We often turn to disaster metaphors to describe what betrayal feels like. It's a nuclear bomb, a tornado, a hurricane. Our lives feel destroyed, reduced to ruins, blown up. And we ourselves feel torn apart, broken, a wreck.
They're apt, these metaphors. And they speak to the truth that betrayal changes everything. Just like a natural disaster, nothing is left untouched in some way. Not ourselves, our children, our jobs, our friends.
Surrounded by rubble – whether literal or metaphorical – we're left with the task of rebuilding. How?
Fall apart: Well, that part might have happened on its own. But don't fight it. Even when others around you are insisting that you DO something, resist that urge. This is the time for extreme self-care. Eat what you can (smoothies, toast, soup...), sleep when you can, shut out the world if necessary, especially anyone without your best interests at heart. Watch hours of television. Go for long walks. Cry. Then cry some more. Breathe. Deeply.
Sometimes it's when we're stripped of everything we thought mattered that we come to see what truly does. And sometimes when the only thing we can trust is that we're still breathing, we understand that's all we need to know. At least for now.
But don't make yourself crazier: Here's what NOT to do:
•Stalk your husband's OW on Facebook.
•Drink/drug/shop/gamble to escape the pain.
•Have a revenge affair.
•Seek revenge against the OW.
•Track down an ex just to reminisce.
•Go to any event or spend time with any person that will make you feel worse.
•Do anything that could lead to you having your own parole officer.
•Hurt yourself physically.
Sift through the rubble to determine what's worth saving: Your marriage looks like a wreck. You have no idea whether to give him a second chance or not. Your kids are frightened. Your parents are wringing their hands. Your friends are wondering why you're not answering their texts. You haven't showered in eight days. Now's the time to take a good long look at what really isn't working in your life.
That friend you're avoiding because she always makes you feel lousy? Time to delete her from your life.
That job you hate? Time to consider your options. Back to school? Dust off the resumé? No need to DO anything yet, just be open to possibility.
Those toxic in-laws? Maybe now the is time to figure out your boundaries and learn ways of taking care of yourself that leads to self-love, not resentment.
That extra weight you're carrying? Start by walking off your pain. Those schlumpy clothes? Buy yourself something that makes you feel beautiful.
You get the idea. Open yourself to the possibility of a you who's ultimately healthier, inside and out.
Find support: I made haste to a therapist who could hold my head above water until I could tread water myself and/or make my way to shore. But support goes beyond simply the paid kind (though it's generally Worth. Every. Penny.). Surround yourself with those who love you unconditionally. Avoid those who think they know exactly what you should do, unless they're suggesting a long, hot bath. Steer clear of those with an axe to grind (their own nasty divorce/cheating husband/miserable life). This can be hard on those who love you though. So recognize that sometimes they'll step in it. That sometimes they'll get frustrated with you for not healing fast enough (it's hard to watch those we love in pain). But no matter. Explain to your trusted inner circle that you need their support and compassion, not their advice. That you need a shoulder to cry on, a hand to hold and, perhaps, a casserole or two left by the front door. Sometimes you might need a gentle kick in the pants to remind you that there's a big beautiful world out there that needs your presence.
Seek out online support that's based on self-compassion...and compassion for others. There's a lot of cruelty on the Web. Don't support it, don't take it personally, and don't contribute to it.
Practice gratitude: Ugh. This can be a tough one. But study after study has shown that practising gratitude leads to a happier life. Today you might be grateful that you didn't follow through on your plans to smother your husband in his sleep. You might be grateful that your four-year-old doesn't know what as asshole her father is. You might be grateful you still have all your limbs. With time, you'll begin to notice that gratitude will creep into your life in bigger ways. And it will give you a platform on which to build a better life.
Hold tight to your values: Betrayal is such a primal wound that it pulls to the surface our most primal responses. We want to kill someone. We want to curl into the fetal position. We want to retreat to a cave and never show our face again. Feeling all that is absolutely fine...and to be expected. Acting on it? Not so fine. Once this shit-storm is over, you want to be able to hold your head high. You want your self-respect intact. You don't want to be wearing an orange jumpsuit (orange, frankly, is NOT the new black). Continue to live a life of honesty and compassion and kindness, even when it seems you're the only person who does. The day will come when you'll look back with pride on how you handled yourself.
Share your story: Whether in the pages of a journal, in e-mails to yourself or to a trusted friend, or on sites such as this one, sharing our story is a powerful way of putting ourselves back together. It allows us to see our stories from the outside, which can give us perspective. It is cathartic, giving us the chance to offload our fury, our pain and our confusion. And it's an important and scientifically proven way to heal from trauma.
Trust the process: It takes a long time to heal from betrayal and it can often seem as if you're stuck. Assuming you're taking steps to heal (counselling, self-care, boundary setting...), you are getting there. Trust that the day will come when this is simply part of your life story, not THE story.
Extend a healing hand: It's enormously healing to guide others along the path. None of us want to be in this club, yet here we are. And extending a hand to those who are feeling the same pain, struggling with the same confusion, reminds us that we're not alone. That we've healed, even just a bit. And if we've healed a bit, then we can heal a bit more. And bit by bit, we become whole.