Thursday, March 16, 2017

Compartmentalization


 

I recently found a new site (more info on it when I’ve had time to settle in on it), and it got me thinking…I know, how scary is that? Me thinking. There were so many questions I had about sex addiction after Devin’s disclosure, but I didn’t know who to ask, or even what I needed to know.

I decided that I’m going to do a series of posts called After Disclosure. If anyone would like to suggest a topic, please feel free to post it in the comment section or send me an email and rest assured, you will remain anonymous.

My first topic in the series is compartmentalization. Big word. And it should be because it plays a big part in the addiction. Sometimes, compartmentalization can be a good thing. Like keeping work separate from home. But when it's done to live a secret life...well, not so much.

The definition from The Meadows, a treatment center in Arizona, defines it as:

“When someone has a sexual addiction they "compartmentalize" their feelings and behaviors which means that they categorize the feelings, behaviors and thoughts and try to keep them separate. They may get up in the morning and have breakfast with you and the kids, get ready for work and then have every intention to "be good" and not "act out" that day. The second that you leave... the addict takes over and convinces the person that looking at porn just this one time won't hurt anyone and the addictive cycle begins. Two hours later the addict runs off to work and tries to be the good employee he/she wanted to be. The only way they can tolerate their behavior is to tell themselves that they are still a good spouse, or employee and simultaneously they feel self-hate and shame.”

Then the cycle begins yet again.
 
For me, it was difficult to wrap my head around the fact that my husband could kiss me goodbye, and then spend hours looking at porn, chatting with women online, or when his addiction really escalated, meet up with someone, and then come home to me as if nothing were amiss.

It was only in hindsight, and with months of recovery under my belt, that I was able to see that that wasn’t quite true. There were red flags. Nothing that screamed, “Hey, Elsie, I’m having online affairs!” Rather, warning signs that our marriage was in deep trouble.

That compartmentalization changed him. He was no longer the happy, go-lucky guy I married just a few short years before. He was distant, angry, and isolated himself from everyone. A dark cloud had settled over our home. I just didn’t know the storm coming was sex addiction.

The only way I was able to finally understand compartmentalization was by comparing his addiction to my own. Otherwise, I was constantly taking his addiction personally. Who could blame me? It was personal. It was hard not to compare myself to the other women, but every time I did, I came away hurt and with less self-esteem than when I started, and when your self-worth is on the floor, you don’t have much further to sink.

So when I began to use my own addiction to empathize with his addiction, it helped me make a bit more sense of everything. It gave me something to grasp on to, even if it was tiny, and it reminded me that he didn’t wake up thinking, “How can I hurt Elsie today?” Because I never woke up thinking, “How can I break my dad’s heart today?”

I never intended to hurt people while I was active in my drug addiction, yet I did just that. I lied. I manipulated. I blame-shifted. I also recovered and made amends to those I hurt along the way. I felt I should give Devin the same chance.

He had to learn that while he had been compartmentalizing for all those years, what he’d really been doing was lying to himself. If he could accept that and make the changes he needed to make, than I could walk beside him while he recovered and I’m so grateful that he did.

Compartmentalization still showed herself a few times after disclosure. She’s a sneaky little thing and was difficult to break free of, but with time and a good recovery, eventually she finally went away.

Do you compartmentalize anything in a healthy way? Like work and home?

32 comments:

  1. That makes sense. If you keep it in box in the corner, then it doesn't spread to other areas where you can see it - and realize it's ruining your life.

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    1. Exactly, Alex. It's a way for addicts to keep on doing whatever their drug of choice is and rationalize their way through it.

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  2. Hi Elsie - such an interesting post ... I guess similar to gambling addiction ... but we will learn so much from these posts - so thanks for deciding to write them ... I've had periods through my life when things haven't been easy, and as you say it's easy to get stuck in the mould. Great idea - cheers Hilary

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    1. Thank you, Hilary. I have had times like that too. Not just with addiction but with being stuck in a rut that's hard to break. It can take a mental effort to change up that routine.

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  3. Compartmentalizing work and home is a necessary, and indeed critical, skill in the workplace. And vice versa, so you don't bring your work stress home with you. Thanks for pointing out the role it plays in addiction, as well.

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    1. I work at a non-profit so some of the things I see are heartbreaking. I've had to learn not to take the cases home with me because when I first started working there, I was so pissed at how some people could treat other people. I had to learn to let it go and leave it at work.

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  4. It sure sounds like it can be a sneaky sob when it comes to addiction. I do it with work, once I'm out the door work is done. They want anything, they can wait until tomorrow because my phone is off lol I started it a bit with blogging too. Once my computer is off, can wait until tomorrow. Gives me a bit of a life haha

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    1. I do the same thing with blogging too, Pat. I used to check the computer all day long but now, once my child gets home, my attention is on them instead of the computer. I've learned just how fast they grow up and leave the house. You're right, it can wait.

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    2. Took me a while to go that route, but I did and sure enjoy it more that way. As you say, they grow up fast and life can pass you by.

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    3. Same with me, Pat. Remember a few years ago when you and I would go back and forth all day long on Blogger? haha

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  5. That's how people deal with things, but sometimes it's used in an unhealthy manner. At least you and your husband can understand it in each other since you've both done it.

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    1. I believe that's what helped me navigate through his addiction and my recovery. I was able to empathize with him through my own experiences. I think that helped us a lot.

