Monday, February 9, 2015

After Betrayal: Facing Down Fear

I was recently interviewing someone for a story that had nothing to do with infidelity or betrayal when my interviewee said something that virtually made me gasp:
"Everything I want to do lies on the other side of fear."
She was referring to people who fear whitewater rapids or climbing shear rock faces or jumping out of planes.
But she was also, whether she knew it or not, talking about me.
Everything I want to do lies on the other side of fear.
How true is that for you?
Would you leave him if you weren't afraid of being alone? Afraid of the impact of divorce on your children? Afraid of the financial hit you'd take? Afraid of what people would say? Afraid you'd never find someone to love you again?
Would you stay and work it out if you weren't afraid he'd cheat again? Afraid that you'll never be able to forgive him? Afraid that if people knew he had cheated, they would think you're a doormat? Afraid that you'll never get past the pain?
Fear drives many of our choices in life. But are they truly "choices" if they come from a place of fear?
Is it a "choice" to stay in a miserable marriage or is it inertia?
Is it a "choice" to leave if we're afraid to deviate from a cultural script whereby women who are cheated on are expected to toss the bum out?
Fear is an impulse, a way to avoid judgement or anger or loneliness.
Fear is avoidance.

Most of us have become adept at pretending we don't have fears.
We can sometimes admit macro fears – losing our child or parent, getting a terminal diagnosis.
But can we also admit the micro fears? That we're afraid of opportunity because we might fail? That we're terrified of being alone? Of rejection? Can we face our deepest fear – that we're unloveable?

We rage at a partner's betrayal. But what is that rage really but a fear of abandonment? A deep fear of being found unworthy? We are social beings. Feeling rejected is tantamount to fearing for survival.
Betrayal triggers so many of these micro fears, this tiny voice that whispers our secret: that we're not good enough.
These fears are real. And we must examine them if we're to find what's on the other side.
Instead, we dismiss them. We rationalize them. We hide them.
We can't, however, eliminate them except by pulling them into the light and exploring them. Turning them over and discovering that what we most fear is what everyone fears. It's part of being human. And that by acknowledging that, fear loses its power over us. Our more rational brain can then make choices rooted in our values instead of acting on impulse. A dark impulse.

I mentioned in a recent post that my daughter is struggling with OCD. In the past few weeks, I've felt completely on edge. Furious. It's not like me to feel such free-floating anger. I decided our world was stupid and cruel (I mean, c'mon. ISIS? WTF?). I hated everyone who seemed to be blithely going on with their lives – shopping, driving to work, planning vacations.
I snapped at my kids. Barked at my dogs to shut up. I was an absolute bear.
And then, when my daughter was having an OCD episode (her first in seven days! Yay!), it hit me. Though I know realistically that we're handling this well, have great support and all indications are that she'll emerge from this wiser and stronger, I'm nonetheless terrified because I remember all too well my mother's stays in a locked psychiatric ward. My anger isn't really about ISIS and animal cruelty and idiots who cut me off in traffic (though...seriously? This world needs a makeover). My anger is the outward face of my abject terror that my daughter is slipping down a dark hole.
It's a long-held fear (based on childhood experience) that mental illness will take away someone I love.
It's not, however, a rational one.

What's on the other side of fear?
Hope is on the other side. Realistic hope that we're all learning from this. That it's making us more attuned to our daughter's struggles, and also to the struggles that so many people experience around mental health issues.
A better me is on the other side of fear. A me who recognizes that I can't control other's behaviours. That there are many things I can't change.
A life lived more consciously and gratefully is on the other side of my fear.
What's on the other side of yours?


  1. In the Road Less Traveled, Scott Peck writes that life is difficult and a series of problems to be solved. That's an understatement for those dealing with betrayal. To go or to stay is the question and if you throw in the idea of abandoment it gets really complex. Only the betrayed can decide how much fear is keeping them there.

