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Lesson 1: Taking off the Masks

We have come a long way. We have identified new ways to challenge our unhealthy thoughts and replace them with new thoughts, using scripture and God’s personal promises to us. Through the use of the FASTER Scale and other weekly tools, we are taking a proactive approach to recognizing when we are headed for relapse and practically intervening to get back to restoration. Every day we are learning what it means to live in health—we are creating our new identity.

At this point, some of us may finally feel like we are gaining sobriety in our lives: returning to a normal state of health, mind, and strength. Some of us may feel like we are in recovery, moving past sobriety and regaining control of something that was lost. We are beginning to recognize “the real me.”

Early on in this process we identified the masks that were created by our past pain, trauma, and brokenness. Over the past several months, we have worked to set aside the masks that protected us and kept us safe, replacing them with healthy boundaries. As we have learned the value of healthy boundaries and behaviors, our need for authentic living has become more obvious. We want to fully embrace life without wearing masks, but fear it at the same time. Will we ever reach a point when we can live a mask-free life?

I have been in recovery for seven years. I continue to attend a weekly support group and have served as a leader or co-leader over the years. I enjoy helping women who struggle with love, sex, and relationship addictions discover what it looks like to live out their new-found health: to live life genuinely.

I constantly encourage the women in my group, saying, “This is a process. Lasting change takes time and intention. You can do this—be brave.” It helps that I have my own story, my own struggle, to share with the other women. I know what it feels like to live life from behind a mask—masks worn to feel safe and loved, to cover guilt and shame, to manipulate others, and hide my true identity.

As I processed my past pain and trauma, I was able to put healthy boundaries in place to help me navigate healthy relationships. I have worked diligently to restore my internal boundaries, which shape my self-perception, self-talk, and self-esteem, knowing that my true identity comes from Christ. I no longer wear a mask—or multiple masks—portraying who I think others would like or accept more than the real me.

I have learned the importance of external boundaries and how they guard my proximity to others, how I physically interact with others, and how I communicate. I no longer hide behind a “they will think I’m weird” mask. For example, I only hug my close friends, not people I meet for the first time. I have learned that physical contact with some people—hugging people I really doesn’t know—creates a flood of anxiety and fear, which causes me to seek isolation and return to unhealthy behaviors. I am now equipped to deal with these situations with confidence.

Just last week, I bumped into my friend Carol at Barnes & Noble. Carol was with her brother Jed, who was visiting from out of town. I know Carol is a “huggy” person and so is her family. Because I am friends with Carol, I hugged my friend. When Jed, basically a stranger, moved like he was also going to hug me, I put out my hand and said, “Let me shake your hand. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you. I’ve heard so much about you!” It was appropriate, intentional, and reinforced my external boundaries.

After experiencing a divorce and several failed relationship, I took time off from dating during my first year of recovery. I recognized that I needed to pursue healing with a holistic approach: physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and sexually.

Now, I have a whole new perspective on dating. With healthy boundaries in place, I am able to remain objective about my feelings and am not preoccupied or fantasizing about physical expectations. I am able to explore the personality, interests, and values of this new acquaintance in a healthy way. During the date, I am present and not worrying if there is going to be a second date. If there is only one date, I do not interpret it as rejection.

If tempted to put on a mask for protection or to hide my true identity, I use the tools I have learned in recovery to keep me in a healthy mindset. I am confident that God will bring along the right relationship in His time.

Leah

DEVELOPING MY COMMUNICATION STYLE

Learning how to communicate well is an important step on the path toward healing. As we discovered in chapter 7, lesson 3, the art of communication—the process of sending and receiving of information—can be difficult, especially for those of us who struggle with managing relationships. However, it is never too late to learn how to effectively use our words in relationships. Many of our relational issues can be resolved by changing the way we communicate.

As we work to develop an assertive style of communication, we need to be intentional about putting new healthy behaviors in place. Too often, when we feel as though we don’t have a voice—that our words fall on deaf ears—or we have learned to use our words to manipulate and control others, it can be challenging to practice a new method of communication. We need to make sure we are using our words to speak truth and life into our relationships.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when practicing a healthy and assertive communication style

Pause before responding. It is no secret that many of us who struggle with managing relationships wear our emotions on our sleeve. When feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or exasperated, we let our emotions lead the way. Without giving it a second thought—literally, in the moment—everything we’re feeling comes spewing out of our mouths and lands on the other person. This is not our intent, but it happens because we have not learned a healthy method of self-control in this area. We do not want to continue to be reckless with our words.

