When Your Undoing Remakes You

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September 19, 2013 was my watershed moment, although I didn’t know it at the time; I even later got the date tattooed under a butterfly tattoo I already had on my back, which represented my hope for God’s renewal of me.  This day was not my only trauma in life, but it embodied the day my life switched tracks.

Some of you know my story because I either told you, or you read about it a couple of years ago in my post, “My Unexpected Life.” For those of you who don’t know my story, here is a summary of it. At the time of my watershed moment, I had been existing in my (then) marriage for many years, not allowing myself to grasp that I was living with a porn-addicted husband who preferred men. On the night of September 19, 2013, I had the opportunity for a non-negotiable confrontation when my (then) husband’s phone received a sext while laying face up on the kitchen counter as I was standing right next to it; he was out of the room. With an immediately racing heart and shaking hands, I nonchalantly picked up the phone, walked to where he was, and whispered in his ear that we needed to talk upstairs “Now.”

That moment sent me quickly into a dark hole that took me years from which to emerge. I was face-to-face with a pattern that, for about thirteen years, I couldn’t acknowledge existed, even with plenty of evidence. It was not my first confrontation I had with my (then) husband, but it was the only one, up to that point, where I held my ground and wouldn’t accept any legitimizing stories that were used to try to excuse his behavior. I didn’t know how to operate in this new way; I felt completely alone, afraid, and many times, despairing—even though every ounce of me wanted direction and intervention from God.

That was when I felt the most desperate in my life, and I think it was my sheer desperation that God used to begin to change me. I already had a relationship with God, but everything in my life was operating at my lowest common denominator. I desperately didn’t want to be alive, living in that nightmare (even though I didn’t want to actually kill myself). I desperately wanted to hear from God, to know what to do (Divorce was not an option I was even willing to consider for months and only after speaking with a counselor and a few others). I desperately wanted to protect my daughter from emotional damage resulting from divorce, or from living with parents who had an unhealthy and then bad marriage. I desperately wanted to be done confronting, but that was not to be the case. I desperately wanted help.  And then I desperately wanted to express how I felt, to be heard and known; I was exhausted from hiding what was inside of me.

It was all of this desperation that slowly drove me to begin to live differently, to start to become healthy.

I started finding more trusted and safe people to talk to. I never realized until my life fell apart that I lived in almost complete isolation. I wasn’t a hermit (My ex is an extrovert, so I didn’t have the opportunity); I never revealed my heart to people until the end of the marriage—I don’t even think I was aware I was doing that.

During the immediate aftermath of that evening in September, I quickly realized that I was an emotional wreck. I started reading books, we saw a marriage counselor four times before he recommended divorce, and a couple of months after I told my (then) husband to leave, I began a year-and-a-half of counseling.

In this time, I became closer to God than I had ever been in my life, and more importantly, He seemed even closer to me than He had ever been. I really started to recognize His “still, small voice” because I kept running into the same messages repeatedly without even trying; this lasted for about one-and-a-half years. For example, one repeated message was from Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God.” I would have to find my journal that documented all of the specific details, but I ran into it six times in about a week. Someone read it at a Bible study. A parent of one of my students gave me a card, and on the back was that verse. Another friend of mine invited me over for tea, and my tea “happened” to be served in a mug that had that verse on it (I documented that on Instagram).

Another, more attention-getting example of God interrupting my daily life with goodness happened a little over a year after that September confrontation. I shut my phone off and on, and when the screen reloaded, I had a different lock screen with a picture that was not saved in my pictures—“my phone” changed the lock screen by itself. It had the following verse in Isaiah 46:4, “I am He. I am He who made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” I’m pretty sure that if God can speak through an ass (It’s in the Bible), then He can change my lock screen to reassure me that He IS taking care of me in my (then) hellish life; I also documented that lock screen on Instagram.

