How Boundaries Keep You Safe From More Heart Wrenching Trauma
Today we have Dr. Adam Moore, owner and clinical director of Utah Valley Counseling, creator of www.myrecoveryportal.com, and a co-founder of www.SendingLight.org. We’ll talk about each of these organizations, but many of you know Dr. Moore from Utah Valley Counseling, which specializes in treating women with Betrayal Trauma. Welcome Adam.
Adam: Thank you very much, happy to be here.
Anne: Adam, since many listeners might be here for the first time, they can hear my story from the podcast. I produce this podcast to share my story and let other women know that they are not alone in their pain and their trauma, and that there is a path to healing.
I am on that path to recovery as a survivor of domestic violence, the wife of a pornography addict, and the path is working! God is really working in my life! Other women also share their betrayal trauma recovery stories here on this podcast. Now that the new listeners are up to speed, tell us a little bit about you, Dr. Moore. You run Utah Valley Counseling . . .
Adam: My wife and I own Utah Valley Counseling. We have two offices in Utah County, and we have seven therapists that work for us. I’m also full time at Brigham Young University as an administrator there.
We also have other side projects like www.myrecoveryportal.org and our newest endeavor, if you will, is this non-profit called Sending Light which I’m really really excited about. So yes, I have a lot going on in my life. But I can’t sleep at night unless I’ve done something meaningful, so that’s how I sleep.
Is There a Way to Heal From Betrayal Trauma?
Anne: Your therapy practice focuses on pornography addiction recovery and treating women with betrayal trauma. In your opinion, what keeps women stuck in that trauma?
Adam: Part of the “stuckness” comes from living with the person who is continually traumatizing them, a person who is not changing. For example, a pornography or a sex addict who is really not in recovery, and continues to do the same types of behaviors; not only the behaviors of sexually acting out, but things that addicts often do: blaming, controlling, the manipulating, gaslighting, and often even abuse depending on the person.
Because of this, it is extremely difficult to work through trauma when you are in the middle of trauma. For most women there has to be a stopping point which either is going to come from the other person making some behavior changes, or more likely when she starts setting up some boundaries for herself. That’s when the healing really can begin.
Anne: That’s what I found in my life. I was doing public speaking about this topic. I thought my husband was in recovery. I was just spinning my wheels and I didn’t even know it. Which is part of why I’m doing this podcast as restitution as my Step 8 and 9 for my ignorance. For me the trauma affected me with anxiety, trying to control the situation, depression, obsession. How do you think it’s affecting other women across the world in similar ways? What do you see in your office?
Adam: It affects women really differently based on so many factors, things like: their own temperament and personality, probably genetics, their life experiences. But what we’re seeing in our office is women who are experiencing legitimate trauma. So the flashbacks, the nightmares, the panic attacks, all those types of things.
Only in the last few years is this becoming more obvious in the public eye, and we still have a lot of work to do. Some people still don’t really believe this is real, they think women are overreacting, or they are just being dramatic. But for women who are experiencing it, it is extremely real; it is as real as getting in a car accident and breaking all your limbs. So, not only is there all of the pain that’s happening with traumatic things recurring in the relationship, but I think an additional issue is then when they reach out to other people they are being dismissed and they’re being told that they are making a big deal out of nothing.
That really compounds the traumatic experience. You know, I don’t know which one is more traumatic, the experience of being betrayed, being lied to, being manipulated in your own marriage, or then reaching out for help and having people tell you that you’re crazy.
Anne: That is exactly what happened with me. My husband wasn’t changing, but he knew all the right words to say. It was like I had gone crazy. People didn’t believe me and it was fascinating to be in that situation when I had watched other women go through it for years but I had never been “that woman.” Here I was going through that experience that I’d heard about, and that was the most traumatizing part–going for help, screaming and yelling saying “I need help!” and having people just look at me and say, “Well stop asking him questions. Stop making such a ruckus.” It was so awful.
Adam: One of the really sad things is that there are therapists out there who say, “I treat this, I treat addiction, I treat trauma,” but they are participating in some of that. I’ve heard terrifying things about therapy sessions where therapists are telling the wives, you know you just really need to stop worrying about this, and it’s not that big of a deal. These are clinicians who are supposed to be helping. So, you know and I don’t like throwing therapists under the bus because everybody is trying and they are doing the best they can, but that is just part of the systemic problem.
What Is Adam Moore’s Non-Profit Sending Light About?
