Friday, October 3, 2014

Coming Back to Life After Betrayal

I've lived a lifetime being told that I'm "too sensitive."
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.


  1. This is a brilliant piece of writing on so many levels, but I love the part where you talk about feelings changing. This is so true and why it is a good idea to wait and make life changing decisions many months after the initial Dday. Trying to rejoin the living after going numb does indeed take courage after a brutal betrayal. But if you don't, what is the point of life. Hiding behind walls (I'm an expert at that!) uses up time on the planet and we all realize as we age that life passes so quickly. Much better to accept that life is will have some rough patches but hopefully not all at once.

  2. Well this post is good. I have to say that with my counseling I have been dealing with feeling emotionally dead even prior to the affair. I took a psychoanalysis test that told my counselor I have a real fear of abandonment and push emotions in deep. I am currently feeling like I am on an emotional rollercoaster of intense emotions to nothing. Sometimes I want to just isolate myself from all pain but that would eventually lead to just loneliness. I have been trying to push through this and let my husband in. Sure the fear of abandonment was formed from childhood but it is scary to be leaning on someone who betrayed me for support. His cheating adds to the fears I have. It seems like it would just be easier to remain in that numbed state. But then again you miss out on the happiness too.

  3. I needed this. Thanks. It's exactly how I have been feeling...numb. I still feel like I need to "numb it up" to get through parts of my day, but I definitely let myself have those moments of vulnerability...usually in my car on my way home from school drop off or when I wake up early and my head starts racing. It's important to let them out for a few you don't blow up/melt down all at once and also so you don't forget how to feel.

  4. All I seem to feel is pain...terrified I will never feel joy again. How did you learn to feel again? Brave enough to 'face' feeling again??

    1. Ella,
      Ohhh...I know that feeling. It seemed like a total mystery to me to begin feeling again.
      I still tend to numb myself when feelings get too strong. But I'm learning, slowly, to stop the knee-jerk reaction (reaching for food is a big one for me, numbing out on Facebook or other sites, shopping...) and focus on the feeling. Ask yourself "what am I feeling right now?" "What is making me uncomfortable?" "Why do I have a knot in my stomach?" Only by letting out the pain can you find the joy that's buried deep down.
      But it begins by noticing that...discomfort. Sometimes it's physical: heart beats up, breathing becomes shallow, stomach churns, head/shoulders ache. Rather than try to numb that, stop and sit with it. Tears might come, they might not. The knot might grow at first but it will loosen. The key is to just feel, even when it's horrible uncomfortable to do so.
      Journalling also helps. Force yourself to write three full pages. Might at first be drivel but chances are you'll begin to unload onto the page. Feelings you didn't even realize you had will surface. Let them. Cry. Vent. Scream. Just feel.

  5. This was a great post. Stated my fillings to the core. Just the right words and the way it was wrote was touching.
    Today's Sat. Is the day I picked for H.and I to spend together. He's been on the computer and I on my phone all day he's had some business he had to take care of and I am trying to avoid putting of talking to him about what a bad day I had yeasterday. We are having a good day plus I can't stand the thoughts of and argument. I have to be able to go do a hair cut at 5. Yes girls that the word I needed to express how I feel it's numb. How long will we have to fill like this?

  6. I'm working on it through meditation. It's been hard because my mind obsessively goes off on tangents so right now I mainly practice meditation to quiet my mind from racing. I spend a lot of time outside as a way to feel joy again. I know everyone is different but I'm teaching myself to let some basic things go (like the yard work my husband used to do) and cleaning to just take a walk. I used to use my waiting time during soccer practice to run errand whereas in the last few weeks I've just sat somewhere (car...Barnes & noble, etc) and listened to books on tape - one is meditation practices and the other is The 5 love languages. For those of you who have never looked at that book it has opened by eyes to the numbness I was already feeling before D day. Everyone has a different way they need to be loved recognizing how we need to be loved as well as our partners and even our children is paramount.

    1. Those are some really great ideas. And I've heard good things about that book, though I haven't read it myself. Anyone else??

