Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Healing From Betrayal: When He Won't Talk About It

To this day, my husband gets quiet when I bring up his affairs. Not always, but often. And by "often", I mean more than half the time. It's relatively rare that I bring up his cheating these days. It happened more than a decade ago. We've moved on. Still...
And I'll tell you: Every single time he goes quiet, it hurts. Every single time he chooses not to meet my pain with compassion but rather to prioritize his discomfort, it hurts.
Every single time.
I bet it hurts you too. And there are a lot of you struggling with this, judging by what you say when you come here. By what you say on Twitter. Even the "good" guys, the remorseful ones, the ones who hate what they did and are doing everything they can do ensure they don't do it again, even they go silent.
So what's up with that? Why is it so hard to talk about this gigantic thing that's happened? And what can we do when they won't?
Let's start with the shame. Cause that's something a lot of people, particularly the "once a cheater..." crowd won't acknowledge. A lot of guys who cheat – not all but many – stew in shame. Plenty feel it before they cheat. In fact, it's part of what makes them vulnerable to cheating. When you believe you're not much, you're susceptible to anyone who thinks otherwise. It's like a drug. 
But after you've cheated – and you've seen the damage your betrayal has caused, you've watched the light drain from your wife's smile – that shame is excruciating. You know you screwed up. You're an idiot, you admit it. But, seriously, do we really need to talk about it again? Are you ever going to get over this?
What he's thinking is that this stupid thing he did is going to hang over him like the sword of Damocles for all eternity. What we're thinking is, I need you to know that I'm hurting right now. I need to know you will never hurt me again. 
My husband was shocked when, sitting with our counsellor, I told him that I do NOT want him to feel shame every time I mention his betrayal. I'm open to him feeling a bit of guilt, sure. But not shame. Cause shame is crippling. Shame drives us into the shadows. Guilt, on the other hand, encourages better behaviour. Guilt is about behaviour. Shame is about character. What I want from you, I told my husband, is acknowledgement and assurance. When something has reminded me, or I'm feeling vulnerable and I say something like, "I found a photograph today of me at my mother's 70th birthday and I was so skinny. And it made me feel really sad for myself back then. I was so scared."
What I want to hear from him is this: "I'm sorry. I know how awful that time was for you. And I don't ever want to hurt you like that again."
My husband has responded like that, oh, once or twice. It was glorious. I swear I could hear the angels join together in a chorus of Hallelujah, with a few high-fives. This boy has got it, they rejoiced. He's figured it out.
Unfortunately, their celebration was premature. Because despite the fact that our conversation about his cheating was pretty much done at that point – no need to finger-point when he's pointing his own finger at himself – plenty of other times I've brought up what is euphemistically referred to as "that time" and he has simply gone mute. Cat's got his tongue. 
Do I respond like a mature adult who understands what's going on for him, and say something like "I'm sensing that you're feeling ashamed right now. Is that why you're quiet?"? Of course not. His silence pushes some deep button in me that says, in a voice that sounds like my critic, that my pain doesn't matter. And so I'm ignited with simmering fury. I might not erupt in the moment but it's coming. Mark my words, it's coming. 
When it does come, when I do eventually erupt, it's all but impossible to have a reasonable conversation. The molehill has become a mountain and I'm at the top of it hurling rocks. And so my husband learns, again, that "talking about it" involves him feeling horrible and abused. And I've learned that "taking about it" is all but impossible.
So I mostly don't.
But that's not okay, either.
There's a crucial middle ground, where I can have my feelings acknowledged and be assured that I am safe with him. Not then but now. 
We're working on it. But his shame runs deep. When I make any reference, no matter how oblique to "that time", what he all-too-often hears is "you horrible scumbag of a cheater". His words, not mine but they're not entirely wrong, are they? But he isn't a horrible scumbag of a cheater. What he did was horrible. But he isn't. Sounds like semantics but it's a necessary distinction. I can hate what he did while loving him.
And he can hate the reminder of what he did and hate that he can never un-do it and hate that I will occasionally bring it up while nonetheless loving me and loving that I gave him the chance to do better. And knowing that talking about it, openly, is part of healing. Part of supporting me. Part of loving me.
But so much of that gets lost in our respective pain. 
Our work continues.
I'm hopeful that the day will come when we can speak of "that time" casually. The same way we talk about that rainy summer vacation, or that cramped apartment we had, or that coach who yelled at our kid. Crappy memory but part of our life together. And, therefore, worthy of discussion.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Our Act of Extraordinary Faith

