Monday, November 27, 2017

Where did you learn to live on crumbs?

I was driving to my father's home the other day, with Esther Perel's Where Do We Begin on podcast. This episode focused on a gay couple, one partner had suffered an abusive childhood and considered himself a sex addict. Even in the wake of this partner's infidelity, the other partner wanted to learn from it and the two had recently married.
Perel spent considerable time encouraging the partner who'd experienced childhood abuse to mine his past, to really explore its connection to his difficulty accepting comfort from his new husband.
The husband, who longed to offer comfort to his traumatized partner, noted the other's "drama" and prided himself on being low-maintenance. "I don't need much," he said.
Which is when Perel said the words that, literally, made me stop the tape and take big gulps of oxygen.
Where did you learn to live on crumbs?
I've made no secret of my own childhood dysfunction. I've often shared how my mother's alcoholism created much shame in me and how my father's reliance on me turned me into a parent for him and led me to all variety of boy-men who lacked both the maturity and the emotional bandwidth for healthy relationships. They brought drama. I brought low maintenance.
But never had I heard what I learned from my childhood, and what I continued to allow, referred to as clearly and succinctly as "crumbs".
I'm asking you: Where did you learn to live on crumbs?
So many of us did, didn't we? So many of us, even putting aside the infidelity (that most of us didn't know about...until we did), overlooked his long hours at the office (he's working hard for his family), his TV watching (he deserves to relax after a long day/week), his hanging with the guys (he needs his friends), while we took on the bulk of the housework, the childcare, the care of parents, the day-in/day-out details that keep a house running. And I'm not saying that men don't work hard, deserve to relax, need friends with whom to have fun. But how often did we allow those things to our husbands while denying them to ourselves?
And how often did we accept behaviour in our husbands that wasn't ultimately healthy for us or for our family?
I barely noticed that I was accepting crumbs. I knew I felt angry a lot. I knew that when my husband would come up behind me to wrap his arms around me while I was at the sink doing dishes, I had to stop myself from jamming my elbow in his ribs. I didn't need a hug, I needed help with the god-damn dishes. Did I say that? Of course not. I chastised myself for not being more satisfied with what I had.
StillStanding1 did a great job with her recent post about the rage so many of us feel post-betrayal. But I want to extend that backward. How many of us felt it, on some level, before we learned about our partner's betrayal? How many of us are doubly (triply? quadruply?) angry about the betrayal because not only did he cheat on us but he cheated on us while we were at home doing everything. While we were sacrificing ourselves for the good of our family and barely being noticed for it?
That's a betrayal too, isn't it?
Of course it is. But maybe not in the way you think.
That was a betrayal of ourselves.
That was our acceptance of crumbs.
Where did you learn to live on crumbs?
Maybe it was from parents who expected you to swallow strong feelings and not rock the boat. Maybe it was from teachers who expected girls to be kind and nurturing and take turns and be polite and demure. Maybe it was from a culture that still recoils from angry women, no matter that we have plenty to be angry about.
Wherever it was, it's time for a new lesson.
It's time to reconsider what we've been willing to settle for and set out new terms for ourselves. No more crumbs. Let's ask for exactly what we want. If we've decided to stay in our marriage and rebuild, then there's no better time to make it abundantly clear to our spouse that the only way we can continue is if our needs and wants are acknowledged and respected. It's time to make some demands of our own – beginning with what every betrayed wife should demand (total transparency, access to his accounts/computers/etc), but including everything that we need to make our marriage more equitable and, ultimately, healthier for both.
Maybe you need him home more often, maybe you need him to deal with his toxic family instead of you doing that job. Maybe you need him to talk to you rather than turning on Netflix. Maybe you need help with childcare on weekends rather than him teeing off for 18 holes. Whatever it is, we need to ask for it. Settling for crumbs starves us emotionally.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Guest Post: Anger is Armor

