Friday, December 28, 2012

Guest Post: Finding Joy Moment-by-Moment

This was posted by Lucy, one of our club members, as  a comment to another post. It offers such hope and wisdom to everyone here that I asked if I could reprint it as a blog post. Here it is. Drink it in and savour its grace. And be reminded that it's the seemingly tiny moments that can restore our faith and give us strength to trust in a better future. ~Elle

Elle and other wives-sisters, 
I hope you can all find joy and love in this festive season despite the pain and hurt thrust upon us. As I have discovered, joy and love come from the simplest and yet, most precious, things. A cold, clear winter morning where the sun and beauty of nature can almost make you forget, the first smile of the morning from a beautiful 4 month old daughter, the excitement on my four-year-old's face when Santa brought everything on the list! As D-Day was only just under four months ago I still feel incredibly hurt, betrayed, sad, unsure of the future and am in fact in mourning for a man I was so so sure of and a marriage I had so much hope for. My little newborn was merely three weeks old when I discovered the affair and of course the following weeks I can scarcely remember as they were a mixture of intense hurt and motherly resilience. I knew also that I didn't want to risk that special bond between a newborn and mom so I did all the "right" things...immediately booked into MC, made sure the children were fed, washed and loved as much as possible or as much as their heartbroken parents could manage. 

They were dark days. Coming up to Christmas I had decided I could sink into depression – not a hard thing to do, or I could spend a fortune on yummy party food and spend time with family – to cocoon. I chose the latter. Does it make me cured? No. Am I now magically healed of all the pain? No. But I think that if you get good days, go with them. Share them with your husband, children and family.

I can say that it has been a very emotionally fraught week. My husband was working over the holidays and my children were very ill. I think these factors made me simmer away to myself: How COULD he do that to me? To us? To our child and unborn baby? Why is he taking so long at the store – has he re-established contact with HER? Emotional cutting. If I could have checked his phone yesterday I know I wouldn't have found anything. Would I have been disappointed? Sounds strange but sometimes this road seems so damn hard that a text from HER would be just the validation to say "I've had enough, you caused this, I've tried". Sometimes it's so hard to see a way forward. Sometimes the dark thoughts envelop me: we wouldn't be trying to save our marriage if we didn't have kids; if I get sick I'm gonna make sure SHE knows it's HER fault; do we even love each other anymore?...

I'm very aware it's early days and this blog has been of invaluable help to me and for that I'm so grateful. I wish you all a Happy New Year. The first day of January always seemed to me like a wonderful blank canvas, just waiting for colour. I don't know how I will feel this New Year but it's all a process and a journey. Love to you all.


Friday, December 21, 2012

On Pajamas and Other Dilemmas

I'd always been a horrible gift-getter. For starters, my expectations were sky-high. Not for something expensive but for something thoughtful. A gift, for me, meant you "get" me, that you truly see me for who I am (or who I want you to think I am). A gift, for me, has generally been a recipe for disappointment.
One of the last gifts my mother gave me was a piece of sea glass (or lake glass, in our case) that was set in sterling silver and hung on a chain. I don't know what it was about this that prompted me to behave like a spoiled child. But I told her I didn't like it, that it represented all the garbage that washes up on our beloved beach, and would she please return it. She did. She was disappointed though she'd become a master at disguising it. I, however, knew her well.
My mother died unexpectedly a month later.
What I wouldn't give to have the piece of glass – a gift she was sure I would love – hanging from my neck. Of course, what I really want is my mother back. But I'd settle for the necklace because I can now see the love it represented. I couldn't, however, see it then.
One of our club members, Liz, just posted a comment on this post asking for help getting through this holiday season. I directed her to what I just posted...but her reference to the gift her husband gave her (pajamas, despite an agreement to not give each other gifts) got me thinking about giving and receiving...especially in the wake of betrayal.
We attach so many stories to gifts that we render the act of giving/receiving something of a Shakespearean play. There's love and betrayal, treachery and longing, life and death. All to a pair of pajamas. Or a necklace. my husband's case office chair (needless to say, THAT one went back too). We look behind the gift for what it all means. And we search our own hearts for what our receiving of the gift signifies. ("If he thinks this means he's forgiven, he's WRONG!").
What if, for this holiday, we detach ourselves from all those stories? What if we simply look at the gift for what it is? As if it was something we found along the road. ("Oh look, a pair of pajamas. And in my size!") Think how much less drama there would be around the Christmas tree or fireplace or coffee table if we gave our poor aching hearts a break from trying to figure out what this all means and should I stay? and what if he does it again? and is he really texting the office right now or HER? and on and on.
Tell yourself you can take up the fight again the next day, or the next week. Tell yourself that it's just for today that you won't feed into the stories that are compounding your suffering. That you won't compare this holiday to last. That you'll try your very very hardest (snap an elastic on your wrist each time you mentally go down this road) to not try and figure out exactly-down-to-the-second what you were doing when he was with HER.
Give yourself the gift of peace-on-hearth (okay, that was a stretch, but you know what I mean). Give yourself the breathing space to take a step back from the maelstrom in your head and heart, and accept the pajamas.
My mom hadn't betrayed me for a long time when she gave me that necklace. But I certainly had viewed her alcoholism when I was a child as a betrayal. And I'm not sure I'd completely forgiven her. Certainly my husband's betrayal, which I discovered only months before my mom gave me the necklace, dredged up a whole lot of buried pain in which I was, once again, terrified that I was going to be abandoned.
And so I rejected her gift. A gift that simply showed that she loved me, however flawed that love had been over the years.
Pajamas you say? In the words of my cherished Cheryl Strayed, just say "thank-you."

