The Betrayal Predicament

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“The important thing is this: To be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become.” — Charles Dubois

There are many complex consequences that come with traumatic experiences in life. When an addict chooses to act out he or she is oblivious to the whirlwind of repercussions the destructive behavior manifests. The fallout from broken trust creates a ripple effect that exists for a long time.

Relationship betrayal is like a shoulder separation. Any movement or action triggers tremendous pain. With shoulder separation, the pain remains the same until the shoulder is back in place. With relationship betrayal, the pain remains as long as one partner stays in the “basement” and the other condescends toward the one who has betrayed. There is a long journey toward healing the breach in betrayal behavior. In the end, healing betrayal requires an acceptance of common shared brokenness between the betrayer and the betrayed. 

The journey toward healing is long and arduous. It makes sense that the partner offended would writhe in emotional pain and rail about the behavior of the betrayer. The role of the betrayer is one of honesty and validation of the behaviors committed. Support requires that within reason a betrayer take it on the chin regarding a painful partner response. In addition, there is the expectation to stop the destructive behavior while validating the partner betrayed who is groveling with emotional pain. For the betrayer, there is this sense that you have no moral capital to stand to set boundaries after betrayal. It is common experience for a betrayer to not be trusted, to face a firestorm of anger and fury, to be called names, and to be treated with a collection of hurtful responses from a betrayed partner. After all, betrayal breaks the heart of the one betrayed. 

That being said, actually getting emotionally naked and facing the fallout of emotions that occur when betrayal is discovered has a designated shelf life. What I have noticed is that a couple can engage in a dynamic that becomes a “pain game”. The one betrayed lashes out and the betrayer deflects. The deflection can evolve into various strategies such as all-out verbal war, hunkering down and becoming silent, or passive-aggressive behaviors that likely fuel more acting-out behaviors that might destroy the relationship.

Relational healing requires boundaries for both partners. The partner offended by betrayal feels entitled to tongue-lash and berate. It makes sense, but it just doesn’t work toward healing. In anger, a partner betrayed can respond “I don’t care, the S.O.B deserves it all”. In many cases, for sure. In all cases, remaining stuck in this attitude will ultimately kill the possibility of healing intimacy. Partners betrayed who make the betrayer a pin cushion to be stuck at will with nasty comments of resentment will over time only have a pin cushion and not an intimate partner. This usually results in becoming stuck with bitterness.  Healing requires ongoing forgiveness and the practice of letting go and surrendering which Step 3 in a 12-step program promotes. 

Betrayers complain about the penalty box. This embraces the mentality that the betrayer says “You screwed up so the privileges of relationship trust are suspended and you need to stay in the penalty box until I, the betrayed, say you can come out”.  Some partners who have betrayed put a chip on their shoulder and walk the corridors of their relationship seething that the betrayed hasn’t gotten over it.  This obvious sign of narcissism usually plays into a relational explosion. It is a contributing reason why so many relationships wrecked by betrayal dissolve. 

Others, go along with the penalty box mentality, hoping to endure to see the light of the day of emancipation. This approach requires perseverance. It engages the idea that the betrayer deserves to be mistrusted and he or she must earn their way back with impeccable behavior while demonstrating acceptance that they are not worthy of trust. Some betrayers get stuck in the misbelief that they simply are not trustworthy at any level of the relationship. They even argue that they belong in the penalty box. Their perception of themselves becomes one and the same as that of the partner who was betrayed. This mistaken belief blocks emotional healing from betrayal in a relationship.

Here are a few considerations toward healing broken trust:

1. Empower your adult self. Don’t give your power away to the little boy or girl within you. Recovery requires the powerful resources of an adult. Often, in recovery, we surrender and give the power to the little boy or girl within. Setting a boundary with a partner who has betrayed you or the partner who has been betrayed is an adult action and should not be made from the perspective of a child in control. Take back your power. You can and must say “no more”. You don’t have to throw a temper tantrum. A direct and simple “no more” in behavioral action is enough. When you are overwhelmed and reactionary, ask yourself the question “Who has the reins of your thoughts and actions?” If it is the little boy or girl, take the reins and put them in the hands of your adult self and follow through with the action that your adult says makes sense. Addicts tend to lose themselves trying to please their offended partner. The child mentality takes over, thinking that if somehow I do whatever my partner wishes then we will be happy again. It seldom works. When you honor yourself by maintaining your boundaries, you will create the best opportunity to restore trust and harmony in the relationship.

