Tag Archives: self pity

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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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.

A good read

I read this and found it really spoke to me. I think a serial cheater is a different breed, often characterized by three distinct features. First, is a lack of compassion, for others and frankly for themselves too. Now, work with me for a minute here. In MC’s case, and I suspect many others out there, he chose self-pity over self-compassion. You can read what defines that difference here. And, this leads to the second problem; a life  ruled by self-pity. Self-pity is the poison at the heart of so many ills, most notably “I deserve” thinking that is the corner stone of rationalizing the irrational. Third, is lack of integrity. And, I don’t just mean this in terms of actions and words not matching, though that is one important component. I also mean this in terms of a person who has disintegrated themselves into separate selves. In MC’s case this was the organized, intelligent, disciplined, cautious MC he presented to the world and the impulsive, risk-taking, pleasure seeking self he only allowed to exist in his own secret world. Living in one extreme or the other, not believing or allowing that one integrated self, living with moderation, instead of extremes, could or should exist. Here’s the thing, no matter the diagnosis or path forward, I believe that the serial cheater must overcome these very big character defects, which involves extinguishing these poor character traits and belief systems and learning and living integrity, empathy and compassion. They must want to do this, they must choose to do this. We cannot force them to and we cannot make it happen for them. But, if they do not want to do it, then they are not a person who can ever be safe as a partner. It took MC crashing and burning to the ground, for him to realize that his way of thinking, his way of doing, his way of being was a complete failure and to want to do something about it not just to save us, but to save himself.  I think this article is a good reminder of what the journey should entail.

“How to Recognize True (and false) Contrition” — by Dr. George Simon, Jr.

A person’s character deficiencies inevitably spawn a host of irresponsible behavior patterns – bad habits that can become easily ingrained and, once rooted, extremely hard to break. Often, these dysfunctional patterns involve forms of mental, emotional, and even physical abuse within relationships. And while many of the character-impaired individuals I’ve worked with experienced periods of profound unhappiness and even a degree of regret over their actions, only a handful made truly significant changes in their once destructive behaviors. But those who truly did address their behaviors and succeeded in changing their lives for the better displayed a rare quality that seemed to make all the difference: genuine contrition.

By definition, personality patterns are deeply ingrained and hard to modify. But that doesn’t mean a person can’t change. People can and do change every day. That is, genuinely contrite people do. This begs the question about what contrition really is and how to know when someone is really experiencing it.

The word contrition comes from the Latin contritus (the same root for the word contrite), and literally means “crushed to pieces.” The contrite person has had their once haughty and prideful ego completely crushed under the tremendous weight of guilt and shame. Such a person has “hit bottom”, not only because they can no longer bear the thought of how badly their actions hurt others but also because of their deep realization of how their usual way of doing things has resulted in abject personal failure. That’s why the contrite person is first and foremost a broken person. And, by definition, only by acknowledging personal defeat can a person become potentially open to reconstructing their life on very different terms. It’s been said many times, but it’s profoundly psychologically true. One cannot begin a new life without laying to rest one’s old self.

A regretful person is not necessarily a contrite one. Regret often precedes contrition but is definitely not synonymous with it. And when it comes to making meaningful changes in one’s character and turning around an irresponsible life, regret is simply not sufficient. The word regret comes from the Old French, meaning “to bewail.” It’s a person’s intellectual and emotional response to an unpleasant or unfortunate circumstance (originally used to characterize a person’s loss of a loved one through death). Anyone can regret something they have done and for a variety of reasons, some of which can be quite ignoble. Even some of the most hardened criminals had certain regrets. They regretted the loss of their freedom. They lamented the fact that a judge was able to exercise power over them and subject them to various unpleasant consequences. Many “bewailed” that the sentence they received was greater than they anticipated or longer than someone else’s who committed a similar crime. A few even regretted their actual actions, but most of the time even that kind of regret had to do with practical considerations (e.g., they didn’t plan their crime carefully enough to avoid detection, or they misjudged the character of their partner in crime who later “ratted [them] out” to authorities). And when expressing their regrets, some were even moved to tears. But tears do not a contrite person make. And mere regret has never been sufficient to prompt a person to change their ways.

Remorse is a prerequisite for contrition, but it’s also not sufficient for it. Remorse is a genuine empathy-based expression of one’s regret over hurting someone else. By definition, psychopaths (alt: sociopaths) cannot really experience any meaningful degree of it, although they are quite capable of feigning it. Fortunately, most people are capable of it to some degree, and having remorse for the injury caused to another is a necessary first step toward real contrition. But true contrition goes even beyond remorse. Genuinely contrite people – their prideful egos crushed and torn asunder by the weight of their guilt and shame – not only hate their “sins” and the pain they inflicted on others as a result of their sins, but also are deeply unnerved about the person they allowed themselves to become that permitted their travesties in the first place. And they necessarily resolve not only to make amends but also to make of better persons of themselves and their lives in a better fashion in the future.

Contrition is that very rare but absolutely essential feature of changing one’s life for the better. It requires a true metanoia or “change of heart.” And even more importantly, it requires work – a lot of very hard, humble, committed work. Reforming one’s character is the most challenging of human enterprises. You have to put a lot of energy into doing it, and you have to feel a deep sense of obligation about doing it in order to maintain the energy to get the job done. And contrition wears a very distinctive face. Truly contrite people behave very differently, even from regretful and remorseful people. And when you know what to look for, you can readily tell the difference.

One of the more reliable outward signs that someone has really experienced a change of heart is their willingness and commitment to make amends. The contrite person is not only “sorry” for what he/she has done but is willing to repair the damage inflicted on the lives of others. Many irresponsible characters will challenge their understandably hesitant to trust again victims with retorts like: “I’ve said I’m sorry a million times now – what else do you want from me?!,” attempting all the while to throw the other party on the defensive for doubting their sincerity. Or they will cite some small efforts they have made over a relatively short period of time and then chide their victims for not immediately accepting those small gestures as concrete evidence of meaningful, sincere, permanent change. Contrite individuals understand that the burden of proof rests with them and that they owe those they have hurt a justifiable basis upon which to resume some degree of trust. A contrite person is willing to do whatever it takes for as long as it takes to regain good standing within a relationship.

It’s one thing to say you’re sorry. But it’s quite another to prove it by how hard you work to change. Behavior is the best indicator that a person is truly contrite and working to really change. Living and dealing with persons of deficient character is always difficult, but many people increase the level of pain they experience in their relationships with problem characters by buying into the notion that if a person says they’re sorry, sheds a tear, or looks unhappy, and appears to mean well, things will necessarily be different. They give too much regard to a person’s regret and sorrow and don’t look hard enough for evidence of true contrition.

A person’s genuine willingness and commitment to make amends is always accompanied by plan of action to accomplish precisely those ends. In short, a person’s actions always speak louder than their words or even their emotional expressions. And I’m not talking about demonstrative gestures that make good impressions on others like going back to church or getting religion once again. The contrite person conducts themselves in a fundamentally different manner than they historically have. They might not do so perfectly or every time. But they evidence a constant effort toward reforming their conduct, and when they fall short they readily admit it and do their best to get back on course.

All too many times therapists as well as the victims of irresponsible characters make the assumption that things are moving in the right direction because the bad actor shed a tear or two about something horrible they did or said they were sorry. But even when sorrow is genuine, it’s certainly not enough to make a difference. Sorrow is an emotional response usually connected to the loss of something. And while it is always painful to lose – especially when losing something of great value – that kind of pain is not in and of itself a reliable predictor of change. Individuals who have been in abusive relationships and who give a lot of weight or credence to expressions of regret and sorrow are most often doomed to an escalating level of personal pain and hardship. And in proper cognitive-behavioral therapy for abusers, where the principal focus is on behavior and fostering fundamental attitudinal and behavioral change, the therapist has to be much less interested in what a person has to say and much more concerned about what he/she is doing to truly correct problematic thinking and behavior patterns and repairing damage they have done. Talk, as they say, is infinitely cheap. And therapy that just focuses on getting someone to express their feelings or communicate their regrets is likely doomed to be ineffective in fostering meaningful change.

Having some regret simply isn’t enough to make a person mend their ways. It takes a lot of concerted effort to overcome our shortcomings. The truly contrite individual works to make amends, to do better, and above all, to be better. That always involves demonstrable, consistent behavior – behavior that can be observed, monitored, encouraged, rewarded, and measured by both the therapist and other parties to a relationship with the troubled character.

Memories?

Yesterday’s post about the past of my marriage being dead is something I continue to explore and question. Why is holding to these memories, wanting to be able to still cherish some of them, wanting to see that MC does cherish them too still hold such importance to me?

Prior to d-day, MC would not really talk about our life together, he would not reminisce about anything good that had happened in our life, our story. I remember seeing him enjoying moments with me as those moments occurred. But, then not long after it seemed those experiences together were of no worth or value to him.

Looking back on that now, I think it was part of his “glass is cracked and leaking” philosophy of life, part of his inability to recognize his blessings or even admit that he had any blessings to himself or to anyone around him. He did not want anything to get in the way of feeling sorry for himself. Hindsight makes certain things so much clearer, doesn’t it?

Thinking so much about this, trying to really figure it out. Perhaps my wanting to hear about those memories that were meaningful to him is trying to see what he thinks his blessings were, to understand if he does recognize any of those blessings at all, to know if there was ever a part of him that appreciated “our story,” at least enough that he is capable of recognizing it now. Perhaps my wanting to hear about those memories now is to glean wether or not the experiences we shared together held any value to him or would those experiences hold the same or more value had he done them alone or with someone else. Or, maybe the truth is that he never appreciated them, but only now wishes he did and I am trying to figure out if that is the reality.

In this expat life we live, we have done some “once in a lifetime” bucket list type things that should be of value regardless of with whom they were done. Still, I want to know that it wasn’t just the experience, but that he shared that experience with me that he cherishes, now that he is willing to admit that his life had anything worth cherishing. Does that make any sense at all?????

Still, I know “our story” is not what I thought it was and maybe this is futile endeavor? Perhaps I am wanting him to cherish something he never really did cherish, but only now wishes he did. I have a book of loving notes that MC created for me. Each day he would leave me a small written note, some were about blessings today and some were about memories of shared experiences pre d-day. I like hearing him talk to others about shared experiences with me and/or the kids that were meaningful because they were shared with us. But, is this desire that I keep holding onto, preventing me from moving ahead. Should I take that book of memories and throw it on a bonfire and start from scratch with MC in all ways, only talking about and cherishing those memories since he pulled his head out of his ass?

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.

