Monday, April 6, 2020

Slipping out of the cage of judgement

Judgement is just another cage we live in so we don't have to feel, know, and imagine. Judgement is self-abandonment. You are not here to waste your time deciding whether my life is true and beautiful enough for you. You are here to decide if you life, relationships, and world are true and beautiful enough for you. And if they are not and you dare to admit they are not, you must decide if you have the guts, the right – perhaps even the duty – to burn to the ground that which is not true and beautiful enough and get started building what is.
~Glennon Doyle, Untamed

Where do I begin? Ever since I began reading Untamed last week, I've been desperate for people to talk about it with. I've shared with my husband, my girls, my boy, my six-feet-apart running partner. And I will undoubtedly be sharing with you because it seems that on every single page there is something that wakes me up, that nudges my heart, that whispers in my ear, or, sometimes, makes me uncomfortable.
Doyle and I have something in common. Like me, she discovered well into her marriage and three kids later, that her husband had been unfaithful. He was a sex addict. Her book, Love Warrior, which I did not love (only later, after she announced that she left her first marriage and married a woman, could I see that the book's second half felt inauthentic to me because it was), details her discovery, her healing, her lessons.
But Doyle is a teacher and I, a good student. She points to the things that I have learned far too well to pretend isn't there.
Take her thoughts about judgement (quote above), which I know so many of us struggle with here (and, if you're like me, continue to struggle with). 
What I wish for all of us is to learn the lesson that Doyle has learned (and continues to – she's honest about her work-in-progress status, though aren't we all works-in-progress?). That other people's judgement of us says more about their fears than about us. And, perhaps more importantly, that our judgement of others is really a chance to reflect back on ourselves. 
On its surface, it seems self-explanatory. But I sat with this thought. I took stock of the ways in which I continue to want other people to like me, to admire me (her daughter's admission that a classmate doesn't like prompts Doyle to respond, "that's a fact, not a problem", which I aim to make my new mantra). And within that desire to be liked and admired is still me outsourcing my value.
I don't want that for myself any more and I don't want it for you either. Betrayal lays it all bare, doesn't it? Our knee-jerk reaction is often what's most revealing. Not just the shock and sadness and anger but the belief beneath that: I'm not enough. 
That belief underscored everything I did. Maybe not consciously but it was always there. I was the dutiful wife, the heavily-invested mother, the volunteer, the writer, the exerciser, the pet-owner, the responsible daughter, the always-there friend. God forbid I let anyone down because that would openly reveal what I secretly believed about myself. I was not enough. My husband had cheated because there was something wrong with me. I was selfish, self-absorbed, vain. 
I still struggle. Those messages, delivered to me via our culture and straight into my ear from my alcoholic mother's mouth, my alcoholic grandmother's mouth, were more true to me than any of the conflicting messages I got. But Doyle urges us to go deeper, to what she calls our "Knowing". My Knowing was so buried beneath these messages that I could barely hear my own deep voice.
And though I'm loathe to acknowledge that any good can come of infidelity, it did crack me open enough that I began to listen for that deep voice of my own. I peeled away others' judgement of me (or did my best to render it irrelevant) and listened.
I am, of course, a work-in-progress. I still struggle with those words. Selfish. Self-centred. Those were my mother's weapons of choice. Used against me any time I wanted something that she didn't think I deserved. Any time I sought for myself...something.
But she was only parroting what our culture tells women in particular. As Doyle points out, "selfless" is the highest compliment we can give a woman. An erasing of the self. A vanishing. To make ourselves so small and insignificant that our very self is sacrificed.
Well, screw that, I say. My grown-up self works hard to push back on that. It isn't others' judgement that hurts so much, it's what we internalize. Or, as my former therapist used to tell me, it isn't what others say to us but what we say to ourselves that hurts. If we didn't somehow believe what others were saying, it wouldn't hurt. 
Behind judgement – our own and others – is fearThat we're doing this wrong. That we're wrong. 
Let's break the bars of that particular cage, or at least stretch them wide enough that we can slip between them. Let's pay attention to when we're judging others and ourselves. Let's remember that behind that judgement is fear, that it is getting in the way of feeling, of knowing, of imagining. And then, let's do our best to squeeze out of that cage and into something better. 

