Thursday, August 18, 2016

How much is enough?

My 15-year-old son has a girlfriend (I know, I know. He's far too young. A baby!). He's smitten. They recently celebrated their one-month anniversary. A week later he visited the cottage of another friend. A girl. A visit that was planned months ago with this good friend.
Cue the drama: His girlfriend became convinced that "something" would happen between my son and his friend. And so she flirted with some guy over text, something my son only knows because a friend of his girlfriend sent him screen shots of the offending texts. My son plans to ask his girlfriend for the "truth" and if she lies to his face then he'll "have to decide what to do next."
It's not easy for me to back off and let my people in my life figure things out on their own though I try mightily. And so I asked my son some questions: What, to him, constitutes "cheating"? How important is honesty in any relationship? Where does he draw the line in what he will and will not tolerate in a relationship? How much is enough?
It's a question we all need to examine for ourselves. For some of us, putting up with someone's shit is a far easier life to imagine than being left or walking away. Far more tempting to tolerate an unhealthy relationship than none at all.
But we don't usually see it in those stark terms. We don't usually realize the fear beneath these choices that don't really feel like choices. We don't see that, by refusing to take a stand about what we will and won't tolerate, we're betraying ourselves. We think we're avoiding pain. But really, we're absorbing it.
How much is enough? 
"Enough" for me is the refusal of a partner to take responsibility for his choices and a refusal to do the work necessary to help us heal.
"Enough" for you might be his choice to cheat in the first place. "Enough" might be his choice to gamble away the mortgage. It might be his dedication to porn. "Enough" might be the first time he hits you. "Enough" might be the 87th time.
"Enough" is that place we come to where we realize that our own integrity is worth the price of heartbreak. It's where we take responsibility for our own choices and insist that others take responsibility for theirs. Enough is where we realize that standing firm in our own convictions won't be the easy thing but it will always be the right thing. Enough is freedom.

As for my son: I hope that he won't betray himself by moving the line between what he will and won't tolerate in order to avoid heartbreak. In any case, if this goes on much longer, I promise you I will have had more than enough.  ;)

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

What does Glennon Doyle Melton's divorce mean for those of us looking for healed marriages?

Glennon Doyle Melton, whom many of you know from her Momastery site and her first bestseller, Carry On, Warrior, a collection of her many incredible essays about what it means to find sobriety, to find a higher power, to find that you were enough all along, shared the truth about her husband's betrayal a few years ago.
In the time since, she has also shared a few details about their healing, a story that became her second book Love Warrior, which will be released in September.
But, just a few days ago, she shared another part of her healing journey, an unexpected and, to many, difficult piece of news. She and her husband are separating.
It can be hard for those of us hopeful that we can rebuild our marriages after betrayal to witness what we see as the failure of another couple to move past the betrayal. I know, early on after D-Day, I clung to the happily-ever-after stories. I needed desperately to believe that the path I'd chosen wasn't foolish. That it was possible to create something wonderful out of such pain.
It has been almost ten years. And while I hesitate to confess that my husband and I are ourselves going through a tough time right now, the truth is that our marriage is probably a lot like many of my friends who haven't experienced betrayal. It's got its ups and its down, its disappointments and its joys. Some days I look at my husband and wonder how we're going to make it another twenty years together (hell, I wonder how I'm going to make it to dinner without strangling him) and other days I wonder how I could ever live without him. The legacy of betrayal still rears its head now and again but mostly our challenges are more pedestrian. Disagreements over curfews for our children, frustration with who does more around the house (spoiler: it's me).
But there's no doubt that we've had to grow in order to heal from betrayal, in order to create a marriage that can weather the storms. And there have been (still are!) times when our growth doesn't keep pace with each other. Part of our most recent challenges have been around exactly that. I was worrying that he had...stalled. That his dedication to our marriage was flagging. I wondered, with little humility, if I was simply more psychologically evolved than he was. That he had reached his limit.
And then, with me handwringing that I just didn't understand why our son would behave in a certain way, he stunned me with his insight. In one simple sentence, he clarified the situation. Then he went back to watching some idiotic show on television, leaving me aware that a lot more goes on behind his brown eyes than I give him credit for.
And so I offer you this assurance. That, if you choose the path of healing and self-love post-betrayal, you're in for a brutal, beautiful journey ("brutiful", as Glennon puts it). You will change. There's no other way to reach healing. You will change in ways you can't imagine and that will alter how you show up in the world. Your partner might grow alongside you, not necessarily at the same pace and sometimes not in the same direction. Or he might choose a different path, one that leads not to growth but to a continued life in the shadows. But you, I hope, will continue to choose light. You, I hope, will keep your inner compass pointed toward the truth of yourself and your worth and knowing that you are, have always been, enough.
And so you'll be able to make your own choice about your marriage. No matter whether those around you are able to rebuild or choose to leave those marriages behind, you will be able to follow, with clarity and compassion, the path that's right for you.
It's what Glennon Doyle Melton has done. She has not betrayed those of us who've hoped that she could light the way toward a healed marriage. She has simply not betrayed herself and it is that truth that lights the way for all of us.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

What is to be done?

