Thursday, February 22, 2018

What Brené Brown and my crappy ex-friend taught me about pain

"It is so much easier for people to cause others pain than it is for them to feel their own pain."
~Brené Brown, On Being with Krista Tippet

I was driving along the highway listening to Barry Manilow. (No dissing of my musical taste allowed. Manilow was and is a musical genius/national treasure. Do not argue with me.) I haven't heard his music in years. Ever since the digital revolution made my LPs and CDs irrelevant. But a recent Spotify subscription is restoring my music library and giving me access to my youth via music yet again.
And so...Manilow.
Music, we all know, transports us, often to the past. I landed somewhere around 1984, the year that my best (ha!) friend, recently dumped by her boyfriend, began dating mine. Technically, my boyfriend and I had broken up a few days earlier. We were "taking a break" (yeah, I know). I was at school in another city and it just wasn't working. But I was heartbroken and he was heartbroken. Enter "friend" (ha!).
And so my friend (ha! again) made her move. First she told him what a crappy girlfriend I had been (which might have technically been true). Then she told him that I already dating. (I had gone on ONE date and I was sad through the whole thing.) I didn't find all this out until later. I knew she wasn't returning my phone calls, which was weird. And then, a week later, I show up at a party and the two of them are clearly a couple.
My heart shattered.
I give you this backstory because, over the years that have elapsed since 1984, this episode in my life has become something of a punchline, a sort of "wow, I was young and stupid and had really bad taste in friends" kinda story, punctuated with laughter.
But, with Manilow singing about heartbreak, I didn't feel like laughing when I remembered. I felt like crying. Because I suddenly remembered how painful that was. I was so young. And so in love with this guy who was completely wrong for me. And I had trusted both him and my friend (HA!). Not to never hurt me but to not intentionally hurt me.
Thing is, this friend (ha! ha! ha!) carried her own pain. Lots of it. She had done this to other friends. She fed on male attention. And so, even acknowledging so many years later, courtesy of Manilow, just how painful that was, I was able to see exactly what Brené Brown is telling us: It's so much easier for people to cause others pain than it is for them to feel their own pain.
Think about how often that happens in your life. A mother who can't apologize to you for something cruel she said. A friend who would rather sever ties than face your hurt, or her own. A husband who convinces himself that it's okay to cheat on his wife. That "nobody" is getting hurt.
It's psychological (not to mention moral) gymnastics, this ability to numb ourselves to our pain while hurting others. But it's as common as dirt.
All of us carry wounds. We cannot reach adulthood (hell, we probably can't reach first grade) without having suffered an emotional wound, some deeper than others, of course. And many of us learn to ignore it. In a culture where expressing emotional pain is seen as weakness, we pretend we're "fine", especially men. In a family in which our emotional pain makes us a target for more, we learn to hide it. We lie to the world. Nothing to see here. And then we believe our own lies.
But that pain doesn't go away just because we pretend it isn't there. It simply drives our behaviour in ways that aren't so obvious. We eat more than we should. We drink more than we should. We spend more than we should. We cheat more than we should.
And we refuse to accept responsibility for the pain that we're causing to others because we're so divorced from our own.
I've always been a sensitive person. "Too sensitive", if you ask the most wounded (but least aware) people in my life. When I was about 12, I came home from school upset about something a friend said. "Why are you crying?" my mother asked me, even after I'd explained. She was so removed from her own emotions that she, literally, couldn't fathom tears. Not surprisingly, she spent a decade at the bottom of a vodka bottle, numb to her own pain. It was only when she got sober that she got in touch with any feeling other than shame. There was a world of hurt waiting for her to face it. But until she was able to own her pain, she caused me a world of it.
That's the challenge as we deal with infidelity. And it's such a tough one. The challenge is to acknowledge our own pain at being cheated on, while also acknowledging the pain that drives someone to do something so contrary to his own moral code (if it isn't contrary to his moral code, then that's a whole other problem). Healing from infidelity isn't a zero sum game. It can be true that you are in the worst pain of your life because of what he did. And it can be true that he never addressed the pain in his life, which is why he did what he did. Your pain doesn't cancel out his and vice versa. Each of you must tend to your wounds. Especially so that you don't carry them with you in a way that allows you to hurt others without regard.
We cannot be whole until we are able to acknowledge our own pain and the ways in which we've hurt others. Only then does healing begin.


Wednesday, February 21, 2018

A Very Special Wednesday Word Hug

Made especially by StillStanding1 for all the fierce soul-warriors here who get up every day and walk their next right step.