  7. This afternoon has been a real experience. Where it turned cool I decided that a big pot of vegetable soup would really taste good. H. said he would go get the meat for the soup but I wanted to go get it on the N. end of town and no way was I going to send him there by his self. Plus I wanted to pick out the right cut of meat so I went and done my hair cut after that I went to the store to pick up my meat and I was not expecting to have a panic attack I think it was just being in that part of town that brought it on. DQ was right there all the houses and old buildings I had to pass everything it all just hit me. I think that's one reason why I've stayed so close to home this summer. I knew I couldn't take seeing all that alone. I don't like to see it with H. either and the girls are out in the open to that doesn't help any either. On Saturday afternoon you want see any, anytime. They only get out on warm sunny days when they can dress for the part. I made up my mind I was going in and grab up my vegetables and meat and get out quickly. After I got there I got enough stuff for enough soup for all winter long. I had no clue what I had done till I got home and started putting all of it up. I knew when H. saw all I bought he would croke. He took it pretty well. He actually switch it all out for me and put the old in the front and the new in the back. I can't imagine how things I use to do so easy has turned into such hard work.
    Yes I also think I am the happiest when I'm setting outside in the swing reading a good book. Reading blogs and talking to my friends on the phone. I actually don't know how I'm going to cope this winter being couped up in this house every day with him day in and day out. I still love him but I need my space. I need my friends and I can't have that when I'm with him 24 - 7. Now this is nothing new at all I've been going through this since he has retired. I use to send him to the store just so I could go to the post office alone. Yes the post office no kidding. He said we are married we should do things as a couple. Well he sure wasn't thinking about us the last two weeks in May when he was screwing around with those little young girls was he? I wish I had the nerve to say that to him this winter when I need to go get my nails done. I had to get a hole new set because I waited to long yeasterday for a fill in. I don't like tips at all. I just hate having to lie to him so I stayed home first before I'll tell him I have to get my nails done. He would think that's a huge waste of money. He would A. could be hungry and need that money but if I sent my nail money to her I would have to hide that to. If she had to have grocery money he would tell her she wasn't doing her math or she wouldn't be broke. I think either one of those girls would go hungry before they would ask there dad for money. H. sent her 3 months rent when she had to move out when her and her husband went to court Aug. 20th. She's having it hard money wise but she's so happy being away from C. He was a total nut. He's worse than her dad a thousand to one. They were married for 12 years and she said the first 3 months were the only good months of the hole 12 years. She stayed she said because she loved him and kept hopeing that it would get better but it got worse every day. Looking forward to a good day tomorrow.

    1. Lossing,
      Please get yourself a therapist!!! You need to be able to state your needs and wants. You don't need your husband's permission to get your nails done. Please, please find someone who will help you with this. I guarantee it will be worth every penny in peace of mind. You'll also be modelling self-respect to your daughters. Sounds like your one daughter has learned that by leaving an abusive husband. I'm sending both of you women strength.

    2. Last night I did talk to him and I know he would give anything to be able to get to go back and relive those days over I know he would never would have done anything like that again. I really believe him when he said he didn't enjoy any of it. Did I mention that the Dr. ask me the other day if he had a brain tumor? The Dr. couldn't even make sense of what he did. I know for a fact that the statins he''s taking messes with his mind. Either that or his blood sugar or both. I'm not making any excuses for him because he's been messed up in the head since the day we married. I could never figure how he could twist things in his mind. He's never been able to carry on a conversation. He's never done anything like this before. I really like the book The Four Love Languages. I'm reading and taking notes. He is a really good author. So far it's right on target. Love has to be a choice. After the excitement of falling in love is over you have to make a choice that your marriage will last a lifetime. Maybe I'm wrong but I never have felt that H. had that falling in love experience with me. I've always felt in my heart that H. loves me as much as he's capable of loving anyone. I think he love the way I loved. I think he wanted what I had. I don't think I was capable of taking on such a huge untaking of dealing with someone that was so mentally disturbed. He had so many good points and he had everything I wanted in a husband, and more than I needed. I was the youngest in the family my oldest brother was 19 years older than I. My youngest brother was eight years older than I was so I was raised almost as an only child. I was raised on a farm in a very small close net community. So when I met H. I was 21 he's the only guy I had ever dated. He was 7 years older than me. He had went to one semester of college, three years in the army. He was divorced, he was a alcoholic. He came from a very mixed up family. So I was totally not prepared to take on such a huge project as I did. I know it sounds bad to compare my marriage as a project but as I set here and write this that is how I fill like what I've really done. I've never felt like this before in my life. I've never had any regrets and I would do it again but knowing what I know now I would have made some big changes. Hind site is 20 20. I actually believe that H. had no intentions of me finding out. When he got caught it scared the stuffing out of him. He had to have someone so he turned to me for support and I was it. Plus the VA Dr. told him he had to tell me. As always knowing the dangers of that kind of life leads to I don't believe it would have been as easy for him to quite as he thinks it would have been. I still think he would still been doing it if not for the law. Unless he quit because of the money. That's a big suprize that he would spend his money on whores. He has always been a such a clean freak I have a terrible time trying to figure that one out. Also bells never went off I don't think for either of us but sex was one thing that I thought was fine in our lives. He has always complained about the way I chewed my food, walked, looked, set, how slow I was, how I drive, how I talked, the church I went to, my friends I had. I don't know one thing he didn't complain about but he never complained about any part of our sex life. I know he is an interverted narcissistic. Maybe I'm very wrong and at one time I know I was very codependent but I fill I'm so much better off than I use to be but not as good as I could be. That's why I could benefit greatly from more counseling. I need to find one that I can work with. That I fill like they could really help me. It seams like that they all want to involve H. I know he would never have any part of it.