Nothing, of course, happens fast enough and we just want to be returned to that uncomplicated life we once had – we want stability restored – but it is not to be. Now we have a new life; unchartered, uncertain, beyond our control, and that we are on some level undertaking alone, even within the company of the ones we love. Our worlds are still raw and new. They hum with suffering, but there is immense power there too.
We are alone but we are also connected in a personhood of suffering. We have reached out to each other, with nothing to offer, but an acceptance of our mutual despair. We must understand that the depths of our anguish signal the heights we can, in time, attain. This is an act of extraordinary faith. It makes demands on the vast reserves of inner-strength that you may not even be aware of. But they are there. 
~Nick Cave, Musician

Raise your hand if you thought you'd be over your heartbreak within, say, three months of D-Day. Five months? Seven? And keep your hand up if the idea of three to five YEARS makes you want to scream and never stop. 
Yeah. That's what I thought.
Nothing, as Nick Cave writes, happens fast enough. And if I had a nickel for every time someone arrives at our club and laments that she just wants "my old life back" or "my old self back", well, I would be typing this from my beach-house on Martha's Vineyard
The bad news is that old life and old self are forever altered. There is no "old" left to return to. We have a new life: Unchartered. Uncertain. Raw and new.
And we hate it, don't we? We didn't ask for this. 
Who would? And yet, we can see how suffering can transform. Not always for good, of course. Sometimes the face of pain becomes contorted by hate. But sometimes, if we let it, suffering is like water over rock. Slowly smoothing out the sharp edges. 
"Mercurial," is how my mother used to describe me. Or, when I was really young, "like a tornado." When I was happy, the world knew it. But when I was sad or angry, well, the world knew that too. 
My edges are softer now. My joy feels richer rather than higher. My sadness feels thicker rather than deeper. Suffering and anguish have shaped me into a different me. One that trusts my own strength. One that has found a sisterhood to hold me up when I need it. "We are connected in a personhood of suffering," says Cave. We need to seek that connection. Sadness can isolate us if we don't reach out to others. But when we can share our softness, our "mutual despair", then we're also sharing those reserves of strength we didn't know we had. 
Believing we can heal from this is absolutely "an act of extraordinary faith". Most of never imagined how painful betrayal was. And, when we're face down in the mud of it, we can scarcely imagine emerging from it, not only okay but really okay. Really really okay. 
Here's what few realize about betrayal until they've navigated that grief and suffering. There is immense power in that change. It's there. Not the power to change him, of course. Or the world. But you. And that, I promise, is all the power you need. 

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Healing From Betrayal: When It's All Too Much

This darkness is not a dead end. It's a hallway. 
Keep going.

It can be easy for me to forget the darkness. It was a long time ago. And though there has been darkness since, different darkness involving children and disease, the other feels almost like another lifetime. A dream. A nightmare.
At the time, however, it felt like my life. My forever life. Darkness then didn't feel like a passage, it felt like my new reality. Though I was masterful at pretending I saw light, I didn't. 
For some of us, that darkness – and our inability to believe it's temporary – is evidence of depression. The clinical kind. The kind that could benefit from pharmaceuticals. I fought against that. My mother had spent much of my life popping pills and I'd be damned if I was going to be like her. But when my patient and saintly therapist, also a medical doctor, drew me a picture of my brain with Pacmen-type receptors and neutrons and I can't remember what else and explained to me that trauma and stress literally changes our brains, I agreed to give these hated pills a try.
Within 48 hours, it was like the clouds lifted slightly. A few more days and the heavy blanket of my pain felt less heavy.
These pills didn't work miracles. I still felt sad more often than not sad. I still fretted about what I was going to do regarding my marriage. But I could cope. What's more, I could spot a tiny bit of light up ahead. I was in a hallway, not a cell.
I bet it feels dark for you too right now. Betrayal turns out the lights for us. It leaves us isolated and terrified.
But please know too that this is a hallway. It is temporary. Keep going.
Focus on your next right step. Prioritize your healing. Practise radical self-care. Remind yourself (or teach yourself) that you are worthy of love and honesty and loyalty, no matter how untrue that feels right now
I often say that if this website assures readers of anything, I hope it is these two things: (1) You are not alone in your pain and (2) You will get through this. Both are things I know to be true. Both are things I didn't believe when I was in my own darkness.
But now, it's clear. That darkness was a hallway. I needed help finding my way out of that hallway. Not just anti-depressants but this blog. The books I read. My mother. The friends who sat with me in my pain offering not answers but acceptance.
Keep going, my secret sisters. The light awaits. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Guest Post: Choose Love

