Tag Archives: recovery nation

Matches versus fuel

Sexual malfeasance and lying were a fire I started long ago. I let the fire burn out of control. With some help, I have put the fire out. I was too late. My wife got burned. Even I sustained some injuries. But, the fire is out.

What started it? The match I used to start the fire was self-pity, insecurity, and anger at the universe. The fuel that aggravated the fire was nervous energy, poor personal management habits, and a feeling of no accountability.

I’ve changed. I will never again play with that match. I will never again pour that fuel on a fire. But, in answer to the following question, when I come across more fuel in the future, will I make it spontaneously combust? No. Fuel can not burn without something to ignite it.

Chapter 20 of Recovery Nation says:  “Look to future transitions in your life. Divorce. Death of a partner. Death of your parents. Death of a child. Loss of a job. Retirement. Having another child. Empty-nest syndrome. Consider many different situations that you will possibly face in the remaining years of your life. Situations that could potentially cause major instability to an otherwise balanced, fulfilling life. Explore the role(s) that addiction could play in helping you to manage these times. What would it feel like for addiction to come back into your life? Would it be a rapid collapse or a subtle progression? What signs would you look for? What actions would you take?”

Given my view that my sexual malfeasance came not from addiction, but rather from selfish, conscious choices, the premise of the foregoing question does not seem applicable. The question seems to ask whether I’ll go back to addictive behavior when faced with stress. But, again, I was not addicted to anything. I was just an asshole. Let’s be honest and frank about it.

But, I did go through a few periods in my life when I was mildly addicted to tobacco. Was that some sort of proxy or substitute for sex? Did that bad habit come from the same place as my sexual malfeasance. I’m not sure. I don’t think so. But, let’s think through this.

A year after D-day, I went through a year or so of covertly smoking. I hid it from everyone, including my wife. I enjoyed doing it, but I was ashamed to admit to doing it. I do believe I started smoking that time as a means of dealing with nervous energy and desire for physical release or stimulation. As I look back over my life, I think I have done that before, not only with tobacco, but also at various times with alcohol, porn, masturbation, monogamous sex, daydreaming, and eventually sex with prostitutes. I didn’t abuse all those things simultaneously. And, one by one, I quit each and every one of them. I do think I indulged in each of those things partly as an outlet for my nervous, restless energy.

So, was nervous, restless energy the cause of my adultery and lying? Absolutely not. I think that in some cases it aggravated my adulterous behavior. But, it did not cause it. The cause was my conscious decisions to commit adultery. Without the conscious decisions to commit adultery, nervous energy alone would not have caused me to cheat. And, without the nervous, restless energy, I still would have made conscious decisions to cheat and still would have done so.

Do you see what I’m saying? Nervous energy aggravated my adultery, but it did not cause it. And, conscious decisions to cheat would have led me to adultery, even without any nervous energy.

So, the next time I feel nervous energy when I’m alone, am I going to cheat, smoke, get drunk, view porn, masturbate, or some other shameful thing? Absolutely not. I won’t cheat because I have reformed my view of sex, manhood, competition, women, and God. Instead of struggling to prove my manhood (vis a vis boyhood, not vis a vis femininity or homosexuality) to myself, I have learned to be more confident and comfortable with myself. Instead of telling myself God owed me more experiences and that I had the right to take them illicitly, I now tell myself to count my blessings. Instead of telling myself that my wife owes me sex and validation, I now tell myself I owe her friendship, loyalty, empathy, and compassion.

What about tobacco, alcohol, or those other vices? I’ve really grown out of the desire to abuse alcohol. The side effects just aren’t worth it. As for tobacco and the other vices, there is a healthy role for shame in my life. Before engaging in any behavior, I now ask myself, “Would I be ashamed to tell my wife, boss, mother, neighbor, or anyone else about this?” I ask myself, “Would I do this if my wife were standing right here?”

So, Jon Marsh, would I use any of the aforementioned deplorable behaviors in response to future stressful events in life? No. Since D-day, I’ve been through three moves and three job changes and forced retirement is looming on the horizon. None of these stressful events have caused me to take refuge in nervous energy-related vices.

I will not cheat or lie again, primarily because I have changed my motivation. I want to live with integrity now, unlike before. In addition, faced with nervous energy and restlessness, I will not allow them to aggravate my poor decisions, because I will not choose poor decisions and also because I will remember my inner dialogue about not doing things I am ashamed to divulge to others.

