December holds my D-Day #1. So it's with some trepidation that I plan for the holidays each year. Even though I'm eight years out (!!!) and even though I have trouble remembering if it was December 10 or December 11, I'm still conscious around those dates of just where I was those years ago. And of how much has changed.
So often I tell the women who've found their way to this site that they will get through this. I'm not sure they believe me. I'm not sure I would have believed me. The wound is simply so gaping, the pain so deep that few of us believe we'll ever find our way back to a place of wholeness.
And yet, I was reminded this year of just how far I've come. Even beyond healing from my husband's infidelity. I'm happier than I think I've ever been. A deep-down, through-hell-and-back happiness that is richer for the knowledge that I fought hard for it.
Case in point: My brother-in-law is a jerk. This is pretty much universally acknowledged by all who know him. His family, however, which includes my husband, traffic in denial. Not about his jerkiness. But about how his jerkiness affects other people. Like me, for instance. I learned long ago that my husband's knee-jerk response around his family was to attack anyone who notices that they're somewhat less than the perfect family. When I first pointed out that the emperor wasn't only naked, he was an asshole, I was told that I was the problem.
Thing is, pre-D-day, I bought into that fiction to some extent. I was "too sensitive". I didn't "understand". His mother, who could be cruel, was raised during the Depression after all (of course, so were my grandparents and they didn't feel the need to shame and judge others). She had been an immigrant. His father and mother had been poor. The version of his family's story that we were all asked to buy was that they had it harder than anyone else and the world, therefore, needed to excuse their often nasty behaviour.
I tried. After all, I was sensitive. And I had long ago convinced myself that if something is MY problem, then I can fix it; if it's somebody else's, then all hell might break loose. (Thank-you alcoholic parents for that life lesson!)
And then D-Day hit. And suddenly I was given an entirely different version of his family's story. This one rang a whole lot more true. Stories of abuse. Stories of deception. A family environment that bred dishonesty and compulsion.
Turns out that my sensitivity was one helluva an early-warning system. I had felt on high-alert around these people because I wasn't safe with them.
Slowly, as I've healed from both my D-Days, and as my husband has healed from his childhood, I've let his family back into my life.
But when his brother this past holiday started with his misogyny, when he tried to excuse his racist ideas, when he tried to make me "be quiet and listen", I stood up. No, I said. I don't agree with you, I said.
The next day, I made the decision that I will not entertain someone whose views are so offensive to me, so contrary to what my children know, so dismissive of anyone who's different than he is.
And rather than feel angry and invisible and silenced, like I would have felt eight years ago, I felt giddy. This was MY choice. I get to decide who I spend my time with. I get to determine who I welcome into my home.
It's my husband's brother and, despite everything, my husband loves this idiot. So I will never forbid him from entering our home. But next year, if we decide to invite him and his family (which we might – his kids and mine are cousins, after all), I will order Chinese food, throw some plates on the table and then take my dogs for a walk. Happy holidays. Enjoy your kung pao chicken.
All this is a long way of saying that what I've learned through all of this is that it's not my job to make others comfortable. It's not my job to take care of everyone. It's absolutely not my job to silence my own instincts for the sake of peace. The price is simply too high.
It is my job to keep myself safe. It is my job to behave in a way within my marriage that doesn't lead to resentment. It is my job to treat myself with respect and allow only those who can treat me with respect into my life.
It's a lesson I've learned the hard way. But one I wouldn't trade for anything.