“So whatever you do, don’t shut off your pain; accept your pain and remain vulnerable. However desperate you become, accept your pain as it is, because it is in fact trying to hand you a precious gift: the chance of discovery, through spiritual practice, what lies behind sorrow. ~Sogyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying
Kinda sounds crazy, doesn't it? Opening yourself up to your pain? We human beings will do just about anything to avoid feeling pain. We'll shop. We'll eat. We'll inject chemicals into our veins. We'll have affairs. We'll watch TV. We'll check e-mail every five seconds. Anything to avoid feeling that horrible sense of loss, or emptiness, or betrayal.
And yet, teacher after teacher, from Jesus through Buddha through Eckhart Tolle through Rinpoche, tells us to do exactly that. To open ourselves up to the pain we're feeling. To let it wash over us and in so doing, realize finally that it won't wash us away. That when it has passed – and it will pass – we'll still be standing. What's more, we'll be standing with the awareness that we are bigger than that. That we can withstand pain/loss/betrayal more excruciating than we ever imagined. Pain that brought us to our knees doesn't haven't to keep us there.
What I'm not advocating is obsessing. I'm not suggesting that you pour over the details of your husband's affair like a forensic detective – seeking out every detail, every possible scenario. That is called pain shopping it's not feeling pain but manufacturing it. It's distracting you from feeling because it's giving you the illusion that you're doing something. You're not. You have all the evidence you need right now.
What I am advocating is to let yourself get in touch with that tiny part of you that has likely spent a lifetime avoiding exactly the type of pain you're experiencing now. That part of you that was, perhaps, betrayed by a parent. Or a sibling. Or someone else close to you when you were a kid and who you trusted – indeed needed – to keep you safe. And they didn't.
The women who struggle the most to get past betrayal are, I believe, those for whom betrayal reopens old wounds that many of us pretend we don't even have.
And I'm about to say something even crazier than opening yourself up to pain. What I'm going to say is as shocking to me as to anyone else.
My husband's affairs were good for me.
If it wasn't for me finally facing long-buried pain and shame from childhood, I wouldn't be – perhaps – the happiest I've ever been. No, not happy. Happy is for birthdays. But peaceful. I've never felt so at peace with myself and at home in the world.
It's a wonderful feeling...and a new one for me.
And it's because I allowed the pain to wash over me. To fearfully (there was nothing fearless about it!) go back and revisit all the pain from being betrayed as a kid that was triggered by my husband's betrayal.
And what I discovered was that I survived. It was horrible and painful and confusing and frightening and no child should feel like that ever...but I survived.
You did too.
And you'll survive this as well.