Holiday Heartbreak Survival Rule: Just Show Up

I found out about my husband's affair (D-Day #1) on December 10, 2006. When I think back on that Christmas, I remember little other than completely self-destructing. I screamed at my mother who'd come to visit, I threatened suicide, I took off in my husband's car to track down the Other Woman – with no idea what I planned to do if I found her.
I don't remember a holiday dinner, though I must have made something for my family. I don't remember my children's joy... It's all blocked by my memory of that excruciating pain. I cried, I moaned, I raged...but mostly I howled with the overwhelming suffering I felt.
If that's where you are, please know something that I didn't know then: This suffering will pass. Not today. Not tomorrow. But soon.
In the meantime, this is NOT the year to dazzle everyone with a gourmet meal, fabulous decorations or getting together with anyone who isn't 110% your cheerleader in life. This is the time to turn inward, to tend to your wound, to cocoon.
And please know something else I didn't know. I thought this was bigger than I was. I thought this sort of emotional pain was simply more than I could bear. I honestly had moments when death seemed a viable option – when I simply couldn't imagine a day when I wouldn't be crippled by the hurt.
But the human spirit, even one that's barely breathing from being trampled on, is an amazingly strong and resilient thing. We've seen that in others. People who've survived unimaginable suffering who've risen from the ashes to live and love again. They're not special, they're human. Humans who understand that all we can do is just keep showing up and trusting that we can be better. Treat ourselves better. Insist that others treat us better. One step forward...toward healing.

May your holidays offer you a measure of joy (knowing that joy feeds on itself), peace and self-love.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Life After Trauma

This is a brief bit from a blog I stumbled upon by a survivor of childhood abuse. So many of us walk the same road, trying to forgive ourselves for not knowing, for not doing better, for not being better...

...But there is also LIFE after trauma, a spacious world of possibility surrounding and surpassing moments of regression. In fact, that’s what I most wanted to put into writing today—that the very best way I’ve found to keep bad memories at bay is to invest myself in the present. Looking into my daughters’ eyes just to study their blue, to count the laugh lines ringing their irises… Folding the laundry with fingertips attuned to the interplay of threads, each filigreed whorl of cotton… Holding the bitter of coffee and the sweet of cane sugar on my tongue a few seconds longer… Pressing snooze to slide like a puzzle piece into the curve of my husband’s back, to soak in our collective warmth before the day… Turning the music loud in my earphones and feeling, with all my heart, the beauty of this unpredictable, compassion-won life I’m living.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Petraeus Affair: How we can deal with another public scandal

According to David Petraeus' ex-spokesman, the retired army general who resigned as CIA director last week after admitting to being unfaithful, “deeply regrets and knows how much pain this has caused his family.” 
And of course, those of us who have walked in his wife Holly Petraeus' shoes are undoubtedly thinking..."oh really!" I highly doubt it. He might know how much pain it's causing him, having to resign from a job in which he's routinely celebrated, even having a now-infamous biography written about him.
He might know how horrible it feels to watch a loyal and supportive powerhouse wife deal with betrayal. Though publicly she's "furious", I suspect that privately she's brought to her knees – though I doubt for long.
But I don't think he knows how much pain this has caused.
I, however, do. I not only can imagine but know the excruciating moment when those gnawing gut feelings that something's not right are confirmed and I wish I could turn back the clock and un-know it. I know the shock of discovering that not only was the other woman sleeping with my husband, I was unwittingly in collusion – offering up support and the occasional meal, inviting her into my home. Just like Holly Petraeus.
And, perhaps, just like you.
So it's tempting to read everything you can, watch the news reports, listen to radio analysis. Tempting...but are we really learning anything we need to know? 
Our view of the world is altered after betrayal. It feels unsafe. Everyone a potential enemy. Even now, close to six years past D-Day, I find myself veering into conspiracy theory territory. That nice woman I met at my kids' school? What if she's trying to be my friend to get to my husband! What if they're laughing behind my back at my idiocy? 
I no longer just assume that things are what they seem to be. 
Like the soldiers that Holly Petraeus and her husband championed, returning home to a world that will never look the same, betrayed wives have to seek out their safe place. I talk often of post-betrayal as post-trauma...and the experts back me up. Because of that, we need to protect ourselves from triggers. And learn to recognize when we're being triggered. What's happening now, no matter how much it might look like your betrayal, is Holly's. 
We know affairs happen. Reading obsessively about this one doesn't make an affair any more or less likely than it already was.
We'd do better to leave the scandal to the vultures picking over the titillating details, and get back to focussing on our own lives. And offering up our support and compassion to Holly.
Welcome, Holly, to the club.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

This is what we're doing...

