Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Grief is Not About Giving Up But Giving In

"The other thing I know now is that we survive grief merely and surely by outlasting it – the ongoing fact of the narrative eclipses the heartbreak within..."Gail Caldwell, New Life, No Instructions

Tim Lawrence's recent post has gone viral. Lawrence wrote about how everything doesn't happen for a reason, something most of us know all too well. 

We know that sometimes life sucker punches us. But we also know that, even though we think our husband's affair was the worst thing that could happen to us, we can learn from pain. Even if the something we learn is the human spirit's ability to survive things we didn't think were survivable. And that our ability to refrain from justifiable homicide is awe inspiring.
Tim Lawrence makes the point that, when we're brought to our knees by heartbreak of any kind, the only sane response is grief. It's a point I frequently make too, such as here. And here
It's not a popular opinion to hold. We don't like grief. Grief feels passive and there's little our culture hates more than passivity. We like a can-do attitude. We like stories of triumph over adversity. We want heroes. And we want those heroes to be fierce and formidable.
Grief? That's for old women who wear black. For those who've given up.
Grief is a recognition of our pain, an acknowledgement of our loss. In a culture that offers myriad ways to insulate ourselves from this pain – from drugs to sex to food to cat videos on YouTube – just sitting with it is heroic. And sitting with another in her pain, without trying to fix or reduce it or somehow control it – is downright revolutionary.
We can't fast-track grief. There's no going over it or under it or around it. Those who try will find grief emerges in strange places, baffling us with tears when we think we're happy. Or numbing us from feeling anything at all. 
Grief is a shape-shifter and only when we give in to it do we begin to recognize the many forms it takes. Sometimes tears, sometimes laughter, sometimes a belief that nothing matters, other times a conviction that everything does. And always a deep crack in our hearts.
But to give in to it is also where healing takes root. Tiny seeds of compassion and wisdom are sown in the fertile soil of our pain and nourished with our tears. The day will come – I promise – when the dark cloud of grief becomes the sunlight toward which our healing bends. If we have shown ourselves compassion for our grief, we become better able to extend that compassion to others. If we have been gentle with ourselves in our grief, we become better able to be gentle with others. If we have been merciful with ourselves, we are better able to show mercy to others. Grief has softened us even as it as strengthened.
We haven't outwitted grief, or outsmarted it. But we have endured it. And our life goes on.
What this means for you is that this is going to be a long road. But here you will find those who understand your grief and feel no need to transform it. It's enough to be with you in your grief, and for you to join us in ours.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Fear Vs. Intuition

Not so much fear vs. intuition as my two favourite cats! :)
The night before D-Day, the house was quiet. I had just wrapped up a huge project that had consumed me for months. I felt deeply satisfied. The last of the celebrating guests had left. My husband had departed for a two-day work conference. My three kids were asleep. The pets were dozing on the bed and I climbed into it to join them in sleep.
And suddenly I knew that my husband was having an affair with his assistant.
It hit me such clarity. I picked up the phone and told my friend at the other end that I believed my husband was cheating. "Tell me what you know," she said. I laid out my "evidence" which, frankly, didn't amount to much. Some dinners out under the auspices of deadlines that needed to be met. The  contempt the assistant had for me, which included making it clear to me that "you won't be seeing much of your husband for the next while because we have so much work". My husband's skyrocketing anxiety. Not enough to convict a man.
My friend responded with "it doesn't look good".
I tried calling my husband. Over and over, I keyed in his number only to hear his voicemail.
The next morning, I reached him and told him what I "knew". He denied, then minimized, then fell apart when I refused to back down. The usual panicked dance of the cheater.
And then he came home and told me the truth. Well, the truth about her. The truth about the many, many others would come six months later when, again, after a lovely day spent with his family I suddenly knew that there was more to the story. At that point, I calmly took off my wedding ring, placed it between us and said to him: "You are going to tell me everything."

