Monday, October 30, 2017

You hold more power than you know

"This above all, to refuse to be a victim. Unless I can do that I can do nothing. I have to recant, give up the old belief that I am powerless..." ~ from Surfacing, Margaret Atwood

D-Day often plunges us into a deep pool of self-pity. Every horrible thing we believed about ourselves seems true. Every horrible thing we believed about the world seems true. And though I think, for some of us at least, this pity pool is an inevitable part of betrayal, we must not let ourselves stay there. People drown in pools.
But pity can feel safe in some ways. Nobody expects anything of us if we're wallowing in pity, least of all ourselves. We are victims, we insist. Powerless to stop the pain washing over us, powerless to stop people from hurting us. Powerless.
We are hurting yes. We are powerless to control others' behaviour, yes. But completely powerless? No. Not at all.
While there's no way to un-do the betrayal, no way to turn back the clock and magically stop our partners from making their stupid, cruel choice, we have more power than we realize.
Paralyzed by the pain of betrayal, we forget this. Desperate to avoid further pain, we retreat into a submissive position. Don't reject me, we silently scream. Don't leave me alone. Choose me, we beg.
We hand our power over to the person who has just revealed to us that he doesn't deserve it, not that anyone ever deserves our power. Or we forget that we have any power at all. Perhaps we've spent decades behaving as if we have no power. We let decisions be made for us, we stayed silent when we wanted to scream, we accepted things that are unacceptable.
But power ignored is still there. We just need to remember it. To tap into it. To harness it.
Not easy, I know.
Especially when we're curled up in a ball, in filthy pajamas.
The thing with power though is that it feeds itself. You only need the strength it takes to remember you have it, to utter one simple "no" to a husband's desire to "see her one last time to say good-bye", to demand one single thing from him – the truth, to make it clear that no matter what bullshit soufflĂ© he tries to serve up, you refuse to accept responsibility for his choice to cheat. That's on him. 100 percent.
Let's remember, though, that power frightens people, especially power fuelled by self-respect. And there will be pushback. We will be told, in many ways, that our power is better denied, better ignored, better buried. We might be blamed. We might be asked to "put this behind us", or "leave the past in the past". We might be told that he's withholding information from us because ""doesn't want to hurt" us.
Your power is in your insistence on what you need. Your power is in your refusal to allow him to dictate the terms of any reconciliation or, frankly, the terms of any separation. Your power is in treating yourself with respect.
Self-respect can feel almost laughable when we feel so humiliated, so devastated. And yet, when we begin our healing from a place in which we can see that his cheating is his to own, it grows easier. When we refuse to be held complicit in his choice to cheat, it grows easier.
Tap into the power that you hold. Not power to control him but power to control you, to ask for what matters to you and refuse to back down.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Guest Post: Getting Comfortable with Grief