Within a few months of stopping counseling, I was invited to learn more about Christian spiritual direction; it was an interest meeting for Sustainable Faith’s School of Spiritual Direction, and one of my friends had just completed her first year of their two-year program. It was a perfect fit for me. I witnessed the difference spiritual direction made in my friend’s life; she was calmer and no longer living the frantic life for God. So, instead of waiting a year (my initial thought), I signed up to begin that fall. I sensed that this was the next stage of my healing journey, and in retrospect, becoming a Spiritual Director was almost a side-note to my healing. As I healed more, I felt called to spiritual direction because God was using my pain to help others, and I had a greater capacity to listen without judging people because I now had a story that others could easily judge.

Today it’s been a few months since I completed my own two-year journey in Sustainable Faith’s School of Spiritual Direction. I learned about listening to God and others, instead of simply listening in order to have something with which to reply. I practiced vulnerability with my cohort; we each shared our own stories and ongoing struggles, something that I needed, but it terrified and embarrassed me to show what felt like filthy stains on my life.  I recognized some of my own emotional blind spots and compulsions when we delved into the Enneagram. I learned that conversations are the foundation on which relationships with God and others are built.  I also saw that there are predictable stages in our journey of faith with God; my stage was easily recognizable because it looked like a wall. But most of all, I realized (and am still realizing) just how loved I am.

I lost my life and the trajectory I was on since birth, but the life I gained in return had a substance and richness that was never there before. My life with God gained a depth that I only had glimpses of previously, and I saw that God really does work everything for good for those who love Him; I saw for myself what it meant to give thanks in all things and to rejoice in suffering. These aren’t part of my personal statement of faith; I lived these. I am far from perfect; if you heard me cuss, especially in prayer, you’d probably call me a hypocrite. I just know who I am and Whose I am.

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My Unexpected Life

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This is the most recent part of my own personal story. I feel more terror in posting this one just as I did with my last post! When I’ve shared it with people, there is either a silent shock and awe, or a companionship of the fellow broken. Lives lived with lessons learned are best shared so that others can benefit too.  I wish I had this to read about 2 1/2 years ago because I felt like the only person going through this when I was living it. It felt like pure hell. I’m not sharing this in order to shame anyone or to get attention. Being vulnerable makes me embarrassed, but the benefits of possibly helping others is worth the emotional cost. Honestly, I feel compelled to tell it. If you get to the end of this and disagree with my conclusions or beliefs, then I’m glad you at least read it to the end. I am not any person’s judge; that’s God’s job, and He didn’t qualify me to be Him.

My Unexpected Life

I originally shared this with Dena Johnson in the summer of 2015. With my permission, she posted it on her blog, Dena Johnson Ministries in October 2015. Since then, I’ve made minor edits and additions. I pray that God gets the credit for any good in this: that it gives hope to those walking in similar or related circumstances, that it strengthens those who need it, and that it encourages others to be vulnerable with “safe people,” to quote Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. Be blessed.

That Christian Kid

I was that Christian kid you might have gone to high school with. I often wore the Christian t-shirts, and if you liked to debate Christianity or just ask deep questions about God and life, I was passionately up for it. I remember dreaming in my sophomore year of one day marrying a youth pastor, having at least a couple of kids, and working in ministry. Growing up, my parents argued a lot, so I knew what I didn’t want in a marriage. I even bought Finding the Love of Your Life by Dr. Neil Clark Warren; I devoured it because I didn’t want to make mistakes in  one day finding a husband (once I was old enough to get married).

Implied in my life’s dreams was NEVER be a divorced woman. I didn’t want to be someone who gave God and Christians a bad reputation. I tried to always be happy in spite of a lifelong battle with depression, and deep inside I wanted to help others feel happy because I cared and desired to show people Jesus in me. When I had struggles or temptations, I fought them or subconsciously pretended like they didn’t exist. Along with that, I had a big distrust of my feelings, not that I am advocating letting your feelings be your guide. I just didn’t think my emotions had any good use; they were just a distracting annoyance to me because I’ve always been “too sensitive.”

