Group Support For Divorce Heals Betrayal Trauma
I'm Anne. If you're wondering who I am and why I do this, I'm just a regular woman who is recovering from her ex-husband's sexual addictions and related emotional and physical abuse, and subsequent abandonment and divorce.
Coach Rae is here today to talk about what it takes to thrive before and during a divorce from a sex addict.
Divorce Does Not Cure Betrayal Trauma
When we discuss a topic like divorce, I need to pause and say something that is really important to me. Here at Betrayal Trauma Recovery, we're very supportive of marriage. We do not want to suggest that divorce is a way to solve or resolve or heal from betrayal trauma. On the contrary, we know that some relationships do recover and we proudly support sheroes who experience healing within safe and stable relationships.
We also know that some relationships do not recover for a variety of reasons. We are equally as proud to support those sheroes who heal from separation and divorce.
Anne: Coach Rae, as you interact with women who are both in relationships of divorce or are divorcing, how do you see the trauma expressed in both of these situations?
Coach Rae: What I have concluded, Anne, in working with women who are in relationships and those who are healing from the aftermath of a relationship, is that it is an equal but opposite proposal--so there is healing to be done, regardless. Some women are able and successful due to some circumstances not in their control to heal within their relationship.
The reality is that women who do this healing for their own sake whether they are in a relationship or outside it, it is still healing and trauma and requires a great deal of support from others along the way.
Anne: What are the three most common challenges women have in dealing with the trauma during and after a divorce from a sex addict?
Coach Rae: Without a doubt, the number one most common challenge I encounter with the women I work with is grief. Grief is a really enormous issue. It's multi-faceted. It's complicated. Even under the best of circumstances, divorce involves a lot of grief. Divorce by itself is an independent trauma. So when you take the trauma related to a divorce and layer it upon sexual betrayal trauma, it further complicates the ways that grief can and does show up in any given woman's life.
One of the things I mention when talk about grief and divorce, even with those who are anticipating or who have initiated divorce, or in situations where divorce is the healthiest option available, that divorce or end of marriage can feel like an amputation - a part is cut off; even if it's a choice or a situation that you may know will save your life, it's still bleeding, it's still hemorrhaging . . . you may have needed it to save your life, but you know that it is still going to include major life changes and major impact; it's going to change your life no matter how you look at it.
One of the things I often tell women is that when you know someone is dying, you can predict or figure out how you think you will feel when that person is gone. Ultimately, however, you don't know how you will feel until it actually happens. It is similar with grief and divorce. You may anticipate what it might be like to go through it. Dealing with this in addition to all of the transitions you are going through with a divorce can be, without question, one of the most difficult things women face as they go through a divorce.
Another one is that everything is in a state of transition: relationships are changing; roles in relationship with others are changing; the boundaries that define and function in these relationships are changing. This is another thing that women don't necessarily anticipate.
For example, if a woman who has reached a point of divorce, either through his choice or hers, and she has done a lot of recovery up to this point, if you take a topic such as boundaries and she already knows how to set boundaries with her husband, now she has to take a look at the relationship and figure out what boundaries look like in regard to her now ex-husband.
The third biggest challenge - which actually makes me cry the most because it is so incredibly hard, yet such an incredible breakthrough when a woman actually exercises this on her own - is self care. We discuss self care a lot in these circles, whether it is women healing in a divorce or in a relationship and it is difficult in all circumstances.
However, it becomes more challenging during the process of a woman extricating herself from a sex or porn addict. The additional financial strain and work and parenting stress are increased, while at the same time reducing the opportunity for self care. I find that women need to be really strategic and intentional when it comes to making this a priority. Sometimes we have to learn it the hard way. I remember during my own divorce 15 years ago and how I was burning the candle at both ends.
Even though I didn't have kids, I was working full time and going to art school full time and I was completely and utterly exhausted. My wake up call that finally got through to me and made me realize that self care was no longer an option was when I ran a red light and stopped within inches of broadsiding a van full of kids. I realized that burning the candle at both ends might have felt valiant and successful, but there was a high cost coming with it as well. So self care has no substitute and a lot of women struggle with it.
Anne: I'm struggling with this the most, in addition to the financial stresses. All of these things you mention - the grief, the changing of roles in becoming a single mom - I have definitely experienced them.
What Betrayal Trauma Symptoms Do You Experience?
To our readers, what trauma have you been experiencing in relation to your separation or divorce? What is the most surprising thing and what is the worse thing? Please go comment on the bottom of this post. Tell us about anonymously your experience. We would appreciate you sharing things that maybe you are embarrassed to share, such as: do you miss your abusive husband?
Other things that are socially unacceptable such as something like people expected me to be relieved when my divorce was final because I had experienced abuse, but I was not relieved at all. I was extremely grief stricken because my ex had not made different choices. I was sad for him, for me, and for our children. I would really appreciate your feelings and thoughts about what you are going through with this.
Rae, how can women find some degree of peace even during a divorce process, as opposed to thinking that healing will only come after or as a result of the divorce?
Coach Rae: One of the things I really encourage women to do is to accept whatever emotions come up in them as authentically and in-the-moment as they can. Divorce is a huge learning curve - a dizzying curve that goes so fast there isn't time to catch up or keep up. Emotions have an odd way of creeping up at less than ideal times! Remember how I just spoke about grief being unpredictable?
When I was going through my divorce I remember one moment when I felt more grief - pure sadness and loss - than at any other time. It was the moment when I found an email that his then-girlfriend sent to him saying she was going to call him the next morning at 7:00AM to wake him up. Somehow I had given all of my crap that I had found about his hidden sexual life less emotion than finding this little, silly, everyday intimate exchange.
