Monday, October 31, 2016

Your Kindness is No Small Thing

I just finished responding to Phoenix and Still Standing over on the Separating or Divorcing (Part 2) page. There's so much pain there as these incredible women come to terms with a loss they hadn't predicted. But there's hella resilience too. 
There's also much gratitude for this site as a place where women feel supported, no matter what they're going through and how things are unfolding. While I created this site to make me less lonely as I worked to rebuild my marriage (and to assure myself that I wasn't a complete doofus to believe that it was possible to rebuild a marriage after betrayal), I didn't intend it to be only for reconciliation. For one thing, I wasn't sure just where my marriage was going to end up. I had one foot out the door for a long time. Besides, however things turn out, we're not so different. It's the experience of betrayal that marks us. And the women on this site, without fail, have responded to that most painful of experiences by reaching out to others and lifting them up.
It's incredible, really. To think that, at our lowest point, we are still able to acknowledge pain in others and reach out. It speaks to the courage of all of you here. It speaks to the depth of your compassion, the reservoir of kindness that you each still have, even when life has served up betrayal and cruelty.
I'm convinced though that it's in that reaching out, that lifting up of others, that ability to take in another's pain and hold it for them, that opens the path to our own healing. In keeping our hearts open to others, we keep them open to our own lives.
In feeling each other's pain, we are able to process our own.
We heal together, bound by compassionate hearts.
Our healing won't take us all to the same place. Some of us will rebuild marriages, others will dissolve theirs. But as long as we're able to see in each other the beauty, the strength, the courage and the integrity with which we're responding to our hearts shattering, then we can acknowledge it in ourselves. And that mark of betrayal will become a badge of honor for having not only survived but having kept our hearts open to the suffering of others.
There are days that what I'm saying will seem impossible. Days when it's all we can do to breathe in, breathe out, when we need to put our hearts under glass. Those are the days when others can remind you that you will survive this. That there are days for giving and days for receiving.
That the grace we show each other isn't a zero sum game.
And that ability to offer or receive grace, to experience a life-changing kindness, is no small thing.

Friday, October 28, 2016

B is for...Boundaries

"We cannot simultaneously set a boundary and take care of another person's feelings."
~Melody Beattie, author 

Boundaries continue to confuse the hell out of us, don't they? If there's one thing on this site that seems to trip so many of us up, it's boundaries. (Though I'm not commenting so much, I still read your comments and you warrior women never fail to make me proud to be among you.) Boundaries seem selfish. They seem dictatorial. They seem unfair.
They're not. And Melody Beattie, best known for her books about co-dependency (that's another term that a lot of us instinctively recoil from), makes it clear when she says that boundaries are about self-care. Nothing more, nothing less. They are about keeping ourselves safe.
My daughter's friend was recently kicked out of her home. She's 18. She did nothing wrong, unless you count forgetting to make her bed now and again. It's the second time she's been kicked out – the first time she was put in foster care at 12 with her twin brother because they fought too much.
This girl's mother deserves my award for shittiest mother of the year, however, I'm conscious of the fact that we love others the best way we know how. I'm trying hard to practice compassion. I don't doubt that this mother loves her daughter. It's just that her love is toxic.
And so this girl has the monumental challenge of reconciling her love for her mother with her pain at being rejected.
That's where boundaries come in.
Somehow this girl needs to come to a place where she can acknowledge her love for her mom while still keeping herself emotionally safe. And she gets to decide what those boundaries look like. For instance, she might love her mother while at the same time deciding that she can't have her mother in her life right now. Or it might look like the occasional phone call. Who knows. But it's about this girl's self-care not her mother's feelings.
And that's your challenge too.
Your partner betrayed your trust. Setting boundaries isn't about penalizing him, it's about self-care. It's about deciding what you need to begin to feel safe in your marriage again. Maybe that looks like access to his phone and computer log. Maybe it looks like regular check-in calls. Maybe it includes his commitment to a 12-step program or weekly therapy. Maybe it's about physically separating.
Whatever it looks like, it's your decision. They're your boundaries. It's about your self-care, your safety, and your right to feel safe with the people you've allowed into your life.
It isn't about penalties, manipulation or selfishness.
He might not like it. He probably won't, especially if you've been someone who hasn't, historically, enforced (or even had) boundaries in the past. It can be hard for your partner to realize that things are going to be different.
But remember what Beattie says: you cannot set boundaries and worry about another's feelings at the same time.
It's not that his feelings don't matter. It's that they're not yours. His job is to take care of his feelings. Your job is to take care of yours.
A key part of boundary setting is letting go of the outcome. This isn't about controlling another, it's about ensuring your own safety. You might not like how the other person responds to your boundaries.
But that doesn't mean you should back down. It means that you're with someone who doesn't respect your boundaries, who prefers the old you who puts others feelings above your own.
Learning a new behaviour is tough, especially if you've been taught for years that self-care is selfish, that boundaries are manipulation.
But it gets easier with practice. And it's crucial to your emotional health, to your healing.
Safety. Self-respect. Self-care.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Radical Dangerous Hope

