Monday, March 18, 2013

Help: Your First Prayer

There’s freedom in hitting bottom, in seeing that you won’t be able to save or rescue your daughter, her spouse, his parents, or your career, relief in admitting you’ve reached the place of great unknowing. This is where restoration can begin, because when you’re still in the state of trying to fix the unfixable, everything bad is engaged: the chatter of your mind, the tension of your physiology, all the trunks and wheel-ons you carry from the past. It’s exhausting, crazy-making.
Help. Help us walk through this. Help us come through.
It is the first great prayer.
~Anne Lamott, from Help, Thanks, Wow

Easy for her to say. Easy for any of us to say, perhaps, from the far shore of healing. Easy to see that the freedom was there, after hitting bottom. The freedom to wave the white flag. To take to bed. To pull the covers over our head and wait until the world made sense again.
But when it's happening to us, when we're in that moment of falling-but-not-quite-yet-hitting-bottom, it's not freedom we're feeling but sheer terror.
We're terrified that there is no bottom. We're terrified that what we think is bottom can still get worse. We're terrified that we're trapped. That we just won't be able to find our way out of the darkness of betrayal. That if we were wrong about this, about him, what could we possibly be right about?
But Lamott, who knows a thing or two about hitting bottom having done it plenty in her life, is right. There is freedom in abdicating responsibility for anyone but ourself. What's more, once we recognize that freedom, which means free from saving or rescuing anyone else, we realize that we're not trapped at all. We have choices. They might not all sound like a picnic in a park, but that's okay. Life isn't always about picnics. Sometimes it's about pain. And sometimes it's about using that pain as a compass pointing us in the direction away from it. Pain can be acute, as in discovering a spouse's affair. And it can be a dull ache, something we've grown accustomed to and hardly notice anymore. When we ignore that dull pain, the one that stops us just shy of truly feeling fulfilled, life sometimes delivers a blow we can't ignore. Like a spouse's affair. That one will knock us to the ground and leave us gasping.
Life's got our attention now.
Which is where the freedom comes in.
It was never our job to save or rescue anyone. To tell them, cajole them, beg them, plead with them, manipulate them, charm them or otherwise spend our precious time on how they should be spending theirs.
Lamott calls it "the place of great unknowing". And for so many of us, we can't imagine anything more terrifying. Not knowing means that anything – ANYTHING – could happen. Except, for you reading this, it likely already has happened. He had the affair. Or affairs. Or is still having it. And you're realizing just how much more painful it is than anyone of us thought it would ever be.
That's the bad news.
The good news is that, as Lamott reminds us, the place of great unknowing is where restoration is free to begin. While we're still holding on with white knuckles, our minds and hearts racing, we're not open to restoration. We're focused on survival. And survival, for me at least, meant controlling everyone and everything around me. Out of control was out of the question.
So finding myself out of control was at first terrifying. Then (after a long time while I refused to recognize that I was truly out of control – I'm a slow learner) it became liberating. I didn't need to have all the answers. I didn't have to be ultra-capable. I could let go and fall. I could hit bottom and I could whisper at first then shout, "Help".
And it arrived. First in the form of my mother. Then in the form of a wonderful friend. A compassionate therapist. A great Web site. Help was there, offering me signposts toward restoration.
But first, I hit bottom hard. And it wasn't the end. It was the beginning of a journey I continue still. Toward choice. And self-respect. Toward freedom.
Try it. Ask for help. Recognize that you've hit bottom, the place of "great unknowing" and that you're ready for restoration. You can't "fix the unfixable" by which I mean you can't fix anyone but yourself. Start there. Restore your own soul. Respect your heart. Slow your mind until your choices become clearer.


  1. I think if I read this right that I am dealing with this too. An inner conflict between accepting the hurt, find the help and releasing the pain. Holding on to the pain is easier, I think for me, because it is harding than accepting the hurt and releasing the pain. I am afraid of dealing with myself. Instead I took the last year of my husbands affair to just keep my kids busy & happy, "fix" my husband, be a forgiving spouse and keep our family going (paying the mortgage, working, etc) all the things I feel like as a mother and wife I am required to do. But looking at myself - meaning do I accept this flawed man & my damaged marriage - as the new me is scary. I don't know who I have become. I sometimes loathe who I am. Certainly the old powerful me would never feel this lost. Did motherhood do this me? Make me more vulnerable? Perhaps I was always this fragile and instead I just put up a strong cover? Piss and vinegar to cover up the scardy cat I really am?