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Top values:  proactive action plans 

Here’s the latest work I’ve done on Recovery Nation. I wrote the following plans.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Proactive Action Plans

Recovery Nation then says to practice making a couple of action plans to promote healthy behavior. It says pick two of my top fifteen values, starting with “relatively simple” ones, and practice. Here’s my attempt.

Proactive action plan. 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.
1. Do the “what am I thankful for” exercise daily, at dinner time, when possible.
2. Reflect deeply on Thanksgiving, anniversaries, and family members’ birthdays, to thank God.
3. When viewing other people’s misfortunes, remind myself of my blessings.
4. When viewing other people’s blessings, remind myself that everyone has blessings and misfortunes.

Proactive action plan. 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.
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. Look for vacation activities that keep us active, such as skiing or walking tours.

Values in practice 

Then the exercise said, examine the list one more time for its realism. Do this by briefly grasping each value and thinking about the role that it would play in your day-to-day life.

Here’s my attempt.

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.
2. Honesty.  I should remind myself of this value when talking with others.
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.
4. Being a good husband.  This means keeping my wife’s needs and desires prominently in mind.
5. Being a good father.  This means enabling my kids to succeed and to be happy.
6. Wanting the best for my family.  This means vigilantly monitoring my decisions to avoid selfish behavior.
7. Protecting my family.  An example is summoning the courage to stand up to my mother, who has a history of criticizing my wife.
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.
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.
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.
11. Lifelong learning.  This comes with my career and my wife.  In finding my next career, I need to remember this value.
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.
13. Improving the community or world.  I often look for ways to improve my neighborhood or community.
14. Living with integrity.  When faced with daily decisions or interactions, I must keep up my inner dialogue about honesty and courage.
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.
16. Teaching.  My job allows me to teach.  I must find this in my next job too.
17. Quality work.  Daily, I should maintain an inner dialogue reminding myself that work can give me more than just money.  It can also give me pride, self-pride that I have to earn.
18. Competence.  Daily, I should maintain an inner dialogue reminding myself that work can give me more than just money.  It can also give me pride, self-pride that I have to earn.
19. Being dependable.  I can remind myself not to neglect commitments, and not to make too many commitments.
20. Humility.  I can remind myself that I am more content when I don’t get jealous, prideful, our self-righteous. Recalling life’s hardships during a meditative morning moment helps with this.
21. Loyalty.  This means reminding myself of my commitments to others, and of their loyalty to me.
22. Flexibility.  This is a key ingredient of healthy spontaneity.  When I feel compelled to clean, tidy, or do some task on my to-do list, I must remind myself that relationships are more important.
23. Selflessness. I must maintain an inner dialogue about the importance of supporting others.
24. Empathy.  This means trying to see things from my wife’s perspective.
25. Mindfulness.  This means living in the moment, particularly when talking to my wife or others, but also when experiencing daily life.
26. Being a good role model.  This means that when making decisions I should consider which course of action would provide the best example from my kids.
27. Independence.  When possible, I should at least consider doing things myself instead paying someone else or asking for help.
28. Financial freedom.  This begins with paying down debt and keeping expenses low.
29. Being trusted. This means telling my wife and others everything, including unpleasant truths.
30. Companionship.  This means not just having a companion, but also being a companion.  I need to think daily about giving my wife attention and support.
31. Appreciating nature.  Even as we age, every year I will aim to camp and ski with my family.  My wife and I will aim to live in a place with a good natural environment.
32. Leaving a legacy.  I want to help my children be successful.  I want to write a book.
33. Friendship.  This means not just having a friend, but also being a friend.   I need to think daily about giving my wife attention and support.
34. Forgiveness.  This means remembering that forgiving other people will free me from the burden of anger.  It also means remembering that nobody owes it to me to forgive me, but I should work to earn forgiveness regardless.
35. Realism.  This means remembering to be wide awake to risks and challenges.
36. Conservation.  This means finding practical ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle.
37. Open-mindedness.  This means remembering to not be judgmental.
38. Financial security.  This begins with paying down debt and keeping expenses low.  It also means that after this career I must have a new discussion with my wife about our financial goals and how to meet them.
39. Courage.  This means speaking up when I have something to say at work, to my birth family, or to others, instead of holding it in.
40. Balance.  This means looking at life each day and evaluating whether I am neglecting any aspect of it.