"It's much more dangerous, much more radical to hope."
~Mary Karr, author of Lit and The Art of Memoir

I am an incurable optimist. Hard-wired for sure but spurred on by a childhood marked by addiction and neglect. At night, in bed, I would curl up inside my hope to muffle the screaming and thumping in the bedroom beside mine. Believing, with all my heart, that things would get better. They had to.
They did. My mother got sober, my parents stayed together and I got the hell out just in time to take my dysfunction on my twenties roadshow.
That decade, like many people's early adulthood, consisted of falling madly in love and either being heartbroken or breaking someone's heart. But no matter, I always figured I was on the path to where I was supposed to be.
I graduated with one of the least marketable degrees possible. I worked retail, folding pants and watching the clock, until one day the area manager offered me the chance to take over a store. More money than I was accustomed to. More responsibility.
No, I said, convinced that something better – something I dreamed of doing – was on the horizon.
And it was.
I got the job at the magazine.
I dumped the wrong guy. Met the right guy. 
I got married. A year later I was pregnant. A routine test revealed the possibility of an abnormality with the baby. The odds weren't great.
I prepared myself for the worst but hoped for the best.
She was born healthy.

Hope sometimes gets a bad rap. It's passive, they say. Naive. It's pie-in-the-sky. Better to be realistic. And by "realistic", they mean pessimistic. Better to aim low and be pleasantly surprised than aim high and risk disappointment.
But hope isn't about sitting around waiting for fate to smile on you. It's the energy that points you in the direction of where your dreams lie. It's the reason you can go in a different direction than everyone is telling you to go, to imagine yourself where you want to be rather than where you are. Hope is the keeper of both happiness and disappointment, author Bryant McGill reminds us. Hope is eyes wide open to what's in front of us, but eyes also trained on the barely discernible future where we can see the shape of what might be.

My hope took a beating around D-Day. I felt like a fool for being an optimist, surrounded by a cultural chorus of "once a cheater, always a cheater". I felt as though the universe had stomped on all those dreams I'd had for myself. My happily-ever-after dreams. My chutzpah that I was as entitled as anyone else to a loyal partner.
For awhile I took refuge on the plain of lethal flatness or "the dead zone". But all it got me was a life wrapped in gauze. I didn't really feel...anything. Sure I was dodging pain but I was missing out on joy too. So I fought my way back through fear to hope.
Hope that I would not only survive this agony but emerge from it somehow stronger. That my husband would fight for me, for our family, for himself. There were absolutely days when my hope seemed utterly misplaced. When I redirected it toward hoping (all the while working hard, so hard) that I could dispense with so many of those old messages that made me feel unworthy, that made me feel as though what had happened was comeuppance for my daring to dream big. After all, who the hell did I think I was?
But somewhere in there, between hope and sweat and tears, I realized that what I'd spent my whole childhood hoping for – that tomorrow could be better than today – was true even, especially, in the darkest period of my life.
It's true for you too.
Tomorrow can be better than today. And if it's not, then the next tomorrow can. And the next.
It's audacious to hope. It's dangerous and radical, as Mary Karr says, to imagine that things can be better.
But to give in to cynicism, to believe that life will deliver only more pain, isn't an option. Despair is no place to live.
Hope isn't about crossing your fingers, it's about grabbing your life with both hands and an open heart. It's about bending toward the sun that nurtures your growth, even when that growth takes you far out of your comfort zone.
Hope isn't wishful thinking. It's not about fantasy. It's about meeting people exactly where they are and inviting them to come along toward something better, knowing full well that they might not be ready for the trip.
But we are. Our bags are packed and we're ready.
And hope is the fuel that will take us the whole way.