by StillStanding1

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” ~ C.S. Lewis

Grief is uncomfortable. It makes us uncomfortable when we have it. It makes others around us uncomfortable. It’s why friends sometimes turn away in the face of our grief or drip useless platitudes (“everything happens for a reason”) in our ears or suggest that we “should be over it” by now. All you know is that your heart is broken. It hurts. You’ve got butterflies in your stomach or scorching heartburn. You want people to go away. You fear being alone. Sometimes you feel like your head is wrapped in a blanket. Sometimes all you can do is cry.
Grief is a natural and normal reaction to loss of any kind. If you’ve found yourself here, you’ve experienced a deep and traumatic loss. Unfortunately, grief is a neglected and misunderstood process. “Grief is the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behavior," The Grief Recovery Handbook tells us.  What might those conflicting feelings look like for you right now? Well, you may feel relief at the realization that you are not crazy and have not been imagining that something has been wrong all this time, and horrified that you have lost your sense of safety or trust in someone you counted on. The familiarity of your relationship is gone, your partner has been replaced by a stranger and yet, you are in your home with the same things around you. It feels unreal.
Most of what people tell us in the wake of a loss, in an effort to comfort us or help us “recover” can be accurate but leave us feeling empty, shamed and isolated. We feel unheard and our pain goes unacknowledged. Much of what we have been taught about grief doesn’t help us process it.
Some of the myths about grief include this idea of stages and that we must all go through all of them in a certain order. False. The stages of grief were developed around people dealing with a fatal diagnosis with a disease. These same stages, while helpful, do not apply in all situations. You may have denial (this can’t be happening) or you may go straight to this happened, now what?
Another myth is that some losses are impossible to recover from, that you will “never get over it.” Also false. Many of your thoughts and feelings will be painful post-betrayal. However, not forgetting is not the same as not getting over it.
Yet another unhelpful notion associated with grief is the idea of closure. A divorce brings closure but it does not help you become emotionally complete. It doesn’t resolve all the painful events that may have led to the divorce. Having all the gory details of your partner’s affair will not necessarily help you feel better. You need some answers, yes. But none of those answers bring closure. Rather they help you understand where you are and may help point the direction you need to go in order to become emotionally complete with the person who hurt you.
Another word I don’t like? Survivor. It means we are identified by the event or circumstances that harmed us and we are not free to leave those circumstances behind. Survivor is an identity built out of pain. No thanks.
Some of the ways we are taught to deal with grief are not helpful. We are told often in childhood “don’t cry,” “don’t feel bad,” “if you are going to cry, go to your room.” We are taught that we are faulty for feeling bad. We are taught that we must grieve alone. We are taught we need to leave people alone to cry. We are taught to replace the loss (don’t be sad we can get a new puppy, you can still have more kids etc.). Time heals all wounds; nope. As we discussed recently, it’s what you do with the time that matters. Something is not going to magically change unless we DO something about it. We are also told that we must “be strong for others.” What does this even mean? Does it mean not show your grief? It’s confusing because it is undoable. It’s one of those pieces of conventional wisdom that gets passed around but that has no foundation. We are told to keep busy, to distract ourselves from our pain, to make more days go by. But being busy in no way helps us complete our pain. It’s exhausting. We are taught to compare our grief and feel shame about it (well at least I don’t have it as bad as Sally. She’s been divorced 15 times and all her exes cheated on her.) Your grief is legitimate, even if you are sad about the loss of your child’s goldfish. Someone else having it worse does not in any way make or require you to feel better or not sad. And then there are the people all around us who want us to be “fine” and put on our happy face so they don’t have to be uncomfortable any more.
One of the other things we do is try to apply short-term pain relievers and think they will provide long-term relief, such as food, alcohol/drugs, anger, exercise, isolation, sex, workaholism, retail therapy, escape into fantasy (tv, movies books). These things probably sound familiar and are not necessarily dangerous until they are done for the wrong reasons. The danger is because they do provide some short-term relief but are not addressing the root of the loss and are not helping you process your grief.
So, if all these things we’ve been taught about grief keep us stuck, what are we to do? Honestly, I don’t have a clear and easy answer. I’ve been passing through more grief lately myself. As I come to terms with just how short-lived my soon to be ex’s epiphany was and that he’s already doing the alcoholic’s spiral again, I find myself grieving the end of my marriage for a second (or third?) time. It is made even more real because I’m the one choosing this time and I’m letting go of the fantasy that he will ever step up and be a person who deserves me. I’m sad about it because despite everything, I still care about him. I remember him and us and our hopes and dreams, from long ago. I’m grieving the loss of those things. And it saddens me for my children, who may yet have more to rumble with. It’s another kind of loss.
But processing our grief requires that we be honest with ourselves about what has and is happening. That we make space in our days for feeling sad or whatever comes up. That we sit with grief rather than resist it. Invite it in. “Hey grief, I see you. What do you have for me today? What business can we wrap up? What can we let go of?” We need to think about what happened in our past that is causing this to hurt so much now and how do we get complete with that hurt. Do we write a letter that we don’t send? Do we have a conversation with someone? Do we reach out for comfort and support? Do we cry even if people are looking?
We all will recover in different ways but some of my new rules are:
Don’t grieve alone.
Feel my feelings.
Don’t compare grief.
Take responsibility for my healing.
I don’t have to be strong for others (not even my kids). I just need to be real.
Avoid short-term pain relievers.
Speak my grief.