by StillStanding1

There was a comment on one of the threads recently where one of our sister warriors couldn’t understand how calm and level we all were. Where was our anger? Weren’t we furious!? Why weren’t we screaming and breaking things!? This post is for you (and for all of us).
I think we are taught young that anger is “bad.”  Especially if we are girls, the inevitable silencing we experience emphasizes the erasure of any difficult emotion that makes us appear unladylike or, worse, makes others uncomfortable. We must be quiet and submit. We are fed messages that tell us we must always be positive. Don’t pout. Turn that frown upside down. Just smile. You’d be prettier if you smiled.
Then D-Day happens.
After the grief, pain, shock, horror, numbness, fear (or sometimes before those things), there is an unquenchable rage, like nothing we’ve ever felt before. And we are totally unequipped to deal with it because we have no practice. We maybe even fear our own anger. It's big. It makes us say and do crazy things. But that anger, in those first moments, is protecting us. It’s a kind of temporary armor. It is shielding us from the pain and hurt that is fueling it.
I was sitting in bed early evening on Jan.1 reading. We had returned from visiting a relative for New Year’s Eve. It was a gruelling, exhausting trip but one that we made, despite no one wanting to go, because of how hurt the host would be if we hadn’t (the address is at the intersection of dysfunction junction and codependence court). My husband had been awful. Drinking even more than usual and being just a cocky shithead. I was glad to be home, unpacked and resting in some relative quiet (cue the ominous music).
He walked in to the room and shut the door. Gave me his prepared speech. He was unhappy, thinks I’ve been unhappy too and wants a divorce. “What are you talking about? Are you crazy?” This is out of nowhere from where I’m sitting. Then…in less than a second, all the pieces click together and these words come out of my mouth before the synapses stop firing. “There’s someone at work, isn’t there?”
He admits, yes. And I am, in that moment, pure rage. I have so much adrenaline my skin hurts. I can’t see. I’m shaking. I spew something at him like “You are the only person I have ever loved, you worthless piece of shit.” I push him aside and race out of the room. Some hind part of my brain knew I would not look good in prison orange and got me out of there before I beat him to death with my bare hands.
I came to myself driving. I had no idea where I was going but realized I was in no state to drive, so I pulled over in a park. And sat there, shaking, raging, my skin on fire, ready to run 500 miles and kill a bear at the end of it. And for many months since then, anger has been a regular visitor. I did many embarrassing things in those immediate weeks, in addition to crying and generally losing my shit, sometimes barely making it from one second to the next, and eventually discovering my strength. But often, I was just fucking angry.
The thing is, anger is a feeling like any other. It’s not good or bad in and of itself. It just is. Just like love. Just like sadness. Just like contentment. Feelings just come up. Each has a job or something to tell you. And its what you do with them that matters. Anger scares people around us because it generally means that we are about to not put up with their bullshit anymore. It means they might have to face some uncomfortable things themselves. Anger tells us when our boundaries have been violated. It's part of our body’s fantastic and sensitive alarm system.
Anger is also a defense mechanism. Have you ever observed someone get angry when they are embarrassed? Or feeling hurt? Or shamed? They lash out to push the shame or embarrassment or hurt on to someone else. It’s a kind of emotional offloading. And it armors them up, makes them hard. They think maybe if they just stay angry, they won’t be hurt again.  And they end up hurting others instead.  Sound familiar?
Anger is essential to recovery. Your anger is legitimate. Justified. You are entitled to rage. Lean into it. Do no harm. But feel all of it. Let the revenge fantasies rise. Picture chasing her naked ass in your car and mowing her down with it. Or, if you are like me, you prefer the simple expedient of smashing their heads between concrete blocks or with a crow bar.  Lean into those thoughts. Don’t fight them. Run them out. Bench press. Hit a punching bag. Expend that energy. That’s all it is in the end. Just energy. Get that shit out of your body. And what you’ll find underneath is what the armor of anger is hiding. The hurt, the grief, the pain, the sorrow. All the pieces of you to be put back together. Softened up but more beautiful than ever.
I had a neighbor who had been through an ugly divorce preceded by her husband’s infidelity. (I didn’t get it at the time. You often don’t until you join the club.) She wears her pain like a badge. She’s bitter but disguises it as longsuffering. It has been nearly a decade. I’m not saying she needs to be over it because I don’t know the other parts of her story and that’s not mine to judge. But what I do know is that I don’t want that to be me. Although I give myself permission to feel my anger, I won’t build a suit of armor from it.
Months after D-Day, I found two photos that my phone snapped as I was running from that awful moment. It captures exactly what I saw. Dark strange lines, blurred, red, hint of a window. The room familiar yet completely alien, tilted crazily. It was like nothing I had ever felt before (or thankfully since). And when I look at those pictures, I can still feel the ghost of that rage in my body, the burning of my skin. I’m hopeful that someday those pictures will not command that same power. That I will look at them and feel only sympathy for my wounded, former self, and now it was just a single chapter in a really, really long, incredible story.  Because anger, like all things, like all feelings, has its time and then passes.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Note to the Newly Betrayed