Anne: You are one of the co-founders of Sending Light, your new non-profit. Tell us about that: how it started, what it does, and how it helps women who are experiencing the same types of things I experienced.
Adam: The woman in charge of the Lightkeepers Instagram account held a retreat last April. As part of that retreat, the women that were involved got together and started talking about how we can do more to help women in trauma because of their husband’s sexual acting out behaviors. She had shared an idea with these women about providing care packages specifically for women in trauma, but doing it through community and religious leaders.
This way, you’re not only helping women, but also educating the leaders and others who are often the first line of support for women, so that they understand better what they are really dealing with. Last month she and some of these women got together and had an evening of putting together these boxes. They actually made 107 boxes.
Anne: Wow. Yes listeners, there are 107 women out there in trauma, times 70!
Adam: Yes, plus a million. They experienced a lot of healing themselves and were able to physically do something. Making these boxes and writing notes they knew would possibly affect other women, and their families, and that really sparked an idea for doing something larger. Interestingly enough, around that same time my wife, who runs our business with me, started feeling strongly about something similar.
We knew what the Lightkeepers had done and so we reached out to her and said, hey, is there anything we can do together with our pooled resources? Pretty quickly we decided to join forces and form this non-profit. When we did that, we realized something really important–that is that no single person can have the impact that many people combined can have.
The idea began to transform a little bit and we wanted to offer help and support through what we call “Light Boxes” to women all over who are struggling not only with addiction, and relational or betrayal trauma, but also other traumatic life events like infertility, pregnancy loss, mental illness, suicide in the family, so many of the things that are painful to deal with especially when women feel alone.
Now people who are participating and joining with, us with Sending Light, become “lightkeepers” and they are getting involved in something that none of us on our own could accomplish, but together there are amazing things that can be done. We are already starting to see some really cool things happening.
You asked the question, “how can this help women who are experiencing trauma?” I think there are a number of things this can do for women. First of all, if you receive a light box the first thing they are going to recognize is– “I am not alone. Not only am I not the only one struggling with this but someone out there cares about me. Even if they don’t know me, they care about my experience enough that they would put this package together.” And as part of the box, as mentioned above, there is a handwritten note.
Our goal is to have women writing notes who have experienced something similar. For example, if we were to do a box event around the concept of abuse or domestic violence, then the women who are going to create the boxes, and who are going to write these notes to go in the boxes will be other women who have experienced the domestic violence themselves, or the abuse themselves. Then the note really comes across as both sincere, caring, knowing and understanding. So that’s a big deal.
The boxes will also have some self-care items to help give women permission to take care of themselves while they are in the middle of their pain, which sometimes is not the first thing that comes into their minds. They are often trying to figure out how to fix everybody else or fix the situation or control the situation.
We received a thank you email recently from one of the women who received one of the boxes and she sent a picture of herself opening the box and she said “Thank you, you have no idea how much this helps me to not feel alone. I am so grateful and I’m excited to be a part of being a light keeper.” So not only did she receive help, but she immediately then said what can I do to help other women, and that really is our primary goal is to help women turn around and offer support to other women. It’s a big deal.
Anne: It is a big deal! In my situation because our story was so known, even church members didn’t know what to do because they thought, “I don’t want to pick sides.” With me, I felt like my husband had died – he was gone. He had abused me and betrayed me and then he was gone, and didn’t do anything to try and change or resolve the situation – which felt like another betrayal. And I felt so alone. My three children and I were abandoned.
With a death, you would get meals and support and love. But in my situation, my relief society secretary said, “We don’t want to take sides, so there’s nothing we can do for you.” I had no visitors. No meals. Then I waited for months, alone, working my steps and focusing on my own recovery. Eventually, my husband decided to file for divorce.
Adam: And for most women something like this actually feels worse than a death because it is not a concrete loss because the person is still there and oftentimes there is this hope that maybe he’ll change, maybe he’ll figure things out, maybe he will ‘come back from the dead,’ if you will.
Pauline Boss is a researcher on loss and she calls this ‘ambiguous loss.’ It’s similar to a chronic illness where the person is dying but is still with you, so you don’t really know when to start grieving because there’s no event that triggers the grieving process. Because people can’t see that they don’t know when, if, or even how they are supposed to come in and start offering support, or whether it’s appropriate, or whether you deserve it, or whatever they’re thinking.
Anne: Well in a lot of cases they don’t know. This is not something you announce to the whole neighborhood. I do because that’s my personality, but most women don’t. They are not in the situation to be able to do that. Usually don’t want their neighbors to know that their husband was just arrested, like mine was. So if there are listeners right now listening and they think ‘I want a box, that would really help me feel less isolated right now.’ How can they get one?
