“Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland." – Isaiah 43: 18-19
Who doesn't love the idea of having something new? As women who are recovering from our spouse's betrayal, most of long for a new "man" and a new "life together." At the same time, most of us find that images like "wilderness" and "wasteland" resonate. That's our marriage (or where it's been)... and perhaps, that's even the entirety of our lives right now.
Two years into my husband's journey of recovery from porn addiction, I still felt very much like I was in a wilderness. I used to have visions of myself on all fours in a desert. In a sandstorm in the desert... alone and barely able to breathe due to the storm. At some point (weeks or maybe months later) this visualization changed. As I pictured myself pelted by tens of thousands of sand grains, I started to sense that there was a person to my left. Without lifting my head higher, I turned it that direction to see Jesus a couple feet away... on all fours, head down... in the sandstorm with me.
Was my reaction, "Oh thank you, Lord, you've not left me alone in this wasteland." No. I'm not proud to say my reaction was "So What! I'm still stuck in this storm," and then I envisioned turning my head back to its neutral position and looking at the desert floor between my hands again.
But slowly, over the next year something shifted. I began to feel some comfort that Jesus was there. As horrible as my life felt (with this man who still struggled with porn flashbacks, attraction to other women and cognitive distortions) there was some, albeit, small comfort now.
Looking back on that time, seven years ago, through the "counselor" lenses I wear now, I realize that Jesus was with me helping to prevent retraumatization each time my husband delivered news of another failure to faithfully love me (more on retraumatization next week). Trauma always creates a feeling of "I'm utterly alone" while something devastating is done to me, something over which I have no control. Understanding His presence with me was one of the best defences against (new) trauma I could have.
Moreover, as I began to (slowly) experience thankfulness for His presence... and even move to having more positive interactions with Him (e.g., seeing His presence in the beautiful New Zealand landscape around me rather than in the sandstorm in my mind) my capacity to deal with stress and trauma grew. My ability to feel safe (internally) in an unsafe (emotionally) situation also grew.
That means I could act more like myself again–as opposed to crazy-looking trauma woman–more of the time. In fact, over the years I found myself able to be "my best self" (and call others to do the same) in situations where I couldn't formerly. This was new growth... a new thing He'd created out of my time in the wasteland.
How it Works
So how did this happen? How did the new thing come about? I have to say, it didn't so much "spring up" as appear gradually over the years... though there were some springy, breakthrough moments to be sure.
In general new patterns are the results of new neural pathways. New neural pathways are created and strengthened by repetition. Some of the things I did repeatedly to create these pathways included:
- Reaching out to God in prayer for help whenever I felt myself reaching the end of my capacity (due to trauma, trigger or stress) and also regulating my breathing
- Purposely visualizing Jesus with me... whether feet away in a storm, or interacting with me as a good parent; eventually I'd use Immanuel Prayer as part of this
- Processing my grief and pain... with my support groups and in doing so experiencing the shift from negative emotions back to positive ones that comes with "unburdening"
- Visualizing walking (hand-in-hand with Jesus) from the place in my brain of alarm and other negative emotions (back, lower portion) to my joy and identity centres (front, right side).
- Working to identify earlier (not always possible) when I was reaching the end of my capacity and doing something (self-care) to increase it again
- Learning to ask myself "what's this really about"... so I could dissect if current negative emotions/stress were about the present or the past and what wounds and lies they were associated with
- Speaking my anger when change was possible and injustices needed addressing
- By-passing some anger (e.g. where change was not possible) and grieving the losses and that which had wounded me instead
Almost 10 years into our healing journey (mine and my husbands) I can say that I'm very grateful for the new things God has done for us and our family. While I wouldn't wish this wasteland time on anyone, I can, like many other women (including many who are no longer in their marriages) attest to His desire to do a new thing for us this year (new ways, new streams)... and in the years to come.