Thursday, March 29, 2018

Embracing the You You've Become


How often do we read the lament of a newcomer (or an old-timer) to this site who misses "the old me"? What they (or we) are saying is that they miss the lightness with which they used to live life. They miss the naivety with which they lived, the absolute conviction that they were safe with this partner they'd chosen.
I understand the lament. I felt it myself and wailed to my husband, on more than one occasion, that he had "broken me". I imagined myself irretrievably damaged, never again to live with a lightness, a faith that the path before me was clear.
I was no fool. I knew that life could easily deliver pain to the innocent. And yet, I'd convinced myself that I'd had my share. That I'd chosen well. That I was safe.
I was right, of course. But not in the way I'd imagined.
I'd outsourced my safety. I'd placed my heart in the hands of a man who, at the time, was unworthy of it. And I'd kept little of my heart for myself. I had no blueprint for self-love. It struck me as arrogant, as selfish. Self-love meant less for others, surely.
And so I gave it all away. And I was empty.
Which is why, when I discovered my husband's infidelity, I was so thirsty for evidence that I was loved, that I was worthy, that I was safe. But my well, long forgotten, was dry.
Healing from his cheating was a process of refilling that well. It was a daily practice of self-love, of seeing my own pain and not fleeing from it, of holding it and allowing my soul to grow stronger from it, by feeling it and letting it teach me. 
Healing from his cheating was about letting the rain fall and knowing that that water was being collected, that it was nourishing me in some profound way. And that, when the sun came out again – and was slowly believing that it would – that the collected rain would be necessary to quench my thirst again.
Healing from his affair about letting go of our fantasies about "the old me". It's about honouring her, about grieving her. But it's about realizing that the old you has grown muscles in your soul that weren't there before, or at least, hadn't been tapped.
New you = old you + pain x wisdom. 
The lightness inside you has become a light inside you, that illuminates the path for all others still to come, who will learn from what you've learned, who will heal from your healing, who will gain strength from your strength.
This is how we heal. By loving ourselves and then extending that love outward but always making sure there's water in our well for when we thirst. And we will thirst.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

What if his affair really had nothing to do with you?

"Sometimes when we seek the gaze of another, it’s not our partner we are turning away from, but the person we have become. We are not looking for another lover so much as another version of ourselves. ... So often, the most intoxicating “other” that people discover in an affair is not a new partner; it’s a new self."
~Esther Perel, Why Happy People Cheat

