Saturday, March 26, 2016

Feelings are not facts and they are not forever

I think one of the issues that we have is that we don't necessarily recognize that a thought is just a thought. We have a certain thought, we take it to heart, we build a future on it, we think, "This is the only thing I'll ever feel", "I'm an angry person and I always will be", "I'm going to be alone for the rest of my life", and that process happens pretty quickly.
~Sharon Salzberg

My life is in transition. Or more accurately, the lives of those around me – three teenagers – are in transition and therefore mine is too. My eldest is thinking about colleges and careers, my middle one is embracing high school, and my youngest, just turned 13, has discovered the mirror and the face she sees reflected back at her. 
And I am increasingly relegated to the sidelines. Having been the first person my kids turned to for anything, whether for dinner, help with homework, or an aching heart, these days I'm more often on the outside of conversations between my kids and their friends. It's developmentally appropriate, of course. I know this. I understand the power of the peer group and know that my young adults need to venture forth to test out their wings while the nest is still near enough for retreat when necessary.
But that doesn't mean it doesn't hurt.
And so I find myself, more than I'd like to admit, convinced that this sadness will follow me the rest of my life. That the best days are behind me. That I spent the potentially best years of my career focussed on raising children. That I squandered years nursing my broken heart post D-Day. 
I wallow in maudlin thoughts. That's probably the last time I'll ever push my child on a swing, I think. I've probably run my last 10K race, I figure. I doubt I'll ever write a bestselling book, I tell myself.
I feel old. Tossed aside. My best years behind me.
I felt that way after D-Day, of course. I couldn't imagine that I would ever EVER feel okay again. I was sure that the rest of my life, whether I stayed in my marriage or threw him out, would be misery.
I laugh at that now, grateful to have been so wrong.
But here I am, learning the lesson again. I'm sad and sadness can feel like a heavy blanket that we can't imagine getting out from beneath.

But that's today. Today I'm overtired having entertained 20 guests for dinner last night. Today I ate carrot cake for lunch so feel kinda gross. Today I decided not to go for a hike, which always makes me feel better, and instead to focus on the many ways in which my children are breaking my heart. 
I have to remind myself that today is not forever. Today is A week ago, I felt on top of the world. A week ago, I was in love with my life. A week ago, I felt certain that my career was on an upward trajectory, that many of the seeds I've sown are taking root. I felt adored by my children, cherished by my husband.
My wonderful therapist whose words stay with me long since we've stopped seeing each other used to remind me, gently and consistently, that "feelings are not facts." This was usually in response to some declaration I would make. "I'm miserable," I would say. "I can't live like this for another minute."
"Feelings are not facts," she would say and, at first, I was annoyed. What the hell did that mean? If I don't follow my feelings, then how do I know which course to take?
Her point, of course, was that feelings change. Sometimes over years, sometimes over a day. She wasn't advising against following my feelings, she was advising against making life-altering decisions based on what I was feeling at that exact moment. Sit with them, she would suggest. See if you feel the same way tomorrow. See if you feel the same way after you initiate a difficult conversation. See if these are feelings or facts. 
I try to remember this as I'm called upon to drive my 17-year-old to her boyfriend's place. I'm reminded that just six months ago she felt sure she would never, ever like another boy again, after the one who'd been careless with her heart. And yet, here she is. Smitten. The other boy relegated to the well-that-was-a-mistake pile. 
And even though all she needs from me right now is a drive and I feel small and purposeless, I know that tomorrow will be different. Each day will take my kids further away from me, which is as it should be. But each day can take me deeper into my relationship with my husband. It can open up the time I've long sought to devote to my work. It can provide the space to revive friendships that have languished during the busy years of parenting, interests I've wanted to pursue. 
Today I'm sad.
But tomorrow and the many tomorrows to come can be different. Just like the many yesterdays have been. A blend of sad and happy and confused and hopeful and a zillion other feelings that make up life. 


  1. I can relate to the bittersweet feelings of kids growing up. I am now an empty nester and I've cried every holiday for the last year because holidays don't feel special or magical anymore.