    I recall once after I had thrown out my CS that were fighting & I said, "You are so selfish. You don't even care about me. What if I need help? What about if I needed some support?!" His response struck me, hard, he said, "S, I've never worried about you. You always have a plan and you always have a solution. Nothing stops you. That's why I can't keep up."

    I remember thinking.. is it me? Is it that I have these impossible standards? This never say die mentality? Am I too hard to live with? I know I do have high standards - it reflect what I do for a living and my morals. I used to think that 'fighting spirit' is what attracted my husband to me. Instead it in the long term repelled him. Just another layer to reflect on I guess. I hate being perceived as weak and I hate asking for help.

    Thanks again for your thoughtful post, I've read some of Lamott's works before... I'll check this one out too. Best wishes.

    1. I just watched an incredible video last night of Brené Brown on Oprah's Super Soul Sunday. The link is here:
      Brown has such incredible insight into vulnerability -- having studied it for the past 12 years as a researcher -- and our cultural misunderstanding of vulnerability as weakness. From what you've posted here, Flaca, I suspect you think of vulnerability as weakness. If you're not in total control, then you're terrified. (Full disclosure: I feel exactly the same way!!) It's great to have high standards. I believe I have high standards too, and I expect those in my life to meet them. But, like you, I sometimes think my standards are "impossible", meaning that I'm setting myself and others up for disappointment. They also don't allow much room for error. I also wonder if those who fear falling short simply figure they're going to disappoint me sooner or later anyway.
      Strength is a good thing. It has likely served your children well as you've struggled to sift through the aftermath of your spouse's affair. But I think we all need to recognize the strength it takes to be vulnerable. To allow our hearts to soften and let uncertainty in. There's a great moment in the video with Oprah where she mentions something Dr. Phil once said re. infidelity. It's not about trusting the other person, he said, it's about trusting yourself.
      Can you trust yourself enough that you can maintain your equilibrium even if your husband cheats again? Can you trust yourself enough that you can stay strong in your values even when those around you let you down?
      And can you love yourself enough (give up the loathing!) even in your vulnerability and uncertainty and fear? You're doing the best you can under very trying circumstances. Allow yourself to screw up. Allow yourself to the time to figure out who this new you is and what she brings to the table (coping skills? wisdom? acceptance?).
      And try to reframe fragility and weakness as vulnerability...which as Brown points out, takes enormous courage. To be brave and scared at the same time.


    2. I too am a different person than I was before the affair. Once I was curvy but confident, I believed I truly knew my husband and what he would and would never do in life, I believed him when he said he loved me... when he said I was sexy, I walked through life with a strong stride afraid of nothing but death and taxes.
      Now...I am a different version of me, someone I hardly recognize. It makes me sad, vulnerable, and eats away at my confidence if I am not mindful. I know now how much I love my husband and how much I can be hurt by him. Grief is truly a by product of love. I mourn the loss of the man and marriage I once knew as well as the woman I once was.
      But my husband said similar words to what lamount says here. words like restoration. And it's so true... pre affair my life was out of control in a different way simply because I was failing to control it with all of my efforts and goals and intention. Though it had little to do with my husband's affair my life was chaotic and out of control... even the areas of life I thought were in control...simply because the struggle to control them was wearing me out. NOW I can see what is truly important in life, how hubs and I were both pulling in different directions, and where I want to go fromhere. Ive been blessed with a truly remorseful husband who is making difficult but good changes in his life to fix our marriage and help build me up... he reminds me in my dark moments about him that he needed to be restored... he was like an old neglected car; a rusty exterior, torn up inside, not running well but witha lot of potential if only he would or could put the effort into getting the work done. I am hopeful.
      Flaca, are you in any support groups? I am in 12 step program for family members of addicts. Many of the women there have husbands who havr porn addictions and havent had affairs, but a lot of their feelings and points of view are similar to mine and its been a huge help for me in my healing. xo ~Kate

    3. To Flaca: Regarding the "I can't keep up" and recognizing yourself as "controlling" - I don't buy it. In some regards, we ALL have our days of "controlling" (husbands AND wives) - the "I can't keep up" is a cop-out he tells himself to justify the affair. Prior to his affair, I worked full time, my new boss was hell, I BEGGED (yes, OUT LOUD!) for help at home with two kids, household chores and school - I was literally ignored. I would come home, walk in the kitchen, and he would say, "Oh, Mom's home", sit down and start reading a book. It's been one of our discussion points that he's reluctant to talk about. By all means, ask for help, heal! But do NOT blame yourself.