Those words would have made me spit with anger if I'd read them in the early days following the discovery of my husband's affair. So I can imagine how more than a few of you are feeling right now. "Who the hell cares if he's discovered a 'new version of himself'," I can hear you yelling at your computer. "I am destroyed by this." 
And yes, it can be painful to hear some of the rhetoric around how affairs can help some cheaters get in touch with their own pain, or about how an affair can actually deepen a marriage. No matter that it's true. Who cares when my own heart is shattered! Why couldn't he get in touch with his pain without hurting me?
I hear you. And I agree. Just because he was so messed up that he thought he could find salvation in the arms of some woman with a trunk full of her own emotional baggage, why do I – and my children – have to pay the price? 
Fair question. And the answer, unfortunately, isn't very satisfying. Life isn't fair. Sometimes we are asked to show up for things that we didn't ask for. Often we are delivered situations that just suck. 
This, clearly, is one of those times.
And yet.
And yet, there's so much truth and freedom in what Perel is saying that if you can find the space in your shattered heart to even consider it, it just might change everything.
Because the thing with infidelity is that our first response, our knee-jerk response, is almost always to point the finger at ourselves. What is wrong with me that he would cheat? What does she have that I don't? Even those of us who are more charitable with ourselves can still find themselves wondering how they could have been so stupid as to miss that their partner was cheating. 
It's all about self-blame. It's about thinking we could control way more than we can actually control.
It's about thinking his affair was about us. When it wasn't about us at all.
It defies logic, doesn't it? How can he cheat on us and yet it has nothing to do with us? Of course, it has something to do with us, our rational brains insist. We are the injured party. We are the ones to whom he pledged fidelity. 
I remember the morning after a long night of "but why..." and "but how...", that I asked my husband how he could drive off in the morning toward her house and leave me to take care of three young children. "But that's the thing," he said to me, exhausted and exasperated from my endless questions and lack of sleep. "I wasn't thinking about you at all."
Heartless, isn't it?
And yet.
And yet, in that moment, the light went on. A-ha! His affair wasn't about hurting me. It wasn't about me at all. In the Venn diagram of marriage and affair, there was no overlap. It was simply two circles, side by side. 
I wasn't even outraged, though I was aware that this was completely fucked up. Instead, I was grateful. I was off the hook. This was completely on him. It had nothing to do with me. It wasn't because I wasn't skinny enough or successful enough or young enough or any of the personal shortcomings I thought were the reason.
In Perel's telling, "happy" people cheat, though I've never seen that up close. My husband cheated because he was looking for something outside of himself that he lacked inside himself. He cheated because he was in pain and he had no remedy for it, indeed he could barely recognize his own pain. He cheated because, as Perel says, he was looking for another version of himself, so disappointed he was in the current version.
In another of Perel's podcasts, a husband who cheated throughout his marriage describes it this way: "The sadness runs all the time. Never goes away. It was there before but I didn't know it. I made sure never to feel it."
This guy didn't find that better version of himself in the affair. But he did find it in healing from the affair. It was the same for my husband. It was when he could fully acknowledge the pain he'd caused, when he could face the shame that had driven so much of his behaviour for so much of his life, that he could unshackle himself from it. 
Yay for him, right? And all it took was completely devastating me. Small price to pay, huh?
Of course not. And though it took time, I became able to recognize that the complete unravelling of my husband, while creating the conditions for wholesale change that he needed, nonetheless caused me incredible pain. It damn near killed me. And our marriage was precarious for a long time.
But, with the long view, I can also admit that my marriage was precarious before I knew it was. When one partner is so disconnected to his own heart, and consequently, to his spouse, the marriage is already on life support, even if the tubes are hidden. 
Whether or not my marriage survived, we each had wounds that needed attention. That we were able to heal together – and to rebuild a marriage – is a bonus. 
We both discovered intoxicating others in ourselves. He can face himself in a mirror having long since stared down the shame that had ruled so much of his life. I too can face myself in a mirror, clear-eyed, having been roughly invited to tend to some long festering wounds from childhood that insisted I was unworthy of love.
Perel's words can feel like tough medicine to swallow so take a tiny dose, if that's all you can manage. But don't discard her words completely. They just might offer you the liberation that you need in order to move forward and heal yourself 

