Sunday, January 10, 2016

Avoiding Heartbreak among Friends

In our recent JADE meeting we had some amazing training by one of our Members. .  The training was excellent and I asked for a copy to post for those who could not make the meeting, and for those who wanted to read it again.   The only thing missing is the group involvement, but the message is fantastic.    I post it here with the presenters permission  We have withheld the names of those involved,  we honor each others privacy in all things.  I hope you enjoy the message and that you might find it helpful in your Journey.    Brad

Avoiding Heartbreak among Friends
JADE - January 5, 2016

Today, I want to talk about how my same sex attractions have led to some very unhealthy relationships, and what I'm doing to avoid that from happening again. I hope that my experiences and the tools and boundaries I use can be helpful to you. If not, at least you will understand where I'm coming from and what I'm personally doing to protect myself, and I hope you will respect that. 

I titled this presentation "avoiding heartbreak among friends" because I have a tendency to want to connect strongly to people, particularly men, and I've recently discovered why that is and what I need to do to avoid it. I've also discovered a good framework for what a healthy relationship is supposed to look like, which I will also share with you. 

Several of the things I will talk about tonight I think will be helpful things for all of us to employ in order to keep our JADE meetings safe and productive for all of us. I also think they will be helpful for us as we continue to relate to the world around us outside of JADE or similar meetings. Related to this, I'd like to introduce the concept of "clearing" and the general principle of transparency with each other for the purpose of building each other up and supporting each other in our quest to get healthy connections with other men, in a non-sexual way.

From the reading and research I have done in my process of same sex-attraction discovery, I've learned that many SSA guys struggle with one of two main extremes in relationships. On one end of the spectrum is defensive detachment and on the other is emotional dependency. 

Defensive detachment happens when we self-protectively close ourselves off from intimate relationships. Most of us who struggle with defensive detachment are the last to believe we have a problem. In fact, we tend to be the ones who are proud of not having problems. Common characteristics of people with defensive detachment include:
  • Anger
  • Humor and sarcasm
  • Isolation
  • Self-sufficiency
  • Control (being the one to ask questions; not answering them)
  • Selective disclosure - talking about things we've overcome; avoiding talking about things we're currently struggling with. 
  • Compulsions and addictions - work, alcohol, drinking, drugs, binge TV watching
  • Dressing down - to avoid attracting attention to ourselves
  • Avoidance of touch or physical contact
  • Focus conversations on topics to avoid personal issues
  • Impossibly high standards for friendships
  • Tendency toward pornography and anonymous sex to avoid connection.  

On the other end of the spectrum is Emotional Dependency, which is defined as the condition that results when the ongoing presence and nurturing of another is believed to be necessary for personal security. This is similar to the term "enmeshment" when it is applied to a non-familial relationship, or "co-dependence" which can be defined as being psychologically influenced or controlled by, reliant upon, or needing another person to fulfill one's own needs or to complete oneself. That is, when your worth, peace of mind, inner stability, and happiness are anchored in one other person and on that person's response to you, you are emotionally dependent. Some characteristics of emotional dependence include the following:
  • Experiencing jealousy and possessiveness and a desire for exclusivity
  • Preferring to spend time alone with our friend and feeling frustrated when we see him with others
  • Feeling irrational anger, shame, or depression when our friend withdraws even slightly
  • Viewing other relationships as "flat" or boring compared to this one. 
  • Experiencing romantic or sexual feelings leading to fantasy
  • Becoming preoccupied with our friend's appearance, personality, problems, and interests. 
  • Refusing to make short or long term plans without considering him. 
  • Unable to see the other's faults realistically, or at all. 
  • Expressing physical affection beyond that which is appropriate for a friendship
  • Referring frequently to our friend in conversation.
  • Exhibiting affection and familiarity with our friend that makes others to feel embarrassed or uncomfortable. 

While I certainly struggle with characteristics in each of these extremes, I have gotten myself in the most trouble with emotional dependence. With SSA guys, it is sometimes so wonderful to be able to relate to someone who "understands me" that I just dive quickly into an enmeshed relationship. And, if I'm particularly physically attracted to him, it is just a matter of time before flattery turns to manipulative flirtation and admiration turns to obsession. So, I have to establish boundaries and use tools to help me avoid getting my heart broken and to develop healthy relationships.    

I’m not going to spend a lot of time going into why I tend to become emotionally dependent, but I do know that I’m naturally sensitive and that I've always yearned for deeper relationships than most people are willing to give. I'm also aware that recognition of SSA in another guy, or "gaydar" as it is known, tends to create an unnatural compassion and longing to relate that I don't feel with other men even if I do relate to them on other levels. I think with SSA guys, I feel sympathetic and want to be comforted and offer comfort. So, what we do here, with safe holding and touch, as well as sharing our struggles with each other, allows me to make that connection, but without the sex.  

However, for me, I need to take it a step farther. I've realized that I just can't be in a friendship with another SSA guy. Nearly every time I have had a friendship with an SSA guy, it has led to some level of sexual expression, whether it is kissing, touching each other's penises, or more. So, I've set a couple of boundaries for myself. The first is never being alone with another SSA guy. You'll notice that I won't have lunch, workout, run, bike, or do anything with any of you alone. It always has to be at least three of us. And, because I'm trying to re-establish trust with my wife, she prefers that I only have lunch or breakfast with two or more of you in association with JADE related events, such as a weekend hike. Another boundary that I have is not becoming exclusive with any of you. I try very hard to spend time with everyone here to the extent you and I both feel comfortable doing so.  I legitimately can find something attractive about most men, and the more I get to know all of you, the more I like you. So, it is best for me to not get too connected to any of you, but to be appropriately connected with all of you when we have a JADE event.  I have found that exclusivity eventually leads to enmeshment, and once I'm there, I lose myself and my sensibilities and end up getting very hurt when it ends. 