  2. Good comments that help when feelings get down and sad. Our daughter is getting married this summer and we are very happy with her choice but part of me wants to say "don't be too trusting". I won't, she knows nothing about her father's attachment to his ex girlfriend and I am determined she will not know as it would destroy her relationship with him. It is making me feel sadness though and I get angry that his selfishness is infiltrating this time.

  3. Elle, your feelings will change. Looking back, I found this time period with my children very difficult; they need you but then they don't. They have other interests. They listen to you less. They are slowly withdrawing from you. (Sound familiar?) The rewards of them coming back to you are much greater. (Sound familiar?) I enjoy being mom and friend with my children as adults. It is probably the most satisfying time of being a mother. I can't describe how complete as a mom I feel in my relationship with my children now. I can see so many things I did for them, the sacrifices of all types, has paid off when I witness just how wonderful my children are as adults. Yes, they come back, then want to be with you and will drive hundreds of miles to get home, they call for advice and listen, they ask for a special dinner which they remember made them feel good. They will tell you what you did right. Yes, they stray or wander away from you for a time but the reunion in an adult relationship is worth it. I think after being betrayed circumstances and feelings are in a different setting but feel the same. After betrayal I have a lightening rod built in in my head for my protection. I feel it whenever it strikes.

  4. Oh Elle.

    Thank you for this, sometimes we are so deep in the dark feelings it is hard to remember. I often feel so terrible that I think I am terrible. I think such insane things and sometimes act insane that I must be insane. I feel so sad that I think there is no future beyond this pain.

    How do we find our way out or through. All I see is a long dark road.


    1. Becky,
      How do we find our way through? We trust those on the road ahead of us who promise us that we'll find our way. We trust those who remind us that they felt the same way...and they don't feel that way any more. We remember times in our past when we thought we would never ever be okay again...only to discover that we did. That we're stronger than we know. That we grew from the experience.
      As E.L. Doctorow famously said, you can only see as far as your headlights...but you can make the whole trip that way.

  5. "Feelings are not facts" - a concept I have long understood from my history of dealing with depression, but I was never able to sum it up quite so succinctly. Thank you, Elle. I used it this evening with my 12-year-old daughter, who is having mood swings.
    Becky, you just learn learn to wait it out. It's like an illusion, or a hologram: intellectually you know it's not real, but it looks and feels so real. It's hard not to get caught up in it. You learn to say to yourself: as real as these feelings seem, they are misleading and they are temporary. I will make it day to day, minute to minute, until they start to fade and I can see reality. Because that WILL happen. What goes down must come up!
    When I'm fighting my dragons, I like to jam out to Billy Joel's "Minor Variation". If you're not musical, a minor variation is a section of a musical piece that is in a minor (sad-sounding) key, before it returns to the major (happier sounding) key. The song talks about riding out the sad feelings that are "a part of the pattern". Great song for people who are learning to ride out those periods of depression and hopelessness.
    On another note (pun intended), I am increasingly worried about my daughter. She is 12, she is dealing with mood swings and hormones, and she is also at the age where she is questioning the reality of God. After we talked tonight, her mood improved greatly; she clung to me for a while and then had a happy evening with her sister. And all I could think was: her dad and I are about to throw divorce into the mix. Damn.
    Praying for guidance.

    1. Phoenix
      I'm also praying for you to have the right amount of strength to pull your daughter with you through the next season of your lives! My own mother chose to cut out our biological father for 10 years because she thought she was protecting us. I learned the hard way that even though my dad was lousy husband material he was still a very good man who made terrible choices at that time in his life but made changes to be a better man! You will rise from the ashes because you are Phoenix and you are the strongest in the relationship with the most important job in life! Mothering through teen years are the toughest and I just know that you can do this!

    2. Phoenix
      You are welcome and I hope my words gave a small piece of comfort!

  6. Thanks Elle. Your words always come at a time I need to hear them. I, too, am dealing with a transitional period with adult and teen children, all while in the midst of feeling stuck after his affair. I've been sad for a the last week. Mourning the loss of what was, missing the traditions of Easter when the kids were small, and wondering what life will hold. I know it will pass, and so your words are truly comforting. Thank you, as always.

