Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Guest post: Time – and you – can do amazing things

by StillStanding1

Time can do amazing things. A deep wound scabs over, and the scab becomes a scar, and then one day you look for the scar and it’s barely visible. ~Neil Gaiman

I’ve been noticing a theme in some of the comments lately, where many of the warriors here are feeling like they should be able to let go and forgive or their partners are pushing them to “get over it” and they feel badly for a) not being over “it” yet, or b) bringing “it” up all the time, or c) not feeling ready to forgive, or d) for still being triggered unexpectedly.
As if there is a timeline for healing. As if there is a set path that we all must follow to get “better” (i.e. healed). As if we are not allowed to feel our feelings. As if we are not allowed to grieve.
So many of us, in the wake of betrayal, rush to forgive. We want the pain to go away. We want this to never have happened. We think, “If I can just put this behind me, if I can just forgive, everything will go back to the way it was. Everything will be better.” But what does putting it behind you really look like? What does that even mean? And what is forgiveness?
I think there are some mistaken assumptions out there about what those things are. That once you get there everything will get and stay fixed. Destination. End. No more worries or pain. We get fed the same ideas around happiness. It’s just not how those things work. Happiness and forgiveness are not destinations. They are choices and places you pass through again and again. The past? This stuff we need to put behind us? Well, it already is in the past, but we will carry it with us until we deal with whatever unfinished business we have back there.
Before we get to forgiveness, there are some other stops we need to make first.

I mean goddamnit, we just had the rug pulled out, our lives were turned upside down, the person we most trusted completely and utterly failed us, broke our trust. When, exactly, should we magically be over that? It’s one of the most traumatic things that can happen to you. So much so that the trauma response gets its own acronym (PISD – Post Infidelity Stress Disorder). When someone gets a cancer diagnosis, we don’t walk around saying they should be over it already. So why should you be over “it” before you’ve processed your grief. You’ve experienced a loss. You get to grieve.

F#@k this sh!t. Amiright? What has happened in our lives, the hurt, the shame, the disappointment, the fear, the loss of safety, the health risks, all that garbage and our partners’ crappy choices are a big steaming pile. Be. Mad. About it. You are allowed. Sit with your anger. Let it rise and pass. You need to have it and then get it out of your body.

(Wait. What?) One of the most important tools that came my way early post d-day was the practice of radical acceptance. Because when you stop fighting reality, you suffer less. For me it took the form of accepting the conflicting feelings I was having and stopping the war inside myself. Accepting doesn’t mean agreeing, minimizing or letting our partners off the hook. It means moving from “this isn’t fair”, “this should not be happening” to "this is what happened". It is the first step in healing. In the early days I had to say things to myself like “I accept that I don’t want him to continue contact with the OW AND I accept that I have no control over whether he does or not.” “I accept that I don’t want to deal with this AND I accept that I am doing my best to deal with this.” “I accept that I love him AND I accept that I hate him.” “I accept that I am afraid AND I accept that I don’t want to be afraid.” I did this over and over until the list was exhausted. And I found that after I engaged in this practice, I felt less stressed, less pain.
Radical acceptance takes practice. You can start with little things AND you can begin to target your conflicts and ruminations around betrayal. Little things: sitting in traffic. Late for a doc appointment. You can rage against the cars, the people in the cars, the red light, but none of that changes your situation, doesn’t get you to the appointment any faster. All it does is increase your stress and pain. But if you tell yourself “I accept that I really don’t want to be late AND I accept that I have no control over this traffic that is making me late,” you’ll arrive less stressed. (This also ties in to the practice of compassion for self. You are doing the best that you can to get to the doc on time.) Around betrayal it could be: You are having an epic internal battle. “I will never trust him again… but I want to trust him.”  “He has hurt me so much… but I want him to make me feel better.” “I always thought I would leave if he cheated and now he has I don’t know what to do.” The next step is to accept your inner reality, that all these things are true.  “I should leave him AND I don’t want to leave him.” The reality is that it is OK to be feeling ambivalent.
You’ll pass through grief, anger (and depression, sadness, exhaustion, FTS) and acceptance more than once and not in that order. It’s different for each of us and such a personal process. Don’t worry whether you are doing it right. If you are breathing, you are doing it right.

