Twisting and Untwisting

Denali National Park in autumn, Alaska, USA, North America

Last week was the first week of living in my new home apart from my wife and children. I missed my children terribly. I work from home and I’m accustomed to seeing them frequently every day. But now we’ve begun shared custody and I’m only with them on the weekends. It was painful, and I missed my wife. I felt very lonely. By the end of the work week I had relapsed. I felt angry and sorry for myself.

Friday morning I had a session with my therapist. What he shared with me moved me off the dark path I was thinking and walking. I want to share it with you here.

He calls them Cognitive Distortions. They are common patterns of unhealthy thinking, especially prevalent in the minds of people who suffer from major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, and others. I imagine all of us have thought in one or more of these ways whether or not we suffer from a mental disorder.

  1. ALL-OR-NOTHING THINKING: You see things in black and white categories. If your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure.
  2. OVERGENERALIZATION: You see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.
  3. RATIONALIZATION: You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively so that your vision of all reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that discolors the entire beaker of water.
  4. DISQUALIFYING THE POSITIVE: You reject positive experiences by insisting they “don’t count” for some reason or other. In this way you can maintain a negative belief that is contradicted by your everyday experiences.
  5. JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS: You make a negative interpretation even though there are no definite facts that convincingly support your conclusions. One form of this is also known as “Mind Reading.” You arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you, and you don’t bother to check this out. There’s also the “FortuneTeller Error.” You anticipate that things will turn out badly, and you feel convinced that your prediction is an already established fact.
  6. MAGNIFICATION (CATASTROPHIZING) OR MINIMIZATION: You exaggerate the importance of things (such as your goof-up or someone else’s achievement). Or you inappropriately shrink things until they appear tiny (your own desirable qualities or the other fellow’s imperfections). This is also called the “binocular trick.”
  7. EMOTIONAL REASONING: You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: “I feel it, therefore it must be true.”
  8. SHOULD STATEMENTS: You try to motivate yourself with shoulds and shouldn’ts, as if you had to be whipped and punished before you could be expected to do anything. “Musts” and “oughts” are also offenders. The emotional consequence is guilt. When you direct should statements toward others, you feel anger, frustration, and resentment.
  9. LABELING AND MISLABELING: This is an extreme form of over-generalization. Instead of describing your error, you attach a negative label to yourself: “I’m a loser.” When someone else’s behavior rubs you the wrong way, you attach a negative label to him: “He’s a damn louse.” Mislabeling involves describing an event with language that is highly colored and emotionally loaded.
  10. PERSONALIZATION: You see yourself as the cause

I had fallen into all-or-nothing thinking, overgeneralization, and rationalization, among others: “I have failed at the most important thing in life—my family. I’ve lost everything important to me. I should have known this would happen because I always fail at everything to do with this addiction. Why did I think I could beat this addiction? I’m an idiot for getting into this addiction. I hurt Jess and my children, and now the pain has spread into both our families through this divorce. I want to be with my children. I am miserable and depressed. I can’t change this. I don’t want to live separated from them during the week. I miss my best friend. I can’t be happy without my children and wife.”

Interestingly and surprisingly, simply reading the list of cognitive distortions out loud helped me see the truth. It awoke my brain. I could clearly see the error in my thinking and I felt as if a fog was lifted from my mind: “Yes, this is extremely painful for many people including myself, but I can still be healthy and happy in this life. I can still be a good father to my children; they need me. I can still beat this addiction with God’s grace. I am in pain and I am sick but my soul is not dead.”

Last night, however, I felt the same fog descending on my mind and heart, and my addiction called to me. This morning I woke up feeling depressed and forlorn. I remembered the cognitive distortions. I read them and the fog lifted from my mind, but my heart still felt heavy. I couldn’t focus. So I took the day off from work to focus on my wellbeing. I cleaned, read scriptures, watched uplifting videos on lds.org, listened to uplifting music, showered, told a couple of friends what I’m feeling, and more. And now I’m writing this blog post. I still feel the pain but it is bearable now, and I feel important.

Hopefully readers will find similar relief by referring to this list of cognitive distortions in moments of pain and darkness.

 

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French Bread

Not sure what to say except I’m in a lot of pain and I felt a prompting to write about it here.

“Pain” is the French word for “bread.” So there you go.

My wife decided to divorce me. I feel hesitant to share details, particularly what she’s told me about her thoughts and feelings behind her decision. I don’t want to misrepresent them here and I don’t want to paint her choice in a negative color. Suffice it to say I think her choice is understandable and she deserves to feel loved and emotionally safe in her marriage. My multitudinous relapses over nine years made her feel the opposite.