“That’s what authority is. When you’re actually writing from that deepest place within you, if you tell the truth, you’re using your greatest power and your greatest authority. That’s a key piece, not just doing that as a writer but when we talk about healing. Whatever the loss may be, not avoiding that wound, not trying to have it covered up and pretend it’s not there but rather to look into it.” ~Cheryl Strayed

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Tears and Laughter

When the heart weeps for what it has lost,
The spirit laughs for what it has found. ~Sufi aphorism

I can almost feel every one of you rolling your eyes. Laugh? Hardly, you're probably muttering. Your spirit feels practically dead. Nothing funny or joyful about that.
I felt the same way.
I was 14 the day my father picked me up at school to take me to the hospital where my mother had just been admitted after attempting suicide – a cocktail of prescription anti-depressants washed down with vodka.
I was so scared.
I worshipped my mom. She seemed so strong to me. Larger than life. Very, very brave.
I felt like a disappointment to her. A non-athlete to her ribbons and trophies. A shy bookworm to her debating club victories. A loner to her social butterfly.
Though she loved me, I knew, she didn't "get" me.
Five years before she washed down pills with vodka, she'd learned that my father had been having an affair, though he wouldn't call it that. He would call it a "friendship". With a woman at work who was unhappy in her marriage. (All this sounds so sadly familiar, right?) And he wouldn't stop being this woman's "friend", though my mother begged him to.
And since she loved him and desperately wanted to keep her family intact, she drank away the betrayal and confusion.
Not just the pain of my father's "friendship" but the pain of her entire childhood. A dead father at five years old. A cold and critical mother. A beloved aunt lost to suicide.
She also drank away my childhood and almost drank away her own life.
And though I could feel my heart was weeping, I didn't hear my soul laughing.
I didn't hear my soul laughing until seven years later. When my mother had sobered up (thank-you AA!). When she'd paid for my own therapy to deal with years of anger and my lost childhood. When she and I had reconnected as friends, in a way that few of my friends have with their mothers.
If I had known then – that my mother and I would be best friends for two decades before I'd lose her for real. If I could have heard the laughter then, perhaps my heart wouldn't have wept.
But I didn't. And it did.
Know this: We all have pain in our lives. Some of us are given so much more than we think we can bear. Some of us can't imagine our spirits laughing ever again. But our spirits know things our hearts don't. Our spirits know how strong we are, how brave. They can see past "events" to larger truths. They can see past things that happen to who we are. Our spirits, if we let them, can guide us into a future where the past makes sense. Where the lessons are clear. Where the pain has given way to joy.
It's possible. And possible is all you need to know to make it so.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Guest Post: On Emotional Overwhelm

Susan Piver, whom I've cited on this site before, is the author of The Wisdom of a Broken Heart and How Not to Be Afraid of Your Own Life, books that offer insight and compassion and the wisdom of her own experience.

She also created and operates The Open Heart Project, dedicated to meditation...but so much more than simply that. I use her video meditation guide daily (well, almost daily) and have found it transformative.

With Susan's permission, I'm posting something she wrote on her Open Heart Project site. It's relevant to what so many of us are dealing with. Let me know what you think...

On Emotional Overwhelm

The lion's roar, according to Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, is the fearless proclamation that whatever comes up in our state of mind, including powerful emotions, is workable.
Today, I want to continue our discussion about meeting strong emotions in meditation practice. As you may recall, our last newsletter reflected on what it means to simply feel what we feel as opposed to telling ourselves stories about what we feel. I hope the exercise of listening to music together was enjoyable for you.
I created that exercise in preparation for answering this question, received from an excellent OHP member:
Dear Susan,
You have just sent a post dealing with questions new beginners have with meditation.
I have one to add. I have had depression and I would say that I have kept a tight hold on my emotions since my last bout.
I have started to meditate about 10 minutes every other day, and I can literally feel some sadness releasing. I am worried about being overwhelmed with emotions. Should I increase my practise, or just keep steadily going at 10 minutes most days? Perhaps there are no definite answers to such a question but thought I would try anyway.
Many thanks for your help and your really great newsletter,
Best Wishes,
This is a wonderful question and perhaps others of you have noticed both an increase in emotionality and some kind of fear about what you might discover when you sit down to practice.
Before I try to say something helpful, I'd first I'd like to say that if you are working with trauma or mental illness, these suggestions do not apply. Those are different categories and they require special treatment.
One of the key things to remember is that, while it is good to face ourselves, it is not good to push ourselves or force ourselves. Being lackadaisical about your inner state is not helpful, but nor is it helpful to be aggressive in any way.
My suggestion for meeting strong emotion in practice is this, and I'm stealing it from Pema Chodron. It's radical, so you might want to sit down.
The way to meet even your strongest emotions is to feel them--but drop the story around them. In other words, if you're angry, feel what it feels like to be angry. Where does it live in your body? Is it hot? Icy? Does it make you feel pinned to the ground or shot into space? In other words, feel the textures of this particular bout of anger. But there is no need to create a narrative out if it: "I'm angry because she called me x and I do not deserve that." "I'm angry and to expel this, I have to confront him." "If only he would do x, I wouldn't feel y." And so forth.
I'm not saying that you shouldn't analyze or try to understand what you feel. However, when you try to do from within the midst of the feeling, it is likely your judgment will be impaired. Further, and more importantly, this--crafting narratives out of emotion--is actually what creates the pain that hurts the most. Feeling the feelings, even though it can be quite unpleasant, is actually a more expeditious path, one that opens your heart at some point. The story is almost always an effort to close our hearts and it is quite draining. But when we open to our experience, we gain strength.
I would also like to say that you possess great intelligence, and whatever you feel also possesses intelligence. I don't mean that your feelings are messages from beyond or signs from the universe. I simply mean that what you feel is alive, sparky, and, while perhaps unpleasant, is an indication of your humanity and ability to feel. That ability is synonymous with intelligence.
The final thing I'd like to say is that it is always good to look under our most potent emotions: fear, anger, frustration, and so on, which seem wild and crazy." When you peak beneath these feelings, what you most often find is sadness, which is soft and workable. So please find your sadness and be kind to yourself about whatever gave rise to it.
So if you're fearful of strong emotion and feel that if you let a little bit of it in, you will be flooded beyond your capacity, the truth is, there are no guarantees. There is no neat way to work with chaos and intensity. However, there is also nothing to be ashamed of. The path of emotion is also the path of wisdom, humanity, and gentleness.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

