Happy New Year my Fledglings. Actually, it’s really Happy New Decade. Can you believe I haven’t written for a whole decade?
I can see the eye rolling response I’d get from my two teen daughters right now who aren’t as appreciative of “Dad jokes” as I am.
Seriously, I can’t believe it’s been three years since I wrote my first blog January 9, 2017. I’ve come such a long way from that first piece where my energy was focused on “if, through this blog, I can save just one marriage…”
I’ve had over 9 years in recovery and have done an inordinate amount of personal work. A little over five years ago my ex asked for separation. A year later she asked for divorce and another six months before we filed the divorce with the courts. This was followed by another three and a half years before the final papers were signed, just two months ago.
Our divorce will be finalized sometime this month (maybe it already has been) when we receive the stamped “judgment” in the mail.
“What I love about the universe, is that it will continue to repeat itself until you’re ready to listen.”
I listened alright. Just like a child listens to their parent. “Yeah, yeah. I hear you.”
I’d internalize what I heard for a few days, maybe a week or two, then back to old habits I’d go, only to once again be reminded that my actions showed I still did not get it.
A Fellow Fledgling
I recently received an email from a struggling sex addict. In a nutshell, due to being transparent and open with my personal journey of recovery from sex addiction and the struggles I’ve encountered trying “unsuccessfully” to salvage and save my marriage, he wanted to understand the pain his wife was going through due to his actions and how best to help his wife heal so he could “save his marriage”.
This started the two of us on an email exchange that has become not only enlightening to me, but hopefully has given him strength and hope with the knowledge that both he and his wife can Rise from the Ashes through recovery.
I specifically italicized “unsuccessfully” above because that was my core belief. To finalize my divorce meant I had failed. It was the prophecy my step-father gave me when he first met my ex, “Don’t fuck this one up.” His implication, I fuck everything up and no matter what I do, I will always fail.
Even though that was what my ex needed, almost never wavering in her belief to stand true to her morals and values, I tried to manipulate my way to get what I wanted.
I did not want to move out of the house. I did not want to sell our family home. I did not want to split our assets. I did not want to co-parent separately. I did not want to have a legal document state we were no longer husband and wife.
I was going to do whatever it took to prevent that from happening.
I could not be a failure yet again. I was not going to let my biggest fear in our marriage, the fear that she would leave me, become a reality.
And yet, the truth was, our marriage had died before it even started. It was withering when she was pregnant with our first daughter and we both continued to poison it with our own negative self-worth and faulty beliefs.
The universe has been talking to us since 2003, over 16 years ago. And we both didn’t listen…
The Disney Myth
The original question my Fledgling asked, which started our email exchange, was clarification as to why I challenged society’s relationship belief.
I had said in a blog that I did not believe that in order to have a successful relationship our partner should be everything to us: friend, lover, spouse, parent, child, and companion. He asked for more information as to why I thought this way.
I call this the Disney Myth.
One of my ex’s favorite Disney movies is Beauty and the Beast. She, like my daughters, are hopeless romantics.
Ok, ok, I admit. I’m a hopeless romantic too. Please don’t hold that against me. Romance movies rock!
Unfortunately, there’s a theme that follows most romance movies that’s false; we need a partner to complete us.
I absolutely love Lisa Nicols quote, “I don’t need someone to complete me. I would like someone to celebrate my completeness.” Definitely not Jerry McGuire.
I wrote a blog titled The Beast is Human. I believed that my addiction was the dark side of my personality, my Beast. I believed that if I could get Belle, my wife, to love me, she would find the light, the prince, that was buried underneath. I felt I was racing against time, trying to earn that love before the last rose pedal fell. And I did everything I could to “prove” my devotion to her.
As I was working on a cross-stitch divorce gift for my one-day-to-be ex (don’t ask, love makes us do strange things) I realized this myth. Why does the curse require that someone fall in love with the Beast so he can be turned back into a prince? Why is it necessary for love to come from an external source rather than from within? Why can’t the Beast learn to love himself and all his imperfections?
We have heard that it isn’t until we truly love ourselves that we can give and receive love from others. However, it seems we instead focus on receiving love and validation from another. We are consistently searching to find connection with someone, rather than being integrated and connected within ourselves.
This is the message Disney and romance movies tell us. It’s what society teaches and models for us.
