Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tend To the Wound: Your First Step to Healing

I always love to receive e-mails from readers that thank me for "getting it" and for putting their pain into words. I love it because, if I can take what was total agony for me and turn it into something positive, something that helps other people feeling the same agony, then I can almost convince myself that it was worth it. And I love it because I'm so incredibly grateful when someone puts my pain or my experience into words. It makes it real. It makes me feel less alone. It makes me feel less crazy, which is no small thing.
So I was thrilled when I read this post from Bindu Wiles. Wiles is one of those magical writers that takes our messy world and distills it with words into a thing of beauty. In this post, she shares a story that works as a perfect parable, with the moral being we must truly tend to our wounds.
At no point in my life did I need this lesson more than when I first learned of my husband's affair(s). Instead, like so many of us, I focused on the marriage. I needed to save the marriage, I believed. I needed to protect my children. I needed to protect my husband, who was having to face the consequences of his actions at work. I did exactly the opposite of what Wiles recommends. Rather than tend to the arrow in my heart, I made sure that anyone who might even witness the arrow was told that they were imagining it. I was fine. I smiled at acquaintances at the grocery store, though later I couldn't recall a word I'd said. I chatted with my kids' teachers. I assured friends who cautiously asked if I was "alright" that yes, of course I was. Just a bit tired. And each night, I begged and pleaded with my husband to explain to me why he shot the arrow.
In hindsight, I should have closed out the world as best I could and tended to the arrow.
And though it's a lesson I didn't learn then, as fate would have it, I can learn it now. As our new marriage counsellor recently informed my husband and I, we haven't even begun our "recovery work."
For weeks now, we've sat in her office, me with an arrow in my heart, my husband holding the bow...and talked about anything but. We've talked about division of labor. We've talked about respect. We've talked about our renovations until my head was going to explode. And then last week, I brought up the arrow. And at that point she looked at both of us and said, "we haven't even begun..."
No surprise to me. The wound around the arrow has grown tough. But recently it has started to hurt again. I've felt hopeless and helpless. Wounded and weak.
I should have tended my wounds better back then.
But I can tend them now. And I will.
I hope you will, too.


  1. I am one of the wounded your posts have healed and validated. I am so sorry that you are going through this prolonged agony. I wish you well in your healing journey. One of the so-called "gifts" of this agonizing journey has been the wisdom I am gleaning from others' pain.

  2. Thank-you. So glad to know that you feel healed and validated. Hallelujah for that!
    I hope you all know how much joy I gain from the conversations that take place on this site.
    And my post is not to say that I'm not healING. I'm just not healed. The good news is that my healing is taking me further along toward wholeness than I would have been, I suspect, without this...episode...in my life. I'm recognizing things in my life (disrespect, lack of courtesy, minimizing...) that was taking place without me really noticing. I knew I felt increasingly invisible in my world...but wasn't sure why.
    Now, I'm hyper-aware of certain behaviours and bringing them into the light. In the short term, this is creating stress in my marriage (it's called "rocking the boat" in psycho-parlance). But if we can successfully deal with them, I...and my marriage...will be the better for it.

  3. Elle, I love this analogy so much that I think I may print out your and Bindu's posts and take them to MY next therapist appointment. Yelling at my husband for shooting the arrow isn't really getting me anywhere anymore.

    Question - In reading this post and rereading the "Make the World Gasp" (8.3.10) post, you refer to your husband's job and the consequences he suffered. My circumstances seem a bit similar to what I imagine yours may have been. I'm wondering if you've ever done a post on how you handled other people (co-workers, bosses, etc) knowing about the affair before you did, if in fact that was the case in your situation.

    Or if that was not the case in your situation, perhaps you know of another woman who had lots of people know about the affair before she did. I'm wondering how you (she) handled that when faced with seeing some of those people after Dday.