Monday, March 26, 2018

That In-Between Place

I've been spending a lot of time lately looking forward to when this is over. "This" refers to my father's recent fall, subsequent hospitalization, and return home with the support of what seems like a staff of 20. My world has been upended and my days are spent dealing with catheters, organizing nurses, planning meals and fretting – constant fretting – about the future. At 88, my dad isn't likely to bounce back. If we're lucky, where he is now – able to walk with a walker, decent long-term memory but shaky short-term – will hold. If we're lucky, he'll be able to continue to live in his home on the lake, his piece of paradise.
If we're lucky, "this" will be over soon and we'll settle back into normal.
This is that horrible in-between place. When the future is shadowy. When the present isn't quite a crisis but it isn't our normal.
The thing will living in that in-between place is that we're loathe to accept it. Not surprisingly, intolerance of uncertainty is linked to anxiety and depression. I squirm with discomfort. This is unacceptable. I want to know what's next. This in-between place is full of uncertainty. And I, like most humans, will take certain misery over uncertainty any day of the week.
It's this loathing of the in-between place that drives so many of us to make decisions before we're ready, to force our partners into decisions before they're ready. Just go, we demand, in the face their reticence to commit. I'm outta here, we declare, in the face of our own pain.
Thing is, we're taking that pain along with us. It doesn't vanish – poof! – just because we walk away from the discomfort.
I'm reminded of the time I told my now-husband that I was ready to get married. I was so convinced that he adored me, that he was just holding his breath for me to declare my readiness, that I was stunned when his response was lukewarm. So hurt was I that I announced that, clearly, this relationship wasn't what I thought it was and I was calling it quits. I went from "I'm ready to marry you" to "I'm breaking up with you" in about five minutes flat.
He asked me to give him time. He asked me to spend some time in that in-between place while he decided what he wanted. "You've clearly been thinking about this," he said. "I haven't. I love you and I love being with you but I haven't been thinking about getting married. Please let me have that time now."
I agreed, mostly because of his dog, who I couldn't imagine breaking up with.
And then, because I know myself, I decided to run a marathon. I knew that sitting in that in-between place, where I had no control over how things were going to play out, where I had to just live with uncertainty, would feel excruciating. And so I ran. Each day, I ran. Hours. And hours.
I got stronger physically. And I got stronger mentally. As I ran, I thought. About what I could control and what I couldn't control. (Incidentally, there's research that shows reading novels helps us get uncomfortable with uncertainty because we don't know how they'll end. I could have saved myself a whole lot of blisters and chafing if I'd just held a reading marathon instead.)
When I crossed that finish line, four gruelling hours and six excruciating minutes after starting, my then-boyfriend and his dog were there. I was thrilled to see them. But I realized that I didn't need his answer. Not right then. I'd become okay in that in-between place. It hadn't been as scary as I thought because I could control me. I was going to be okay no matter what he decided.
We spend a lot of time in that in-between place after betrayal. And, of course, it's complicated by the pain. But leaning into that in-between place – and yes, perhaps alleviating some of the discomfort with an activity that reminds us of our strength and our determination – can change everything. It can prevent us from making compulsive choices. It can shift our focus to what really matters.
As I cope daily with this in-between place – listening carefully each morning when I call my dad to signs of pain, or of confusion – I'm increasingly aware that in-between is where we spend much of our lives. And if all we're doing is holding our breath until it's over, we're missing out on the lessons it holds. To trust ourselves. To take care of ourselves. To be patient with ourselves and others.
My dad is also in that in-between place. But if I'm so focussed on my own discomfort, I can't see his fear. And so I try to make space for each of us and our enormous feelings. The in-between place is big enough for all of it.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Guest Post: Your Guide to Staying

