Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Putting Down Your Pain

A friend gave me the most beautiful daybook over the holidays: The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo. I'd never heard of him before, but already – on January 4th – he feels like an old friend.
On January 2nd, he tells the story of a friend who was preparing to paint a room in his house. He went to the store to buy the supplies – the paint, brushes, rollers, drop-cloths, etc. He returned home, then loaded it all up in his arms to carry it into his house. Of course, he reaches the door and has no hands free to open it. He refuses to put any of the stuff down and struggles to get the door open. He juggles, he twists. Eventually, of course, everything crashes to the ground, including him.
The lesson?
Sometimes we've got to put our stuff down to open the door.
It's a pretty straightforward metaphor. But how many of us do it? I know I'm guilty of carrying a whole lot more than I should. I somehow determined that the more I carry, the more I'm a martyr. And I've spent a lot of time over the years polishing my inner martyr until it's blinding.
The problem is that being a martyr doesn't really get you where you want to go. Which, in the face of betrayal, is beyond the pain – or, to stick with our metaphor, through the door. Being a martyr – you know the one who constantly reminds your spouse that you could "never" have done what he – keeps our hands full and our heart closed.
Holding on seems like the easier option. Or at least the safer one. To put everything – or even some things – down to open the door seems like more work. We think that we'll have to pick everything back up again.
But by putting down some of our "stuff" – our bruised ego, for example; our clenched fury – we're then free to pick and choose what we truly need. When it's all spread out in front of us, rather than piled in our arms, we can see what is useful to us and what is perhaps weighing us down.
It's hard, if not impossible, to walk through the door into healing when you're holding on to:
• blame (a favorite of mine was reminding my husband that he'd "ruined" me)
• ego (too frequently I reminded my husband that the OW was truly repulsive, comments that never failed to make me feel small and petty)
• fear (how could I ever be sure he wouldn't do this to me again? Truth is, I can't ever be sure)
• regret (how often did I wish I could turn back time and scream "Not in this lifetime!!" to the "do you take this man..." question)
• and on and on.
Once I could see how much all this was holding me back, it became easier to put it down. It became easier to focus on that which would take me through the door and prove useful to me once inside. Such things as compassion (for myself, as much as for him), patience (Good LORD, healing takes time...), faith (that I would continue to heal despite setbacks), and wisdom.
Is there anything you're holding on to that you could put down (like your 5th martini, for example? Or that Twinkie?) to help you through the door? Consider it. There's no prize for getting through without effort. The prize is simply getting through at all.


  1. I go time travelling every night. I can't help myself. Wishing I could turn back time- To never have met my husband. To never have been fool enough to fall in love with him.
    Then I cry about what a silly girl I was to have believed his 8 years of lies.
    After that I move on to the reality of my situation- very upsetting- and go though my plans for the future. It seems to help me to keep reminding myself of what I have to work towards and how I will do it.

    A bit unrelated, but I feel that all my negative thinking, my miserable dreams and thoughts that are with me all day are poisoning me. I'm angry, I'm tired and I'm not myself, I am lonely and alone even though I may be with friends or family. I hate my husband more and more each day because of this misery. For the life of me I can not see the person that I married anymore. My husband is truly a different person when I look at him (when I can bear to look at him) and not someone that I love.

    My arms are very full of things and my grip on them is strong. I may be at the front door for a while yet...

