Friday, January 30, 2015

Funny Friday: How to Support A Betrayed Mom

In the absence of a "sorry Dad's an asshole" section of greeting cards, a compassionate son found what he wanted in the "terminally ill" section. Hey Hallmark? You're missing an opportunity here!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

"The Desperate Plain": What to Do When You're Feeling Crazy

"A friend once called this sense of being too alone "the desperate plain," the looming desolate stretch of ground, no trees to shelter you, no water, no way to escape, nowhere to hide or find comfort, strewn with rocks and a few random snake holes. You are stripped down existentially, you are naked, you are nuts."
~Anne Lamott, from Small Victories: Spotting Improbably Moments of Grace

We've all been there, haven't we?  What Lamott's friend calls "the desperate plain". It's terrifying. We can't remember having ever felt safe. We can't imagine ever feeling safe again. Everywhere we look, we see threats. There is nowhere to retreat. There we are: naked, nuts.
I'm there right now. My youngest child is struggling with obsessive-compulsive disorder and I feel as though I'm in enemy territory. She becomes someone I don't recognize when she's having an episode. She screams that I'm "dirty". She won't touch certain items because they're "contaminated". She rails at me for "not helping" her and won't let me hug her because I'm "filthy and "something bad will happen."
And then, when the episode is over – 10 minutes if we're lucky, an hour if we're not – she's contrite. She sobs with regret, begs my forgiveness, says she wishes she could kill herself so that she didn't have to deal with this. She's 11 years old. A baby. My baby.
It's breaking my heart.
And though it has been a long time since I was in that barren wasteland – that desperate plain – I know that so many of you are still there. I'm back.
I'm reminded just how terrifying it is. How alone you all feel.
But I know that it is then, when we look over our shoulder and beside us and – oh no, did something move over there? – all around and see nothing NOTHING that can save us, that we need to say, in a squeak or a roar:
We need to say "help". We need to say "help" to anyone in our lives who can offer it. We need to say "help" to someone who can take your kids for an hour so you can close your eyes or go for a walk or see your therapist. We need to say "help" to that therapist – who can give us a place where, for an hour a week (or more!), we can lay our heart bare to someone with compassion and experience who can help us mend it back together, stitch by stitch.
We need to say "help" to the women on this site, who've been where we are and can join us in solidarity or gently remind us that we won't always be in this place. That despite everything we feel right now, there is a place to move into that does offer safety and respite. That we'll get there if we can just hold on. If we can just trust that this desperate plain isn't a destination but a phase. A place we need to endure. A place where are not, in fact, alone.
Enduring can feel like surrender when it's actually a sign of incredible strength. And asking for help can be the most courageous thing you do today.
Right now my daughter needs my help. She needs me to remind her that she can endure. That this desperate plain isn't where she will always be. That she is brave and loved and suffering. But that she isn't alone.

Friday, January 23, 2015

My Heartbreak, My Rules

In a recent comment related to her post, Steam wrote four words that have resonated with so many readers. In her effort to give all betrayed wives the permission to insist upon what they need to heal, she wrote that each of us gets to declare "my heartbreak, my rules." Now she tells us how she came to understand that.

by Steam

So many things we share are universal.
The shredding of our souls.
Our trust. 
The entire life we thought we were living that now feels one big sham.
We don't understand.
We don't feel loved.
We are sad.
We are angry.
We come to know our bed, our pillow, the floor very well.
We become one with the tears and the despair.
We feel helpless.

But of of this there was one other thing that I found.

Although my husband has never in his life uttered an unkind word to me, he did have issues – a drinking problem – and for years I had made false threats (which felt real to me despite me using them repeatedly for seven of our 15-year relationship). 
I was going to kick him out, I had had enough, blah blah blah. BLAH.

But when I found out about his betrayal? Everything changed. No longer were my threats false.

I did not know at the time that I would have "rules". I didn't know I was allowed to have any.

But when I got off the floor after D-Day – and I really was on the floor – I said:
Write her an email NOW, tell her it's over NOW or just fucking GO to her. NOW.
And I meant it.
Thus, my first rule. And I didn't ask anyone permission to have it.
Something PRIMAL just kicked in.
You go to her or give her up NOW. Rule number one. 
Not so extraordinary right?
Next, I didn't ask for, I demanded the passwords to all of his e-mail accounts, fake and real. And later his bank and Amazon and Paypal accounts.

