Tag Archives: vulnerability

Learning to Be Vulnerable

20 Oct

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Last Friday morning I was in my car, parked on the street around the corner from work, trying to get my emotions under control.  I had tears streaking down my cheeks, runny mascara, and a splotchy face.  I wasn’t crying because something horrible happened.  Those tears weren’t bad at all.  However, I’ve been conditioned to feel embarrassed by tears and to put on a happy face all of the time.  That’s part of the reason I was crying.  They were tears I’ve been holding back for who knows how long.  Maybe most of my life, in one way or another.

Every so often I get a comment from someone telling me that I should drop the “mess” part of my blog title.  I have extracted myself from the most apparent mess in my life, but there’s still a lot left.  Besides the fact that I’m a horrible housekeeper (as Tony can attest), I’m a mess in other ways as well.  Crying alone in the car before work is one of those ways.  Actually, isolated somewhere behind a closed door is just about the only way I let myself cry.

My upbringing and personality and the circumstances of my life have left me with a very thick outer wall.  I’m incredibly sensitive and emotional and sentimental, but I’ve trained myself not to be.  I’m the oldest child.  A woman in a man’s industry.  The daughter of a father with no empathy and grandmothers with no filter, tact, or “warm fuzzies.” I am the product of a household that was full of countless rules, one of which was something like “suck it up.”

My youngest sister was deemed “the sensitive one.”  I was the smart one, the tough one, the tomboy, or “the mouth.”  I was instructed to hold my tongue, stay in line, and do what I was told without question.  I was constantly reminded when I failed at those tasks. Disappointing my parents felt like the end of the world, yet I seemed to do it often. A large part of that was my own perception and pressure from inside to be perfect, a goal that I now know is impossible to reach.  87629344_XS In an effort to fix myself and hide my “flaws,” I made myself be the strong one, the positive one, the rational one. I tried to always be in control of my emotions whether it was with my family, at work, or just in general.

Those are difficult patterns to unlearn, and hard roles to break free from. I’m in the healthiest relationship I’ve ever had with a wonderful man.  He loves and accepts and understands me.  He makes me laugh, he surprises me every day with his intellect and creativity, and he’s very caring.  We talk about all sorts of things.  Subjects or conversations that would have been awkward or caused jealousy or fear in the past are comfortable and natural.  Still, I find myself falling into negative patterns of holding back, putting up a front, or concealing my feelings.

I have managed to share this blog with Tony, although it was a very scary thing to do.  The first few moments after I gave him the link I felt cracked open, exposed, and incredibly vulnerable. Those are emotions I don’t handle well. But I wanted to give him this important piece of myself. Writing is very cathartic, and I can express myself so more fully with time to consider (in fact, I’ve been working on this post for more than a week now).  Things also come out that I didn’t realize or understand before I put them into words.

After my last post about meeting his parents, Tony texted me that I don’t have to hide what’s going on in my head or be afraid or embarrassed of telling him how I feel.  At first I wasn’t even sure what he meant. Internalizing is so routine that I don’t recognize how much I do it.  I have a filter inside that automatically blocks off emotions, tells me that I’m wrong or silly to feel the things I feel, and covers those perceived flaws with a mask of confidence and happiness. After a moment of considering his comment, I realized how incredibly true it was.

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That mask, which I’m not even aware of wearing because it has become so comfortable and commonplace, slipped. I was driving to the office after visiting a new store location, and I had to pull over. As we continued to text, tears were silently falling from my eyes. He told me that I don’t have to worry about packaging my thoughts. I expressed how that goes against basically everything I was taught as a kid and years of punishments for saying things that I shouldn’t have (by someone else’s standards).

I texted that I’m working on worrying less and opening up more, but when I’m a complete mess it feels safer to pretend I’m more confident than I am in the hopes that I’ll convince myself it’s the truth. It feels weird to be vulnerable and expose my insecurities because I’m still halfway convinced that he’s way too good for me and he’s going to realize that any day. He told me to unconvince myself, and to talk to him when I feel that way. I said that I try to be the person I want to be and that he deserves instead of the ugly dork with no social skills that no one liked, which is what I was growing up and how I still feel a lot of the time.

Then he said something that really made the waterworks flow. He told me that I don’t have to try to be anything with him… To just be. That it’s the whole point. I was nearly sobbing by then. I put a lot of pressure on myself and hold back my emotions most of the time. It was like a valve releasing those pent up feelings, and they rushed out at once, with great force. It was also astounding to be accepted and loved exactly as I am. That is something I’ve rarely experienced, partly because haven’t allowed myself to expose the things that I dislike. To be encouraged to show my perceived flaws and have someone love those things, which I can’t even do for myself, was overwhelming. Knowing I have someone to reassure and build me up, even at my worst, gave me permission to let go and be a sap, even for just a few minutes.

