Friday, October 3, 2014
Coming Back to Life After Betrayal
As a kid, it seemed to mean I cried too easily.
As a teen, it seemed to mean that I cared too much.
As an adult, I finally cracked the code: Telling me I'm "too sensitive" really means "your emotions make me uncomfortable and I'd like you to stop displaying them."
I am, admittedly, intense. My highs are high and my lows are low. Which is why feeling nothing – roughly eight months post-betrayal – felt so alien to me. And, at first, such a relief.
At first, slipping into numbness felt like progress.
I had learned of my husband's affair. Six months later came news of his sex addiction. Then, three weeks after that, I buried my mother.
Feeling nothing allowed me to function. To go about my life. To mother my children. To act friendly with friends. To stay dry-eyed. To promote my new book on radio and television. To do speaking engagements at crowded consumer shows.
Look at me, folks. I'm fine.
After about six months of that, however, it dawned on me that this wasn't healing at all.
I felt...dull. Like I was living life wrapped in gauze. Like all my shine and sparkle was gone.
A friend who knew nothing of what was going on put it this way: "The light is gone from your eyes," he said.
Some call it the "dead zone". Others "the plain of lethal flatness".
It's a sort of flattening out of our emotions. No longer the roller coaster of post-betrayal. That ride is freaking exhausting. The constant shift in altitude is unsustainable.
So, yeah, at first, flat feels good.
Whew, we think. Glad that's over.
But the day comes when we realize that though we might be avoiding the deep dark valleys, we're also missing out on the view from the peaks. It might be respite from pain, perhaps. But it's also respite from joy.
We're existing, not living.
I became aware that I felt like an observer of my life, not a participant. My heart felt detached from what was going on around me.
My too-sensitive heart.
I wish I could tell you it was easy to come back to life. I wish I could provide a link to some pill you could take. Or some book you could read. Some magic elixir you could down that would allow your heart to beat again with hope and promise.
But as you know, this site is not about selling snake oil.
As far as I can figure, the only way back to life is the scariest.
Walk through the fear. Allow yourself the full-body experience of pain. The tingling hands, the pounding heart, the churning stomach.
You might only be able to tolerate a bit at a time. Sometimes, when we've been flooded with pain, our bodies and brains respond by turning off the tap.
Coming back to life means turning that tap back on, even just a drip, drip, drip.
What you'll learn if you allow yourself to feel it is that the pain won't sweep you away. It might feel like it will. It might feel like you'd better start bailing as if your life depended on it.
But pain and fear are just feelings. They're transient. Nobody ever feels one way all the time. If you let them, the feelings will wash over you, leaving you rooted where you are.
You'll discover is that you can feel that deep deep pain and that paralyzing fear, and survive.
And by discovering that, you'll open yourself up to all those other feelings as well: Peace. Joy. Desire. Pride. Disappointment. Love.
You'll come back to life. To all of life. The good bits...and the shitty ones.
Might you get hurt again? Yep. In fact, I can guarantee that you will get hurt again. Not necessarily by your spouse (let's hope he's learned his lesson!). But by someone.
That's okay. You'll have learned that you can feel hurt...and survive.
That you can feel joy, without fearing that it will be snatched from you.
That you can...feel. Which is, after all, so much better than playing dead.