by StillStanding1

Have you ever experienced the phenomenon where you thought about buying a certain kind of car and then suddenly you start seeing that car everywhere, even though you are sure you never saw more than three before in your whole life? Ever since I wrote my post about how a separation is sometimes the right answer, I feel as though I am seeing a lot of separations happening here on in the BWC community. And maybe I’m just seeing things that are always there. Maybe there is a lot of it. Maybe I’m assuming an undue level of influence for the post I wrote (I still take responsibility for things that aren’t mine). I know no one here is jumping into a separation willy-nilly because of something they read on the internet. And of course, as I wrote earlier, sometimes it is the rational, healthy choice for someone in a toxic situation. But, I’m also feeling that I want to add some balance through discussion of the other option, one that can be just as hard, and that’s staying.
Choosing to stay when faced with a partner’s affair is absolutely a valid choice and one that many women make. The public view of affairs is reminiscent of the ways we used to (and in some places still do) talk about sexual assault. It’s taboo. We pretend it doesn’t happen. We don’t talk about it openly. When someone in the public eye is unfortunate enough to go through this, the public is openly condemning the act of betrayal itself while simultaneously taking a voyeuristic pleasure in someone else’s pain and downfall. Society also tends to blame the victim (sounds familiar, right?). The wife must have been a frozen shrew, or he wouldn’t have strayed. She must be a chump if she stays with a cheater. She’s “asking for it” – being hurt or fooled again – if she stays. A woman is left feeling alone, isolated and with a burden of shame for her choice to stay. There’s no high five, feel good Oprah episode celebrating women who fight this difficult and painful fight. This is piled on top of the PTSD symptoms we’re struggling with from the betrayal itself. Why, then, might a woman choose to stay after the life-altering trauma of betrayal?
Staying might be the choice you make today, right now, because you need time to breathe and find your feet before you decide what is the next right step for you. You are shattered and often a weeping mess on the bathroom floor (no shame, we’ve all been there). Now is not the time to be considering wholesale changes to your life. It’s okay to sit still for the time being and recruit your strength. Staying because you need time to recover is okay. You have as much time as you need.
You may choose to stay because you have a long history with this person. You’ve built a life together. You are not willing to throw all that away. You know there is work ahead, and so does he, but you both are willing to do that work to get somewhere better.  And sometimes, it takes a little while to get from the pain and horror of D-day, to the point where you both are on board for this effort. It is a legitimate choice to stay and give things time to unfold, to settle down and for you to assess whether or not you see him making changes and doing the hard work of figuring out why he made the choices he made. Again, you have as much time as you need to let this part of the story unfold.
You might choose to stay for your children, if you have them. This is a valid choice too. Disruption, separation and divorce are all scary and challenging for children. You are making a choice for them, to keep things safe and settled. But know that they need a happy, healthy mother in their lives. So as you make the choice to stay for them, also own that it is a choice for you. You are not trapped or weak. You are fighting for a better life. What does this look like? Is this also time to assess and let things unfold? Staying for your children is an okay place to start but don’t let it be where you finish. What does your husband need to do to show he deserves this second chance to be in a family with you.
You might choose to stay because you are scared. Scared of all the unknowns out there. Scared you can’t provide for yourself. Scared it will be a struggle. Scared of being alone. Scared of running a household on your own. Scared that you won’t be able to keep your family safe. Scared of anything and everything. This is also real and legitimate. I’ve been there (and still go there sometimes). It’s okay to sit still when you are feeling scared about your future. Take some time to look at what you are afraid of. If you don’t feel like you can support yourself, start doing something to address that. If you don’t have visibility into the family income and finances, take steps to get that access. If you worry you won’t have enough to live on if you do end up on your own, go and visit a lawyer to understand what your rights are. Start taking steps to address those fears and take some of your power back. You have as much time as you need to work through these fears and gain confidence in your ability to handle your own life. This will serve you whether your relationship ends or mends.

The bottom line is that you may choose to stay for a variety of reasons, all of which are personal to you and all of which are completely valid. It is necessary, after trauma, to take time to breathe and recover, to give yourself time to feel through the pain. As you start finding your feet again, take stock. What needs to change? What are your boundaries and terms for staying together? What are your needs? What do you want to work on? What is holding you back personally? What does he need to do to earn this second chance you are giving him by choosing to stay? How are you going to take better care of yourself and ask for what you need? What are your deal breakers? What is your plan if a deal breaker occurs? It’s a lot to think about AND you don’t have to have all those answers today, tomorrow or next week. But, when you are ready, start thinking about where you want to go from here. Claim the power you already have to steer your life. And know that no decision is made in stone. You may choose to stay today, for just today. You are always free to change direction. This is both liberating and scary as help. Just know that we’ll be right there with you.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Reframing your story to reclaim your power

Fragments of Hope posted a while back about something she's done to heal. It's a powerful exercise, inspired by a book she read, and I was struck by the potential it had to really help others so I'm including it here: 

I've been doing so much work lately on core values that have arisen from childhood and on self-forgiveness. A powerful tool is to write out how we forgive ourselves for the things we tell ourselves about ourselves post affair or how we don't nurture ourselves. I've been doing a lot of meditations that emphasis all the areas where we don't respect and accept ourselves. Also I must very highly recommend a book by Meryn Callander: After his Affair, Women Rising from the Ashes of Infidelity. In chapter seven, she walks us through the ways we have betrayed ourselves, a gentle exploration of the ways we did not stand up for our needs or our boundaries with pertinent questions. With all the work I'm doing, I decided to listen to what I told myself post-affair and still sometimes tell myself. I first listed those core beliefs from childhood that still resonate. Later, as you will see, I answered each of them back and hope to eventually fully accept those new statements. 