Neutral (could be good or bad, depending on your approach).  I think these values can be healthy if I interpret them and apply them wisely.  If I take them to extremes, pursue them for the wrong reasons, or fail to balance them with other values, they could become unhealthy, I think.

41.  Professionalism.  With the right approach, this means practicing integrity in my work and taking a healthy portion of pride in my work. With the wrong approach, this means putting time and energy into work at the expense of my family.
42. Responsibility.  With the right approach, this means fulfilling commitments and making good choices.  With the wrong approach, this means allowing my “to-do list” compulsions to control me instead of me controlling them.
43. Leadership.  With the right approach, this means behaving with courage, wisdom, and responsibility.  With the wrong approach, this means spending too much time and energy pursuing leadership opportunities and not enough on my family.
44.  Taking care of my health, taking pride in myself.  With the right approach, this means looking inside myself for esteem and happiness.  With the wrong approach, this means vanity and seeking validation from other people.
45. Freedom.  With the right approach, this means independence and maturity.  With the wrong approach, this means self-indulgence and lack of responsibility.
46. Excitement.  With the right approach, this means appreciating life.  With the wrong approach, this means taking inappropriate risks that unfairly threaten my family or others.
47. Adventure.  With the right approach, this means making the most of life.  With the wrong approach, this means self-indulgence at others’ expense.
48. Being loved.  With the right approach, this means appreciating positive feelings from others.  With the wrong approach, this means seeking external, not internal, validation.
49. Physical pleasure, including food, drink, sex, sports.  With the right approach, this means appreciating life in a healthy way.  With the wrong approach, this means getting out of balance and neglecting other paths to happiness.
50. Seeing the world.  With the right approach, this can help me appreciate life.  With the wrong approach, this could lead to imbalance and neglecting the needs of my family.
51. Masculinity.  With the right approach, this can help me feel self-esteem and to think about the role of responsibility and self-sacrifice in masculinity.  With the wrong approach, this could devolve into shallow, self-centered pursuit of external validation.
52. Being respected.  With the right approach, this could motivate me to make good choices.  With the wrong approach, this could devolve into shallow, self-centered pursuit of external validation.
53. Feeling needed and desired.  With the right approach, this could help me appreciate sincere supportive sentiments from others.  With the wrong approach, this could devolve into shallow, self-centered pursuit of external validation.
54. Happiness and contentment.  With the right approach, this could remind me to appreciate life.  With the wrong approach, this could lead to self-centered behavior.
55. Sense of accomplishment. With the right approach, this could help me find self-esteem.  With the wrong approach, this could crowd out time and energy I should devote to my family.
56. Physical health, strength, beauty.  With the right approach, this could help me develop self-esteem, and physical health directly promotes mental health.  With the wrong approach, this could devolve into shallow, self-centered pursuit of external validation.
57. Order.  Order directly gives me comfort and helps me with self-control.  The danger is that I  might become a slave to my “to do list” and “neat freak” compulsions, thus losing self-control and failing to give necessary time and energy to my family.  I must constantly seek balance with regard to my desire for order.

Values, then and now

The next exercise asked me to consider two major decisions that I made in life (i.e. marriage, career, getting a dog, etc.). Examine the values involved in the decision-making process. Consider having to make those decisions today.

Values I used in deciding who to marry and when:  desire for sex, friendship, feeling needed and desired, and companionship.

Values I would want to use if I had to make that decision today:  friendship, companionship, being a good husband, being a good father, having a meaningful relationship with my family, maturity, happiness and contentment, physical pleasure, lifelong learning, being active, adventure, being loved, feeling needed and desired, and seeing the world.

Values I used when deciding my career: financial security.

Values I would want to use if I had to make that decision today:  financial security, professionalism, teaching, leadership, lifelong learning, wanting the best for my family, being useful, creating new ideas throughout life, quality work, competence, financial freedom, balance, and sense of accomplishment.

The responses do track with my values list.

MC’s values, my view

My exercise was to discuss the values I see present in MC both prior to d-day and post d-day.