My intuition is one hell of a guide. So is yours. The problem, of course, is that so few of us pay attention to it. We've had a lifetime of being told to ignore it, override it, shut it the hell up for the sake of keeping the peace.
Following D-Day, our fear is in high-gear. We're living post-trauma, terrified of every potentially missed text, suspicious phone call, strange catch in our husband's voice. Clearly we missed signs of infidelity already and we pour over our past like forensic experts, analyzing the "evidence" we might have overlooked.
Fear vs. intuition? God help us.
He swears there's no more contact. He promises it was only that one time. He's full of remorse, begging you to believe him.
That's where our intuition often disappears behind the blind terror of taking a chance on a known cheater.
As the weeks pass, we remain vigilant. Why did he put his phone away so quickly? It's 6:10 and he said he'd be home by 6 so where is he? My texts are unanswered so what is he doing? Fear keeps us hyper-alert. But it also keeps our intuition dormant.
The thing with fear is that it come with panic. It comes with confusion. It floods our senses. Intuition on the other hand, is a quiet voice. It comes in stillness. It's a...knowing. Its companion is calm. Fear's companion is chaos. Fear screams. Intuition whispers.
It might help to do some homework:
•When in your life have you had a strong intuition about something that was true. How did it feel? Where did it show up in your body?
•What does fear feel like for you? When have you felt afraid? Where does it show up in your body?
As you navigate this post-betrayal road and find yourself wondering whether your husband is still cheating, cheating again or thinking of cheating, start by carving out some silence. Journal your thoughts, including what he's doing or not doing that's making your spidey senses tingle. If you have someone you can talk to (who will remain calm and not magnify the drama), then speak with her. Or bring your questions here for the club. Find yourself a therapist who can do some post-trauma work with you.
And then...speak with your husband. The only way you are ever going to rebuild a marriage is to be able to speak honestly and respectfully with each other. Does his response to your pain give you comfort? Or does it fuel your suspicion?

One day, about six months after D-Day 2, I was driving home from out of town when I felt like I "knew" my husband was cheating again. The "evidence" that led me to that conclusion was just a feeling I had but I felt certain.
I walked into the house, calmly told my husband to follow me to the bedroom where I told him, in a hissed whisper, I knew exactly what he was doing and I would NOT be made a fool. He was baffled. He insisted that nothing NOTHING was going on. His bewilderment made it clear to me that I was wrong. I was flooded with relief. I hadn't been guided by my intuition but by my fear. system isn't foolproof. Sometimes fear does a brilliant job of masquerading as intuition. And sometimes we need to go to great lengths to create the quiet necessary to discern the two. I'm glad that, instead of packing my bags that day, I chose to share my suspicion with my husband. I'm glad that I trusted the relief I felt. I had desperately needed his reassurance and it felt authentic and comforting to me.
I've learned through all this to pay closer attention to my intuition in every area of my life, from how to respond to someone asking me to volunteer my time to whether to ask my 17-year-old to show me what's in the backpack she's taking to a party (a beer, incidentally). My intuition always steers me right. My fear? It's the backseat driver that I'm learning to tune out.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

There's So Much Power In Owning Our Story

"When we own our stories, we avoid being trapped as characters in stories someone else is telling."
~Brené Brown, Rising Strong: The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution.

There is another Web site devoted to betrayed wives which occasionally delights in skewering this one. I admire the woman who created it for the sanctuary she's created for those facing or seeking the dissolution of a marriage after betrayal. I envy her savviness at marketing, which includes a column in a widely read news site. I sometimes laugh at her smart humour. But I'm weary of her dismissal of this site and the women here as trafficking in fantasy. She might pay lip service to the possibility of reconciliation but her language around it is dismissive and demeaning.
The first time she wrote about me, it tied me in knots. I felt like the fool she was making me out to be. Worse, I feared I was fooling all of you. Was I was leading all of you down the garden path toward a future that would undoubtedly deliver you more pain? Was I peddling some sort of snake oil in the form of unlikely healing? My posts began to reflect this fear. Instead of delivering my clear thoughts, I waffled, afraid of looking like an "affair apologist", afraid of giving you the "wrong" impression.
It didn't take long until I realized that I had let her into the pages of my story. Though I inwardly railed against the caricature she'd constructed of me – naive, pathetic, a New-Age idiot – there was a part of me that wondered if she was right. Frankly, it's easier to insist that all cheaters deserve to be dumped. It follows our cultural script. It satisfies our desire for consequences. But that wasn't my story. I needed to find my own narrative again, to remain true to my story, not hers.
More recently, I noticed she had again linked to one of my posts in order to point out how deluded we all are. This time, however, it didn't faze me. I  know that no matter what she or anyone writes about me, it doesn't change my own story.
It isn't the first time I'm realizing this. I learned it following D-Day after I allowed myself to feel trapped by the story the OW was saying about me: I was pathetic. I was a fool. I deserved this.
Only when I challenged that story – really? What is it about being cheated on that makes ME pathetic? Am I really a fool for being loyal? For expecting people to behave with integrity? What am I satisfying by refusing to give a second chance? What am I denying? And what in the hell did I ever do to deserve this? – was I able to reclaim it as mine to tell. And it goes something like this:
Like all marriages, my husband's and mine had its challenges. Nonetheless, we had built a good life, a wonderful family. When I found out about my husband's betrayals, I was devastated. I wanted to die rather than endure another minute of the pain I was feeling. I wondered if I would ever feel anything close to happiness again. I couldn't imagine staying married to him. But I lacked the strength or conviction at that point in time with three young children to leave. So when he promised me that he would work every day of his life to become the man I had believed he was, I gave him that chance. Just as I had chosen to trust my mother two decades earlier when she promised to work toward sobriety after years of addiction.
That was close to ten years ago. I have no regrets. It has been hard at times. I have had many doubts, especially in the early years. Healing took far longer than I imagined. But the rewards have been greater. My husband has kept his promise. That's no guarantee that he will never break it but I have come to learn that the certainty I had about many things in life were illusions. I am only certain that I made the right choice for me. I continue to make that choice daily. I am neither a fool nor pathetic. I did nothing to deserve this. This is my story. And in my story, I am strong. I have approached the heartbreak of betrayal with courage and integrity (and a whole lot of tears). I have made my healing a story of compassion, no matter whether my husband is beside me or across from me. I have included all of you in my story – fellow travelers on this road, from whom I've gained so much. It has been worth the struggle.
I hope I have never given anyone the impression that my choice to rebuild my marriage is the right one for them. It can be tempting to believe in reconciliation when the alternative feels too painful. And there are many women who choose to offer a second chance to men who don't deserve it. In that sense, I suppose my counterpart's approach to dumping a cheater without a backward glance does remove any possibility he can do it again.
If that's your choice, I applaud you. If it takes you more than one (or two or three) D-Days to get there, then that's what it takes. But if your choice doesn't subscribe to what a Web site, or your sister, or any culture insists is the "right" one, then choose it anyway. If the idea of "choice" is something that doesn't feel available to you right now, then give yourself the time and space to access it. Each of us must recognize our truth, no matter what story others are making up about us. This is our story to tell, nobody else's.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Why Being a Mess is the Perfect Place to Start