  2. Marti,

    I'm not at all surprised that you feel "poisoned" by all the negative thoughts. I've read brain research that indicates that parts of our brains can't differentiate between fantasy and reality -- in other words, if we imagine something horrific, our brains/bodies often respond as if it were really happening. Similarly, if we imagine something wonderful, our bodies/brains are flooded with good stuff.
    In other words, I don't think dwelling on the negative is doing you any favors. I got to the point where I would imagine a large red STOP sign whenever I felt myself slipping into negative, bitter thinking. Sometimes I would even shout it at myself (if I was alone). It seemed silly but it actually worked. It doesn't diminish what happened to you and it's not going to make you suddenly feel all warm and fuzzy toward your husband...but it will help you "detox" yourself. And I'm sure you want to be clear and level-headed as you do figure out your future plans. And, no matter how much you think your husband is an a-hole, you'll still have to negotiate with him re. support/custody, etc. so it's in your best interests financially/emotionally to have as civil a relationship as possible.
    I guess my fear is that you're perpetuating your own pain by dwelling on how much you hate your husband. And I don't think you want to be that person. Ideally, if you can't resurrect your marriage (and if he's not willing to do the heavy lifting, it sounds as if you can't) you still want to create a relationship with him that's based on mutual love for your kids.
    Hang in there. I wish I could make this easier for you... :(

  3. My husband had an emotional affair for 2 years and a couple of other affairs (computer sex and going out for drinks) with women he found on adult sights. During this whole time, he was angry and verbally abusive to both me and our children.

    I found out in 11/09 about all of them after reading several saved messages on his phone. He promised to stop and focus on our marriage. I honestly felt he didn't care anything for me. I almost had an emotional breakdown and he didn't so much as hug me to comfort me.

    I found out again in 1/10 that the affair didn't stop. I emailed the other women and told her to stay away from my husband (she didn't listen of course). Again, my husband promised to be faithful. Months went on and I could tell he was never really "there". We were doing better, but I could tell something was still wrong. He was more careful with his phone. He would hide it at night, and delete anything written. He was also careful not to text or call her b/c he knew I was checking phone records.

    In 3/10, I found out I was pregnant. I was on the pill and took it perfectly. My husband hated me for getting pregnant. He accused me of doing it to keep him in the marriage (I didn't). During this whole time, my husband swore he was being faithful. I didn't believe him at all. All I could focus on was his affair and the fact that my baby wasn't growing. I truly believe that all of the stress I was under caused me to have a miscarriage. The miscarriage nearly destroyed me again. And again, my husband was still really distant and didn't have much patience for my grieving. He also didn't believe that stress killed the baby.

    Months went by again with my husband still at arms length away from me. We went away on vacations together both alone and with our kids. He never warmed up to us much. Finally, in 7/10 I saw an email from the same women. My suspicions were correct. This time I told him that he'd better send an email to her and end the relationship or else I was gone. I couldn't take it any more. It took him a week to give me an answer. He was so angry that I was making him choose. He did finally agree and he BCC'd me on the email. The only thing that made me smile with this was that his girlfriend got engaged right before he sent the email. He found out afterward because her boyfriend's facebook relationship status changed to engaged!

    Since then, things have gotten much better for us. He's almost back to the man I married. He is no longer verbally abusive, he is more loving with me and our children, and I don't feel the distance between us anymore. But, now I don't know how to let go of all of the pain he has caused me. I'm trying, but I'm haunted by my dead baby, his lack of caring and his abuse. I don't know how to trust him again. I desperately need advise on how to let it all go. I love my husband and our family. I want it to work, and I'm afraid that if I don't let go, I'm going to end up pushing him away.

  4. I'm so sorry for what you've gone through, particularly the loss of your baby. You've dealt with so much in a short period of time.
    The fact that your husband continued to lie to you after getting caught, that he continued to engage in something devastating to you and hurtful to his children (whether they knew it was going on or not) means that it's no surprise that you're having a tough time getting past this.
    For starters, though, it really hasn't been very long. I'm sure your brain and body are still reeling from the stress and hurt and fear that you've gone through. So please, be patient with yourself.
    Secondly, if you haven't already found someone to talk to, I would certainly advise it. If you can't afford a therapist, what about a church pastor. Perhaps your doctor could recommend someone who charges on a sliding scale.
    Thirdly, what is your husband doing to examine his behaviour? Those who don't learn from the past are destined to repeat it. What has he learned? Why was he looking outside the marriage to have needs met? What has changed in your marriage to ensure he won't do that again? What is he doing -- each day, EVERY day -- to assure you that you'll be safe with him. That he won't hurt you like that again.
    This is HIS responsibility. Without his acknowledgement of the pain he put you through via his cheating, his emotional unavailability, his lack of compassion for your pain, your marriage likely doesn't feel like a very safe place in the world.
    It sounds to me that you can only do what you can do in terms of healing. The rest is going to have to come from him -- total transparency (you should be able to look at his phone, computer, etc.) and a commitment to exploring his own issues.
    In the meantime, take charge of your own healing and do what you can -- a counsellor is invaluable -- to learn to trust yourself.
    Hang in there. You've survived a helluva lot and are clearly a strong woman. It's time to stand up for what you need in a marriage and stop accepting only what he's willing to give.

