Updated: Jan 29, 2021
Our family has always been partial to Golden Retrievers. Their love for the Great Outdoors and loyalty to their “pack” make for the perfect family companion. For 8 years now, we have been blessed with the sweetest 100 pound Golden Retriever named Ralph. Ralph is “extra” special in so many ways. For starters, we learned early on that he has food allergies, so his Gluten-Free lifestyle fits in perfect with ours. He never chews his bones, but rather kicks into his natural instincts and immediately walks around our property looking for the “perfect spot” to bury his bones, just in case he'll need food later. After we butcher our meat chickens, Ralph loves to coyly sneak up to the chicken feet bucket, and like an undercover agent on mission impossible, he will quietly pull out a foot and with his tail tucked between his back legs, sneak off into the trees to fine the perfect burial spot. Ralph, rising up to his Terrell name, absolutely hates the mornings. He prefers to sleep in late and gradually comes to life. But if you try to convince him to get going more quickly, he will look at you with his big brown eyes that says, “Do I HAVE to?” But the one thing I love most about my Ralphie-Boy is: his loyalty. He loves me no matter what. He loves me when I'm cranky, when I'm crying, when I'm angry, when I'm content, and when I'm excited. Ralph loves me just because I am ME.
Part of my self-care regimen is going on long hikes, walks, jogs, or paddling on the water. Ralph has been a part of them all. He loves to swim and follow the canoe, and on our hikes he likes to forge ahead and lead the way into our grand adventure together. He has the knack to know when to follow and when to lead. If only all humans could have that same knack. Early into my recovery process, I realized very quickly that finding a human version of Ralph was easier said than done. Nonetheless, I also recognized it was a key component to my healing process and one I needed to prioritize. My trust and heart was so incredibly shattered.
In those early, raw months where both of us felt hurt and pain, and due to each of us needing to work through our own recovery, it was not an option for me to turn to my husband to be my human version of “Ralph”. Jim was still in recovery and shedding unwanted behaviors that went along with his addiction, and therefore deemed “unsafe” for my heart to land. He was working on his emotional and spiritual maturity. Dough Weiss, an expert in the field of sexual addictions, states that whatever age a person is first exposed to pornography, that becomes the age of their emotional maturity. This would put my husband at an emotional age of about 13 years old, which is not exactly a “safe place” for me to expose my heart and soul. He had some growing up to do of his own, and I had to create some safety between us. So then what? I began asking God to give me discernment on who would get the “privilege” of knowing my heart, and sought out resources to guide me. I found a solid counselor, who eventually sent me on to a trauma specialist, but he was a great jump start to the healing process and we definitely benefited from his guidance. There are many books on the topic of creating your tribe, one of my favorites being “Safe People” by Cloud and Townsend. Here are some characteristics that define a “safe person” to me:
-freedom to share without condemnation/judgment
-doesn't feel threatened by differing opinions
-doesn't have a “right way” or “wrong way” mentality
-encourages me to develop my own values rather than what they or others believe my values should be (of course, not straying from foundational principals in God's Word
-trustworthiness-not sharing my personal life with others without my permission, and doesn't share other's personal life with me without their permission
-loves me & accepts me, just as I am. conflict-resolution is loving and beneficial -transparency and authenticity, they can admit their own struggles openly
-they don't over-spiritualize issues
-validates first, then gently directs me to Jesus
-doesn't feel responsible for me
-doesn't try to “fix me”.
- Listens and loves.
-Gives advice only when asked for it.
-They are confrontable meaning, I know I can go to them in love, speak the truth, and not fear that it will change our relationship. We “sharpen” each other.
So where do you find your safe people? Your family? Your friends? Your church? Your co-workers? In God's deep love for us, He has created community. He knows and sees and understands that we are not created or meant to get through this hard life alone, and we can see that demonstrated time and time again through the Old and New Testament. Isolation is not His purpose for you. Resist the trauma in your brain that wants to isolate and ask the Holy Spirit to send you the right people, then get out of your isolation pit and seek them out. They may not “fall into your lap”.
You may find that even your closest of friends are unable to meet the requirements of safety in regards to betrayal. Some of your dearest friends have beautiful souls and hearts, but for whatever reason, they may be emotionally unable or unavailable to take on your hurts. Be okay with this. God, in His great faithfulness, will bring to you the right people during the right season if you ask Him. He may highlight unexpected friendships or bring you brand new ones to fill this role.
The most encouraging place for me to find my “Ralph” was through my support group for spouses of sexual betrayal. These women were all ages, and our husbands were all over the spectrum in the recovery process. Some of the spouses were still “using” and in active addictions, and some had been sober for years. Some were considered “dry sobers” meaning, they hadn't looked at porn but were still displaying addict-mode behaviors such as gaslighting, defensiveness, blame-shifting and resentment.
God gifted me with the most beautiful friendships out of the stink of betrayal. Find your human-version of "Ralph". God doesn't want you to climb this mountain alone!