This comment appeared below the All-you-need-to-know post-infidelity guide to quashing hyper-vigilance but it really applies to anyone who find themselves here with that perennial question: How will I survive this? While she speaks from the perspective of a wife whose husband responded by making sure he deserved the second chance he was offered. But much of what she says is about learning to take care of you.

Ok here goes...

I am 2.5 years from D-Day 1, almost 2 years from the final D-Day.  

It does get better. I promise.

When I first found out, and I read that it would take years to get over this, I honestly thought "screw it." I was sorely tempted to chuck my tattered marriage away but something stopped me. That something initially was my kids, because I didn't want to put them through the trauma of a complicated divorce.  

Then I started to see small changes in him. He made the effort to keep me in the loop, involved me in his work, talked about everything and anything, trusted me with his harrowing childhood stories. I slowly, slowly realised that his infidelity was his (terrible) way of escaping, of pushing boundaries, of holding on to something deep within himself that he was scared to live without, because he had never felt good enough, loved enough, safe enough to let go. He messed up and I hated him. I really hated him. I probably hated him for a year solid. He saw me become horribly thin both physically and mentally. I became a ghost person. I wasn't inhabiting my own skin. Instead my heart and mind were locked in another place, piecing together the fragments of truth and hiding from the pain. But you know what? He was there, he rode the wild donkey alongside me, he took my shit but wasn't afraid to call me out when I needed it.

Now, after a lot of work on both our parts, things are different. I hesitate to say better, although they are a vast improvement on the months following dday. We cannot go back, no matter how much living in a bubble can seem appealling. We live in the here and now in all its dirty, messy, beautiful glory. And, shocking as it may sound, I wouldn't have it any other way.

As a result of trauma, of having my world turned upside down, I have been forced to face myself and my own demons. I know myself and I love who I am. Sure, I wish I had behaved with a bit more dignity at time (yeah...the OW heard a few unpleasant truths from me). 

To the newly really have got this. It isn't about you but it is an opportunity to make it about you, to put yourself first and realise that you can deal with this shit and come out of it a stronger woman, deserving of love, kindness and honesty.


