It's Never Too Late for Self-Love and Compassionate Self-Acceptance

When we get the first, second, and third whiff of the unimaginable truth about our life partner, it is profoundly disorienting. We freeze. We thrash around. We can’t breathe. We gasp for air. We are dizzy. We are strangely calm.  We scream. We can’t make a sound. We sob. We can’t cry at all. It’s just everything in extreme. Somewhere in those extremes it becomes impossible to see how anything can ever be normal again. The core of reality is gone. These men blow us up from the inside out. They build and detonate the bomb at the deepest level of our core beliefs about being safe in in this world. That belief is gone. We are in freefall.

 After d-day, most wives’ and partners’ first thoughts are not how we could look after ourselves or what we needed to give ourselves right away. Most of us go full on into disaster management, casting about for resources, information, and practical help for our husband.

Meanwhile he often acts like nothing happened and there is nothing to discuss. He may cultivate a new kind of self-importance from his new secret life that includes his counselor’s undivided confidential attention, his secret club meetings, a secret club manual, etc. All the while, no one suggests we protect ourselves from further harm or make any of our needs a priority instead of his.

 For most women, there is no core belief of self-love and compassionate self-acceptance that sustains us through such trauma. There is no ripcord to pull that releases that parachute to give us a hard but safe landing on terra firma of a difficult new reality. But why is it that we don’t pack the one parachute that could help us land safely in this new reality? Why, when we are so wounded, is self-love not uppermost on our minds? Have you ever held a core belief of self-love and compassionate self-acceptance? Have you ever practiced it? How?

 Most of us are end products of creeping socialization that steadily diminishes our personal agency and worth. Even still, we strive to learn and grow. We are profoundly disrespected all the way from childhood to and through adulthood as targets of misogyny through sexual harassment and assault, pay inequity, discrimination in education, commerce, religion, even within our families, and more. Even still, we keep going at life as if ours matters somehow. Sheer determination, stubbornness, a desire to make a positive impact, tenacity, hope and rage keep us working at the game of life—but seldom is it self-love or self-acceptance.

 Like so many girls, I was taught to help and serve others, and to put my needs behind everyone else’s. I was taught never to think too highly of myself or make myself the center of attention for any reason. At no time in my entire life was I ever taught that it was actually self-love and self-acceptance that I would need more than anything else in order to get through the hard times and live a good life. After the freefall of discovery and the travesty of what was called recovery, I taught these things to myself. I now consider them as “first things” of my humanity, and my faith. It’s a great privilege to share some of what that means to me.

 In the first terrifying freefall after discovery and in the long torture of fear and cruelty that came with his “recovery” program, I felt invisible to life, still alive but powerless in that life. At the same time every detail of his criticisms, his mother’s criticisms, and my self-knowledge of imperfection was magnified to a cartoon level. But I wasn’t laughing. I was then overwhelmed with the disrespect he had shown me in ways I hadn’t even realized. His lack of loyalty to me and his ease at bearing false witness about me to others ate away my self-confidence. I felt worthless. I felt the life I had lived thus far also was worthless. How easily we women think we don’t get our value from a man and yet there I was, ready to lay down and die because I had trusted him with my life and he used that trust to plunder my worth. This was not just a “hurt feelings” kind of harm. It was the core belief level destruction of what ensures your safety in the world and your ability to participate in life.

 This crisis of confidence at the most basic level of existing is why the sex addiction industrial treatment complex is so dangerous. It has no capacity for the commitment to wives and partners that real trauma treatment requires. Its whole program has the wife/partner recovery as something that needs to complement and support his program goals and schedule. Her life is not of value all on its own even in recovery. In the worst of these months of feeling like I was dead but having to walk around in my life and “do things”, the only reason I could find to keep going was that my young adult sons would be stuck with one parent, and it would be “this guy!”

 But somewhere along the way, when I realized there was no help for me that wasn’t also dangerous for me, I felt the stirrings within me of something different. If the options were so bad, then I would be subversive. I would refuse to play along with what I knew was more abuse. I was going to do the opposite. It wasn’t self-pity. It was self-compassion. And they are so different.

 Self-pity is all about affirming whatever hideous conclusions you (or others) have come to about yourself and your life in this world, and then wallowing around in the awfulness of it. Self-compassion is about giving yourself the same compassion you have shown others in times of crisis and loss. I show people compassion so that they can know there is another point of view about themselves—a point of view that can save them from the one that holds them hostage. I was holding myself hostage with the abuse I had newly discovered. Self-compassion whispered “there’s another lens to look through”—just the same way the compassion I offered to others had whispered that message to them. But this time the message was for me.

