Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Falling Apart...Together

I remember so vividly a day in early spring when my whole reality gave out on me. Although it was before I had heard any Buddhist teachings, it was what some would call a genuine spiritual experience. It happened when my husband told me he was having an affair.

We lived in northern New Mexico. I was standing in front of our adobe house drinking a cup of tea. I heard the car drive up and the door bang shut. Then he walked around the corner, and without warning he told me that he was having an affair and he wanted a divorce.

I remember the sky and how huge it was. I remember the sound of the river and the steam rising up from my tea. There was no time, no thought, there was nothing - just the light and a profound, limitless stillness. Then I regrouped and picked up a stone and threw it at him.

When anyone asks how I got involved in Buddhism, I always say it was because I was so angry with my husband. The truth is that he saved my life. When that marriage fell apart, I tried hard - very, very hard - to go back to some kind of comfort, some kind of security, some kind of familiar resting place. Fortunately for me, I could never pull it off.  

Life is a good teacher and a good friend. Things are always in transition, if we could only realize it. . . . To stay with that shakiness - to stay with a broken heart, with a rumbling stomach, with the feeling of hopelessness and wanting to get revenge - that is the path of true awakening. Sticking with that uncertainty, getting the knack of relaxing in the midst of chaos, learning not to panic - this is the spiritual path.
~Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart

It begs disbelief that the moment of our deepest pain can become the moment of our deepest transformation. How in the world can something that makes it hard to breathe, that makes it hard to see, that slams into our consciousness obliterating everything else possibly lead us to a greater joy, a greater compassion, a greater understanding?
Call me a cynic but though I desperately wanted to believe that, I thought it was a bunch of woo-woo nonsense. Maybe other people, those who burned incense and danced under a full moon, might fall for that "out of suffering comes transformation" hokey, but not me. Pain was pain. Suffering sucked. And people who inflicted it deserved to die in the most excruciating way possible. Besides, I had a book due, three young children who required me to feed them and tuck them into bed, and a mother on her deathbed. I hardly had time for transformation. I barely had time to make breakfast.
I wasn't successful in holding myself together, though I tried mightily. I fell apart routinely. Being a total control freak, I sorta managed to schedule my falling apart. It happened at night after kids were asleep. Or it happened on the weekends when my husband (the rat-bastard responsible for my falling apart) was around to ensure my children weren't juggling knives while I sobbed on my bathroom floor into the warm body of my devoted dog. But it happened. Often. Sometimes it happened in the grocery store.
I can't pinpoint the exact moment when, into those cracks in my heart, compassion crept in. I know I felt it when my husband fully confessed (D-Day #2), curling into a fetal ball on the floor, expecting nothing from me beyond a swift kick in his ass and the promise that he'd hear from my lawyer. But then compassion took a back seat to rage for a few months at least. would surface. After a few months of taking my rage on the road, pounding the pavement with my sneakers and fantasizing of the ways in which I'd humiliate and destroy the OW, I began to feel something different for her. Pity. Sadness. A recognition that she was injured and unable to heal herself. My disgust with her likely paled in comparison to her disgust with herself, though she hid it behind bravado and armour.
And then I noticed that I was able to feel compassion even for myself, something I'd never allowed. If I'd messed up in the past, I beat myself up. I stewed in shame, though I'd never realized it. I knew no other way but to hide the "real" me behind a polished-to-perfection exterior.
Stripped of all that – it's hard to feel perfect wearing a filthy bathrobe and convinced that my husband cheated because there was something wrong with ME – I saw myself differently. Not as flawed but as injured. A wounded warrior in a terrycloth robe and slippers. Someone who'd always hid her pain. Whose desire to be seen was only outstripped by her fear of it.
I tried something new. Compassion toward myself. I gave myself kudos for getting up each day. I patted myself on the back for not murdering my husband. I congratulated myself for having kept my children alive when I didn't even want to be alive.
Where before I kept a running critique of all the ways in which I was "less": not a good enough cook, kids don't behave well enough (bad mother!), not thin enough, house messy...the list was endless.
Transformation, I've discovered, isn't a bolt of lightning from the sky. It wasn't magic.
For me, transformation was showing up each day, slowly opening my heart to the possibility that I could handle this. That I was worth fighting for. Not someone else fighting for me but ME fighting for me. That I was enough, just as I was. That I had always been.
And within that transformation, there were many many gifts. Much suffering too. But that, it seems, is where transformation takes root.
I still don't burn incense and though I won't dance under the moon I always admire it. It reminds me that we're each so small. Small but enough, guided toward a deeper understanding that none of us escapes this life without pain. And that pain itself can transform.