When a Cheater is Just a Cheater: How to Know When It's Time to Bail

I'm reading Cheryl Strayed's wonderful new book Tiny, Beautiful Things – which is a collection of columns she wrote as Dear Sugar on The Rumpus. Strayed is pure magic. She offers advice with compassion and insight that I've never read in any other advice forum. Her book is a treat.
But a big part, beyond the overwhelming compassion she offers to people many of us think are undeserving of it, is her ability to draw sharp lines around a problem, thereby making it impossible to not see it clearly. Unless we're blind.
And blind is what so many of us are when it comes to the men in our lives. We want to believe they're better than they are and so we see them as better. We want to believe they're worthy of us and our loyalty and so we see them as worthy. And sometimes we're right. Sometimes they really are men who simply lost their way for a while and are desperate to become better and worthy again, despite having done something so egregious that our hearts lay shattered in a zillion pieces on the floor. Sometimes they really deserve that second chance.
And sometimes they don't.
How to tell the difference?
Stop lying to yourself.
It seems simple enough. But when many of us have spent a lifetime lying to ourselves, the truth and lies become so mixed up together it's hard to figure out where one ends and the other begins.
And so we end up with men who also mix lies and truth and it sounds so familiar to us that we settle in for the long haul.
Sometimes good men do bad things. Sometimes they don't even understand themselves why they do it. They've got their own history around sex and intimacy. Just like the rest of us, they're susceptible to our culture's marketing of love and sex as always exciting, always hot. And if it's not...well the problem can't possibly be them, it must be their partner. And so, when suddenly it seems exciting and hot with another person (or seems like it would be exciting and hot if we gave it a chance), they convince themselves that this other person must be "the one". And because they can't stand to think they're liars and cheaters, they tell themselves that they're "in love", they "couldn't help it", that they're "soulmates". And sometimes that's even true. But mostly it's not.  Mostly it's total bullshit and if they had an iota of self-awareness, they'd see that trading door #1 for door #2 just means they'll end up with a different colored door.
Some of these guys, at some point, recognize this. They realize what they were about to give up...for a fantasy. For the reflection of themselves (sexy! interesting! powerful!) in another person's eyes. A reflection that may have been missing in their partner's eyes, as time and inevitable disappointments pile up.
And maybe, with a lot of remorse, attempt at understanding themselves and a sincere desire to want to be a better person, these guys deserve a second chance. Which also means giving ourselves a second chance to make our marriage better. To ensure that it's equitable. That we're truly in a respectful relationship. That our own issues haven't also gotten in the way of a loving marriage. Because, rarely, do these things happen in a perfectly healthy relationship. Then again, perfectly healthy relationships are rare.
But this is the chance to try again to create one. To make sure that we're building a marriage on truth, not on lies we've told ourselves about our partners or ourselves.
But to figure that out, it's crucial to take a look at our partner through the lens of our entire relationship with them.
Sometimes a cheater is just a cheater.
Sometimes, when we look back, we see that they lie about lots of things. They might keep extra change that someone mistakenly gives them at a store. They might not return items loaned to them by friends. They might lie to insurance companies. To the government.
You might notice, with the eye of a forensic wife, that they lie when they don't want to get in trouble. That, for them, it's easier than telling the truth. That they hate when others are angry with them. That they can't stomach another's disappointment in them.
And so they lie. They cheat. They steal. And they refuse to acknowledge that anything – ANYTHING – is ever their fault.
Those guys? Throw 'em back.
But the others? The ones who hate who they've become and what they've done. Who shrink with shame at the pain they've cause. I'm firmly on the side of giving them another chance.
Cause sometimes a cheater isn't just a cheater. Sometimes he's good man...who did a bad thing.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

"Healed" is Not a Place...But a Process

No-one can say I'm not an optimist. When I first began seeing a therapist, in my mid-20s, I was in a lousy relationship with a guy I was nuts about and just beginning to acknowledge that maybe my parents' alcoholism and volatile marriage wasn't exactly the best blueprint for an adult relationship. I figured I'd be in counselling for a month, maybe two. Then I'd be "healed" of my crappy childhood and could move forward into a perfect life.
You can imagine how that turned out.
Over the next two decades, each life stage seemed to call forth unhealthy responses in me based on unhealed injuries from my past.
And then, of course, came the whopper on December 11, 2006, when I discovered that my husband was cheating on me.
My childhood issues – fear of abandonment, insecurity, a desperate need to be perfect, an inability to "give up" – came back with a vengeance. Suddenly it was as if all those hard years of therapy, where I really thought I was getting somewhere – were for naught. I was, I believed, right back where I started, wondering where the hell I'd gone so wrong.
I wasn't, of course. I may not have reached the magical land of "healed" but I certainly wasn't back at the starting line either.

I'm often asked on this site about healing and being "healed". So many of us think of "healed" as this magical place where our husband's transgressions will dissolve into the ether and we'll face our future, confident and happy, having vanquished the past.
It's a wonderful fantasy.  But bears virtually no resemblance to the truth.