To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you. ~Lewis B. Smedes

A word on forgiveness. There’s a lot to it. It is complex and deserves its own post. What I will say here is that you have a lot of places to pass through before you even need to think about forgiveness. Forgiveness may happen, may eventually be something you do for yourself, but there’s a mess to sort and some healing to do first. Whether or not your partners can see that, support that or understand that. They do not get to decide what is best for you or where you should be emotionally at any given point. (Perhaps they, too, need to practice some radical acceptance. “I wish I didn’t have to see how much my choices have hurt my partner AND I need to support her healing, so I will have to witness how much I’ve hurt my partner.”) You are allowed to focus on you, what you need and your own healing process and not be beholden to their expectations or wish to avoid dealing with the harm they have done. Be kind to yourself. Accept not only that you are where you are but that you are exactly where you need to be.

It can be a four letter word, especially when it comes to grief. But it can also do amazing things. Time on its own will not heal you. It’s what you do in that time and for yourself that heals you. But I promise, if you take care of you, in time you won’t feel like this. In time, you will have a day where betrayal is not the first thing you think of when you wake. In time, you will feel joy. In time, you will feel ready to let it go, to forgive. Just don’t rush to those things before their time.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

You are entitled!

Esther Perel, couples counsellor and author of the just-released The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity, was being interviewed the other day and she said something that so many of us find difficult but that we absolutely need to hear. She said that, in the wake of a partner's affair, it's the perfect time for the betrayed partner to claim entitlement to what she wants and needs in her life. An affair, says Perel, is often the cheating partner laying claim to something that makes him feel more alive. It's the reconnection with that part of himself that feels excited by life that's a big part of the allure, she says, far more than the sex. But it isn't just the cheating partner who necessarily feels as though life has become routine and mundane – the betrayed partner frequently feels that too. We want to feel young and sexy and alive again too! We just don't necessarily think we'll find that in someone else's bed. Or we've been too busy taking care of everyone else that we've barely given much thought to our own feelings of loss.
But we deserve that. And so, post-betrayal, when we're negotiating reconciliation, is the perfect time to build into our marriage and our life what WE need going forward. It's time to feel entitled, in the best sense of the word.
The hard part, of course, is that too many of us respond to his affair by trying to be more lovable, more worthy of his attention. We mistakenly believe that he cheated because he'd grown bored with us and so we set about making ourselves more interesting, more sexy.
It's not necessarily a bad response but it's for the wrong reason. Rather than rediscovering ourselves for him, we need to do it for us. 
On Monday, StillStanding1 gave us a long list of affirmations she uses to treat herself with kindness and respect. I'm suggesting an action plan that provides the chance to reconnect with ourselves and take pleasure in who we are. 
Over and over on this site, I read of women who've taken up running again because it makes them feel strong and healthy. Or women who've rediscovered knitting or crocheting. (Incidentally, I'm often struck by how many of these activities that help women find themselves are meditative.) Or they've made time for friends again. Or gone back to work.
Let me repeat: This is NOT about making yourself worthy of loving by him. It is about getting back to the truth that you have always been lovable but that, just maybe, you've been neglecting yourself. It's about loving yourself, not proving yourself lovable. 
And I agree with Perel that, as you're negotiating this new marriage, it's time to make some demands. Along with the standard reconciliation pact, tell him he needs to make room for you to pursue your own interests, to have some fun, to keep yourself healthy. To feel alive.
The affair might have done that for him – helped him reconnect to a part of himself he'd lost. It was a huge mistake with painful consequences for everyone. But you can now take this chance to reconnect with yourself. If not now, when?