Thought for the day

Reading blogs. Then MC and I were chatting via text. He’s away with our youngest. I don’t do tents. 🙂

Just some thoughts from blog conversations, from conversations with MC, from counseling and therapy. It all feels so piecemeal. I just want to put this together all in one post. So this is likely a bit of a rehash, but hopefully a more cohesive one. I like cohesion!

So, one thing we often talk about is how sex was the symptom and sign. Horrible and unacceptable in every way, but still a sign and a symptom. A sign and a symptom of an inner core based on selfishness, cowardice and self-pity.

So in counseling we often talk about neural pathways. Our counselor equated these pathways to a superhighway that is built in our brain based on thoughts, behaviors, actions and reactions over the course of our life. We talk about how MC built a superhighway based on the selfishness, cowardice and self-pity (feeding the bad wolf) and  how he is now working to build a new superhighway based on empathy, gratitude and courage (feeding the good wolf). She is supportive of the idea that he can build this new pathway, but that it must be a conscious and constant choice and effort to do so. As he chooses to abandon the old highway, it becomes less strong, it crumbles from disuse. As he continues to make healthy choices, as he continues to choose to be guided by empathy, gratitude and courage, it strengthens this new superhighway.

So, MC and I were texting. What is at the core the selfishness, cowardice and self-pity? Anger, resentment and fear!  Anger, resentment and fear were the cement used in the building of that foundation of selfishness, cowardice and self-pity. Letting go of those resentments and anger, facing his fears allows him to stop choosing that old superhighway in the first place, allows him to finally let it crumble from disuse. How do you do that? Well, we come back to counseling, to AR and to religious teaching as well here. First, is acting with courage, facing fears. Second, is through forgiveness.

Facing his fears means finding his voice and using it, lovingly, but using it. This allows him to not become a victim of his own fears, preventing anger and resentment from building in the first place. Facing his fears means being lovingly honest even in the face of likely anger directed at him as a result, even in the face of potentially losing something or someone he does not want to lose. Facing his fears with loving honesty allows him to build esteem as an adult, to not place himself or allow himself to be placed in the role of a child.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean he has a relationship with his mom or others who are unsafe, or that he accepts misbehavior from such people. In fact, facing his fears is not allowing such things to occur. What it does mean is that he accepts that the past can never be different, can never be better. He accepts that holding on to anger and resentment will only hurt himself and push those he loves and those who love him away.

MC:  My lesson for the day may be that I began with anger toward my mom and then generalized that into a certain anger against all people, perhaps especially women. Empathy may be one key to overcoming that anger. Selflessness is also necessary.  I could not forgive as long as I saw the whole world centered on me.

Both of our moms had resentment and anger that fueled their own self-pity and selfishness.  After my Mom died, I felt so alone in the world because of the realization that both my parents were truly gone, with no hope of earthly redemption. I now realize that I was also a mourning the loss of that anger within me. I had held on to it for so many years on some level. I was finally able to forgive her. I was free of the anger and resentment.

I did not fear my mom the way MC feared his mom, so that is another layer he must work through here. And, I see him doing that, but it is a continuing journey.

After writing all of this out in one place, it hit me. How could it not? Forgiveness, this is why my own working toward forgiveness is so important for my own health and sanity as well. And, not just mine, but for our children. We must stop the cycle of anger and resentment being passed down from generation to generation.

 

 

State of Nature

I often see discussion in the infidelity blogosphere aimed at identifying some condition or ailment that compelled adulterers to cheat and lie.  This diagnostic quest strikes me as backwards.  I think of Thomas Hobbes’ state of nature, in which all are in competition against all, and life is “nasty, brutish, and short.”  Living beings would exist this way in the absence of some organizing system such as family, pack, tribe, or society.  It’s not that there is some ailment or condition compelling the competition of all against all.  It is the pre-existing and normal state.

Civilization, interdependence, and perhaps love and compassion are the antidotes to this state of nature.  I believe that in most cases people don’t move, psychologically, away from civilization, interdependence, love, and compassion due to some condition or ailment.  Rather, they stay in a metaphorical state of nature because they fail to acquire the ingredients of civilization, interdependence, love, and compassion.  Have you read Lord of the Flies?

I also see our late, great Belgian Shepard as an example of this.  I think we’ve described before how she was loving to us but sounded aggressive to some strangers.  She was cowardly.  She did have a traumatic puppyhood.  But, her problem was not that her troubled youth caused her to lose the quiet canine confidence that makes for a well-behaved dog.  Rather, her problem was a failure to acquire the courage necessary to behave properly. We never invested the time and energy it would have required to modify our dog’s behavior.

I hear betrayed spouses asking, “What’s wrong with my poor, traumatized adulterous mate? Why can’t he cope properly?  What about his troubled youth caused him to behave this way?  Why must he cope through adultery?”  That’s the wrong question.  They should be asking, “What’s right about me?  What’s right about me, that allowed me to remain faithful regardless of any difficulties I may have experienced?”

The adulterous spouse does not need to be coddled and “cured.”  Rather, he needs to learn some things he should have learned long ago.  If I am physically weak, I cannot remove weakness from my body.  But, I can add muscle mass, stamina, and agility.  That reduces weakness.  If I am academically weak, I cannot remove stupidity from my mind.  But, I can add education and intellectual rigor to my life.  Doing so reduces ignorance, and potentially alleviates stupidity.

So, what does the adulterous spouse need to acquire?  He needs to acquire responsibility:  acceptance that he must either change things he does not like, or stop indulging in self-pity.  He needs to take responsibility for his own happiness, and stop blaming his spouse, his mother, other people, or God.  He needs to take responsibility for his own happiness, and stop hoping that someone will join him in pitying him and grant him happiness as some cosmic act of mercy or justice.  I speak from personal experience on this point.

Second, the adulterous spouse needs to acquire an understanding of love.  Love is not the hope that my mate will meet my needs.  Rather, my love is my hope for the best for my mate, regardless of my needs.  Love is not my expectation that my mate will be perfect for me.  Rather, it is my complete acceptance of her, regardless of perfection or imperfection.

Those are the two most important things he ought to acquire.  He would also do well to acquire compassion, empathy, listening skills, and sincere concern for something greater than himself.

I’m trying to nurture my positive, loving skills, and, in so doing, to exorcise my negative, self-centered instincts. I’m feeding the good wolf.  You know that story, right?  Two wolves fight for dominance within us, one good, one evil.  The young boy asks his grandfather which will win.  The older man answers, “The one you feed.”  As you feed the good wolf, by the way, you are simultaneously starving the bad wolf.

How I really feel!

I am open to the ideas of others and try to set aside my filters to truly listen to other view points. I do know that it is not easy to do, for any of us. Still, trying to predict what filters may be in place for others, trying to write to ensure that such filters do not get in the way of understanding, is too big of an expectation to put upon myself. After all, an important component to coming through this shit storm is that authenticity needs to be the guiding star on this journey. So, with that being said, here is how I really feel.

I am not a fan of the prevalent idea in the reconciliation community that most, if not all, serial cheaters are sex addicts (SA) and that such a diagnosis, accompanied by twelve-step, is the only path forward. In MC’s case, to make such a label fit would require too broad of a definition, overshadowing specific issues that needed to be targeted and addressed, specifically his (a) victim mentality, (b) excessive desire for external validation, (c) complete inability to self-validate, (d) fundamental misogynistic attitudes about what it takes to be a man and what is acceptable and desirable in a wife, (e) obsessive focus on himself, (f) obsessive focus on his self-pity and (g) avoidance of and cowardice toward conflict.

I do also see, time and again, those in SA twelve step programs being encouraged to, or at least not being discouraged from, using their shame and addiction as a shield from the anger of their spouse, as well as the potential of being guided by people who themselves are not healthy people. SA twelve-step and being there for the betrayed spouse do not have to be mutually exclusive, and yet, too often that is exactly what happens. Still, I also recognize that there is value to be found within a group setting.

As long as it doesn’t turn into another mechanism for reinforcing self-pity, a continuation of a victim-mentality, conflict-avoidance and self-absorbed pursuits, I can see value to a group dynamic to treatment and therapy. In fact, I think a sense of community and belonging to combat the isolation of both the cheater and betrayed is THE positive element of twelve-step.

But, I am bothered by the mantra that “AN SA DIAGNOSIS AND TWELVE-STEP ARE A MUST FOR RECOVERY.”  Sex addiction and twelve-step are one path, but not the only path. Why is that so threatening to some? We too want a sense of community to combat the isolation. It is part of the reason for this blog.

 

Shame

We often read in the blogosphere of some reconciling adulterer who is so overwhelmed by his (usually male, with a couple memorable exceptions) own shame that he doesn’t put much energy into helping his spouse, the victim.  I admit I’m always skeptical about these stories.  So, the cheater wasn’t too overwhelmed by shame to commit the adulterous acts, but suddenly shame rises within them and it prevents them from doing anything constructive to repair the damage they’ve done?  I am tempted to view this as a excuse for not moving forward and helping their spouse, and as a convenient shield to protect themselves from admonishment.  In effect, they’re saying, “Don’t worry about criticizing me, I’m already criticizing myself.  You couldn’t possibly get down on me more than I’m getting down on myself.  Don’t you feel for me?”

But, maybe my view of these stories is unfair.  I feel considerable shame for all the ways I lied and cheated.  If someone else had done even a few of the things I did, I would have piously held my nose in disgust and looked down on their moral failure.  Yes, it’s quite hypocritical.

So, why am I not debilitated by my shame?  I think it’s because I already spent decades allowing my feelings about the past to debilitate me, and I consequently almost destroyed my whole life and everything I truly value.  Also, if I were to obsess on my shame now, I would know damn good and well I was doing so by my own choice.  I no longer have the luxury of obsessing on myself.  If I want TL, my only option is to learn to think about her rather than just about myself.

Creating loneliness 

The next John Baker question is:  What ways have I tried to escape my past pain?  Long time readers will recognize that this is not really a new question.  I think before D-day I was pained, irrationally, by my perceived lack of experience.  So, I tried to compensate for it, taking irrational risks and disregarding TL’s feelings in a desperate attempt to rack up more experience.  That turned out to be self-destructive as well as hurtful to TL.  How, Baker continues, has hanging on to my anger and resentments affected me?  That’s a restatement of the previous question.  The answer is the same.

Baker asks whether I believe loneliness is a choice.  He asks how denial has isolated me from important relationships.  He says to describe the emptiness I feel and talk about new ways to fill it.