Adam: I hope we can get one to them. There are two ways that women can receive boxes for themselves. The first is to participate in one of our box making events. These are local, in person, events right now happening in Utah. We’ll have some in Southern California, and we hope to expand those to all over, wherever there are women who are willing to host and participate. At the box making events typically we will have a relatively small number of women so we’ve got one coming up on Oct 15–it is limited to 12 women and they’ll make about 50 boxes.
After they’ve made a box, then each woman gets to take one of the boxes home with her which she can either keep for herself, or she can actually gift it to another person that she knows personally, or pass it along to someone through another channel that she knows really needs the support. Then Sending Light as an organization will send the remainder of the boxes created at the event to women, usually through community or religious resources.
We have the gatekeepers who know the needs of the community and have the support so they can pass those out. We want to do this in a way that we’re not just throwing boxes out there to whomever, we want to do this in a way that we’re getting it into the hands of the right people, through trusted channels. We are very cautious about that.
The second way is to participate in one of our ‘give one get one campaigns.’ The way this works is that the person would come to our website www.SendingLight.org, go to the donate tab on the main menu–if they donate $50 during that campaign they will receive one box for themselves. Again, they can either keep it or give it to another person. In addition, we will send out another box to a stranger, someone who is in need.
But the biggest part of how our mission works is that we really want women to be focused on participating in getting boxes into the hands of other women. We believe that there’s something much more special that happens when women participate in creating a box, write a note, and make some of the items that go into the boxes, and getting them into the hands of someone who is hurting. There is so much healing that occurs in that process. We are hoping that women will be both interested in receiving support through having boxes themselves, but maybe more importantly getting them into the hands of other women.
Anne: I also love that you make education part of these boxes. Like I said, in my experience the church leaders didn’t really understand what was going on. They were doing the best that they could. I was further traumatized by the experience that I had and although I feel healed now, and I’ve forgiven them, it was such a traumatizing time–it makes me love that you are sending the boxes through those church leaders and pastors and at the same time they are receiving education about how they can actually help the woman in trauma, keep her safe, and perhaps help her husband through educating them about sexual addiction at the same time which is paramount.
Adam: Right, absolutely. And the very fact that this community or religious leader is getting a handful of boxes is indicative of the fact that there’s something else they could be offering or doing that they are just not aware of. So we’ll immediately come in and provide that education for them so that they understand trauma.
Unless you are educated about trauma you don’t know anything about it. We want to provide that education. In the packages, in the white boxes themselves, there are also educational materials. We want to educate women who are receiving them because not everyone who gets a box will have any idea that they actually in trauma. Some women are still in that space where they are thinking, ‘maybe I’m just crazy, maybe I’m just being mean, I’m not being forgiving enough.’ We want for these women, as they open this box, not only to receive support and care; but we also want them to receive education so that they understand that what is happening to them is real, it’s real pain, it’s something they deserve to be able to talk about and to receive help for.
Anne: In addition to receiving a box, which is very healing, what, in your opinion, should women do first when they realize their husband is betraying them, or that they may be experiencing emotional abuse as a result of their husband’s pornography or sex addiction?
Why Should I Attend a 12 Step Meeting for Betrayal Trauma?
Adam: I think one of the most important first steps is to find and participate in a healing community. Too often women try to get better on their own. Either because they think that they are supposed to get better on their own, that their not supposed to ask for help, or they don’t deserve to ask for help. Women will say, other people have problems that are worse than mine, they have other things to be worrying about in their lives, I can’t be adding one more thing to their plate. It’s important that women find a healing community, and one of the places that I think is so important for women to go, as far as a healing community goes, is to a 12 step recovery group. A lot of times women don’t understand that 12 step is not just, for instance a sex addict, or in other cases a drug addict, but there are meetings for the affected partners or family members so that they can get grounded themselves and learn how best to respond to sometimes really crazy behavior at home. The groups that I really like, that we send probably the vast majority of our therapy clients to are the SA Lifeline groups here in Utah County. Actually we have people that we’ve spoken to all over the country and will often say, hey get on, go to an SA Lifeline online meeting.