"Here is what big life changes pull back the curtain and reveal: we are a mess. We are never the story we construct - whatever that story is - and that’s such good news. Because my story, your story is ALWAYS removed from life itself. Our task, and it’s so hard when comfort is ripped away but that's what makes it good news!, is to shift our allegiance from thinking about our lives to being alive."  ~Jen Louden

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Which Direction is Good for You? Head that way...

"I did what anyone who's ever had to rebuild their life has to do – very slowly, one step at a time, find a way to walk back in the direction that's going to be good for you. That isn't about your sorrow and your suffering but is about your strength and your light. And it's about healing your wounds instead of circling around them neverendingly."
– Cheryl Strayed, Dear Sugar Radio, "The Wounded Child Within"

I ask your forgiveness of me and of what might seem like my relentless insistence that you will heal from this. So often your comments read like my own thoughts in the early days post-betrayal, when I was absolutely certain I would never ever feel anything but agony again. When I might accept that the day would come when I could function but I simply could not accept that this shattered mess where my heart used to be would once again be whole. And so I recognize your agony as my own. I remember as well my inability to recognize my strength, so crippled did I feel by my husband's infidelity. Your insistence that I'm wrong, that you simply can't heal from this, sounds so familiar.
And I'm guilty, I know, of sometimes forgetting the sharp edges of that pain. And so I respond, perhaps unfeelingly, offering up platitudes that healing will come, insisting that whether he introduced his OW to his friends is immaterial and that whether they slept together twice or two hundred times hardly matters. He cheated. That's what matters. It's, really, all you need to know.
Except this. You need to know this also even if it makes you want to punch me in the face: Your healing is possible. No matter how devastating his betrayal. No matter the depths of his depravity. You can heal from this. It will take a whole lot longer than any of us ever imagined it would. It will be really really hard. But, as the two Sugars on Dear Sugar radio told "Wounded Child Within", healing is always possible when we shift our gaze from what happened to what we will do about what happened. Or, as Strayed puts it, when we walk back in a direction that's going to be good for us.
Strayed is talking about her own self-destructive choices in the wake of her mother's death. Wracked by grief, she numbed herself with sex, with drugs, with aimlessness. Her choices felt like no choice at all. No matter which direction she went, her mother was dead. There was no changing that.
Which is a big part of what trips us up, I think. Our choices don't include a good one. Instead, we're given the choice between shitty and shittier. We can stay and keep our children's world relatively intact and not have to tell our dying mother that her son-in-law is a snake and cross our fingers that our "I'll-never-do-this-to-you-again" husband is speaking the truth. Or we can leave a marriage that seems irreparable and unhealthy, model resilience and fortitude to our heartbroken children, and cross our fingers that we can survive every second Christmas by volunteering at the food bank. I used to wail to my husband that my only choices were to sacrifice my happiness or my children's. Shitty. And shittier.
But a funny thing happened when I gave up on happiness. Once I'd resolved that I'd never again ever feel joy but decided that I would at least fight for feeling less horrible, I began to experience slivers of, let's call them, hope. In my pursuit of less horrible, I stopped focussing on my husband and all the ways in which he'd ruined my life and turned instead to what I could do to rebuild it. I still had no idea whether this rebuilding would incorporate my husband or not. I was leaning heavily toward not but was waiting until I felt less emotionally fragile before springing that news on my blissfully ignorant children. And so I shored up myself. With therapy. With long walks alongside my beloved dogs. With meditation. With an intention to notice those slivers of hope and stockpile them. I was, to again borrow Strayed's metaphor, walking in the direction of what was good for me. I was intentionally shifting my gaze from what my husband had done to what I was going to do with that. I had felt my sorrow and suffering – and I think it's crucial to feel your sorrow and suffering. You don't get to skip that step – but I was ready to recast it as strength and light.
I know it's not easy. It will probably be the hardest thing you've ever done. But it will save your life. It will ensure that the life you save is full and rich. There are no guarantees that you will be spared further pain. In fact, I can assure you there will be more heartache, in one form or another, to come. But that heartache will happen to a different you. One that is able to walk in the direction of strength and light. One that can feel her sorrow and suffering without letting it define her. And one that is more compassionate and more open-hearted for having suffered. One that savours every drop of joy that life offers, and I promise you, joy will come.

