by Lynda Ward
Today we finish off last week's post by Lynda Ward on living in the gap between "yesterday and tomorrow" as betrayed wives/partners of sex addicts. Lynda continues with more on what she's learned during her own time in "the gap."
Taking an inventory of losses and blessings is a necessary part of the healing process. When suffering from trauma, it is normal to focus on your losses, especially when the losses are overwhelming. One of my first clients, who came to me for Spiritual Direction while I was still in supervision and training, was a woman in her forties who had just been diagnosed with late stage ovarian cancer. Just six months prior, her husband had abandoned her. Needing a job, she had to move over three hours away from the place she had called home for over fifteen years. She had already lost home and community, and now with the cancer diagnosis, she feared losing her future. "Gap time" is a time of recognizing and grieving losses. Grieving is necessary for healing. But if we focus only on the losses, we risk overlooking the gifts and blessings. So along with my client’s list of losses, I asked her to make a list of all of the things the cancer could not take away, a list of what she had left: gifts and blessings she possessed that could help her live a meaningful life today and embrace whatever the future would hold.
One of her joys was Bible studies. She loved participating in Bible studies. She was also a terrific cook. And even though she had no children of her own, she had always wanted to be an elementary school teacher because she enjoyed children and had been told she was good with them. So with her "blessings list" in hand, she found a Bible study at a nearby church for women with cancer. She signed up as a volunteer cook for that church's soup kitchen, then through the soup kitchen ministry, she discovered a local women's shelter that needed someone a few hours a week to play with and read to the children while their mothers attended job training workshops. By focusing on and embracing her gifts and blessings — what she had not lost — during her Gap Time, my client found meaning and purpose, a new community, and a network of supportive friends. As she continued to focus on her gifts and blessings, she even discovered some gifts and strengths she never knew she had!
Gap Time is a good time to get educated so you can make informed decisions about your future. When you wake up to discover you're in your pajamas, behind a trash dumpster in a strange land, the saying that "knowledge is power" is true. Wherever your life's journey has taken you, learning as much as you can about where you are now and how to navigate your new environment, can keep you safe, help you make informed decisions about the future, and help prepare you so that you can get yourself to where you eventually need and want to be. This is especially true when it comes to your partner's porn and sex addiction and your betrayal trauma. The more you know about both, the safer you can be and the better you can take care of yourself. With a good understanding of your situation, you can make informed decisions about what specific kind of treatment, help, and resources are the best fit for you. Remember, when you've been in a relationship with a sex addict, you've been living with a very unhealthy person. So much more needs to be addressed than just the addict's compulsive sexually acting out. Sex addicts have many unhealthy habits, attitudes, coping skills, and behaviors that affect their partner's self-esteem, overall self-evaluation, health, and well-being. When you have been in a unhealthy relationship with an unhealthy person, it can negatively affect every part of you: the way you see and understand yourself, others, the world around you, and even your relationship with God. So taking the time to learn all the ways in which you, your life, and your family have been harmed by your partner's addiction is essential to being able to embrace the future as a healed, healthy, and whole person. Partners who come to understand all the ways the addiction and trauma have affected them can make healthier decisions about their present relationships, any new relationships, and their overall future.
Gap time is different for everyone
Some people chose to stay with their partners because they are able to renegotiate the rules and boundaries of their relationship, especially if their partner is committed to recovery and is in a treatment program, regularly attends meetings, meets with a sponsor, and is actively trying to understand his issues and heal them. But a woman I met years ago, at one of my weekend retreats, made a different choice. (I will call her "Jane.") After having just discovered that her husband had been having a 10 year long affair, and that he had had a child with this other woman, Jane came to the retreat in order to try to decide what she should do. Jane was an artist who had, just prior to D-day, received a commission to create some statues for a community garden. During our weekend retreat, and through a process of prayer and discernment in community with the other women on the retreat, Jane felt led to ask her husband to move out. She decided to have no contact with him but to put off making any further decisions at that time, choosing instead to spend the first three months of her "Gap Time" focusing on and completing her art project. Each person's "Gap Time" will look different. No one rule applies to everyone, except this rule: it is important not to ignore the gap, or try to push or wish it away, or to try to rush it (no matter how painful it is or how much you would like for it to be over). It is okay, and actually good, to be patient, kind, and compassionate with yourself as you live minute by minute, and take things step by step, when living in a gap. And even though it's true that you can't go back home and to the life you once knew, Gap Time, spent well, will make it possible for you to get to some place better: some place more safe, more healthy, and more wonderful than you could ever have before imagined.
Lynda Ward, M.T.S., C.S.D. has been a Certified Spiritual Director for over 20 years. She is also an educator and an award winning writer and photographer. Learn more about Lynda.
Starting next week I'll be answering your questions about the betrayal trauma journey. Go ahead and email those in. I will assume you wish to remain anonymous unless you tell me otherwise.