2. Strive to be impeccable with your word: (The Four Agreements, Ruiz) Misusing your word by not following through may have created hell for you in the past, and when you are impeccable with follow through you create beauty and heaven on earth. Honesty is crucial to healing betrayal. Disclosure is the most difficult task in betrayal recovery. Impeccability of your word is destroyed when you piecemeal and dribble out the truth. The power of honesty heals. Make up your mind that regardless of cost you will say it straight, whether you are disclosing betrayal or responding to what has broken your heart.

3. Embrace “white water thinking.”  When you go rafting or kayaking, white water requires you to focus and be present in the here and now. To successfully navigate you must pay attention to where you are and what you must do presently. When you are going through the tumult and chaos of betrayal, it is easy to get lost in awfulizing the past and catastrophizing the future. You want to tell yourself that all is lost past, present, and future. To successfully navigate the white water of betrayal, you must focus on the here and now and be determined to do the next right thing. It is critical that you not give in to the temptation to believe it will never be better. White water thinking requires that you trust a process that if you remain present in the moment it will take me to where I need to be.

4. Manage the shame of the behavior by affirming your sense of self while putting the shame on the destructive behavior. No matter what you have done or has been done to you, you are not a piece of shit. You can feel shitty and not be one. All parties of betrayal feel shitty, unless you are sociopathic. Yet, even sociopathic people who heal must embrace this discomfort at some point in their healing. It will require disciplined training to hold your feet to the fire of keeping the shame off your sense of self and onto the behavior. This demands community support and management whether you are the betrayer or the betrayed.

5. Embrace the person, behavior, and relationship you believe is meant to be part of your destiny, and step by step walk in that direction. Betrayal triggers people to think it is over. The relationship may be over, but you don’t have to be done with yourself. In your deepest despair focus on the vision of what you believe is your destiny and act it into being in the here and now. Betrayal does not mean the relationship must be done. You may want it that way and this is your right to conclude. Yet, if you are not done, you have the right to move toward the relationship healing you desire. What you think about will expand. If you believe that you are flawed and that your flaws have produced the results that you suffer in betrayed behavior, you will take what is and make it less. However, if you focus on the power of healing and forgiveness, then this is what you will give yourself and others. You can send love in response to hate. This doesn’t mean you must stay in a hurtful relationship. You can cultivate forgiveness as an act of self-love and send love toward others. No amount of guilt will change anything. Embrace guilt and let it go.  You can make a personal commitment to be what you love. You do not have to allow betrayal to dominate who you are or what you think. You can find meaningfulness in your painful experience if you are willing to do whatever it takes.

Perfect is Never Part of the Plan

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“She’s not perfect. You aren’t either, and the two of you will never be. But if she can make you laugh at least once, cause you to think twice, and admits to being human and making mistakes, hold onto her and give her the most you can. She isn’t going to quote poetry or think about you every moment, but she will give you a part of her that she knows you could break. Don’t hurt her, don’t change her, and don’t expect more than she can give. Don’t analyze. Smile when she makes you happy, yell when she makes you mad, and miss her when she’s not there. Love hard when there is love to be had. Because perfect people don’t exist, but there’s always one person that is perfect for you.” ― Bob Marley

When addicts come to recovery, there is always a desire to do it perfectly. On the one hand,  their ego tells them they can. “Twelve steps, twelve days, knock it down, what’s next!” I’ve heard it more than once.  On the other hand, “failure, missing the mark is so painful I don’t want to get up and try one more time” is a common lament from many.  More than one addict can testify that they have a drawer full of chips reminding them of commitments made and broken. Why try if I can never reach the mark, never measure up?  Recovery becomes like the life they have always lived. Somehow I should be able to do this perfectly and I cannot because I am woefully imperfect. 

Baseball great Mickey Mantle once reflected on the average experience of his Hall of Fame baseball career. He said, “During my 18 years of major league baseball I came to bat almost 10,000 times. I struck out about 1,700 times and walked another 1,800 times. You figure a ball player will have about 500 at-bats a season. That means I played seven years without ever hitting the ball.”

The average experience of a baseball player is making an out, not getting a hit. In the presence of striving for success, even for someone as great as Mickey Mantle, there is a compelling story of difficulty and strife to share. Mantle’s authentic willingness to connect with his intimate battle with failure forced him to practice the fundamental basics of self-care. As a result, these common-place experiences of struggle enabled him to look back at his Hall of Fame career and understand how to put imperfection in its proper perspective. No matter who you are, transforming meaningfulness from mundane moments of struggle and failure requires accepting imperfection. It is necessary to embrace the benefits of average commonplace struggles.