  1. I love this & look forward to reading this book. I have been reading/lurking here for almost 7 months now & have finally gotten the courage to comment--which is totally new to me. Thank you Elle for this wonderful site. The articles & comments have been a lifeline to me.

    I found out almost 7 months ago that my husband of (then) 21 years was cheating on me. We have loved each other since we were 14--childhood sweethearts, married young--18/19. I had suspected that something was going on & had confronted him several times last summer, only getting a lot of anger & defensiveness. Finally one night on a "date" & watching him interact with a young woman in a coffee shop (not her), I heard an almost audible voice in my head "he is having an affair with someone who works near here." (We own a business, which he runs/manages & we were in the coffeeshop next door.) I think I finally connected (or let myself connect) the dots that evening. Anyway, spent the evening looking up texts/calls off of the phone bills & it was not hard to piece together. After hacking into his FB account & calling her & seeing her profile (sure enough, she worked across the street), I confronted him. He came clean & admitted that he had a 3 month EA & it shifted to a EA/ PA for another 3 months & he loved her (of course she's 27--13 years my junior & has gorgeous long red hair) & he didn't have those "in-love" feelings for me anymore--no "spark."

    He had already told me this actually (about his feelings) after I wrote him a letter a month earlier saying that I missed him (he was spending a lot of time at work). And I had some depressive moments that I had planned to see a counselor for (realize now that I was feeling a distinct Lack Of Love!). I had actually poured a ton of energy into our marriage for that whole month previous to DDay--changing what I could on my part (critical, etc) thinking it was just a normal relationship problem.

    Anyway, after confrontation I told him that the sex ended that night or he was out & the relationship ended "soon" or it was over. I told him I would keep all this a secret (except from my supportive friends) as long as we are pursuing therapy & healing. He really thought that he could just leave, pursue this new relationship with her & keep everything else the same with me (business partnership, fixing up the house together, fun times with the kids, etc.) Have I mentioned we have 5 kids!! Ugh! Ages 6-15 Anyway after a few days of lengthy discussions about what an actual divorce would entail (welcome reality!) & me getting tested for STDs & moving all of our money (I do all the money/bookkeeping), he decided to go to therapy & give this a shot despite feelings for her. He attested & still does that it was mainly an emotional affair--the sex was a "relief" or "good" because of the emotional connection. We've never really had issues in the sex department--& didn't stop having it all summer, ew!

    to be cont...

  2. Part 2:
    So now, 7 months out: He is doing everything he can to "save this marriage." I have heard all the justifications slowly fade away as the realization has set in of what he has done. This has become much less about our problems (of which there are many & I take responsibility in ) & how wonderful she is & much more about his demons from childhood--emptiness, abuse, etc.. He was also recovering from a major wreck (broken hip/concussion) at the time. (He had obviously gotten to the point of mobility when they met!)

    Since then he's had no contact, we seem to be working more as a team, he still has some deep feelings of love for me. But he still struggles with "irrational feelings" for her. They had a "connection." They met for coffee next door everyday & so he still sees her (from a distance) a few times a week--sometimes the feelings aren't there, sometimes they are. He cannot tell me he loves me--well rarely--because of these lingering feelings for her.

    We are in therapy separately & together. He's working on his feelings for her--removing them. I've never felt this much pain. But I am doing better & better. I'm in an ok place this week--working on doing things for me, feeling no pressure to stay. Originally we gave it 6 months to work on--now we've (I've) extended this to a year. I don't know that he can recover. I don't know that he can change or be healthy enough to be in this marriage . I don't know if he can get past his feelings towards her. I DO know that I will hurt if this ends, the kids will totally hurt (they know nothing), but--ultimately-- I will be OK.

    He had a few other stepping-out moments in the first few years of marriage (making out) & is/was also a total workaholic--always searching for something to fill the emptiness. We really never dealt with this stuff--I just became less: need less, want less, feel less to fit his HUGE needs/wants/ambitions & feelings. I felt invisible. When I found out, it was like a veil was lifted on my life & things were in color. I had stuffed so many emotions of hurt, pain & my needs for so many years--since the beginning really. And it was like this dam had burst & I was alive again. I have my own stuff-abuse, etc--but I am finally starting to feel like myself for the first time in 20 or so years. Now I'm in this recovery process because he is changing, there's been no contact (my deal breaker) & because I owe it to myself & my kids to see what will happen. At the very least, we might be amicable, divorced co-parents. But I will NEVER lie to myself again about him being OK (when he clearly was never emotionally able to love me fully) out of fear or the desperation to be needed. I will want more now.