Monday, October 9, 2017

Guest Post: Becoming the Center of Our Own Story

by StillStanding1

I think one of the reasons d-day hit me so hard (aside from the obvious) is because I had completely let myself go. I don’t mean in the “gained weight, stopped wearing makeup, societal expectations” way, although there was certainly some of that going on. I mean in the “Alice In Wonderland, don’t forget who you are” way. I had this very physical sensation of being stripped bare. If I wasn’t a cherished wife and mother, who was I? All the things I had wrapped around me to keep me safe were exposed in that harsh light as a bunch of useless nothings – my extra weight, my social justice causes, my wine weekends, my efforts to cook nice meals, my unquestioning investment in his career, my kids' activities. So many things I can’t even recall at this point but all around being too busy to notice my own pain, too busy to see how things were coming apart, too busy to see how my needs were not being considered.
I can remember a point, just a few days after finding out and I was pouring my heart into the “pick me” dance (laser hair removal...actually glad I did this), botox, sexy underwear, weight loss (which was happening anyway thanks to anxiety), cooking elaborate meals, purchasing a book about “how to win your man back even if he’s in love with someone else” (eye roll) and doing nothing, absolutely nothing that might rock the boat or “scare” him away, like suggesting that he could not be in contact with her and live under the same roof with me, when I asked myself, “Well, if I am all stripped down, if I am a nothing, who do I want to be?”  And I realized I was tired of hurting, tired of being a victim and tired of feeling not good enough every goddamn day. I decided, without fully knowing what I was committing myself to, that I was finally going to be the heroine of the story I had always wished to be.
I had hit on the crux of the crisis, part of the “how did I get here”. I had not, for the longest time, been at the center of my own story. Husband, kids, family, coworkers, dogs, random strangers in the grocery store, everyone came before me. I had lost the ability to voice an opinion, even for simple things (where do you want to go to dinner? I don’t care. Where do you want to go to dinner?) and on the rare occasion I did voice an opinion, I was both super-apologetic and full of guilt. It was, in hindsight, an awful way to live. I think, like so many women, I had bought into the societal pressures to be the super-mom, always burning herself out for others, putting herself dead last behind kids and spouse. This falls under the BrenĂ© Brown category of “The danger of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as a metric for self-worth.” We are not worthy if we are not wearing ourselves to the bone for our families (in whatever shape they take). I had also, in the pursuit of wifely and motherly perfection, let go of the things that fed me, that helped define me. Things like art, photography, connecting with nature, friends, my own career.
Over time and with a lot of effort and a whole lot of falling down and getting back up again, I am, in general, much better at keeping myself in the center of my story. There are still old habits, particularly when I am dealing with old, dysfunctional relationships or people with very bad boundaries (my ex, my MIL) but I’m a work in progress and I’m proud to say I’m coming along nicely. 
What does keeping yourself at the center of your story look like? Here are some ideas, in no particular order:

1.     I am responsible for my own happiness
2.     No one is responsible for taking care of me except for me
3.     I am not responsible for the happiness of others
4.     What others think of me is none of my business
5.     I am allowed to make choices that are good for me
6.     I am committed to taking care of myself emotionally, physically and spiritually
7.     I am learning to make decisions and voice opinions
8.     I listen to my body
9.     I am kind to myself and interrupt negative self-talk
10.  I set boundaries
11.  I can listen to others and accept their feelings without agreeing or needing to “educate” or teach them
12.  I trust myself and my decisions and am willing to live with the consequences, even if things don’t go as planned or when they go better than planned
13.  I give myself permission to say no to people and things that’s aren’t right for me
14.  I accept responsibility for my choices
15.  I recognize that in a family unit, sometimes others’ needs are equal to our own, that sometimes I can make a choice to put someone ahead of me, but that for the majority of the time, it is healthy and acceptable to consider my own needs and wellbeing first
16.  When I try to fix things for others or protect them from the pain or consequences of their actions, I rob them of an opportunity for growth
17.  I try to accept people and relationships as they are not as I wish them to be
18.  I am learning to self soothe and reassure myself rather than seek reassurance and validation from others
19.  I have as much time as I need to make choices and decisions. I can wait and let things unfold. I don’t have to do or fix everything right this second
20.  I will stop judging and comparing myself to others
21.  I will no longer “fake it till I make it”
22.  I am beautiful, smart and courageous and I will not apologize for it
23.  I accept that I am enough and when people in my life can’t see it, that is their failure, not mine

Nowadays, I know when I am not keeping myself in the center of my story because my anxiety starts to rise. I start worrying about caretaking in co-dependent ways and trying to control things that are beyond my control. I feel my chest tighten and my gut gets grumbly. I stop sleeping well. I worry about the future. And I start to lose my grip on doing the things that serve me, like running, like painting, like meditating, like spending time with friends, like eating healthy food, like taking care of my home. Putting myself in the center has the remarkable side-effect of placing me in the here and now. What’s good right now? The sunshine, my coffee, my dumb dogs, this photo I just took, this meal I’m having with a friend. The other stuff, the big stuff, whether or not my ex gets his act together, that will play out and I neither want nor have any control over the outcome. These days, I’m not killing myself over it because his “stuff” is not central to my story anymore. I think this can be true whether you stay or go. His stuff needs to take a back seat to your stuff. Put yourself in the center of your own story and make it a good one.


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