  7. I am not to this point yet with my kids exactly but I still find even little things that happen with my kids trigger horrible feelings from the betrayal. The funny thing is I regularly tell my kids when they are struggling with things that we need to look at the reality not the narrative they are telling themselves. I see them telling themselves things that are not 100% true like one bad test does not mean they are failing or horrible at science. It means they had one bad test and they can bounce back. But why is it so hard to take my own advice?

    Thank you for the reminder to treasure each day with these girls of mine. I struggle with the fact I gave up so much for our family since I felt we were a team. But each day I tell myself I cannot go back and change it. I wish we could move but it does not make sense now. It makes me sad that I trusted a person so much and he let me down so much. I am just not sure he can ever reverse the damage enough for me to forgive him and eventually trust him. I feel as I feel stronger like he is slipping away. I almost feel as I am stronger how can I accept that in my life. We will see. Life has been busy so we are waiting to talk when the kids are not around which has been a challenge lately. Time will tell...

  8. Becky
    I too have some of those dark days but then the sun comes out and those small rays breathe life back in to what was going to be a very sad day. Time has a way of changing my perspective and I just had to live through the pain and sadness for as long as it took. Which for me happend last April fools day! The crazy ow was locked up and ordered to stop contact. One year later she had to be told again by the judge to leave us alone or go to jail. What an up and down past two years have been! I'm proud of how much progress my h and I have made in our journey to heal both of us from his choices of the past...Time and looking for the small bits and pieces of happiness. Hugs!

  9. Thanks Elle. Thank you and others here for lighting the path. Sometimes it is hard to take this wise advice which makes perfect sense in my head and convince my heart and my very scared inner child. It has been so hard to keep my heart space open. Anger fear and pain are formidable foes.

    Love and support to all

  10. Hopeful 30, that one line 'I almost feel as I am stronger how can I accept that in my life' is a daily battle I am having too, to the point where I am questioning whether I do still love my h or not. He is doing everything he can to help my healing and face up to / address his own issues that caused him to have an affair. But I don't know if it's ever going to be enough because maybe however bright the future could be, too much damage has been done in the past for me to accept it and to allow me to look him differently.

  11. Thank you ladies. Your support means everything to me.


  12. This may sound strange, but when I started to feel better, that was disconcerting. Because I remembered how, in the wake of d-day, how strongly I believed that I would never ever feel happy again. I almost felt like I was betraying myself--as if being happy again was somehow saying that what my husband did was okay. I would think, "What's wrong with me? My husband cheated, and I'm okay??" It was very confusing. I mean, in the beginning, I would have given anything to feel better, yet when I did, I had no idea how to handle it.

    I've had to learn to be happy again without being afraid of it. It's an ongoing process, but it's getting better.

    1. Gee,
      You've hit on an interesting point. It can feel destabilizing to feel happy again after becoming somewhat "comfortable" in the pain. I think we sometimes hang on to that hyper vigilance as a hedge against happiness. Happiness can feel, in our distorted thinking, as making us vulnerable to being blindsided again. Better to anticipate betrayal than be caught off guard, right? Except that living in a state of constantly anticipating pain is no way to live. I'm glad you're pushing through that.

  13. Coping,
    Thanks for replying. It is so hard and nice to know I am not the only one feeling this way. It really is hard. I know I am putting this narrative in my head but I am not sure what else to do. I know people make mistakes and my husband keeps saying I need to decide if he gets a second chance and he will do everything to not betray me in any way. Yet I keep thinking those things to myself. Is this all worth it? I am just not sure. I had a huge issue in the beginning my husband would say regularly I think I must have done irrepairble damage. I just did not connect with that. This was before dday two when he disclosed the true length of his affairs which hit me hard. Since he lied to me again for five months and made me feel crazy and like the bad one for questioning him. And since he is a mental health professional I wonder sometimes is this all too far gone. Can trust ever be established. I cannot even get to the forgiveness point yet. What threshold will i cross that will allow me to forgive him and maybe trust him at some point. I keep thinking what will it look like. And I am not sure.


