16 of the best things I did for my early recovery – plus 5 missteps
I tried to navigate the repeat betrayal/promises to stop cycle on my own, by my wits alone. I also received a ton of bad advice from helping professionals whose intentions were great – but their training and experience, and advice were not. I lovingly refer to myself in those days as “Old Pam”.
What “new Pam” did right, after 25 years of doing it wrong.
1. I leaned in hard to God. Up until that time, I wasn’t a very good Christian or churchgoer. I found a modern nondenominational church and dedicated myself to reading scripture daily and journaling on what God was saying to me, and about me.
2. I asked for an immediate therapeutic separation. We created written goals for each of us, and agreed on what milestones we had to reach before considering living together again. This saved my sanity and probably saved my husband’s life 😉 Just kidding, but I’m sure you get it.
3. I accepted that what I was experiencing was honest to goodness real betrayal trauma. To find the right solution, I had to identify and name what I was experiencing.
4. I stopped encouraging my husband to get into recovery. In fact, I told him, “It seems to make you happy; you keep returning to it, go live that way, but I’m not coming with you.” This was freeing beyond words for me, to not be in the constant push-pull over his recovery work. I let go and let God. I told him I was praying that he would take it seriously, but that I knew I had no choice there.
5. I accepted that before I could make good decisions about the future of my relationship, I had to put my own recovery first. I had to feel like I was on an even keel and get to stability and management of my triggers. Though it was always my choice to stay or end the relationship, in my current state of mind, I wasn't in a good position to make such a life-changing decision.
6. I accepted that the future of my relationship was not entirely in my hands. It wasn't my responsibility to help my suffering husband feel better about what was happening or help him decide if he wanted our relationship or not. I let go of trying to control his decision.
7. Got on medication to help with my anxiety. I am one of those people who prefer not to turn to medication if I can avoid it, but my doctor helped me shift my perspective. She reminded me that I could stop at any time, when I felt like I had better education and skills to manage my anxiety organically.
9. I joined support groups. I didn’t’ know it then, because I was just following “doctor’s orders” but I needed connection with real people, who were authentic and telling their betrayal stories even if they were hard to hear. I got out of isolation, because my own thoughts were a bad neighborhood that shouldn’t have been travelled alone. (I provide this early recovery group here, and a boundaries group here. )
10. I pushed myself to focus on my self-care and my needs first. I made doctor's appointments. I said “no” to additional web and marketing business that would have pushed me over 40 hours a week. I said “no” to volunteering at my son’s school. If I started to feel guilty about putting my rest first, I’d remind myself, “I’m surviving and recovering from trauma.”
11. I did “values work”. I was directed by my therapist to define my top personal values. They became my guiding principles to inform all my decisions, especially the most difficult ones. That work also helped me to set and enforce boundaries. Well worth the time and the process got me fired up with confidence to take action on my emotional health. (We do values work in my boundaries group)
12. Writing – My relationships' timeline. I was instructed to start a simple timeline of my relationship and the events I questioned and discoveries over time. What started as a simple one-page document became a 10-page document in a matter of days, starting with my birth, and how my parents were in a separation when I was born. This
13. Writing my losses – from my timeline came my losses letter also known as an impact statement. Losses like self-trust, time, money, cognitive issues due to the betrayal trauma – the list went on. I would add to this over the years when I remembered something out of the blue. This would become an outlet, and a tool for my grieving period.
14. Writing a daily journal of random rants, fears, hopes, dreams, gratitude and prayers. Once it was out of my head and onto paper, those thoughts and feelings lost some of their power over me. The act of writing them transformed them from disparate seemingly disconnected arrows into cohesive, meaningful pillows and blankets.
15. I volunteered with strangers. While I said “no” to my son’s school where I put pressure on myself to wear an, “everything is fine mask”, I found volunteering with my new church’s service outreach fulfilling and healthy. I helped serve breakfast a local Salvation Army, a positive use of my skills, a connection to safe caring people who wouldn’t pry if I broke down in tears, and a way to get out of my own story and to provide service and connection to others in their story.
16. I made friends with my anger (and all my other emotions that were all over the place) and gave myself grace for feeling, whatever I was feeling. I validated myself, that I had a right to be angry and that my anger had a healthy purpose: to protect me from abuse. Being validated in my feelings in a group, helped me normalize the experience.
BONUS! What didn’t work.
This is what “old Pam” did.
Don’t be like “old Pam”.
1. Monitoring my husband’s activities. Every time I felt scared or worried that he was acting out, I went running to the software for reports. I was no longer in a relationship with my husband, I was now in a relationship with the monitoring software. (No shade on anyone who finds this useful, but for where my head was, I found my husband a better place to go for safety and comfort. It was his job to learn how to do that. )
2. Trying to use words to “convince” my husband that he needed to change, because ____. I was sure that if I just found the right words, I’d trigger his guilt/compassion/sense of fairness/care/love for me and that a lightbulb would go off, and he’d say, “OH! Is that what you want? No problem!” Trouble was, he already understood it and was in denial about any words I’d say. The only language he truly understood was what I did with my feet and where I planted my behind, (boundaries.)
3. Not allowing myself to “appear to be recovering” in front of him. I had a cognitive distortion that if I appeared to be improving, he would think, “Oh she’s ok, this isn't a big deal, I can just keep living in my addiction, and just hide it better.” Every time I started to feel a little lighter or joy, I pulled myself back down and thought, “NO! Pam, you must NEVER be better, it would mean in his mind, that what he did was okay and what he did is NEVER ok!” Turns out, he wasn’t thinking that at all! My mind-reader was broken! Later he honestly shared what he was thinking back then was, “oh my gosh, there’s no hope for us. What I’ve done has permanently destroyed her, she'll never trust me again, we will never share happiness. I feel so hopeless”.
4. Thinking if I could just get the relationship fixed, I’d be okay. Boy, was I wrong on that…for years and years. When my husband finally embraced recovery “do or die”, I realized I was still experiencing trauma symptoms and was in a very bad place. I finally took up my own mantle and decided to be in recovery, not just “do” recovery, I got well. But I wasted many years not understanding that my trauma brain needed TLC and healing, and I needed new skills.
5. Setting boundaries but dropping them too soon. I should have waited for an appropriate repair and demonstrated changed behavior over time.
Boundaries support group. Master Boundaries, get support for boundaries to guard against gaslighting, blame, denial, minimization, manipulation and isolation.
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