Moving from Pain to Recovery
by Peggy Vaughan

Sometimes just "thinking" about the time when you learned about your spouse's affair (even after a lot of time has passed) feels like it just happened - or that it's happening all over again. People make comments like: "It still feels like it just happened yesterday" or "It is like my brain and body don't realize that any time at all has passed; it is literally like being THEN."

There's actually a biological basis for this: the body doesn't discriminate between whether something is actually happening at a given moment or whether the brain is simply "reviewing" past events.

This is why going over and over the painful details in your mind makes it so difficult to recover; it's as if it's happening again and again. The body doesn't know the difference.

So the passage of time does very little to help in recovering. In fact, it can make it worse if the time is spent obsessively going over the painful thoughts. There needs to be a concerted effort to try to get more understanding and perspective rather than just repeatedly reviewing all the details.

Naturally, this is easier said than done. I still remember the struggle to come to the point where I could emotionally accept a lot of things that I could rationally understand. (There's an inevitable gap between intellectually understanding something like this and emotionally accepting the reality of it.)

The painful thoughts will come (they can't be prevented). But what happens next makes all the difference. If someone "gives in" to the painful thoughts and dwells on them, the pain will stay the same - or get worse. But if someone acknowledges the painful emotions are there again (but deliberately focuses their attention on whatever rational understandings they're gaining about the whole issue of affairs), then they're gaining some control of the power of the thoughts to bring pain.

There's an old saying that applies in this kind of situation: "What we feed is what grows." So feeding the painful thoughts makes them hang in and maintain their strength. Refusing to feed them weakens them.

In this context, let me focus on the purpose of our BAN Support Groups:

BAN serves two primary purposes:

--As a place to safely share the painful emotions that interfere with recovery.
--As a place to gain strength and perspective, aimed at thinking more clearly and acting more effectively - in order to recover from this experience.

Just as when a leg is broken and a crutch is essential for a period of time, the group needs to be this kind of crutch for awhile; but if that's all it offers, the person can become dependent and never learn to walk on their own.

The ultimate goal of BAN is to help people reach a point where they no longer need it. However, as I've also said many times, this process takes time and can't be rushed. Nevertheless, it's important that BAN serve to actually "move the process along."

So whether you're involved in BAN or trying to recover on your own, it's important to be in touch with others who will "be there" for each other - not only for support in sharing painful emotions, but for sharing constructive ideas/efforts to get beyond the painful emotions. This is the key to finally recovering and healing from the pain of this experience.

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