Sure, loneliness is a choice.  I created unnecessary distance between TL and me.  What could I have done differently, on this issue specifically?  That’s not an easy question.  Sure, I could have not obsessed on jealousy and my inferiority complex related to sex.  I’ve stopped obsessing on those things now.  But, today I’ve arrived at that point only through the shock of almost losing TL.  Today, when I’m tempted to feel jealous, I stop it in its tracks by realizing how terribly hurt TL is.  It’s not so tempting to feel jealous of her when considering what desperate pain I’ve caused her.  Today, when I’m tempted to bemoan my feelings of inferiority regarding sex, I can quash the feeling by recalling how insignificant that question is compared to questions like whether I can stay with TL at all.

Catastrophe has taught me to stop thinking things that create loneliness for me.  I should have reached that point before causing a catastrophe.  Why didn’t I?  Let’s go back to the first year of my marriage.  I didn’t feel emptiness.  I felt inadequacy, self-doubt, and envy.  (The feelings were unfounded and irrational.)  The role of denial was to hide, from myself, the fact that my obsessive quest to increase my sexual experience would ultimately hurt TL.  I created loneliness for myself and TL by pursuing a double-life.  The fact that my double-life was secret from TL created an unnecessary distance between us.

I chose loneliness by choosing to keep secrets.  I think that’s the bottom line.  Secrecy isolated me from TL.  Now, in contrast, my goal is to reveal everything to her, in real time.

Separately, but related, in the early years of our marriage I often agonized aloud to TL about my feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt, and envy.  I harassed her with pleas for her to change the past.  I began to see my irrational pleas from two disparate angles.  On one hand, I saw that I was focusing too much of my happiness and self-worth on hopes of changing the past, and that I was causing TL great distress by frequently moaning, crying, or getting angry about the past.  On the other hand, I could not stop myself from obsessing on the past.

I should have cut off one of those two conflicting parts of me.  I should have either calmly and fully accepted the past and put it into perspective, or chosen to leave TL and accept that I could not be at peace with the past.  As we know, I didn’t really choose.  I tried to take a middle road.  I wonder now whether any sort of therapy might have better prepared me for that middle road.  Could a therapist have helped me put the past into perspective?  Could a therapist have convinced me not to risk everything through adultery?  Would a therapist have dissuaded me from adultery?

Would I have listened?  Probably not.

I had four options:  accept the past and put it in perspective, leave TL, accept therapy and believe that I could accept the past and put it into perspective, or choose the middle road, the road to adultery and double-life.  I chose the latter.  I chose loneliness.  (This statement is not self-pity.  It’s just my response to Baker’s questions and acknowledgment of my errors.)

Wishing to change the past

I recently wrote about the “if onlys.”  That was inspired by lesson two of John Baker’s Stepping Out of Denial.   I’ll continue with Baker’s questions.

Baker says:  “Instead of worrying about things that we cannot control, we need to focus on what God can do in our lives. What are you worrying about? Why?”  I don’t know about this statement.  What’s God doing in it?  Rather than God, it seems like the statement ought to say that we should focus on what we ourselves can do in our daily lives.  Then, this discussion would make more sense to me.

Before D-day, I think I did worry about certain things I could not control instead of focusing on things I could control.  I worried about my past experiences, or lack thereof. I should have told myself that my past experiences were not only immutable, but also far less important to the present and future than I believed them to be.

As for today, I do think I have successfully stopped worrying about the past or about immutable conditions.  Yes, I do sometimes worry about the future.  But, a certain amount of worrying about the future is normal, as long as I focus on ways I can affect the future rather than just worrying about things that are inevitable or unknowable.

“If only” and “what if?”

I was thinking about MC’s post about “if only.” You know I, like many BS I think, have gone through the process of “if only” ing ourselves into a deep dark rabbit hole. “If only” I had not trusted so blindly, “if only” I had surprised him on his Chicago trip, “if only” I had questioned him more harshly regarding the funny feeling I got from our housekeeper when our child and I returned from months away, “if only” I had called his bluff on our child’s missed birthday call and insisted he sign-on to Skype, “if only, if only, if only. . .”

It does me no good, as the past cannot be different. There is no going back, there is only today and going forward into tomorrow.

I realized something, maybe it hits home for others, I can sense there is some truth in it for me. Another form of “if only” is “what if?”

“What if ” I had left MC when I found out about what I thought was his first and only affair? “What if” I had gone through with kicking him out, while visiting back home upon this d-day? “What if” I had packed our bags and returned to the US with the kids and dog upon finding out all of the horrible truths? What if? What if? What if?

I realized something with these “what if” thoughts. I think that those who decided to divorce may also do this in the opposite form. Perhaps when we encounter someone who did it differently, the question of “what if” is a natural one.  But, it is also a scary one. And, so we look to find that we made the right choice for ourselves.

Each of us, perhaps, is scared of the “what if.” There are no crystal balls. And, we each have to find the best choice for ourselves. It is not easy to know if it is the right choice. The only thing I do know is that “if only” and  “what if” seem a path to self-pity, holding onto the pain of the past and allowing that pity and pain to control my mind and my life. Perhaps this is a common struggle for the betrayed, whether divorcing or reconciling. Perhaps we share some struggles in common. No matter the choice to reconcile or divorce, it is hard to let go of wishing the past had been better, different. No matter the choice to reconcile or divorce, letting go of wishing the past had been better, different, must be done to learn to live again as a healthy person, to learn to live again.

I want to learn to live again, but I am tired. After struggling through and “picking myself up from the bootstraps” so many times in my past, I’m just tired. I don’t know if I have it in me anymore.

If Only

Baker asked, “What in your past has caused you to have the “if onlys”? “If only” I had stopped ___________________________ years ago. “If only” __________________________ hadn’t left me. ”  This is a big question for me.  “If only” is one of top things on the list of dangerous habits I’ve worked to overcome.  I can recall all the ways I abused this phrase, to my detriment.  Then, I can categorize them.  The most troublesome category for me was the “if onlys” that were always beyond my control.  I was basically bemoaning fate.  I was angry at God, the universe, and everyone, for my situation.  I blamed everyone but me.  Here they are.

1. If only my parents gave me more freedom, I would be more normal and would have experiences like normal kids have.
2. If only I wasn’t from a conservative rural community, I would have had normal experiences like normal people have.

There really wasn’t much I could have done to change those two facts of life.  The fact is I am from a small, conservative family in a small, conservative community.  I spent decades feeling sorry for myself for those facts.  I used them as an excuse for jealousy and pettiness.  I used them as an excuse to cheat, telling myself life had been unfair to me and that I was simply seeking some sort of justice.  I used them as an excuse for overindulgence, in alcohol, porn, and sex, telling myself, incorrectly, everyone else was doing it and that I had to keep up.  I used them as an excuse for taking ridiculous risks, with health, heart, and reputation, again telling myself, incorrectly, that I had to catch up with everyone else.

In retrospect, I did have some healthier options for gaining some control in regard to those facts.  I could not have changed them.  But, I could have, and should have, changed my view of them.  I should have put them into perspective.  So, I was eighteen years behind college peers in regard to some social and worldly experiences.  So, what?  It’s not a competition.  I thought it was.  It’s not.  I think I competed on those inappropriate comparisons, in an attempt to like myself, because I did not feel confident competing in healthy ways, such as sports. Why not compete on academic or artistic pursuits?  Because, I had gotten it into my head that academic or artistic success was antithetical to social success.  It’s not.  But, as a young boy, I thought it was.

In fact, social success is ultimately what I really wanted, what I really thought would make me feel good.  Why did social success become the end all, be all for me?  I did a little scan of literature on this question.  It seems pursuit of social success is rather normal. I talked with TL about this question.  We suspect I became obsessed with the pursuit of social success because I was socially isolated.  In short, the combination of a controlling mother and some effects of being a minority brought me some social isolation.  I perpetuated the isolation in college by choosing not to have a roommate and choosing to live in a dorm full of people who were absolutely nothing like me.

In any case, I should have chosen a healthier view of my conservative upbringing.  I should have not wasted time and energy viewing it as a cause for competition and comparison.  Also, at age forty-six, and more so with each passing day, those original eighteen years of my life become smaller and smaller in relation to who I am now and what I’ve done since.

The next “if only” that comes to mind is also something that could be less troublesome if I had simply chosen not to obsess on it.  Directly related to the pursuit of social success, I used to say to myself:  “If only girls liked me more, I would be happier.”  In retrospect, girls liked me well enough, particularly on the rare occasions when I relaxed and didn’t worry about it.  But, I spent disproportionate amounts of time and energy worrying about this issue.  And, whatever good things came my way, I wrongly told myself they were not good enough.

Then, there’s an “if only” that appeared to be beyond my control, but over which I actually had much more control than I thought:  “If only God had made me bigger, faster, and stronger, I would be more successful.”  As a child, I thought I could not affect those variables.  I believe that my mother, in an unsuccessful attempt to make me feel better, reinforced the idea that those  things were immutable, constantly telling me they were unimportant and that everyone was simply different.  Later in life, I learned that I could improve my body if I tried.  But, I would have been happier and more successful had I learned that in elementary school rather than in college.

Finally, there are the “if onlys” that were entirely within my control.  I made the decision I thought was right at the time, based on the information I had at the time.  I took a risk, or not. And, now those decision points are firmly anchored in the past.  They are:

1. If only I hadn’t dated S for nearly four years, I would have had more interesting experiences in college.
2. If only I had gone to law school, I would now have a profession.
3. If only I had joined the military as a young man, I would now have more career options.

Occasionally, I am tempted to get upset about those past decisions.  But, it’s relatively easy to talk myself down, reminding myself that those things are in the past, and that I can only affect things in the present and the future.

In sum, the “if onlys” that led me to justify cheating and lying were essentially my anger at the circumstances of my birth family.  I have stopped being angry about those things.  But, it took me decades to get there, and I almost lost everything along the way, by choosing irrational anger over pragmatism, hope, hard work, and perspective.

Never the twain shall meet

Over the last weeks we’ve had some highs and some lows. I had a sense of the lows being related, but could not put my finger exactly on how or why.

You’ve read MC’s posts about listening, about the past inauthenticity in his image and habits, and my posts about desiring spontaneity.

Up until very recently, I believed part of my desire for spontaneity from and with MC was about his willingness to risk it all for me in the way he did with others. When, I really think about it, that is not at all what I want.  The reality is that the risks he took, were also risks to our family. And, I don’t want that at all.

With B’s help, we realized some things. I think MC will speak more about his realizations, but I need to mention a brief description in order for readers to understand my realizations.

MC’s life, including our marriage, was spent with a dark cloud over head. A dark cloud that he did NOT want removed. This dark cloud allowed him to live in fear, in anger, in resentment and in self-pity. Instead of being willing and wanting to work through his fears, he let them rule his life in the “normal” world. His nefarious, evil life was based on a complete disregard of fears and rules. Whereas in his normal life the mantra was “always assume the worst will happen,” in his “fantasy life” the mantra was “nothing bad will ever happen, I am immune from the worst happening.” All or nothing, night and day, black and white, never the twain shall meet.

