Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Healing 101: Awesome advice about continued contact with the OW

I just read this post by Fragments of Hope on the Feeling Stuck forum and was struck by how straightforward and wise it was. I'm re-posting here so that many more will read it and benefit. Thanks, FOH, for this. I say it often but I'll say it again: The compassion and support I see every single day on this site, as you rush to tend to each other's pain, is incredible. I'm grateful for each one of you who makes this place such a powerful, healing place to be.

FOH here...
 (Like many here, I discovered my husband was in contact again a few months later and you asked how I dealt with it. Firstly I just want to say how sorry I am you are going through this, it is horrendous, changes us and takes a long time to get through. It is a betrayal that goes to the very core of us. Keep reading the blog posts and the advice from everyone here and let us help you through it. In answer to your question, the second betrayal (though he was just in touch as friends, not romantically) almost finished us off in more ways than one. If he had come clean that she had contacted him and that he responded and kept in touch (though he was telling her nothing would happen) it would have actually helped us hugely. Instead it felt to me that even though he had seen how hurt I was I didn't give a damn, that he had learned nothing about lying and so on. From his perspective (and so many betraying spouses) he had not fully worked through what she had been for him (and in many cases it's an ego boost or escape from depression and life pressures). There is a huge addictive factor with these affairs, they press the serotonin button and make people feel good and they want to keep pressing the button. Add to that the guilt they feel when they finally wake up to your pain and they are in real danger of turning to something to assuage their guilt and numb the pain (and quite often they go back to their happy place - the OW. It's like the fix they can't get away from, like drugs or alcohol. Affairs are (mostly) not about love, they are about feeling good and, sadly, for the OW, it's all about the feeling, not about the person. My husband was thinking of starting a new life with the OW but when I asked him he couldn't tell me anything about HER he really admired. Anyhow, you are at the early stages, what you need to know now is that your husband needs counselling to see what function the OW had for him, you need clear boundaries, transparency - where he is, devices and so on. It's like keeping an eye on an alcoholic. Your husband needs to do a hell of a lot of work on himself to find appropriate ways of filling any gaps such as gaps in self-esteem, loneliness, sense of (career or life) failure. He needs to give 300 percent to you to make you believe that you are important to him. If he hesitates at any of this, remind him that this is for both of you, to help you stay together, for a good marriage, for your girls, to help him be a man of honour and good values. It is not to punish him or make him feel guilty. He needs to commit himself to reparation - making good what has been destroyed. In the first few months I was flailing around and was not aware of what might happen. You have this place as a sounding board and your husband would benefit from being aware of the real mechanics of an affair and the work he can do. I wish you well with it.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Healing from Betrayal: How Feeling Sad Can Bring Back Happy