The reason I like the SALifeline groups so much is because first of all, there are a lot of very healthy people in the groups. There are a lot of people who are not only going to 12 step but are getting therapy, and so they are getting help on two ends of things. When they go to group they’re saying things that are healthy, so I trust when I send a new person, who is brand new to the process into the group, there’s going to be 5 or 6 women in the group who have been at this for a while, who know what they are doing, who are very safe. That really helps! The other thing that I really like about SA Lifeline is that it really feels like a family for people, so they’re not just going to a meeting, but it’s almost like going home for a lot of people. Sometimes the safest place in their world is those 12 step meetings; and not every 12 step meeting is safe. It’s possible that there could be toxic people who could show up to those meetings, but with SA Lifeline I feel extremely confident about where things are for them because of the type of the women who are currently showing up to the meetings.
Anne: If I miss my SALifeline meeting, I feel it. I talk with my sponsor and I do a surrender almost every day. I think that’s why I’m doing so well. I’m feeling peace, I’m feeling happiness, and as my regular listeners know, this whole podcast is about me working the 12 steps with my sponsor. It has been life-changing for me. So apart from 12 step SAL Betrayal Trauma groups, what else would you recommend?
What Is The Importance Of Receiving Qualified Therapy When Healing From Betrayal Trauma?
Adam: Two other really important things: first would be learning about boundaries and learning how to set boundaries. Boundaries are one of the most complicated and confusing things initially for women. Once you understand boundaries it’s a lot easier to do them but initially they really are hard for people to wrap their heads around because it’s not how people do normal life. Partly because women feel like if I do a boundary it must mean I’m being selfish, but boundaries are really for self preservation. Setting boundaries is actually the most compassionate and caring thing you can do for another person; what you’re saying is ‘I’d like you to grow with me.’ When you don’t set boundaries with people, when you enable them you are kind of saying to the person, hey, I’m totally fine with you never growing up or getting better, I’m just going to let you flounder around.
The other things is, depending on the situation, often women really need to seek professional help. Because the truth, the sad truth, is even the most well meaning people out there, moms and dads, and church leaders and friends who are trying to provide support and offer recommendations on what people should do, no matter how well meaning they are, can sometimes give really terrible advice because they’re just sort of shooting from the hip with no training or experience, so I typically recommend you look for support, get help, but check that with your 12 step sponsor, check that with the recovery literature, check that with your professional therapist so you can make sure you have a well-rounded set of pieces of advice or information to help you make better decisions. If you only have one person you are going to and they’re not trained, you may be getting really terrible advice, and that’s just really sad when that happens.
Anne: Yeah, especially when a sex addict is looking for help. The person they’re going to advice for is an addict themselves, or an abuser themselves, and they end up in the same cycle that they’ve have been in for a long time. I did a whole podcast episode on your article Defining And Enforcing Boundaries that is an amazing document and I was really grateful to be able to go over that with my listeners. For me boundaries has been the most important part, well I can’t say most important part, they’re all really important! Had I not kept the boundary of the Do Not Contact order so that I could seek healing for myself, had I not gone to 12 step, had I not had a qualified therapist I would be having a hard time right now. But because I had these resources and I worked the program I am feeling much better and I’m really grateful for that. I think that before I said, “Well, ‘I’m in recovery’ I’ll figure out boundaries later.” Now I know there is no recovery without boundaries. And there is no recovery, for me, without 12-step, and also without qualified therapy. I’m really grateful, Dr. Moore, to know you, and know that your practice is one of the practices that I would trust to send someone to that knows what they are talking about. If you do not live near a qualified therapist, or you’re wondering where you could get therapy you could contact Dr. Moore at Utah Valley Counseling.
Adam: I will often receive phone calls, emails, from people all over the United States and sometimes even from outside the country– people asking for help and support, access to resources, women often saying things like ‘I can’t find a therapist I feel confident about.’ So I developed the website to be able to offer some educational resources for people at a low cost so that they can get the same information we teach about in our therapy sessions through online resources. Normally we can’t provide therapy across state lines for various legal and ethical reasons. It’s not a substitute for therapy, but it is another resource that’s available to people.
Anne: If you would like to visit that site, that’s www.myrecoveryportal.com
Anne: I think a lot of women in trauma don’t like surprises anymore, you know, so this is kind of fun that it’s a fun surprise that they know they don’t have to be afraid of.
Adam: This is a fun safe surprise.
Anne: That’s great. Go to Sending Light to get a box for yourself or to send one to someone else that offer is available to you until Oct 10. I’d like to thank all my listeners. You are amazing.
Sending you love. I know that we’re going through a lot right now, and just know that I love you and that I care. Thank you again Dr. Moore.