Thoughts on Grief in Recovery: grieving the relationship with sexual sin that was so familiar.
Perhaps you have grieved over the death of a family member or close friend. The time following a death is very painful and full of all sorts of emotions. Usually there is closure. There is a body, people send flowers and bring food. Some may sit and talk with you as you reminisce the fond times you spent together. Some may laugh at the stories and some may cry with you. There is a funeral, a gathering of loved ones who grieve their own relationship to the one who was lost. There is the burial, the cemetery, a stone marking the life span of the one who is now gone from your life. Born,died, The recovery from your loss does not end at the cemetery. It continues for a long time.
We all grieve in different ways. The depth and pain of our grief correlates with the level of attachment to the one we lost. The death of a neighbor down the street or someone at the office will not have the impact as the death of a parent, spouse or child. The extent of your grief over the loss of a pet is determined by the relationship you have with the pet. The closer you are to the one you lost, the greater the pain and work of the grief you bare.
Have you considered the fact that someone does not have to die to initiate grief? We face loses daily. As I look into the mirror, I am reminded of the loss of my youth. The grey hair and wrinkles in my face are tell-tell signs that youth has passed. Not to mention the aches and pains that accompany the aging process. We may grieve the loss of health, the loss of a job, the loss of our home to fire. We may grieve the loss of friendships due to a move. There are “good” losses that are grieved, like the loss of a child to college, to marriage or a job in another town or state. These are what we raised our children for and are to be celebrated but when the time comes, we grieve the fact that they won’t be coming home for dinner and they no longer live in our home. They now turn to their spouse for their encouragement, help, conversation, and affection instead of dad.
When we face such losses we expect to find empathy, support, understanding, encouragement, comfort, and hope. We expect people to understand or at least accept our emotional out-burst or anger which is our protest against what has been taken from us. But what support, understanding, comfort, and empathy do we receive from the loss of one of our closest companions? The one who has consoled us when we have been rejected? The one who understood when we were tired and just needed release from the pressures of life? The one who provided companionship when we were lonely? The one who filled our appetite when we were hungry? The one who would always calm our anger, no matter how obnoxiously we showed it to the world or how deeply we buried it inside? This is the friend that was most trusted and would be there for us to comfort and console. This friend always satisfied our burning desire. This friend, you know, the one who is written about in Proverbs 7: 15ff.
“I have come out to meet you, to seek your presence earnestly, and I have found you. I have spread my couch with coverings, with colored linens of Egypt. I have sprinkled my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon. Come, let us drink our fill of love until morning; Let us delight ourselves with caresses. With her many persuasions she entices him; with her flattering lips she seduces him.”
Our “friend,” the one we have turned to in times of need has been there to meet us, to comfort, seduce and entice us. But something has happened to the relationship with that “friend.” This is the “friend” that represents your sexual acting out. It is your illicit sexual partner, whether she is internet pornography, chat room, phone sex, prostitutes, massage parlors, one night stands, bar pick-ups, or a sexual relationship that has developed over time. And you have made a decision to end it. Whether it was you’re your choice or whether the choice was forced upon you by “getting caught.” Hopefully you realized that the above passage from Scripture did not end there. There was more as we pick up in verse 23:
Suddenly he follows her, as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as one in fetters to the discipline of a fool, until an arrow pierces through his liver;
As a bird hastens to the snare, so he does not know that it will cost him his life.
If you have ended the relationship that has been so much a part of your life, you will grieve the loss as you would a death. A major part of your life has been amputated and you grieve. It helps to understand the stages of grief in order to identify what you need to do to work through your grief.
*Dr. H. Norman Wright lists the stages of grief as follows:
- Emotional Outbursts
- Re-Entry Troubles
- New Relationships
- New Strengths
- New Patterns
- Helping Others
As you think about the stages in light of the loss of your sexual sin, your trusted companion through thick and thin could look like this:
- Shock – sin exposed. Out of our shock and disbelief we want to minimize the loss. Lies are often employed to try to cover the shame of the exposure.
- Numbness – A loss of feeling. Breathing has all but stopped and is very shallow.
- Denial – This is only temporary. I can still maintain my secret life. This is not a permanent loss. Here we are leaving the door unlocked for future opportunities to act out.
- Emotional Outburst – May come in arguments with spouse or others. These outburst are a flood of emotions from sorrow, anxiety, sadness, rage, vindictiveness, betrayal, helplessness, rejection, abandonment, envy, woe, depression, panic, dismay, apathy, anguish, resentment, inadequacy. As Dr. Wright explains these emotions are like a tangled ball of emotions.
- Anger – A protest to the unfairness of the loss. This anger may come in arguments with your spouse or others. Or it could be internalized and suppressed in a form of resentment toward others, a seething within the heart.
- Fear – How will I cope without my friend who satisfies my cravings for my lust?
- Searching’s – Maybe there is a hidden magazine or perhaps I could just do some internet surfing and maybe something would pop up “unexpectedly.”
- Disorganization – In the past life was well organized. It had to be to hide the secret life. Now it is exposed and life is in chaos.
- Panic – How will I cope? What will the future bring? Will I loose my family? Friends? Job? More questions than answers.
- Guilt – that says “I did something bad.” To Shame that says “I am bad.”
- Loneliness – The times you normally would have acted out sexually now you face the reality of feeling really alone. This is one of the triggers that leads to acting out.
- Isolation – pulling away from relationships. Again isolation provides opportunity to relapse.
- Depression – Inward focusing on the shame and guilt that underline your feelings of unworthiness.
- Re-Entry Troubles – Learning about the true intimacy that you have been substituting with false intimacy for years. True intimacy is about knowing and being known without the secrecy and masks. It is about acceptance of self and others, as well as responsibility.
- New Relationships – Learning to have accountability with guys who you can have an openness of heart. A heart that holds no secret compartments. Learning to laugh with other men and building true friendships.
- New Strengths – Investing in new hobbies and activities with others.
- New Patterns – May involve going to bed together with your spouse instead of staying up waiting for opportunities to indulge with the old “friend.” New Patterns may involve deeper levels of communication. Family togetherness without TV.
- Hope – Life can be good without the old “friend.” The confirmation that you can live without this influence in my life.
- Affirmation – A sense of wholeness. A sense that the addiction can be managed.
- Helping Others – By being real and transparent with other men you will lead and have influence in the lives of other men as a role model.
What makes the grief work most difficult in the loss of the sexual acting out is that most of the time, at least in the early stages, you may be grieving alone and without empathy from your family and friends. This grief work is necessary and the pain is reality. Ignoring these deep emotional needs will become a set up for relapse into the old patterns of life. By processing the stages of grief you will find peace and healing. Experiencing the true intimacy with your wife is far greater than the quick substitute of the false intimacy with the “old friendship” you have chosen to let die.
Meeting with a counselor to identify the losses and help process the grief and recovery is not only recommended but is essential.
If you have not already attended Every Man’s Battle we encourage you to do so.