Monday, February 19, 2018

Guest Post: Room to Breathe (Part 2)

by Still Standing1

I’m going to make the radical suggestion that sometimes a managed separation is the right thing. A separation is scary. It may be one of the hardest, bravest things you will ever do. It may nor may not be the thing that saves your marriage, but if you put the work in, I’m pretty sure it will save you.
I’m not advocating separation for everyone post D-Day. If you have a remorseful spouse who is doing the work, it's reasonable to remain together and work this through. It’s a valid choice and being together gives you opportunities to reconnect and communicate. There are, however, situations where a separation might give you the time and space to breathe and think about what the next right thing is for you.
When might you consider a separation?
•When your spouse continues to blatantly continue the affair.  This is incredibly harmful to you. You are already traumatized and in PTSD high alert. Having the person who harmed you continue just causes more trauma, to the point where our spouse himself becomes a trigger.
•When your spouse, after attempting reconciliation, resumes contact and doesn’t disclose this to you or resumes the full affair.  More pain and trauma for you.
•When your spouse violates any of your rules for reconciliation: refuses counseling, refuses transparency, refuses to disclose contact, continues inappropriate friendships, lies about where they are or what they are doing. Whatever your requirements are. I’m not taking about a mistake or momentary lapse. I’m talking about willful, ongoing, intentional violations of your terms.
•When your spouse is gaslighting you, manipulating you or children (if you have them), starting fights and arguments and then shifting blame onto you. Do you feel like everything is always your fault? Do you come out of conversations wondering what the hell just happened? You may be experiencing gaslighting.
•When you are a long way out from D-Day, but your spouse has not done the work and is more interested in sweeping things under the rug than dealing with your pain. And you feel nothing but the plain of lethal flatness.
The bottom line is that you are in pain and while you are in pain you can’t manage other aspects of your life. A managed separation may give you relief from the immediate pain so you can sort out the larger issues.  It may also be the wake-up call for your wayward spouse. Enough is enough, you say. Here’s a dose of what life will be like without me. Sometimes this works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Taking care of yourself and getting you out of harm’s way is the primary motivation behind choosing a separation.
There are many different types of separations that can range from In-House, Psychological Separations to Physical, Predivorce Separations (the book Taking Space: How to use separation to explore the future of yourrelationship explains these options in clear language and provides a guide to help you navigate a separation.) If you and your spouse are trying to work things out but are stuck, an in-house separation might give you room to breathe and send a clear message that he needs to step up. If your spouse is still fully engaged in destructive behaviors, getting him out from under your roof so he can’t cause new, daily pain, might be the option you need. Consider seeing a marriage or family counselor together to help guide you through a separation process, especially if children are involved and you will be physically separating.
My ex and I had been seeing a marriage counselor. She was phenomenal and if my ex had not been lying about his intentions and had really done the work she suggested, we might not be divorced. Deciding to separate was scary and not easy for me. It was six abusive, ambivalent, roller coaster months post D-Day before I finally told him he needed to move out. And even then, he manipulated me into it because he was too much of a coward to just leave and own what he was doing. We continued to meet with the marriage counselor and she became our separation manager. She helped us outline how we’d manage communication, the kids, schedules and the type of separation we would be doing. It was to be a constructive separation – in which we each took physical time apart to find ourselves, work on our own issues and break old patterns of communications and behavior so we could potentially come back together in a healthy way. He moved out three months after I told him he needed to leave. This was the time frame we planned with the counselor and allowed him time to find a place and for us to plan together how we were going to present this to our kids.
You can decide if you still go to counseling during the separation, with the purpose of working on your relationship or, less often, with the purpose of managing any conflict or housekeeping items. We continued for four months until he announced that he wanted a divorce (this is another story and includes some of the classics of Stupid Sh!t Cheaters Say.) We started working with a mediator toward divorce.
During the separation, I really took to heart the counselor’s advice to dig into my stuff. I want to talk about that too, but it will come in its own post. The point I am trying to make today is that a separation may be the scariest step you take in taking charge of your own health, life and future. Not all separations end in divorce, especially if both members of the couple can acknowledge their faults, communicate honestly and are willing to work to resolve issues. If you are working on this on your own, turn your focus from the relationship on to you. Work on your own self. This will have enormous pay offs whether you remain together or eventually part.
Note: please be advised that depending on the state or country where you live, there may or may not be a legal status for separation. Please consult with a lawyer, if you have any questions about what your rights are. If you believe you may be in physical danger in the event of separation, please contact a local women’s shelter, or in the US, call  the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 for advice and assistance.