That was my failure in my marriage and in my recovery. I based my personal success and emotional IQ on how much love I received from my ex. Add to this the complexity that we have different Love Languages and we truly aren’t living a life of integrity and being authentic when we walk around on egg-shells trying not to “rock the boat” with our partner.
It wasn’t until I had set my wife free, that in turn, I also set myself free.
Esther Perel is a Belgian psychotherapist who explores the tension between the need for security (love, belonging, and closeness) and the need for freedom (erotic desire, adventure and distance) in human relationships. She is the author of the books Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence and The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity.
Esther Perel explains the modern ideology of love.
“Never before has the couple been such a central unit in our social organization. Never have we expected more from our intimate relationships, and never have we crumbled under the weight of so many expectations.”
Through her research, her books, her Ted Talks, and her podcasts, Esther Perel explains the history of the modern family and how it has changed in the industrial age.
I explained to my Fledgling, that according to Esther, marriage has been redefined. In the 1900’s, marriage was a survival mechanism for the family. A man worked the fields while the wife took care of the kids. If a man didn’t work, the family had no food. And with a man working the fields from sun-up to sun-down, someone needed to care for the household. Marriage was a necessary survival skill for a family.
Jump forward 100+ years. Men and women live twice as long. There is no longer the need for a woman to stay in the home. Marriage has changed culturally from a necessity to one that is focused on love and desire. We now expect our spouses to be everything to us 24/7 and if they fail in one area, it is seen as a failure in the entire marriage. We expect one person to fulfill all our human needs for, many couples, over 50 years.
The Secret to Desire in a Long-Term Relationship
~ Esther Perel
You know, this is the first time in the history of humankind where we are trying to experience sexuality in the long term, not because we want 14 children, for which we need to have even more because many of them won’t make it, and not because it is exclusively a woman’s marital duty. This is the first time that we want sex over time about pleasure and connection that is rooted in desire.
So what sustains desire, and why is it so difficult? And at the heart of sustaining desire in a committed relationship, I think, is the reconciliation of two fundamental human needs. On the one hand, our need for security, for predictability, for safety, for dependability, for reliability, for permanence. All these anchoring, grounding experiences of our lives that we call home. But we also have an equally strong need — men and women — for adventure, for novelty, for mystery, for risk, for danger, for the unknown, for the unexpected, surprise — you get the gist. For journey, for travel.
So reconciling our need for security and our need for adventure into one relationship, or what we today like to call a passionate marriage, used to be a contradiction in terms. Marriage was an economic institution in which you were given a partnership for life in terms of children and social status and succession and companionship. But now we want our partner to still give us all these things, but in addition I want you to be my best friend and my trusted confidant and my passionate lover to boot, and we live twice as long.
So we come to one person, and we basically are asking them to give us what once an entire village used to provide. Give me belonging, give me identity, give me continuity, but give me transcendence and mystery and awe all in one. Give me comfort, give me edge. Give me novelty, give me familiarity. Give me predictability, give me surprise. And we think it’s a given, and toys and lingerie are going to save us with that.
This places a huge responsibility on couples to “take care” of the needs of their partner. And in doing so, they fail to take care of their own needs.
Rethinking Infidelity: A Talk for Anyone Who Has Ever Loved
~ Esther Perel
Now, I like this definition of an affair — it brings together the three key elements: a secretive relationship, which is the core structure of an affair; an emotional connection to one degree or another; and a sexual alchemy. And alchemy is the key word here, because the erotic frisson is such that the kiss that you only imagine giving, can be as powerful and as enchanting as hours of actual lovemaking. As Marcel Proust said, it’s our imagination that is responsible for love, not the other person.
So it’s never been easier to cheat, and it’s never been more difficult to keep a secret. And never has infidelity exacted such a psychological toll. When marriage was an economic enterprise, infidelity threatened our economic security. But now that marriage is a romantic arrangement, infidelity threatens our emotional security. Ironically, we used to turn to adultery — that was the space where we sought pure love. But now that we seek love in marriage, adultery destroys it.
Now, there are three ways that I think infidelity hurts differently today. We have a romantic ideal in which we turn to one person to fulfill an endless list of needs: to be my greatest lover, my best friend, the best parent, my trusted confidant, my emotional companion, my intellectual equal. And I am i: I’m chosen, I’m unique, I’m indispensable, I’m irreplaceable, I’m the one. And infidelity tells me I’m not. It is the ultimate betrayal. Infidelity shatters the grand ambition of love. But if throughout history, infidelity has always been painful, today it it is often traumatic, because it threatens our sense of self.