In our marriage, I craved some freedom from his rules, his regiments, his fears, his worst-case scenarios and I took it upon myself to try to give that freedom to us. He always resisted and, in fact, it seems resented me wanting our life together to be free of his dark cloud once in a while. I am sad that for all of those years, he was able and willing to let go of his fears and “live in the moment,” just not with me. I wanted that so much. And, we could have done that together in a healthy and loving way without all of the stupid risks he took, so I am mourning that as well. It is not the risks that I want, it is the ability to enjoy the moment, live in the moment that I so missed, so wanted and so needed and still do.

I have asked MC many times, was it fun deceiving me, playing like the little kid stealing something from the cookie jar? Do you know what that cookie jar was? I now realize, it wasn’t just my happiness, though that was part of it. It was MC sharing joy and happiness with me, it was MC wanting to share joy and happiness with me, it was MC wanting to spend joyous spontaneous moments with me, it was allowing happiness, optimism and joy to rule our moments together instead of the pessimism, gloominess, negativity, and fear.

I was unsettled with MC’s refusal to acknowledge the possibility of a local office supply store. I was unsettled with his insistence that there was no local option, the piece our child needed will need to come from Amazon, and so our child’s science project will not be done in time, etc. . .

In another recent example, we plan to leave his career in a few years. It is time to go home. I do understand, however, that home may not be the easiest market for his skill set, so have acquiesced to expanding the job search zone to major metro areas within a day’s drive from home.  Over the last month, whenever discussing leaving his current career, he talks of us moving to the furthest from home metro area within the “zone,” never even mentioning home as a possibility.

These recent events did not sit well with me. It turns out it was his fear overtaking him, the dark cloud, assuming the worst-case will be what happens, negative thinking. I was searching for what was unsettling me so. B helped us both realize that it was the dark cloud thinking.

He is working on his dark cloud. But, seeing its remains every now and again scares me to death. By the way, that doesn’t mean MC will not have fears. It does mean he seeks healthy ways to face and address his fear and not just allow it to become some hopeless dark cloud that he holds onto like a security blanket.

And, of course, I am still working through my own dark cloud that came into my world on d-day.

 

Denial

If you read my previous post, “Compartmentalization,” you see that I had a hard time understanding the relevance of thinking about denial.  Yesterday, I recalled another aspect of denial. Prior to D-day, I was in denial about the risks I was taking as part of my secret adulterous life.  I risked disease, humiliation, and so much more, not only for myself but also for my family. The whole time I was taking these risks, I told myself, “Don’t worry.  Nothing will happen to me.  I will be lucky.”  There was absolutely no logical reason to tell myself such unlikely things.  That self-talk was certainly a pathological denial about my own behavior and its consequences.  I buried my head in the sand.

This shows me that denial and lack of integrity were just two terms for the same ailment, in my case.  I did not have the integrity to reconcile my selfish life with my so-called normal life.  When I was immersed in one I was simultaneously in denial that the other even existed.  For example, as I played with my kids and talked with my wife, I fully separated myself from the knowledge that I had betrayed them the night before.  Similarly, as I lay with another woman, I completely ignored even the thought that I had a wife and kids worried about me at home.

Now, I can return to Baker’s question.  In what areas of my life am I beginning to face reality and break the effects of denial?  The answer is that I no longer separate the evil I have done from my so-called normal life.  I share TL’s shock, sadness, and distress about the risks I took, to her and to me.  Striving for integrity can also help me be sure not to start down the path toward evil again.  If I think an evil thought, I am less likely to accept it if I maintain connection to my normal life.  Forgive my simple terminology.  “Evil” is a convenient shorthand for selfishness and self-pity.  By keeping my two halves together, in the same body at the same time, I can avoid letting one of them overtake the other.

MC: “Should have” is a form of self-pity

This is more of a theoretical or research question than an assertion.  The other day, TL and I started to talk about choices we should have made differently in life:  when to buy a house, which job to take, etc.  We do that occasionally.  It occurred to me that the discussion is both an opportunity and a risk.  It is an opportunity to learn.  “Next time I’ll consider more information before buying.  Next time I’ll plan better.”  These are just examples.

The discussion is also a risk:  a risk of falling into self pity.  “Woe is me.  I made the wrong choice long ago and now I can do nothing about it.  My life sucks.  It could only be better if I could just go back and change the past.  Because of past decisions, I’m now at the mercy of other people, God, karma, or whatever.”

I had a flash of insight during that little conversation.  The latter type of thinking about the past suddenly reminded me of the way I used to think before D-day, the way I’m training myself to not think now.  I used to think about feeling powerless to my genetics, the way my parents raised me, and my past decisions.  From that thinking, I used to slip right into self-pity, feeling sorry for myself. From there, it was just a hop, skip, and a jump to anger, bitterness, fatalism, and even revenge. Yes, revenge.  Against whom?  Against God.  I told myself God had cheated me, and that I therefore had the right to break moral rules to get what I deserved.  I had the right to lie and cheat to even the score.

I know, that cascade of sick logic is rather extreme.  It shows me just how dangerous self-pity can be.  So, to the extent that “should have” leads to self-pity, I need to stop saying “should have.” “Can do better next time,” or “can learn from this” are helpful.  “Should have” is not.

Self-compassion versus self-pity

Mindless suffered from a severe dependency on, in fact an enslavement to self-pity. He describes a feeling of inadequacy. He describes being angry at G-d, the world, me, and even himself for falling short, refusing to accept reality for what it was, instead of what he imagined it should be. He often told himself things like “my life is worse than anyone else’s,” “nobody else has to deal with such things,” “nobody is suffering like I am suffering.” He became so encumbered by these thoughts that he would get caught up in a cycle of negativity. When he would try to ignore his thoughts and feelings of inadequacy they expressed themselves in very destructive ways. What Mindless needed to learn was to practice self-compassion. But, how is this different from self-pity?

Dr. Kristen Neff explained that self-compassion includes three components.

Below are the three elements of self-compassion:

MC: Cultural roots of self-pity and infidelity 

Why would an educated, upper-middle class young man or woman leave behind a family, a modern American life, potential success in work or academia, and perhaps more blessings, in order to go be part of a restrictive, repressive, ultra-conservative world such as ISIS?  Though I’m not Muslim and I despise ISIS, perhaps there is some element to their motivation that has contributed to their ability to make such horrific choices. I wonder if they have struggled all their lives with cultural contradictions, with a duality within themselves. I wonder if, on some level, it is a similar type of contradiction — the same type of duality — that drove me to self-pity and infidelity.

From a very early age, I was two people, not one.  I lived in two worlds.  Yes, basically I was bicultural.  However, unlike many bicultural Americans, the birth culture that caused me inner strife was not evident to the outside world.  In fact, for years, if not decades, it was not really evident to me.

It wasn’t race or ethnicity for me.  In fact, fifty percent of my blood is from a minority race among Americans.  The issues that raised for me were no more or less interesting or challenging than for any other American with minority racial or ethnic stock in their DNA.

In a way, the issue for me was religion.  But, mine was not a classic, simple, comprehensible case of my family being of a minority religion.  The short version of the story is that my mother grew up in a very conservative Christian family and the village where I grew up was overwhelming dominated by that same brand of super right-wing Christian conservatism.  I use the term “Victorianism” as a shorthand for its repressive social values.  My father was agnostic.

My mother had a troubled relationship with her birth family, and with almost everyone else in the world, for that matter.  As part of that troubled relationship, my mother outwardly rejected the religion.  Inwardly, however, that religion and its worldview was such a deeply-ingrained part of my mother that she didn’t even realize how much it guided her thinking and her behavior.  She frequently would say, “I don’t like that church.”  But, she believed everything the church taught and followed all of its social prescriptions. For the first eight years of my life, my mother sent me to that church and lauded me for taking part.

She never attended.  That’s a big part of why I stopped attending at age eight, when my mother finally gave me the choice.  I guess that was my first big contradiction:  being encouraged to live according to the religion while my parents went out of their way to outwardly reject the religion.

Throughout adolescence, my mother continued to insist that she hated “the church,” and, with no hint of irony, continued to insist we live according to the teachings of the church.  The church is very vocally opposed to tobacco and alcohol.  Narcotics were beyond even mentioning.  Anyone — related or unrelated, known or unknown, kind or heartless, intelligent or mindless, or any other variation — is to be shunned, shamed, avoided, pitied, patronized, and judged if they partake of such evils.

Sex, or anything vaguely associated with sex or thoughts of sexuality, is dirty, unnecessary, foul, unholy, and sick.  Even the thought of normal sexual traits, appearances, behaviors, or stereotypes should be hidden, avoided, hushed up, ignored, not acknowledged, and forgotten.  If any of these things — sex, tobacco, sexuality, alcohol, or drugs — appeared on television, in films, in literature or news, in overhead conversation, or elsewhere, my mother would sigh, grumble, fuss, frown, and generally make it clear that she did not approve.  Those things were forbidden.  How dare they inadvertently appear, so nonchalantly, in modern American culture — in our day-to-day lives?

All the while, my mother preached a constant mantra to me.  “Get educated.  You’re so smart.  Don’t be like these small-town people in this small town. Science is wonderful.  Be so worldly and sophisticated.”  She never once, to this day I believe, understood that her mantra about being educated and worldly was diametrically opposed to her frighteningly Victorian, provincial attitudes about sex, alcohol, and the like.  She was contradicting herself, and she neither knew nor cared.

I was struggling with inner conflict.  I only recently began to understand it.  Figuring out the norms, mores, and values that would guide me in life would have been hard enough — as it is for any young man — if I had received coherent, consistent signals from my parents.  Perhaps I would have lived according to the church had my parents done the same; had they not only condemned sex, alcohol, and the like, but also said “the church is good” and “live as the church teaches;” and had they said “date and marry within the church.”

Perhaps I would have bravely, or matter-of-factly, accepted that some people are not raised to hate and fear sex, alcohol, tobacco, drugs, and progressive ideas, had my parents thought and acted that way too, had they not forced me to attend the church, had they critiqued the church’s teachings instead of just critiquing its members, and had they not aped the church’s views on life.

Instead, they filled me with contradictions.  Even as I write this, I’m starting to suspect that my mother’s vociferous hatred for the church stemmed not from distaste for its teachings, but only from bitterness or envy that she was not the church’s version of a paragon, the way she perhaps wished to be.