My mother was a dedicated alcoholic. She wasn't someone about whom people might wonder if she had a "drinking problem". She embraced booze with the same enthusiasm and commitment she had previously brought to the PTA and local politics. She drank vodka in her morning coffee, fell down the stairs at 3 a.m. on her way to her secret stash for "one more drink" to help her sleep. In fact, drunk became her normal. Ultimately she threw herself into her sobriety with the same ferver to which she'd dedicated herself to booze. She attended 12-step meetings two or three times daily. She read her Big Book. She talked for hours with her sponsor.
Years later, after she'd been sober close to two decades and had long since replaced her time spent becoming sober with book clubs, friendships and grandmothering her beloved grandkids, I asked her why she didn't occasionally join the rest of us in a glass of wine. I was sure, I said, that she'd never go back to drinking like she had.
My mother looked at me and she said, "The thing with an alcoholic – no matter how long sober – is that you never know. One drink just might lead to another. Then another." For her, it simply wasn't worth the risk.

That, my friends, is "healed". She no longer thought about drinking. She didn't miss drinking. She'd long since woven that part of her personality into the quilt of her life. But...she also knew it was never really in the past. That it was by sheer force of will that she was refusing to allow it into her present. She loved her life too much to even take the chance.

We, too, can reach that place where we don't think much about our husband's betrayal. We can relegate it to our past. But it will always be crouching in the shadows with the possibility of intruding upon our present. Our future will hold occasional triggers that remind us of our pain...and what we've overcome. They'll become fewer and further between. But thinking that "healed" is anything more than a process forever evolving is fooling ourselves. And most of us, I think, have vowed never to be fooled again.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Create a Cocoon: Recreating Your Soul After Heartbreak

So often, after betrayal, we rage against the unfairness of it all. It was HIS mistake, we wail, but I'M paying the price.
True that...and no amount of screaming at the universe is going to change it (though go ahead and scream. It can feel good in the short term). Sometimes horrible things happen to people who don't deserve it. Car accidents, disease, madmen with guns. It IS unfair...but it's also life.
What if, however, we completely altered the paradigm of our pain. What if, and I realize this is radical, we recognized this pain as the chance for growth. To re-create a self that's stronger, wiser, less eager to please others, more eager to please ourselves.
Sue Monk Kidd, bestselling author of The Secret Life of Bees, writes often about spiritual transformation. I've written before about her book The Dance of the Dissident Daughter here and here.
She says this in When the Heart Waits:
She didn't understand that there was a journey to be made here. A waiting, a gestating, a slow and uncertain birthing. That is where [grace] was to be found. Not in the erasing of the experience, but in the embracing of it.
A cocoon is no escape...It just takes time....
But we have to be patient. We have to let go and tap our creative stillness. Most of all, we have to trust that our scarred hearts really do have wings.
Perhaps it is just with hindsight that I can consider her suggestion that we look at pain not for what it has taken from us, but for what it can give us. Perhaps that would have seemed crazy when I was in the heart of my pain. But perhaps not. Perhaps it would have allowed the blackness of my days to crack open a tiny bit, to allow the tiniest bit of light in to illuminate the possibility that from pain comes growth. My daughter, after all, is experiencing growing pains as we moves toward her teens. We certainly experience pain when we're birthing a baby.
What Kidd suggests is that we create a cocoon, something I did almost instinctively after D-Day. I cut off the world and retreated into that which nourished and protected me. My kids, my mother, one special friend. And then...waiting. And that's where so many of us wonder if our pain will be interminable. We wait. And we wait. And we wait. And it seems as if nothing is happening.
Waiting, Kidd reminds us, isn't passive. Indeed the word "passive", she points out, comes from the same root as "passionate", meaning "to endure." Few of us would argue that we're not "enduring." That we can believe.
Waiting is thus both passive and passionate... It involves listening to disinherited voices within, facing the wounded holes of the soul, the denied and undiscovered, the places one lives falsely.
It can be there, in that cocoon, that we can metamorphose into something with wings.

Friday, August 17, 2012

From Hell to Happiness: Advice from a Betrayed Wife

In my last post, one of our commenters, Eat My Scabs (love that name!) noted that she'd moved through the numbness, a stage that trips so many of us up and holds us too long.
I asked how she'd done this, as I feel I've lost some of my former passion for life.
Here's what she said. Wise and do-able. We would do well to take her advice, perhaps one piece at a time if that's all we can manage.
Thanks Scabs!

Emotions can be so crazy, can't they? For me, post D-Day was the most difficult phase to get through. It's like you say, bland. I felt lost and numb. Like residual Novocaine spreading into my gut and through my limbs. A coma. 
I remember spending lots of time on my couch in my sweatpants with a bag of cheesy popcorn. Staring at the ceiling, comatose. This isn't wrong. There is a time for wallowing and grieving our losses.
I remember the day I decided to get up. The thought had to come to my brain and then I told my brain to tell my heart and then my heart told my feet to get up and change my life and be happy. 
There have been many phases since that day, anger, bitterness, loss of hope, loss of respect, hatred, nothingness...
I can create a peaceful life around me even though Mr. Scabs' life may be hectic and hellish. It's not my life. Sure it's part of my life, but it's NOT my life. 
My friend made a list about this very thing. She outlines 8 things that made her accountable for her own happiness even after her husband of 6 weeks left her with no explanation:
•Only engage in relationships that make you feel uplifted. Let go of the people who pull you down.
•Make better use of your time. Minimize your obligations to the most important tasks and get rid of all time-wasters.
•Train your mind to think positively and look for the good in yourself and in the world. Purge your mind of toxic thoughts and stop being self-destructive.
•Try to improve your better habits and minimize your poor habits. You will feel better about the person you are.
•Be courageous! Don't be afraid to walk against the crowd if your values don't align. Live what you think is good!
•Be emotionally independent. Don't let yourself rely on another person for happiness. Be in control!
•Think more compassionately! Imagine what it's like in another's shoes. Be patient with people.
•Serve. Be completely bold and sincere when loving and caring for other people.
I believe thoughts are more tangible and real than we think. Not that we can actually touch them, but that our thoughts become real. Focusing on MY happiness, on my life makes me happy. I had a hard time with this because i felt like it was selfish, but it isn't. It's our gateway to freedom. 
Plus, as we can see, giving anyone the the power to make us happy/or unhappy seems like a loss of my own free agency. Does this make sense? Am I rambling?
I know we feel numb from this trauma – but if we start the seed of happiness in our minds, we will be able to feel passionately again. 
Numbness is part of grieving and then as time goes by it seems like numbness just became a habit of protecting myself. I remember being afraid to take the leap and start feeling again – it's like a step into the unknown.
Opening ourselves to feel is scary – but life will become more full when we do open. And when the bad comes our way (no one is exempt) we will be able to feel it and it won't destroy us. We will know how long we can "wallow in it" (which I like to do for a bit) and then we will know when it's time to stand up, choose happiness and move on.
Pain scars all of us. It may come in a million different ways – death, disease, betrayal, loss, addiction...but it feels intensely our own. We need each other. Sharing our pain lightens the load. 
I guess, ultimately, I want to feel joy, so my brain starts to think of joyful things and my body starts to feel it and then before you know it I'm happier than a bird with a french fry. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

