I posted a pic on Facebook the other day. It's of my three gorgeous children. The occasion is my youngest's grade eight graduation. My kids are smiling. I know I sound like their mother but they are radiant.
I could have commented something about endings and beginnings. I could have written about the awesome teachers and incredible school my daughter had the good fortune to attend. Or about the sibling love and loyalty so apparent in their hugs and their grins.
Instead, I posted something perhaps oblique to those who don't know us well. I wrote that it's tough to be a kid. I noted that some hurdles had been cleared but we know there are more to come.
I was referring, without coming right out and saying it, to the mental health issues that my youngest – our current grad – has faced. Two years ago, she was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and, at her worst, begged her father and I to kill her because she couldn't endure another minute of her thoughts. Instead, we found her help and she participated in an out-patient program at our local hospital. For weeks, she underwent what's called Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP), a therapy that slowly exposed her to her worst fears – contamination – and taught her that she could not only endure it but, with time and training, accept it.
Today, though she needs to routinely do mindfulness work to stay on track, you'd hardly know she will have OCD for the rest of her life.
I was referring also to my eldest who was recently diagnosed with Bipolar Spectrum Disorder and who, in the past couple of weeks, has been on 24/7 watch to prevent her from harming herself. She's doing better but we are, by no means, out of the proverbial woods.
To most who saw the photo I posted, I'm a proud mom of three beautiful children. Which is true.
But it's only part of the story.
And that's a challenge most of here face, isn't it? How to accept that something can be true – and no less true for being only part of the story.
It can be true that my husband loved me deeply. And also true that he cheated on me.
It can be true that my mother valued being a good mom. And also true that she routinely drank herself into incapacitation.
It can be true that you are an amazing person. And also true that your husband cheated.
It can be true that your husband is a kind, good-hearted soul. And also true that he made choices that hurt you deeply.
Our job, in the wake of betrayal, is to learn to accept these seeming paradoxes.
And it's to discover that not telling everyone the entire truth of our lives isn't the same as lying.
You don't owe people the whole story of your marriage, of your life. What people project onto you – that your life looks "perfect", for instance – is about them, not you. You're under no obligation to open the whole of your heart.
Human beings are natural storytellers. And we often fill in the blanks of what we don't know. We peer in from the outside and think we know the inner mechanics of their relationships, of their quirks.
But we don't know.
And we never will know what it is like to live in another person's marriage. That, however, rarely stops people from projecting. We see the put-together woman with her healthy beautiful children and we figure the inside story is as glossy as the outside version. And so we're shocked to discover that perfect makeup is to hide the bruises. Or we see the frazzled mom who's routinely late and are surprised to discover she's a well-respected CEO.
We are so swayed by external evidence that we, again and again, forget that it's a package. The contents can be wildly different. And the we humans are full of contradictions.
And while it's disconcerting to discover another person's life is not what it seems, it's devastating to discover that's true for our own.
But his cheating doesn't alter who you are.
And though at first you struggle to reconcile what you believed to be true with this new information, it can become easier.
This isn't some sort of semantic hocus-pocus. There is unquestionably parts of my marriage, before D-Day, that were a lie. I believed things about my husband that were patently untrue.
But I've learned that the larger part – that I was loved – can remain true.
And, more importantly, that I am a person worthy of love isn't changed by his choice to betray me.
All of which is to say, I get to choose the parts of my story that I share with the wider world. Choosing not to tell casual friends or acquaintances – even those who express envy at my "perfect" family – isn't being inauthentic, it's having clear boundaries. I don't owe anybody my whole story. Our lives are our own, and we get to decide what parts of our lives we share with the around us.
We choose who to tell about the mental health issues we're currently struggling with. For instance, we've chosen to tell close friends. We haven't told my daughter's landlord. We've told some family members but not others.
Don't confuse authenticity with full disclosure. Authenticity doesn't require you to reveal everything about yourself, it simply requires you to be fully present and fully yourself. It requires you to be honest with yourself. Always.
I know a lot of us struggle with this and feel as though we wear a mask. Give yourself time. Share your story with people who've earned the privilege, who will hold your pain in their hearts. Or don't. The choice is always always yours.
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- Separating or Divorcing? Page 5