Friday, April 3, 2020

Chalking Up "Wins"

The initial burst of productivity hacks for our time in self-isolation has given way to plenty of pushback. No, we're not likely to write our version of King Lear, as Shakespeare ostensibly did in the 1600s during a plague. We're not likely to identify laws of physics, as Newton ostensibly did while quarantined.
And yes, there are those mastering sourdough recipes and creating adorably funny family videos. And then there are the rest of us, including some of us who are just trying to get through the worst pain of our lives against a backdrop of collective cultural anxiety. 
Healing from infidelity becomes a full-time job. It permeates everything we do. Our minds are never not thinking about it, at least for the few days/weeks/months. It's there when we awake in the middle of the night, it's there when we're putting our kids to bed, it's there when we're staring blankly at the television. It's there. 24/7. There.
And so, just like the more rational among us who think the pressure to create/invent/develop is ridiculous when it's enough to just get through the day during a pandemic, we need to lower our expectations of ourselves. Like low. Really low. In our uber-productive, life-hack world, lowering expectations of ourselves is tantamount to failure. It implies giving up.
Nothing could be less true. Lowering our expectations when we are fighting for emotional survival is the furthest thing from failure. It's a realistic, healthy and sane response to a crisis. 
And so I want you to celebrate yourself and your "wins" right now.
Win: Getting out of bed when you wanted to pull the covers over your head.
Win: Keeping your kids alive while they watch seven hours of television daily.
Win: Not smothering your husband in his sleep.
See what I mean? Just getting through the day is a win, especially right now when a trip to the grocery store creates as much anxiety as jungle warfare.
It is time to give yourself massive credit for what you're doing right now. Responding to infidelity is incredibly difficult at the best of times. Factor in potential job losses, financial stress, an inability to get away from spouse, kids...these four walls, and you've exponentially increased just how hard this is.
And so...lower expectations. So low that a slug couldn't scooch beneath them. So low, that a kitten could tapdance over them.
Win: I remembered to feed myself today.
Win: I took 15 minutes alone in my bathroom to write in my journal.
Win: I watched a bird sing on a branch outside my window this morning.
Win: I kept breathing, all day long.
And then, let's share our wins here.
I'll go first. Yes, it has been a LOT of years since D-Day and infidelity no longer looms large in my life. But quarantining is tough so...
Win: I got this post up today.
Your turn....


Friday, March 27, 2020

When Life is a Ghost Ship: Finding your power after betrayal

In time we will be given the opportunity to either contract around the old version of ourselves and our world — insular, self-interested and tribalistic — or understand the connectedness and commonality of all humans, everywhere. In isolation, we will be presented with our essence — of what we are personally and what we are as a society. We will be asked to decide what we want to preserve about our world and ourselves, and what we want to discard. ~Nick Cave, musician and creator of Red Hand Files

"We will be asked to decide what we want to preserve about our world and ourselves, and what we want to discard," says Bad Seeds lead singer Nick Cave, who also happens to be a voice of sanity and kindness on the internet.
He's speaking of the pandemic that's sweeping our world right now. He's speaking of the wholesale inventory that so many of us are undertaking as we huddle in our homes, anxious and isolated from so much of what gives shape to our lives.
He's not speaking about the impact of infidelity but he might as well be.
Because that's exactly what happens to so many of us in the wake of the tsunami of betrayal. We look around and what seemed familiar just hours before is no longer. Our partner is a stranger. Our home feels too small, too suffocating. Our minds can't be trusted. Our hearts are shattered
A "ghost ship" is what Cave's friend called our world right now. A ghost ship, still afloat but emblematic of death and loss. Direction-less. 
It has been years since my own D-Day. And I have many many days when I hardly think about it. Yes, I continue to post on this site and yes, I moderate comments. But it has become something that happened so long ago. A part of my history the way that certain furniture in my current home was part of my childhood. The way I recognize an old song. It no longer stings.
Except for the occasional time when someone posts something and it resonates so deeply in my heart's memory that, under my breath, I emit a "yes". Or the occasional time when I stumble on a phrase and I recognize it as a secret message for me.
Ghost ship.
That was what betrayal felt like for me. A ghost ship. Afloat but barely. Alone. Lost.
I drifted that way for a year. Two.
But somewhere in there, I did what Nick Cave says we all must do. Somewhere in there, I paid attention to my essence, to who I was personally and who I wanted to be. I recognized my own agency, my own ability to create the marriage I wanted (or leave), to be the person I wanted to be, and to insist that, if he wanted to remain married to me, he become the best version of himself
I determined what I wanted to preserve and what I wanted to discard.
There's so much power in that
It's power we all have, even when we don't yet recognize it. So many letters from all of you come from a place of powerlessness. You don't – I didn't – recognize the power that we have.
To decide what we want to preserve and what we want to discard.
I get it. In those early days, it's a challenge to wash our face, to get out the door, to stumble through our days. 
There are days, weeks, months when the best we can do is rest. Shore up our strength. Prepare for the reckoning.
But when that reckoning comes, when we have outgrown the cocoon, please know that you are strong enough for that moment. That you have the power necessarily to make those choices. You may have to put some things in place: Save some money. Meet with a lawyer. Work outside the home. Create an Exit Plan. Insist on therapy. 
But you decide: What to preserve and what to discard.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

