The title of this post is from something B.J. Miller said in an episode of On Being. Miller is a professor of medicine and executive director of the Zen Hospice Project. "Let death be what takes us," he has written, "not a lack of imagination."
Miller lost both legs and most of an arm in a college accident when 11,000 volts of electricity went through his body. Talk about your "surprises of daily life". He laughs at the description of his accident because he owes his new body to something called "The Dinky", a small commuter train that ran on a track into the Princeton campus. He. Laughed. Imagine that.
The episode itself is titled "Reframing our relationship to what we can't control" and listening to his description of the accident and his experience of having to understand himself in the light of this new self, I was struck by something:
Kinda sounds a lot like us, doesn't it?
So many of us, whether our marriage felt solid or not, experience betrayal as a shock. It's a sudden intrusion into our daily life, shaking up everything we thought we knew, shattering our understanding of the past and our expectation for the future. And, for many of us, our sense of who we are in this world is deeply shaken.
What Miller suggests is a reimagining of our lives, something he was forced into because of his physical disabilities. Or, as the title suggests, a reframing of what we can't control. Because if there's anything we learn in the wake of betrayal, it's that our idea of control was a total illusion. Miller's reframing suggests a radical shift in how a lot of us deal with the shock of infidelity and one that doesn't come quickly or easily. He's careful to acknowledge that his healing from the trauma of his accident and his reframing or reimagining of his life was a long process. And yet he's guilty, as I think I am too, of sometimes glossing over the immense growing pains that go along with it. And growing pains that don't always feel like growth but like absolutely feel like pain.
We all like the idea of reimagining a future in which we're free of the fallout of betrayal – the trust issues, the anxiety, the deep pain that we insist will be ours forever – but the reality is not quite so happily ever after. We don't wake up one day with a new attitude and some rose-coloured glasses. Instead, we work through the pain, we sit with it when it closes in on us, we reach out for support when we're drowning in it and then, if we're open to it, we begin to consider what else might be inherent in this suffering. Are there lessons to be learned? Might there be positive change? How can I reimagine my future in a way that stirs even the tiniest bit of excitement and hope?
I did an interview with another betrayed wife yesterday for a Podcast (stay tuned, I'll be posting a link when it's live) and hope. we both agreed, was crucial in this reimagining of our future post-betrayal. It can sound trite and passive. But the hope I'm referring to is a deep belief that this is not the end of the story. This hope doesn't sit passively while they wait for their partner to change. This hope is willing to roll up its sleeves and do the scary things that need doing – seeking help, speaking with a lawyer, drawing clear and unequivocal boundaries because we know that the only way through this pain is to be gentle with ourselves and ruthless in our insistence upon respect. Without this hard-working hope, the only future we can imagine is another version of hell.
I know hope is in short supply in the days following discovery of a partner's betrayal. And that's okay. Give yourself time to digest this "surprise of daily life". Allow yourself to recognize and acknowledge the deep trauma that accompanies such a betrayal. But know that hope will come if you call for it, if you're open to new possibilities, if you refuse to accept that the pain you feel right now is the end of the story, if you're willing to reframe your relationship with what you can't control and reimagine where you go from here.