As a child, sad was my default mood. I was sad about orphans. I was sad about hurt animals. I was sad about dirty rivers and smoggy skies. And I was especially sad that my beloved mom had been swallowed by my addicted mom. 
So when I grew up, moved away and began to create my own world  – which included volunteer work to mix some sweat with my sadness and consequently make the world and my mood a little bit better – I was able to shake off that sadness like a coat that no longer fit.
Enter D-Day...and the sadness was back. Well, okay it was preceded by the rage – both expressed outwardly and inwardly – but eventually sadness settled over me like a cloud. I gave up thinking I could ever be happy and chastised myself for thinking I even deserved to be. 
That first year post D-Day was...sad. I felt trapped in a marriage I didn't want to be in because I felt neither physically nor emotionally strong enough to leave. I convinced myself that my happiness came second to my children's. The martyr role had always been one I sought out and I played it to the hilt, telling my husband that I was sacrificing my own future for the chance to give my children the stable childhood I had been denied. You could almost hear the violins playing the background.
Not to downplay my very real pain. We all know how deep the wound of betrayal goes. And how slow the healing.
Eventually I determined that I was going to rebuild our marriage. That first year had given me a good look at my husband as a man dedicated to making amends. He attended 12-step groups, he spent hours in counselling, he supported me in whatever I needed. 
But though I felt myself loving him, I still felt...sad. That was, if I was feeling anything at all. I'd become so adept at numbing myself to the agony I'd felt that, much of the time, I felt very little at all. I could pretend I was normal. Laugh at the right moments, sigh at the right moments, feign engagement with the wider world. But inside, I was getting scared. I wondered if emotions could die. I wondered if my heart was no longer capable of feeling the highs and lows of life. But mostly I wondered if I was destined to experience life through the lens of a pale gray sadness forever.
My husband urged me to try EMDR, which stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It seems a bit like hocus pocus. A trained therapist talks you through traumatic experiences while either guiding your eyes in a repetitive back-and-forth or rhythmically tapping on your hands or legs. Some use a buzzer. 
It's a therapy based on awareness that animals in the wild seem to recover quickly from trauma. To put it in the most simple terms, a zebra, for instance, that is chased by a predator, watches another zebra get eaten, relatively quickly is restored to a regular heartbeat and behaviour. Scientists theorized that the bilateral stimulation of walking played a role. Further research led to EMDR. 
The idea, my therapist explained, is to access memory stored as trauma and, essentially, refile it in a part of the brain that feels a greater control over the experience.  The website describes it as removing a block that's in the way of emotional healing.
However it's described, I couldn't quite believe it worked. And not only did it work on my trauma around my husband's betrayal, it worked on memories I'd buried so well, I hardly thought about them though they were no doubt festering deep down, like a forgotten splinter. What came bubbling to the surface was much of my childhood pain around losing my mother to addiction even while she was alive. I remembered a sexual assault I'd experienced in my early 20s, one that I'd held myself accountable for (what kind of idiot believes a guy when he says all your friends are joining him back at his place for a party...only to find out you were the only one invited! An "idiot" who takes people at their word, which is to say, not an "idiot" at all), and one I'd never breathed to a soul. I worked through the pain of my best friend betraying me at 24. 
I felt lighter than I'd felt in years. Free of so much sadness. Liberated from so much self-blame.
Better than that, I was able to access all those other emotions I'd forgotten felt so great. As my therapist explained, when we put the lid on pain in order to avoid feeling it, we also bottle up everything else, like joy and contentment and satisfaction. We don't get to be selective in what we bury and what we don't. By going back in and wrestling with the pain, I opened the way for all that good stuff too.
I still, of course, feel sadness. But I also feel joy. I feel contentment. I feel anger and satisfaction and desire and envy and pride. I feel the full range of human emotions. 
Including a deep love for that little girl who found the world unbearably sad. 
Count me among the supporters of EMDR. If you feel stuck, consider giving it a try. If you can't afford it (and it can be expensive), get out and walk every day. There's much evidence that the bilateral stimulation of walking can also excavate those buried feelings, letting them bubble to the surface where you can process them, reminding yourself that you're safe now, that you are strong enough to handle pain. And knowing that, behind that pain, lays a world of rich color and emotion that's worth fighting for. 

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Hearts break in so many ways

So much heartbreak. So much violence. So much divisiveness. So much judgement. So much talking. So little listening.
While I make my home north of the 49th parallel (where we have far fewer guns and in a crazy coincidence far fewer gun deaths), my heart breaks for every life lost in the mass shootings, the police shootings, the police killings, the terrorist attacks. It has been one hell of a summer so far.
And us, with our broken hearts. Shattered from a partner's betrayal but no doubt aching further from all the pain around us. It can feel hopeless.
But while hearts break in so many ways, there is one glue that never ever fails to make them whole again: compassion. When we practice compassion, our hearts get soft. When we practice compassion, the pieces can be melded together. When we practice compassion we have room to acknowledge other pain, not just our own. Compassion reminds us that we're not so different. It reminds us that hurt people hurt people. It tells us that the very least we can do is remain open to another's experience in the world. To not think that our experience is the only one that matters. That ours is the only truth. To know that there are so many ways in which we're shaped, for better or worse.
Does your view of the world have room for others that don't look like you or worship like you or talk like you or love like you? If not, ask yourself what you're afraid of. Nobody hates unless they're also very afraid. And then face down that fear in yourself. Ask yourself what's behind it. And what's behind that.
It's hard work, feeling compassion for people who we think are the opposite of us. For people who vote differently. Think differently. Live differently. For people who screw our husbands. For ourselves.
But I know that it's the only way out of this mess. The one in the larger world and the one in our individual worlds. Compassion can heal us all.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

How Far Will You Go?