From the Vault: Receive the Shattering

"I had always thought I would get to a point where I was "over" the trauma. Turns out, I was wrong. Cultivating resilience is unrelated to the clich├ęd notion of time healing all wounds; overcoming is not the end goal. Instead of moving on, it's about living with what has happened. A resilient person is emotionally and psychologically flexible enough to allow the effects of a traumatic episode into her life, to "receive the shattering,"... and use those effects for healing."
~from "How to Recover from Grief", Oprah magazine, May 2016

"Receive the shattering." I wasn't feeling particularly receptive on December 10, 2006, when my shattering arrived. I didn't so much receive it as get run over by it. And in the weeks that ensued, I fought like hell to give it back. 
It was months, a year if not more before I was anywhere close to receiving the shattering.
But at some point – time feels fuzzy when I look back and I have a hard time remembering exactly how long I was suspended in that state of shock and denial and profound grief – I recognized that the only way I was going to get unstuck, out of this lethal plain of flatness where I'd set up camp, was to accept what had happened to me. To receive the shattering.
In fairness, I didn't so much recognize it as my therapist pointed that out to me and I, finally, decided to agree with her. What she told me was this: You are numb, she said, because you refuse to allow the pain in. But by denying negative feelings, you prevent positive feelings too. It's like putting a seal on a bottle. Sure you keep the poison bottled up but you keep the thirst-quenching water bottled up too. 
She'd said similar things before. She's not a big fan of my approach to emotional pain, which basically amounts to numbing myself and carrying on, and then complaining about it. 
Just barely concealing her exasperation, she told me that happiness would come only when I opened the door to pain. You can't have one without the other. 
Which, frankly, is a glitch in the system, if you ask me. But which was the inconvenient truth for me. 
And, judging from how many of you post here about being stuck, seems to be the truth for you too.
We imagine a day, don't we?, when the pain is over and everything goes back to "normal". When we're "over" this. God knows, our husbands want that. "Aren't you over this yet?" they ask us, making it incredibly difficult to not murder them with our bare hands. 
Thing is, "over" isn't an option. We'll never be "over" this. My D-Day was almost twelve years ago and though I go days, sometimes weeks, without thinking about it (except for this site but, honestly, I think about what you guys are going through not so much what I did), I still wouldn't say I'm "over" it.
But I have learned to live with what happened. It has become a part of my history, something I went through. I have received the shattering and it has become a part of me.
And that, my fellow avoiders of pain, is how you get unstuck
I wish I could give you a shortcut. I wish I could provide some sort of infidelity hack that allowed you to jump right over the pain and the suffering and return you to joy.
But my exasperated therapist is right. Honestly, I tried it the other way. I tried to just open my heart enough to let the good stuff in and then quickly shut it again to the pain.
Didn't work. I felt...flat. Numb. 
No pain, no joy.
And so you must receive the shattering. Parcel it out, if necessary. Take a few minutes each day to journal the pain, or run the pain, or paint the pain, or share the pain here. And then, if necessary, put the barricades back up around your heart. But make sure that you're moving toward totally dismantling them. Make sure that you don't get so comfortable with numb that you forget to feel. 
Receive the shattering, live with the truth of it and then use it to help you heal, to remind yourself that you are strong enough to withstand it.
Because you are. 

Sunday, March 22, 2020

From the Vault: That In-Between Place

As we all self-isolate and quarantine and do our best to NOT hoard toilet paper and hand sanitizer (please!!), I'm conscious of just how uncomfortable this state is, this state of in-between-ness. It's like we're all holding our breath, waiting to see what comes next. We have no blueprint for this, nothing we can compare it to, though we try. It's like 9/11, except it's not. It's like wartime. Except it's not.
And so we all...wait. We wait for news, we wait for leadership, we wait for something that makes the ground beneath us feel solid again, instead of this constant shifting. 
Waiting can be an important stage. Growing somewhat comfortable with discomfort is an important skill to learn. But it's not an easy one.
And so, as we all wait in this in-between place, I'm reposting this in the hope that it reminds us all that to feel uncertain is human. But so is it human to need to feel part of a community. We remain here, your invisible sisterhood (with a few brothers too!):

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.


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