It also scared me because I wondered if I even know how to do that. The next several hours the question kept rolling around in my head, “Do I even know who I am if I’m not trying to be something else?” At first, I panicked a little because I wasn’t sure. I could think of a few words to describe myself: loving, honest, funny, sexual, genuine, intelligent, talented, and definitely insecure.   Those seemed generic and flat as a descriptor of who I am because they are just a little portion of who I am.  So many other things began coming to mind… I snort when I laugh, forget names, and talk way too much.  I’m a people-pleaser with a deviant streak, and a stubborn, emotional mess.

All of that and more makes me who I am. As Tony pointed out, those less than perfect parts are what make me human. And interesting. And he loves me for them. Despite my efforts to put on a mask and polish over the rough spots and pretend to have it all together, he sees me. The real me. Sometimes maybe better than I see myself. It’s my job to let him, and I’m going to keep practicing.

Poked, Prodded and Cracking…

15 Oct

Last night I took a look down my throat with a flashlight and did NOT like what I saw…  This morning I got up and made my way immediately to the doctor’s office.  I was poked, prodded, and swabbed everywhere imaginable.  They did a strep test on my throat, diagnosed an ear infection, and I had them go ahead and run the full panel of STD tests while they were at it.  I could have gone to Planned Parenthood and probably saved some money in the long run.  I don’t care.  I just wanted it over and done with.

Only an hour later, I was walking out with antibiotics, a prescription for a yeast infection, and a little more peace of mind.  I still don’t have the STD results back yet, obviously, but having it taken care of is a relief.

On my (short) ride home I called my Mom.  She said something that really struck home.  She said as women and as wives we do our best to remain vulnerable, to give our husbands the opportunity to protect us.  We let ourselves need them.  We give them the chance to take care of us.  When they blow that chance or squander that opportunity we have to pack up that vulnerability and be strong for ourselves.  When we take that next step to care for ourselves we also end up not needing them anymore.

I tried to need him.  I tried to give him the opportunity to step up for me.  I wanted him to be a man, to protect me, to make my health and safety a top priority.  He didn’t, so I had to take the bull by the horns and take care of myself.  Once I found out he hadn’t gotten tested, it took me only until the next business day to get tested myself.  Those tests, plus the extra ones because I’m so sick, took only an hour.  One hour.

In that hour I stopped needing him.  I stopped being vulnerable.  I took back my independence.

At the same time, I feel my resolve cracking.  Last night was the first time I really started wanting him here badly.  My codependence started peeking through.  For most of the weekend after his big lie was revealed we had only minor contact.  Last night he texted me with:

Im not sure what things from the kitchen are mine to take.  I know the new cook ware is yours just wondering about the things i was given as gifts.  If you want them they are yours.

My first reaction was something like – Seriously?!?  That is what he’s worried about right now?  Then I realized that I should have been prepared for this.  It’s what I asked for.  Here are some of the other thoughts I jotted down in my journal:

  • I’m weak.  I want him here in bed with me.  I want to touch him, hold him.
  • I find myself considering an in-home separation.  I just know I can’t do that.  I’m not strong enough.  I would talk to him, laugh with him, fall into those old patterns…
  • I want to call him an ass for sticking to business (what he wants, when he can get it), but that’s what separation IS.  He is doing me a favor, really.
  • I want him to fight for me, for us, but I want him to be well first!
  • I can’t have it both ways – him now & him better because he is obviously not better.
  • I HATE THIS!!!!

Those were just my cliff notes version of the things going through my head.  I wasn’t going to respond to his earlier text.  In fact, I held out for quite a while.  Until after midnight.  Yeah… bad decision.  Nothing good comes from texting someone that late.  I engaged in a few back and forth texts, told him the gifts belong to him, and let him know about my strep.

In the morning light I realized that I need to disconnect myself from him emotionally.  Letting go of my expectations for him, his recovery, his health, his therapy, etc. is my job now.  I can’t control him.

He’s going to be coming by at some point today to pick up a few more things.  I don’t know how I’m going to react.  I don’t know if he will even try to talk to me.  I don’t even know if I want him to.

On a completely unrelated note, I now have a Twitter and Facebook account for my blog.  Check them out if you want.  I could use a little distraction.

Being Aware of Our Vulnerabilities

2 Oct

man on a wire – by simple pleasure

Last week a blogger I follow posted about a Vulnerability Assessment from her marriage counselor.  I was instantly intrigued.  She pointed out that Vulnerability + Opportunity = Affair.  That makes sense, although the reality is probably a tiny bit more complicated.

