Thursday, October 9, 2014

How Trauma Breaks Open Our Story

People usually only come to this frontier when they have had a terrible loss in their life or they've been fired or some other trauma breaks open their story.  Then they can't tell that story anymore... they hit present reality with such impact that they break apart on contact with the true circumstance."
~David Whyte

They hit present reality with such impact that they break apart on contact. Sound like you? It sure as hell sounds like me.
I hit the reality of my husband's cheating with such impact that I shattered.
And it's hard, when you're shattered, to recognize that this breaking apart might, one day, be exactly what you needed. It's damn near impossible to understand that it's only when trauma has broken open your story that you're able to write a new chapter.
From my stop farther down the road, however, I can see that my husband's cheating – the trauma from that betrayal – meant that I couldn't keep telling myself the story I had been. It meant that, once I was able to pull myself back together, I had to admit that my story wasn't entirely based on fact. It was up to me to begin writing my own rather than let others dictate it to me.
Until then, my story had gone something like this:
I married a wonderful, principled man who adored me. We had three wonderful healthy children. Life was good, better than I expected or, frankly, deserved. The end.
What I tended to ignore because it didn't fit with the storyline I wanted desperately to believe was that it disappointed me when he wasn't able to acknowledge the casual cruelty of his family towards me.
It hurt me when I felt emotionally abandoned after the birth of our first child.
I felt invisible when I would express fairly mundane needs (please walk the dogs in the morning, please have breakfast with me instead of sleeping in...) and he wouldn't. (His modus operandi, which he'd used for years with his own family, was to agree to whatever they wanted and then do what HE wanted. I, a firm believer in taking people at their word, took years to see what he was doing. Which might mean I'm either a) a hopeless optimist or b) kinda stupid.)
And it was confusing to me when, sometimes, I felt like a blow-up doll during sex. As if I – a fully present human me – wasn't supposed to be there, and certainly wasn't supposed to have my own needs.
But by not allowing those truths to be part of my story, I was living a fiction. The fiction of my adoring wonderful husband who would never-not-EVER cheat on me.

Shattered.
Broken Open.

In the wake of that breaking open, we begin writing our new story.
I realized fairly quickly that my marriage hadn't been quite so polished and perfect as I had wanted to believe. I could see just how broken I was even before his betrayal completely shattered me. One of the hugest revelations for me was to recognize just how much I'd already betrayed myself.
I had assumed that my needs were less important than everyone else in the family.
I had accepted that, if his family rejected me on some level, it was because I wasn't deserving of their love.
I had been living my long-held deep conviction that I wasn't enough.
I accepted love that was, frankly, not so great and told myself it was more than I deserved.

As I healed, I began writing my true story.
And in this new story that has emerged, I am learning that I am enough. Have always been. Always will be.
I am learning that, in a healthy relationship, nobody's needs trump another's. That we all matter and can negotiate a family in which that's the guiding principle.
I can now spot the myriad ways in which I betray myself. My clue is a spark of resentment (which, left unexamined, grows to a roaring house fire of anger). When I begin to hear the voice in my head muttering "look how much I do", and "I'm exhausted!", and "why doesn't he...", and "why won't they...", I know it's time to take good look at how I'm NOT taking care of myself. When you hear yourself saying one thing when your heart and soul are screaming another, you're betraying yourself.
But what's clear to me is that all of this stuff, these rich lessons that have shaped my life in wonderful ways and deepened my relationships to friends and family and my children, arose out of my shattered self, my broken story.
It can be hard to see when you're surrounded by wreckage. It can feel like warmed-over platitudes ("out of suffering comes wisdom") that make you want to bash in the face of anyone offering them up.
But it was through my broken story that I gained the control to change the narrative of my own life into something that is far more likely to give me a satisfying ending. An ending, of course, to be determined.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Coming Back to Life After Betrayal

I've lived a lifetime being told that I'm "too sensitive."
As a kid, it seemed to mean I cried too easily.
As a teen, it seemed to mean that I cared too much.
As an adult, I finally cracked the code: Telling me I'm "too sensitive" really means "your emotions make me uncomfortable and I'd like you to stop displaying them."
I am, admittedly, intense. My highs are high and my lows are low. Which is why feeling nothing – roughly eight months post-betrayal – felt so alien to me. And, at first, such a relief.
At first, slipping into numbness felt like progress.
I had learned of my husband's affair. Six months later came news of his sex addiction. Then, three weeks after that, I buried my mother.
Feeling nothing allowed me to function. To go about my life. To mother my children. To act friendly with friends. To stay dry-eyed. To promote my new book on radio and television. To do speaking engagements at crowded consumer shows.
Look at me, folks. I'm fine. 
After about six months of that, however, it dawned on me that this wasn't healing at all.
I felt...dull. Like I was living life wrapped in gauze. Like all my shine and sparkle was gone.
A friend who knew nothing of what was going on put it this way: "The light is gone from your eyes," he said.
Some call it the "dead zone". Others "the plain of lethal flatness".
It's a sort of flattening out of our emotions. No longer the roller coaster of post-betrayal. That ride is freaking exhausting. The constant shift in altitude is unsustainable.
So, yeah, at first, flat feels good.
Whew, we think. Glad that's over.
But the day comes when we realize that though we might be avoiding the deep dark valleys, we're also missing out on the view from the peaks. It might be respite from pain, perhaps. But it's also respite from joy.
We're existing, not living.
I became aware that I felt like an observer of my life, not a participant. My heart felt detached from what was going on around me.
My too-sensitive heart.

