time, her pain and anger boil up so hot and my inability to help her becomes so clear that I fear we won’t be able to smile or relax again, at all.

Circle of selfish interests

As I see the world around us in peril, as I see so many threats to our country’s policies and way forward, as I see all the progress our American society has made being jeopardized, as I see the increased suffering and lack of humanity encroaching on so many parts of our world, I worry about the future.

I know MC feels as I do about threats against non-white, non-Christians in our country.  These threats directly impact him and our family. He tells me that he feels for the plight of others, but we have so many of our own struggles to focus upon. Yet, I have a worry that perhaps the reality is something different. What if the reality is that he only cares about issues that directly impact him, our kids and our family. What if he actually has no real care in the world for the suffering of others that are unlikely to have any direct impact on him or on our family.

I am a huge fan of Thomas Friedman. I recently saw an interview with him where he was talking about the precipice upon which our society now sits. He explained, it is like the change from an agricultural to an industrial society. It is similar to when we transitioned from horse-drawn carriage to automobiles. As we move to a more technologically advanced society, we must help others to feel protected, connected and respected. In the age of intelligent machines, we must remember that our biggest comparative advantage is our humanity.

I realized, MC now treats me and our children with humanity, focusing on anything he can do now to help us feel protected, connected and respected. But, I cannot help but wonder what if it is not so much that he has tamed the selfish beast, as much as he has simply now included the kids and me in his circle of selfish interests?  Is that what is normal for most of us? Is it enough?

Yanking my compulsive chain?

Knowing that at least one of my favorite readers not only seems to share our philosophy about infidelity and marital recovery but also is a mental health professional, I want to share my latest effort to learn something relevant from Recovery Nation. Lesson 28 asked me to think of my most recent acting out behavior in terms of a compulsive chain. Here’s my attempt at responding to the exercise questions.

1. “Develop a compulsive chain of your most recent acting out behavior.” I have had an enormous amount of trouble figuring out how to approach this exercise. At first I thought it was because my last acting out behavior was so long ago. Now I wonder whether I even understand what a compulsive behavior is, in the context of my personal failings. Was it a compulsive behavior when I told my wife I had not clicked on a tantalizing computer link when in fact I did? Maybe that’s it. If so, the chain of events was as follows. I’m talking about the lie, not about the click itself. First, trying to be proactive and honest, I told her I had seen a link on the Internet that purported to take the viewer to see “25 women you won’t believe exist.” Second, she asked me whether I had clicked on it. Third, I felt an internal burst of panic. I think it was fear. Fourth, instead of telling her the whole truth, that I had clicked the link but had successfully pulled myself away after a brief moment, I said that I had not clicked it. Fifth, I thought to myself, “Oh, shit, that wasn’t really true, was it?” Sixth, I thought to myself, “Hmm, what do I do now?” Seventh, I thought, “Well, hopefully that’s over, and maybe it’s safest not to reopen it.” How’s that for a compulsive chain? Is that compulsive lying? Or, is it compulsive cowardice?

2. “Upon completion of this chain, review it to ensure that you can recognize the way that each element affected your emotional state.” When I first started to tell my wife about the Internet incident I felt some fear. When she questioned me, the fear increased. Each time I thought about the predicament I had created for myself by responding with a thoughtless half-truth, I became more flustered and more afraid.

3. “Thinking as an addict, look for areas within this chain where you could add additional destructive elements that would have (most likely) increased the overall stimulation of the event. The actual events that you add should be realistic, and related to the chain itself. For instance, someone viewing porn might add the element of setting up a Power Point slide show of the images. Someone engaging in escort services might add the element of videotaping the encounters.”

This is where it becomes more confusing for me. Did I fail to tell my wife I had clicked the link because I was addicted to lying? Did lying stimulate me? I’d describe that as a terrible habit on my part, not an addiction. Maybe my click-bait lie example doesn’t really work as an example of a compulsive chain.  

Was it a compulsive chain when I began covertly smoking in 2013? Maybe. Perhaps the chain was as follows. First, I was mentally exhausted from adjusting to lots of new circumstances at work and disrupted daily routines, and I was lonely and restless due to being away from my wife. Subsequently, I felt an urge to do something self-indulgent. It could have been anything. In the past I might have masturbated or sought a prostitute or easy woman. But, I had sworn off those behaviors. Instead, I tried a chocolate ice cream bar. That worked for a few nights, until I got too worried about my caloric intake. So, I tried a cigarette. In retrospect, I should have instead tried a book or even a video game if I was intent on self-indulgence.  