  4. Pippi,

    Not a lot of people knew at his work...except his affair partner (his assistant), perhaps a few of her friends who also worked there, and some people who had left years before I found out. I was able to pretty much write off the other people who knew and who said/did nothing. They had wound up together when they were having an affair years earlier. And I suspect that's what my husband's assistant was hoping for, too. Because I never particularly liked the other people (gee...wonder why!), I simply wrote them off as jerks. And I'll never really know who actually knew, who suspected and who was oblivious...and now, almost five years out, it no longer really matters. There are times when it's uncomfortable and I get angry about it all over again. But mostly I'm proud of how I've handled myself and accept that all I can ever really control is how I conduct myself.
    How have you handled it thus far? Were any of the people close to you? Friends? That would be hard, I think. And I remain convinced that "minding our own business" is not the way to go...though I'd be loathe to get myself in the midst of another person's heartbreak.
    Curious what your situation is...

  5. Elle -- This post has been nagging at me and I need some clarification on what you meant/mean.

    "In hindsight, I should have closed out the world as best I could and tended to the arrow."

    What exactly would you have done differently? I think you are five years out and having not tended to the wound confuses me a bit because I think you went to counseling with and without your husband. You've read all the books. You created this blog for community and getting the thoughts out of your head and onto paper, I assume. What specifically would you have done to tend? I'm doing all the same things you are with the exception of the blog and I'm at a loss for what else I can be doing.

    I have closed myself off from the world and am licking my wounds but my therapist (we are on #2 because the first one didn't really get it) is telling me I need more support and I need to reach out and find it.

    But, I'm open. So very open to understanding exactly what tending to the wound means/looks like for women like us.

  6. Hi Pippi,
    Yes, I did all those things. But I think where I went wrong is made clear in these words:
    "Instead, like so many of us, I focused on the marriage. I needed to save the marriage, I believed. I needed to protect my children. I needed to protect my husband, who was having to face the consequences of his actions at work. I did exactly the opposite of what Wiles recommends. Rather than tend to the arrow in my heart, I made sure that anyone who might even witness the arrow was told that they were imagining it."
    I was TERRIFIED of losing the marriage. TERRIFIED of losing my kids. I was so afraid of what I might lose...that I hung on for dear life. And I think I focussed on saving the marriage instead of saving myself.
    It's in hindsight that I wish I'd actually left, though likely temporarily. I wish I'd given myself the space to truly determine whether this was something I could get past...and gain the courage and confidence to know that I would be okay on my own. I know that now...but I think it took me longer to get there...and here we are still putting our marriage back together.
    It's a common theme in my life: take care of everyone else's pain and deny my own. So yes, I was in counselling (which was great, though I think I wasted some time -- again focused on my husband); we were in marital counselling, though I spent more time wanting assurance that he could do this and still love me than actually working on where to go from here.
    And with my mom passing away so soon after my second D-Day, I was just such a wreck. She passed away the same day a book I'd written was released so I was doing radio interviews, etc. hours after leaving the hospital. Again...I wish I had tended to the wound.
    Not sure that anything would necessarily be different – I just think I would have got there faster and felt more sure of myself when I arrived. I still struggle with that awful feeling that I "let" him do this to me.
    Does that clarify it at all?

  7. Yes, thanks. My new therapist recommended "Intimacy After Infidelity" by Solomon & Teagno. I'm half way through and it has a chapter on self-intimacy. The book says "self-intimacy is the moment-to-moment awareness of one's feelings, thoughts and needs as well as the willingness to acknowledge and own these to oneself and with one's partner." Basically - that it's difficult if not impossible to be in a healthy relationship if you are not in a healthy relationship with yourself.

    My therapist also said that my husband and I are still having trouble working on the relationship because we are not 'whole' people. I am too broken at the moment by the trauma of it all and he is dealing with a substance abuse issue (vodka is my other, other woman). Now, I'm wondering if your post and the therapist comments aren't the universe trying to tell me the same thing: 'stop focusing so much on the marriage and heal yourself.'

    So, I have a second therapist that I will start seeing alone to help me with the support issue and the trauma. And, I plan to start trying to practice the self-intimacy recommended by the book. All good arrow tending, I hope. I'll keep you posted.

    Also, if you haven't read that book and you decide to pick it up, wait to read the introduction when you are alone and have some time. The first three pages took my breath away. I had to stop reading and breathe. I've never had THAT reaction when reading a book. It's that dead-on.