How Naming Your Pain Can Heal You

Regardless of whether an injury is physical or emotional, what keeps us from healing is that all wounds that don’t heal are burdened with a foreign body that needs to be cleaned out, at the root of the problem, says Wendy Strgar in this post on her Good Clean Love site. 

We're often trained to minimize our pain. Well-meaning parents (or some not-so-well-meaning) urge us to "stop crying", "it's not so bad" and "get over it." We learn that our tears, indeed our pain, make others uncomfortable. So we stop crying, telling ourselves it's not so bad but rarely do we get over it that easily.
That's because what caused the wound is still there, like a sliver in a finger that, if left, will simply fester as the body rallies to destroy the foreign object.
Emotional pain can be harder to deal with than physical injury because there's nothing to point to, no blood, no broken bone. The culprit himself, our husband, is often so busy deflecting blame and minimizing the damage that he simply compounds the problem. He too urges us to "stop crying", tells us "it's not so bad" and insists that we "get over it." Or he accuses us of staying "stuck in the past", insists that we're "dwelling on the pain." But the past, unless effectively dealt with, is our present.
Dealing with it can be so painful, however, that we avoid it, staying in a some sort of limbo where we can't move forward, but we also don't deal directly with our injury.
Naming that injury is crucial. I resisted calling my husband's affairs "betrayal" or agreeing with a friend that what I was experiencing was "post-trauma". It all seemed too dramatic. Trauma was for war veterans and rape victims, not run-of-the-mill wives of philandering husbands. But finally admitting – and naming – my pain was a pivotal point for me. It was sweet relief to acknowledge the depth of what I'd been through...and to be able to point the way forward. What's more, my response to what happened began to make sense. I no longer thought there was something wrong with me that I couldn't "get over it", I understood that my pain was so deep and so profound that I needed self-compassion not criticism.
There is no "right" way to deal with this. There is only our own truth. For many, many of us, betrayal is trauma. It is an emotional injury that, left untended, will fester and continue to infect our relationships with others and with ourselves. It will manifest itself in unhealthy behaviours...and in poor health: headaches, ulcers, anxiety issues, GI problems.
When we treat our injury, and our response to it – guilt, rage, shame, resentment – like a foreign body that threatens our well-being, we become more willing to go deep to remove it. It's frightening to go to that place where our darkest feelings rest...but there is no other way forward. At least no other healthy way.
And know this: When you shine a light on that darkness and name the injury, your heart cracks open enough to let the sun in.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Second Letter to the Other Woman...

I recently received this: 
In my circumstances of life, I am the other woman. I have been involved with a married man for many months and have since left the state and discontinued all contact. I am only in the beginning stages of healing myself- but I am very torn that his wife does not know. I, although already began the process of destroying their family, am truly seeking the forgiveness of this woman. The husband has contacted me multiple times and my answer has always been no. In the clearest most non-vindictive motive ever, I want to write a letter asking this woman for her forgiveness. Any advice?~Anonymous

So I responded with this:

