I've been kind of quiet on here for the past week. That's because I was preparing to make the big move... Yep. I'm officially in Texas with Ben. And we are officially working on our recovery.
I'll be honest and say I'm not a pro at this "our recovery" thing because I am in the thick of it. I can't look back and say THIS IS WHAT WORKS--DO THIS!!! because I'm not through it. I'm still in it. Besides, there is no one thing that works. Everyone is different. Every individual recovery is different, and every couple's recovery will be different.
That being said, these are my ideas and generalizations about what I have found to work and theories about what can work. I do have a few years of experience working on our recovery, and I've certainly found things that do and don't work (for us). As always, I'm not saying this is 100% what you need to do. Because it's not. This is about what I've found to work from my experience and what I've heard friends say. But, like I said, there is no one thing that works.
Please feel free to add additional ideas and thoughts in the comments. I'm sure people reading this could use more than just what I have to say.
It's important to note that in the past, when I've only focused on us and our recovery, things haven't worked out super well. I mean, I guess things work out okay for us for a time, but then the stress of everything takes its toll. If I'm not taking care of my recovery, our relationship will suffer. The same goes for him, especially since he is the addict. If he is not taking care of his recovery, the relationship will suffer. He needs to be in recovery. If he is not in recovery, then our life consists of him committing adultery (in his head...porn/masturbation/fantasies/lust), lies, deceit, manipulation, and all the other fun stuff addiction comes with. Then our life consists of me hating the addiction and, in turn, my loss of love for him. And eventually, I would give up because it just wouldn't be worth it.
Some people can accept the fantasyland, though. Or some people can accept it for now because they hope in the future, things will change. It all depends on your expectations, desires, and hopes. We all have our own expectations for our marriage, and that is okay and normal (we are, after all, individuals). I can't accept it, and if he is not in recovery--which is crucial to me and my ideas of our recovery--then our marriage is in jeopardy.
If I am not in recovery, then I'm just giving, giving, giving and losing myself in the marriage. Or maybe I'm living in constant fear and losing myself. There are so many consequences of me not living in recovery.
What it comes down to for me is that we both need to have solid, individual recovery underway for any efforts towards our recovery to work.
Right now, I'm in recovery. I'm taking a break from life to be in full-fledged recovery and get my feet under me, something I know I am extremely blessed to be able to do.
Ben is also in recovery. He is working recovery like I have never seen before. He has had a change of heart, and I have a lot of hope for us.
The feelings and emotions I have about where we are right now are a different post for another day. The gist of it is, though, that we have been in a bad place recently. As written, he completely broke me and my idea of what our marriage has been. In February, I suffered through a horrible disclosure (which was part of his change of heart--to tell me so many things he had consistently lied about since we were dating), and everything came crashing down around me. I went into a severe depression and set new boundaries (also another post).
I just moved back in with him. We were separated for two months. The separation was due to his new job, which was a tremendous blessing (also another post. Haha) both for the money and the timing of separation. During that two months, he had time to really evaluate what he wanted from his life and what he wanted with the addiction. He spiraled down (and I pray it was rock bottom), and now we are on the upward climb. Together.
When he decided to choose recovery, we agreed on one month to continue living apart. During that time, we could both get our recoveries underway. He found a sponsor (something I've begged him to do for at least two years) and is living with a recovery mind-set.
The one month came and went, and now we are back together. But after living through hell and living apart for two months (which, I realized, is a lot longer than it sounds. We got out of many habits, and I started turning to other people as my primary sources of support and love), we are out of practice of being married. Or at least that is how it feels to me.
These are the keys to our recovery:
--First, you (both) have to choose recovery: If your heart isn't in it and you aren't willing to make sacrifices for the relationship's recovery, it won't work. I've learned that from experience. He may want recovery, but if I'm not willing to give the relationship a shot, no matter how many motions I go through, we will not be in recovery. That doesn't mean don't be safe and hold to your boundaries. It just means choose recovery.
--Boundaries: Boundaries are so important to our relationship. I think we both need boundaries to respect the privacy of our individual recoveries but also to protect our relationship and bring us closer together. For example, one boundary that I think needs to be in place (maybe not now, but at some point as he gains more trust) is that we are both each other's #1s. That is a boundary that would protect our relationship. Ideally, I would be going to him first about everything. I used to, but as our relationship was broken down, I stopped. Now I have specific support people I go to first about somethings. I want it to be him. If he is my husband, he should be my #1.