    Tonight I have to go to a thing at school where I will see people who knew before I did and may have actually been in on sending me the anonymous note. I will be channeling Lisbeth Salander for her aspergers-like quality of not caring what other people think. Not being successful at that is what TERRIFIES me.

  8. I will pick that book up. Sounds interesting. And I agree wholeheartedly, though I'm just learning what self-care/self-intimacy looks like.
    Given your husband's alcohol issues, it's no wonder you're feeling like you've got a ways to go. It's impossible to have a healthy relationship with an addict. Their loyalty, until they get sober (and stay that way long enough), is to their substance of choice. My mother was an alcoholic (no surprise, I married a sex addict. I was so grateful he wasn't much of a drinker. Joke's on me, I guess!) and I spent most of my childhood trying to get her to choose me over vodka. Self-care/intimacy was foreign.
    So I'm in the same boat as you. Trying to recognize my needs and respect them. Trying to convince myself that my job is to care for myself before everybody else. As my therapist says, I'm responsible TO my husband and kids, not FOR them.
    Re. tonight: We're there right with you. Be strong and hold your head high. You have NO idea what's going on in their own lives (and I suspect it would make your hair curl!). You can't make yourself not care...but you can ACT as if you don't care. Fake it til you make it. And you will make it. You're an incredibly strong person dealing with enormous pain – just like anyone with tragedy/trauma in their life. Those who can't approach you with compassion are likely damaged or in denial or both. But that's not your problem. Don't think about where you were, be proud of where you are today.
    End of pep talk. Keep me posted!

  9. Thanks, Elle! I've decided my mantra for the evening is: "Curly Hair." I have very straight hair and it would take a lot of crazy sh!t going on in their lives to make my hair curl -- maybe even crazier than the sh!t going on in mine. I love the idea of repeating the mantra to myself as I "act" like I don't care -- thanks. I'm going with it . . .

    Curly Hair, Curly Hair, Curly Hair . . .

  10. My other, other woman (vodka) reared her ugly head this afternoon. My husband was pulled over and sent to detox with a DUI. This should make healing from the affair even more of an adventure. I have the towel in my hand and my arm is poised to throw it in. Any advice welcome

  11. Hi Pippi,

    Oh no...
    No-one could blame you for throwing in the towel...least of all you.
    As a child of two alcoholic parents (and wife of a sex addict), I don't think you can ever battle another's addiction for them. He has got to commit to sobriety and you have got to have firm consequences/boundaries in place (in order to feel some measure of control in your life) for any time he slips. Is he in any sort of 12-step program? Has he made any commitment to you regarding staying sober? Is he able to trace back the steps that lead him to taking a drink? In the end (my mother's words), it doesn't much matter what leads him to drinking as long as he still believes he can take that drink...but understanding it allows both of you to, perhaps, have some sort of accountability in place -- though that's generally something his sponsor would do if he's in a 12-step program.
    The long and the short of it is – with a nod to Ann Landers – is your life better with him in it or out of it. Not at this exact moment but generally speaking. If the answer is no, it's time to get out and create a life that feels safe and healthy and sane. If the answer is yes, well...time to figure out how he's going to battle his addiction.
    Do you go to Al-Anon or any other support group for spouses of addicts? Sounds like you could use support.
    Of course...I'm at the other end of your mouse. :)

  12. Thanks, Elle.

    I've been struggling with his drinking for a while now. Since I was sent the anonymous note telling me of the affair and consequences, his drinking got much worse. His way to escape the guilt and shame was to drink more. The DUI has given me some clarity on why my life has been turned upside down. This IS what happens to people who have a problem with alcohol -- their lives, relationships, jobs, etc, etc etc suffer from it.

    It's also unburdened me quite a bit. I've, strangely, felt a huge sense of "wow, this and the affair really is his issue." It wasn't my failings as a wife, partner, mother . . . it was his problem with alcohol that contributed greatly to the affair and ALL of the resulting problems. Re-framing it as the result of his addiction has been really helpful for my self-esteem.