So, what does a healthy friendship among SSA guys look like? Here are some qualities that are indicative of good health in a friendship that I'm striving for:

  • Free and generous: Though I may experience twinges of jealousy when one of my friends hits it off with someone else, basically I want to be comfortable in sharing my friends. I try to appreciate you all and enjoy all of your company without the urge to possess or control. 
  • Built over time: With some of you, I feel a "kindred spirit". With others of you I feel "chemistry". But I've realized through former 80 mile an hour relationships that have crashed and burned that even these instant connections need time.  Solid friendships are based upon shared experiences and growing trust and there is no way to rush this process. 
  • Not self-serving: I desire to promote your growth for the sake of you, not so that I can gain anything from you. I'm intentional about acknowledging what I admire about you to build you up. 
  • Directed outward, not inward: I've noticed that when friends and I start talking about the specialness of our friendship, I tend to get absorbed in or dwell on that idea of the relationship. I try to spend more time talking about our mutual interests, struggles, and topics outside of our relationship.  
  • Built on strength: I think a healthy friendship calls forth the best in both of us. I want to support you and I want support from you in equal measures. I want our interactions to be joyful, healing, and uplifting. When this gets out of balance, co-dependence can easily develop. 

The physical, non-sexual touch we enjoy here, in connection with the development of healthy friendships, has had a huge impact on my life in a relatively short period of time, and I want to thank you all for that.  

I mentioned the ideas of "clearing" and transparency to you earlier, and so now I want to turn our attention to these ideas. Every once in a while, we are going to come across uncomfortable situations or issues among us that if not dealt with can cause hurt, anxiety, and withdrawal. Because what JADE offers is so important for all of us, and because it is difficult to find elsewhere, I think we can all agree that preserving it is worth an honest and sincere on-going effort.  I want to talk about clearing and transparency using a couple of examples as illustrations.  

Let's say that I'm very attracted to, and feel chemistry with someone in particular, and that being around him makes me want to violate my boundaries or worse. I think it would be helpful for all of us in the group to know that man triggers me so that you all understand why I might be avoiding him and so you can all help me be accountable to what I'm trying to accomplish in my life, which for me, includes recovery from sex addiction associated with the emotional dependency I talked about earlier. So, I'm going to propose that we allow opportunities during our JADE meetings to let men talk about who they are triggered by, and let the man talk about what he needs in regard to the attraction. I'd like to suggest that before a man makes such disclosures to the group, he first discloses his particular attraction to the other man and that they have agreement that it can be talked about in the larger group.  I believe this level of transparency and group awareness of dynamics among us will help us all protect ourselves from acting in ways that are contrary to our morals, behavioral standards, and boundaries. We will be able to collectively express concern and support each other's boundaries and goals regarding SSA and/or recovery from sexual addiction. 

Again, by way of example, I also want to bring up the concept of clearing. What I'm about to talk about has been cleared with the man that is the subject of my clearing. Last time we all met, a new man showed up at the door, and when I opened it and saw him, I realized that we had connected two years ago on Craigslist. While we never acted out together, we came pretty close to doing so, and it ended abruptly and uncomfortably, at least for me. After several communications by email, and getting to a point of being comfortable with each other, we had finally agreed to meet in person in a public place. And for his own reasons, he decided not to show up at the last minute when I was waiting for him at our agreed upon location. I felt rejected and never understood what I may have done or said to push him away. Again, this was almost two years ago, and that man was ____. I was shaken to my core by his presence in this place, and I had tremendous anxiety to the point of wanting to leave. But, I realized that he was here probably for the same reason I had come here months prior and that I needed to get to know this man and his pain and have the same level of compassion for him as I do for the rest of you. So, I positioned myself directly across from him in the room and listened to him talk and ask and answer questions. After the meeting, ______ and I talked on the phone and by text a couple of times about our former interactions and both of us came to terms with it. In the past, this kind of anxiety and shame would result in me seeking out validation through sex, or masturbating to alter my emotions. But this time, I dealt directly with my uncomfortable emotions and avoided doing things that go against my morals. _____, do you have anything you'd like to add?  

In both of these cases, there is an elimination of secrets. It is said in 12 step programs that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, but is instead connection. Connection requires trust and transparency. While I know we do not all suffer from sex addiction, we all have the tendency to allow our secret feelings and attractions to motivate us to behave in ways that we aren't proud of or that don't jibe with our spiritual and moral standards.  So, I'm suggesting that we get in the habit of clearing with each other to keep each other safe and to support each other. My counselor calls this practice "spitting in your soup." If you know you have a tendency to overeat, you can spit in the second bowl of soup when you feel full to avoid indulging in the second bowl. If we are preemptive about our triggers, whether they are attractions or anxieties, we have a greater ability to enjoy the benefits offered by JADE.  

So, not only do I hope this lesson helps you avoid heartbreak among friends, I hope the things I've talked about can help us all build each other and support each other in this life through the Jonathan and David Experience. 

New Freedom for Men & Women: Coming out of Homosexuality. Bob Davies & Lori Rentzel

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