Part of me felt hopelessly needy for wanting these things. I felt bossy and controlling. 
I demanded them anyway.
That was rule number two. I was making up rules as I went along. I just knew what I needed to have to survive
Later I learned that I did the right thing. I needed that information to build trust again. He might have needed to give it up to stay honest.

Had he refused, he would have been gone.
He knew that this time I was not toying with the idea of kicking him out.
My foot was poised.
I had hit my limit.
My heart had been shattered into a million pieces.

I had my heartbreak.
I could also have rules.
My heartbreak, my rules.

Growing up in a repressed household where "what do you have to be depressed about?" was a family mantra, admitting all these years later that I needed constant reassurance was not easy.
Admitting that I needed some (but not all)  details of his encounter was torture.
Admitting that I felt weak and needed help was excruciating.

But finding out through my therapist that everything I wanted was reasonable was a game changer.

I could have rules!
I could have boundaries.
I could ask him – even demand – that he give something up (the women and the drinking and the deception).
Yes I could! 
To find that out was astounding.
I could say "screw this 'free to be me' bullshit.
If you think you are free to sleep with others – well sure but not while you are with ME.
To find I could ask him for support and reassurance and demand passwords was a revelation.
To find out that I was not completely off the mark was shocking.
To insist on talks, walks, dates, time, time, time, help, talk, reassurance, touch, talk, listening, help – 

To find out that feeling needy or crazy wasn't unusual, these feelings after betryal are almost  universal.
That needing support wasn't weakness – it was normal.
That wanting proof and the truth was not out of line – it was necessary.
Asking for complete transparency was not being selfish.
To not just find this out but believe it was empowering.
Healthy people, I came to understand, lived by these rules every day. They just  often don't have to spill them or write them down. Healthy people just know!
I often say that had my husband not been remorseful, honest and incredibly sorry I don't know where "we" would be today.
But he was, and we are doing remarkably well and maybe it's because he didn't run and I didn't run.
Instead I immediately put my foot down, firmly in place and firmly grounded, asked if he wanted to work this out, and if he did I proclaimed in my heart and later aloud "my heartbreak, my rules."

Monday, January 19, 2015

Check out "Books for the Betrayed"...and Share Yours

There it is, ladies. A library of books that balm for the betrayed heart.
Click on the bookmark at the top of this page and make your suggestion.
We'll crowd-source the best books to guide us through this particular hell...and emerge triumphant.

Baptized in Tears: How your grief can reveal your truth

Grief is just so scary. Our grief and rage just terrify us. If we finally begin to cry all those suppressed tears, they will surely wash us away like the Mississippi River. That’s what our parents told us. We got sent to our rooms for having huge feelings. In my family, if you cried or got angry, you didn’t get dinner.
We stuffed scary feelings down, and they made us insane. I think it is pretty universal, all this repression leading to violence and fundamentalism and self-loathing and addiction. All I know is that after 10 years of being sober, with huge support to express my pain and anger and shadow, the grief and tears didn’t wash me away. They gave me my life back! They cleansed me, baptized me, hydrated the earth at my feet. They brought me home, to me, to the truth of me.

~Anne Lamott in an interview with Salon

Wow huh?
She's right, of course. How often do we cry those tears and then feel ourselves cleansed? Our problem might still exist, the pain might still be there, but somehow it feels smaller. Somehow we feel as those we've paid respect to our pain. Acknowledged its legitimacy.
Unfortunately women's tears have had a bad rap. Men, having typically been told since they were toddlers that "boys don't cry" have long stuffed their sadness, expressing it instead in anger or addiction or affairs. We women were given a bit more time to get our emotions under control. It was acceptable for us to cry until our teens. And then, because it often made the males in our lives uncomfortable – our boyfriends, our bosses – we blinked the tears back. Otherwise we risked being called manipulative, "turning on the waterworks", too sensitive, emotional.
My mother, who cried booze-tears instead of the real kind, often looked at me, her hyper-sensitive child, like I was some sort of alien being. "Why are you crying?" she would ask me, genuinely curious. Why was I crying? mother didn't understand me, she drank too much, I felt lonely and, well, sad. But I got the message. Tears were weakness.
But those tears saved me. I couldn't have stopped them if I  tried, and frankly I never saw the point in trying. Consequently I felt my feelings instead of numbing them. My mom eventually unearthed her own pain but not before she'd stormed through a decade, cauterizing her sadness with alcohol.
Thanks but I'll take a cup of tears. A thousand cups.
The agony of D-Day and the subsequent weeks and months of anguish brought with it an ocean of tears.
My therapist, soaked to the knees in my tears, told me that some cultures believe that we have a finite number of tears to cry before we're cleansed. You, she told me, just haven't reached that number. In other words, let the tears flow and trust that the day will come when they will dry up.
That permission was crucial. Equally crucial was the understanding that, eventually, the tears would dry. Implicit in that is the recognition that the sadness will lift. But for now...cry.
The grief, as Lamott promises, won't wash you away. It will baptize you into this new world that holds pain but also love, sadness but also joy. Those tears will, if you let them, bring you home to the truth of you. That you are whole. That you are worthy. That you are sane and human and okay and sad. Right now, you are sad.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Guest Post: His cheating does not define me

