Healing Continues: Spirituality
This is the third week touching upon topics related to our healing from the abuses and their impact that wives and partners endure from men called sex addicts. This series began after I did something no one else had ever done: I created and posted a list of the ways these men abused us. The following week I listed the impact of those abuses upon our lives. You added more.
Some readers on public forums panicked after seeing those lists, trying to de-focus, distract, pivot, diminish and qualify the simple facts recorded there. The clarity of describing our experience also jolted some women out of their resignation, including those following religious pressures to stay and absorb the risks. I understand that our experience of abuse can create intense spiritual confusion for many women. So, let’s spend some time today finding ways to both heal our spirits and use our spirituality to heal our whole being.
While some women do not attach their spirit to a specific spirituality or tradition, in a crisis of spirit, it is important to have our core values at hand. We have these with or without religious affiliation. In knowing what those core values are, we can use them for re-grounding, focus, evaluating positions and options, and for the clarifying of intentions and beliefs. Since our spirit life is about finding and making meaning, core values reveal how we do that. They provide answer to questions like the following:
What are our reference points for decisions and interpretations?
What do we want our lives to mean? What do we want to teach our children and others about that?
What does it mean for us to be true to ourselves?
How do we order those values in priority?
Is that order flexible and why?
In our specific situations it is crucial to work with values associated with upholding the worth of our lives. This is the area where the sex addiction treatment industry and its religious collaborators ask us for compromise by putting ourselves aside in the priority list for safety, support, compassion, and justice. Once you have surrendered your worth, you can’t get it back from them by any means. You are the one who gives it to yourself and sets the standard for others to give it to you. Unfortunately, this also an area of deep wounding in our formation as women within a misogynist social milieu. So it will take commitment for us to be the advocate for our own worth, but we need to do it. Our children are watching.
Sacred Texts and Stories
The weaponization of sacred texts and stories against wives and partners has been a particularly revolting aspect of treatment and recovery programs. In my experience with this travesty of spiritual abuse, it is sometimes possible for wives and partners to do better for their own care needs and self-worth imperatives. If you have sacred text stories that have been important to you in your spirituality, go back to those text and stories and ask the following questions:
Who do I identify with in the story and why?
Put yourself in the other roles in the story (regardless of any details you would use to exclude yourself.) What do you learn from that experience? What new perspective, message or priority becomes clear?
Instead of focussing on how the story serves your husband or boyfriend, focus on how it serves your needs for healing, justice, compassion, and advocacy. In other words, these stories exist for your benefit, not just his.
While these stories may be your favorites or the ones you think you know best, what other stories are coming to mind?
Use a search engine to locate those stories if you can’t do that yourself, and go through the same process of questions with these new stories.
What new insights and messages are you gleaning from these other texts and stories?
How can you nourish your spirit, affirm your value and worth as a human being, and support your critical reflection on this life event, using all these texts and stories
And finally, how can you expect others in your particular situation to treat you? What perspective, message or priority do you see as reasonable expectations from others based on these sacred texts and stories?
Are you receiving those things that are their responsibilities to you?
Many women find that their spiritual practices suffer while they are negatively affected by PTS symptoms. I found attending worship to be one of the most exhausting things I had to do. This was because I was withholding my profound need for support and healing from my faith community as well as being unable to share it because of speech terror. I could not be my true self—which for me is a part of worship. Then, when I was finally able to speak, I found that people didn’t want to know, or they diminished the story, or focussed on how I might be responsible for his behavior. Because worship meant so much to me as clergy, and then as parishioner, I found that the emotional meltdowns it unleashed were just too difficult to manage. I stopped putting myself through it every week.
That reality, however, also turned me more deeply toward developing a strong practice of mindfulness techniques, which I grounded in my own faith tradition. This spiritual practice bore much fruit in my life for healing, support, managing symptoms, and generally affirming my life. But it was a solitary practice, and that was a necessary development.
