Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Healing from Betrayal: Grief is Part of the Process

"My custom has always been to ponder grief; that is, to follow it through ventricle and aorta to find out its lurking places. That old weight in the chest, telling me there is something I must dwell on, because I know more than I know and must learn it from myself..."
~from Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Ah grief, that foe. Grief, that makes our bodies rock with deep, deep sadness. Grief, that we'll do almost anything to avoid because it's so consuming, so exhausting, so bottomless.
As John Ames, however, the character in Robinson's novel Gilead points out, grief has secrets and if we sit with it, allow it to illuminate those dark corners of our heart where we "know more than I know and must learn from it myself," then grief can be our teacher.
It runs counter to our instincts, this sitting with grief. Especially in these times of quick fixes, of escape hatches. Why sit with grief when we can lose ourselves in television? Why sit with grief when there's a tub of ice cream or a box of donuts? Why sit with grief when there's Facebook, Twitter, cat videos? When there's an OW to stalk online?
Why? Because grief isn't going anywhere. Grief waits beneath the anger and anxiety. It makes itself known when your friend announces she's pregnant and you burst into tears. It makes itself known when you can barely get out of bed even though you know you need to get outside. It makes itself known when the mere act of making dinner feels like too much. It makes itself known when you move the wedding album to a bottom drawer because you can't bear to be reminded.
But grief is cagey. It can't be experienced on the fly. It requires that we truly sit still with it. That we don't try and "solve" it. We can't think our way out of grief. We need to feel our way through it, like a blind man in an unfamiliar place.
The beauty of grief is that when we allow ourselves to feel such deep pain and loss we open ourselves up to being able, eventually, to feel the highs too.
It's not easy, opening up to grief. It feels huge. We fear being swallowed alive.
But like our character in Gilead, that weight is our cue that it needs our attention. I spent far too long living life with the feeling of an elephant on my chest. Sure I was functional. But I sure as hell wasn't having fun. Perhaps "fun" is too much to expect of anyone going through the pain of infidelity. Perhaps we should lower our expectations to feeling a bit...lighter. Being able to smile sincerely. To hold, for even a moment, the beauty in a child's smile, or the trust in a friend's hug, or the joy in a pet's wagging tail, alongside our pain. To make room for something other than hurt and fear (disguised as anger).
I've been asked how to open up to the pain with the expectation that it also opens us up to life's joy again. The only real answer I have is to sit with it. When it comes – and it will, so be patient – let it wash over you. We're so terrified of our grief that we push it away. We busy ourselves. We shift focus.
But that only pushes grief into the shadows of our heart; it only leaves our hearts restricted.
Sit with your grief and discover that you know more than you know, including where to take your next step. Grief, especially, is wisdom that guides the way toward healing.


  1. This post came at exactly the right moment for me. I had been doing everything possible to avoid feeling and understanding exactly what it is that I am grieving for. Today it caught up to me ~ I slammed into a brick wall and fell apart. All of my feelings of anguish, sadness, and loss washed over me. I finally realized that I am grieving for lost innocence and trust. I am grieving for an idea I had in my mind about our "perfect" marriage. I am grieving because I somehow didn't notice my husband sinking lower and lower into his doubts and insecurity. I am grieving for the innocent pieces of ourselves that we both lost. Wallowing in self pity while dissecting my grief under this microscope was exhausting, both physically and mentally. But, somehow I feel better!?? for the first time in over a month, when my husband called from work tonight I didn't want to talk about "it." I finally feel like having a normal conversation about normal things. Did all of this "fix" me? Probably not. But for right now, today and hopefully tomorrow, I am at peace. One day at a time.....

    1. LL,
      It's absolutely one day at a time. But it's important to notice that a crack has opened in your darkness. So you know it's possible. And if you hang on to that possible, you're less likely to feel swallowed in the pain. You'll be able to know that pain, like any feeling, is temporary. You can trust that things will open up again.
      But when you do "slam into that brick wall", that's your cue to pay attention to yourself and examine where the pain and grief reside. And to feel.

  2. I recently started contemplative prayer....just sitting still...it takes practice but for me it is working....to just sit with yourself and empty the brain


  3. There is a song a few years old by a country artist Gary Alan, called Every Storm Runs Out of Rain. It is my respite. The pain does subside, and this to will pass. (Granted, at times like a kidney stone, i would imagine,) but this horrible deep sharp and dull agony, it will pass, into something at least much more tolerable, because you will not dwell in what your husband did, you can't. You will live in your own pain for a while and it will calm down--REALLY difficult to imagine, but it does.

  4. Am I just plain crazy or am I getting close to the straw that broke the camel's back? When I'm grieving the only comfort I can find is when H. is holding me in his arms. If not for him doing that I couldn't have never got through those horrible months that has passed. I'm so thankful that he's been here for me but the longer out it gets the more I wish he couldn't just walk away like nothing has ever happened. I was getting ready for church yesterday when he started talking about why it's such a big sin for a church to pay money out to hire a minister of music. It's not his money that's footing the bill but it was our money that payed for the prostitutes. I give my offering to my church that I go to on Sunday nights. Last week he was complaining about us helping the poor in our church. Yeasterday he was saying instead of hiring a music minister they should help the poor. I have never saw anyone who talks out of both sides of there mouth like he does. Last night I went out to eat with a good friend after church. She had lost her husband a year ago yeasterday. God love her heart I actually could fill her pain. I felt grief for her now more than last year when I went to the visitation. I think setting across the table from her one on one and knowing that she's been here for me this summer has made it all so fresh. She has so much strength in her suffering. It's so special to have friends like her. That's the kind of friend that I want to be. I hope that God will someday use me to help others. I figure that I will never have H.to talk too. We have never talked he talks I listen anything else is a big fight so for the sake of peace I chose to be quite. I guess after 39 years I can do that but I noticed yeasterday when he was in his running off at the mouth it was getting easier to be quite. I wonder if it should ever come to I don't care if I listen what will happen then?

    1. Lossing,
      I'm so glad you have such a wonderful friend. And I suspect you're already being a good friend to her as well. Just sitting with someone in their pain is a huge gift. What's more, you help the women on this site.
      As for your husband, a lot of these guys aren't the most self-aware. They have no idea how hypocritical they sound. I remember my husband crowing about how honest he was with his clients. I learned to just give him a side-eye and he knew exactly what I meant. It was a way of pointing out to him his hypocrisy without a battle.



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