I got married in my early twenties. My then husband, Marc (not his real name) was not a youth pastor, but he seemed to want to follow and serve Jesus. From the beginning, we had an odd relationship, which I thought stemmed from us being polar opposites in personalities and in backgrounds. He’s an extrovert who is blunt and very sociable. I’m an introvert, opinionated but reserved, and I’m sociable when I’m comfortable (and until it wears me out). Marc came from a nominal Catholic family from another country, and his parents divorced when he was fairly young. He also had a rough past, seemingly trying everything. By contrast, I came from a Christian home with parents who constantly fought (later divorcing when I was in my twenties). I became a Christian when I was eight, and I wanted to follow Jesus–especially from about middle school on. On top of that, I am typically an overly cautious person.

Marc and I were “just friends” for quite a while, and our college pastor teased us because we were “just friends” who always hung out. When I first got to know Marc, I learned he had a crazy past that wasn’t too distant, but what I didn’t know was that he was still harboring secrets. My pastors and I really thought he had a life change because God is very capable of drastically changing people’s hearts, which changes their lives.

What the… (insert Expletive here)!

Marc and I were married just over fourteen years when our divorce was finalized at the beginning of 2015. During the course of our entire marriage I saw in Marc what I now know as signs of a porn addiction. I also later found out Marc was gay. During my marriage, I saw things I didn’t want to see, and no matter how many times I stumbled across the porn or related things, my mind wouldn’t acknowledge that Marc had a serious problem. Like a true co-dependent, I wanted to protect him from getting in trouble. I assumed each incident was a one-time slip up because that was the lie that he fed me, and I didn’t want him to be misperceived; I didn’t want to negatively affect his ministry. Marc was a chaplain, had at one time started studying to become a pastor, led small-group Bible studies, and for a few years together, we were leaders in a couple of college ministries. I took all of Marc’s addictive symptoms on as my responsibility, when it was my husband who had a problem; he was the one who had secrets. I didn’t know what to do with what I saw, so I subconsciously set out on a campaign to bash myself: I was a bad wife who had unfounded trust issues; I was being paranoid. Why couldn’t I just trust him?

My own parents’ divorce emotionally set me off, living in a state of constant anxiety and depression, with an emphasis on anxiety; I had no coping skills for handling issues that felt too hard to deal with. On top of my parents’ divorce, I had a few years’ experience of living in my façade of a marriage. (Remember, I was denying reality 24-7 that my husband had a problem, even though his behavior showed otherwise.)  I ended up seeing a doctor so that I could get on prescription anti-depressants for my anxiety, which I took for several years.  By the spring of 2012, I took myself off of my medication. I lost about twenty pounds, and I slowly became aware of me-–the me I tried hard to ignore. I was struggling with sexual temptation: men started noticing me after my weight loss. My husband had stopped intimacy with me in 2003, so most of our marriage was without intimacy and was therefore very unhealthy. I read in the Bible (1 Corinthians 7:5) that Satan used a lack of intimacy in a marriage as a source of temptation, and I was in a full-on battle that I truly thought I would lose. God provided a way out, just like He promised in 1 Corinthians 10:13. I even told Marc that it wasn’t right and that I was really struggling, but that changed nothing with him. So, life continued. My daughter, whom we adopted in 2010, was my reason to keep going in more ways that I’m probably even aware of.

Not long after my own battle with temptation, I came across the porn that led to my BIG confrontation of Marc. I was standing in our kitchen and happened to see Marc’s phone on the counter. There was a pornographic picture in a sext (sexual text message, if you don’t know what that is). My heart was pounding so hard that I truly thought I would die of a heart attack. My hands were trembling. I felt sick, and I knew what I needed to do. In private, I quietly and firmly confronted him. I told him I didn’t want any excuses or stories this time. He started crying hard and admitted he had a problem. He also told me he was only attracted to men.  I told him I would be willing to work with him because I knew God could do anything, and I knew firsthand that no sexual temptation was too big for God to help us overcome. I really thought he would be willing to fight hard.