Those do seem like the basic questions to ask yourself, though – how vulnerable are you to being led astray and what kind of opportunity do you have to act on that vulnerability.  Those two things together are important to the equation.  Having lots of opportunity to cheat doesn’t necessarily mean that you will.  Similarly, being vulnerable to an affair doesn’t guarantee you will have one.  Someone can also be vulnerable and make their own opportunity or have so much opportunity that it creates a vulnerability.  However, if you mix equal parts vulnerability to an affair and opportunity to have one, it is obviously a recipe for disaster.

That made me wonder…  Just how vulnerable am I?

If I had to guess, I would say that I probably have a fairly high score on that assessment.  My husband is a sex addict, so his cycles and behaviors have definitely put him at a high risk overall.  But what about me?

Certainly, according to the small snapshot she shared, I would answer “True” more often than I would like.  Just look at some of this stuff…  Did you know you are at increased risk of having an affair simply if:

  • you have a Facebook account?
  • you have been dealing with stress (family, illness, work, marriage, new job)?
  • you have moved?
  • you have had to deal with the loss of a parent, child, sibling, pet, close friend, family member?
  • you have dealt with or are dealing with a physical/emotional illness (stress, depression, low self-esteem)?
  • you feel taken for granted or taken advantage of at work, at home, in life?
  • you have had to deal with children that are teenagers, rebellious, or unruly?
  • you have felt self-conscious of aging, a bulging mid-section, receding hairline, sagging breasts, erectile dysfunction, major weight loss/gain?
  • you have felt sexually inadequate or second-rate in bed?
  • you confide easily in others?
  • you lack clear goals or dreams or sense of purpose for your life?
  • you have thought or spoke negatively about yourself?
  • you have a lack of self-awareness concerning infidelity, such as:
    • “This couldn’t happen to me.”
    • “I’m committed to working on my marriage.”
    • “No one would be interested in me.”
    • “I would recognize the signs.”
    • “I can be his/her friend only.”
    • “He/She is only a friend.”
    • “He/She is not attractive to me, so this is OK.”
    • “We are both married.”  [As if that totally rules it out…]
    • “This will not get out of hand.”
  • you have a high need for affirmation from others in your life?
  • you feel sorry for yourself?
  • you often see things as ALL or NOTHING?
  • you are unable to communicate your thoughts and emotions to your spouse? perhaps you have been dishonest with them about difficult issues because you fear them rejecting you or punishing you, or because you think it will protect them…”What they don’t know won’t hurt.”)
  • compared to others, you view yourself as:  morally superior, smarter than, or more self-aware?
  • your spouse embarrasses you in public?
  • your marriage is “keeping up the image” to others?
  • you have felt your sex life lacked quality, passion or adventure, and/or it has not been frequent enough?
  • you are disconnected sexually because of emotional starvation?
  • you have married friends who complain about their marriages?
  • you spend time alone?

Teetering on the brink – © Copyright John Naisbitt and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons

I definitely don’t have all of them, not even half, but several of them stood out.  This is also not the entire list.  She got a HUGE list of almost 250 characteristics that can make you vulnerable to an affair, and chose just to share some of the ones that she found the most surprising or that made the most sense.

If I spent time alone I’m more vulnerable to an affair?  Huh?  If it’s on there, though, there must be a reason.  I think it is important to remember all of the little ways we can become vulnerable – to an affair, but also to drifting apart from our partner.  Each of these things is part of a bigger picture.  Too many of them together can mean that you are opening yourself up to stray, or even just to become estranged from your spouse.  The moral of the story is:

Expose your weaknesses before the lies become believable.

I am about to head into the therapist’s office to have my husband give me a full disclosure of his acting out behavior.  I am nervous.  There are all sorts of thoughts and emotions swirling around inside me.  One thing I have been keeping in the forefront of my brain is that the roles could easily be reversed.  If I had a different childhood, if I were treated or raised differently, if I had chosen to cope with sex or porn instead of shopping or eating, if any number of things had happened… this could be me today.  I am going to try my hardest to leave all judgement at the door.  We have walked down different paths.  We have experienced life differently.  The things we have been through brought us together, and we are moving forward hand in hand.

What’s that saying… “But for the grace of God go I.”  I may not believe in God, but I do believe that none of us can be positive that we aren’t vulnerable to being that person we despise, pity, hate, laugh at, etc…  I am going to try to hold onto that renewed sense of humility and self-awareness as I listen with an open heart to the things my husband has struggled with in his past.  Wish me luck.

