Progress not perfection, is a running theme around our house. A conversation amongst betrayed spouses this morning regarding empathy made me think of, well, a bunch of my blog entries, but specifically this one: And then it all went to s*%t.
That blog post a mere three months ago, stirred up a whole lot of conversation around empathy, around sex addiction in general, and also around my mental health, which has been a running theme of some commenters for months and months. One commenter states, “I hope the two of you make it, but for you to be sitting on the side of a hill sobbing your heart out says you are far from ok.” This particular commenter is not a betrayed spouse. Pretty sure I didn’t even need to say that, but I am just going to. My comment back included this “Yes, I agree. Sometimes I am far from okay. I was happily living my life with a man I have known and adored for 30 years. We have two great children and a successful business and then one January day in 2014, I get a call from an older woman with a smoker’s voice saying she is having a relationship with my husband. I was thrown into shock and trauma. It is taking me a while to heal from that. I have made lots of progress, but some days I do sit on the side of hills and cry. I mean honestly, that has only happened once so far, but I have cried in my closet, on my bed, on a cruise ship in the Caribbean, at a restaurant in Hawaii, in the shower (many many times)… I write a blog because it helps me to talk it out.” And that is called trauma. Trauma after betrayal, and a lack of empathy are also not just a sex addict thing. Lack of empathy is very much a process by which people rationalize and compartmentalize behavior they don’t want to accept or own. If they don’t acknowledge your pain, they don’t have to own it.
The comment conversations on that particular blog entry also battled on around empathy. Some believe there are people who never have had empathy and therefore it won’t come out of them, ever, and cannot be taught. I, in particular, don’t believe that at all, but we are all entitled to our opinions. All I can really write about is my own experiences, and that brings me to a blog entry a couple weeks after the above, entitled: The highjacking of empathy. In that post I am responding to a blog comment in a previous post, a portion of which goes like this: “OK can someone explain to me what the difference is between a person who compartmentalizes their actions and someone who lacks empathy? Isn’t, easily and habitually, compartmentalizing nothing but a manifestation of a person who lacks empathy? In my understanding it is the lack of an ability to empathize that allows people to compartmentalize.”
And a snippet of my response, “I actually think it is the other way around. Google defines compartmentalization thusly: Compartmentalization is an unconscious psychological defense mechanism used to avoid cognitive dissonance, or the mental discomfort and anxiety caused by a person’s having conflicting values, cognitions, emotions, beliefs, etc. within themselves. In my husband, I think it is the necessity (driven by his addiction) to compartmentalize (disconnect from his conflicting values and emotions) that allowed him to temporarily block his empathy.”
In those blog posts and comment responses, just a mere handful of months ago, Blue Eyes was still struggling with showing empathy towards me, at least in the way I expected him to. I have written about how Blue Eyes does exhibit empathy. He showed empathy towards the pain he had caused our children by lying to them, and he cried, it was honest and deep, and he showed it right after d-day. He has been highly compassionate towards other sex addicts in his groups and his intensive. On a daily basis, I was suffering and I was expecting Blue Eyes to come to my rescue, to validate me, to understand me. He couldn’t. He couldn’t break through, in a matter of weeks, or even months, everything he had built for decades. I have been the most important person in his life and he knew the man he really was, not the magic man in the costume trying to be everything for everyone, but the man underneath, the cheater, the liar, the addict, he knew that man could not show himself, ever, for fear of complete rejection. And then someone ripped off the mask and he was a failure. He had failed me in nearly every imaginable way. To carry that full burden, his reality of his own failure, and the burden of my gut wrenching pain, was too much.
I am happy to report, after months and months of recovery work, Blue Eyes now spontaneously shows empathy towards me. As he has broken through, carving away at his own demons, he has made a space for me, and for really understanding the magnitude of what he has done. Making room for my feelings is part of his healing process, but the real breakthrough is, as I heal, he is able to release some of that fear and shame that revolves around what he has done. His truest empathetic moments happen out of the blue. The real bursts of empathy do not come from my prompting or even my pain, but as I heal and as I accept my new reality and release my fears, he is grateful for me, for who I am. He thinks about me and everything I have endured and wonders why I am still by his side, he acknowledges how grateful he is that I am by his side, and he breaks down. Blue Eyes doesn’t think the way I do. The things that bother me, don’t even enter his conscious mind. He will never feel my pain, and I will never feel his, but we have compassion for each other. Day by day, we are enjoying this journey more, we are enjoying life more.
As I continue painting as a form of healing myself and releasing the trauma for good, I am now working with color, mixing it, blending it, watching it flow on the canvas, playing with brights and impressionist strokes of vibrant hues here and there. The above painting is my fantastical impression of the view out my bedroom window.
Progress, not perfection, that’s what it’s all about.