When I went off to college, never again living with my parents, I guess I assumed I was leaving the church behind.  I assumed I would matter-of-factly approach sex, tobacco, alcohol, drugs, and all the other modern, secular, progressive elements of life just the way my peers did.  But, my new peers never had the Victorian, provincial background pounded into them the way I did.

I tried those forbidden fruits.  I went overboard with alcohol.  It took me a few years to learn that the cost of intoxication — making an ass of myself, potential legal trouble, physical illness, and lost time — was simply not worth it to me.  Now in my forties, I feel at ease about my relationship with alcohol.  I tried drugs, just a little.  It didn’t take me long to decide they really did not even interest me.

I remember that even during the years that I was experimenting with drugs and alcohol, I was very judgmental about other people who used those things.  The closer the person was to me, the more I felt threatened by and acted self-righteous about their substance use.  For example, I recall one particular occasion when TL went out with a girlfriend and drank too much. Not only was I threatened by fears of what she might have done without me, I was also judgmental about her intoxication. I also remember occasionally pressuring her to get intoxicated with me.  I suspect the effect of that pressure was to make TL feel afraid to overindulge with me.

In those earlier years, my alcohol use was excessive, even by average, modern American standards.  In reality, TL’s alcohol use was really very moderate — well within what modern Americans consider normal and healthy.

For years I’ve struggled to explain not only how I could be so hypocritical — judging TL’s drinking while simultaneously struggling with my own alcohol abuse — but also why.  To be clear, I have long since let go of that particular sick obsession.  Here’s how I think that hypocrisy happened.  Against the backdrop of my overall low self-esteem and my terrible habit of blaming others for my unhappiness, the two conflicting world views within my head — one provincial and one progressive — lead me to act out in two inappropriate and conflicting ways.

My progressive side said alcohol should be no big deal and that everyone was indulging.  That part of me said that I should keep overindulging and that I should pressure TL to overindulge with me.  Simultaneously, the provincial part of me recalled how I had learned from the church, the community, and the mother that alcohol was evil.  That part of me said to look down on TL for overindulging without me (that one time).  Hypocritical?  Yes.  That’s the point.

I tried to be two conflicting things, and I got them both wrong.  At least if I did not have that inner conflict, I could have worked to moderate.  I believe that if I was not burdened by the Victorian voice in my head, I would not have viewed alcohol as something I had to prove to myself I could do.  I would not have been able to draw on that Victorianism to fuel my self-righteousness.

I had a similar struggle with marijuana.  The difference was that once I tried marijuana, I found it entirely uninteresting.  I have never been tempted by it.  However, I did indulge in the same self-righteous judgmental ways toward TL and others when they nonchalantly expressed their more progressive views of marijuana.

TL’s use of marijuana before we dated was very limited, well within what most modern Americans consider to be normal.  Since we began dating, she has never used it.  She only speaks about it on rare occasions, in terms of current political happenings.  My marijuana use before we dated was more than hers and, yet, I judged her for her use of it and her more progressive attitude.

My struggle with tobacco was also characterized by contradiction.  Ultimately I became a closet smoker, just as I had become a closet porn user and adulterer.  With tobacco, for example, I should have just done what most people do:  choose to smoke, or choose not to smoke.  Instead, I took a third, more cowardly path:  I smoked, but tried to hide it from everyone.  Further, I spent much of my life looking down on people who smoke, acting self-righteously.

How did I get to such hypocritical behavior?  The final straw, as I’ve written before, was when I smoked alone at nights for months, hiding it from TL and everyone else, and not having the courage, integrity, or willpower to either quit or bring it out into the open. Why such contradictory behavior?  I struggle to understand it.

I think it was like this.  The urban, secular, modern part of me said I should be able to indulge.  What’s the big deal?  At exactly the same time, emanating from a more primal, childish part of my personality, the Victorian part of me imposed overwhelming shame, guilt, and self-doubt on me with regard to smoking.  The Victorian values were so deeply ingrained in me that their awakening was subconscious, almost Pavlovian.  Every time I even thought of smoking, Victorian me said to be ashamed and afraid — to hide it. Progressive me was too cowardly to resist the subconscious Victorian me.  And, by the time I thought of just quitting smoking, I was already physiologically hooked.

There are a very few people, like TL, who can have one or more cigarettes casually and then forget about smoking for months or longer, without physiological struggle.  My body is simply not like that.  So, really I should not smoke.  I don’t now.  It’s still a temptation sometimes.  But, I have been away from it for three good years.

More troubling is the way I think about it.  If TL or someone else smokes, I want very much to view it without judgment, fear, jealousy, or self-righteousness.  The same applies to marijuana.  Honestly, that still requires conscious effort on my part, to relax and view it without judging it.  In the classic psychological sense, these are triggers for me.  They trigger the risk of self-pity and self-righteousness.

Did you read my post about the Train Wreck movie?  Promiscuity is a trigger for me.  So is smoking and marijuana.  I want so much to be more modern, adult, and normal about these issues.  So far, I can only do so by employing the good mental health strategies I’ve been practicing.  If I ever smoke again, even once, I have to tell TL about it.  I have to not hide it.

From reading this blog, you know about my long struggle with sex, porn, masturbation, and adultery.  I see a connection between that struggle and my inner struggle pitting Victorian me again progressive me.  Sure, there were other problems and causes:  low self-esteem, failure to take responsibility, and self-pity.  Misogyny played a role too.  I was consumed by the idea that a man should have a long sexual track record and a woman should be chaste.  I suspect that, at least in part, I became obsessed with that idea because of my inner cultural dichotomy.

If my worldview was consistently progressive, I might have accepted that a spouse’s sexual history had no bearing on the present relationship.  There should have been no temptation to compare myself to TL or to other men sexually.

On the other hand, if my worldview was consistently Victorian, I would have found a spouse who really shared that worldview.

But, my worldview was conflicting.  I associated with progressive people in a progressive milieu, and I strived to be progressive.  But, it wasn’t entirely me.  I was deceiving myself.  I was trying so hard not to acknowledge Victorian me that I succeeded in forgetting it existed.  But, it rose up like a demon unchained, possessed me, and drove me to lash out at TL in a cruel, deceptive series of outbursts, of self-pity and of self-righteousness.  I criticized TL intensely, frequently, and sometimes insidiously about her sexual history, even while I attempted to show her only progressive me.  Victorian me leapt out, enveloped progressive me, and took over.  The self-righteousness was coupled with revenge seeking.  Victorian me said that men should be sexually experienced and women should not.  So, Victorian me vowed to correct the perceived imbalance, by relentlessly trying to grow my own sexual track record — love, morals, integrity, safety, and reason be damned.

You know my story.  My point is that what ended up destroying TL, the only person I really love, began as an inner struggle against myself.  I thought I was a progressive person with a progressive life.  In fact, my Victorian side had a stranglehold on me.  I didn’t think it would.  My parents had overtly told me to be modern and educated.  But, their unspoken teachings, their belief in the Victorian values, saturated my mind.  Victorian me could not handle what progressive me wanted.  I succumbed to my duality, not by joining an extremist group, but by behaving as an extremist with regard to sex, women, tobacco, and progressive ways of life.

These kids that leave America and go off to Syria to fight for ISIS, succumbed to their duality.  They were never entirely comfortable with modern American behaviors regarding sex and the role of women, for example. Combine that with low self-esteem and the seductive preaching that says their misfortune was not their fault — rather, it was the fault of another culture or a set of policies — and they are tempted to give up the struggle to accept progressiveness.  It’s easier to just say that progressiveness is evil, to reject it, and to embrace Victorian (or fundamentalist) values.

I have definitively turned my back on the idea of living a Victorian life, with a Victorian wife.  One of my many problems before D-day was succumbing to my hidden discomfort with that decision.  The child part of my personality wanted the security blanket of Victorian views, wanted the unattainable reality of living in both worlds.  So, it is the adult part of my personality that must remind me, whenever tempted by self-pity or self-righteousness, that I chose the progressive path.  I must be consistent in following through on my chosen path.

TL: “My own shame”

I wrote this a while ago, but have been afraid to post it, afraid of MC’s reaction. Though, I really did not understand or recognize it as the basis of my fear. I think our recent discussion about Train Wreck brought it to the forefront. After seeing MC’s latest post, I shared this with him. He said it is the same thing we’ve talked about a few times before, but seeing it in writing is a bit of a trigger. I admitted hearing him say that scared me to death. We talked.

He talked to me as his friend, not in the obsessive, pouty, angry and/or distant manner of the past, but truly as a friend. It brought us closer instead of pushing us away from each other in fear. He also encouraged me to not be afraid, to share these thoughts. So here it goes.

A few sessions ago I spoke with B about the movie too. I’m sure it is hard to understand why this is such a big deal to MC and to me. It was the crux of his self-pity. B wanted to talk to me about my pre-marital sexual experiences, how I felt about them, how I was impacted by MC’s obsessive nature about my past and his own.

Though I had some regret and sadness over some of my pre-MC past, I didn’t really have any overwhelming shame about it. I realized that my shame over my past experiences really started and grew with each day I was with MC, after he began to get down on me over my past before him. I had sexual relations with one partner more than MC had been with pre marriage. MC had been sexually active for much longer than me, had sexual experiences that I had never had and certainly had more experience with sex in general. But, I did have more “hook-ups” than MC during our college years (after my dad died, I went from being a virgin to having about an 18-month time-span of. . .let me just call it what it was. . .promiscuity). Luckily I ended that time of my life physically unscathed. I ended that time of my life knowing that it was not who I wanted to be and knowing it was not how I wanted to live my life.

I was always upfront with MC about this. I really thought he was my friend and understood that it came from an unhealthy, self-medicating kind of place, something I regretted, something I had faced and worked through. I wanted him to know because I wanted an honest relationship, no secrets between us. After we married, I was confronted with MC’s obsessive insecurities over my past and his own. It was then that I started to beat myself up over the past, perhaps in some way I hoped it would appease MC.

The reality is finally again I don’t feel shame over my past. Yes, it was based on some immature choices that ultimately were not healthy for me, and I am glad I learned the lessons I needed to learn as a young person, on that front anyway. But, it was never a betrayal of MC, he wasn’t even in my life during that time. I feel good now being able to look back at that time and not be consumed in shame over it. Now I just need to get over my fear of his self-pity. The talk the other night was reassuring, but admittedly the fear still exists within me.

MC: Response to “Train Wreck” post

TL and I discussed whether she and I should see this movie together.  We actually know very little about the movie.  But, TL did see a trailer in which the female protagonist talks about being promiscuous.  TL and I know that promiscuity is a trigger for me.  It triggers me to struggle with self-pity.