    And fear? Yeah, I know it well. According to my therapist, I could be the poster woman for fear. But who wouldn't be growing up with a full blown Schizophrenic father and neurotic mother?! But I've gotten stronger tho I'll never be a Hillary. Fear that begins in childhood is hard to shake off. After all, what can a five yr old child do when their world is filled with screaming, broken glass, and guns and knives? Can't exactly pack their suitcase and leave can they?! No, you carry it with you into adult life and hope that with some therapy you can better and not pass it onto your children. Getting older is hard, just ask those people in a nursing home what they would do differently. Most of them would say to take more risks and enjoy your life before you're in their place. My biggest fear is that I'm not going to do that before I leave this earth. The legacy I leave for my children is my most important gift to my children and I have to work really hard to keep the past from getting in the way. It takes courage to let down walls.

  2. Oh my goodness Elle, this strikes home so hard! Just last week i was watching a guest named Wes Moore on The Daily Show with John Stewart. It was a very compelling interview and he is an incredibly inspirational man, but it was the LAST minute of the interview that stopped me in my tracks. I am attaching the link, but the quote was "the thing that you're most afraid of, the thing that gives you the most pain, is actually the thing that you need to run to with all your might, and that's where you find your joy" I was FLOORED.

    Because yes, I had so much fear when i found out about my husbands betrayal--
    1) that he may not be the man i always thought he was
    2) he may do it again
    and those are just two things-
    -but another huge fear?
    What would that say about ME?
    would it say that i let him "get away with it"? That it was OK? That I was weak?
    I was SO afraid of what would happen if I let go of this protective armour of fear.

    I also remember the variations of the quote that "love and fear cannot exist in the same space"---and although I sometimes feel have enough ammo to argue against that one--because although I think they CAN be fighting and jockying for position at the same time and in that same space. it's a very tight fit with fears ass hanging out partly one one side and loves ass hanging out on the other--one is going to win, and you do have to choose to let love take over.
    not easy.
    And I am not the first to say it, but I agree with you that those fears THRIVE in the dark, they have got to be blinded by daylight and examined.
    again, not easy.
    but in the end--worth it. An examined life can be exhausting, but I do also believe that an unexamined life, is just the true WASTE of a life (or not worth living--but enough quotes!!)

    1. Steam,
      You have such a way of summing things up: "fear's ass hanging out partly on one side and love's ass hanging out the other". I think that's pretty much the definition of living, no?

  3. Fear.....I think I have been swallowed by it. What if I am never loved again? What if I can't make it on my own? What if SHE is better than me?? I am no f-ing saint and yet in this situation that is who I have become to other people. I hate him. I love him. I am swallowed up in the fear of tomorrow....fear of today...fear of myself. Swallowed. Up. In. It. It has been 17 months since dday, 9 months since separation, and 8 months since I moved to another state. And I. Am. Still. A freaking. Mess......drowning in fear. Ugh...Lord please help me stand tall.....with him, without him, whatever happens but ME standing tall. Dang it....

    1. Ella,
      It's so important, I think, to examine those fears under the cold light of day. They are so much more about your own stuff than about reality. I would also urge you to consider meditation -- it can feel BRUTAL to just sit and do nothing. You'll squirm, you'll remember you forgot to water the plants, etc. But if you can just sit with it, and keep bringing your mind back to the "now", you'll, with practice, come to realize that you are, actually, just fine. You'll begin to recognize fear as something that's robbing you of any possibility for joy or peace.

