I recently watched a movie that provided a powerful metaphor for this journey we’re on as we continue to heal and grow and do our part to become all we were created to be. “The Monuments Men” tells the true story of a crew of art experts as they recovered works of Italian and European art stolen by the Nazis in World War II before Adolf Hitler destroyed them. Not only was it a great story, it mirrored my view of how we must intentionally use our tools to search for the treasure buried beneath our trauma, and that as we do, we can continue to heal and grow because of this journey.
Before watching the movie, I had no idea that during World War II, Hitler’s armies pillaged Europe’s finest art, including works by Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Jan van Eyck and Johannes Vermeer. I learned the “Monuments Men” were a group of men and women from 13 nations, most of whom volunteered for service. Their job was to save as much of the culture of Europe as they could during combat. Behind enemy lines and often unarmed, they risked their lives scouring Europe to prevent the destruction of thousands of years of culture.
In my metaphor, Hitler and the war are a picture of sex addiction and what it does to our most treasured “art,” including our marriages, our families, our dreams, and the essence of who we know ourselves to be. As I watched, the monuments men themselves became a metaphor of us. They were all art lovers, just as we love our families and our dreams. And like us, the job they were tasked with—finding and saving Europe’s treasures—didn’t come with a map, and they had no idea where to start. Nor do we. It’s not like on our wedding day the minister hands us a guide for saving ourselves and our marriages if we land in the war zone of sex addiction. Like the brave team in the movie, we have to try to find clues that might lead us to the treasure of finding and saving our marriages and dreams. Our clues come from doing research, visiting websites, reading books, and trial and error. We feel lost. Just this morning a woman emailed me saying, Many times I still feel blind as I look for direction. She has no guide or map.
But there is hope. The monument men did have some “tools.” They had some European’s on their team, and they brought with them an intimate knowledge of Europe, its languages, and how to read symbols on a European map. And the whole team brought with them determination, a great attitude, and a willingness to give the search everything they had, even their lives, if necessary. And in the end, they were able to salvage a percentage of Europe’s art. Not all of it, but enough that today we continue to have the opportunity to see it in museum’s and as paintings inside some European buildings.
So, what are the tools that enable us to find and locate our treasure, and to hopefully save it, even if in the end we can’t save all of it, or we learn it’s different than the marriage and story we thought we started with on our wedding day? The tools are many, if you know where to find them, and if you have a guide to help you learn how they work. The workbook we use, Journey to Healing and Joy, lists many, and helps you learn how they work. And in a group setting where we learn from one another, we can make great progress in just several weeks.
And there are other workbooks and books for women who discover they love a sex addict. The ISA website also lists several tools, and each can be printed, so you can keep your own copy. You can find their list under the Tools link at www.isurvivors.org.
But of the many tools we need for this journey, I consider the “tool” of support to be the very most essential, and an important place to start. One group of trauma therapists wrote, Therapy is not enough. Therapy will fail if the client is restricted to being real and honest only in the therapist’s office. That proved to be true recently when a woman in one of my groups shared that she is struggling with the lack of safe places to share outside of her group. She talked about why other people in her life aren’t safe to share her reality with, and she is working to find others who can provide that safety. For her healing, she knows she needs them.
Support is essential for several reasons, but the two I find most important are:
- We learn best from each other because we all see things differently, so light bulbs come on for us as we share and listen.
- Support from others who understand that life produces deep wounds, so they will accept our pain and allow us to talk about it—and love us anyway—produces the joy of being known and loved. And that kind of joy produces deep healing.
A woman who is currently in one of my groups wants to share with you how the tools of support and the three circles on ISA’s website have helped her gain peace, clarity, and a determination to never again let those things go:
I am a survivor of infidelity and a work in progress, and my goal is to learn to thrive, not just survive. I have been married for three and a half years and have two young children. I connected with Marsha Means last May of 2017 when I was at the end of my rope with my marriage and desperately needed guidance on my suspicions of my husband’s sexual addiction. With her help, and that of other women she connected me to, the truth came to light. That truth has been the hardest reality I've ever had to face. Mostly, I've had to face myself and who I am, why I chose this, and how I should proceed.
Walking this road with my old friends who have never experienced anything like this was just so lonely. It was through connecting with women in a Journey to Healing and Joy support with Marsha that I have grown to understand and learned new skills and support. It is that group that I crave every week to help me get to where I need to be. Just talking with them gives me energy to move forward. It has helped me move away from shame. And Marsha has connected me to other woman who are farther along in their healing journey than I am, and they have given me the strength to continue on, to know I'm not alone.
And Marsha led me to the ISA tools, which I found very helpful and enlightening. The one tool that stood out the most was the circles of ISA. I could see that I was caught in a viscous cycle, and that living my life in the green zone empowered me to feel happy and to be ready for any dart that comes my way. In the green zone, I take good care of myself. But when I allowed myself to live in the yellow zone, I could feel myself falling down, and focusing on my husband’s behavior. But in the red zone, I just lost it and fell into so much anger, and obsession over his behavior. This is the most unpleasant place to be in and it wasn’t until I was tired of being tired that I pursued looking at myself, realizing I have to change me; I have to become who I was made to be by my Creator. I have to stop obsessing over his behavior, and start looking at my own, and stay on my own rail or of the train tracks of detachment. That is all that carries me from day to day at this point. It’s the hope for my own healthier self because when that exists, I will surround myself with the same and that is what I will pass on to my two beautiful children. That can never be taken away.
Powerful, isn’t it? It’s almost impossible to heal alone. Recovery from trauma is a team sport. Wherever you are in your healing journey, if you don’t currently have support, we offer a variety of healing-focused groups. And ISA sponsors two trauma-focused 12 step phone meetings each week that are free and available to anyone who loves a sex addict (isurvivors.org). Over the last 20 years of helping partners of sex addicts heal, I’ve learned that a short-term, content-driven, small support group proves invaluable to our early healing. Without that kind of guided, intentional work, most of us flounder. But once you’ve gained healing and stability, ISA gives you an on-going group of sisters to walk with for as long as you need them. They are definitely worth checking out on their website.
So if you have not yet discovered any treasure in the bottom of your trauma chest, I challenge you to start digging with the powerful tool of all: support.
With your healing at heart,