Friday, February 16, 2018

Guest Post: Working on you (part 1)

by Still Standing1

I remember the day I found out my husband was having an affair. So many clues from the prior six months clicked into place and I was full of pain and rage. Many of you know this feeling, while others experienced a flat, surreal calm and numbness. We all respond in our own ways to the pain of betrayal. I had this this feeling of being stripped bare, all the layers that I’d applied to protect myself peeled back, until there was nothing left but…me.
If I wasn’t a valued wife and mother, who was I?  I knew that the only thing I could change was me.  I had started, almost a year prior, working on myself, knowing that something in our marriage needed to change. I got into therapy, got off the anxiety meds, started exercising and trying to eat better. I had already lost 25 lbs. prior to D-day. I was casting about trying to figure out why I was so unhappy. 
A few months after D-day 1 and shortly after D-day 2, we went into marriage counseling. I remember deciding that no matter what, I was going to become the heroine of my own story. I was done being “the broken one,” which had been my job in the marriage forever. I didn’t know what that meant at the time, but it was an important beginning.
As my husband lied his way through marriage counseling, I took everything she suggested to heart. Even as we moved toward separation, she suggested that we continue to work on our own stuff, find ways to connect with who we are and change the roles we’d always played in the marriage.
In addition to the marriage counselors and my own therapist’s advice, I’ve done a ton of reading and listening to podcasts and almost buying the “save your marriage” crap from the snakeoil salesmen out there. I’ve even read dating columns. Despite the disparate (and sometimes questionable) sources, I began to see some themes emerge. There looked to be four major areas of focus, which I’ll highlight for you here.
I will not guarantee that if you work on these things, it will help your wayward spouse get their head out of their hind end. I will guarantee that if you work on these things, you will come out the other side, stronger, healthier and with a greater sense of who you are, what you have to offer the world and why you deserve to be treated with love and respect.
1.     Physical: Get moving. Take care of your body. Walk. Run. Do yoga or kickboxing. Lift weights. Physical activity will help you process stress and difficult emotions. You are not doing this to get a fitness model body to win him back. You are doing this for you. There’s evidence that walking (or running) is good for people with PTSD (if you’re here, that’s you). Make time for this. Enjoy feeling your body get stronger. Be able to do more of what you want to do (there was a moment eight months after D-day, on a trip with my son, when we ran up a long flight of stairs together in a park. I realized I would not have been able to do that just a year earlier. It was a moment I was grateful for.). Eat food that fuels you. Notice when you are eating (and especially drinking) your feelings.  Take care of your body. Why? Because YOU are your body. Treat yourself like you matter. Get a massage. Get a pedicure. Get your hair done. Do things that make you feel good. These are good opportunities for getting in the present moment. Runs always turn into long meditations for me. Bonus points if you can find ways to take care of you that also bring you into contact with other humans.
2.     Intellectual: Use your brain. I’m not talking about your job (though you can absolutely get fulfillment from doing a job that you love). I’m talking about an activity that is just for you that uses your brain. Reading. Music or art. A book group. A night class or finally going back to school for that degree you’ve wanted for so long. What part of your mind have you lost touch with over the course of your marriage? For me, it was art and music. I went to painting class. I started piano lessons. I started making time to go outside with my camera. I got tickets to live music and theater. And I read a lot about neuroscience and anthropology. Find something to that helps you remember how smart and capable you are. It could be a new hobby or reconnecting with an old one. And while you are engaged with those things, try to be in the moment. Just enjoy what it is you are doing. Bonus points if it gets you out of the house and/or connecting with new people.
3.     Emotional: Get to individual therapy. If you can’t afford that or in addition to that, try the Infidelity Counseling Network (it’s a sliding scale, so you can probably afford it). Read books that reflect your experience of infidelity or childhood. I read up on how growing up with an alcoholic can impact your behavior. Wow. It was spot on and helped me feel less alone and flawed. Get serious about working on your own stuff. If you are alive and human, and recovering from infidelity, you have stuff. Make time to be with friends. I had lost touch with everyone, had no real friends of my own, because we always did what he wanted and with his friends or not at all. There were no girls’ weekends for me. I remedied that. I reached out to friends and held myself responsible for keeping in touch with people I cared about. I confided in my sister and we have become very close over that last two years. I joined groups and classes that helped me pursue my interests and make friends. I joined a volunteer group, because giving helps fill my own cup. I made a commitment that I wasn’t going to let my volunteering fizzle once I started to “feel better”. I have some great friends through my volunteer work and am now on the leadership team for my local chapter. And yes, you guessed it, bonus points for doing emotional work that gets you involved with supportive other humans. (BWC definitely counts, but don’t forget the value of real, immediate human interaction.)