  4. Fear and betrayal hold hands with fingers intertwined that is very hard to let go. I'm 14 months out and fear is still there everyday in some form. Like Steam my therapist said you cannot hold forgiveness in one hand and fear in the other. Well I'm holding on to both and it isn't easy. But for me fears come in brick walls and I climb over one at a time. Fear- I'm not as alluring, passionate, fun to be with as her. My husband is going to tell me lies again. Can I make it on my own? What if I leave and I'm not happy? Fear of trusting. Fear of being a fool. You name it betrayal hits everyone of your buttons and some you never realized you had. I sat on my husband's lap yesterday I wanted to say I forgive you. The words would not come out of my mouth. They just stayed in my mouth and mind. Fear just plainly sewed my mouth shut. I have been thinking about this for a month. When the words form in my mouth my mind says he still needs to punished, he doesn't deserve me, he needs to pay a little longer, he had his fun now your letting him off the hook too easy for all pain. It is just fear. But it's ok to be fearful up to a point but when it controls you then all rationale thinking goes out the door. Betrayal is too many multiple hits to every part of my mind. I couldn't take it all in at one time. I have to be honest everytime I let the fear go it did get better. My husband's affair lasted 2.5 years but he didn't have multiple affairs that I know about or he will admit anyway. The type and deep of the pain and hurt probably equal the number of fears. Take your time just conquer one fear at a time. We are now being stalked by the OW psycho-bitch ( what my sister calls her) so I'm not sure the fear ever ends but you will get stronger regardless of him. Regardless of your situation. Your strength will prevail you just have to find it and it take the OW fear grab her hair and yank her to ground like she deserves.

    1. Lynn,
      The fear will end but only if you tackle it, exactly the way you're doing. It might always try to resurface but you'll begin to be able to recognize it for what it is -- not reality, but old stuff coming back.

  5. I feared all the above post day, I'm 16 months out and fear very little in terms of my relationship anyway. I know if he cheats again I'll be ok. I know that if he leaves I'll be just fine. I've learnt that there are some things I can control and others I can't. Have faith in yourself and your half way there, believe that whatever happens in life as long as it doesn't kill you it's gonna make you a damn site stronger and wiser. I speak from experience. I love listening to your stories ladies it helps my healing more than any therapist ever has. Thank you everyone and take good care.

  6. It will be 2 years in April. I am no longer the same person, I tell myself its for the better. I tell myself that no one will hurt me again. I doubt it.
    My fear and I often ask him 'if her husband died (God forbid) would she get back in touch. Would you go to her?
    We've lost most of our wealth and had to sell our house. She has gone back to a very 'well off' life. Our future is bleak as we are not young.
    He's a closed book. Having an affair was easy for him, able to run the secret alongside working within a family business with me and our 3 children. And now he says... "its all over, lets move on, draw a line under it". He says he only thinks of her when I bring it up. Can that be true??
    I guess I'm saying my fear is the fear of the unknown. If he sat me down and said I" allowed myself to fall for another woman" "for a while I wanted her over you" "things where bad in our life because of the business" "it was an escape". But all I get is, she was nothing, she meant nothing. Didn't really fancy her. So why did he ask her to send a photo of herself. Something he often asked me to do in a something sexy.
    never again.
    Fear of comparison, how much of her body did he see? Does he fancy me more than her? Never knowing what he's thinking while laying next to me in bed? I know what he was thinking for 7 months, 2 years ago.
    I have fear of the future, if I was to leave. I know so many Women that are on their own and never met someone else. No guarantee to life, I understand that. But whatever I've done in life, I never deserved to lose my house and at the same time having my first Grandchild born seven a half weeks early, fitting for his little life and 6 days later to then find out his affair. I hate the man I love!!!!!!!!
    He said last week, to pack an overnight bag and to be ready for 9.30 ish Sat (Valentine's Day). I'm not bothered if we go or not. He's makes a fuss of me, puts up with my violent anger and snipes. He hasn't left, I know he loves me. I can't love him back...I FEAR that if I lower the barrier he will hurt me again.

    Ok I feel better now. Good Night.xx

    1. Jane,
      So much of what you're experiencing is exactly what many of us have felt. It all boils down to fear of being hurt again. We can't imagine that we'd survive such pain twice.
      Thing is, your fear is keeping a huge wall between you and your life. You're like a deer in headlights -- unable to figure out whether to bolt or stay still, assuming that either way you're going to get slammed.
      You're absolutely right that you didn't deserve this. And part of healing from betrayal -- whether we stay or go -- is coming to terms that this happened to us. All the wishing and raging in the world isn't going to un-do what's been done.
      I think your husband is being honest when he says he doesn't think about her except when you bring it up. He's able to compartmentalize things in a way that made the affair possible and now makes NOT thinking about the affair possible. But that's not too helpful to you. You clearly need more from him than "she meant nothing." You're both paying a helluva price for someone who meant "nothing."
      Can you two have a conversation (not an argument, a conversation) about this? Can he really hear your pain? Can he imagine how unsafe you now feel? Without that level of empathy of him, it's hard for you to move past your fear.