“…our silence about grief serves no one. We can’t heal if we don’t grieve; we can’t forgive if we don’t grieve. We run from grief because loss scares us, yet our hearts reach toward grief because the broken parts want to mend.” ~ Brene Brown

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Desperately seeking executive director for Infidelity Counselling Network

This is a re-post from August. The incredible Infidelity Counselling Network, which I know many of you have used over the years, is looking for an executive director to move the organization forward. Without the right person, it will have to close its doors. Fingers crossed that the perfect candidate is out there:

For quite a while now, I've linked to Infidelity Counselling Network, a pay-what-you-can peer counselling group that operates out of the Bay Area but is, of course, available to anyone with a phone. I know that many of you have used the network – it's impossible to overstate how valuable it can be to have someone to speak with when you're in such pain. Someone who understands, someone who's trained in listening, someone who can recommend resources and strategies to cope.
Well, Infidelity Counselling Network needs a new director (or two). It's a volunteer gig, with a small stipend. Roughly 5 - 7 hours a week. If any of you live in the Bay Area and want to pay it forward, this is your chance. 
Please let me know if you're interested – post a comment with your contact info and I won't publish it online. I'll simply pass your info onto the current director/founder. Or you can contact the organization directly here. Or e-mail:
It would be a shame if this organization had to close its doors/phone lines after creating such a vital service. 

Monday, October 23, 2017

Stillness and the Truth that Lives There

"The women we are meant to be next is inside the pain of now," Glennon Doyle in an interview.

We often experience pain as an indictment, evidence that we did something wrong. We live in a culture that tells us we can achieve happiness and if we're not, well, what are we doing wrong. But as anyone with a pulse and few years under their belt knows that sometimes life hurts. People disappoint us. We don't get the promotion we've worked so hard for. Our parents become ill. Our children become ill.
We hurt because, well, life.
One of the biggest lies we're sold is that life is supposed to be easy. That a good marriage is effortless, or mostly effortless. We buy that myth, we believe it's true for others even if it isn't for us. Surely we're doing something wrong.
What if we come at our life differently. What if we accept, as Glennon Doyle puts it, that life is "brutiful." That some days/weeks/years are brutal. And that others are beautiful. And that most will fall somewhere in the middle. But that none have anything to do with whether we're doing it "right".
But what if we also come to understand that within the brutal, painful days/weeks/years lies the seed of our new self. Someone who will emerge with a greater understanding of others and herself, who will have a newfound appreciation for her strength, who will have a greater capacity for acceptance and compassion.
She's there. Maybe a seedling, but she's there. And she holds a truth that you can access if you're willing to shut out all the noise and judgement. She can found in the stillness that so many of us have become masters at overriding.
We tell ourselves, who has time for stillness? Kids need to be shuttled, bills need to be paid, meals need to be cooked, laundry washed, bodies exercised. And, on top of everything, we're fighting to breathe because our partner, the one who we though always had our back, betrayed us. "We are afraid of pain," says Doyle. "But what we should be afraid of is all of the things that we use to avoid pain."
The shopping. The drinking. The eating. The self-harm. The horrible thoughts about our worth that we allow into our brain.
Deeper than the pain is the stillness. And when we're broken open, we can reach it.
Be still. I noticed a recent comment by Truth who's coping with her pain by watching the sunrise each day and reminding herself that it's constant and that it's beautiful. She notices the wind in the trees and the feel of the breeze on her arms. Even just reading her comment, I felt calmed.
That's stillness. That's moving out of our heads and into our bodies where the truth lives.
With practice, you'll hear that small still voice inside, the one we've been silencing for years. And that voice is where you'll find the best advice – the advice for you. As Doyle points out, we women love to take polls. We poll our friends on whether we should pain our kitchen blue or whether we should get bangs. And then, when our husband has cheated, we ask strangers on the Internet. "What do you think I should do?" Should I stay? Should I forgive him? Will I regret my choice?
We trust others on the Internet before we trust that deepest part of ourselves. But, as Doyle reminds us, "The only advice worth hearing is what you already know."

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Guest post: Time – and you – can do amazing things

by StillStanding1

Time can do amazing things. A deep wound scabs over, and the scab becomes a scar, and then one day you look for the scar and it’s barely visible. ~Neil Gaiman

I’ve been noticing a theme in some of the comments lately, where many of the warriors here are feeling like they should be able to let go and forgive or their partners are pushing them to “get over it” and they feel badly for a) not being over “it” yet, or b) bringing “it” up all the time, or c) not feeling ready to forgive, or d) for still being triggered unexpectedly.
As if there is a timeline for healing. As if there is a set path that we all must follow to get “better” (i.e. healed). As if we are not allowed to feel our feelings. As if we are not allowed to grieve.
So many of us, in the wake of betrayal, rush to forgive. We want the pain to go away. We want this to never have happened. We think, “If I can just put this behind me, if I can just forgive, everything will go back to the way it was. Everything will be better.” But what does putting it behind you really look like? What does that even mean? And what is forgiveness?
I think there are some mistaken assumptions out there about what those things are. That once you get there everything will get and stay fixed. Destination. End. No more worries or pain. We get fed the same ideas around happiness. It’s just not how those things work. Happiness and forgiveness are not destinations. They are choices and places you pass through again and again. The past? This stuff we need to put behind us? Well, it already is in the past, but we will carry it with us until we deal with whatever unfinished business we have back there.
Before we get to forgiveness, there are some other stops we need to make first.

