Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Create a Cocoon: Recreating Your Soul After Heartbreak

So often, after betrayal, we rage against the unfairness of it all. It was HIS mistake, we wail, but I'M paying the price.
True that...and no amount of screaming at the universe is going to change it (though go ahead and scream. It can feel good in the short term). Sometimes horrible things happen to people who don't deserve it. Car accidents, disease, madmen with guns. It IS unfair...but it's also life.
What if, however, we completely altered the paradigm of our pain. What if, and I realize this is radical, we recognized this pain as the chance for growth. To re-create a self that's stronger, wiser, less eager to please others, more eager to please ourselves.
Sue Monk Kidd, bestselling author of The Secret Life of Bees, writes often about spiritual transformation. I've written before about her book The Dance of the Dissident Daughter here and here.
She says this in When the Heart Waits:
She didn't understand that there was a journey to be made here. A waiting, a gestating, a slow and uncertain birthing. That is where [grace] was to be found. Not in the erasing of the experience, but in the embracing of it.
A cocoon is no escape...It just takes time....
But we have to be patient. We have to let go and tap our creative stillness. Most of all, we have to trust that our scarred hearts really do have wings.
Perhaps it is just with hindsight that I can consider her suggestion that we look at pain not for what it has taken from us, but for what it can give us. Perhaps that would have seemed crazy when I was in the heart of my pain. But perhaps not. Perhaps it would have allowed the blackness of my days to crack open a tiny bit, to allow the tiniest bit of light in to illuminate the possibility that from pain comes growth. My daughter, after all, is experiencing growing pains as we moves toward her teens. We certainly experience pain when we're birthing a baby.
What Kidd suggests is that we create a cocoon, something I did almost instinctively after D-Day. I cut off the world and retreated into that which nourished and protected me. My kids, my mother, one special friend. And then...waiting. And that's where so many of us wonder if our pain will be interminable. We wait. And we wait. And we wait. And it seems as if nothing is happening.
Waiting, Kidd reminds us, isn't passive. Indeed the word "passive", she points out, comes from the same root as "passionate", meaning "to endure." Few of us would argue that we're not "enduring." That we can believe.
Waiting is thus both passive and passionate... It involves listening to disinherited voices within, facing the wounded holes of the soul, the denied and undiscovered, the places one lives falsely.
It can be there, in that cocoon, that we can metamorphose into something with wings.

Friday, August 17, 2012

From Hell to Happiness: Advice from a Betrayed Wife

In my last post, one of our commenters, Eat My Scabs (love that name!) noted that she'd moved through the numbness, a stage that trips so many of us up and holds us too long.
I asked how she'd done this, as I feel I've lost some of my former passion for life.
Here's what she said. Wise and do-able. We would do well to take her advice, perhaps one piece at a time if that's all we can manage.
Thanks Scabs!