Monday, October 17, 2016

What is your source of information?

"I'm afraid I'm going to flunk out of university," my daughter confessed to me, her face masked by the darkness but her voice shaking. She lay in her bed and I sat beside her. She's home for her fall reading week, sick with strep throat, sick with worry.
Her grades have been great so far, even with her clinical anxiety acting up, even with her doctor weaning her off her anti-anxiety meds because they're not doing the job. Even with moving to a huge new city, two hours from home, from family, from friends, from everything that's familiar.
"What is your source of information," a friend used to ask the newly sober poet and memoirist Mary Karr, whenever she confided some fear that she was a failure, a fraud, not worth anyone's love or affection.
How many of us ask ourselves that question when we're awake in bed at 3 a.m. telling ourselves stories about how superior the Other Woman was sexually, or how much prettier she was, or smarter. Do we ask ourselves that when we imagine our husband and the Other Woman/Women laughing at our ignorance of the affair? Do we ask ourselves that when we freeze socially, convinced that everyone around us is secretly rolling their eyes at us?
I didn't. I believed every soul-destroying lie I told myself.
What is your source of information?
It's tricky ground. Betrayal creates enormous doubt in ourselves, in our ability to judge for ourselves what's safe, who can be trusted. But even as we begin to doubt our judgement, we nonetheless believe every conspiracy theory we tell ourselves.
What is your source of information?
If it's you and it casts you in an unforgiving light, then don't believe a word of it.
If it's you and it's based on the midnight wanderings of a battle-weary brain, don't believe a word of it.
If it's you and it leads only to self-doubt, self-blame and shame, then don't believe a word of it.
If your friends would look at you as if you were crazy for believing it, don't. If you're afraid to say it out loud because you know it would sound crazy, then don't believe it.
What is your source of information?
If your response is, "I thought it up", know what to do with it.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The story of your pain

"Blessed are they who just aren't ready to be 'over it yet'," Nadia Bolz-Weber spoke from the pulpit. The stand-up comic-turned-pastor and author was offering up her list of blessings, which also included "blessed is the teenage girl who wonders how, again, she's going to cover the new cuts on her arms" and "blessed are the addicts", from the front of a dazzling Episcopal church in Michigan.
Her blessing stopped me.
"Blessed are they who just aren't ready to be 'over it yet'."
What a difference, huh?
What a difference from our usual response. The exasperation. The eye-rolling. The gritted teeth, fist-clenched frustration with those – including, especially, ourselves – who just 'aren't over it yet'.
Pain makes us horribly uncomfortable. So we try to make it go away by finding the right words. Reading the right book. Hitting on the right response. Discovering the magical solution that makes the pain dissolve.
And so we read. And we run. And we downward dog. And we write. And we treat ourselves to pedicures and new shoes. And we pour ourselves another glass of wine.
And it works.
And then it doesn't.
The pain is still there.
We're not 'over it yet'.
So we chastise ourselves. Or we believe others when they chastise us. "It's been six months," we/they say. "It's been three years."
Aren't you over it yet? 
What's wrong with you?
"Blessed are they who just aren't ready to be 'over it yet'."
Nothing. There is nothing 'wrong' with you.
You're not 'over it yet' because you're not over it yet.
Bolz-Weber isn't speaking about an unwillingness to be 'over it.' She's speaking to an unreadiness. The wound is deep. Healing will happen in layers. Layers over layers over layers of mercy. 
Your pain isn't a tumour to be removed. It is a message written on our hearts. It tells a story. And right now, that story is still unfolding. Right now, you're not 'over it yet'.
I'm not 'over it yet'. I don't ever anticipate being 'over it'.
I am past it. The worst of it, anyway.
But the story of my pain is still visible on my heart. It's visible when I learn about another one of us cast into this club we never wanted to be a part of. It's audible when I speak the words "me too" into another ear. It's visceral when I pull someone into a hug, when I look into her eyes and see the story of pain on her heart.
It's different now, my pain. The story on my heart is still written there but the edges aren't so sharp. It reads more like poetry now.
And it tells about a woman who was shattered by betrayal. A woman who, guided and supported by other women, found the strength to get back on her feet. A woman who refused to 'get over it' on anyone's schedule but her own. Who trusted her own heart, over time, to lead the way.
It's a story of you too. And it's not over.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Wednesday Word Hug