The last 8 months have been surreal. 
I felt like I was out of my body. I lost myself and felt like I was broken in a million pieces, like my soul was wandering...lost and beyond retrieval. I realized I had two choices: to live in fear, doubt and hate, or to choose love. I choose love and am trying to live moment by moment choosing love. 
What does it mean to choose love? When I want to scream at my husband for what he did, I think to myself, what will be the consequences? Will anything good come out of this? It is just more harmful, to me and to him. We have suffered enough. So I choose love. 
I am learning to be conscious. Hate in my heart is not going to solve anything. Love squashes all the feelings of revenge, of anger, of hate. I try to choose love every moment because I know if I don't we will just keep living in hell. My husband is also broken from what he did. He has quit his job and we have moved across the country. He is truly remorseful, understands why he did what he did, doesn't blame me. 
We both hit rock bottom. There came a point where he had done everything he could possibly do and I realized that now it was up to me. Up to me to stop punishing him and ultimately myself. It was up to me to love myself and allow him to love me too. It is a lot to ask someone to keep loving you when you keep hating them. It is a lot to ask someone to love you when you are hating yourself. 
We can hate what they did but if we truly want to spend the rest of our lives with them, we have to love them and make our way back to them (after we make our way back to ourselves). Even as I say it, I feel some resistance, the temptation of my grievances...but that's just the way it has to be. For me at least. Otherwise what’s the point? 
I feel that if I truly love him like I say and believe I do then I should act like it. I take no responsibility for his affair but I have to take responsibility for how I am reacting to it. I can still feel angry, still feel hurt, still feel all those things but nonetheless respond from a place of love. Otherwise I will truly die, spiritually, emotionally, and ultimately physically. 
It has felt like a painful slow death up until this point. I refuse to continue on that path. Life is too beautiful and the love we share too precious to throw away. 
Going forward I am sure I will falter but at least I have something to come back to over and over again, and that is me, the love I have found for myself. 
I closed myself off from love out of fear, but I feel it flowing again. It is what makes us who we are. Love. We can't deny ourselves the love we deserve. How can we truly love another if we don't love ourselves first? When we don't love ourselves we look elsewhere and do all kinds of other crazy shit. We just need to look within. All the answers are there. 
I am learning some much needed lessons through this and I know I will never be the same again...and I am glad for it because I am stronger, wiser and fearless. If I make it though this, I can make it through anything! I learned my worth, I own my worth. That's what I am getting from all of this mess. I keep asking myself, what are the lessons i need to learn here? Who am I in all of this? I am a strong proud brave and courageous and forgiving woman who is full of love and worthy of love, that's who I am. 

Monday, May 6, 2019

Guest Post: Releasing Yourself from the Other Woman

I admit it. I was obsessed with the OW for a long time. I don’t understand her choices as a woman. Why did I obsess so much? What did she have over me? What did my husband see in her? Did she have a PhD in porn sex? 

I look back at how much of my time I wasted on these questions about the OW. I asked my husband questions that I knew would hurt me. He didn’t want to answer them the first time so I kept probing. If he said she was great, I was hurt to the core and if he said I was better than her, I didn’t believe him. My brain was trying to regain control. It wanted to understand why this happened to me. My brain craved a rational explanation because I thought a rational explanation would help me avoid feeling pain.There had to be a reason he cheated with her. I didn’t know there was never going to be a satisfying answer. Or at least, an answer that would satisfy me.

I wanted her to feel my pain. I wanted her to know she lost the war. My mind went in a revenge fantasy loop, day in and day out. I felt helpless to stop myself. 

I wondered what in the hell went through their minds?

So I went out OW blogs.

“I'm wondering why he's like this. Like he's hot and cold. I'm obsessed with him and can't get him outta my mind. Some days I get loads of texts. Other days he phones me. Other days I get about 4 texts. I reckon he's not lost interest. Part of me thinks yes part thinks no.”

Truth: He thinks about you less and less. Get a life with people who actually care about you, and stop moping around like a lovesick teen because you don't receive as many texts from another woman's husband as you used to.

“He is a quiet man and I just think there as been an attraction since we first met 2 years ago. It's helped me cope better with my situation but I'm confused now wondering why he isn't as chatty. Is it cause the fun bit has worn off? He is still so nice to me and says nice things to me. I know I'm so wrong doing what I'm doing but just looking for advice.”

Truth: As for that he really thinks of you? Want it straight. You're a play toy. A side dish. Sounds harsh but it's true.

“I have been super jealous of his wife. I don't know why. He never talks bad about her –won't. It's like she doesn't exist...but she does in my mind. My jealousy that he sleeps in the same bed with another woman every night. Even though he tells me they have not had sex in over a year (basically right before we got together sometime). I still get SO jealous.”

