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advice to my younger self

advice to my younger self

Mid-November I received a notice that the LDS Church was requesting letters from those who had participated in the church's Addiction Recovery Program for family members of addicts.  The question was asked "If you were to write a letter to yourself at the time of discovering your loved one's addiction, what would it say?"  The request came also with the explanation that it would potentially be used for an upcoming film and website project being done for the ARP Family Support program.  It's been 4 1/2 years since D-Day (discovery day) and 4 years of 'sobriety' (the term always seems a little weird when you're talking about a spouse addicted to pornography).  I knew I needed to write this letter.  I didn't know what I would say, but felt immediately that surely I had something useful to share.  So I made a mental note to write the letter when the children weren't around to distract me and when I had some of our orders done so that I could stop to concentrate on it.  Thing is, there wasn't much time before the deadline and it didn't happen in that timeframe.  I totally spaced it (big surprise there).  The deadline was a Friday, the day after my birthday, a birthday I was really struggling with.  

That Saturday I went to a great big day of service organized for families in my area.  There I ran into the lady who had head up the support group that I had attended and helped facilitate for some time.  I'd forwarded the information to her and we talked a bit about her experience writing her letter and how therapeutic she found it although she didn't send it in and it's certainly be a lot longer for her.  Again, mental note to write this letter.  

Now it's the Monday before Thanksgiving.  I am in a private Facebook group for women who have dealt with betrayal trauma (fantabulous place of sisterhood and validation and support btw).  A couple of ladies posted in their that they had been contacted about their letters and had been asked to be a part of the project and read their letter on camera.  Again, another reminder to write this darn letter.  Again, I put it off.  We just had so many orders to get done by Thanksgiving and the big family dinner was being held at my house last minute.  

So now it's Wednesday.  As in, the night before Thanksgiving and five days past the due date for these letters.  I've got the rolls rising, I've taken cold medicine to try to quickly dry up this sinus infection I'm developing, and I feel like I ought to just sit down and take a break for a bit.  Then I remember about the letter.  So I very quickly just typed up my 500 words or less letter to myself, barely proofreading it as I went along, and emailed it before I could forget (or even think about it really).  I included a note that I knew it was well past the deadline but perhaps someone could still find it useful or something.  

A couple of days later I get a bounced back email.  "It must have been a temporary email address" I tell myself.  Then it happens again the very next day.  That's weird.  Why would it bounce back to me twice?  I only sent it once.  A thought occurs to me to just double check the email address.  I'd clicked directly on the one sent with the information, so surely it had to be write.  Upon closer examination, I discovered that two of the letters were switched.  So I fixed the typo, included an explanation of my error in my email, and sent it along its way.  This was all still Thanksgiving weekend.  

Monday morning.  8:30am.  My phone is ringing and it's a Utah number that I don't recognize.  "Hi Heather, this is John* from the LDS Church Welfare Department ('Why is the welfare department calling me?' I thought). I wanted to let you know that we received your email ('Oh, that's so nice of them to call and just let me know since I sent it so late and told them in the email that there was the address mix-up. Seems a bit over-the-top, but still super nice').  We really appreciate your courage in sharing something so vulnerable (I might be paraphrasing here) and wondered if you would be willing to come to Salt Lake City this Friday to read it on camera for us." {insert shocked face here}  I didn't hesitate to say yes.  Even when he made mention of assuming my husband was on board with my sharing, which assumed I had told him about the letter, which I hadn't done because I had put it off so long and thus figured nothing more would come of it.  You might think that was jumping the gun, but I absolutely knew that he would support me with it.  (see the time we were almost on a talk show).  Granted, as soon as I hung up the phone I thought 'What the crap did I just agree too?!'  However, it felt really great to be asked to help and to not hesitate to say yes. 

There were a lot of mixed emotions about this over the course of that week.  I was excited to meet friends I had made in this group but not met in person.  I was excited to see another whom I had met at the Togetherness Project Midway in October.  I was terrified to be on camera when I was feeling my lowest about my self-image.  I was at my highest weight yet for inexplicable reasons (still working on that with the drs) and struggling major big-time with self-destructive thoughts regarding my exercise and eating.  My husband was beyond excited for me.  He kept saying what an exciting adventure and cool thing this was that I was getting to do.  It was good for me to hear his response that while he was nervous about the potential 'outing' of himself and the addiction, he also recognized where that feeling was coming from and that shame only thrives on secrecy.  My own nervousness about it opened my eyes to what shame I was still holding onto as the wife of an addict.  Not being ashamed of him, but you sometimes feel shame for your association as though it were somehow your fault or you would be expected to do differently (this is a lie btw).  Anytime I thought of the upcoming filming, I immediately got all flushed and red-faced.  I felt worried about what others would think.  Would they think I was seeking special attention for sending that letter in?  Would they think I was being a victim?  Would they think how awful and huge I looked?  Would they suddenly see myself or my husband differently?  What about our children? Yet, amidst all these thoughts, I felt a clarity of where those thoughts were coming from.  I felt an assurance that I was doing the right thing, that there was nothing wrong with sharing a message of hope and validation, and that good things would come from bravery and vulnerability as I have frequently experienced.  I don't quite have the words for the feeling of a mantle, of being overwhelmed, for having had my words chosen as ones that others needed to hear.  Why me?  What makes what I have to say special? I'm not worthy! (said in my best Wayne's World imitation)  What if I do a horrible job and the church has spent all this money to get me there and it is totally wasted?!  Surely there is someone else better.