When you don’t measure up to what you expect, you then scale down your expectations of achievement which can be helpful or disastrous. Moving acting out behavior from your inner circle to your middle circle and denying that it is any longer acting out but just high-risk behavior is disastrous for sobriety. You just practice old destructive behaviors you did before recovery with a different label. In your attempt to be perfect, you end up accelerating more shame. No one ever beats themselves up to a better place.

However, when you fail to measure up to what you intended, it is important to adjust the way you treat yourself. Rather than criticize and judge your failed behavior, it is transformative to recognize the mistake and then focus on the next right behavior which always anchors being centered. Centered living involves grounding yourself in your values. When you blow it, either by relapsing into addictive behavior or falling short of treating yourself and others with respect and dignity, you will need to practice ignoring the inner critical voice, bring yourself back to the center, and anchor yourself to your values. You will feel hypocritical, discouraged, and dejected because of your failed behavior. You will need to embrace your imperfect behavior by positively affirming who you are. This takes practice and everyday conditioning. You will need to create healing affirmations that you engage in as frequently as you brush your teeth before they consistently transform your imperfect behavior into empowerment.  Slowly your new relationship with imperfection will emerge. Being able to bring yourself back to center is more important than never having left center in the first place. 

Imperfection contains the secret message the universe would like you to have to live life in harmony. Striving to be perfect deafens your inner ear to the message of the universe. When you persist toward perfection, you will hide inevitable shortcomings and run from the message they have for you. Managing imperfection requires that you listen to the pain of failure and shortcomings. For example, as an addict when you crave a fix from your drug of choice, after you take yourself out of harm’s way, listen to the legitimate need that must be met with healthy self-parenting. Your imperfect craving will contain a message from the universe to take care of yourself in this extremely needy moment. Perfection will try to deny the craving and thus miss the message from the universe. By embracing your imperfection you will transform the curse of craving into a blessing of personal care and intimacy. Imperfection teaches you to listen to your feelings and become present in the present moment. 

Managing imperfection means that you will need to recognize when you have handed the reins of control over to the small child within. As a child, you become emotionally stuck around the needs that did not get met and are fueled by neglect and abandonment. When that perception is triggered as an adult, the inner child seizes the moment and flees or freezes with fear. At that moment, you give power to the little boy or little girl to address an adult decision and you render your powerful wise-mind adult inoperative. The results of this interaction are dismal. Perfection denies or becomes overwhelmed with the failure. Managing imperfect moments means that you take the reins respectfully from the child and assert your adult-wise mind to address the need or situation. This, too, will require training and practice. Again, perfect is never part of the plan.

Managing imperfection requires that you cultivate the concept of Velvet Steel. This recovery skill is an art form. Most addicts are hard or harsh (steel) where they need to be gentle, and soft (velvet) where they need to be steel. The misapplication fuels addictive behavior. In striving for perfection you will miss cultivating velvet steel. Likely, you will become stoic and stern in your endeavor to live a sober life.  

Managing imperfection requires learning when to apply the strict letter of the law about your behavior and when to be gentle. Parents must learn this as they guide children through the stages of life. Rigidity around failure and imperfection is a breeding ground for shame. 

You will develop the art of living when you learn to make imperfection your teacher.  Allow your difficulties to become your learning and source for growth. Set recovery goals that challenge rather than defeat you before you begin. Be realistic. Accept imperfection and stretch yourself from there. Your imperfect feelings will help you grow in self-care and understanding toward others. 

Your choice in recovery is not whether to use affirmations. We’ve been affirming thoughts and beliefs since we were old enough to speak. The choice in recovery is what we want to affirm. Whatever thoughts you give energy to, empower you. Are you willing to release, or let go of, negative thought patterns and replace them with positive ones? Will you choose to affirm imperfection and make it good? Remember, perfect is never part of the plan. 

Managing Zone Outs and Destructive Hits

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Ever since the measure of time, moving through the Industrial Age and beyond, we have quantified life by the clock. We have burgeoned into a culture that has become obsessed with filling up time with endless busyness. In his book, Space, Time and Medicine, Larry Dossey coined the term “time sickness” to describe the obsessive belief that time is getting away, there is not enough of it, and you must pedal faster and faster in order to keep up with it.  It has germinated the disease of “more”, which rivets the mind with incessant thoughts that we have to do more to keep from being less.

