Forgive me if you find that title offensive. You may be thinking, Who is she trying to fool by using the word treasure in reference to my trauma? Well, it took me time to get here too. Years passed before I began to recognize that indeed I had actually gained many gifts because I endured the ripping, agonizing, life-altering plethora of losses I lived through in 2004. And now, far beyond that beginning of a journey that would shape the remainder of my days on earth, it continues to this day. The losses included my marriage; my ministry; my home; most of my friends and colleagues; and my health. But now I realize my trauma chest actually holds beautiful, wonderful treasures too. Gifts that I would have never been given were it not for this painful, wretched, yet amazing journey.
I know that you know that you’ve lost things too. We’ve all lost something, and it’s our losses that make us sisters on this journey. You’ve probably lost many things, at least temporarily. Many of your losses are ongoing, and you are probably still grieving them. For one woman, that grieving process may take several months; for another, it may take years. And for some, the loss is so deep and long-lasting they choose to leave their marriage, which leaves a loss that lasts a lifetime, like mine. Unable to get over the loss they have experienced because of their partner's betrayal, they now add their marriage to the list. But the good news is that even after this death-like experience we can all heal.
I love this quote about suffering from Anne Morrow Lindbergh because it points out that suffering well must be accompanied by intentionality if we truly want to heal:
I do not believe that sheer suffering teaches. If suffering alone taught, all the world would be wise, since everyone suffers. To suffering must be added mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness and the willingness to remain vulnerable.
Lindbergh is telling us that suffering alone won’t help us heal. What she describes is a grieving process, and healthy grieving requires intentionality. Think of that word intentionality as a prescription to help you suffer well so you can heal. Long-term healing requires it, no matter where you are in your journey.
Grieving requires time, hard work, and investment in a healthy grieving process. Where do you think you are on a grieving continuum? If 100% equals complete healing, and 1% means you’ve just discovered the betrayal, where do you find yourself between those two numbers? And do you have any sense of how long it’s going to take you to feel normal again? Most of us find reaching the 100% doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll stay there permanently. Because being alive means we will encounter new losses, like the death of a loved one, the ending of a treasured friendship, or an uprooting because of a job promotion, and each new loss in life gives us another opportunity to go deeper into our grieving and growing process.
But if you find that over time you seem stuck in deep grief or anger because of your partner's betrayal, or if you can’t access your feelings to drain them, please seek help to identify why you are stuck. And if you haven’t yet used the power of one of our support groups—which come with built-in intentionality—I invite you to give one of our groups a try. Over the years as I’ve worked with wounded and grieving partner's of sex addicts, I’ve learned group work can give a woman far more than I alone can give her. One psychologist describes the benefits of intentional support groups this way:
“There is a growing realization among those who care for the bereaved that support groups are an appropriate and effective way to help bereaved people heal. Because they offer a safe place for people to do the work of mourning, support groups encourage members to reconcile their losses and go on to find continued meaning in life and living. Attending a support group facilitated by skilled leaders often brings comfort and understanding beyond many peoples' expectations. Support groups help bereaved people by:
- countering the sense of isolation that many experience in our shame-based, mourning-avoiding culture.
- providing emotional, physical, and spiritual support in a safe, nonjudgmental environment.
- allowing them to explore their many thoughts and feelings about grief in a way that helps them be compassionate with themselves.
- encouraging members to not only receive support and understanding for themselves but also to provide the same to others.
- offering opportunities to learn new ways of approaching problems (e.g. the friend or in-law who lacks an understanding of the need to mourn and pushes you to "return to normal").
- helping them trust their fellow human beings again in what for many in grief feels like an unsafe, uncaring world.
- providing a supportive environment that can reawaken their zest for life.
In short, as group members give and receive help, they feel less helpless and are able to discover continued meaning in life.” 1
Processing your story and feelings with others on this journey, and learning how to use new, empowering tools in a loving, supportive small group filled with others on this same journey can be hugely beneficial and speed your healing along.
What have you lost? And where are you in your grieving continuum? Over the next few weeks we’ll be talking about tools you can use to work through your grief and loss, and what it takes to unearth the treasures that I hope will accompany your healing, if you haven’t already begun to discover them.
With your healing at heart,
1 Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D. The above excerpt is from Dr. Wolfelt's book How to Start and Lead a
Bereavement Support Group, available from Companion Press.