--Vulnerability/Emotional Intimacy: Vulnerability is hard. Being vulnerable means you will experience pain, heartache, and fear. But it also means you can experience higher levels of the positive emotions too, like love and trust. This doesn't mean we are 100% vulnerable all the time. As we are a little bit vulnerable, we gain a little bit of trust. That trust opens the door to more vulnerability, which opens the door to more trust. I've already seen this working in our marriage, and even though my heart has been broken, stomped on, and tossed in the trash (dramatic, anyone?), I'm feeling healing taking place as I step a little out of my comfort zone to be a little more vulnerable every day.
--Respect: We need to respect our individual recoveries and the time that must be spent there so we can both be made whole. We need to respect our boundaries. And we need to respect the vulnerability and each other's emotions. As we respect each other, we will gain love and trust.
--Service: I've heard it said that you love those you serve. Well, okay, I've also experienced that so it's totally true to me. You love those you serve. When I did the Love Dare last summer, it really helped increase my love for Ben. When I taught high school, I really loved my students. When I served in young women's, I loved my Miamaids. When I've given service of any kind, I have truly loved those I've served. As trust is gained, I will serve him more (and I hope he will serve me more too). It helps me put focus on him and forget about me a little bit. It has increased my love for him in the past, so I know it will prove useful as we work on our recovery.
I tried to think of more keys to our recovery, but as I thought, everything I came up with falls into the categories I've already created or comes as a result of those categories.
So, let me just tell you my story of how I've decided to approach our recovery as I moved back in:
I had a nice six-hour drive to think about things as I left Arkansas and drove to Texas. During the drive, I kept asking myself, and God, what I needed to do. I was so afraid (I'm still afraid) of our relationship and what it would bring. As I thought, the conclusion I came to is that we need to start over.
Last week, while talking on the phone, I asked Ben what he thought were reasonable expectations, given where he is in recovery and the things our marriage has suffered through. His response was, "Well, I think it's reasonable for you to expect zero tolerance of the addiction. I've used so many excuses in the past, and I have none left. I have to be in recovery, and I have to live addiction-free."
I'm glad he recognized that because if he had made excuses, I don't know what I would have done. It was very vulnerable of me to even pose that question, and we had a good conversation out of it.
So, since we are living zero-tolerance of the addiction, and since I have suffered in so many ways, and I have been feeling like our love is lost, I decided it's time to start over. I fell in love with him once, right? I could do it again.
Friday night, we went on a date [by the way, if you've been following my blog, I guess now is a good time to tell you I moved Friday instead of Thursday. Just so you aren't confused.]. We live a mile from Chuy's, so we walked there and talked. Back when we were dating, we always went on walks and had good conversations. That was one of the things I loved: we always had something to talk about. And he was super easy to talk to (except for our first date, which was super awkward and he grilled me). On our date, we discussed boundaries.
As a boundary, I told him we are starting over. We were now officially in the dating stage, and this was our first date. We didn't really hold hands or anything (I mean, seriously, that would be so forward for a first date :D). We just talked and laughed and had a really good time. We rented the new Thor movie on Redbox, and he kind of put his arm around me towards the end of the movie, and I kind of leaned into him a little bit--but not for very long because it freaked me out a little.
Since that "first date", we have taken things rather slowly (to me. I mean we are married, so it's going a little quicker than a real dating relationship probably would). We have had good conversations. We have been emotionally intimate, vulnerable, and present. We have shown respect for each other. Things are progressing well. I still have to be careful and steady with the progression of things. But "starting over" has taken pressure off the table for physical intimacy and made the other things that build a good relationship a priority.
I feel like this plan generates a lot of hope. I think over time, as we choose each other, enforce boundaries, are vulnerable, treat each other with respect, and give service to one another, we will feel the desire to choose each other grow stronger every day. We are still in a rough position. And I'm kind of impatient, so I keep asking myself how long this dating stage will last. I want more (which is good because that tells me the plan for recovery and love is working), but I also know that my heart is still broken and my trust shattered, so I HAVE to be patient and let things heal with time.
There is no rush to recovery. We just have to take it one day at a time and know that God is guiding and directing us.
Oh I guess I should mention prayers/scripture study/family home evening. Those are very intimate and vulnerable things, and we did not do them together when we were dating. So while we are "dating" we will grow our friendship and desire to be together. And when the trust and healing comes stronger, we will add in those things. I know it's important to keep God in our relationship. Trust me, I've had plenty of people tell me that. We are doing that as we pray together at night, and I pray for him in my personal prayers. But I'm not being that vulnerable with him yet, and I think that is perfectly fine for our situation.
Anyway, I have hope for our marriage. And every time I admit that I feel super vulnerable.
Things are healing. That's all I can ask for.
Read Part 1: His Recovery, here
Read Part 2: My Recovery, here