Truth: Tell him you can't have sex because you have chlamydia, or a polyp, or something, and see how often he comes around. The issue is a weak man who does not have the courage to leave her OR give his side thing up. (That's you.) Sexting gives him a thrill so he puts off figuring out what to do. And by giving him this kind of rush, he continually fails to face reality.

So reading all of this gives you insight into how pathetic these women really are. The OW elevated herself in her mind to believe that he values her more than you. She is deluded.

So here's my advice to you, who might well be where I was: Don’t let the OW have power over you because you’re helpless to hurt her. She doesn’t care about the pain she caused or the family that's destroyed. This obsession keeps you feeling horrible. You’ll feel better about yourself if you act above it. Eventually you'll become above it. 

You are holding him to a higher standard. You are a higher standard. Being angry at the OW is a waste of time and energy. Fill that time with yourself. I regret all that time I spent focusing on the OW. I only have a finite amount of time in this life. I made myself more miserable. Regardless of the OW's role in the affair, they didn’t have a covenant with you. He did. The only way to win is don’t play.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Guest Post: When You're Avoiding the Pain

by StillStanding1

Obsession gives you something to do besides having your heart shattered by heart-shattering events. 
~Geneen Roth, Women, Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything

Lately, I've been under a lot of stress. Health issues, digging into new challenges with my business and taking on new and scary things are all forcing me to stare my deeply rooted feelings of inadequacy in the face and attempt to dig them out. Before I got here, however, I had been slowly watching my old compulsive behaviors around food begin to spiral out of my control. And it’s been confusing. I thought after weight loss and successfully tracking my food and being “good” about my exercise that I had “figured it out” That I had reached a place where I knew what to do and could do it. Turns out I was not quite right about that.
And the reason that food tracking and weight loss after D-Day was so successful was because it was an all-consuming obsession that took me away from the heartbreaking reality that I was living; that my husband had been having an affair and now was carrying on with it, flagrantly throwing it in my face. It also converged with all the things I had always told myself about what would make me worthy of love and belonging. That if I was thinner, fitter, prettier, if only I lost those relentless last few pounds, then I would be lovable. And since I was in fight or flight mode, I threw all of my energy into this thing I thought would keep me safe. Add in that, for the first time in my life, I did not want to eat. At All. And I lost a lot of weight. 
The food tracking kept my mind busy, so I would not have to feel the pain of betrayal, the loss of safety. If I made myself thinner, perfect, it would fix everything. Tracking food gave me a job, so it acted as an escape. It was a way to check out. It was about fixing me in order to make the pain and problem go away. Turns out this was not what I needed to be fixing.
And this is why, as I am discovering, the food tracking and weight loss worked then and why it is not working now.  Now I am in deep discomfort of a different kind. I am doing work that forces me to face my feelings of inadequacy (“my work is not good enough, I’m not a REAL artist” etc ad nauseum), forces me to be visible (you can’t get customers if you can’t be seen and if you don’t show up) and being vulnerable (putting your own art work out for judgement is very vulnerable, being available in a new relationship is terrifyingly vulnerable) and my brain and body are screaming “run away! You can’t do it! You are not good enough.” All of which are lies that keep me small and safe. 
And so now I am using old compulsive eating behaviors to check out from the discomfort, to numb the pain. And frankly, I just don’t want to do this any more. So I am reading the book by Geneen Roth from where I pulled the quote. It is about sooooo much more than food. Really it is about all the ways we check out from the pain of not loving ourselves. I’m working on loving myself through these feelings of inadequacy and learning to trust my judgement as a creator, designer and human being. 
There are so many unexpected ways obsession can let us feel like we are escaping. Obsessing about the OW keeps our mind off the fact that someone we trusted hurt us. Food, even “clean eating” can be numbing or be a fix-ourselves obsession that is about a deep-rooted belief that we are not enough. Same with drinking. Spending. Fixing ourselves, self-help obsessions, detective work. Relentlessly working at a job or career with no rest, sacrificing all our time to our kids, being angry. All these can evolve into obsessions that feel like a fast train out of the vast metropolis of our pain.
Now when the pain comes up, I am trying to make room for it. It’s not so big when you do, when you write it down or say it out loud. When you touch it and let it exist alongside you, you don’t have to become it. You don’t have to be that wounded child again, you just need to give her room to step into the light. 
I don’t know where this work is taking me, but it feels right. Not overwhelmingly right and clear, just like the next right step into an unknown land.  I feel lighter and brighter. It’s a little scary, but a good scary.


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