Dear Anonymous,
I applaud you for refusing all contact with the married man. That's the smartest move for everyone's sake, including yours. A relationship with a man with one foot still in his marriage (no matter WHAT he's telling you) is a recipe for heartbreak.
However, I question your motives for seeking forgiveness. You say that the wife does not know. I’m assuming you want to tell her? I do believe she should know…but the best person to hear about it is from her husband. I'm suggesting you tell him that he needs to be honest with her or you will. 
And then, I'm asking you to step into the wife's shoes. Let me to give you a glimpse into what it's like to learn that the person you love and trust has betrayed you:
The world suddenly seems extraordinarily unsafe. You wonder, if you could be so wrong about your husband, what other things are you wrong about. Can your friends be trusted? Your parents? Can anyone be trusted? Including yourself?
You can't sleep without images flooding your brain of your husband and the Other Woman. You imagine their sex is like the steamiest, most sexy movie ever. You imagine she's more beautiful, more exciting, more interesting – no matter that reality (and often your husband) reveal otherwise. You feel invisible, useless, of no value. You might need to take anti-depressants. You might consider suicide. Betrayal takes you to the lowest point of your life.
You feel a rage you never knew you were capable of. You could kill him. And her. With your bare hands. If only you had the energy to get out of bed.
You can't eat. You feel constantly sick to your stomach. Indeed, many betrayed wives are physically sick when they find out. 
You can't think about anything BUT your spouse's affair. Your children fade into the background. Your work suffers. You take no pleasure in anything and wonder if you'll ever feel joy again.
You have no idea whether to stay or go. You have no idea whether what he's telling you about the affair is the whole truth, partial truth, or simply more lies based on what he thinks he can get away with. You wonder what happened to the man who promised to cherish you above all others, 'til death do you part'. Was he lying then, too? Has your entire married life been a waste?
Now imagine, in the midst of this emotional maelstrom, the other woman asking you to forgive her
Do you see the problem with this? After all the pain you've caused her, you're asking her to do something for you.
It's time for you to do something for her. A kind something. A generous something. 
And that's only possible when you acknowledge the pain you've helped create and figure out what moral lapse allowed you to go down that path. 
What stories of his were you believing? What stories were you telling yourself? What red flags were you ignoring? 
If, after this, you can offer a sincere apology – a simple no-strings-attached "I am so profoundly sorry that I contributed to your pain" – go for it. THEN live a life that indicates you've learned from your mistake. 
But remember, the apology is for HER, not for YOU. Though it might make you feel a little better about yourself, ensure that it's INTENDED to lighten her load, not yours. Don't be surprised if she rejects it...and you. Her pain is so deep right now, she can barely function let alone truly absorb your remorse. She may hate the fact you’re using up oxygen on this planet. Or she might accept your apology. And she might be able to offer forgiveness somewhere down the road. I don't think I forgive the OW who was with my husband, but I also don't wish her ill. She's simply a non-issue now. I understand that she wasn't the problem, my husband was. If it hadn't been her, it would have been someone else.
The question comes down to: Is the apology to help her with her healing, or to ask her to help you with yours? 
If you can't answer, then walk away and get on with your life. One without married men in it.


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Movie Review: The Last Waltz

Last night I went to see Take This Waltz, starring Michelle Williams and Seth Rogan. It's a beautiful movie, like I've come to expect from writer/director Sarah Polley.
I went alone. My husband generally likes comedies or action – not such a fan of "real-life" stuff. And I didn't trust myself to go with a friend.
Why? The storyline follows a twenty-something married woman who meets a man and falls head over heels. Of course, it's not as simple as that – Polley is gifted at giving us the complications of life and of people. What appears to be a case of a stale marriage, an exciting, attentive new man, and the pain of leaving the old for the new is really a hard look at long-term relationships, compromise, loyalty and love.
The woman, toward the end, comes to perhaps not outright regret leaving her husband but certainly revisit her decision in light of what she's come to know, which is that all relationships become...comfortable. All relationships require compromise. Or, put simply, people let us down. Life lets us down.
It can be hard to watch this stuff sometimes, which is why I went alone. I'm never sure what's going to trigger me and launch tears. I occasionally seek out opportunities to revisit that still-scared place in my heart, to remind myself that nothing is guaranteed and that pain is as much a part of living as joy. Maybe even a bigger part.
I didn't cry, except from laughter. (There's a pool scene that aroused my childish sense of humor. And the cutesy names and goofy behavior of the married couple is humorous as much as uncomfortable. I suspect a few of us will recognize ourselves in their "universe-of-two" actions.) But, a day later, I'm still thinking about the characters and their stories.
And that's I think the best that can be said about any movie. It has me wondering about life in general and my own in particular. It reminded me that things aren't always what they seem. And it confirmed that our stories, our messy, mistake-ridden stories, don't always have a clear villain or hero. Those of us expecting a waltz are likely to be disappointed.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

How My Husband's Affair Was Good For Me

“So whatever you do, don’t shut off your pain; accept your pain and remain vulnerable. However desperate you become, accept your pain as it is, because it is in fact trying to hand you a precious gift: the chance of discovery, through spiritual practice, what lies behind sorrow. ~Sogyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying

Kinda sounds crazy, doesn't it? Opening yourself up to your pain? We human beings will do just about anything to avoid feeling pain. We'll shop. We'll eat. We'll inject chemicals into our veins. We'll have affairs. We'll watch TV. We'll check e-mail every five seconds. Anything to avoid feeling that horrible sense of loss, or emptiness, or betrayal. 
And yet, teacher after teacher, from Jesus through Buddha through Eckhart Tolle through Rinpoche, tells us to do exactly that. To open ourselves up to the pain we're feeling. To let it wash over us and in so doing, realize finally that it won't wash us away. That when it has passed – and it will pass – we'll still be standing. What's more, we'll be standing with the awareness that we are bigger than that. That we can withstand pain/loss/betrayal more excruciating than we ever imagined. Pain that brought us to our knees doesn't haven't to keep us there. 
What I'm not advocating is obsessing. I'm not suggesting that you pour over the details of your husband's affair like a forensic detective – seeking out every detail, every possible scenario. That is called pain shopping it's not feeling pain but manufacturing it. It's distracting you from feeling because it's giving you the illusion that you're doing something. You're not. You have all the evidence you need right now.
What I am advocating is to let yourself get in touch with that tiny part of you that  has likely spent a lifetime avoiding exactly the type of pain you're experiencing now. That part of you that was, perhaps, betrayed by a parent. Or a sibling. Or someone else close to you when you were a kid and who you trusted – indeed needed – to keep you safe. And they didn't. 
The women who struggle the most to get past betrayal are, I believe, those for whom betrayal reopens old wounds that many of us pretend we don't even have.
And I'm about to say something even crazier than opening yourself up to pain. What I'm going to say is as shocking to me as to anyone else.
My husband's affairs were good for me. 
If it wasn't for me finally facing long-buried pain and shame from childhood, I wouldn't be – perhaps – the happiest I've ever been. No, not happy. Happy is for birthdays. But peaceful. I've never felt so at peace with myself and at home in the world. 
It's a wonderful feeling...and a new one for me.
And it's because I allowed the pain to wash over me. To fearfully (there was nothing fearless about it!) go back and revisit all the pain from being betrayed as a kid that was triggered by my husband's betrayal. 
And what I discovered was that I survived. It was horrible and painful and confusing and frightening and no child should feel like that ever...but I survived.
You did too.
And you'll survive this as well.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Nora Ephron: A Hero to Betrayed Wives