I wish I could tell you it was easy to come back to life. I wish I could provide a link to some pill you could take. Or some book you could read. Some magic elixir you could down that would allow your heart to beat again with hope and promise.
But as you know, this site is not about selling snake oil.
As far as I can figure, the only way back to life is the scariest. 
Walk through the fear. Allow yourself the full-body experience of pain. The tingling hands, the pounding heart, the churning stomach.
You might only be able to tolerate a bit at a time. Sometimes, when we've been flooded with pain, our bodies and brains respond by turning off the tap.
Coming back to life means turning that tap back on, even just a drip, drip, drip.
What you'll learn if you allow yourself to feel it is that the pain won't sweep you away. It might feel like it will. It might feel like you'd better start bailing as if your life depended on it.
But pain and fear are just feelings. They're transient. Nobody ever feels one way all the time. If you let them, the feelings will wash over you, leaving you rooted where you are.
You'll discover is that you can feel that deep deep pain and that paralyzing fear, and survive.
And by discovering that, you'll open yourself up to all those other feelings as well: Peace. Joy. Desire. Pride. Disappointment. Love.
You'll come back to life. To all of life. The good bits...and the shitty ones.
Might you get hurt again? Yep. In fact, I can guarantee that you will get hurt again. Not necessarily by your spouse (let's hope he's learned his lesson!). But by someone.
That's okay. You'll have learned that you can feel hurt...and survive.
That you can feel joy, without fearing that it will be snatched from you.
That you can...feel. Which is, after all, so much better than playing dead.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Finding Stillness to Cope with Sadness or Depression

Susan Piver, author of The Wisdom of a Broken Heart and guide to the gifts of meditation, has this to say about how meditating can help you navigate sadness and depression (which are not the same thing. As Gloria Steinem famously said, "In depression, nothing matters; in sadness, everything matters.")
To those of you who I know struggle with sadness or depression, and are certainly trying to find the wisdom in your broken heart (which is pretty much all of us), I offer you Susan with The Dharma of Depression.


Friday, September 19, 2014

The Care and Feeding of a Betrayed Spouse

A betrayed wife (thanks Jane!) sent this link, which does an amazing job of outlining just how we betrayeds respond to the crap-fest of betrayal. Read it. Feel validated. And then insist that your spouse have the guidelines tattooed on his body.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Without a Doubt: Coping with Indecision

The overwhelming question once we've learned about our husband's affair (apart from "what the HELL was he thinking?" and "how can I make it look like an accident") is whether we should stay in the marriage, or toss him out.
Oh, to have a crystal ball. Or even a Magic 8 ball that offers up something more decisive than "Ask again later".
Perhaps better than relying on outside oracles is to learn to tap into our own. Problem is, mine often seems to be dozing. I can sometimes nudge her awake with meditation or a solitary walk.
But too often, if she's offering up any answers, I can't hear them over the sound of my critic. The one who reminds me how often I'm wrong about things. The one who urges me to rely on others' advice instead. The one who whispers "you'll regret this".
Iyanla Vanzant, who writes "Iyanla, Fix My Life!" in O Magazine, recently tackled the "stay or go" question. Phrased as "How Do I Know When I'm Settling for Less?" it might as well have read "How Do I Know Whether to Stay With My Cheating Bastard of a Husband? because "settling for less" is what we often feel we're being asked to do.
Iyanla is a wise woman who knows a thing or two about betrayal. She also knows a thing or two about nudging that sleeping inner oracle awake. Her approach is to make some observations.
For instance, when your focus is on the time and energy you've invested in an endeavour [or person] rather than the love, joy, and gratification you've gained, you're probably settling. It doesn't matter if you've spent five years or thirty with someone if many of those years have been unfulfilling. But if you can honestly say that, within the time you've invested, you've experienced much joy and contentment, then it might be worth a second chance. The emphasis isn't on the investment but on the returns you've already experienced.
When you're making excuses about why you should stay put rather than going for what you truly want, you're probably settling. Sometimes we truly need to stay put in order to create circumstances that allow us to leave safely. But it's important to be honest with yourself about whether those reasons for staying are legitimate or simply excuses to allow indecision. If you stay, make sure that's a choice and not an abdication of choice. Similarly, if you leave, make sure it's a choice and not something you feel you should do because that's what our culture would have you believe.
Perhaps the wisest question we can ask is that age-old Ann Landers nugget: Am I better off with him or without him? 
If you can't hear your inner oracle over the deafening sound of your own breaking heart and our culture's collective roar to kick him to the curb, then the wisest course of action might be what the Magic 8 Ball recommends: Ask again later.

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