  7. I fear so many of the things listed above. Most of all I feared if I stay what does that make me. Society says a doormat. I say an empathic person who tries not to judge, who tries to see things from others' perspectives. The American Indians supposedly had a saying the only way to know someone is to walk in his shoes. I cannot actually do that but at least I can try. I can try to see the good in people as well as the bad. Few people are all good or all evil, myself included. I can try to give my husband the same second chance that I would have wanted him to give me.


    1. Sam,
      You're so right. And that crazy notion our culture has -- the women who stay are somehow doormats -- is so damaging.

  8. This could not have come at a more appropriate time for me. as I sit here with my eyes half swollen shut from crying having a cocktail I am thinking about all the things that I fear.
    My husband and I had one of the best weekends at home then we have had in a long time. It gave me so much hope and happiness and then today he was late from work. He called me as he was walking out (we were on face time so I could see) but by that time the damage was done for me. That fear of the what ifs that Pop in my head. I can't talk myself down from the "what if it's starting again" ledge. When things are good I'm afraid they will get bad. When things are bad, I'm afraid he will step out again. I'm afraid if I don't keep the affair in our marriage on some level and let it "die".... will somehow wipe the slate clean and he can do it again. I don't want this fear to dictate who I am and how my life is lived, but I'm scared to face it. I fear everything all you ladies are facing

    1. Amanda,
      The old marriage is gone. The marriage where he can be late, or take a phone call in another room, or whatever, is over. The new marriage needs new rules, including he cannot be late without letting you know. He cannot have friendships with women that don't include you. Etc. Those rules aren't about being dictatorial, they are about creating safe boundaries around your relationship that allows you to heal. I once completely flipped out on my husband because he was at the grocery store and I needed to add something to the list. He didn't answer. JUST LIKE THE NIGHT I TRIED TO CALL HIM WHEN HE WAS WITH THE OW. Voicemail. Same message. 32 freaking times. I was completely triggered and lost my mind when he came home with the bags of groceries. But he got it. He got how terrifying it was for me. And that's how trust is rebuilt. By him understanding and doing what he can to ensure that those triggers are minimized.

  9. Before I start I want to say something to Jane Williams -- I am your sister in this. I have asked and asked and asked for him to just sit down with me and tell me EVERYTHING! Nope, zip, nada! I get the "she meant nothing to me, I did not love her, it was just sex yap, yap, yap...

    I'm 65 years old and we have been together for 44 years when D-Day happened. I am now 8 months out from D-Day. My fear is not having the financial means to JUST GO AWAY!! His affair lasted 5 years give or take 6 months. In the last year of his 'affair' he took up with a street prostitute and saw her 1 or 2 times a month for $75 each time. Long story short he claims he found a woman (not the prostitute) who he could just have sex with and nothing else happened - no restaurants, no movies, no dates of any kind. He was with the affair person and the prostitute during that final year he did not stop with the affair person.

    I hired a detective and got much more information but no information on restaurants or other 'date' type meetings. I still live in our house but in a separate bedroom. I fear I will never be intimate with him again. He did divulge a small portion of their sexual activities but not everything. I do not fear she did things I would not do because we had a very adventurous sex life. I do not fear being alone because I am a loner by nature but I am now lonely. Fancy that!! A loner who is lonely... So I guess I am afraid - fear comes in so many forms. Well folks, thanks for listening (reading).

    BTW I did get tested for everything TWICE!! I will get tested again in 3 more months. Not taking any chances. He got tested twice also and brags that he did it without me asking. I told him I was sure my asking was not necessary because he was probably a regular at the clinic.