If we can learn to pause before responding, take a few seconds to collect our thoughts so that we are not so emotionally charged, we will be more effective at communicating what needs to be said in an effective manner. At times, it may be useful to count for three to five seconds (silently to yourself) before responding.

The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. PROVERBS 12:18

Take a deep breath. We have discussed the health benefits that come from taking time out of our day to practice relaxed breathing, but this is not the same thing. When we feel dismissed or overrun in conversations, it can bring out the worst in us. In a split second, we become the worst version of ourselves—we resort to yelling or using profanity toward those around us. This is not an effective form of communication.

In the heat of the moment, when we take a deep breath in preparation for what is going to be the next thing out of our mouth, what are we breathing in? Is it our pain? Our right to be heard? Our pride? Probably. But what if we thought of it this way: when we take a deep breath, we are filling our lungs with the Holy Spirit. As Christ followers, we have access to His Spirit anytime. As we develop healthy communication skills, why not use this to our advantage? Even when it comes to the way we communicate with others, we can choose, in the moment, to be the best version of ourselves. We need to continue to work toward developing a mindset for healing.

The heart of the godly thinks carefully before speaking; the mouth of the wicked overflows with evil words. PROVERBS 15:28 NLT

The use of curse words. Some of us may have been raised in an environment where cussing or the use of profanity was acceptable behavior. Even if we did not grow up in this environment, we all have been faced with this choice. In the moment—when we stub our toe, get cutoff by another driver, or received an unexpected text—our emotions get the best of us and we respond by swearing.

What we don’t often recognize it that using curse words is a defense mechanism. It is a way of avoiding our true feelings of pain, anger, or disappointment. We hide our feelings because we feel vulnerable and protect ourselves with cussing. It may empower us in the moment, but we are often still left with our true feelings. We need to develop a healthy way to acknowledge and express how we feel.

Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. JAMES 3:10

We can’t take it back. Many of us have learned this the hard way. Once our words leave our mouth, we cannot take them back. We cannot undo the damage that is done by our hurtful words. Even if we were right and justified in saying what we said, could we have chosen a different method of communication to express how we were feeling? We may apologize and work to restore the relationship, but the thoughts and feelings that our words created for the other person cannot be undone.

This is a tricky area of communication. We need to be vigilant and acutely aware of how our words and methods of communication contribute to cultivating healthy relationships or disrupt and ruin relationships. We need to find the balance between saying what needs to be said—so we continue to move toward health—and saying it in a way to brings life to the relationship.

The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences. PROVERBS 18:21 NLT

Use I-statements.162 The words we use in communication can determine the direction of the conversation. Our words can be divisive, causing others to feel under attack and defensive, or our words can express our needs and expectations in a healthy way. It is amazing how quickly a conversation can go sideways, not because our point of view is wrong, but simply because of the way we are communicating.

Using I-statements is an effective method for keeping the conversation about our feelings and expectations: “I feel unappreciated when I have worked so hard to keep our home clean and you leave your dirty socks on the living room floor.” When having difficult conversations, it is easy to resort to placing blame on others: “You obviously don’t appreciate all the work I do around here!” This is not helpful when the goal is to bring about health and restoration in relationship.

Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity. PROVERBS 21:23 NIV

Developing a healthy form of communication takes time and intention. This week, we are going to practice using I-statements in communication. To start, think of a current problem or issue in an important relationship. You can choose problems within one relationship or problems in various relationships. Use the following cards to work through the process of developing a healthy communication style.

EXAMPLE

If developing a healthy communication style is a struggle for you, pray that God will help you guard your tongue.

Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips. PSALM 141:3 NIV

Looking Ahead

Complete the FASTER Scale, Group Check-in, Self-Care lesson, Thoughts/Feelings
Awareness Log, and Change & Growth Analysis in your Unraveled: Weekly Tools before
the next group meeting.

Assignments