I learned from my therapist and my recovery community that I need other people to turn to. I need my men’s group to talk to when I’m struggling. I need my therapist to challenge me when I’m off; or even give me a different perspective when I didn’t think I needed it. I need my sponsor to keep me focused on my behaviors and to hold me accountable for my actions.
Our spouse is not the one to parent our inner children. We need to learn how to parent ourselves. This opens the door to allowing our spouse to support and nurture us when we are struggling, which is much different than parenting us.
Our spouse is not a child that we need to take care of. We have a child inside of us who screams for our love and nurturing. We too can be nurturing and supportive of our spouse, and yet it is up to them to care for themselves. Rather than parenting our spouse, we ask what they need and want, then, if it’s appropriate, and if it does not step on our own personal needs, we honor their wishes.
Our spouse is our closest friend and yet we still need other people in our lives. People we can turn to when we are struggling with painful emotions. People who have followed a similar path of recovery as us and can challenge us when we’re off. We need others to help us get into a better state of mind so we can communicate with our spouse on a deeper level that is not reactive and hurtful.
This was an extremely hard concept for me to grasp because it goes against everything society and my upbringing had taught and modeled for me.
The Heavy Weight of Burdens
I made a vow my first week of in-treatment therapy. I told myself I was going to do whatever it took to save my marriage and my family. That was my goal. And my belief through all that was that if I could change my habits, if I could stop my addiction, if I could do the hard work to prevent me from being reactive, I could show, through my actions, that I was worthy of love in my wife’s eyes.
In doing so, I placed a weighted burden upon her. My constant proving and pursuing suffocated her. She never could truly heal from the betrayal and trauma I had done to her, because I consistently put the focus back onto me. See what I’ve done and see how I’ve changed was the energy she lived with.
In doing so, I never truly allowed her to express her anger, until it bubbled out sideways and passive aggressively. I never truly listened to how she was hurting because it was always about how much I hurt. I never learned how to accept her reactiveness when she had a Sex Addiction Induced Trauma trigger, minimizing her emotions because that “happened in the past” and “see I’m not the person I once was.”
I didn’t allow her to feel the normal one minute I want the safety and security of my husband, followed by the instant need to protect her inner child and run as far away from me as possible.
I didn’t understand. I tried to, but I had no clue.
I made recovery focus solely on the success or failure of our marriage. I placed that burden upon her.
And when our relationship was off, I was quick to blame her for not working on the marriage. Even worse, I blamed her for failing to take care of my emotional needs, while I also belittled her, attacked her character, became angry and resentful, and eventually, due to my patterns, I’d shut her out completely.
With these unhealthy childhood patterns so deeply ingrained in place, there was no chance our marriage had a chance of survival.
The Gradual Shift
I truly wish I could say that my journey of recovery was swift and quick. Unfortunately, that is farthest from the truth. And, unfortunately, I slip backwards all the time. I’m just more adapt at seeing it happen and quicker at regaining my balance and getting back on track.
On another note, I would not change the journey I’ve had for anything. I needed to take these baby steps one day at a time to learn the lessons that life was giving me. And the biggest lesson I learned was that I had a Rafiki, my own inner conscious, inside me all along.
Speaking of Rafiki, I pick up the phone and give my favorite baboon a call.
“Hey Rafiki,” I cheerfully greet.
“Ah, Phoenix. How are you my friend? It has been a while.” I find the slow, deep cadence of his voice comforting. He’s right, it has been a while.
“I’m good. Thanks. Wanted to let you know that I had a fellow Fledgling write to me expressing his wish that he had a Rafiki in his life. I told him that through time, just like myself, he too will hear his own inner Rafiki.”
“Why do we feel shame and guilt if we don’t already have an internal conscious guiding us to instinctively know what is right and wrong?” Rafiki loves to ask questions that bring home a point.
“That’s exactly what I told him!” I get excited. It’s cool to be able to talk to Rafiki as an equal, now mentoring others. “Anyway, I wanted to express my gratitude for all you’ve done over the years.”
“You are most welcome Phoenix,” Rafiki pauses. “As I’m sure you’re finding out in your responses to your Fledgling, helping another is really another way for us to help ourselves.”