The world lost the great Nora Ephron last week. When a writer dies, I always lament the unwritten stories that died with them. But Ephron left us a treasure trove of wonderful stories, that could have been our lives. She was one of us – a woman, a wife, a betrayed wife, a daughter. 
Someone who could make us laugh through our tears. 
To celebrate Ephron, I'll be including a few of her wonderful witticisms, relevant to  all of us here. A reader recently commented on this site about her own situation, which was so much more than being sexually betrayed. This commenter was in an unbelievably abusive situation, in which her value as a person was under attack. This one is for her from Ephron's I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman:
Why hadn't I realized how much of what I thought of as love was simply my own highly developed gift for making lemonade? What failure of imagination had caused me to forget that life was full of other possibilities, including the possibility that eventually I would fall in love again?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Ronald Reagan's Wise Advice on (Not) Cheating

This is from BrainPickings, which pulled it from a book of Ronald Reagan's letters. Though I've never considered myself a Reaganite, I can certainly appreciate the wisdom and integrity in these words for his soon-to-be-married son:

"Dear Mike:
Enclosed is the item I mentioned (with which goes a torn up IOU). I could stop here but I won't.
You've heard all the jokes that have been rousted around by all the "unhappy marrieds" and cynics. Now, in case no one has suggested it, there is another viewpoint. You have entered into the most meaningful relationship there is in all human life. It can be whatever you decide to make it.
Some men feel their masculinity can only be proven if they play out in their own life all the locker-room stories, smugly confident that what a wife doesn't know won't hurt her. The truth is, somehow, way down inside, without her ever finding lipstick on the collar or catching a man in the flimsy excuse of where he was till three A.M., a wife does know, and with that knowing, some of the magic of this relationship disappears. There are more men griping about marriage who kicked the whole thing away themselves than there can ever be wives deserving of blame. There is an old law of physics that you can only get out of a thing as much as you put in it. The man who puts into the marriage only half of what he owns will get that out. Sure, there will be moments when you will see someone or think back to an earlier time and you will be challenged to see if you can still make the grade, but let me tell you how really great is the challenge of proving your masculinity and charm with one woman for the rest of your life. Any man can find a twerp here and there who will go along with cheating, and it doesn't take all that much manhood. It does take quite a man to remain attractive and to be loved by a woman who has heard him snore, seen him unshaven, tended him while he was sick and washed his dirty underwear. Do that and keep her still feeling a warm glow and you will know some very beautiful music. If you truly love a girl, you shouldn't ever want her to feel, when she sees you greet a secretary or a girl you both know, that humiliation of wondering if she was someone who caused you to be late coming home, nor should you want any other woman to be able to meet your wife and know she was smiling behind her eyes as she looked at her, the woman you love, remembering this was the woman you rejected even momentarily for her favors.
Mike, you know better than many what an unhappy home is and what it can do to others. Now you have a chance to make it come out the way it should. There is no greater happiness for a man than approaching a door at the end of a day knowing someone on the other side of that door is waiting for the sound of his footsteps.
P.S. You'll never get in trouble if you say "I love you" at least once a day.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Are you victim? Or Victor...

The truth you believe and cling to makes you unavailable to hear anything new. 
~Pema Chodron

I've been thinking a lot lately about stories. Mostly because, together with a friend, I'm editing a collection of essays about cheating that we hope will be published in an anthology. We've got some great writers and some incredible true stories – all by smart women who, at some point in their lives, were betrayed by their partners.

But what's striking about each essay is that each writer has ultimately settled on a story about what happened. And she's had the choice to cast herself as either victim or victor, which of course would affect the trajectory of her life. 
In all cases, these women were cheated on. And how they responded to that – whether by staying, by leaving, or by clinging until there was not other way than to leave or be left – has made them who they are. And who they are is strong, wise, compassionate, honest. 
These women aren't "broken". Their hearts have healed. They've gone on to love other men or they've learned to love their broken man better. And what's more, many of them are, if not grateful for what happened, at least not bitter. They haven't lived lives of regret. 
And this is good news for all of us, I think, but especially for those of us who are just finding out about a partner's betrayal. Those few days and weeks and months are excruciating and it's hard if not impossible to believe that the day will come when you'll look back at this as an incredibly difficult part of your life. But not your whole life. 
And your ability to see it as a part depends on the story you tell yourself – the story you ultimately settle on. Your story.
And in your story you can either see yourself as a victim who was powerless over her partner's impact. Or as a victor – someone who faced unimaginable pain with as much grace, strength and self-respect as she could muster. Someone who, though maybe not immediately, would overcome this challenge and continue to live a full life – with joy as well as pain. 
None of us are exempt from pain in our lives. And though a partner's betrayal is up there with the worst of it, we are up to the task of overcoming it.
Just ask the women who wrote their stories and are able to look back through time and recognize their own triumph.


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