No-one can say I'm not an optimist. When I first began seeing a therapist, in my mid-20s, I was in a lousy relationship with a guy I was nuts about and just beginning to acknowledge that maybe my parents' alcoholism and volatile marriage wasn't exactly the best blueprint for an adult relationship. I figured I'd be in counselling for a month, maybe two. Then I'd be "healed" of my crappy childhood and could move forward into a perfect life.
You can imagine how that turned out.
Over the next two decades, each life stage seemed to call forth unhealthy responses in me based on unhealed injuries from my past.
And then, of course, came the whopper on December 11, 2006, when I discovered that my husband was cheating on me.
My childhood issues – fear of abandonment, insecurity, a desperate need to be perfect, an inability to "give up" – came back with a vengeance. Suddenly it was as if all those hard years of therapy, where I really thought I was getting somewhere – were for naught. I was, I believed, right back where I started, wondering where the hell I'd gone so wrong.
I wasn't, of course. I may not have reached the magical land of "healed" but I certainly wasn't back at the starting line either.
I'm often asked on this site about healing and being "healed". So many of us think of "healed" as this magical place where our husband's transgressions will dissolve into the ether and we'll face our future, confident and happy, having vanquished the past.
It's a wonderful fantasy. But bears virtually no resemblance to the truth.
My mother was a dedicated alcoholic. She wasn't someone about whom people might wonder if she had a "drinking problem". She embraced booze with the same enthusiasm and commitment she had previously brought to the PTA and local politics. She drank vodka in her morning coffee, fell down the stairs at 3 a.m. on her way to her secret stash for "one more drink" to help her sleep. In fact, drunk became her normal. Ultimately she threw herself into her sobriety with the same ferver to which she'd dedicated herself to booze. She attended 12-step meetings two or three times daily. She read her Big Book. She talked for hours with her sponsor.
Years later, after she'd been sober close to two decades and had long since replaced her time spent becoming sober with book clubs, friendships and grandmothering her beloved grandkids, I asked her why she didn't occasionally join the rest of us in a glass of wine. I was sure, I said, that she'd never go back to drinking like she had.
My mother looked at me and she said, "The thing with an alcoholic – no matter how long sober – is that you never know. One drink just might lead to another. Then another." For her, it simply wasn't worth the risk.
That, my friends, is "healed". She no longer thought about drinking. She didn't miss drinking. She'd long since woven that part of her personality into the quilt of her life. But...she also knew it was never really in the past. That it was by sheer force of will that she was refusing to allow it into her present. She loved her life too much to even take the chance.
We, too, can reach that place where we don't think much about our husband's betrayal. We can relegate it to our past. But it will always be crouching in the shadows with the possibility of intruding upon our present. Our future will hold occasional triggers that remind us of our pain...and what we've overcome. They'll become fewer and further between. But thinking that "healed" is anything more than a process forever evolving is fooling ourselves. And most of us, I think, have vowed never to be fooled again.