This has been a good example to me of realizing that something so "small" compared to the bigger things still needed to be felt. I needed to feel all of the emotions. My advice in helping women through a divorce instead of waiting until the end is that whatever you are feeling, when it comes up, there is probably a reason you are feeling it in that capacity, in that moment. It is probably far more normal and healthy than you may tell yourself. Divorce is full of tough stuff. It's full of tough challenges.
When those tough things happen, no matter how tough it is, put on your big girl panties, stare it down with whatever support network you need to make it happen, and get it done and then celebrate! Holding your own in court, finding a job that will pay you well enough, moving a dead rat from the garage - whatever it is, make it happen! Just yesterday one of the women posted a story that I got her permission to share with you. It really exemplified this in my mind.
She wrote: "I did something I detest this morning. It's the worst chore in the universe and I didn't ask for help! I cleaned my hair out of the shower drain! It was nasty, wet, and smelled like rotting sulfur. I almost puked repeatedly. Maybe I'll be okay without a man to do the gross things for me."
I think this crystalized how good women really are at surviving and thriving through this yucky, tough stuff, and maybe we have less reason to be afraid of those things than we might think. The last thing that may have a little different manifestation for everyone is understanding that a key to getting through a divorce and healing through the process is leaning on whatever degree or form of spiritual connection and support you possibly can.
Just as divorce is a time when we have to learn to do so much new on our own, by ourselves and for ourselves, it is also a time to learn to lean on others in ways we have not before. Going back to my divorce, I know there is no way in the world I could do it without feeling supported by God, without believing that despite the incredibly intense pain I was feeling, I knew that someone bigger and stronger was taking care of me and would make sure I would survive the experience.
During my divorce I remember watching a movie with a mom and young child who had been living with child's dad who was a drug addict and dealer. It was a very unhealthy situation. The mom was pulling the kid out of the home and taking him away so he would not be exposed to all of the dad's stuff.
The poor little kid was screaming bloody murder as the mom was pulling him from the home and putting him in the car. All he knew was that he was being taken away from his daddy. He was yelling and crying and kicking at his mom. I remember watching this movie when I was in the middle of my own brutal and excruciating pain and feeling like this little kid. I was so stirred up by all of the hurt. The only thing that really made me tolerate all of this was that I had someone like that mom--someone who was looking out for me and actually doing what was in my best interest even if it felt so completely, totally wrong to me at the time.
Anne: That example hits the nail on the head for me. In fact, the past even three days, I have been telling God that I want to listen to what he has to say, that I love Him, that I want to do what you want, but why aren't you listening to ME? Your story is one I can use. Thank you for sharing it.
Luckily in my experience I have been able to have a lot of support.
How Does A Support Group During & After Divorce Help Women Deal With Betrayal Trauma?
Coach Rae: When dealing with betrayal trauma, medical research proves that for trauma survivors to speak openly, and in many cases, over and over, actually helps to repair the very real psychological and physiological injury the brain sustains due to the trauma it has experienced. When we bring these women together in these small groups of 3-5 women, it is safe.
We invite them to have focused time, space, and attention to give them the opportunity to share their experiences. It is a unique combination in divorce recovery of letting go of the old and letting in the new. Sometimes this feels like it's going to split a person in two, in opposite directions.
But within this small group environment, that experience of amputation--like something has been cut off and life is different and hemorrhaging from what it used to be--serves to stop the hemorrhaging. The healing is cohesive and communal. Ultimately, it puts power back into the hands of women who are truly trauma survivors and allows them to navigate the divorce process within a safe, structured community of survivors. There is really no better way to heal from the experience of betrayal trauma or divorce trauma.
I'm so happy women are getting the help they need through this coaching group. Our next Surviving and Thriving Through Divorce group begins April 11, 2017. We only have one spot left.
Coach Rae, after a woman register for BTR Surviving and Thriving Through Divorce Group, what happens next? Is there a particular structure and what topics do you cover?
Coach Rae: Over the course of four months we cover 12 topics related to the experience of divorce or separation from a sex or porn addict. I won't go into a lot of detail because they are listed on the BTR website. Within each 2-hour session, I make sure that in addition to having a designated topic for that night, we build in time to get to know each other's lives and experience to give women a chance to ask a variety of questions.
A lot can and does happen throughout a divorce and it's important to be able to give updates or share developments and checkins. We ask and answer questions like, "What is one boundary I have honored this week" or "What is one risk I have taken this week?" or "How have I enjoyed my singleness this week?" or "What is one sign of healing I have observed in myself?" or "What is one vision of my future I have explored this week?"
Through these conversations in addition to our topic, we make commitments to one another for things like self care and action steps that actually help us move through the process instead of sitting in the grief. One thing that is my favorite at the end of my individual and group coaching is asking each woman to complete this sentence: On the topic of ___________, I'm proud of myself for______________.
We end each session knowing we dove deeply into things that may have been uncomfortable, perhaps intense, and that may have really stretched someone is important because it helps women to recognize that within a particular area there is something that they can be proud about.
Anne: Is being divorced any easier than being married? I think people look at sex addiction in one of two extremes: you need to get divorced or stay married and ignore it. I personally have felt more comfortable in the middle, setting healthy boundaries and waiting to see what my spouse would do because I believe in marriage and I had no intention or desire for divorce. What are your thoughts? Does divorce stop the hurting?
When those papers are signed, how was it for you? For me, betrayal trauma was pretty the same before and after the papers were signed. In fact, in some ways the trauma got worse so I knew that divorce in and of itself was not the solution to my trauma.
However, I did know my no-contact boundary was super important for my healing. I needed to stop the trauma from happening in order to heal but the trauma never stopped. It kept coming every time I had an interaction with him it was another traumatizing event--where he was abusing me, withholding money, blaming me, claiming he was the victim. Because I held the no-contact boundary I was able to see him for who he really is.
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