I mean goddamnit, we just had the rug pulled out, our lives were turned upside down, the person we most trusted completely and utterly failed us, broke our trust. When, exactly, should we magically be over that? It’s one of the most traumatic things that can happen to you. So much so that the trauma response gets its own acronym (PISD – Post Infidelity Stress Disorder). When someone gets a cancer diagnosis, we don’t walk around saying they should be over it already. So why should you be over “it” before you’ve processed your grief. You’ve experienced a loss. You get to grieve.

F#@k this sh!t. Amiright? What has happened in our lives, the hurt, the shame, the disappointment, the fear, the loss of safety, the health risks, all that garbage and our partners’ crappy choices are a big steaming pile. Be. Mad. About it. You are allowed. Sit with your anger. Let it rise and pass. You need to have it and then get it out of your body.

(Wait. What?) One of the most important tools that came my way early post d-day was the practice of radical acceptance. Because when you stop fighting reality, you suffer less. For me it took the form of accepting the conflicting feelings I was having and stopping the war inside myself. Accepting doesn’t mean agreeing, minimizing or letting our partners off the hook. It means moving from “this isn’t fair”, “this should not be happening” to "this is what happened". It is the first step in healing. In the early days I had to say things to myself like “I accept that I don’t want him to continue contact with the OW AND I accept that I have no control over whether he does or not.” “I accept that I don’t want to deal with this AND I accept that I am doing my best to deal with this.” “I accept that I love him AND I accept that I hate him.” “I accept that I am afraid AND I accept that I don’t want to be afraid.” I did this over and over until the list was exhausted. And I found that after I engaged in this practice, I felt less stressed, less pain.
Radical acceptance takes practice. You can start with little things AND you can begin to target your conflicts and ruminations around betrayal. Little things: sitting in traffic. Late for a doc appointment. You can rage against the cars, the people in the cars, the red light, but none of that changes your situation, doesn’t get you to the appointment any faster. All it does is increase your stress and pain. But if you tell yourself “I accept that I really don’t want to be late AND I accept that I have no control over this traffic that is making me late,” you’ll arrive less stressed. (This also ties in to the practice of compassion for self. You are doing the best that you can to get to the doc on time.) Around betrayal it could be: You are having an epic internal battle. “I will never trust him again… but I want to trust him.”  “He has hurt me so much… but I want him to make me feel better.” “I always thought I would leave if he cheated and now he has I don’t know what to do.” The next step is to accept your inner reality, that all these things are true.  “I should leave him AND I don’t want to leave him.” The reality is that it is OK to be feeling ambivalent.
You’ll pass through grief, anger (and depression, sadness, exhaustion, FTS) and acceptance more than once and not in that order. It’s different for each of us and such a personal process. Don’t worry whether you are doing it right. If you are breathing, you are doing it right.

To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you. ~Lewis B. Smedes

A word on forgiveness. There’s a lot to it. It is complex and deserves its own post. What I will say here is that you have a lot of places to pass through before you even need to think about forgiveness. Forgiveness may happen, may eventually be something you do for yourself, but there’s a mess to sort and some healing to do first. Whether or not your partners can see that, support that or understand that. They do not get to decide what is best for you or where you should be emotionally at any given point. (Perhaps they, too, need to practice some radical acceptance. “I wish I didn’t have to see how much my choices have hurt my partner AND I need to support her healing, so I will have to witness how much I’ve hurt my partner.”) You are allowed to focus on you, what you need and your own healing process and not be beholden to their expectations or wish to avoid dealing with the harm they have done. Be kind to yourself. Accept not only that you are where you are but that you are exactly where you need to be.

It can be a four letter word, especially when it comes to grief. But it can also do amazing things. Time on its own will not heal you. It’s what you do in that time and for yourself that heals you. But I promise, if you take care of you, in time you won’t feel like this. In time, you will have a day where betrayal is not the first thing you think of when you wake. In time, you will feel joy. In time, you will feel ready to let it go, to forgive. Just don’t rush to those things before their time.


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