    I totally agree with that feeling, I thought about it a lot and I think it relates to normalcy returning for me at least. It is hard when things start to feel normal or comfortable. I feel like something is going to sneak up on me, another shoe will drop. It is hard to be happy. I am happy with my kids and with myself. I find it hard to be with others. Uncomfortable topics come up. They complain about stupid things. Then with my husband it is hard to feel like this is all real, that too good to be true feeling seems a constant.

    1. I'm afraid my new normal feels very empty. I'm hoping this is a stage I'll pass through and find love and fulfillment again. I walk around now with a smile on my face and a big empty hole where my heart used to be.

    2. Denise
      Yes those empty feelings in your heart can be filled in! It takes a great deal of work on your h part in taking the lead in the repair of that place. I'm not sure how long you have been in the club as it seems I've been on this journey for years. Probably because we couldn't get the ow out of our lives for almost two years. So for me my true healing began when my h grew his balls back and realized that she would have to go to jail to leave us alone. She had to be reminded last month and so that tells me she really has not moved on but meanwhile my h has done the really hard work earning my heart back by consistently doing everything possible to move us to a better place. It's not easy. It takes some of us longer to get to the better place but for now my h and I are getting there one step at a time one day at a time and remind each other daily we are better together and the best is yet to come. Hugs for where you are and prayers for strength to get to where you want and need to be!

    3. It is a stage that we all go through. I've heard it called "the plane of lethal flatness". It's a defense mechanism to go numb. It keeps us from feeling more pain, but it also keeps us from feeling joy.

      I felt like I'd be stuck there forever. Fortunately, I was wrong about that!

  14. Wow Gee - I felt/feel the same way. It's strange - like I don't want anyone (especially my husband) to EVER think it was Ok. Yet, at the same time, like with all tragedies in life, one must move on and choose happiness. My husband said the other day, "I don't forgive myself, the most I can do right now is accept it; I cannot change the fact that it happened."

    1. Melissa,
      That's such a common belief -- that by getting to a place of "normal", we're somehow implying that what happened was okay. That we're letting them "off the hook". But by "punishing" them -- ie. constantly staying in a place where the pain we're experiencing is visible -- we're also punishing ourselves. I sometimes mention a woman I know who's had two kids (two!!!) commit suicide due to a schizophrenia diagnosis. If you were to meet her, you'd see a lovely, warm, happy woman. She's done incredible work to heal from the pain of losing her children. But just because she's not locked in misery doesn't make the loss of her children okay with her...or with anyone else. We all need to recognize that we can heal from pain -- we can get to a place where the experience is no longer making us miserable -- while knowing that nothing about it was okay. As your husband said, "it happened." The question is, what can learn from it?

  15. Gee, I'm in the exact same spot. How did you learn how to be happy? I don't know how to handle it either?

    1. I asked this question on this site a few months back. Elle pointed me towards the work of Brene Brown, which had helped me a lot. Another book, "Steering by Starlight" by Martha Beck has also been useful. (Some of it was a bit woo-woo for me, but there was enough useful info that I recommend it.)

      I have also talked to my husband about this, and he assures me, no matter how well I do, he will never ever think what he did was okay. He knows how wrong it was. Even if I never cry again. In fact, there are some days when I'm having a good day, and he seems down, and when I ask him what's wrong, he'll tell me that it just hit him again what a selfish idiot he was. So my being okay does not in any way say that what he did was okay.

      I remember Elle has said here how you have to let yourself feel the pain. Well, you also have to let yourself feel the happiness in the same way. Even when it scares you. The more practice you have at doing it, the easier it gets.

      I hope that helps!

    2. LLP and Gee,
      It's interesting to me that struggling to allow ourselves to be happy can be as hard as allowing ourselves to fully feel the pain. Learning to live deeply in a full range of emotions is, perhaps, our greatest challenge after such a shock.
      If the only thing keeping our partners from cheating is seeing our pain, then they've still got a lot of work to do.

    3. That was something I really got stuck on. He'd told me so much that seeing how badly he'd hurt me made him determined to never do it again. Which in way, made me feel like as long as I stay sad, I'm safe, and he won't cheat again. But is that really the relationship I want? Is that really how I want to spend the rest of my life? Of course it isn't.



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