Another practice that suffered was my custom to speak with the Holy One in personal prayer about my life, sharing concerns, seeking wisdom and help, etc. But, I found I had no words for personal prayer. I tried everything but this went on for several years. It was unnerving, a source of grief, and left me feeling even more isolated. It was love entering my life again in an unexpected way that finally changed this for me. As a result I found a new voice in my prayer life. If you want to know more, I have created a resource Unexpected Prayers For An Unexpected Life: 365 Daily Prayers With Wondering Questions. You can preview and order, starting here: https://www.yourstoryissafehere.com/unexpected-prayers You will also find a video there about the resource and the experience that lies behind it. So many of my clients want to use this basic spiritual practice regardless of how closely they live within a particular religious tradition. So, there’s the story of how I worked that through, myself. If my words can help you breakthrough the impasse, then it was worth the effort to create it.
Other spiritual practices may be service-oriented. They may continue to strengthen you as they did before. On the other hand, it may be that close contact with others in need or in critical circumstances will trigger your emotional vulnerability or ripen internal spiritual conflicts and larger faith questions. These results may mean you have to suspend service in some cases. It is likely unhelpful to weep spontaneously while you visit sick people in the hospital, for example.
Emergent Faith Crises and Questions of Belief
Sometimes what we realize in our situation is that many faith statements we considered “comforting” or “wise” before, are the opposite. Suggestions that things that happen are the “Will of God”, or “God doesn’t give you anything that you can’t handle”, or “You shouldn’t be negative. Have faith he can change”, or “You owe him forgiveness and to move forward for the sake of your marriage” can drive many woman into PTSD episodes leading to complete distraction or despair. It is normal to ask questions about “How this could happen to you?”
This experience also is the unfortunate revealing of inadequate and incorrect theologies, spiritual teachings, and faith traditions. We may discover, for example, that suffering we accepted as “okay” for “others” is not okay for us to experience. Maybe we thought we were exempt. Perhaps we think we are responsible for his behavior because we weren’t good enough wives or partners. We may wrestle with the idea that marriage is more important than our personal happiness. Does God hate divorce that much? But why do you feel invisible to him, to his treatment group, to your spiritual leaders, when he treated you so badly? Does that matter or not? These are spiritual questions that challenge beliefs and assumptions. As I’ve described it to many clients, this can feel like being in freefall. You don’t know what you can believe any more about anything.
I have a simple approach when this happens to me. I go back to First Things. And if my First Things do not hold in this storm as true any longer---I understand they are not First Things, after all. First Things are the propositions upon we which build faith and belief systems. So, it’s time, then, to seek a better version of First Things in your spiritual resources. A new “First Things” for me, and about which I reference in many blogs, is the proposition that the force of life is always at work to bring the possibility of renewal to our lives. That is a First Thing for me, now. What are your “First Things”. Try jotting them down. How are they working for you? Do you need to reframe some of those things so that your First Things do work for you?
This blog entry can’t begin to deal with all the things in play for your spirituality because of your experience of abuse at the hands of a man called a sex addict. And the crucial questions may vary because of your spiritual tradition or practice. For example, I haven’t mentioned the problematic patriarchal social imperatives that adversely affect women and perpetuate abuse with some spiritual traditions. Women end up pressured to remain in lives described best as lives of resignation. But I have spoken about that in many blogs already.
I also wrote an ebook called Spirituality: Resource and Roadblocks to Recovery ($9.99US) I describe it this way: Whatever your religious beliefs and spiritual practices, Diane helps you find core elements to support your healing. She also prepares you for what makes recovery more difficult. She affirms the value of spiritual resources, gently encourages growth, and writes with hospitality for the truth you bring. Diane's own story of faith undergirds her desire to support yours.
You can order that here: https://www.yourstoryissafehere.com/resources-1/spirituality
For those of you who don’t know, I’ve been an ordained Minister of Word, Sacraments and Pastoral Care in a mainline Christian denomination for three decades. My second Master’s degree was a Masters of Divinity. While my faith is Christian, I don’t need yours to be. Nor, do I need you to profess any faith at all. I try to write as inclusively as I can, while sharing what I have learned in my personal life and in ministry. I affirm the reality of your spiritual being, and your full agency as its steward. But yes, it was the fact that this was for posting on Easter Sunday, that I decided to focus on spirituality. It’s hard for a preacher not to preach Easter anyway she can. Life is always at work. Even while we are grieving, it is rebirthing itself. I believe the Source that feeds your spirit is up to the insights and questions this experience raises for you. You do not change your Source by reviewing core values, revising beliefs, practices, interpretive approaches to sacred texts, or adjusting personal service. You make spiritual growth possible.
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