Yes, I know.  For most mainstream, natural-born modern Americans of our generation, it’s weird for a man to feel threatened by the thought of promiscuity. But, that’s the problem that has dogged me for all these decades.  I am curious to know whether any other guys struggle with this and whether it has affected their behavior.

When I dwelled on the ensuing feeling of self-pity, it lead me to justify, in my own mind, acts of infidelity.  It lead me to think I could or should feel better about myself if only I could have “enough” sex or validation from other women to make me feel I had obtained the sexual experience I thought I had been lacking.  Of course, “enough” was undefined and unattainable.  Nothing could make me feel I had compensated for my self-perceived pre-marital sexual naivety.  Nothing could change my past.  Nothing.

TL and I recalled that the only time we had seen a film that directly addressed my trigger, it was Chasing Amy.  It must be 20 years ago that we saw that Ben Affleck film. Affleck’s character was unable to deal with his girlfriend’s sexual history.  He behaved obsessively and irrationally.  Ultimately, their relationship failed.  She decided she just could not live with his irrational behavior.  The movie gave me a chill.  On one hand, I was grateful that someone had finally written something that captured my feelings about sex.  On the other hand, it did not suggest any solutions.

TL and I decided that we could watch Train Wreck together.  We acknowledged that it might contain one or more triggers for me.  But, I wanted to prove to TL, and to myself, that I could handle it.  I never know when I might inadvertently stumble across something in a movie, magazine, pop culture, television or radio program, overheard conversation, memory, or damned near anything that might reference promiscuity, might be a trigger for me, and might tempt me to wallow in self-pity.  I wanted to practice facing my fears, so to speak, and show us that I could safely overcome the temptation of self-pity.

We still haven’t gotten around to scheduling a babysitter and seeing the movie, parents night out was cancelled.  In the meantime, I discussed all this with B, our counselor.  B’s initial advice was that perhaps I should not see the movie.  I’m trying to decide whether I agree.

I told B that self-pity was my true demon.  Sex, alcohol, porn, and masturbation were not really addictions for me.  Though I did behave compulsively toward those things at times, I don’t necessarily even think that I was strictly compulsive or obsessive about those things.  I was, however, seduced by self-pity.  Self-pity has always tempted me.  I sought refuge in it.  It was like a comfortable blanket, or even like a womb.

Seeing a movie scene about in-your-face promiscuity risks making me feel sorry for myself.  I know it sounds dumb.  I would be tempted to think about my disappointment with my own pre-marital sexual history.  I would be tempted to wish TL’s pre-marital sexual history was at least one less than mine, preferably zero.  Unable to change the past, I would be on the verge of feeling depressed about the past not being what I wanted it to be.  I would be on the verge of blaming God, TL, my mother, or others for my depression.  I would be tempted to ignore my own responsibility, in the past and in the present.

B and I compared it to alcoholism.  I said I’m not sure whether self-pity is an addiction for me, a compulsive behavior, or something else.  B said it does not matter.  The treatment is the same.  It takes vigilance, and it’s never “done.”

An alcoholic needs several strategies for resisting alcohol.  Avoiding alcohol is one approach.  But, sometimes it might be unavoidable.  One might encounter it at a friend’s house, a store, or whatever.  The alcoholic needs strategies to deal with those contingencies as well.

But, can an alcoholic intentionally walk into a bar, with a friend, for the sake of spending a good (and sober) time with that friend?  I don’t know. I think the answer is different for different people.  B suggested that walking into the Train Wreck movie with TL might sit me down in front of self-pity in the same way an alcoholic in a bar might be sitting across from a friend drinking a beer.

TL and I discussed this.  I admit that my trigger, about promiscuity, is still a trigger.  I think it always will be.  But, I don’t think that is catastrophic news.  It just means I always have to manage it.  I may be that way until I die.  It may be part of me.  But, I believe I can use the strategies I have been learning to manage it.  Soon, I hope to write a post that explains more about where I got that messed up view of life, how promiscuity became a trigger for me.

Of course, you’ll ask what are those strategies.  B told me that distracting myself can be useful.  If I sense myself starting to ruminate, feel sorry for myself, or spiral toward depressing thoughts, she said, it’s helpful to think about work, family activities, fitness, or anything practical and positive.

Second, regular attention to my mental health is a preventive measure.  It is not a cure all.  Yes, before D-day, even this preventive measure did not overcome my premeditated intention to cheat, lie, and try to compensate myself for things I thought were missing.  Nonetheless, these preventive health measures reduce the chances of ruminating or obsessing on sick thoughts.  Preventive measures include getting adequate sleep, exercise, a healthy diet, regular family time, regular religious time, and attention to my spouse as a friend.

Third, our original counselor told me that when these depressing thoughts occur, I can and should call them what they are:  sick obsessions.  Fourth, I should practice compassion, especially toward TL.  Fifth, I should practice empathy with TL.  Sixth, I should remember that after what I did to TL, I have no right to feel sorry for myself.

Seventh, I should count my blessings.  TL is mine to lose.  Self-pity brought me ruin.  I have plenty of blessings I can not afford to squander.

TL: “TrainWreck.”

I want to see the movie TrainWreck. I LOVE Amy Schumer. Sometimes her comedy is a bit raunchy, I realize, but sometimes she is just so spot-on in such a funny way, I cannot help but love her. Now, the question is whether or not to take Mindless with me to see this movie. I understand the subject of “numbers” comes up, how many people the main character has slept with versus her new boyfriend. This is the issue that fueled so much of MindlessCraft’s self-pity and was a component of the path that led him to such horrible choices. Do I trust that he really is dealing with that issue and take him with me? Lord knows I’ve sat through enough Star Trek and South Park on his behalf. Or, do I go it alone?

Mindless traveled four days last week and two days this week. Given that, I have done surprisingly well. Yes, he calls, texts, FaceTimes OFTEN, he constantly invites me to view his Waze itinerary and routes when driving anywhere. In fact, I can’t get away from the bugger it would seem. Nah, really, it is reassuring. But, last week I started back to school, was on my own with kiddos and would like a little adult entertainment. Ok, get your mind out of the gutter. You know what I mean, drinks and a movie with my husband. Yes, I would like that very much. But, do I dare take him to TrainWreck? What say the peanut gallery?

MC: “I’m not a little boy.”

But, a few weeks before that visit I also made one awful decision that the polygraph did not address.  I started buying an ice cream bar after dinner once in a while.  Then it became every night.  I then told myself to stop that because I was watching my weight.  I have a hard time sitting still and wanted a way to wind down before going to bed each night.  Before D-day I would look to porn, masturbation, affairs, or prostitutes for that purpose when alone.  I definitely did not want to ever do those again.  I considered alcohol, but thought that would be worse than ice cream.  So, I turned to cigarettes.  I started covertly smoking.  I didn’t tell TL.

There were so many issues with that smoking problem.  As I look back on it now, I realize that 95% of the desire to wind down is reduced by not being alone, physically or emotionally.  That year I was physically alone.  Before d-day, I had made TL and I feel emotionally alone.  I had been so habitually deep in self-pity and expecting TL to meet my needs that I had let that sick thinking overshadow our previously good friendship.

I still feel a little restless discomfort on those rare occasions when I’m truly alone, like on business travel without TL.  I do consider alcohol, ice cream, or chocolate sometimes when that happens.  But, I know what’s happening and I choose not to do it.  I wonder why I’m that way, why I sometimes feel that restlessness when I’m alone.

I wonder whether it’s because I never learned how to be alone.  My parents were always omnipresent, like prison guards.  After that, I almost always lived with dorm-mates, roommates, girlfriends, or TL.  On the other hand, there have been plenty of occasions when I did OK alone.

Maybe it’s because of my high metabolism.  I’ve always been almost constantly in motion, mentally if not physically.  I do find that healthy routines relating to food, caffeine, exercise, alcohol, and sunshine help me immensely.  I think of them as naturopathic methods to regulate the mood-related chemicals in my body.  TL and I both worry about the use of anti-depressants.  We’ve both seen family members and friends who relied heavily and permanently on anti-depressants and other prescription drugs, becoming addicted and decaying mentally and physically as a result.

Second, of course, I should have told TL about the smoking,  I know that the smoking wouldn’t have bothered her so much.  It was the fact that I hid it from her that made her feel hopeless.  I don’t fully understand why I hid it from her.  It’s true that I grew up in a very conservative community, where smoking was discussed only with hushed-voices and piety.  I think it’s also true that I had become afraid of TL, afraid of her anger and disappointment.

Third, I justified my smoking by blaming TL for smoking first.  She had shared a cigarillo and a glass of wine with her cousin one evening and told me about it during one of our many FaceTime calls. As I discussed with my counselor the other day, justifying bad choices is bad enough. On top of that, I had some inexplicable desire to control whether TL smoked, a desire to change that reality.  That feeling was familiar.  It was very similar to the feeling I had before D-day when I justified my cheating by telling myself my sexual history did not measure up to TL’s.  I think I felt my manhood was threatened if I could not be confident I had had more sex, smoked more, tried drugs more, drank more, or God-knows-what-else more than TL.

Why should I feel threatened based on such a bizarre thing?  I’m still not sure I totally understand it.  Let’s be clear. It was wrong and pathological on my part.  But, explaining its origin is another question.  My theory is that it was my warped attempt to be an adult, to be independent of my mother.  Now I’m working on taking on genuine adult responsibilities, through being a husband, father, employee, advisor in my profession, man of faith in my religion, and citizen.

But, back then, before D-day, I was striving for adulthood, for manhood, in the wrong way.  I was angry at being treated as a little boy, by my mother.  I suspected that bosses, peers, women, and others perceived me as a little boy, not as a man.  Indeed, my physical appearance is that of a much younger man.  I’m a bit on the small side physically.  And, perhaps I had developed a subconscious habit of seeing myself as my mother saw me.  She was always so omnipresent in my early life.

She  taught me — rather piously and even angrily — that sex, smoking, drugs, drinking, and many more things were bad.  So, I think I calculated that I could measure my manhood based on my ability to do those things my mother said not to do.  And, if others — particularly a woman — beat me on those scales, I felt my manhood was threatened.  Yes, I know it’s pathological, and I’m working on countering my long history of such unhealthy thinking.  In fact, it was so deeply ingrained in me that I wouldn’t even call it thinking.  It was more of a sick, subconscious philosophy.

In any case, choosing to hide the smoking from TL was perhaps the worst decision I have made since D-day.  Though it started in September, I hid it until July, revealing it only just before my most recent polygraph.  We’re still recovering from that lie.  I wasn’t betraying TL with sex or other people.  But, by hiding part of myself from her, it was a betrayal of our friendship.  I can pat myself on the back for not using porn, masturbation, or sex illicitly for three years, and for not lying to TL about anything but smoking in those three years.  But, clearly I still have work to do.