    Sorry this is so long!!

    1. Queen B,
      You are my spirit animal! Your story is amazing -- not his affair stuff (cliche, emotional connection, blah blah blah) but what you DID about it. Took total control for what you could, let go what you couldn't and made your boundaries around this crystal clear. Wow -- you should write the handbook for how to deal with this.
      Of can't control his "feelings". And I think it comes as a shock (!!) to people that it's possible to have "feelings" for more than one person. Of course, it is. But acting on them when married is the problem. We're going to feel attracted to other people, we're going to even occasionally fantasize. Like your husband did, we simply "X" out the partner standing in the way of our otherwise perfect life and move blindly ahead. And then reality hits and we realize that we've hurt people we didn't intend to, and we just might lose our families and our businesses and our friends aren't too impressed, etc. etc. Reality is a bitch.
      It must be excruciating to know that she's so close. I, frankly, would have a really hard time with that and I suspect that's a big part of what keeps your husband's "feelings" alive. Short of selling the business or relocating (which might not be a bad idea), I don't know what you can do about that.
      Except exactly what you're doing: focussing on you, healing old wounds and creating a fulfilling life with or without him in it.
      So glad you finally commented. Nice to know you've been here all along.

  3. Elle,

    Your beautifully written posts are like a balm to a mending and shattered heart. How much of that I felt (and still struggle with) and the poignant image of "A wounded Warrior in a terrycloth robe and slippers,"

    And to Sister Queen B out there please no need for apologies! You are so very safe here..... (I'm just sorry for your suffering but oh yes, do I get it).

    With Great Respect And Love All

  4. I’d like to start today by saying a heartfelt THANK YOU to Elle and all the “sisters” who post here. I get so much inspiration from all of you. You will never know how many of your words end up in notes and letters I write to HIMSELF. Yes, I take your words because so many times all of you say it better than I ever could… Sometimes he gets it - most of the time he is clueless -or- pretends to be…

    (((Hugs to all)))

  5. "When Things Fall Apart" was the book that drew me to Pema Chodron ... and I have found that another of her books, "Living Beautifully" with uncertainty and change" ... Speaks to me even more clearly. As well, I find that going to Buddhist temples and listening to the teachings is extremely calming, peaceful and inspirational. And count me in for the betrayed wives club getaway… I'd love to meet you all, share a cup of tea or a drink ... and share the night away ... The weekend… Share the weekend :-). £>

    1. H'mmm...I'll look for that book. I love her words and her wisdom. Perhaps I'll seek out a Buddhist temple too.

  6. From Steam (whose computer isn't working right now):
    I don't know where the compassion came from while I was ranting and falling apart. I had already had my H write a terse "good bye" and "no contact" email to his OW and delete his fake named account. When I continued to vent and scream and of course call her a few names, he told me she didnt even KNOW about me. He had told her that he had "someone he saw, sometimes, back home" Puluzze. Suddenly in the middle of continuing to want to throttle him, i felt compassion for HER--yes HER and tried to recover the account so he could apolgize to her profusly too. We were unsuccessful, which is probably a good thing. Weeks later I found out she was a stripper/dancer/sexworker/whatever and a lot of that compassion went right out the door. But the fact that I had it at all, even fleeting was a small miracle that surfaced early in my on going quest for transformation. Which, I'm not going to lie, can be exhausting for a long long time.

  7. I have found a deep connection with Pema the words you quoted since d-day. My family started attending our local Shambhala buddist center. Mindfulness practice has saved me and helped me find grounding and meaning through all of this. In some ways, I feel like having the ground open up and swallow me is just what I needed to rebuild myself and find a a truer self.
    Like Steam, I have found compassion for both my H and the OW--mostly for being big fat idiots-- though I often fantasize about throttling her and him. That is when I have to remind myself to relax and not panic. To just be where I am--whether it is sad, bereft, mad, resentful, enraged, disappointed, or whatever. It is alot more healing than trying to escape to fantasy outcomes, rumination, or preoccupation with the OW/the affair/the injustice.

    1. MBS,
      I pretty much echo your comment. I try to find compassion for those big fat idiots in my life. Some days I'm more successful than others. :)
      But learning to just feel, without trying to talk myself out of the feelings, or distract myself with chocolate or Facebook or whatever, has been a lifesaver. Feelings are not facts, as my therapist used to remind me. They are transient. They can be guideposts if we pay attention.



Related Posts with Thumbnails