I am stupid
You were trusting and optimistic and positive on the side of light and could not see the extent of the dark treacle of his maladjusted patterns and needs.


The family life I’ve created is worth nothing 
The comfort is you provide to others is invisible sometimes but more powerful for that.
What I contribute to the family is worthless (you thread through everything and are the fabric even if they don’t know) 


I am interchangeable with these other women he gets involved with 
Even if there are people behind the scenes it does not stop me on this new journey of self-respect, love and strength.


I am helpless in the face of others’ entitlement and vilification. 
I will be me, everything I am strongly and truly with whoever I want to be


I am not safe
If you are hurt again, next time it will be filled with fire and purpose


I am foolish

You were open and accepting of another human the the good in him but his twisted pattern overcame even what he says he wants

I am weak
You are a tree in a storm. You are a rock in weather. 


I am sad and pathetic
You are disappointed that others do not hold the same ideals of light, you have given yourself up to see the side of others. You can hold onto both with yourself as the strong core. 


I am afraid
You must rest in yourself and in a place of tenderness, you are a tree in the wind. 


I am confused
You have lost yourself in the weather, you must identify the roots of yourself, you must hold situations up to the light of your values. 


I will never know what I want to do. 
There is always something you want to do before you second guess yourself. You have been given clear warnings and signs. 


I will never fulfil my writing dream. 
You are very close, you are preparing your energy


I mean nothing
And everything


I am boring 
You see the quiet and remarkable things. 


My life will be and is a disappointment 
There is already so much done if unseen. You have clarity and intelligence and are unlocking energy. 

Wishing you all the chance to find yourselves and your strength again this year xx


Thanks Fragments of Hope for sharing this. It is so powerful. And so are you.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Guest post: Today you rest.

by Still Standing 1
Every person needs to take one day away. A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future... Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us. ~Maya Angelou

Today, I give you permission to rest. Today you don’t need to be strong.You don’t need to figure anything out. You don’t need to get all the things on your list done. You don’t even need to check off one. Today you don’t need to hustle. Or kill it. Or be winning. You don’t need to do everything for your kids or spouse or other people in your life. You don’t need to set yourself on fire to keep other people warm.
I’m reading exhaustion in so many of our posts. We’re just so tired. Tired of hurting. Tired of trying to fix things. Tired of being in charge of our own healing. Tired of standing and working and pretending like we are okay. Tired of being in charge of the emotional labor. Of everything. Of holding it all together. The thing is, trauma sucks all your energy. Surviving is tiring. Working on your own healing is bone achingly exhausting sometimes.
As I train for my first half marathon, I’ve learned pretty quickly that my rest days are an essential part of my training process. Resting is an active choice and not a waste of time that should otherwise be “productive.” Rest is a chance to let my body and mind recover, regroup and heal. I can’t run seven miles and then go run 14 more. I need to rest in between. I think sometimes, in the wake of betrayal, we try to run all one hundred miles at once, in one day. Just let all the running be done. We think if we run hard enough it will all go away. But…that’s not how this road back from trauma works.
When was the last time you rested? Gave yourself a break? Let yourself off the hook? Gave yourself a hug? Said something nice to yourself? Savored your meal? When was the last time you stopped moving, sat down and took a deep breath?

Today I give you permission to stand down. Don’t light the match. Stop hustling. Today you can read a book or play a useless video game or sit and listen to birds completely guilt free. Nap. Put your feet up. Leave the dishes and the laundry where they are. No guilt. The truth is everything will get on just fine if we don’t do all the things we feel we ought to be doing. Don’t accomplish one official thing and, in so doing, give your body and heart and mind some much needed space to be. To recover. To unclench and breathe and gather strength for the next leg.

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