 The dialogue that slowly took shape within me wasn’t a sudden fix. It was a slow process of trying on the lens of compassion and looking at myself through that lens. Here’s what I saw: a woman who was broken at the center of what mattered most to her. Her hope that had gathered around that center was now in hiding. She feared the worst; even that she was already dead. Having stumbled into the warped world of sex addiction and its treatment industry, the only option apparent to her was to debase herself further and adopt their assessment of her as her truest identity: “My name is Diane. I am a co-sex addict.” That path would complete her humiliation through her adoption of his and their contempt for her life. She would have no value unless she did what she was told and endured their lies, irrational theories, and misogynist processes. Oh, the hopelessness of that option! Without knowing much more than that, she chose to be subversive and pursue self-compassion instead.

 I chose it. I chose self-compassion.

 It started very small. I created encouraging thoughts as I daily fought my way through symptoms, so I could get things done: “You can do this. Take your time.” “Try again. You will get it right.” “Okay you made some progress today on that. You can try again tomorrow.” These were all things I would have said to someone else in this situation, so I gave them to myself. If you aren’t sure what you would say to yourself, say what you would give freely and sincerely to someone else in a similar challenge. You know how to do this, you just need to give it to yourself.

 Then at night I would pat myself on the back—literally—for anything I had managed to achieve that day. I would schedule “cry time” everyday instead of beating back the tears and swallowing the knot in my throat when overtaken by it through the day. Then I could remind myself every day that I had set aside time to cry because I deserved that time, so I didn’t need to ambush myself throughout the day. And I would make myself comfortable for crying time, and if it didn’t start on cue I would watch YouTube videos that made me cry and get started that way. And after 20 minutes I would affirm myself and invite myself to get on with the next thing.  I would make my bed every morning, folding my nightgown with care, smoothing the sheets, plumping pillows, turning down the quilt just so—all as if someone well-loved would be getting into it at the end of the day. I talked to myself a lot, telling my story and why I deserved compassion. I affirmed good things about myself, which was hard at first because my “goodness” had been so badly used and abused by my husband. All this brought a strange order and calm to my life. It was restoring trust in myself, which I believe is the first casualty of this experience. You have to show yourself that you can be trusted to help yourself get better and also to be patient and loving toward yourself when you falter.

 When I had to go to work I often felt really useless and incompetent. I felt like a fraud. So before talking with someone or undertaking a task I would pause and name the feelings that were creeping in and the thoughts I was thinking that were non-affirming and devaluing to me. Then I would say “all these things may be true, but here I am, the person whose work this is. I accept myself in this moment exactly as I am. I accept myself and choose to love myself. I will be fully present and do the best I have right now.” Then I would begin. I still do this. Nine years later, I still do this.

 So, here’s what I found in the midst of doing that. I got better and better. And I found hope. I found the hope that I thought was centered in something else altogether—something that required his love. I found hope by accepting myself and loving myself. This was real hope. It’s not based in who someone else is or isn’t, or whether he really loves you after all. It’s based in the value and integrity of your own life, and your courage to live it out in loving yourself and accepting yourself. For me, as a person of faith, it was the spiritual challenge to honor my Maker’s love for me by participating in it.

 Slowly and steadily I was able to make better choices for my life, even though they were sometimes difficult ones. I was able to see clearly the decades of his covert abuse directed at me and love myself through that hard truth. And I was unable to tolerate the treatment industry’s cowardice to call it what it was. If I could have the courage to accept I had been a victim of that abuse, and then become a survivor who would not accept it anymore, I really think the therapists who were supposed to help me should have had courage to match mine.

 They didn’t. Neither did they have clinical expertise or interest in it. And so, my work has unfolded to be someone who bears witness to what is true in the strength and power of self-love and compassionate self-acceptance, so that hope is recovered and released again. You can’t control who he chooses to be—ever. You can’t fix the damage that sent him down his road. But you can step out of the way and live a good life.

 If you want to talk more about self-love and compassionate self-acceptance, use the discounted trial session to see if we’re a good fit. Questions first? Diane@yoursstoryissafehere.com

With you,

Diane

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Diane Strickland