During the months that followed, as I waited, hoped, and prayed that he would do WHATEVER it took to fight this, I miraculously met a couple of Christian women whose husbands had previously been much deeper into secret gay sex addictions than Marc (porn, a hidden long-term relationship, one-night stands, etc.). These husbands overcame and chose their marriages over their addiction (not simple or easy battles). I even read Desires in Conflict by Joe Dallas. I also read a lot about sexual addiction and felt shocked and angry that my pre-marital counseling didn’t talk about this. I was willing to go down this road with Marc, and we even went to a Christian marriage counselor who recommended divorce after only four sessions. I was torn up inside. I felt extremely concerned for our daughter, and I wanted to make absolutely sure I did everything I possibly could to save our marriage. I felt so guilty too–I made a promise, a vow, and the divorce was clearly going to be from me. Marc didn’t want to divorce, and he wanted to keep all of this a secret. Aside from a few trusted advisors who were my godly counsel, no one knew until I finally confided in a fellow believer at work. It was SO GOOD to finally tell someone what I had been grappling with, and it was truly the grace of God that my sanity lasted while I lived with all my secrets. It has been a slow process of sharing my story with others.

About nine months after my initial confrontation it became clear that I wanted to save the marriage more than Marc. I came across some movies that were only about drugs and sex that were still being watched. I realized that Marc would never win this battle because he wouldn’t remove everything that fed his addiction. So, I finally asked him to leave and gave him two weeks.  I told him we needed to divorce because we were not both fighting for our marriage; we were going in opposite directions. That was the most gut-wrenching decision of my life because I was so scared for our daughter–that her life would be forever screwed up, and I felt at fault because I was asking for the divorce.

The End is the Beginning

A few months after I asked Marc to leave, which was several months before my divorce finalized, I began seeing another Christian counselor. I felt like a broken mess and a shell of a human being. I remember telling her that I had this image of what my heart was like: it was this glass heart, and my ex had taken a sledgehammer to it and smashed it to bits. All I had to show for myself was this shattered heart, and I felt I had nothing left I could offer God, let alone people. My emotions were raw all.the.time. I’m pretty good at keeping it together, and I could hardly hold back tears on most days; on the days when I couldn’t control my crying, I had to find a place to go cry. Thankfully, I had people who supported me, and through this season of life I have learned that I need supportive people in my life, that my fierce independence is not healthy.

Then there was the emptiness of not having my daughter on days when she went to her dad’s. It was like this huge void. My life wasn’t supposed to be like this! I was supposed to be married to a Christian man who served God with me; we weren’t supposed to be divorced; I was supposed to have an in-tact family—my child should be with me, and we were all supposed to be a family, a healthy family. But it wasn’t like that, and unfortunately, the healthy part was never there. I kept thinking, “This isn’t what I signed up for, God!!” I was raging inside. I was angry at my ex and at God, but I didn’t give up on God (another mercy of His). God wanted my honesty, so I owned it. Counseling helped me to work through my anger with Marc and with God over a period of many months: we prayed about it, I journaled extensively about it, we talked about it, and we even met with my ex-husband so that I could practice some honesty along with forgiveness. And this was just the beginning of my healing. Counseling uncovered more than I initially went in for, but it has been a worthwhile process, although the most difficult of my life.

 

Helpful Resources:

Get the Facts (on porn) from Fight the New Drug

JoeDallas.com (author of Desires in Conflict)

Safe People by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend

The Story of Dan and Cathy Davis (I “happened” to meet them because I was local.)

Surviving Adultery and Divorce (various posts from Dena Johnson Ministries)

10 Signs of Porn Addiction from Covenant Eyes

WifeBoat (a website for wives who’ve been betrayed)