I see a number of people mention they had to hit rock bottom before they could really do any work. I can see that would help but what about those who started before then? What kind of progress did you actually make before that point and how did it change once you hit it?
Thanks for these questions, because they made me realize that my progress was cyclical. Sorry for the length of my response, but the context is relevant, IMO.
BH and I weren't married at the time of the A, but we were in a committed LDR. He knew I was casually dating OM but not how far it had gone. I used all the standard wayward tricks to justify a full-fledged EA/PA. I was in college, the A had a predetermined end date of OM's graduation, and I thought about taking it to the grave. However, I had a few weeks alone between the end of the A and the next time I saw BH, and that gave me time to clear my head. This was at the height of the AIDS crisis, and I knew that I couldn't expose him to a deadly risk by hiding unprotected sex with another partner.
And so, I voluntarily confessed. I accepted that BH might break up with me the second I told him I slept with OM. I packed my suitcase in a way that would allow me to leave quickly if he threw me out. I let go of the outcome, expecting anger and resolution.
What I got was disbelief and devastation. BH was crushed. He clung to me in an effort to reconnect. I had steeled myself for rejection, and when it didn't appear, I shifted to damage control. I was appalled at what I had done and believed that I could "fix it" and rebuild with BH. Until I learned that was a possibility, I hadn't realized how much I wanted it. Letting go of the outcome went straight out the window.
Unfortunately, I was such a dumbass that I refused to perform the most critical elements of R, which were NC with OM and complete honesty with BH. I was trying to "fix" OM, too, because he had major limerence for me and was pining over the end of the A. I told myself that BH had won and OM had lost. BH had promises of a future together, continued expressions of love, and sex; OM only had friendship and sympathy. I insisted I owed OM that limited support. This was the fucked up narrative I constructed in my own head, and it conveniently ignored my addiction to the ego kibbles of the A. I interpreted BH's reaction as giving me control in our relationship, and I used that power to hide important facts about both the EA and PA.
Fast forward 29 years. I thought the A was fully rugswept. BH, unknown to me, had suffered periodic mind movies throughout our marriage. He blamed himself for being unable to fully recover. He started asking questions about elements of the A, hoping that he could find the key to final healing. I panicked. I had buried the lies so deep that I had started to believe them myself. I performed mental gymnastics where I believed, simultaneously, in two conflicting narratives: the things I was hiding were just details, so inconsequential that he didn't need to know, and also a time bomb, far too dangerous to ever disclose. These were things like specific sex positions and dialogue that would change his understanding of the nature of the A.
So that's when I started the TT. There wasn't much of it after D-Day 1, because I gave BH a story, and he believed it. He was far more focused on getting me to go NC than on grilling me for details. He also knew about one instance where OM pushed me farther than I wanted to go, and he didn't want to traumatize me by asking me to reconstruct it. The combination of these factors meant that he never got what he needed to heal. Now he was asking the tough questions, and unlike D-Day 1, I had not let go of the outcome. I had to get to that point again, where I recognized his right to leave me, before I was able to give him the full truth that he always deserved.
How did you know you were making progress, that the changes were real and permanent and in what way did you gauge that progress?
There is a huge mental difference between telling most of the truth and all of the truth. If you tell most of the truth, you're still a liar, and you think like a liar. Once it was all on the table, and I was practicing radical honesty, the whole world looked different. I had no idea how much fear I had been carrying over something I would honestly have told you I never thought about. I would find myself stopping ten or twelve times a day, ruminating about how to protect an old lie, and remember that he already knew the worst. The wayward brain is a mine shaft, and the fact that we dug it ourselves doesn't make it any easier to see or breathe inside of it.
Finally, how did you try and show your BS the progress you felt you were making? Anything specific or did you just act differently and let them notice when they were ready?
I asked how my BH was doing and proactively offered to answer questions, whether new or ones we had gone over before. My old pattern was to avoid the topic of the A, because you don't walk into a minefield voluntarily. Once all the mines are blown, though, you can go wherever you need to. I'm not saying that's easy or pleasant, but it allows me to focus on the work.