In our culture, there is a race to be the best. The rush to be the best lessens quality control. Accidents all over the world like Chernobyl and the space shuttle Challenger demonstrate that driven rush and fatigue negatively affect quality control. Yet, our culture remains obsessed with doing more and more in less time. At some point, this frenzy demands a sedative for all. The human condition is not capable of living with a tightening scrutiny that squeezes more productivity from every waking second. We’re now seeing an uptick in stress-related diseases such as insomnia, hypertension, asthma, and gastrointestinal diseases.

Job stress contributes to untold numbers of Americans missing work. City life increases the pace by ramping up pressure to perform. All this pressure causes people to mistakenly believe that somehow doing more means being more. It is no wonder there is an uptick in zoning out from all the turmoil and stress. Zoning out while driving is a real problem. One out of every four car accidents in the United States is caused by texting and driving, mounting to 1.6 million crashes each year, and nearly 390,000 injuries according to the National Safety Council. Online porn during working hours is another zone out that threatens productivity during working hours. Some surveys suggest that more than 60% of men have looked at porn during work hours in the past 3 months at the risk of it being career-ending.  

To survive this rush of activity, booster drugs have become popular, even necessary for some. Through the years, I have seen a growing number of professionals who rely upon uppers and downers to get through their fast-paced day. Nursing and pharmaceutical students often fall prey to amphetamines such as Adderall, Ritalin, or Concerta in order to ignore the fatigue and get through their day. Then, they rely upon benzodiazepines such as Xanax, Klonopin, and Valium or alcohol to come down from the high. Opioid use in our country is even more widespread.

This perfect rendezvous fits most addicts like a glove. You can never do enough to keep from being less. This crazed thought pattern becomes the necessary fuel to numb out with the various cocktail of addictions that our mind creates . . . and we create many! Addicts who do not pay attention to hits and situations that trigger fantasy are vulnerable to engaging in their drug of choice. Relapse prevention requires conscious awareness in situations that trigger the temptation to zone out. Here are a few suggestions to manage destructive hits and zone outs every addict faces.

#1: Become aware of your mistaken beliefs that activate your zone out. Mistaken belief will trigger your desire to zone out in a destructive way. Addicts must know their mistaken beliefs like the back of their hand. Not if, but when triggered they must recognize what is happening around them that triggers the hit. Financial pressure, shame engaged because of relationship problems, loneliness, etc. are examples of issues that activate mistaken beliefs that lead to zoning out through addictive behavior. You will need to practice addressing those triggers with life-affirming positive beliefs that propel you toward connection and intimacy-abling behaviors.  

#2: Pay attention to the way in which you mask anticipating rejection and victim posturing. It is easy to mask unwanted feelings and thoughts with compensating behaviors. You may be a great parent, professional, and person in a hundred different ways. This is great! That said, it is important that you don’t use these strengths to avoid addressing ways that you are dominated by mistaken beliefs that fuel anticipation of rejection from those you want approval from and times when you are stuck with “woe is me, I feel damned if I do and damned if I don’t.” Victim posture is a dynamic that ultimately leads to zoning out in destructive ways. Avoid your victim stance by reframing your experience so that you empower yourself with possibility rather than remaining stuck without power and with vulnerability to addictive urge. 

#3: Be alert to ways that you isolate and fantasize. It can be a good thing to step back and think of something pleasant after a particularly demanding and exhausting day. However, addicts must be on the alert to cravings and urges to escape discomfort and desires to medicate. Telling on yourself to another addict is a way to avoid isolation. Utilizing a 3-second rule, that requires interruption of addictive fantasy after 3 seconds, is a pattern interrupt that will help you ground yourself into reality in the moment.

#4: Be accountable and live in consultation toward your tendency to cruise and groom your thinking toward acting out. Cruising is putting yourself in harm’s way with your addiction. People, places, and mind-states trigger hits toward acting out. If you are sitting in the middle of a busy intersection and a bus is barreling toward you, first get your ass out of the road! No time to review How did I get here, and other questions. The same is true for managing an urge to addictively act out. Engage whatever pattern interrupt you must do to remove yourself from harm’s way. Have a list of support people you can call. Consult with another addict in recovery.  Once done, you can trace back to ways in which you groomed yourself with addictive rationale to place yourself in harm’s way.

Addicts must be alert to what disconnects them from feelings and relationship to self and others. Zoning out can be helpful but often is harmful for addicts who do not practice recovery awareness. It is important that addicts don’t forget the old adage “If you hang around the barbershop long enough, you will get a haircut!”