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  6. It is remarkable the extent to which people can compartmentalize - for better and for worse. Thanks for wording this in such a helpful way, my friend.
    Love you.

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    1. Now that I'm so far down the road in healing, I can look back on this and find it fascinating. All the facets of addiction and how we can justify things and rationalize our behaviors. The mind is so complex. Love you too!

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  7. I have never been able to do that...I can see how it would come in handy if one is engaging in destructive behaviours while trying to keep up appearances. I don't think I have the energy to do it.

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    1. It really does take a ton of energy to compartmentalize things although it does become second nature. You don't even realize you're doing it anymore. That may be why it's such a hard habit to break.

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  8. I do, but I don't think it's to any self-destructive level. But it is scary.

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    1. I believe that we need to do it on some level so we're not bringing work home with us or angry for hours on end because traffic sucked and we're lashing out at everyone, but I agree, it is very scary.

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  9. I learned something new today Elsie ~ Thanks for the personal share ~ I think I am guilty of this sometimes but I do try to keep it all together ~

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    1. I'm glad I was able to share something new, Grace. I think we can all be guilty of it at one time or another.

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  10. This sounds close to what's referred to as a mental relapse in drug addiction. Drug addicts who in early recovery still keep in their mind a list of reasons they will relapse. For instance a crisis. They will play every crisis they could have over like a broken record in their mind thinking, if this happens I know I'll relapse. Or if that should happen I will relapse. I learned from my son when he was doing good that he compartmentalized a lot of things- feelings and emotions all bundled together and often compared himself to someone with a gambling addiction. I think it was a way of downplaying the addiction. If not, that is how I took it. One day I told him rarely does someone die from a gambling addiction while setting at a craps table. Thanks for sharing this post.

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    1. Great comparison. What you described reminds me of how I felt before I found my emotional sobriety. I didn't know how to move through my emotions so I would stuff them down or lash out rather than use. To me that was better than getting high but I didn't realize I wasn't mentally healthy, I was "acting in" rather than "acting out", if that makes sense. I was justifying my actions by saying to myself, well at least I'm not using anymore so what if I just flipped off that driver or was rude to that cashier, or worse, just screamed at my kids because they didn't do their chores right. I had compartmentalized that part of my addiction of not using but didn't deal with the core of why I used in the first place: the emotions, the hurt, trauma, etc.

      Thank you for sharing that about your son. It made total sense to me. I appreciate it.

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  11. I think everyone needs a chance to see how well one could come out of certain things... there couldn’t be someone without saying a lie and many a time we aren’t intended but tried to hide. There’s a limit for everything and we should see the level of recovery rather leaving it quite... glad you decided to let him recover, comparison is a natural thing to rise during any course but when understand that everyone is unique, the recovery pattern and behaviour could be indeed different.

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    1. It was a difficult decision for me to make whether or not I should allow him that chance to recover because the damage that had been to our marriage was so severe and so personal, but I had to remove the addiction from him and ask myself was he still a good man without everything the addiction had caused him to do and the answer was yes. That helped me re-frame our marriage and how I looked at him as more than just a "jerk" who had done all these bad things. *smiles*

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  12. Maybe I compartmentalize writing, because I can't do it if the kids are at home. They always need something and there's no way to keep the creative buzz flowing when I have to pop out of my seat every other minute.

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    1. I find I can write to a certain degree with other people around and even the television on, but if gets too loud...nope. But then again, my kids are much older than yours ;)

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  13. I don't compartmentalize my life it all runs together into a crazy mess, but my life is an open book Tim and I have no secrets, well no big secrets I think all people have little things they keep to themselves and don't share but that is normal.

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    1. That's very true, you and Tim live a very open and transparent lifestyle and I think that's awesome. Now that Devin is in a healthy recovery, we are also in that same place. That's world's away from where we were six years ago!

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  14. I think some degree of compartmentalization is present in every aspect of everyone's life. I know I do it and I think in a positive way. As Solomon the wise king said, "there is a time to every season." I try to focus on what and who is at hand and act accordingly.

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    1. You bring up a great point, Arlee. I'm not sure if I'm reading it right, but when I read that, I thought of boundaries and creating healthy ones. During Devin's addiction, the two of us had very poor boundaries and we each had to relearn how to respect each others again; how to act accordingly.

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  15. As someone who works at home, I definitely have to compartmentalize. It's a trade off; during my designated work hours, my wife knows she's not to bother me, because I'm working (she has a tendency to want to talk or goof off when I'm busy). But once those hours are over, I have to stop working and can't find myself wandering back to the computer to do more (I guess I'm a work addict, if that's a thing?). Setting those terms has worked out really well.

    It's crazy to really think about the things that an addict will do to rationalize their addiction, and it really is poignant that you point out that most addicts don't wake up in the morning thinking, "I'm going to devastate my loved ones today!" I think it's easy to make people out to be a villain that way, but it's also not accurate.

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    1. I can relate to that too, Bryan. Devin and I go through the same thing at home. He works some long hours so on the weekends, if I'm writing, he'll pop in to see how I'm doing and chat for a bit. Like you though, when I'm done writing, I'm done writing.

      Now that I've got the gift of time under my belt, I can safely say that I can look at the addiction, the brain, and see how fascinating it all is. The mind, while in the throes of addiction does some really messed up things to justify feeding itself. Wild! A few years ago though, I didn't have that feeling at all. I was a hot mess and thought it all sucked ass.

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Thank you for taking the time to comment. I'm here to help any way I can.