Sunday, August 24, 2014

Crystal Balls and Stepping Into The Next Right Thing

I recently watched the TEDx talk of my newest muse, creator of Momastery Glennon Doyle Melton. And she said something that made my brain emit a tiny "eureka". She said that our feelings, which so many of us spend considerable time and effort trying to avoid, are simply guides. They are our "personal prophets" pointing the way toward the next right thing.
I've said it here too – the next right thing. Not THE right thing.  But the NEXT right thing. Big difference.
Let me explain.
Many of us, post D-Day or as Melton called it "The News", spend the next weeks and months mentally spinning in terror because we're faced with a HUGE decision. Do we stay and rebuild our marriage? Or leave and rebuild a life without him? I spent about two years in that suspended state of fear. Stay or go? My hand constantly on the door handle. My bags metaphorically packed. "One wrong move, buddy..." could have been my motto.
Of course, underscoring that BIG QUESTION is the deeper fear: Will my heart be broken again?
When betrayed wives lay out their story and ask me whether I think they should stay, they might be hoping I'll trot out the statistics about re-offending. They might believe I have some deep intel into the mindset of the average cheater. But more likely, they're looking desperately for reassurance that they're safe now. That they won't ever EVER have to go through such hell again.
Because, man oh man, those feelings were excruciating.
I wish I could offer that reassurance.
I wish I could guarantee that every guy who cheats works tirelessly to become a man who deserves that second (or sometimes third) chance.
Some guys do exactly that, of course, and their marriages become stronger and richer as a result. But we all also know that many do not. That many squander that second (or third) chance and break their wives' hearts all over again.
In the absence of a crystal ball, you need to pay attention to those feelings, those "personal prophets".
They can't predict THE right thing to do, but they can guide toward the NEXT right thing.
perhaps the NEXT right thing is to pour yourself a cup of tea and watch your baby sleep instead of asking your spouse, for a zillionth time, why he cheated.
Perhaps the NEXT right thing is to make an appointment to see a lawyer and figure out your financial situation in case you decide you can't stay in the marriage. Perhaps the NEXT right thing is to change the locks. Or maybe it's to have coffee with a friend who you can trust with your pain.
Living this way eliminates any possibility of falling down that rabbit hole in which you're already rehearsing the conversation you'll have with your daughter on her wedding day (though right now she's in preschool) about how sorry you are that you made such a mess of your own marriage. It eliminates the paralysis that comes with trying to make decisions that you're simply not ready to make. Whether or not to end the marriage? Maybe that's your NEXT right thing...but maybe you just need to separate. Or sleep in separate bedrooms. Or take a weekend holiday together.
Pay attention to those personal prophets and let them guide you to your NEXT right thing.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Mercy or Justice?

I read recently about a woman brought before a judge on drug charges, a woman who'd been given chances before and promptly screwed them up. This time, she promised the judge, things would be different and she proceeded to outline her plan to ensure it was. Finally, she said to him something along the lines of, I know I don't deserve another chance. But I'm begging you to show me mercy not justice.
The judge chose mercy, putting the woman (who became author of Harley Loco, a memoir about her drug-addled days) in a rehab facility instead of jail. It was a pretty radical thing the judge did. The criminal justice system isn't really in the mercy business. 
Our larger culture isn't so big on mercy either. Mercy is weakness. It's letting people off the hook. It's co-dependence. 
Justice is giving people what they deserve. It's punishment. An eye for an eye. Or, at the very least, locking someone away so we can feel "safe".
And when we've been betrayed? That thirst for justice seems unquenchable. We're Shakespearean, raising our fists to the heavens and demanding justice for our pain. "He will pay for this!" we vow. Or perhaps we imagine the revenge affair we'll engage in, just as soon as we can get up from the fetal position on the bathroom floor where we lay soaked in our own tears. We'll hurt him just as he's hurt us.
In the early days post-betrayal, our mindset is generally more about justice than mercy.
Thing is, justice is damn near impossible. I'm just not sure there's a pound of flesh (metaphorically speaking. Put down the carving knives, ladies) that will satisfy us. No matter what we do in order to exact so-called justice, it will never un-do what he did. It will never heal the hurt. It will never mend our heart.
What's left in our toolbox? Well, there's mercy, that pitiful runner-up to justice. 
It's hard to even consider. Especially with the cries for blood we hear from those around us. "Once a cheater, always a cheater," they say. "Don't let him do this to you," they say. "Kick him to the curb," they say. In other words, serve him up some cold-hard justice.
Mercy? That's for doormats.
And yet...
While justice is about closing your heart, mercy is about opening it up.
It can be terrifying to even think about. Your heart has been stomped on. It needs protection. It needs armour and weapons.
Doesn't it?
I don't think so.
Or rather, I think you need for protect your heart from abuse. From continued deception. From someone who refuses to acknowledge how great a gift your heart is.
But to those who come to you stripped down, marinating in shame at what they've done? Who know that they deserve justice but are asking, instead, for mercy?
Let me ask you: How many times have you been on the receiving end of undeserved grace? 
If, even once, you've screwed up and faced eyes soft with love instead of cold with judgement, you've known mercy. My kids have shown me mercy more times than I can count. My mother, guilt-ridden over her years of addiction, asked for my mercy and got it. She repaid it to me a thousand-fold, every time I blamed her for some failing of mine.
I'm slowly learning, after a misspent youth of shame-inducing acts, to grant myself mercy. To silence the voice that sneers at me as undeserving of kindness and grace. Who judges myself most harshly of all.
Mercy, for all its bad press, is powerful stuff. 

