I grew up on a farm in Africa. For various reasons, my family of origin could not provide me with the support I needed to develop as an emotionally, spiritually and physically healthy child. In order to survive growing up in an emotionally dishonest, shame-based and controlling family, I formed a bond with my pets, dolls and indigenous play mates. The only two emotions I often experienced in my family were rage and sadness, and the only emotion I can remember feeling was fear.
My boundaries were broken in different ways and I carried loneliness and withdrawal as a cloak around my shoulders. Gradually I turned to food for comfort. In my growing up years, my “normal” was brokenness and my foundation crumbled under my feet. A little later in life, I struggled to make healthy choices and did not know when and how to walk away from abusive situations and relationships. The word “boundaries” was a foreign concept to me. Fortunately God graciously intervened and I discovered what it means to call Him Father.
Initially I experienced Him as a distant and fearsome Father, but contrary to my early perception of Him, He proved faithful throughout my life. And He drew me close, and revealed Himself to me as an approachable intimate Father. And joy grew in my life and relationships.
My husband and I met when we both took the same course. He came from an equally dysfunctional family and had used pornography from his early teens onwards. He thought it would go away once we were married. But we struggled from early on in our marriage, and my husband’s disclosure was gradual. After a few years of being married and feeling alone, we knew he struggled with an intimacy disorder and his addiction to porn was part of it. My heart was broken and for many years I lived with searing heartache.
We tried to find help for our marriage, leaving no stone unturned in our attempts to fix it. But we encountered disappointment from spiritual leaders, therapists and psychologists who lacked insight and understanding about addiction and intimacy disorder in a marriage and the trauma it causes for the partner. Our road to recovery was long and difficult because we couldn’t find informed professionals who could help us.
To make the best of the situation, we tried to educate ourselves as much as possible and applied the principles to the best of our abilities. But sharing our story with uninformed friends and our spiritual community produced misunderstanding and betrayal which left both of us with added trauma. Disclosure to uninformed people can be devastating and destructive, as it was for us. But as a result, we learned to only seek help from therapists qualified in these areas. And we learned how important privacy for us; privacy, but not secrecy.
My healing journey began with the dramatic realization that I was not the cause of my husband’s addiction and intimacy disorder, and I could not heal or control him. Another pivotal point in my recovery has been the realization that I am not a co-addict or co-dependent, but, in essence, a trauma victim. This was a significant revelation in my life that accelerated my healing process. When I encountered the “trauma model,” for first time I felt fundamentally heard and understood. I realized I had the power to take control of my own healing through good self care by, first, setting healthy boundaries and, second, recognizing and responding appropriately to triggers. Also, learning to distinguish between trauma-related triggers and more general triggers proved to be an invaluable skill in learning how to respond in healthy ways.
And as I learned these skills, my life began to change immeasurably. I became emotionally and spiritually stronger. Additionally, I applied regular silence and contemplation practices to combat stress. These changes helped me be at peace and stay grounded, enabling me to live in the present moment rather than feeling anxious about the future.
My husband’s recovery journey mirrored mine. After a slow, tortuous start, he too realized he needed qualified and experienced professionals; professionals who understand porn addiction and intimacy disorder. As we both focused on our own healing journeys, we agreed to temporarily separate for a few months, knowing it would enable us to sharpen our focus as individuals, and prepare us to, down the road, heal our marriage. Gradually we grew to where we felt ready to start working on our relationship as a couple. As the healing journey progressed we began to discover that the pathologies of porn addiction and intimacy disorder, which could have destroyed our marriage, had actually set us on a path of forging stronger bonds in our marital relationship.
Several key ingredients formed a strong foundation for continued recovery in our marriage. These included 1) informed and professional support and input; 2) relentless, honest accountability; 3) breaking isolation by remaining connected through regular and consistent group work and meetings; and 4) healthy boundaries as good self care. God used Isaiah 61:1-3 and Isaiah 11:2 to plant in me a desire to become a professional counselor. To fulfill my calling, I studied psychology and later did a Diploma in Christian Counseling, as well as two courses in Prayer Ministry. I was involved in counseling and prayer ministry for more than three decades, mostly using Theophostic Prayer Ministry, but changed to the Immanuel Approach in pain and trauma processing. I did A Circle of Joy’s foundational group, “Journey to Healing and Joy,” and two years later I felt a strong desire to help other women on this journey. My broken foundations have healed and grown strong. I now feel comfortable setting healthy boundaries. From my boundary work I’ve gained a sense of authentic, personal power.
If you need to gain that sense of authentic, personal power, I stand ready to help you. God has redeemed my life, and He has given me a hope and a future. He is a good Father, and through Him I now live with gratitude and joy.