by Steam

I am sitting here coming up on the one-year anniversary of D-Day, three feet from where I learned that the world I thought I was living in was an illusion, then crumbled, and then reimagined.

And life is so much different than I thought it would be.
Life is better.
As awful as that somehow feels to say – in admitting this it can feel as if the affair was a good thing and we all know an affair is NOT a good thing – it's true. It's something I thought I could never say,  something I thought I would never admit to, even if, as I had read, it could happen.
But I'm saying it: Life is actually better.

Whew.  It's so hard to admit but there, I have done it.

knew the moment of D-Day, with something so terrible, so disgusting, so sordid, so deceitful happening, something good had to come out of it. Whether I stayed with my husband or if I didn't.
Something had to blossom out of this pain.
It had to.
It had to turn into something else.
And it did.

But not into the something that I thought it would a year ago.

I thought that I would sell our vacation home when I discovered his ugly truth.  
Nothing went on there but it is where we had our biggest, ugliest fight.  
It is where I had my D-Day.
It was that fight we most all have on D-Day. The one that's a metaphoric vomiting of everything you are feeling and have felt for years, even if you didn't admit it or even knew you felt it.

The spewing of anger, hurt, disgust, disbelief, anger, more anger and more hurt and more pain than anyone could ever imagine unless you are reading this. 
If you are reading this, you know that pain.

How could we ever have another happy day here?
And yet, we didn't sell the house.
We have many happy days here, punctuated thoughout the year with small bouts of sadness and smallish triggers. But that can happen anywhere.

I thought that every time I would look at him, forever, I would see "her" somewhere in him.

I don't.

I do see a different, better man though. I think that D-Day was the first day he had been honest with me in years. He was forced to be.
Now I see a man much more open, much more honest, much more loving, and yes even sexual towards me (oooh la la).
A man who actually talks to me now. 

Takes my hand when we walk. Asks what's wrong (or right). And listens when I tell him.

More importantly, I thought I would forever be branded somehow, with a mark that no-one could see or a visible scar that I could not explain to anyone.

I thought my husband's betrayal would define me.

And it doesn't.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Drawing the Line: A Post-Betrayal Post About Boundaries

December holds my D-Day #1. So it's with some trepidation that I plan for the holidays each year. Even though I'm eight years out (!!!) and even though I have trouble remembering if it was December 10 or December 11, I'm still conscious around those dates of just where I was those years ago. And of how much has changed.
So often I tell the women who've found their way to this site that they will get through this. I'm not sure they believe me. I'm not sure I would have believed me. The wound is simply so gaping, the pain so deep that few of us believe we'll ever find our way back to a place of wholeness.
And yet, I was reminded this year of just how far I've come. Even beyond healing from my husband's infidelity. I'm happier than I think I've ever been. A deep-down, through-hell-and-back happiness that is richer for the knowledge that I fought hard for it.
Case in point: My brother-in-law is a jerk. This is pretty much universally acknowledged by all who know him. His family, however, which includes my husband, traffic in denial. Not about his jerkiness. But about how his jerkiness affects other people. Like me, for instance. I learned long ago that my husband's knee-jerk response around his family was to attack anyone who notices that they're somewhat less than the perfect family. When I first pointed out that the emperor wasn't only naked, he was an asshole, I was told that I was the problem.
Thing is, pre-D-day, I bought into that fiction to some extent. I was "too sensitive". I didn't "understand". His mother, who could be cruel, was raised during the Depression after all (of course, so were my grandparents and they didn't feel the need to shame and judge others). She had been an immigrant. His father and mother had been poor. The version of his family's story that we were all asked to buy was that they had it harder than anyone else and the world, therefore, needed to excuse their often nasty behaviour.
I tried. After all, I was sensitive. And I had long ago convinced myself that if something is MY problem, then I can fix it; if it's somebody else's, then all hell might break loose. (Thank-you alcoholic parents for that life lesson!)
And then D-Day hit. And suddenly I was given an entirely different version of his family's story. This one rang a whole lot more true. Stories of abuse. Stories of deception. A family environment that bred dishonesty and compulsion.
Turns out that my sensitivity was one helluva an early-warning system. I had felt on high-alert around these people because I wasn't safe with them.
Slowly, as I've healed from both my D-Days, and as my husband has healed from his childhood, I've let his family back into my life.
But when his brother this past holiday started with his misogyny, when he tried to excuse his racist ideas, when he tried to make me "be quiet and listen", I stood up. No, I said. I don't agree with you, I said.
The next day, I made the decision that I will not entertain someone whose views are so offensive to me, so contrary to what my children know, so dismissive of anyone who's different than he is.
And rather than feel angry and invisible and silenced, like I would have felt eight years ago, I felt giddy. This was MY choice. I get to decide who I spend my time with. I get to determine who I welcome into my home.
It's my husband's brother and, despite everything, my husband loves this idiot. So I will never forbid him from entering our home. But next year, if we decide to invite him and his family (which we might – his kids and mine are cousins, after all), I will order Chinese food, throw some plates on the table and then take my dogs for a walk. Happy holidays. Enjoy your kung pao chicken.
All this is a long way of saying that what I've learned through all of this is that it's not my job to make others comfortable. It's not my job to take care of everyone. It's absolutely not my job to silence my own instincts for the sake of peace. The price is simply too high.
It is my job to keep myself safe. It is my job to behave in a way within my marriage that doesn't lead to resentment. It is my job to treat myself with respect and allow only those who can treat me with respect into my life.
It's a lesson I've learned the hard way. But one I wouldn't trade for anything.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Guest Post: The Truth About Triggers or "Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Go on Vacation..."