My husband grew-up in an exceptionally conservative religious community, with a self-righteous, controlling and judgmental mother who treated him more like a doll in a display case to take down and show-off every now and again, than a child. He tells a story of placing 2nd at the district-wide spelling bee while in elementary school. He was crying and so upset, not because he didn’t come in first place, but because he knew his mom would be upset that he didn’t come in first place. Growing up with the pressure to be perfect, he disintegrated himself into two images. One for his mom based on her desire for a weak, timid, easy-to-control, but highly academically brilliant boy, afraid to speak up or stand up for himself. And, his other, hidden self to act as he pleased, when he pleased, secretly, and without judgment. Funny enough, when that hidden self was unsuccessfully hidden and expressed as a child or teen, his mother automatically blamed the behavior on the bad influence of others, shielding him from any outside (of her) consequences. This type of lack of integration, separating into two selves, like Jekyll and Hyde, is representative of the man he was, not the man he wants to be. Therefore, in his case, I do not believe it is helpful to separate out differing selves, but rather for him to learn to be an integrated person who matches his actions to his words, and makes choices with integrity, honesty, and courage in all aspects of his life.

All that being said, I do believe that there are values from his pre D-day life that will hold in his post D-day life:

1) Intelligence
2) Wit
3) Organized
4) Disciplined
5) Interested in political and philosophical thoughts and ideas
6) Love of travel, fitness and non-ball sports (swimming, skiing, running, SCUBA, etc.)

Continuing obstacles

1) He is exceptionally tied to his to-do list and has, over the last four years, worked exceptionally hard to turn that to-do list from “his priorities” to “our priorities” and to practice flexibility in regard to the to-do list. The to-do list does NOT have to ALWAYS take precedence. However, I do think flexibility on this will be a continuing struggle for him.
2) Flexibility in general. My husband has a hard time switching gears; micro managing is an instinct for him. Though it is good, to a point, to follow through and ensure the kids are on track, for example, there is a point where such actions do not allow them to be in control of making their own choices and learning from those choices (sounds familiar to his own childhood).
3) Moderation. He is either totally on top of everything and everyone, micro-managing or totally lets go of it altogether. There is middle ground. Though he now recognizes that reality, he still struggles with it and I foresee it as a continuing struggle.
4) Lack of spontaneity. Allowing a bit of the spontaneity and fun that he sought in his forbidden life to be a part of our family, and our marriage in a healthy, safe and loving way continues to be a struggle for him. This is part of the integration that I spoke of the first part of this exercise that he works upon, but I see as a continuing long-term struggle.
5) Fear. He has made courage one of his top priorities. He is working on not shying away from conflict, but it continues to be a struggle. I think each time he successfully faces such situations and sees that world has not ended, it does build confidence and reinforce a positive. But, it is not automatic and is a long road ahead of consistently facing those fears.

My values

My values

My understanding of this Recovery Nation exercise was that I should list both the “positive,” healthy values to which I turn my focus now, and the “negative,” less healthy values that I know guided my behavior, consciously and subconsciously, in the past. To be clear, I’ll break this list into three parts, if possible.

Positive
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 relationship 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
16. Teaching
17. Quality work
18. Competence
19. Being dependable
20. Humility
21. Loyalty
22. Flexibility
23. Selflessness
24. Empathy
25. Mindfulness
26. Being a good role model
27. Independence
28. Financial freedom
29. Being trusted
30. Companionship
31. Appreciating nature
32. Leaving a legacy
33. Friendship
34. Forgiveness
35. Realism
36. Conservation
37. Open-mindedness
38. Financial security

Neutral (could be good or bad, depending on your approach)
39. Professionalism
40. Responsibility
41. Leadership
42. Taking care of my health, taking pride in myself
43. Freedom
44. Excitement
45. Adventure
46. Being loved
47. Physical pleasure, including food, drink, sex, sports
48. Seeing the world
49. Masculinity
50. Being respected
51. Happiness and contentment
52. Sense of accomplishment
53. Physical health, strength, beauty
54. Feeling needed and desired

Negative
55. Power
56. Control
57. Experiencing the forbidden
58. Avoiding conflict

TL’s Vision Statement

Since discoveries I find myself fighting the road to self-pity. Part of dealing with the depression and trauma that this has brought into my heart has been obsessing on the could’ve, would’ve, should’ve and if onlys; comparing my life to those around me; and being focused on my broken pride.

And, while I think I needed time to go ahead and do that, to live in my pain and wallow in it, to truly feel it all, there must be a point where it does not control so many of my waking moments anymore. I see a future where I go from being a victim, to being more than just a survivor, but actually thriving, living and loving once again.