Of course I feel sad. My emotions have been all over the place since she told me a couple months ago… depressed, lonely, angry (a lot of that one), abandoned, scared, fearful, stressed, confused (a lot of that one too), guilty, ashamed, lost, and I’m sure more which I can’t recall at the moment.

Oddly enough I also feel relieved given any future relapses won’t affect her directly. Not in the same way at least.

So now we’re figuring out this thing called divorce and I hate it. The state law here requires a twelve-month separation period before filing for divorce. I haven’t decided yet whether I like this law. A growing part of me wants it to be done and over with because it’s so painful… just rip the bandaid off already, please! Another part of me wants to hope that something will change her mind between now and the end of the twelve months. I’m afraid to hope for that. At the very least, this separation gives us some time to figure out the depressing details such as finances, when I’ll get to be with my children, etc.

Given my depression and this divorce I’m amazed I can still function at all. I have God to thank for that. Despite my choices causing this nightmare, I’ve felt His support with more intensity and focus than I think I ever have in my life. I purposefully distanced myself from Him after Jess told me her decision, particularly the specific guidance she received from Him while making her choice. Since then I’ve periodically turned to Him when I feel lost or overwhelmed, and every time He’s been right there for me in a powerful way. I felt Him sustaining me through the final weeks of my college education, enabling me to study and retain information even though I felt only half awake and couldn’t recall my coworkers’ names or remember to eat. I felt Him guiding me while I searched for a new place to live even though I hated doing it and I had no idea where to begin except that I want to live close to my children… He gave me three distinct confirmations where I’m supposed to live now, and I’m scheduled to move in before the end of this month. I’ve felt His support while working; He makes my brain think clearly enough to do my job well despite the restlessness and inability to focus which has now become the norm for me. I’ve felt His immediate reassurance every time I scream-pray in the moments when I feel an overwhelming surge of loneliness, anger, confusion, and fear. I don’t know how to describe it… He’s just there and He fills me with love every time I turn to Him, more quickly and more deeply than I’ve ever experienced before. This gives me hope and faith to keep moving.

Friends and family have also been amazing. People reach out to me almost daily, close friends and family as well as friendly acquaintances who offer their sincere support. I feel lost most days but after talking with one of these people I feel calm and able to take another painful step forward.

Of course no trial would be complete without Satan. I am extremely vulnerable right now and he knows it. He’s been kicking me while I’m down, taking advantage of my weakness. He really must be miserable if picking on a person in my current state is his favorite thing to do. He’s a jerkwad. Get thee behind me. (Modern translation: “Bye, Felicia!”) That’s all I’ll say about him.

A big part of me wants to be angry at my wife. A part of me is angry and I think that’s OK for now so long as I don’t seethe or let it steer my thoughts and decisions. I feel angry at her for leaving me when I need her most, but I don’t subscribe to the notion that a marriage relationship should be unconditional. Patient, yes, among other virtues; but not unconditional. (She stayed with me through nine years of relapses so I’d say she nailed the patience and long-suffering parts.) She told me she genuinely believes I will get better and conquer my depression, trauma, and addiction. Because of this I don’t believe she’s giving up on me, thought it’s extremely difficult not to feel that way. When I let myself think about this I end up at the conclusion that I’m simply not worth the pain to her anymore. I don’t know what to think of that conclusion but I’ve decided not to let my mind settle on any interpretations for now.

Some good has come out of this though. The day after she told me her decision I knew I needed to finally tackle the sexual abuse trauma I’d experienced in my youth. I’d put off working on it with my therapist for over three years because I was terrified of reliving it. I don’t know why or how to explain it but despite finding myself suddenly drowning in a new traumatic experience, I knew in my bones that I had to begin healing from the trauma of my youth and I had to do it *now.* (Maybe my mind and body could sense it would all be too much for me to bear if I didn’t start unloading?) My therapist and I dove in, and the sessions were extremely painful… but the healing has been powerful! I feel my addiction has less power over me because I’m finally processing those core events. It’s like I finally let a surgeon remove a decades-old, acid-leaking, miniature car battery from my chest. Breathing is easier and I feel more free.

Oh, and everything makes me cry now, so much so that it amuses me haha. Not that there’s anything wrong with crying—I believe it’s healthy and normal. But lately even the dumbest radio commercials and bumper stickers will get me teary-eyed. I just think it’s kind of funny and it makes me laugh to myself every now and then, which is nice.

Like I said, I’m not letting myself hope that my wife will change her mind. Of course I would welcome that but for now I feel a strong need to focus on Me. I cannot control her choices. A dear friend counseled me to seek Heavenly Father’s will for me and focus on that. I’m trying to do that and it helps. One day at a time helps too. Also, choosing to trust Heavenly Father that I can be healthy and happy without understanding Jess’s decision or His direction to her… that helps too. I feel His loving support now as I write this.

Thanks for reading. I feel better.