"So what is to be done? It was the question at the core of al the questions I had been asking. Life is suffering. There is no way around it. The human condition – the knowledge of this – drives many of us to drink, to drugs, to denial, to running as fast as we can away from the truth of life's fragility. We think we can shore ourselves up. If only we work hard enough, make lots of money, are good and kind enough, pray hard enough, we will somehow be exempt. Then we discover that no one is exempt. What is to be done?"
~Dani Shapiro, Devotion: A Memoir

What is to be done? I roamed my house, wringing my hands and muttering "what do I do?" over and over and over.
The notion of simply being was, at that point, utterly foreign to me. I was a doer. I was a survivor. I was a roll-up-your-sleeves and get to work-er. 
But the pain of betrayal? What is to be done?
Well...perhaps nothing. Not at first. While it might be worth showing the door to an unrepentant cheater, one who responds by blaming you, threatening you, or for whom the betrayal of you was just one more incident in a long list of abuse. Clearing your home of such a toxic person is good first step.
But for the many others of us, for whom the cheating blindsides us because, "my husband would never do that to me", we're on shifting ground. We feel we should be doing something but...what?
Kicking him out feels like self-sacrifice. After all, we meant our vows. We love this idiot man.
Letting him stay feels like surrender. How can we ever get past this?
But surely, we think, we should do something.
I don't think so.
I think giving ourselves permission to just be with our pain, to take the time to fully absorb this shock can be incredibly powerful. And liberating. Freeing ourselves to do something only when that something feels more clear strikes me as far wiser than reacting simply because we feel we must. Our society dismisses those who ponder and weigh and values the quick-responders. The doers. We need to get past that bias.
There are many things you'll have the chance to do, once you figure out your next right step. And that's all you need to know in the short term. Your next right step. Which might look like a bathrobe and cup of tea. It might look like a visit to a divorce lawyer. It might look like a walk in the woods
What is to be done? Self-care. Compassion for yourself. Kindness. Gentleness. A chance to forgive yourself for any missteps along the way. A chance to love yourself fully, to finally realize that you are enough and have always been enough. To learn that another's inability to see your true value is about his blindness. To recognize that we can't protect ourselves from all suffering but we can refuse to blame ourselves for it. 
And then, when you're ready, you can roll up your sleeves and embrace a life without him, or you can get into the trenches and begin rebuilding a marriage all the stronger for the storms it has weathered. 
That is what is to be done. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Healing 101: Awesome advice about continued contact with the OW

I just read this post by Fragments of Hope on the Feeling Stuck forum and was struck by how straightforward and wise it was. I'm re-posting here so that many more will read it and benefit. Thanks, FOH, for this. I say it often but I'll say it again: The compassion and support I see every single day on this site, as you rush to tend to each other's pain, is incredible. I'm grateful for each one of you who makes this place such a powerful, healing place to be.

FOH here...
 (Like many here, I discovered my husband was in contact again a few months later and you asked how I dealt with it. Firstly I just want to say how sorry I am you are going through this, it is horrendous, changes us and takes a long time to get through. It is a betrayal that goes to the very core of us. Keep reading the blog posts and the advice from everyone here and let us help you through it. In answer to your question, the second betrayal (though he was just in touch as friends, not romantically) almost finished us off in more ways than one. If he had come clean that she had contacted him and that he responded and kept in touch (though he was telling her nothing would happen) it would have actually helped us hugely. Instead it felt to me that even though he had seen how hurt I was I didn't give a damn, that he had learned nothing about lying and so on. From his perspective (and so many betraying spouses) he had not fully worked through what she had been for him (and in many cases it's an ego boost or escape from depression and life pressures). There is a huge addictive factor with these affairs, they press the serotonin button and make people feel good and they want to keep pressing the button. Add to that the guilt they feel when they finally wake up to your pain and they are in real danger of turning to something to assuage their guilt and numb the pain (and quite often they go back to their happy place - the OW. It's like the fix they can't get away from, like drugs or alcohol. Affairs are (mostly) not about love, they are about feeling good and, sadly, for the OW, it's all about the feeling, not about the person. My husband was thinking of starting a new life with the OW but when I asked him he couldn't tell me anything about HER he really admired. Anyhow, you are at the early stages, what you need to know now is that your husband needs counselling to see what function the OW had for him, you need clear boundaries, transparency - where he is, devices and so on. It's like keeping an eye on an alcoholic. Your husband needs to do a hell of a lot of work on himself to find appropriate ways of filling any gaps such as gaps in self-esteem, loneliness, sense of (career or life) failure. He needs to give 300 percent to you to make you believe that you are important to him. If he hesitates at any of this, remind him that this is for both of you, to help you stay together, for a good marriage, for your girls, to help him be a man of honour and good values. It is not to punish him or make him feel guilty. He needs to commit himself to reparation - making good what has been destroyed. In the first few months I was flailing around and was not aware of what might happen. You have this place as a sounding board and your husband would benefit from being aware of the real mechanics of an affair and the work he can do. I wish you well with it.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Healing from Betrayal: How Feeling Sad Can Bring Back Happy