  5. Thank you for your advise! It is so helpful to know that what I am feeling is normal. I hope you don't mind that I'm venting here again. I really have nobody to talk to that understands or at least would give me positive advice. I don't want to hear "dump him" or "you could do so much better" (I hear that enough from my husband) I know I need to find a counselor.

    I've spent the last year and a half trying to prove to my husband that I love him, care for him, and appreciate him (the reasons he had the affair). We have a child with aspergers. My son's little life was spiraling out of control. I was consumed with helping him and getting his life in balance. I never meant to neglect my husband. Looking back I should have handled things differently and I realize I made mistakes, but it didn't warrant what he did to me. I have apologized over and over to him for my part in our problems.

    My husband believes he's trying and doing his very best to show what I mean to him. He and I have very different views on this topic. Let me start by saying that my husband does not handle emotional stuff very well- especially, when he is to blame. He gets very defensive and shuts down. Ever since I've know him, he has been very self absorbed. So given that, this is what he tells me: he says that the fact he's still with me is commitment enough. He thinks I should believe him this time that he is being faithful to me (he gets angry when I say that he lied to me 2x's before and I am having issues believing him). This time, I made him hold a Crucifix while he promised to be faithful. :) He actually gets angry any time I bring up the affair. He believes I should be over it by now and that all I do is bring it up to hurt him. He has apologized many times for hurting me. He says he embarrassed and ashamed for what he did, and he feels really bad for hurting me.

    Right after Christmas, I looked at his phone. I was convinced that the OW sent him something wishing him a Merry Christmas. I didn't find anything from her, but I did find an unsent email to her from my husband. He said he was sorry for everything. He regretted sending the email to her ending the relationship.(he told me he said this b/c of the way he handled the breakup; not b/c he ended the relationship- he basically said stop contacting me and that was it) He hoped she would read this email, and hoped that her fiance is treating her well. I died inside again after reading it. When I told my husband I saw the email. He was devastated. He told me he was having trouble with the holidays and was just venting his feelings. For the first time since this whole thing started, he told ME everything was going to be ok, and that he was so sorry he hurt me again. He was so loving and caring... This is a good positive sign- right?

    I know for this relationship to work it's going to take lots and lots of baby-steps. I just wish I could just start taking everything at face value and be happy for what I have today. I'm tired of over analyzing everything he says and does. I don't want to dwell in the past. I want to be here today. I want to be happy again. I just wish I could figure out how. I'm ready to let go- for me not for him. I want to be me again. I want to be the fun wife, mother and friend who loved doing things. I don't like being a sad pathetic shell of what I used to be. I love my husband and my kids. I want us to remain a family- a happy family. I don't know who that monster was that I lived with for 2 years. I just hope and pray he's gone forever.

    1. it was two years for me too maybe longer that I was living, still am , with someone I don't recognize anymore. I don't' know the way he thinks, what he really wants, what he likes --likes, even--who he likes (well really I know who that was) as time goes on, he feels the pain of not seeing her (working with her ) every day, remembering her raspy marlin monroe talk, and sexy act (the femmafatale of the office, the big prize, ) I don't know his favorite food, his dislikes, his favorite color, his dreams and goals that use to be ours,--maybe is this the way it goes when things don't work out no matter what. I've read , went to therapists, ministers, priests, rabbis, and libraries, and the internet, all I learn I realize that he wanted her, and it didn't work out. wow, he could of given her respect? gifts, --he tried, wanted to travel with her, basically show her off, hanging on his arm, try to keep up with her style, and weekend activities, help her raise a family if she wanted, and if he lived long enough. just wanted her to realize he was the man of her dreams. doesn't everyone want that dream come true. true love. to be loved by who you love. but to find out you're not loved by who you love. I don't ask him if he knows how I felt, cause he does.

