How far will you go to heal?
Last week, it was interesting to notice that when I got triggered, I was overwhelmed with the same uncomfortable physical symptoms I had over a year ago.
I call Rafiki.
“How come, when you challenge me, my Higher Power, the Universe, God or whatever you want to call it, slams me to the ground?” I ask.
“I don’t understand,” Rafiki responds.
I tell him what happened last week with my dream about being sucked out to sea and the trauma reaction I had.
“Ah, I see.” Rafiki says, grinning from ear to ear.
“What?” I ask, getting irritated.
“Your Higher Power,” Rafiki laughs, “has a bigger stick than me. Hopefully, you’re learning His lesson.”
Let’s take a step back to the day before I wrote Sucked into the Undertow.
“What’s the definition of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?” I query Rafiki.
“Why do you ask?” Leave it to him to answer a question with a question.
“Well, I never thought that I might have PTSD and I’m starting to question if I do. I realize that I’m starting to experience that old physical pain that I struggled with for so long. It’s not as overwhelming as it was before, but it’s there, just under the surface. In recovery, the focus has always been my former spouse and her triggers to what I did in our marriage. But I’m noticing that I’m feeling triggered too.”
“What thoughts are going on right now?” And he digs. It’s why I love him.
“Last week my former spouse and I opened up on a lot of topics, one being this blog. There was vulnerability without fear of being hurt. There was openness without judgement. There was understanding without blame. It was wonderful.”
“That’s great Phoenix!” Rafiki jumps around clicking his heals. Does a baboon actually have heals?
“At the beginning of the week, we would text each other. Just a brief hello, have a nice day. I shared my blog A Gift Resides With Every Moment with her. In between her breaks from work there would be a text. And what’s weird, I’m sorry if this sounds bad, but I looked forward to her texts more than I looked forward to yours.” I feel awkward admitting that.
“Of course, you did! You love your former spouse. It’s the connection you’ve longed for.” Rafiki pauses. I know what he’s going to say and I really don’t want to hear it. “You have to remember to keep your boundaries up. She does not chose you. She does not want a relationship with you. And her connection with you means something completely different than how you perceive it to be. You’ve always made up that it means more than it does, which is why I continue to caution you not to get that close. You only end up hurting yourself.”
I sigh, a tear rolling down my cheek. “I know.” Many times, I get annoyed hearing this. Right now, I feel sadness. “That’s why I was asking about PTSD. Towards the end of the week, the ‘have a nice day’ and the ‘hellos’ became less. The texts seemed stilted, different in some way. Like she had her fill of me, the tide flowing away. And I noticed that my body started to react internally again, those physical pains. Not to the extent as before, but still there. I noticed that I started to fight the tiger instead of dancing with it. I started having trouble sleeping again. And then I thought, could I have PTSD?”
Rafiki responds with a definition, “Those with PTSD have memories and images of the traumatic event intruding into their minds. They occur suddenly without obvious cause. They are often accompanied by intense emotions, such as grief, guilt, fear, or anger.” He stops and questions, “Wouldn’t you agree that the childhood trauma of being replaced or abandoned may cause PTSD symptoms within you?”
“Whoa!” I exclaim. “I guess I never really thought my trauma reactions are PTSD related.”
“Phoenix, don’t we constantly talk about triggers? What is childhood trauma? The definition of ACOA is an adult who regresses to a childhood state. Isn’t an adult child the very definition of PTSD?
“Just because you’ve done some deep work to alleviate the reactive nature of your past, doesn’t mean there isn’t residual pain still in your body. Like recovery from an addiction, you need to constantly work program to say grounded. That’s the same when it comes to your traumatic stressors.”
Working on trauma from the past, doesn’t mean there won't be residual pain still left in the body. Click To Tweet
I sit stunned. ACOA was when I finally turned the rudder of my vessel. It has taken a long time to turn my boat 180 degrees. And I needed to learn about ACOA to start that shift in thinking. I never thought that ACOA’s childhood trauma was the same as PTSD, but trauma is exactly what this 12-step community focuses on.
Rafiki continues, “You had mentioned you wanted to look at PTSD to help you forgive your former spouse for her decisions. Why not look at it today? By understanding what you’ve experienced from your own recovery, looking at your own triggers and reactions, you can have empathy and compassion about what your actions did to her.” Rafiki pauses. “This will also help clarify the patterns the two of you continue to recreate.”
I Start Research
I sit down and start my research on PTSD. After reviewing the general description of PTSD and how it affects people, I start watching videos about how sex addiction and infidelity causes PTSD in the partner.
It has been found, that cheating on a spouse creates the same PTSD symptoms as someone who’s been raped. It’s important in recovery, for both the sex addict and the partner to understand, that the trauma caused from the betrayal in the partner must be addressed, not only for the couple to heal, but for the partner to also heal.
As I start gathering information I notice I feel bad that I didn’t truly get this before. On the other hand, I have some empathy for myself too. Anytime I had tried to look at this piece in the past, I was so overwhelmed with my own guilt and shame, that I lost the ability to manage my own emotions. It was like my brain was hijacked.
Then I realize what Rafiki was trying to tell me.
That hijacked brain triggered my own PTSD symptoms. Guilt and shame of not being perfect. Guilt and shame for my past actions and hurting my former spouse. The empathic piece of being connected to her and not only taking on her emotions, but the knowledge that her deep wounds were my fault. Then, throw the trauma about being replaced and my abandonment issues I struggled with since childhood on top of all that, it’s no wonder why I was all over the map.
I hear my therapist tell me, “Phoenix, it’s the journey, not the destination.”
I was so focused on my destination, that I didn’t stop and smell the roses. Ok, that might not be the best analogy. It was more like I plowed through a field of roses ignoring the damage the thorns were doing to me trying to hurry to my end goal. The faster I ran, the more lost and cut up I got.