by Victoria Safford
Our mission is to plant ourselves at the gates of Hope—
Not the prudent gates of Optimism,
Which are somewhat narrower.
Not the stalwart, boring gates of Common Sense;
Nor the strident gates of Self-Righteousness,
Which creak on shrill and angry hinges
Nor the cheerful, flimsy garden gate of
“Everything is gonna’ be all right.”
But a different, sometimes lonely place,
The place of truth-telling,
About your own soul first of all and its condition.
The place of resistance and defiance,
The piece of ground from which you see the world
Both as it is and as it could be
As it will be;
The place from which you glimpse not only struggle,
But the joy of the struggle.
And we stand there, all of us, beckoning and calling,
Telling people what we are seeing
Asking people what they see.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Shame on Me? Not Anymore.

Shame strengthens our identity with our most harmful relationships because we believe we have something to hide and it is always what remains hidden that has the strongest hold over our lives. ~Wendy Strgar, Good Clean Love

So there's this serial adulterer in the news who has decided it's clever strategy to attack the wife of another serial adulterer for being an "enabler" of her husband's affairs and being "too stupid" to even realize the affairs were going on.
I don't know about you but my shame sensor is going off big-time. Because, really, what is this guy saying that we don't say to ourselves? And if I hadn't done a whole lotta work over the past decade to challenge my shame, I just might be swallowing this bullshit whole. Instead I'm able to recognize misogyny with a hefty dose of delusion.
In other words...nope. Not buying it. 
Not anymore.
Thing is, too many of us do.
We believe that smart women don't get blindsided like we did. We think that women who are able to "please their man" don't get cheated on. We believe that strong women throw him out. That men cheat when they're not getting it at home, that women must know on some level what's happening, that true feminists don't ever disparage the Other Woman, not even in a private e-mail to a dear friend.
Shame of those of us who get cheated on. Shame on those of us who didn't know. Shame on those of us who give our marriages another chance.
Shame. Shame. Shame.
Nope. Not buying it. Not anymore.
Shame is toxic. Shame is that sinister whisper at 3 a.m. that we let ourselves get too fat. It's that stomach-clench when we imagine how much sexier she must have been than us. How much more fun. How they must have laughed at our ignorance, our blithe conviction that, no, he wouldn't do that. 
Shame keeps us small and quiet. It keeps us – and our pain – hidden. 
It lies. 
The way out of shame is to tell our stories. Here. In our journals. To our most trusted friends. To ourselves. Tell our stories over and over again. Not the lies about how we should have known. Not the lies about our weight or our age or our depression or our career or...or...or.... That's not why he cheated. 
He cheated because he was broken somewhere deep inside and he didn't know how to heal himself. He cheated because it's easier to find something new and shiny to distract ourselves than it is to feel old and dull. He cheated because our culture encourages us to discard what isn't working rather than fix it. He cheated for any number of reasons, none of which are that there's something wrong with us. 
That's shame talking. 
Pull shame out of the shadows and examine it. It will likely look pretty pathetic in the cold light of day. It will sound like your mother or a teacher or a coach or whomever else in your life convinced you that you weren't enough. It will look like a culture that says beautiful women don't get cheated on. It will echo like a sexist old man who cheats on his wives as he discards each for the next and blames them for his empty soul. 
Nope. Don't buy it. 
Not anymore. 


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