I was listening to a radio program the other day featuring a guy who lost the use of his legs in a horrible cycling accident. After spending a year grieving the loss of the life he thought was his, he had a moment with his father in which the two just held each other and cried. And then his father whispered something in his ear: How far will you go?
How far will you go? What a question, huh? Not, what are you going to do about this? Not, how will you handle things? But...how far will you go? Less a question than a challenge. A challenge to face the future with grit and hope but also a declaration of confidence and support. With those words, that dad wasn't just encouraging his son to look forward rather than back. He was telling his son that there were still big dreams out there for the taking...and that he believed in his son's ability to seize them. He realized that nothing was going to bring back the use of his legs – at least not in the same way – but that just because his future looked different than he thought, that didn't mean worse. It just meant...different.
And so he set about re-igniting the passions he'd always had for physical exertion and achieving goals. He swam the English channel, competed in the Olympics, got married and, in the process, developed humility and gratitude.
We're all on a hero's journey. Every single one of us. We strive. We fall down. We lose our way. But at each juncture, we have a choice. To accept where we are with no hope for change, or to realistically assess our circumstances and fight for our lives. Maybe not the lives we thought were ours...but the lives we can still have if we ask ourselves just how far we will go.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Healing from Betrayal: It's the situation that's crazy, not you

How often, in the days following discovery or disclosure of a partner's affair, do we feel like we're going crazy. Literally crazy. As in we question what's real. We feel conspired against. We're hyper-vigilant. Terrified one minute, giddy with hysterical bonding the next.
The crazy thing is...your response, under the circumstances, is perfectly normal. Sane. It's not you that's crazy, it's the situation.
It's a situation in which you're often being asked to trust someone who has proven himself untrustworthy. You're sometimes being asked to present a fake front to the world when inside your world has collapsed. You're frequently responding physically to trauma, which is exactly what betrayal is: trouble sleeping, easily triggered, racing heart, chronic anxiety.
We find ourselves badgering our partners with questions even though we dread the answers. One minute we're terrified they'll walk out the door, the next we're ready to literally kick them out the door ourselves.
And far far too often, we accept that we're the crazy ones. Far too often we're told we're the crazy ones. But we're not. We're often the only sane ones in a crazy situation.
It can be hard to believe that. After all, we're the ones shrieking until we grow hoarse. We're the ones throwing things. We're the ones accusing our partners of all sorts of apparently crazy things: hiding phones, faking trips, double lives.
But, like Shakespeare's fools, we're so often the ones who speak the truth, who point out the lies and the hypocrisy, who call out the crazy, even as we're the ones considered foolish.
If you're feeling crazy, by all means find a counsellor who can help you find your way back to solid ground. Especially if your behaviour is crossing a line into abuse or stalking or self-harm, then please seek help immediately. A partner's betrayal is excruciating but it isn't a licence to harm others or yourself.
What feeling crazy can remind us is that we are deeply wounded and we need gentle care. Ever tried to approach an injured animal? They hiss and spit. Their fear comes out as aggression. Betrayal takes us back to that primal state. The best thing we can do is focus on what we can control, which is ourselves. We can find support. We can nurture ourselves. We can tend to our broken heart.
And within that space where we're focussed on our sane, normal response to a crazy situation, we can recognize how toxic our partner (or our parent, or our friend, or our boss....) is. We can finally acknowledge that we are not crazy. We can place the blame squarely where it belongs: on a partner (or parent or friend or boss...) who has lied to us, manipulated us, betrayed us.
We can fight for ourselves. We can love ourselves. We'd be crazy not to.


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