Today I’m continuing on with the series, After Disclosure which I started on my other site. 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.The first three installments can be found here:
I feel strongly that there needs to be a safe place to talk…and it really needs to stay a safe place. It was easy for me to lose sight of this right after disclosure. Who am I kidding? Not only did I lose sight of this, I was blind. I went ballistic on my husband a number of times the second he walked through the door because I was triggering. He would have no idea what was going on with me. As far as he knew, the last time we talked, all was peachy in my world. But that’s how the world of relational trauma works, isn’t it? It makes no sense. It blindsides us and in turn we blindside them.
I hadn’t learned all those nifty tricks like deep breathing, positive affirmations, meditation, warm baths, or even talking to myself in the mirror to calm myself down. Nope, that wasn’t going to happen for several months.
Which meant we needed to figure out a way for me to share my concerns about his recovery and talk about my triggers without clobbering him over the head and catching him off guard. He needed to a to listen to me with an open mind remembering to be mindful of relational trauma and I needed to remain calm if he was going to share openly and honestly with me too.
Thankfully, I heard about FANOS. A big “thank you” to Debbie Laaser from Faithful and True. We used FANOS quite a bit in the early days. It was truly a life-safer for me. Here’s how we used it:
F is for Feelings
Each person shares theirs feelings for the day. If they felt triggered by anger or disappointment, they can talk it through. It’s also a chance to share successes and happiness.
A is for Affirmations
This is an opportunity to let your partner know you support them and let them know you love and have faith in them. Something like, “I promise to have open and honest communication with you.” Or, “I affirm to continue to work on my recovery.”
N is for Needs
If you need your partner to do something, now is the perfect time to ask. Maybe it’s a request to have patience with you or take time to listen to your concerns. It’s also an opportunity to let your partner know what you need to do for yourself. It could be quiet time to write or do step work.
O is for Ownership
This is a chance to apologize for your actions. “I’m sorry I snapped at you earlier.” Or, “I need to let you know I forgot to do that favor you asked of me.”
S is for Sobriety and Self-Care
If the addict is struggling with their recovery and had a slip, this is a great way to tell their partner. There’s no yelling in FANOS, only love and support. It’s also the perfect time to share what you’ve been doing in your recovery to maintain sobriety. Perhaps you talked to your sponsor, or worked on your steps, now’s your chance to let your partner know. It will help them feel reassured in your recovery. The partner can share about things they’ve been doing like affirmations, meditation, yoga, etc.
I wish I could say we did it perfectly, but we didn’t. We both messed up. He had promised to be 100% honest about slips during FANOS, but in the beginning of recovery, he held a lot of shame after a slip. It made him feel like a failure. When it came time for us to check-in after that slip, he wasn’t immediately truthful about it. After some poking and prodding from me (my spidey sense was screaming), he admitted the slip and rather than stick to my agreement of keeping FANOS a judgment free zone, I let the sarcastic remarks rip so he would feel as hurt as I did. In the end, neither of us felt good about ourselves and we took FANOS off the table for a few months while we rebuilt trust again.
In that time away from FANOS, we realized just how much we missed it. Sure, sometimes it got repetitive, but you know what? That repetitiveness meant that things were going well in our worlds. It meant that maybe, just maybe, we could ease off the FANOS three times a week. Maybe it was okay to keep check-in conversations on the nights of his meetings and groups because we had evolved and grown in such a way that we understood how important it was to be a safe person for each other…no matter how difficult the topic is for the other person to hear.
In fact, that’s when it’s the most important time to be a safe person to come to when times were tough and the issue was tougher. We used FANOS, created by Debbie Laaser from Faithful and True for a long time. As our needs changed, so did our check-in conversations. Now if we need them, we use my updated communication tool (with a grateful nod to Mrs. Laaser): I call it GRACE since these talks were my saving grace during that difficult time.
G R A C E
Gratitude: I'm all about having an attitude of gratitude. Start off on a positive note and talk about the things that you’re each grateful for that day or that week. It can be something your partner did or said. Or if you’re not in that place at that moment, try to find something else you’re grateful for. Perhaps it’s because you’re having a check-in conversation or you have food on your plates and a roof over your heads. Maybe you’re grateful because you’re healthy, or the sky is so blue today. Maybe you’re grateful the car started or saw a duckling crossing the road. Anything you can find, no matter how minute, that you can appreciate. Sometimes having an attitude of gratitude can set the tone for a really good conversation.
Requests: Are there any requests or desires you’d like your partner to be aware of? Now is a great time to share those requests with your partner. For instance, if you’d like them to call or text you if they're going to be late, or if you’d like to know if they have a sponsor or accountability partner, or maybe you’d like to request a period of abstinence from sex, or you crave thirty minutes of alone time a few days a week so you can spend time working on yourself, this is the perfect place to share those desires.
In turn, they can make requests of you. I feel it’s important to remember to be empathetic at this time. I understand how difficult that can be, especially if there has been a recent slip or if you’re still grappling with emotional struggles that come with a disclosure. I admit I was not the best role model for this in the beginning and at times, I struggled to keep my ego in check and had to remind myself that Devin deserves my respect and his addiction does not define him. He has a voice just as much as I do. If I feel the request is leaning towards serving his addiction, well then, I have the right to use that voice and vocalize my concerns being careful not to use that snark that creeps in from time to time.
Acknowledge: This is a chance to acknowledge what you’ve just heard from your partner and make sure you understood their request. It’s okay if you struggle in this department. Goodness knows I did. I discuss this in detail later in the book.
Care: How are you caring for yourselves? Is either of you in a twelve-step program or a face-to-face meeting? Maybe a support group or meeting with a trusted religious leader? If so, now is a great time to talk about the things that resonated with you in your meetings and/or group. Perhaps you’ve decided to start journaling or doing artwork to help alleviate your anxiety, go ahead and take this opportunity to share this with your partner.
It’s also a great time to open up and discuss sobriety. If you’re in a twelve-step program or are trying to do a better job at not being hypervigilant or controlling, let your partner know your progress and they can let you know how they are doing in their recovery. It’s important to note that some partners want to know the nitty-gritty details of their loved one’s recovery including the setbacks. I used to be that person. I felt I needed the what, where, when, etc. I eventually figured out that for me, it wasn’t beneficial for my recovery or my healing. It didn’t promote our growth as a couple either. Now, I only need the bare minimums. That’s what works for me. Some people prefer not to know anything at all and have their partners tell their sponsors or accountability partner. It’s whatever works for you and your relationship. There is no right or wrong way; it’s your way. It’s what your emotions can handle.
Emotions: Now that you’ve discussed your requests and care, this is the perfect time to talk about your emotions. If need be, take a few of those calming breaths we talked about. How do you both feel about what you discussed? Do your best to avoid being like me and answering with the standard, “I’m fine,” because life is just so much easier when we say that, isn’t it? Allow yourself to truly feel your emotions and then share them, gently, honestly, and calmly with your partner. Say what you mean, and mean what you say.
Try to finish on a positive note. Let your partner know how much you appreciate their time and their ability to be vulnerable with you, even if it's little stuff, it's something and that's much better than nothing.
Remember, this is a safe place for each of you. If we want to have a healthy and productive check-in, there should be no yelling, condemning, or criticism from either side.
Do you have a safe person to talk to?