The experience that Friday was a whirlwind.  There were 5 of us who were flown in from out of state.  I believe there were 18 being filmed total.  Four of the 5 of us already 'knew' each other and the fifth was a fast friend.  Since we had flights to catch home, we were all scheduled around the same time and kept together.  We enjoyed the experience of the tables of food, behind-the-scenes stuff, and chatting it up in the makeup room.  We'd been told to arrive hair and makeup ready, so it was a particularly wonderful treat to have a makeup artist there to totally make us feel fabulous.  This particularly helped set my image concerns at ease.  If my face looked fat and you could see rolls on the video, at least my makeup would look good!  It overwhelmed me how grateful everyone on the set was and how they spoke of our courage in doing this.  It just felt like the right thing to do and not so courageous (or at least not so long as I didn't really think about it).  I was overwhelmed by the love and appreciation and support shown by the production crew as well as in a surprise delivery from the Underground Relief Society.  I will never forget my experience as it was my turn for filming.  I didn't know what to expect but I don't think that knowing would have prepared me.  The spirit that filled the set as I walked up, as I met the director and was told what to do, was incredibly sacred.  I have had some sacred experiences in my life, particularly at the temple, but nothing compares to what I felt there at that moment.  This was truly a project that was important to my Heavenly Father and His hand was very much in it.  Again, I felt so very very very humbled to be participating.  It was testified to me just how much he cares for the broken-hearted and years to bind up their wounds.  It was testified to me that I have worth and that He knows me.  I didn't realize until that moment just how much I was in need of that reminder.  Frankly, it overwhelmed me and I felt like I then walled off my emotion in reading my letter.  In fact, I was very troubled by what a horrible job I felt that I did.  The amount of emotion I felt walking in there suddenly scared me and it was like I just flipped that emotion switch.  The makeup artist had been in the room and saw one of the takes, and reassured me that what I shared had touched her and was perfect, but it was still hard to shake this feeling of self-disappointment.  It wasn't until I returned home (the next day, actually, due to a missed flight), that I told my husband about this experience.  His words to me were exactly what I needed to hear.  "You wrote the letter for yourself, but you read your letter for someone else.  I'm sure the way that you read it was exactly how even just one person needed to hear it."  (he's a keeper)

Here is my letter to my self: 

Hello there.  It's me.  You.  Look, I know you feel broken.  That's okay.  It's okay that you are angry too.  Good even.  You are doing the right things and it IS going to be okay.  You need to know that God has the power to turn even these darkest times to be something good, in time.  You also need to know that He has put you in this place at this time because it is necessary for you BOTH.  I know, I know....you've been through SO many trials and hard things already.   It isn't fair.  Life isn't.  Here's the thing though... all those things have led to here and will help you weather this storm and come out even stronger and better on the other side.  God didn't inflict those things on you.  He didn't give you those experiences or put the recovery of your husband on you.  He HAS allowed life to happen to you and has given you the beautiful gift of being able to use those experiences for your own good and that of others.  If you so choose.  I promise you, God is not using you.  You are not an object, tool, or game piece.  You are a beloved, beautiful, daughter of God and your worth is so much more than you can imagine.  It will get worse before it gets better.  There will be fallout and you will come to know the presence of Satan in a way that is so real it is terrifying.  But YOU. ARE. NOT. ALONE.  Find the other women who've been there.  Reach out.  They get it.  Learn about boundaries, set and enforce them.  God's commandments aren't checklists.  They are boundaries that teach us how to respect Him and set an example for us of what is expected of us and how we should expect others to treat us. People will tell you that you are overreacting or being harsh or unforgiving because you set boundaries that protect you from further mistreatment.  Don't take it personally.  They just don't understand.  Your personal safety, your spirit, the safety of your soul needs to come first.  You do absolutely whatever it takes to make it possible to feel the spirit and care for yourself.  I promise you that as you do that you will be guided.  You will need every ounce of strength you have to fight the battles- the ones you are fighting now and the ones ahead.  Spiritual, physical, emotional and mental.  Fill your cup, give yourself space, and accept help whenever and wherever possible.  It is a long road ahead.  So much longer than you can imagine.  But the view is glorious and the prize ahead is worth it.  I love you, and you need to know that.  I love you for being strong and weak all at the same time.  God loves to mend broken things and He will mend you both as you give Him all the pieces, bit by bit.

ahead to 2015

ahead to 2015

plan your recovery

plan your recovery

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