    2. That sense of living with a stranger is so disturbing. And it's what prompted a friend of mine to suggest that what I was experiencing was post-trauma. In hindsight, I can see that she was right...and it helped me deal with what was happening so much better. To really understand that a trust violation (betrayal) threatens all that you felt you could trust in the world, all that you felt you know and all that you believed to be safe. That sense of safety, once disrupted, is very hard to recover. The world feels dangerous. We've learned we can't trust someone we believed in and we often feel that we can no longer trust our own judgement.
      To understand the depth of a trust violation and to treat it as trauma can go a long way toward restoring that sense of safety. And to also know that it takes a lot of time to learn to feel safe in the world again. It's important to clue in to those gut feelings that tell you something doesn't feel right...


  6. No need to apologize for venting here. That's what this site was created for – to offer a sense of community to women dealing with betrayal.
    I think we all want to feel better "now", rather than accepting that, as with any loss, we need to go through the stages of grief. You've got to grieve the loss of the marriage you thought you had, the loss of the man you thought he was, the loss of who you were before this. I've often heard it takes two to five years. I'm four years old and it has probably been in the past year that I'm starting to feel some sort of "normal."
    Baby steps is right. A few things you said about your husband (his ability to "hear" your pain without getting defensive or angry because it makes him feel bad) make me think he's still got a lot of stuff he should excavate from his soul. He's coming from a completely self-centred, shame-based stance – and until he can step out of that and face YOUR pain, I think it will be hard for both of you to really move forward with confidence. And though it's good that he acknowledges what he did, his desire to simply put it behind him, again, raises a red flag for me.
    And I can't stress enough that you did NOT cause his affair because you were hyper-focussed on a special needs child. Sure that probably made him feel lonely or neglected or whatever. But he's a grown man and it was up to him to communicate that to you. I know, I know... Ideal world and all that. But please don't ever accept that you "caused" anything. Keeping in mind that you have a special needs child, it's important that both of you make a point of staying connected as that can undoubtedly put even more stress on a marriage. But seeking out someone else is most definitely NOT the way to go...as you've both learned the hard way.
    Hang in there. Try to focus on the tiny things. I remember the day I felt that I was walking back into the tiniest sliver of sun. I was walking my dogs one winter morning and I noticed how pretty it was...with sun glinting off the freshly fallen snow. And I was aware that even noticing "pretty" was a step in the right direction.
    Stay focussed on those small things. Your child's hand in yours. A gorgeous blue sky. Anything that can give you a momentary bit of pleasure. Then hang on to it. Remind yourself of it. It will take root and grow.