4.     Spiritual: Connect with something larger than ourselves. Do something that feeds your soul. If this is something that you’ve neglected in your life or you don’t feel applies to you, I’d encourage you to rethink spirituality. Humans are instinctively spiritual. We can’t be observers of this universe without sensing that something big is going on. While I am not a “church” person, I am a “God” person. I had too much evidence that someone had my best interests in mind through all of this to doubt it. Open up to what is divine inside of you. Chances are you know things but have stopped listening or trusting your inner voice. If you are a church person, get to church. I connect with my own spirituality through nature and the secret language of birds. Take time to do things that feed your soul and help you feel a part of something larger. Pray. Gratitude is a simple way to connect with the spiritual. Pay attention to the little things of beauty in your day. Maybe a daily devotional journal works for you or a simple morning ritual of words of affirmation. Volunteer work counts here too. And final bonus points for finding ways to do this mindfully and/or with people.
Across these four major areas, you’ll see some other themes that always apply. The first is mindfulness. Getting right now, getting comfortable with being uncomfortable, with not knowing the future, helps you to suffer less. When you are in the moment, you are not thinking about the pain in the past, you are not worrying about the future. You can find some moments of stillness and connect with yourself. It’s a place you can come back to over and over. If you have not already done so, please consider learning about meditation.
The second is gratitude. By focusing on what we do have (right now I am safe, right now I have food and shelter, right now I have family and people who love me, right now the sun is shining) you won’t waste energy focusing on what was lost or on what ifs. Gratitude and mindfulness are best friends.
The third is human connection. I truly believe that this is the cure for everything wrong in the world. There is so much illusion of connection out there in our digital world that we sometimes fail to notice how isolated and disconnected we are. Find ways to be with and interact with other humans. Be kind. Notice when people respond well to you. It seems to me that people are so surprised by a smile or a greeting these days (I do live in the northeast in the US, so that may be a local problem) but everyone responds well.  Make time to snuggle or spend time with your kids or mom and dad or sister or whoever is in your live and tell them how much they mean to you. Make time to be with friends who love and support you and can hear what you have to say.
My final piece of advice for those working on themselves and trying to make a new, better life post- betrayal is this; learn what your opinions are and use your voice to express them.  I started deciding even when I could sense no strong opinion in myself. I had not had a voice for so long that I had forgotten how to speak up or how to know what I wanted, let alone express that want. Example: what do you want for dinner, Mexican or Chinese? I don’t care. What do you want? Mexican. (Inside my head, oh poo, I wanted Chinese).  Why did I not just say I wanted Chinese when I had the opportunity?  I started forcing myself to make decisions, even about stuff that only involved me. I also mindfully started making choices that were different than the choices I would have made by routine or out of habit. This was a time to try to learn something new and be different. I had to make new choices even if they were uncomfortable. And I had to speak up. With my ex, with my doctor, with my boss (shocker, he actually appreciates it when I say “you know, I’m don’t think this is a good idea. Here’s why and what I think we should do instead) with my kids, with my friends, with anyone who crossed a boundary. I also selectively told people what was happening and, eventually, why my marriage was coming to an end. I needed to break my habit of keeping silent to protect him at my own expense and not getting the support I needed. Shame thrives in the darkness and shadows. Give yourself permission to tell your story and get help where and how you need it. It is not your job to protect him from the consequences of his actions. If you are working together to repair your marriage, I’d suggest you have an agreement about who you tell, so there are no secrets or unpleasant surprises.

This is probably a lot to digest. You don’t need to work on all of this at once. This evolved for me over the course of several months and continues to be what I work on and come back too when I find myself sliding into old habits or feeling like I am rushing around getting nowhere. Start with one thing. It’s absolutely ok to start with the one thing that is easiest for you. It might be something you are already doing. For me that was running. Then pick the next thing. Maybe it’s finding a therapist. Just check in with yourself each day and see what you’ve done that is just for you. It’s not easy. In fact, I believe it is a lifelong effort, but I believe it pays off now, every day.

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