Otherwise, what I remember from our year apart was the wonderful times we had together when I was home on breaks.  We saw old friends and new.  We had date nights and family nights.  Our sex life was the best it had ever been, in my view.  We had a nice family ski trip on my second break.  Each break, TL and I made it a point to go away for a spa weekend together.

I took three polygraph tests that year.  I passed every time.  TL was in deep despair when the smoking lie came out.  Thank God we’re still together.  This year I tell her everything about my day, every day.  I can’t lie to her again.

Around the time of my second break, I completed the self-study portion of my religious conversion.  On my third break I traveled to meet with the clerics, complete the interview portion, and undergo the rituals.  TL and the kids met me there.  I remember that day fondly.  I remember in the interview how I tied everything together.

Without getting into terrible details, I explained to the clerics that one of my main motivations for the conversion was to dedicate myself to a better path after learning from my personal mistakes and sins.  I also told them how some part of my problem came from centering my life around myself.  Thus, by putting God and family at the center of my life, I hoped to resolve my biggest problems that led to my sins:  selfishness, self-centeredness, and self-pity.

Then TL and I returned home for our vow renewal ceremony.  Close to our twentieth anniversary, we finally had the wedding ceremony and honeymoon I should have given TL years ago.  Actually, we did give ourselves a nice honeymoon cruise for our fifth anniversary.  But, this time, it was the whole package.  It was like starting over.  Our family and friends were there.  We wrote our own vows.  We did everything in the proper religious tradition.  The night before, we hosted a nice, but fun, reception at our home.  We even had a nice cake.

Earlier in the year I had begun working with an attorney to create a post-nuptial agreement for TL.  We finalized it toward the end of that year.  The idea was to assure TL that she had choices, that she did not have to stay in the marriage just for financial security.

In the final weeks of our year apart, I made a discovery that I still find useful.  I was never seduced by women, sex, or anything else.  I was seduced by self-pity.  One rare Saturday I was alone in my apartment, reading.  I came across a stupid men’s magazine that the previous resident had left behind.  I casually paged through it and came upon an article about how to be successful as a single guy, or some stupid thing.  Falling prey to my own old bad habit, my mind went back in time twenty-five years, to when I was a single guy.  I recalled how very unsuccessful I had felt back then. I don’t know how much time I wasted — maybe 30 minutes or more — feeling sorry for myself and my memories of feeling inadequate.

Eventually I got ahold of myself and firmly reminded myself I could not afford that type of thinking.  Unhealthy as that thinking was, this time it was also a revelation.  I realized I was never tempted so much by seeing an available woman, a porn magazine, or something similar.  Certainly two-years after D-day, I did not consider those things to be serious temptations.  Self-pity, on the other hand, was tempting.  That’s what requires me to be vigilant, ready to counter self-pity with positive and practical thinking.

When our year apart finally came to a close, we started on the most  recent leg of our journey together.  This brings me back to my most recent polygraph success and my terrible smoking confession.  TL almost left me that day.  She said the vow renewal, rings, and everything else were worthless because I was hiding smoking from her during that time.

I don’t know why she agreed to move to our current location and stay with me.  Thank God she did.  We had a fun family vacation drive across the country, enjoying lots of hiking, swimming, and once-in-a-lifetime family moments.  Our current home turned out to be a good place for us to spend time together, nurturing the kids and our relationship as a couple.

Maybe that is what forgiveness will mean to me.

As we go through this process, Mindless talks a lot about the pervasive self-pity he held onto, almost like a security blanket. He talks about how he blamed G-d, parents, me, bosses, essentially everyone but himself for his problems. Oh, I see it, but not just in him. I see it in me. Not to the degree that Mindless discusses. I have fought thinking that way all of my life because I did not want to repeat my parents mistakes. I did a post about “the victim mentality” recently. Here’s the thing, I think I’ve done it in some ways without even realizing it.

I have a hard time saying no. I get upset with myself for not saying no when I do not want to do something. I put myself in the victim role by agreeing to do things I don’t want to do. For example, volunteering at my child’s school, I was asked to take the lead on a project I just really did not have the time, patience or desire to lead. The commitment grew, expectations grew, and my time and devotion to the project grew. Not because I wanted to do the project, but because I didn’t say no to it and therefore felt committed to see it through to the best of my abilities. Yet, I spent too much time being angry at myself for not saying no. This put me in the victim role. The thing is, I had a choice, I have a choice.

There are other examples of similar situations. I tell myself “I must” or “I should.” If I do get up the nerve to say no, I feel I must explain myself. Beyond some polite, “I just cannot take that on right now,” I don’t need to list off the reasons why. From now on instead of telling myself “I should” or “I must,” I think I will phrase it as “I choose to.” Perhaps this will help me to face that these are my choices.

In another way too, I think I adopted this victim mentality more than I realized. When I think of my past, before Mindless was even a part of my life, I think of all the things I went through as a child. I convinced myself that because of what I had survived, I had paid my dues and therefore would not face such deep difficulties in my future. Also, I held on to those memories almost as an award of distinction and honor, saying to myself “Look at what I survived.” I defined myself by wearing this label of “I survived, I overcame, blah, blah, blah. . .”. The problem with this thinking was and is twofold.

First, you never know what the future holds. Just because you’ve survived difficult things in the past doesn’t mean that your future will be free of difficulties. It just doesn’t work like that. Second, I am no longer that child, she does not need to define me anymore. I can be who I am in the present and the future and I don’t need to wear some label of the past (good or bad). Yes, it will always be a part of what made me into who I am today. Yes, I have learned many useful lessons along the way. But, those experiences are not the totality of who I am today. That would give the past way too much power over me still. I choose to not give it that power. I choose! One day, I will choose the same for what has happened between Mindless and me. I am not there yet, but I do see it as a choice to be made when I am ready. Maybe that is what forgiveness will mean to me. Hmmm?

Our steps, part one of many. . .

We say I have Selfish Oppressive Bastard (SOB) syndrome. Selfishness was clearly a problem for me, extending beyond the realm of sex and relationships.  “Oppressive ” refers to my misogynistic tendencies, so deeply ingrained in me that I didn’t recognize them until very recently.

TL and I have worked together to support her through the trauma and to work on my problems very intensely, with professional help, for nearly three years now. Our first therapist recommended Cairns.  After reading Out of the Shadows and some other work of Cairns, we discussed with our therapist the many things that did just not add up for me.  Cairns spent a lot of time describing men who just could not control their actions regarding sex, a process that included preoccupation, ritualization and despair that are an overpowering part of the addiction cycle. That wasn’t me. If opportunities presented themselves, I took them. But, I did not look at every woman as a potential opportunity. Though, I certainly have obsessive-compulsive tendencies and a history of impulsiveness, each time I cheated or lied, I did so based on a conscious decisions with little regret for the behavior, nor desire to stop.  For me, it all boiled down to the fact that when opportunity was there, I was willing, ready and able. Hence, why we call it Selfish Oppressive Bastard (SOB) Syndrome.

So, here’s the steps we’ve taken so far.  Step one was a system-shock.  With D-day, all the consequences I had spent years ignoring came to full bloom instantly, right before my eyes.  TL was deeply hurt, my actions caused her to be traumatized and she almost left me.  I could no longer hide the consequences from myself.  They were real.  It felt the same way I might feel if I stepped out my front door and saw a vampire.  Vampires are not real, right?

But there it is, standing in front of me, staring me in the face, and refusing to go back from whence it came.  The only thing I could do is learn to live with the vampire.  But, I did know exactly why the vampire was there, exactly which of my choices summoned it into existence.  I knew, at least, that I didn’t ever again want to do, say, or think anything that might summon another vampire.

Self-pity and how I prevent it

First, self-pity, stemming from jealousy and comparing myself to others, was my fundamental problem. Before D-day, if I told myself to avoid porn or available women, sooner or later I forgot my commitment to avoid them, lost my resolve, and wandered back to them.

I’ll digress briefly to explain two parts of my thinking that could seem contradictory if oversimplified.  On one hand, every time I cheated I arrived at that action through a series of conscious decisions. I said to myself, “I deserve these experiences.” I did not say to myself, “I did not mean to cheat.” On the other hand, there were two brief moments when I told myself I would stop cheating.  One was after my first affair with an AP.  The other was after we moved away from a land full of prostitutes.  Each of these two times, I briefly said to myself, “I will stop doing that.”  When I stepped away from the time and place of those particular sins, I got a little bit fuller perspective on the costs. Each time, however, in the months that followed, in the face of my self-pity, I again made a series of conscious and selfish decisions that set me on a path toward cheating.

My failure was due to focusing on the wrong thing.  Porn and sex were symptoms for me. Self-pity was the disease.  Now I have identified it, I understand its dangers, and I focus on overcoming it.

Second, I should identify my vulnerabilities.  What things make me feel self-pity?  It seems like the last time I was drawn in by self-pity I had seen, read, or heard something from a magazine, movie, television show, video, or other people’s conversation that tempted me to compare my pre-marital sexual history to that of other people.  That’s usually, if not always, how it happened.  Someone — be it a real person in my life, or even a person on television — said something that reminded me that I had been unhappy about my pre-marital sex life.

I can’t prevent that from happening.  I can, however, control my reaction to it.  The easiest and most successful strategy I have used in that regard is basically to change the channel in my mind.  Instead of repeating to myself how much I wished my pre-marital sex life had been better,  I can go talk to my wife, kids, or just about anyone about something else, something positive, or at least something unrelated.  That helps.  The last time I remember that I really struggled with this self-pity was a time when I was alone for several hours, not working, not exercising, and not socializing.  Re-directing my thoughts can help with that.

Third, of course I need to eliminate the source of the self-pity:  my previous view that God owed me something.  I need to remind myself that the past is the past, the present could pass me by if I fail to act, and the future can only be better if I make it better.

Fourth, counting my blessings is a reminder that I have a lot to lose by focusing on self-pity.  Now I remember to tell myself, when tempted by self-pity, that I am very lucky to have my wife and kids and that I could lose them by dwelling on self-pity.

Fifth, I need new ways of feeling OK about myself.  Before D-day I struggled to find reasons to feel happy about myself.  I thought maybe I would like myself if I had been more successful sexually as a single man.  That thinking led to disaster.  I thought I might like myself if other people liked or admired me.  That was hit-and-miss and quite subjective.  I thought I might like myself if I got promotions or kudos at work.  That was also hit-and-miss and it led to my wife feeling I chose my work instead of her. I thought I might like myself if I continued to improve my health and fitness.  That does help a little.  But, it seems dangerous to have so many self-esteem eggs in that one basket.