Friday, October 9, 2015

We Don't Make A Choice, We Make Many Choices. Every. Single. Day.

When the minister or justice of the peace or whomever was chosen to officiate at our wedding uttered the words: "Do you take this man/woman...", most of us recognized that we were making our choice public. We knew, by that point, that we had chosen this person with whom to grow old. A wedding simply formalized and legalized that choice.
And that, we figured, was that.
What most of us didn't understand was that marriage isn't about making a choice, it's about many choices. Each day, we make a heap of choices that affect our marriage. Everything from whether to replace the empty toilet paper roll to whether to leave a little of the almost-finished cream for our spouse's coffee or use it all up. From whether to sit down over dinner, even though he's late, or leave his leftovers in the oven.
There are bigger choices, too. And a zillion compromises.
Do we respond to that Facebook friend request from our old high school boyfriend even though our stomach still gets butterflies at the thought of him? Or do we ignore it, recognizing the potential danger? Do we make jokes at our spouse's expense at the company Christmas party? Do we roll our eyes behind his back with the kids? Or do we stand alongside him as the kids rail against his "unfair" approach to discipline, which strips them of the computer for a full 24 hours?
Do we talk to him when he made the appointment for the vasectomy without telling us, even though we too were pretty sure we were done having children, or do we resent feeling devalued? Do we quietly seethe when he buys himself a convertible while we're stuck with the minivan?
Of course, he's making as many choices: Whether to talk to us about his stress. Whether to admit to his temptation. Whether to examine his mid-life funk or numb himself with TV and a sports car. And on and on and on.
After D-Day, we're faced with yet another choice.
Do we work to rebuild a marriage with a man who betrayed his wedding vows? Do we forgive? Or do we choose instead to walk into our future without him?
It feels particularly cruel that the choice puts us between that proverbial rock and hard place. And even worse – that it's a choice left to us after HIS choice that completely cut us out of his decision to bring someone else into our marriage.
And so we're left with this Catch-22. If we leave, we wonder if we're short-changing ourselves and our kids out of a new, improved version of this idiot we still love. If we stay, we worry we're short-changing ourselves out of the chance to heal without fear that it'll happen again, and to potentially have a relationship with someone who hasn't broken our heart.
But make no mistake: the common denominator in all of this is agency – choice. We get to decide, each and every day, how we behave in our marriage. And we get to decide, when it's revealed that our husbands have not been behaving in our marriage, whether we want out.
It's a choice we don't make simply once but every single day. We choose. To stay and work it out and create boundaries and rebuild on honesty and integrity and a deepened commitment. Or, should we leave, we get to choose how to live the rest of our lives without him: whether to allow this betrayal to color all future relationships and taint all future possibility of happiness, or whether to choose, each day, to live our own lives with integrity and honesty and an open heart.
Choice is, frankly, not for the faint of heart. It can feel easier, when we're so weary and heartbroken, to have that choice made for us. To have it made clear. To know how it's all going to turn out.
It can feel easier to stay...and hate him for it. Or to leave, because our cultural script indicates that's our only option, and to regret it.
But whether you stay in the marriage or leave it – even if that choice is taken from you by his choice to leave – you still have the choice to respond to it in a way that gives you dignity and self-respect, or to betray yourself.
And that, my dear friends, is power.


Related Posts with Thumbnails