    1. it was comforting to hear that sometimes it takes years 2-5 maybe, cause it has been 4 for me too and I only now thing that maybe I enjoy some of the stuff I remember i use to. I'm not the person I was, --could be if It weren't him I still cared for. his efforts seem to be sincere? to me they are void of meaning. I don't hold it over him. I praise him more than 40 years of marriage ever has done for him, still worship him, compliment him, and tell him I love him. he would never have to doubt that--that was probably problem #1. so you lose a promotion, and then a neighborhood, and close proximity to your family and friends and church. your family passes, (mine did too) --we all handle it in different ways. but I just wouldn't quit on someone I loved. sure your kids are blood, but my husband I were closer than blood. I would of died for him the same as I would for my children. only now it hurts me to think I'd have to rethink that now. I won't live long enough to truly trust and he knows that, to believe he is sorry for anything other than it not working out, it happened to both of us, not just him. narcisstic? entitled? selfish? insane? confused? lost? you still don't forget someone you love--who loves you. you just don't . you have their back and they have yours, and that's why I always never doubted him, never was jealous, (didn't have time for that, it didn't fit in a joyous happy life) probably another problem , realizing you have what others may never find,and you wake up realizing you don't value it, it means nothing, nothing then , nothing now, sad but it can't again, because in his own words, he convinced himself. we all have probably heard, Dante ' in the mid of life-- he awoke in a dark woods where the familiar signposts were no more' ? he was lost. I also heard it said, "then don't go into the woods." many don't, and if they suffer any kind of a MLC (midlife crisis) they realize it's a passage we all make, not a crisis they turn it into, and use as a poor excuse for their bad behavior. In reaching for his happiness, he threw away all we were,m all we are and all we could be. he scarred us , broke our hopes and dreams, destroyed our joy, and contentment and took away everything that was sacred, and bonded . he crossed the line, with no regrets -not once but time and time again, and couldn't wait to do it again. I sincerely want to believe he was insane, lost, confused, but ABOUT what? like he said,"is this all there is" "this is for me" "I'm entitled" TO WHAT? someone younger, someone prettier, nicer ankles, more energetic, smiles more--knowing he adores her. I smiles more when his face light up that way when he was listening (listening ) to me, like he listened to her, only that face light up and he listened and was mesmerized while I was standing right there supposedly listening to her. her words never registered cause I couldn't quite understand the glow on his face as he stared at her lips, and I'm wondering what is he looking at. what the hell is he looking at, where have her lips been and what have they known of each other, it all just doesn't stack up to this moment. ? he looked like that 35 years earlier when he looked at our son in the nursery, and he was one proud dad, the day that baby was born. someone took all that joy away, some deceiver, some spoiler, someone stole his very soul. and his simple choice wasn't simple at all, it was life.

    2. I don't mean this to sound stupid, but it sounds as if you're depressed. On the one hand, of course, you're depressed, having to deal with this. But on the other, by four years out, I would have hoped you could begin to see a brighter future. Five years is, of course, an estimate. Some of us heal more quickly, some take longer. But you sound so...bleak. Do you have any moments of joy? Do you truly believe he's sorry for what he put you through? You seem to be able to recognize that he was truly lost and crazy...but you also don't seem to quite accept that was enough to "destroy" what you believed was so special.
      Have you explored any of this with a therapist or counsellor? Someone who can help you really get to the root of your pain? I hate to see anyone give up on a future that includes joy...

  7. Great article! I love analogies and this one is great. I never really thought of it as "putting my stuff down" like that but I have come to some realizations just this week and last week that helped me turn a corner that I really needed to turn! I realized that after a year past d-day #3 (yes, lucky me I have 3) that I was beating up on myself so much. So much of this article resonated with me. Especially
    "It's hard, if not impossible, to walk through the door into healing when you're holding on to:
    • blame (a favorite of mine was reminding my husband that he'd "ruined" me)
    • ego (too frequently I reminded my husband that the OW was truly repulsive, comments that never failed to make me feel small and petty)
    • fear (how could I ever be sure he wouldn't do this to me again? Truth is, I can't ever be sure)
    • regret (how often did I wish I could turn back time and scream "Not in this lifetime!!" to the "do you take this man..." question)"

    I can't tell you how many times I said to him, "How nice for you. You get to get better, and the better (healthier) you get, the worse I get." And this ditty--"You get better at my expense. THANKS."

    How can I get better with all this going on in my mind? He said to me, "I know it seems that way and I'm sorry. But don't you want me to get better? Doesn't it ultimately help you as I get better?" Crickets. Sad to admit, but yeah. It does. ASSHOLE!!!! LOL

    Yes we do need to "put our stuff down" to heal. Thank you for a great and insightful article.

    1. Inflicted,
      Thanks for your kind words. Glad it helped. Sometimes the right words hit our hearts/heads at the right time.




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