That’s really it. It seems there were only two steps in that chain. Now the exercise asks me to think of ways I could have enhanced the self-indulgent pleasure from that cigarette. Well, I guess I could have combined the smoking with alcohol or sex. Thank God I was not tempted by those or other things during that part of my life.

Dear readers, that’s my latest effort at using Recovery Nation. It seems to be designed for me to talk about an act of compulsive sex. I struggle fitting my adultery into that rubric. The last time I had adulterous sex or even masturbation was four and a half years ago. Further, my adulterous sex was pre-meditated and intentional. It was not beyond my control. Does that fit with compulsion?

Race, Religion, and Self-Esteem

NPR’s Ashley Westerman recently did a piece called “It’s (Sexy) Asian Men! Hallelujah,” as part of NPR’s series Code Switch: Race and Identity Remixed. I’m genetically half Asian, and have enough of the name and physical appearance to be constantly mistaken for a foreigner in my own country. The article highlighted the omnipresent but commonly overlooked fact that the majority in our country, including even other people with Asian ancestry, unthinkingly buy into Hollywood’s cartoon version of ethnic Asians as goofy, geeky, weak, evil, or foreign. TL asked me whether I had observed this subconscious stereotyping and whether it might have contributed to my self-esteem problems and desire to “prove something” about my masculinity. It did! Of course it did. I’ve always known that. I’m so grateful to NPR for finally noticing the issue.

That said, it clearly was not my only problem. Two others stand out in my mind. First, as I’ve mentioned before, I grew up in a very restrictive community, dominated by a single denomination, and a family rebelling against that community politically while buying into its values hook, line, and sinker. That started me down a path of internal conflict, then duality, then eventually a double-life, and literal lack of integrity. One part of me wanted to be open-minded and modern, while the other part of me was conservative, insecure, and threatened by modern women and modern gender relations. The latter part of me snuck around, asserting itself covertly and cowardly.

Second, I could have and should have chosen, at any point, to choose to value integrity, to learn the true definition of love, to be courageous and selfless, and to show my wife compassion. Instead, I chose to keep wallowing in self-pity.

In sum, I do think that my somewhat unusual ethnic and religious minority upbringing fueled the fire of low self-esteem and self-pity in me. But, I can’t overlook the fact that my conscious decisions lit the fire and failed to put it out until it was nearly too late.

Lovemaking versus sex

Since the very first time we had sex together, TL has been telling me to “make love” to her rather than “just have sex” with her. I want to do this, but I really do suspect I have no clue what I’m doing. Last night we tried it, with her telling me to go slower, touch gently and more, use more eye contact, and talk about love. I tried it. I think it helped. I also think I need a lot more work on it.

Have any of you readers dealt with this topic?  It’s one that still sort of confuses me.

How to restore your dignity and give you the experiences I denied you?

Dear betrayed spouses, can you help me out here? Can you help me see the way forward through your eyes? Perhaps there are no good answers to my questions. Perhaps there are several competing, or complementary, good answers.

Your husband (or wife) humiliated you, ignored your feelings, and disregarded your love, beauty, intelligence, caring, loyalty, and hard work. They were so caught up in a shameful life of adultery and betrayal that they did a piss-poor job of hiding their behavior from neighbors, community members, co-workers, and people who know you. Now you cringe whenever you wonder how much those people know.  

What do they know that you don’t know? When did they know it? Why did they not tell you? Do they think less of you now for not divorcing your cheating spouse? Do they think less of you for not discovering the truth sooner?  

And, what of your disloyal spouse’s affair partners? Do they think they are better than you or that they shared more with your mate than you do? Do they continue to think that?  

Did your cheating spouse have a friend who knew the full story and then helped deceive you? Why don’t you get an apology, or any acknowledgement, from that person too?

With all these doubts that your spouse created in you — nagging doubts, like an itch you can never scratch, or like someone spitting on you in public while the whole world just ignores the situation — can your spouse do anything to help you?  

Is there anything he or she could do to alleviate some of your pain or restore some of your dignity? I’ve tried a few things, with limited success. But, before I say more, I’d like to hear your perspectives.

In addition to the loss of your dignity, your spouse also unjustly gave things to an affair partner that should have been saved for you. Maybe your husband took the other woman to some romantic retreat in a way he never had for you. You had always told yourself that just wasn’t his style. But, then you learned it could be his style, but he had just never bothered to do it for you. Maybe your cheating wife gave the other man oral sex, after years of telling you that she just wasn’t into that sort of thing. And these examples are just two of many, just the tip of the iceberg.

Is there anything your cheating spouse can do to rectify such injustice? How can he turn back the clock and give irreplaceable moments to you now that those moments have passed? How can he un-break your heart? I think I know the answer, but I hope I’m wrong.