Monday, November 13, 2017

How to release suffering

Oh, how we suffer. In the hours and days and weeks and months following the discovery or disclosure of our partner's affair, we exist in an excruciating state of suspension. It hurts to breathe. It hurts to wake up. It hurts when he walks out the door and it hurts when he stays.
Everything hurts.
But, as I've noted before, sometimes it's what we do to ourselves in the wake of betrayal that hurts us even more.
The fantasies we conjure, for instance. You know the ones. Where we replay how we imagine their interaction went. Where she's witty and beautiful and sexy. Where he's besotted and generous. The truth often resembles nothing like this. But it's almost like we refuse to believe it. Why would anyone risk their marriage, their family for someone who wasn't dazzling and irresistible? It defies logic. And so we cling to this fantasy. Even when it's wrong. Even when it hurts us more.
Or we spend our days longing for things to be different. If only...we tell ourselves. If only he hadn't taken the job where he met her. If only we had insisted he stay home that night. If only we had seen what was happening sooner. Suffering, says Sylvia Boorstein, is our attachment to the idea that now could be otherwise. Spending our days wishing things were different only keeps us tethered to our suffering. It's not like suffering magically vanishes once we say to ourselves, "well, this is my reality so I might has well deal with it". But it does move in the direction of less suffering. It gives us back our power when we accept our situation. When we're so busy wringing our hands, we can't use them. When we let go of our attachment to the idea that things could be different (of course, they could. No matter what our reality is any day of our lives, things could be different...), we free ourselves of the Gordian knot that keeps us stuck.
Well, you practice. If your self-esteem is a bit shaky (and whose isn't after our husbands cheat on us?), then you begin by shoring it up. You check the foundation and patch any cracks. You remind yourself that his cheating has nothing to do with your value. Rather it devalues him, not you. You're as great a catch as ever. You ensure that only those people who think you're awesome, a workshop leader I know calls them "super-fans", the people in your life who support every thing you do, are allowed into your life.
You switch up your affair fantasies. It's more likely true that the fairy tale you're imagining was a bit of a nightmare. I mostly hear stories of kinda crappy sex, miserable and/or unhinged Other Women, shame and self-disgust, feelings of being trapped. It's just as easy to change the channel in your brain to this less idealized (and more accurate) depiction. Imagine an Other Woman with room-clearing flatulence. Or an embarrassing laugh. Or whatever else makes her human and less threatening.
Try and catch yourself when you begin wandering down the "if only...." road. I went right back to the night my husband and I met. If only I had stayed home that night. If only I had said 'no' when he asked me out. Our life is not sliding doors. We're shaped by our choices and those of others. That's life. If, in hindsight, we want to review some of our choices with the clear eyes that come with time and perspective, then by all means, do it. We can all learn to pay more attention to our gut or our intuition or our inner wisdom or our self-respect. We can recognize when we're doing things we don't want to do.
But, mostly, we can release the idea that we had any real control over a decision that our partner made. We didn't make that choice, he did. And he did it for reasons of his own that he, if he wants us to consider giving him a second chance, needs to discern for himself.
Leave that with him.
Focus on you.
Wonderful, devastated you.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Let's crowdsource some common questions about healing from infidelity

A few weeks ago, one of our betrayed wife-warriors posted a typical question. I've had a Frequently Asked Questions post in my "drafts" folder for, oh, about a year or more. But here's an idea. You wildly wonderful wife-warriors have such wisdom to share so I'm going to ask for your help. Let's make a list of those typical questions/concerns/fears and then let's respond to them. I'll compile them and we'll create a section where anyone can go and get the "Betrayal 101".

I'll start with some suggestions:
When will I get over this?
How do I get him to understand how painful this is?
How do I get him to talk to me about this?
Should I tell the OW's husband?
What should I tell our children?
I can barely function. How do I survive this pain?
What's the single best thing you've done to heal?
How do I find a good therapist?
How do I get my husband to go to counselling with me?
What do I do when I discover he's lied to me again?
How do I turn off the mind movies?
How can I ever trust him again?

Okay...that's a start. If you have some advice to offer, please do and let us know what question you're answering. I'll compile them as best I can and reproduce them on their own page.

Thanks...and let's help heal everyone who finds this site.