    3. Lossing,
      Thank-you for sharing more of your story. You sound like an incredible woman -- strong, smart and so compassionate.
      It also sounds as if you genuinely love your husband and your eyes are wide open to his flaws. I'm glad that you can recognize your co-dependence and that you're proud of having moved forward but also realize you've got a ways to go.
      Please just keep focussing on you. Make sure that you treat yourself, always, with dignity and respect. You are worthy of that.
      And I do hope you'll find a counsellor who can help you with that. I suspect there's so much more in you that has been stifled over the years. You're a powerhouse with much untapped potential. The world (and your husband!) had better get ready for you! :)

  8. I hate this about everyone. "Too sensitive" is code indeed, and usually pretty dismissive. And it's something I heard a lot since I was little. It was the excuse teachers and school administrators conveniently used for their lack of interest in bullying that took place in my school, and probably still do. It never feels like it toughens you up, just wears on you. I think the real joke is that people tend to think that in regards to someone's "sensitivity" that the real burden is on them having to put up with us. What do they know about it.

    1. Better half,
      I'm blessed with three incredibly sensitive children. It's been challenging because they get hurt so easily. But it has also allowed me to see just how wonderful their sensitivity is. They feel everything so deeply -- love, disappointment, beauty. My 13-year-old son could hardly tell me about a book he's reading (Of Mice and Men) without his lip quivering because he's so moved by the story of the two men's friendship.
      I hope you're able to view your sensitivity through a similar lens. Those who don't feel things deeply might have an easier time of things...but do they have a better time of things? If the purpose of life is to simply get through it easily, then what's the point of anything?
      I believe the purpose is to love each other and support each other and wring every bit of beauty out of this crazy world.

    2. I know this response is a bit less timely than yours so I apologize. It makes me think of my mother. She likes to say that when I was young, sometimes before I could talk, I couldn't see even a tear roll down her cheek without bursting out crying myself. I guess things kinda snowballed downhill from there :)
      This is one good thing I can recall of being compared to this OW. She was byfar the most desensitized people I've ever met. I mean her almost being surprised that I was falling apart over this, and her general reactions to things were just...not normal. With people like that it seems near sociopathic, or at least something so deeply ingrained in them that they can't be reasoned with and you can't bombard them with the concept of empathy, it ruins all the fun. So seeing the polar opposite, someone who lacked that sensitivity to such an extreme made me more proud of that part of myself and who I was for it. And I'm sure if she heard something like that she'd take all the credit (as she did for my SO and I picking up the pieces after his decision to stay). They don't help us and it would never be their intention to anyway, but it was the best way to look at it in the days following D Day when I needed something more meaningful than just being thinner or prettier.

    3. Better half,

      Absolutely. But being thinner and prettier is kinda nice too! :)

    4. Haha indeed. It's funny how many of them are nothing special, inside or out.

  9. Brilliant as usual Elle! My husband in the beginning often told me I was too sensitive about things...and what you have said makes perfect sense.

    I have yet to reach that point of not feeling and honestly, I cannot imagine I can or will.

    There are times when I force myself to pretend I'm in a happy place for the sake of the kids...

    There are days I don't want to get out of bed, but life must go on. There are moments that I think back to certain things and I get that feeling I the pit of my stomach. I still cry everyday....

    At the same time, I have moments of clarity, I want to enjoy life, I get butterflies when he walks into the room.