Emotions can be so crazy, can't they? For me, post D-Day was the most difficult phase to get through. It's like you say, bland. I felt lost and numb. Like residual Novocaine spreading into my gut and through my limbs. A coma. 
I remember spending lots of time on my couch in my sweatpants with a bag of cheesy popcorn. Staring at the ceiling, comatose. This isn't wrong. There is a time for wallowing and grieving our losses.
I remember the day I decided to get up. The thought had to come to my brain and then I told my brain to tell my heart and then my heart told my feet to get up and change my life and be happy. 
There have been many phases since that day, anger, bitterness, loss of hope, loss of respect, hatred, nothingness...
I can create a peaceful life around me even though Mr. Scabs' life may be hectic and hellish. It's not my life. Sure it's part of my life, but it's NOT my life. 
My friend made a list about this very thing. She outlines 8 things that made her accountable for her own happiness even after her husband of 6 weeks left her with no explanation:
•Only engage in relationships that make you feel uplifted. Let go of the people who pull you down.
•Make better use of your time. Minimize your obligations to the most important tasks and get rid of all time-wasters.
•Train your mind to think positively and look for the good in yourself and in the world. Purge your mind of toxic thoughts and stop being self-destructive.
•Try to improve your better habits and minimize your poor habits. You will feel better about the person you are.
•Be courageous! Don't be afraid to walk against the crowd if your values don't align. Live what you think is good!
•Be emotionally independent. Don't let yourself rely on another person for happiness. Be in control!
•Think more compassionately! Imagine what it's like in another's shoes. Be patient with people.
•Serve. Be completely bold and sincere when loving and caring for other people.
I believe thoughts are more tangible and real than we think. Not that we can actually touch them, but that our thoughts become real. Focusing on MY happiness, on my life makes me happy. I had a hard time with this because i felt like it was selfish, but it isn't. It's our gateway to freedom. 
Plus, as we can see, giving anyone the the power to make us happy/or unhappy seems like a loss of my own free agency. Does this make sense? Am I rambling?
I know we feel numb from this trauma – but if we start the seed of happiness in our minds, we will be able to feel passionately again. 
Numbness is part of grieving and then as time goes by it seems like numbness just became a habit of protecting myself. I remember being afraid to take the leap and start feeling again – it's like a step into the unknown.
Opening ourselves to feel is scary – but life will become more full when we do open. And when the bad comes our way (no one is exempt) we will be able to feel it and it won't destroy us. We will know how long we can "wallow in it" (which I like to do for a bit) and then we will know when it's time to stand up, choose happiness and move on.
Pain scars all of us. It may come in a million different ways – death, disease, betrayal, loss, addiction...but it feels intensely our own. We need each other. Sharing our pain lightens the load. 
I guess, ultimately, I want to feel joy, so my brain starts to think of joyful things and my body starts to feel it and then before you know it I'm happier than a bird with a french fry. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

How Naming Your Pain Can Heal You

Regardless of whether an injury is physical or emotional, what keeps us from healing is that all wounds that don’t heal are burdened with a foreign body that needs to be cleaned out, at the root of the problem, says Wendy Strgar in this post on her Good Clean Love site. 

We're often trained to minimize our pain. Well-meaning parents (or some not-so-well-meaning) urge us to "stop crying", "it's not so bad" and "get over it." We learn that our tears, indeed our pain, make others uncomfortable. So we stop crying, telling ourselves it's not so bad but rarely do we get over it that easily.
That's because what caused the wound is still there, like a sliver in a finger that, if left, will simply fester as the body rallies to destroy the foreign object.
Emotional pain can be harder to deal with than physical injury because there's nothing to point to, no blood, no broken bone. The culprit himself, our husband, is often so busy deflecting blame and minimizing the damage that he simply compounds the problem. He too urges us to "stop crying", tells us "it's not so bad" and insists that we "get over it." Or he accuses us of staying "stuck in the past", insists that we're "dwelling on the pain." But the past, unless effectively dealt with, is our present.
Dealing with it can be so painful, however, that we avoid it, staying in a some sort of limbo where we can't move forward, but we also don't deal directly with our injury.
Naming that injury is crucial. I resisted calling my husband's affairs "betrayal" or agreeing with a friend that what I was experiencing was "post-trauma". It all seemed too dramatic. Trauma was for war veterans and rape victims, not run-of-the-mill wives of philandering husbands. But finally admitting – and naming – my pain was a pivotal point for me. It was sweet relief to acknowledge the depth of what I'd been through...and to be able to point the way forward. What's more, my response to what happened began to make sense. I no longer thought there was something wrong with me that I couldn't "get over it", I understood that my pain was so deep and so profound that I needed self-compassion not criticism.
There is no "right" way to deal with this. There is only our own truth. For many, many of us, betrayal is trauma. It is an emotional injury that, left untended, will fester and continue to infect our relationships with others and with ourselves. It will manifest itself in unhealthy behaviours...and in poor health: headaches, ulcers, anxiety issues, GI problems.
When we treat our injury, and our response to it – guilt, rage, shame, resentment – like a foreign body that threatens our well-being, we become more willing to go deep to remove it. It's frightening to go to that place where our darkest feelings rest...but there is no other way forward. At least no other healthy way.
And know this: When you shine a light on that darkness and name the injury, your heart cracks open enough to let the sun in.


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