by Steam

I got triggered a week or so ago for the first time in a long time.
I was in bed, exhausted from the holidays and my H told me the price of something we have been repairing and replacing on this house it seems every year.
I got angry and then immediately attributed my anger (who me snippy? moi?) to exhaustion.
But I was flipping out.
My voice didn't sound like my own. I sounded as if I was going through an exorcism. Or needed one.
I had no idea what was going on with me. I felt insane. And over the price of something?
It took me a few minutes to realize that this outburst was tethered to D-Day.

Triggers are insidious. They don't all point to the affair, they are not always a woman, or a glance in the wrong direction by your husband.

Sometimes you need to search for the connection. Which is what I did.

Instead of eating the anger, which is what I would have done a year ago, pre-betrayal. Instead of becoming silent and distant, knowing I would spend the day seething and marinating in my own pain and anger, which would seep out of every pore despite my insisting that everything was "just fine." Instead...I told him exactly what was going through my mind.
And as I told him that I did not want to spend "one more offing dime" on this project for the house, the anger turned to tears. When I started crying, well, that's when I knew I wasn't pissed about anything happening today. It sure wasn't the price – we could afford it.
It was a trigger. It was the residual pain surfacing.

I once read that anger is pain in disguise. Uncover the anger and show the pain the light of day. paid cannot thrive in the light, it seeks darkness and secrecy.
I walked a lot at night with my pain. Literally.

So what was this?
Well...last year those exact same repairs were underway right as my D-Day happened.
As I sat for two hours uncovering all the lies and all the women, shaking silently, glued to the computer, there were four perfect strangers working outside not 15 feet from me, seeing right into my window.
They were the ones who saw me first as I searched in silence...and then physically charged my husband when he walked through the door.
Although they spoke a different language, I am pretty sure that bitch, fucker, bastard, whore and "don't you fucking touch me!" translate easily into any language, especially when accompanied by flailing arms, a husband's pleading and a laptop held high over my head as I threatened to introduce it to the floor any second now.
I wailed, cussed, cried, threw things, rightly accused, screamed, crumpled, got up, screamed some more.
The other morning, with my husband's mention of the repairs, it all came flooding back.
It had arisen...and I had to keep it on the surface to deal with it when I really wanted to do was drown it.

So I kept it afloat.
Painful? In that moment, yes.
But the pain passed quickly as I observed the process, like it was happening to someone else.
This is where a lot of pain actually is – in the past but we have not dealt with it enough, even when we're certain we have.

Maybe have some tea ready and nice warm bath for its return because it might visit for a while.
Luckily, the visits will become shorter.
The kick in the gut becomes more like a pinch.

Just pay attention.
Don't ignore the pain. It feels like it's going to take over but really it just wants your attention.
Give it some...and then send it on its way.


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