Why do I suddenly picture Br’er Rabbit being thrown into the brier patch to get the tar off his body?
Maybe that’s what we need. To get thrown into the thorns to rip off the sticky emotions of guilt, shame, anger, resentment, and pain so that we can become reborn. “A problem only gets worse the more one struggles against it.”
A problem only gets worse the more one struggles against it. Click To Tweet
If I didn’t engage in my journey, there was no way I could allow myself to transform. If I stopped a moment and got my bearings, I may have worked my way out of the field of roses a lot quicker, with less injuries, and been able to smell the fragrance instead of being overcome with fear.
I needed the courage of my former spouse to throw me into the brier patch. I needed her to hold boundaries and ask for divorce. I needed to move out to really work on the deeper core issues I had been blind to.
When I was in the marriage it was easy to say, “you need to do this, you aren’t doing that, and we need to do this to fix us.” I spent more time pointing my fingers outward instead of looking at my part.
I was too focused on us to see that I needed to heal myself first.
I was too focused on my marriage to see that I needed to heal me first. Click To Tweet
The Night I Got Sucked into the Undertow
Right before I fell asleep, before my crazy dream, I talked with my former spouse for over an hour and a half. I was in a different space.
When I went to bed, I was calm. I was grateful. I had kept boundaries with her. I was open and honest without being reactive. I could “hear” her and, I believe, she felt safe to express her current and past fears and emotions.
We could talk about what had happened in our marriage and currently in our lives being compassionate to one another. We could both admit our part in our marriage and divorce without getting triggered. She could point out when I flipped something and made it about me without me becoming reactive (at least I think I didn’t get reactive).
In the past, we protected our perception of self and our ego at the expense of the other person.
That night it was much different.
When I woke up to my nightmare of wave after wave crashing down upon me, I seriously felt like I was drowning. As I had mentioned before, I had to force myself to wake up from that dream. “It’s not real Phoenix, wake up. Wake UP, Phoenix! WAKE UP!!!”
Here’s what I realized when I woke up.
I too, have had PTSD reactions when it comes to my former spouse. She has had PTSD reactions due to my past actions. And the two of us went around and around in our marriage and recovery, constantly triggering and reacting to one another. There was no way we could ever have had the conversation we did until we processed the past, worked on the trauma piece, and learned to care for our inner child.
What I truly realized was that she, too, has spent years feeling the same way because of what I did. My actions outside of recovery and during recovery would trigger her. And not only my actions, but living in today’s sexualized world could, in an instant, trigger her into an emotional tsunami.
I have no idea what her physical and emotional triggers feel like, but if they were anything like the dream I had, no wonder she needed space from me. I broke her trust. I broke her heart. I broke her.
And, to top it off, I was too self centered to help her heal because all I could focus on was my own pain. I only blamed her for not taking care of me when it was my job to be there for her.
I was the one in the doghouse and didn’t accept that part of our recovery.
If the sex addict wants to mend the relationship, your most important piece is to support your partner. Look at understanding your partner for some ideas on how you can do this.
I also have resources available for the partner to help you on your journey of recovery.
It’s imperative for healing that the addict and the partner learn to understand that PTSD symptoms most likely will happen to both of you.
It’s imperative to understand that the unmanageable emotions that you’re feeling, your partner is feeling also.
For true healing to occur, both the addict and the partner will have to dig down deep and learn how to nurture their inner child.
And, it’s very important for the addict to understand that he or she caused those feelings and emotions in their partner. The reactions they are having are due to what the addict did in the relationship.
Through healing, there will be a depth of pain that will seem unmanageable, deeper than anything that has ever been felt before.
Both of you will feel like you are burning up from the inside.
But there is hope. You can rise from the ashes, either individually or together, and become reborn.
Back to the Present Day
“I’m not sure if I prefer your stick or my Higher Power,” I hesitate, trying to gather my thoughts, “You’ve challenged my thinking and bruised my head. But it feels like my Higher Power’s lessons dig deep into the core of who I am. I asked to help clarify what the PTSD triggers might feel like to my former spouse, and I was smacked hard with a nightmare.”
“Oh, that is the beauty of recovery,” Rafiki adds. “You need to dig deep into the pain to understand how your actions affect other people. You need to dig deep into the pain to learn how to take care of yourself. You need to dig deep into the pain to learn how to love yourself. You need to dig deep into the pain to learn how to transform and become reborn.”
“Why can’t loving yourself be an easy journey?” I ask.
“Ah,” mumbles Rafiki, “The definition of easy is only what you make it to be.”
The definition of easy, is only what you make it to be. Click To Tweet
I sit here and realize that not only do I need to forgive my former spouse, I also need to forgive me. I need to forgive myself for my actions in recovery, for not accepting her decisions, and for making the end goal of my journey focused solely on salvaging our marriage, not in loving myself and becoming the person I wanted to be.
I will be working on a series of blogs to continue to look at the PTSD piece to help me understand, from both perspectives, how my actions affected my former spouse and to further allow me to heal my inner child so I can continue my journey of forgiveness.
Hopefully, this will allow me to give her the freedom she has asked for all these years.
Hopefully, this will help me take the next step of moving on in my life.
Like the elephants in The Greatest Adventure is My Wish, I want to break the bonds that hold me so I can be free.
My wish, is that through this journey, my Fledglings can pick up nuggets of insight that help you become reborn once again, whether you decide to do that with your partner or separately.
This journey is one of courage. This journey will test your strength.
This journey will help you learn how to parent your inner child so that Together We Can Heal.
How far will you go so that you, too, can become reborn and learn to live again?
How Far I’ll Go
– Auli’i Cravalho