    I don't know where I go from here. I'm working on that with my therapist and right now I'm just trying to take one minute at a time. But, I have started implementing more of my escape plan so that when I decide what I'm going to do, I'm ready to do it if leaving if the choice I make.

    I am planning to go to Al-Anon meetings. I found one right up the road. Whether he will go to AA or get help with anything other than what is court ordered remains to be seen.

  13. If he doesn't want to become sober...after everything alcohol is doing to take away what he cares about (including his freedom!), then you're in for a lonely marriage. My mother wound up in a psychiatric hospital where I had to introduce myself to her each time I visited because she had messed her brain up so badly. She ultimately did get sober...but she'd have been the first to say that addicts have to hit their own "bottom" before they smarten up. I think what Al-Anon helps with is ensuring you're not "protecting" him from hitting bottom by sparing him some of the more unpleasant consequences. I still struggle with that, having learned from my parents. I have to remind myself to let my kids (and my husband) deal with the consequences they create -- whether that's not delivering forgotten homework to school, not picking them up on rainy days though I know they refused to wear rainboots, not defending my husband to my kids when they're mad at him for being late for a soccer game or piano recital.
    The thing I didn't like about Al-Anon was the, occasional, person who took living with an alcoholic like it made them a martyr. As long as it's promoting your healing (rather than keeping you in a lousy marriage), then I think it's a good thing.
    I'm so sorry you're going through this. As if the affair wasn't enough...

  14. Pippi...
    One more thing: I'm so glad you've managed to get to the place where you realize his affair really wasn't about you. It's a great feeling, isn't it? You're off the hook! :)

  15. Elle,
    "It's a common theme in my life: take care of everyone else's pain and deny my own."
    HELLO!! Thank you for helping me open my eyes. I knew I was on to something, but to actually read it and smack me in my face.
    I have been focusing on "fixing" the marriage, "fixing" my husband. Little did I know that I too need to be "fixed". That is now my focus. If my husband would like to join me by my side, he is more than welcome to. He just needs to fix himself, and not sit back and wait for others to fix him like he always has.
    I have read your entire list of blog postings in 3 sittings in 2 days. You speak to me like nobody else has. Books, internet, other women going through the aftermath of affairs, friends, family... Nobody could relate to me and my story. How I was feeling. You do. I'm so thankful to have found you :)

    1. Sherry,
      You have no idea what your words mean to me. It's so important to me to do this blog (despite my husband often insisting it keeps me "stuck in the past") for exactly the reasons you outlined in your letter. None of us should go through this alone. We can learn from each other and coax each other further along the path toward healing...so that we grow better not bitter (sorry, I know that sounds like a greeting card or something...but nonetheless true).

  16. Elle,
    Once again I just wanted to let you know how you've helped me heal. You woke up many things in my head. I have gotten past a lot of pain and hurt and I wanted to thank you. Thank you for writing and sharing and helping me see I'm not alone. None of us going through this is alone. We just need to find each other.
    I think what you wrote in your reply was positive and uplifting, not a cheezy card :-P
    I want to grow better, not bitter and I am on that path now.

    1. Sherry,

      That's great to know.

      Unfortunately, there are too many of us. And you're right...we just need to find each other.

      I'm glad you found this site.


  17. This speaks to me. I'm working on my own codependent symptoms (which I'd denied I had up until now). I realize that I need to be able to be happy on my own, even though my husband and I are planning to stay together and make this work. I can't rely on him for my happiness anymore. I had no self-esteem after 19 years of extreme emotional, mental, and physical abuse from my mother. I only had what Pia Melody calls in her book Facing Codependence as "other-esteem". Any esteem I had in myself came from things outside of myself. My accomplishments, my relationship with my husband and son, the life I'd built. I had no esteem for just me, for who I am as a person. So when my husband cheated on me, I didn't just feel like he threw our marriage away, I felt like he threw ME away. That I had given him everything I had and he threw who I am as a person away. I felt utterly worthless.

    This is the wound I'm tending to now. I know I need to recognize that I have value just for who I am, not for what I do or what I give to others. Just me. This has been a radical shift in my thinking, and it hasn't been easy, but I think I'm slowly starting to actually believe I have worth, and that my husband's cheating can't take away from that.




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