Thursday, November 9, 2017

Your all-you-need-to-know post-infidelity guide to quashing hyper-vigilance

by StillStanding1

We used to be able to trust our eyes and ears. Our brains were reliable tools that operated (so we thought) with objectivity and logic. We could trust our guts, our womanly intuition. And then, suddenly, horrifically we learn that our senses have not been telling us the truth, have been faulty or offline.  Our intuition has been fooling us (or maybe we fooled ourselves into not listening to it). Our brains have turned into out-of-control locomotives, racing down the tracks of some dark, unfamiliar land and we are helpless to stop it. We feel crazy. We can’t stop thinking about a thousand “what ifs” and “I should have seen this” and mind movies and “oh my God!!! Make it stop.” And we can’t stop crying. Randomly. In the grocery. Driving to pick up the kids at school. Hearing a song on the radio. We’re afraid to watch the TV in case something triggers us. We are standing in the tall grass and we know the lions are coming for us. Suddenly, the whole world is a danger zone.
Post-infidelity we become hyper-vigilant and hyper-sensitive. Bright lights, loud noises, crowded spaces, everything makes us jump out of our skin or fall to our knees. It is a natural response to such a massive threat to safety. We have been traumatized and old reptilian parts of the brain kick in, trying to keep us safe from future harm. We overthink everything. As more details come to light, in a process quaintly dubbed “trickle truth,” we attempt to create a narrative that makes sense. When I was with our daughter at the nephrologist, trying to determine why a 16-year-old would have kidney stones, you were on a “business trip.” When you were in the basement playing that song, it wasn’t for me.
We start looking for clues everywhere. We turn into sleuths, searching online, on their phones, asking questions, checking in, examining credit card and phone bills, installing questionable tracking apps. We start analyzing every word, every facial expression. Did he blink and look left? Was what he just said true? What did he leave out? What is he hiding? Why didn’t he check in when he said he would? What doesn’t add up? We scour books and articles for any clues that might tell us what the hell is happening and how to make it stop. And we think and think and worry and think and worry and brace for impact. We don’t want to be fooled again. We are constantly on watch.
It’s exhausting. There’s no one to spell us when our watch is over, so we are constantly alert to the possibility of more lies and deception. We don’t sleep. We don’t eat. It’s not sustainable. All these activities, all the sleuthing wears us out and they get in the way of taking care of ourselves. Our instinct is fight or flight. But if we are constantly scanning the horizon for new threats, we can’t slow down and listen to what our bodies, our gut, is telling us about right now.
Tuning in to ourselves is the first step toward stopping the crazy train of hyper-vigilance. How do you do this?  Be still and take slow, deep breaths. Pause, note what is happening (my heart is pounding, I’m sweating, I’m panicking), label it.  When I say label it, I mean acknowledge the feeling or emotion or fear. When you give the thing a name, you have power over it (and not the other way around). Search for objective evidence before reacting (and if you can’t, if you’ve been triggered, be kind and gentle with yourself about it). Be mindful. Pay attention to what your body is telling you. But to do this, you need to slow down and listen. The final step to working with and through hyper-vigilance is to set boundaries with the person (or people – I’m looking at you in-laws of the world) who trigger you.
Boundaries are about what you will and will not tolerate. It’s a way to hold ourselves and others accountable for acting with integrity and treating us with respect.  Boundaries work best when you are clear on the consequences if certain lines are crossed. Boundaries take the place of hyper-vigilance because they do the same job. They keep an eye on things but with boundaries, you can eat, or take a nap, or run, or visit friends, or meditate because boundaries will be on duty, so you don’t have to be.
Recently, I had another little rumble with over-thinking and hyper-vigilance. I got more information (ref. trickle truth above). It was really disappointing, more deception uncovered, and it made me wonder: Was I over thinking? Did he mean what I think he meant or did I misunderstand? Is he really that manipulative? Is it on purpose? Is my bias now leading me to see everything as evidence for the conclusions I have already drawn? And I see this over-thinking playing out in a cycle of depression and losing the threads of my self-care regimen. I’m tired so I make less time for running, so I eat poorly, so I feel tired, so I make less time for the gym, so I start to feel less worthy and stress about my weight, so I eat poorly so I feel too tired or sad to work out. It’s a self-perpetuating doom loop.
Once I notice, I can pause, note that I am over-thinking and try to bring myself back to the present. Right now, I am OK. Right now, I am breathing. Right now, I have a roof over my head and enough to eat. Right now, there are people who love me. Right now, I can choose to go for a walk. Right now, I can soak in the tub, take a multi-vitamin, eat an apple, call a friend. I can make a choice that puts my care and feeding first. And can you too.
Because ultimately, all the FBI level, hyper-vigilance in the world isn’t going to stop a person from cheating, if they choose to do so. It isn’t going to stop us from being hurt in the future (because good news! if you are alive and human, life is going to be both amazing and painful, sometimes at the same time). It isn’t going to change the past, no matter how much we wish it would. We can only, in the end, control ourselves. When we stop trying to control those who have hurt us, we release ourselves from so much suffering.

It’s hard. You’ll stumble. You might have a good day and then suddenly notice on a walk that you are 15 minutes into rehearsing a rant at the OW. It’s OK. Here’s your opportunity. Pause. Breathe. Notice. Breathe. Label. Breathe. Let it go. Breathe.


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