“I agree,” I nod my head oblivious that he can’t see me doing that over the phone.
“Phoenix, I must also thank you for the gifts you’ve given me over the years. Your experiences have only helped me become wiser.”
I’m about to dismiss what he says as unimportant, then I remember that he too is appreciating me. To dismiss what he said, is to also dismiss all I’ve given him. To dismiss what he said, is to deprive my inner child of love. I still need to learn how to embrace compliments, not push them away as meaningless. “You are welcome,” I state, slightly strained. “It took me a long time to get where I am today.”
Rafiki’s tone changes ever so slightly. I can tell he’s got something important to tell me. “Sometimes seeds get dropped on the rock. They do not take root.” He pauses. “Sometimes seeds get blown away. The ground stays barren.” Another pause. “And sometimes it rains and rains, for days, maybe even years, before the sun finally comes out.”
A deep breath. “The seeds will keep dropping until the conditions are right for them to sprout into seedlings and grow into the beautiful flowers they were meant to be. All in due time before our lessons in life are integrated within us, both in body and in soul.”
He still has a way of using words and dipping into analogies and metaphors that leaves me forgetting what I was going to say. What was it?
“Speaking of gifts. I explained to my reader that two of my deepest pieces of work were written without you, but from my own inner conscious imagining I was talking with you.”
“Which ones were those two you speak of?” He asked, not that he didn’t remember, but knowing I wanted to talk about them.
I quickly responded, “A Gift Resides in Every Moment, and The Gifts of Anger. In both of those blogs, I looked at where I was in my life as a gift, rather than a curse. Something my therapist would always ask of me when I was struggling. What is the gift of this situation?”
I stopped. Rafiki knew not to interrupt, an uncanny intuition that he was aware I had more to say.
“What’s interesting was that I picked these two for him to read, out of the blue, not realizing how intertwined they both were. When I had reread a A Gift Resides in Every Moment I mentioned that the blog prior to The Gifts of Anger was the one titled Nurture Your Inner Child. That was when I realized what was more important than saving my marriage, was learning how to care for Little Phoenix. It was when this internal shift occurred. And this was the point I was trying to explain to my Fledgling.” I breathed heavily not realizing I had hadn’t taken any breaths during that last exchange.
“Reality is based on HOW we observe, not what we observe,” Rafiki replies.
“Isn’t that the truth!” I exclaim.
Rafiki continues, “And we must not focus on biasing our made-up story by only observing that which validates it’s truth. We rather must leave our minds open to all possibilities and allow the truth to show us what the story really is.”
This morning I listened to Day 6 in Oprah and Deepak 21-Day Energy of Attraction Meditation Experience.
“Today we will learn about the power of our attention and its role in making our wishes come true. Attention is the conscious flow of awareness, and it activates the energy of attraction. If our desire is like a seed, then attention is the movement of nourishment that supports the growth of the seed into a fully mature plant. Our attention at the quiet levels of the mind provides direction and strength to our hopes and desires, so that they can become real.”
“Our meditation today deepens our attention so that it activates the energy of attraction at the most powerful level of the mind. With continued meditation practice, our attention is able to nourish our desires from inception to fulfillment.”
For years my attention was on my marriage. Every cell in my body was focused not on the success of my wife and I healing from my indiscretions and my betrayal, but more on the definition of marriage. I could not fail at something once again and I held on to that in every way imaginable.
What I didn’t see was that I was focused on the loss, not on what we would each gain individually and together as friends. The harder I tried to let go, the harder I held on. The more I focused on her healing process (or what I made up as not healing), the less I focused on myself.
The harder I tried to “make” her happy, the unhappier she became.
And the unhappier she became, the more friction we had in our friendship.
The more friction in our friendship, the more my negative prophesy came to fruition. I created that which I believed. I created where my attention was focused on.
When our attention is constantly on letting go, we really have not let go, but are finding another way to hold on.
How to Let Go of a Shitty Marriage
I recently received an email and this video by Steve Horsmon from Good Guys to Great Men.
Let Go of a Shitty Marriage
~ Steve Horsmon
“It’s consciously deciding I’m letting go of this. I am done with this version of life, this version of this marriage, and this version of me. I’m done!”