Powerful enough to change everything.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Depression: It's Real, It's Horrible, It Can Be a Consequence of Betrayal. But It Doesn't Have to Be Fatal

I recently read a Goodreads interview with The Alchemist author Paulo Coelho about his latest novel  Adultery. Asked why he chose this particular topic, he responded that he was planning to write about depression because so many of his social media followers dealt with it. But when he asked his followers to talk to him about their depression, he discovered that, for many, the depression was a consequence of betrayal.
And then news came that Robin Williams died. His battle with depression was well disguised by his infectious energy and the beauty of that Cheshire cat grin, but it was there. Hungry.
And while Williams' depression was mental illness – presumably the result of out-of-balance brain chemistry – depression triggered by a painful life event is as real, as devastating and as deserving of our compassion. For self and others.
As so many Facebook posts and Tweets are reminding us today, depression lies. Depression tells us we don't matter. But we do. Depression tells us things will never get better. But things do get better. Sometimes they get worse first...but every day we have proof that things get better. Illnesses are healed. Friends reach out. The clouds part and the sun shines down, literally. Things don't always get better as quickly as we'd like. And depression relies on us not having the patience to wait it out.
Depression insists that we're to blame for our problems. If we were smarter, if we were prettier, if we were thinner/kinder/more fun...then he wouldn't reject us. He wouldn't choose someone else over us.
That, too, is a lie. And a dangerous one.
But depression's biggest lie is that life isn't worth living. 
I believed that. I believed it so much that I thought about ways to kill myself. After swimming my entire childhood in emotional neglect and shame, I thought I'd built my adult life on solid shore. So when that turned out to be an illusion, I wanted to give up. I didn't think I had the strength to get back up again. I told my therapist I was just too tired. Too tired of getting knocked down and picking myself up. Too tired of being hurt. Too tired to convince myself that life wasn't just a slog to the end.
She urged me to try anti-depressants. I resisted. My mother had spent decades on lithium and years trying to get off it. She had mixed her prescription meds with plenty of booze and gone, literally, crazy. I would visit her in the psych hospital, extend my hand and say, "I'm Elle. Your daughter." It hurt like hell that she remembered my brother but not me. More proof, I figured, that I didn't count for much.
So, given that the only other viable alternative for me seemed to be swerving my bike into the path of an oncoming truck (I figured it would be considered an accident and my kids would not suffer the stigma of a mother who killed herself, as my own had attempted more than once), I caved in to the meds.
Within a few days, the clouds seemed to lift slightly. Within a couple of weeks, I had the energy to put some effort into getting dressed.
And slowly, with therapy and time and those detested meds, the depression lifted. I also revisited those old childhood wounds, ripped open and bleeding from my husband's betrayal, and challenged many of my deeply entrenched beliefs. That I never quite measured up no matter how perfect my life appeared on the outside. That people only cared about me because they didn't know the "real" me. I can see now that I vastly overestimated my ability to fool people and vastly underestimated the love and compassion that exists in this world. People prefer the imperfect me to the "perfect" one, hands down.
But I'm also aware, as I write this, that I've relegated that dark chapter of depression to my "past" and that I wonder how effectively I respond to those of you who still are there.
I wonder if my rah-rah brand of betrayal support doesn't acknowledge enough just how debilitating depression can be.
If I've ever seemed dismissive of your pain, I'm sorry. It's not that I don't remember how horrible it was to feel nothing but blackness. It's that I now know it's possible to move forward from that.
But I want to take this opportunity to say that I'm aware that depression sucks the marrow from our bones. It turns us into shadows.
But the you – that beautiful, divine you that the world needs – is still there. And you need to fight like hell to find your way into the sunlight again. Maybe it's with the help of meds. Maybe it's with the help of a therapist or two or three. It takes a village, after all. Maybe it's with the support of a remorseful spouse or with the absence of one who never deserved you in the first place. Maybe it's posting like a madwoman on this site or any other that feeds your soul.
Let us be your army in this battle. Let us remind you as often as you need it that we have fought and, in so many cases, triumphed.
Depression is real, it's horrible, and it can absolutely be brought on the deep wound of betrayal.
But it doesn't have to be fatal.

Suicide hotlines -- international list
National Association of Mental Illness/Depression
Mind Your Mind/Canada


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