    Am I sensitive, you're damn right I am and I have earned that right going through the bullshit he has put me through! But I know this sensitivity will get better, with time!

    1. Yay you! You're an inspiration. Thank-you.

  10. Oh, Elle, you're in my head again! A few weeks ago, I literally lamented to my husband that I'm not living, I'm merely existing. This is not living. All is lost: the dreams, hopes, future plans, goals. I have nothing left. I had the fleeting impulse to quit my job because with no future, what do I need money for?

    So I don't feel and you're right, it's oddly comforting. I almost mistook it for healing at first, but it's not. It's avoidance. Alternatively, to feel, to make any kind of decision about anything, is terrifying. What a coward I've become. I am an empty shell of the woman I once was. But I know the feelings will return and I will pull through this. It's a miracle that I've survived this far and the only way to go is up.

    1. AJ,
      You are most definitely not a coward. You are someone dealing with excruciating pain in a way that allows you to continue to function. That's survival, not cowardice.
      Unfortunately once the proverbial dust has settled, we want more than survival. We want to live fully.
      Give yourself the chance to do that. Have the confidence in yourself that you will be able to handle all of life's range of emotions without being crippled by them. Hurt will still sting, disappointment will ache. But joy will be there too. And contentment. And excitement. And curiosity.
      It's no miracle that you've survived. It has been grit and determination and strength. Give yourself that much credit.

    2. I too am familiar with that emotionally dead feeling. I have felt that way even prior to the affair. I for a long time didn't want to intimate with h and could care less if he went out without me and many times wishes he did so he would leave me alone. I felt I merely just existed. Post affair I surprised myself with how much I really do care and love him. Unfortunately I do feel at times I am partially to blame for the affair. She was offering him the love and affection I would deny him. He does take full responsibility for the affair and realizes it wasn't the best decision to make. I hate to say it but I don't know if I would've started counseling and addressing my own issues if he hadn't had done it. I don't tell him that though. I have also noticed his communication has improved with me as well. He actually told me about the affair after I had started showing him I did care and love him. He did the trickle truth with it at first saying it was just a kiss to telling me they had had sex. The affair lasted about 2 months. It is amazing how such a short period of time can have such an effect on the marriage. We are only about 3 months out from disclosure. We are in counseling. I am trying to get the it's not your fault part out of my mind

  11. I'm still going through my Five Love Languages book. I know it has a copyright but I think I'm on about the 5th chapter and I have taken as of now 99 notes. I didn't know that I was such a bad listener. I was forever texting while H. was trying to talk to me. Or reading or cutting my nails or something other than listening. I knew I was hearing him but H. wasn't hearing me hear him. I'm practicing I hope that I can tell the difference. I don't like seeing my warts but that's what I looking for so you usually find something if you look hard enough and long enough. As I learned a long time ago if you give someone what they want they can give you what you want. I have a very sweet young friend and brother in Christ he has been in a terrible accident on the job and he will never be able to work again. It doesn't cost him much to live but he has nothing. One day while trying to help him solve his problem I got this really great idea. I told him that he needed to fine a roommate. Which I still think that would be great if you find the right one. So what did he do, rented to a friend who drinks and does tattoos. They had this great business deal worked out which I didn't think that would work. It didn't it was a disaster. I told him before hand to be careful mixing business with pleasure. I saw real quick he had a problem. If you have a problem you have to have a solution for it but key is it's not my problem. !!! Listening!!! I know I'm forever trying this with my husband. It kills me when he beats his dead horse to death but after all it's his horse. This didn't come out of the book I'm just parphaseing it.
    Now that's it bed time maybe I can sleep on it and learn something else new about my self.

  12. Elle, You made me change my way of viewing myself! Thank you!
    I have often wished during this period that I would NOT feel. I wished I could be numb. I have always been classified by my family as "overly sensitive" as if it were a curse; something I needed to change. Now I understand the beauty of my feelings and that I need to appreciate them...all of them. I see how they tell my story and let people really know me. Funny part is that I keep telling my husband that he needs to show more feelings & that I don't know him because I never know what he is feeling. How can anyone in his position after Dday be so poker-faced and stoic?? You'd think he would have a lot of feelings and that they would be hard to hide!
    I have learned thru this experience that 1. feelings do pass 2. I survive the awful ones 3. good ones do still come despite all that's going on and 4. how strong I am!!!
    Thank you as always Elle for leading this great post.



Related Posts with Thumbnails