~Augusten Burroughs, from Running with Scissors
I speak a lot on this site about healing because, frankly, it's more important that we heal ourselves than that we heal our marriage. But I wonder how many of you assume from my words that healing is a sort of destination. A place that you will arrive at and feel whole and happy and "whew, glad that's over".
Though I hate to disabuse you of this lovely fantasy, the truth is far less straightforward. Healing isn't so much a destination as a process. And though we absolutely come to a point where the pain is largely absent, where trust is largely restored, where we come at life from self-love and self-respect, the wound will always be there.
Case in point: My husband recently went out of town on business. It was to an exotic locale. Good food and good wine. Waves lapping at the shore. And me, home with our kids. An empty seat beside him at the dinner table, the pool, the bar.
He's gone away many times since D-Day. But this time was different. We'd been bickering. Stupid things. Where to take the kids for March Break – he wanted snow, I wanted sunshine. Who does more work around the house. Too little sleep, too much nitpicking.
And so, when he left for holiday, fear took root. What was to stop him, after all? He was free as a bird. And I had been anything but loving recently. Why wouldn't he seize the opportunity to spend time with someone else?
Forgotten in that moment was the years of work he'd done to get to the root of his infidelity. Forgotten were the many many promises he's made to me since, that he will do everything he can to never hurt me like that again. That he doesn't want to be the person. That he's happier than he's been in his life.
I don't know if I'd have the same fears of betrayal I hadn't already discovered, a decade ago, what he was capable of doing. I might. I know a lot of marriages that have been shattered by infidelity. Even without personal experience, it's not impossible that I'd wonder.
But it's different when you've gone through it. You know it's possible. And you know it's excruciating.
So here I was, ten years of healing, and I felt vulnerable and sad.
The wound was still there.
As much as I wish healing was complete, it's not.
As much as I wish that what happened to me, to you, to all of us could be erased by years of it not happening, it can't be. It's always there, sometimes buried deep, sometimes breaking the surface.
And no amount of wishing will change that.
Does that mean healing is a myth?
Not at all.
But it does mean that our healing is never really over. It means that there will be times when we're triggered. It means that we can never un-know the pain of betrayal. And it means that we will always be more sensitive to the possibility of it happening again. Once bitten, after all.
But, and here's where I acknowledge the silver lining part of this dark cloud, it also means that I've spent years learning self-care and self-respect. How to develop and enforce boundaries. How to talk about difficult things. How to love a man who hurt me. How to give second chances without giving away my soul.
In other words, in many many ways, I've healed myself.
And I continue to heal, not only from this but from so many hurts in my lifetime. My parents' addictions. My brother's anger. Friends who betrayed me.
I'm changed by those experiences. To paraphrase Rainer Maria Rilke, sadness is life holding you in its hands and shaping you.
My heartbreaks and my healing have made me who I am.
And that's fine with me. If you want to call that healed, then sure. I call it not a place but a journey.