As a child, sad was my default mood. I was sad about orphans. I was sad about hurt animals. I was sad about dirty rivers and smoggy skies. And I was especially sad that my beloved mom had been swallowed by my addicted mom. 
So when I grew up, moved away and began to create my own world  – which included volunteer work to mix some sweat with my sadness and consequently make the world and my mood a little bit better – I was able to shake off that sadness like a coat that no longer fit.
Enter D-Day...and the sadness was back. Well, okay it was preceded by the rage – both expressed outwardly and inwardly – but eventually sadness settled over me like a cloud. I gave up thinking I could ever be happy and chastised myself for thinking I even deserved to be. 
That first year post D-Day was...sad. I felt trapped in a marriage I didn't want to be in because I felt neither physically nor emotionally strong enough to leave. I convinced myself that my happiness came second to my children's. The martyr role had always been one I sought out and I played it to the hilt, telling my husband that I was sacrificing my own future for the chance to give my children the stable childhood I had been denied. You could almost hear the violins playing the background.
Not to downplay my very real pain. We all know how deep the wound of betrayal goes. And how slow the healing.
Eventually I determined that I was going to rebuild our marriage. That first year had given me a good look at my husband as a man dedicated to making amends. He attended 12-step groups, he spent hours in counselling, he supported me in whatever I needed. 
But though I felt myself loving him, I still felt...sad. That was, if I was feeling anything at all. I'd become so adept at numbing myself to the agony I'd felt that, much of the time, I felt very little at all. I could pretend I was normal. Laugh at the right moments, sigh at the right moments, feign engagement with the wider world. But inside, I was getting scared. I wondered if emotions could die. I wondered if my heart was no longer capable of feeling the highs and lows of life. But mostly I wondered if I was destined to experience life through the lens of a pale gray sadness forever.
My husband urged me to try EMDR, which stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It seems a bit like hocus pocus. A trained therapist talks you through traumatic experiences while either guiding your eyes in a repetitive back-and-forth or rhythmically tapping on your hands or legs. Some use a buzzer. 
It's a therapy based on awareness that animals in the wild seem to recover quickly from trauma. To put it in the most simple terms, a zebra, for instance, that is chased by a predator, watches another zebra get eaten, relatively quickly is restored to a regular heartbeat and behaviour. Scientists theorized that the bilateral stimulation of walking played a role. Further research led to EMDR. 
The idea, my therapist explained, is to access memory stored as trauma and, essentially, refile it in a part of the brain that feels a greater control over the experience.  The website describes it as removing a block that's in the way of emotional healing.
However it's described, I couldn't quite believe it worked. And not only did it work on my trauma around my husband's betrayal, it worked on memories I'd buried so well, I hardly thought about them though they were no doubt festering deep down, like a forgotten splinter. What came bubbling to the surface was much of my childhood pain around losing my mother to addiction even while she was alive. I remembered a sexual assault I'd experienced in my early 20s, one that I'd held myself accountable for (what kind of idiot believes a guy when he says all your friends are joining him back at his place for a party...only to find out you were the only one invited! An "idiot" who takes people at their word, which is to say, not an "idiot" at all), and one I'd never breathed to a soul. I worked through the pain of my best friend betraying me at 24. 
I felt lighter than I'd felt in years. Free of so much sadness. Liberated from so much self-blame.
Better than that, I was able to access all those other emotions I'd forgotten felt so great. As my therapist explained, when we put the lid on pain in order to avoid feeling it, we also bottle up everything else, like joy and contentment and satisfaction. We don't get to be selective in what we bury and what we don't. By going back in and wrestling with the pain, I opened the way for all that good stuff too.
I still, of course, feel sadness. But I also feel joy. I feel contentment. I feel anger and satisfaction and desire and envy and pride. I feel the full range of human emotions. 
Including a deep love for that little girl who found the world unbearably sad. 
Count me among the supporters of EMDR. If you feel stuck, consider giving it a try. If you can't afford it (and it can be expensive), get out and walk every day. There's much evidence that the bilateral stimulation of walking can also excavate those buried feelings, letting them bubble to the surface where you can process them, reminding yourself that you're safe now, that you are strong enough to handle pain. And knowing that, behind that pain, lays a world of rich color and emotion that's worth fighting for. 

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