Since D-day, I’ve tried to broaden my ways of finding something good in myself.  I can now also try to like myself for successes — however small — in terms of integrity, self-discovery, doing good deeds for my wife and kids, good ideas about society, insightful observations, and taking care of my family. It does help to have more reasons to like myself.

I’m not sure that any one of these reasons, by itself, would be a healthy place to gamble my entire self-esteem.  But, it’s certainly healthier than having the majority of my self-esteem depend only on my view of my sexual history, my job, my popularity, and fitness, the way it did before D-day.  So now if I start feeling low about myself on account of my pre-marital sexual history, a disappointment at work, or whatever, I can balance that out by recalling something better about myself in other areas such as, for example, integrity, insight, support to family, or other things.

Sixth, I now have permission from my first counselor, Phil, to stop comparing my sexual history to that of others.  He said it was a sick obsession.  I know this requires some explanation.  Before D-day TL had told me that it was sick and wrong for me to compare my sexual history to hers or anyone else’s.  Even if I did, it’s nothing that should have made me feel bad.  I should not have used it as a measure of my self-esteem.  I suspected she was right.  But, another part of me was afraid she was wrong about that.  After all, television, movies, literature, peers, celebrities, and so many other sources said or did things that made me think a man should measure his self-worth by his sexual conquests.

After D-day, we talked with Phil about how I compared my sexual history to TL’s and became mired in jealousy, self-pity, and feelings of inferiority.  Phil quickly and matter-of-factly said, “That’s sick.  That’s a sick obsession.”  To me, that was a watershed moment, an important lesson, and a touchstone I can continue to use.  Phil’s not a genius and I’m not an idiot.  But, somehow, Phil being a credentialed professional and a disinterested third-party gave me great faith in those words when he said them.  I had wanted, for years, to believe those words.  I was grateful to hear them from someone who was male, trained as a counselor, and not personally related to our situation.  The sick obsessions were the focus of my self-pity.  Mastering the sick obsessions was the key to mastering the self-pity.  Being confident that they were just sick obsessions helped, a lot.

Seventh, I’m trying to learn to like myself.  One of the deeper reasons for the sick obsessions and the self-esteem crisis was that I didn’t really like myself in some ways.  Since I was a child I did not like myself.  I liked some things about myself and some things about life.  But, there were a few nagging things I did not like.  I’ve been working on learning to be OK with myself.  That includes focusing on the things I do like, changing the things I can change, and learning new ways to view the things I did not like.  This approach helps me stop comparing myself to others and stop succumbing to jealousy.

A final useful strategy to stop comparing myself to others and thus stop feeling self-pity is to look at where I learned that behavior in the first place.  I learned it from my mother.  She still does those things.  Before D-day and therapy, I didn’t even realize that I had internalized those behaviors that are so frustrating in my mother.  She’s still unhappy, largely due to those behaviors.  Looking at her bad example in that light is a frightening reminder that I can and must reject self-pity.

 MC: “Escape into fantasy.”

We moved again, and I entered another dark chapter.  It wasn’t all bad.  TL and I helped each other through more new experiences, including parenthood.  But, I did some awful things.  TL experienced some physical injuries during the birth.  It was therefore painful and inadvisable for us to have sex for a while.  I quietly started to feel sorry for myself, more than usual, obsessing on wanting more sex and attention.

This, by itself, would have been manageable.  This alone might not have led me astray again.  Another risk factor complicated things:  easily available women, women I should have avoided.  Mind you, now, as I work on reconciling, I am overcoming my self-pity.  Now, though I try to avoid available women just to be safe, I can be around them now without transgressing. Among other things, I have developed healthy habits in this regard such as recognizing such women early; telling TL about them immediately; and, if I must interact, talking in a way that makes it clear that I am not available or interested.

I was traveling a lot for work.  Every couple weeks I spent one or two nights in a city that was crawling with relatively inexpensive prostitutes and zero law enforcement.  I was introduced to this fact quite by accident.  Usually I traveled there alone.  On that fateful night a married co-worker accompanied me.  Usually I ate in my hotel and read myself to sleep.  On that fateful night the co-worker suggested we go out to eat.

TL has asked me to reconstruct this conversation again and again.  I think it went something like this.  During dinner, he was bragging about his sexual history, claiming to have slept with over 300 women. Two prostitutes were watching us as we ate. As we left the restaurant, they offered us their services.  The girls were selling themselves hard.  I did not say “yes.”  I also did not say “no.”  I looked at my colleague to try to figure out what he was thinking.  He said, “Are we really going to do this?”  I said, “I guess so.”

During the eighteen months or so that followed, I saw that prostitute at least half a dozen times.  There was another prostitute I saw half a dozen times or so.  There were at least a dozen other prostitutes, each of whom I saw anywhere from once to four times or so.  There was one waitress who once agreed to come to my room and have sex, free of charge.

In addition to the betrayals, and other deeply hurtful aspects of this, a few points make these experiences particularly painful for TL and shameful for me.  One is the health risk.  Many times I did not use protection.  How often did I use protection and how often did I not?  Who knows.  I didn’t bother to keep track.  I think at least ninety percent of the times the woman insisted on condoms.  There were a few occasions when she did not.  I took advantage of those times.  Why did I do that?  I thought it felt better without protection.

What about the very serious risk of very serious diseases?  In the heat of the moment, I told myself not to worry about that.  I told myself, “No, it’s OK.  Hurry and get what selfish pleasure you can out of life before God takes it away.  You won’t get another chance at total, one-hundred percent self-indulgence, so milk it for all it’s worth.”  The next morning, and for days and years afterward, I would look back on those self-indulgent risks and worry terribly about the consequences.  I could get a disease.  TL could get a disease.  She could transmit it to our child.  My actions could have lead to the death of my wife and child.

I remember, at times, I prayed that God would save us from the diseases.  I did not pray for God to help me stop because part of me did not want to stop. TL now wonders whether I wanted to kill her and our child through disease.  I did not, no more than I wanted to kill myself.  I did not want to kill myself.  In those moments of extreme risk-taking I had reached the pinnacle of selfishness, focused so tightly on self-pity and my “deserving” of immediate gratification that my thoughts blotted out all other thoughts that would have considered the future, other people, or consequences.

I had spent over thirty years thinking about the past, the future, other people, and consequences of almost every aspect of life and the world.  So, I gave myself permission to escape into the fantasy that there was no future, no other people, and no consequences.  In those moments of illicit unprotected sex, I told myself that I was the only thing that existed in the universe, that moment was the only moment that existed in time, and the rest of space and time were simply inconsequential imaginings.  What was I trying to escape?  Myself.  I was trying to escape my feelings of jealousy, inadequacy, and insecurity.  I was flying directly toward self-pity, like a moth to a flame.

Was it stupid?  Yes.  Was it mentally ill?  Maybe.  Was it self-centered?  Obviously.  Was it wrong?  Of course. Thinking that way could have opened the door to all kinds of asocial, autistic behaviors.  You’d have to think that way to commit murder or other atrocities, right?  You’d have to think that way to commit suicide, including through substance abuse, right?  You’d have to think that way to totally abandon, temporarily or otherwise, parents, spouses, children, family, religion, ethnicity, partisanship, professionalism, compassion, humanity, and other values.

It was not beyond my control.  I chose it.  But, at the same time, the effects were similar to temporary insanity.  Does that make me not guilty?  No, I was guilty.  I had free will.  I actively chose to relinquish it for brief moments to indulge myself.  Does that mean my personal values were corrupt and insane?  Yes.  That’s why part of my journey in reconciliation is a reexamination of and daily reconsecration to my values.

Don’t be a victim

One attitude I had prior to D-day that led me to a lot of trouble was the tendency to always paint myself as a victim.  This was a self-centered and childish tendency to see the world as all about me.  It also hurt me, by giving me an excuse not to try to improve myself and my lot, physically, mentally, emotionally, morally, as a husband, and as a father.  It led me to blame others, including God or fate, for my happiness or lack thereof, rather than work toward happiness. Ultimately, it led me to cheat, lie, lead a double-life, and lose all touch with my wife, kids, and what really matters to me in life.

For example, my mentally-ill mother taught me that some people are just born more athletic or stronger and others are born smarter and more academic. She taught me to believe that if you were not born with those natural abilities, there was nothing you could ever do about it.  Untrue.  In both sports and academics, despite some genetic inheritance, most of what leads to success is dedication, motivation, practice, an open-minded quest for knowledge, discipline, and persistence.  No Olympian just lazed his way to victory on the back of genetic gifts without hard work.  No inventor ever just visualized a new technique or device without building on years of study and thought.  But, I subconsciously bought into my mother’s excuses and blaming fate.  I essentially told myself I was not a natural athlete.  So, I set myself years behind physically by failing to try.  I essentially told myself I was naturally smart.  So, I set myself behind academically by failing to work, assuming academic success would just appear due to my natural intelligence.  Crap.

Here’s another example. As an adolescent I told myself some guys just naturally get girls and others don’t.  Never mind about hygiene, confidence, humor and approachability, taking care of yourself, being patient, and enjoying socializing without insisting it end in sexual conquest.  I thought some guys just go to a club with a bad attitude and only thinking of sexual conquest and invariably go home with a girl. I never considered that maybe they put a whole lot more effort into it than that.  I never considered that maybe they weren’t at the club only for an obsessive quest to get laid.  So, I got very angry at myself and at God or fate when I sought to get laid and failed, without having the right preparation and the right attitude.  And, I gave up quickly and easily.

The common theme here is that I didn’t see myself as an actor choosing my destiny and being responsible for my success or failure.  I saw my successes and failures as gifts or curses from God or fate.  I got angry instead of getting a plan.  I was the victim, not the person responsible for my happiness or lack thereof.

As the victim, I didn’t think about the pain I would cause others by cheating and lying.  I thought, woe is me, I deserve more sex and self-validation, even if I have to be evil to get it.  As the victim, I wallowed in self-pity, believing my pain, real or imagined, was more important than the consequences I was inflicting on my wife and others.

The only good news out of this is that I have learned one measure of my progress in R and self-healing.  Do I want to be the victim?  Am I tempted by self-pity?  If so, I’m not working on R, I’m working against it.  Do I want to take responsibility to help myself and my wife?  If so, I’m at least headed in the right direction.

If I wallow around in victimhood, blaming old partners, parents, ailments, or whatever for my condition, there is no way I can help my BW.  If I do that, my wife could do a whole lot better without me.

When I talk to God now, I’m also talking to myself.  God, give me the strength to take responsibility for my life and to make the best of it, for me and for my loved ones.