    1. To Jane and Anonymous,
      I'm so sorry for the pain you're both in. In my books, reconciliation has be tailored to YOUR needs. If you need details, well then, you get the details. He doesn't get to decide what he does or does not disclose. It can be horrible to I advise doing it with a therapist. But it can also be incredibly liberating to be "in" on the affair. To really understand the dynamics. And, in my experience, it's never as bad as anything we're imagining.
      Why is he setting the boundaries around healing? You're the injured party.

  10. Anonymous,

    I'm 65 too and I understand completely about a loner who is lonely. Totally get that but one thing you might think about is that there all kinds of marriages. Even tho my husband's affairs with two flight attendants was a long time ago the fault out still goes one. One of the biggies is that the STD ( HPV) may have caused the Cancer I got. Can't prove it but the thought lingers and HPV can remain dormant in your body for 20 yrs before causing cancer. Ask for the test specific to HPV cause it's not in the general screening. There are always risks and rewards to anything and apparently for your husband the sneaking around, sex with a prostitute, and affair people was just too good to pass up. But for you, therapy has got to be a given I would think. Create a life of things you want to do, and just treat your husband like a roommate. In fact I would put a lock on the door! Oh I know, we all like to think that our partner in life will stand by our sides in the retirement yrs, the cocktail period of life, and watch the sun go up and the sunset by the ocean. But who gets that at the end? Not too many really, do they? Look at the nursing homes. They're filled with more women than men because we tend to outlive them. We just can't think that marriage goes on forever. It ends either in divorce or death but it ends like life. That's not to be meant as a downer but rather to urge you to live your life right now. If you want to paint, paint. If you want to dance, take a class. Pretend he's not there cause he has laready done that to you. I know it really really sucks but don't give any more of your self to your husband unless there is some big remorse on his part. Life really is too short, isn't it?

    1. Pilots wife,

      Yes, you are correct, I've been tested TWICE!! I got the health clinic test but then went to my private GYN for the heavy duty testing. I will be going back in about 3 months for the third round. HPV is a leading cause of cervical and other cancers. They now give girls and boys a vaccine for this. When I get my head screwed back on I am going to write a post all about STD's. Most men think a condom takes care of the STD's -- NADA!! I am not just talking about them breaking. I'm talking about areas the condom does not cover -and- lots of men do not know how to correctly use a condom and they put their fingers inside these women. Can you say hang nails and split cuticles?? Nice little entryway for buggies that spread serious diseases.

      Until I figure out how to get my "name" on my post I will be Terry Telephone under the Anon title.

    2. Anon Terry Telephone,

      Another thought about HPV is that it's present in about 80 percent of the general population I think. And you're right that the vaccines now available for both girls and boys is critical in my opinion. But part of the campaign should emphasize that oral sex transmits this and can result in head and neck cancer which I got. Treatment is rough when that happens. It's too bad that Michael Douglas made light of his throat cancer which I think resulted from oral sex.

  11. I just found out 5 days ago that my husband has been having an affair. We have been married 16 years. He was my first and only everything. I never denied him sex our ENTIRE marriage. I did whatever he wanted in bed. I tried to keep our sex life from ever getting boring. And yet he still cheated. I'm broken.

    1. Broken,
      I'm so sorry for the pain you're in. But please know that his cheating had nothing to do with you. I know it seems crazy...but if you begin to read more about why men cheat, you'll learn that it had nothing to do with you and everything to do with the mess in his head.
      I hope you have support through this because it is tough-going. Feel free to share your story here. There are many many women on this site who know exactly what you're going through because we've gone through it...and come out the other side. You will survive this. The day will come when this will be a bad memory.
      Be gentle with yourself and trust that you've got the strength you need to come through.

    2. It is not you. Please believe me. I was always more interested in sex than my husband. I was always chasing HIM, and he still cheated on me. Because there was something missing in him, NOT me (he was an closet porn addict for almost 25 years and it finally spun out of control). I know that is hard for you to believe right now, but this is on him. It has nothing to do with you.

      I am just over a year out, and I can tell you that it really does get better. I know it seems impossible right now. I came near suicide many times, but I'm glad I hung on.

      Lots and lots of love to you. You are not alone.




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