    4. You are right, I agree, it is bs. But it still makes me feel vulnerable. My CS benefited from my "controlling" nature when I paid the rent & ALL our bills for the 4 years he was in law school/taking the bar exam. I tell him the same thing - yeah when my control was beneficial to him it was a "strength" but when he started to cheat & i wanted to know who he was with when i was home with sick kids then i became a 'control freak who suffocate(d) him.' Thanks for the kick the pants - I know you are right... none of this is my fault.

    5. @kate - thanks, i'm on a wait list for counseling but i have never thought of a 12 step group. thanks for the idea.

      @elle - thank you as always. you are right for me to accept vulnerability i have to admit that i might get hurt again. that sucks. but i guess if i want to make it work i have to be willing to accept that risk otherwise i should just walk away.

    6. Kate,
      Kudos to you for recognizing the parts of your life that you need to take responsibility for (ie. the chaos) but don't take responsibility for that which is NOT yours (ie. his affair). I think we all feel irrevocably altered in the wake of a spouse's affair, whether we stay and work it out or leave. It changes us. There's no way around that. It alters our view of the world. But whether it alters it negatively (ie. mistrust, fear, self-loathing) or positively (compassion, wisdom, self-respect) is up to us. And that's the "restoration" that Lamott refers to...and that I wanted to post about. The chance to recognize the "unfixable" and focus our efforts on ONLY that which we can change.
      I wonder if your husband's ability to argue (a trait shared by most good lawyers) is part of what trips you up. His ability (and I suspect yours too) to intellectualize feelings, and designate them as my fault/his fault, good/bad. Feelings aren't necessarily logical. They often have as much to do about the past as the present. Your "control" just might mask a fear that you've held much of your life. And by no longer feeling "control", you're faced with what's behind it: deep hurt and fear.
      The feelings won't kill's our attempts to mask them or deny them that causes more problems.


  2. This is such a timely post for me. I am two years out from DDay 1 and DDay 2 this Aug is two years. We have worked on our marriage and I see great improvements in him and our marriage. It is me that needs to accept the vulnerability. You are right asking for help and allowing yourself to be vulnerable again is one key to recovery. During the first year I beat myself up for being so stupid to not have paid attention to my own red flags. Yes, I wanted to end my life. I would pray to God to take me. I wasn't needed here anymore and I was just sick of the pain. The pain is still there but I don't pray the same prayers. The more I read on blogs and books the better I feel about myself and NOT accepting the blame of his choice to have an affair. I have however accepted responsibility for my role in the break down in our relationship. And that is deep and convoluted.

    There has been so many changes in me I am just now dealing with being comfortable in my own skin. Before affair, I totally knew who I was and where I was going. Now that person is gone. Physically I have changed so much and mentally. Some days I am totally committed and think I can stay in this marriage but then there are days when I want out. I want my dignity back and I wonder if the only way to do that is by divorcing him. There are so many factors in this decision and this betrayal: 1. length of affair(4 years), 2. financial (many $$$$$$$$ to her), 3. This is not the first time. I don't even question whether or not I trust him or will ever trust him again because the answer is unequivocally NO. I am working on trusting myself and my decisions and I know I am no where done with that. BTW I am thinking about going back into therapy!

    1. Welcome Trying. You and I are walking similar paths. It's still a struggle for me to open myself up to vulnerability. Whether we've chosen to stay with our partner or not, the idea of trusting again is tough. Especially when we can't quite forgive ourselves for being so wrong the first time (or the second...).
      While we hope to learn from this – to perhaps listen more carefully to our inner wisdom – sometimes the lesson is simply that we can experience betrayal and survive. There aren't always signs that we're being deceived. But we can learn that we have within us what we need to keep ourselves whole no matter what happens to us. And that's where I am right now. Working hard to take care of myself. It's sad how difficult that sometimes is for me. It's far easier to take care of others, to put their feelings before my own. But that hasn't served any of us very well.
      It sounds as if you've got good reason to not trust him, at least not until he's earned it. But I'm glad you're putting the greater part of the focus on yourself. I'm a pretty big fan of therapy (as any reader of this blog knows!). I think there are things that an outsider can spot in us that we've long stopped seeing in ourselves.
      But whichever path you choose, keep on working to trust yourself, which will allow you to open up to vulnerability. Which will unlock your heart.


  3. I stumbled into this blog accidentally via a Google search. I like it. I wish there was a blog like this for us men who have been devastated by a wife's betrayal.

    1. John,
      I'm sorry for your pain but glad you found us. There aren't a lot of men on this site...but there are a few. The pain of betrayal isn't gender specific so feel free to share your story. The (mostly) women on this site are incredible -- supportive and smart and so compassionate. Welcome.



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