My Fledglings, we must remember we are in Chapter 12 of our 20-chapter life. As Steve explains, we can continue the rest of our life from Chapter 12 to Chapter 20 and have every last chapter of our lives starting off with “My Shitty Marriage” because we didn’t do anything different in Chapter 12. Or…
We can go “through the creative process of reinventing who we are going to become by the end of our lives, starting with Chapter 12 as a brand-new chapter.”
Our goal is to let go of who we once were and change ourselves. It is not so much as being tied to our spouse or to the outcome, but to become independent of the outcome. We cannot control what our spouse is going to do, but we can definitely transform ourselves.
This is clearly stated in the serenity prayer of the 12 steps:
God grant me the serenity
To accept the things, I cannot change
The courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference
Listen to the universe, for it will continue to repeat itself until you do.
2020 is the year my ex and I clap our wings and allow our marriage to become consumed by flames.
After it’s death, both my ex and I can gloriously rise from the ashes and start the next chapter of our lives, Chapter 12, whatever that may be. We can leave the burden of the past behind, not forgetting what we’ve gone through, but healed in a way that will make us better partners for whoever we chose to be with on the next step in our journey of life.
My therapist had a great quote the other day:
“Accessories to Necessities” – When we are able to be solid, grounded, and independent in a relationship, our partner becomes an accessory instead of a necessity.
I no longer see divorce as failure. It has become a necessary step in my life to become the person I now am. My next partner will not be someone I need, but an accent that compliments my life.
My ex and I are amicable, co-parents and still have a friendship that other people honor and respect. Through all that we’ve gone through, our divorce is a success.
We will Rise from the Ashes.
We no longer have expectations about what our lives will look like through this rebirth.
We have faith and trust in God, our Higher Power, that He knows what is best for us.
Focus on loving yourself. Parent and nurture that Little Child within you. And when you’re able to do that…
Together We Can Heal
And then, you too, will rise.
PS: The universe speaks to us in funny ways.
I was just about to do one final reading of my blog prior to publishing it on my website. And, as what happens to many of us, I got sucked into checking my email instead. You know, that pull to clear all the unwanted stuff, so I don’t have the notifications telling me just how much junk mail needs to be deleted, but then I need to read “this” because it might be important?
One email was about a 21-day challenge from my bible app starting next month. “Hmmm. It’s been a while since I’ve done any bible plans. Maybe it would be good to start one up. They only take five minutes or so. Especially since I plan to join a small group next month.”
The one that jumped out to me was 21 days of gratitude. “Oh, I like that one.”
Day 1 required that I write down 5 things I’m grateful for. This is part of my nightly routine (well, I want it to be part of my nightly routine, yet somehow, I tend to forget). Perfect, a bible plan that matches exactly what I want to do anyway. I start typing…
I stop at 10 things I’m grateful for. Amazing how I can go on and on about gratitude, yet three years ago when I was doing the challenge with my sister-in-law, I would write two then, with pen in my mouth, stare at the ceiling trying to come up with something else. “I already said I’m grateful for my health for six days now. What else am I thankful for that is different then that?”
Anyway, after I was done and went back to reading the devotional, I realized I missed a key point. I wasn’t asked to write, “I’m grateful for…” I was asked to write, “Lord, thank you for…” (that could be Higher Power, Universe, or however one looks at a power greater than themselves, some guys in program say Goddess).
“Ok, ok! I’ll redo the list and see what happens,” Little Phoenix protests yet agrees to do.
Two things happened. First, by adding one word and changing “I’m grateful for” to “thank you for,” I found not only was I more descriptive in my gratitude, my gratitude came from outside myself, not something I controlled.
For instance, if I say, “I’m grateful for my health,” I see all the things I do to keep me healthy (eating well, going to the gym, exercise, self-care, etc…) However, when I said “Lord, thank you for my health,” I realized that the gratitude was not just what I did, but everything He provides so I could take care of my health (living in a country that allows food choices to eat well, a well-paying fulfilled job that allows me to purchase the food I eat, a gym nearby at a reduced discount as one of the benefits of my career, the people around me who help support me in my recovery of self-care such as my peers, my sponsor, and my therapist, etc…)
The gratitude I had felt as a “list” expanded into a deep heart-felt gratitude for everything my Higher Power provides for me.
Halfway through the list the Second Thing happened that touched my heart. Just by saying, “Lord, thank you for…” I realized I was actually Listening to the Universe.
“Lord, thank you for the bible plan that has opened my eyes, my heart, and my mind to listen to you, for that is one of the biggest gifts of all.”