A homeless man in Paris – work by Eric Pouhier

Being Normal

31 May

I recently read a post on SI from a fellow Year-2-of-Recovery warrior.  She put into words something that I have been feeling in the back of my mind.  She said, “I am so scared of just being normal.  Our marriage was OK pre-affair.  We had a few issues, nothing major but we have done a lot of work and things are great now but I just can’t relax.  I am just so scared that if we relax into our marriage it will go wrong again.”  That is true for me as well. 

Just like the author I thought our marriage/ relationship was going pretty good before my last porn discovery.  The rockiest time in our relationship was at the end of 2008/ beginning of 2009.  That was when the affair discovery happened (see Gaslighting for more info).  After that we had a few ups and downs revolving around lies, strip clubs, and pornography.  The last incident like that was around August of 2009.  In April of 2010 he proposed.  Just a few short months later in September we were married.

That time of our lives was really great (I thought).  We were connected, we were enjoying the wedding planning, not taking things too seriously, and we had our financial situation pretty well set.  He was probably more involved in the wedding planning than I was.  He picked out the food, the cake, helped with deciding the decorations, and was really enthusiastic about everything.  The photographer and music were really the two main areas of importance to me.  I was never one of those “bridezillas,” so the entire process went smoothly with very minimal stress.

I have never been a girl who dreamed about her wedding day – in fact I would have preferred something small with no fuss.  A courthouse or backyard wedding would have been just fine with me.  But my mother and future husband were more set on something with a lot of family and friends, a white dress, tuxedos, and the whole 9 yards.  Don’t get me wrong, I ended up loving our wedding.  I’m glad now that we did things the way we did – even though it was expensive (I consider myself a very frugal person).  One of my most cherished memories is the look on his face and tears in his eyes when I came down the aisle.

Our honeymoon was wonderful.  We had so much fun together – in and outside of the bedroom.  We picked a place that had amazing food, great music, culture, adventure, and energy.  Our room was spectacular, and we spent a lot of time bonding with each other and just enjoying ourselves.  The pictures from our honeymoon are full of laughter, joking, and obvious love.  Even after we got back to reality that connection and euphoria stuck around.  At least I thought it did.

Then about 6 months in I started getting that old familiar feeling that something was off.  I followed my gut, picked up his phone, and opened his browser history.  There were pages and pages of porn.  Even though he had promised he wasn’t doing that anymore.  Even though we had tons of conversations about how hurtful it was.  Even though it was over the line of the clear boundaries we had set in our relationship.  Even though our sex life was great.  The frequency, concealment, and lying weren’t the only issues, though.  The content of that porn was quite disturbing to me.  It still is.

That’s what is so hard about being married to a sex addict.  They can compartmentalized so well that everything can seem completely normal, superb even, while they are acting out in secret.  I know that my husband would take that the wrong way if he read it today.  It is not that I don’t have confidence in him.  It is not that I don’t believe he is staying sexually “sober.”  It’s not even that I have any kind of “bad feeling” about what he is doing.  That is not where the fear is coming from.

I think most of my fear is coming from the fact that it is so hard to really gauge what is going on in the mind of a sex addict.  The fact that my husband is generally so closed off to his emotions, especially any seemingly “negative” ones, makes it incredibly difficult for me to feel completely secure.  He can so easily lie to me and just go on living his life normally as if that lie doesn’t affect him or isn’t weighing on his conscience at all.  Part of that is what happens with an addicted brain.  They are great at denial, justification, and keeping things separate. 

One of the most difficult things for me still is how he could text her, send her messages and pictures, and call her in-between calls and texts with me or after just leaving and giving me a big kiss and “I love you.”  How is that possible?  How can you lie to someone that you love right to their face with no emotion or guilt?  How can you be loving, funny, caring, and completely engaged one minute and just turn it off the next for a sexual fantasy with another person, pornography, or a strip club?  How can you promise one thing and do a completely different thing effortlessly?  It is terrifying.

Even though my husband is no longer that person it is difficult to just turn off the part of my brain that lives in constant fear and uncertainty.  He makes it better every time he opens up and tells me things.  He makes it better every time he goes to a meeting.  Every time he goes to a therapy appointment.  Every time he answers a question honestly or lets me see his vulnerability.  Every time he reads a book or does an exercise with me.  Every time he shares his day, calls me “just because,” holds my hand in the car, and all the other little things that mean so much when they are added together.

Those things are my new “normal.”  I think to a certain extent they will have to continue to be our new normal for quite a while if not indefinitely.  That’s not because I think I will never trust him fully.  It’s quite the opposite.  I want to keep the same level of richness, honesty, trust, love, and connection that we have now forever.  I don’t want to “relax” if that means falling back into a rut where we aren’t being real with each other.  I want to be able to feel completely safe and know that I can trust him because we talk, I know what’s going on with him, and we are each other’s best friend, confidant, and unconditional support.

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