To do this, I know I need to focus on learning to let go of ego (external validation, esteem from others) and focus on building self-esteem (self validation, esteem from self), on accepting that the past can never be different, on finding happiness regardless of my marriage, on building ways to trust myself and my instincts.

I am learning to trust my instincts because I am different now. I can see selfishness for what it is, now that my rose colored, blind-faith glasses are in the garbage. I am seeing reality better than ever before. Still, it is still a work in progress and probably always will be.

Because this is a life long journey, I don’t trust in a set future, in some narrative of what can or should be. Instead, I am learning to trust in me, that no matter what happens, I will be ok. I am learning to like me as I am now; a realist, who says what she thinks. Hopefully, in a loving and authentic way. Whether I stay married or not, I want to be that loving and authentic woman in all of my relationships with others. I want this for my own health and sanity, but I also want this for modeling what it is to be a healthy person for our children.

Vision Statement

The three exercises basically ask me to develop and share a vision statement for my life. It helped me to imagine I was looking backward from the day of my death.

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.

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 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.

Looking at your own lost innocence 

I’m working on a program called Recovery Nation.  The most recent exercise basically asked me to look into my own eyes when I was a child of 3, 4, or 5-years old.  When I do this, I already sense possible roots of my problems.  Even back then, I lacked confidence, confidence that I am still working to develop.

I remember feeling weak and fearful when I was in kindergarten.  I was embarrassed by those feelings, but did not try to overcome them.  Those feelings made me want to look away from the other kids, to not interact in the same world with them unless they interacted in ways where I did not feel inferior.  For example, when the kids engaged in imaginary play, I joined them.  But, when they slid down the pole of the jungle gym, something I was afraid to do, I walked away, retreated into my own world, and just wished things were different.

I think the theme here that I carried forward in my life was the problem of retreating into my own world and wishing life was different, rather than courageously facing my fears. Given how I was truly afraid of, for example, sliding down the fire pole, I really can’t imagine what I could have done differently.  I also can’t imagine what my parents or teacher could have done differently.  I guess the important thing is that now I am conscious of things I can do differently, today and going forward.

As an aside, I’m curious to know the point of this exercise.  Is it to encourage me to care for myself?  If so, I wonder whether that is really a problem. It seems to me that my years of lying and cheating came from failing to care about other people, not from failing to care about myself.  On the other hand, maybe the point of the exercise is to identify some coping mechanisms I have used since childhood.  In my case those seem to be retreating into an inner world and wishing my struggles away.

Status report

With the upcoming move and B’s retirement, I’m just beginning to work in a new website called Recovery Nation.  Here’s what I wrote in response to the first question in the first lesson.

Where am I in terms of actively committing myself to change?  I think I’m there, all the way there.  I can’t prove it.  I can’t disprove it.  But, my motivation is genuine, and my commitment to “doing the work” is proven.  My motivation is to stop being a liar and cheater, to start and continue feeling the quiet confidence that comes from integrity and a moral compass, and to start and continue the relatively calm contentment that comes from having healthy priorities, as opposed to the harried existence of trying to live a double life.

I often write the list of practical measures I’ve taken.  I’ll reiterate it here, only to put it into the context of this question.  My wife and I have taken Rick Reynolds’s Affair Recovery class; I’ve seen three counselors; I regularly practice introspection and writing in the context of recovery; I’ve passed four polygraphs, had a vasectomy, given my wife all my passwords and accounts, and signed a post-nuptial agreement to give my wife safety; and studied for months to complete a religious conversion.

Where am I in terms of not allowing guilt and shame to sabotage my commitment to change?  My wife and I explored this topic recently.  We identified what we call the “shame shield” that some self-described sex addicts seem to use.  We see this in the blogosphere.  Betrayed spouses talk about how their betrayers spend so much time and energy being ashamed that they don’t have time and energy to be supportive.  Disloyal spouses talk about how ashamed they are as though they’re saying to their spouses, “Don’t bother criticizing my behavior.  I’m doing plenty by criticizing my own behavior.”  Sure, I’m ashamed of how I lied and cheated.  But, I also see that it’s imperative that I don’t let that stop me from talking openly about everything with my wife or counselors.

Where am I on allowing myself time to change?  D-day was July 2012.  I’ve been working on recovery consistently since then.  My wife and I consider this a lifelong journey, with no expiration date.  This is definitely a marathon, not a sprint.