Monday, October 29, 2018

Guest Post: How to make the most of your time here (plus some tech support)

by StillStanding1

Welcome to the best club none of us ever wanted to join. Many of us washed up on the shores of the BWC, after desperately searching the internet for some kind of help, hope, something or someone who was offering a lifeline, was offering something more than pure anger and loathing. Maybe we had just experienced our first D-Day. Maybe it was our 2nd or 3rd . Maybe we were months into reconciliation and we just felt… stuck. And somehow, saints be praised, we found this site, where we hear for the first time, “You are not alone. It was never your fault. No matter how things turn out, YOU will be ok.”
Suddenly, we feel like we might be able to breathe again.
A lot of us show up here and read. And read and read and read. That was me for quite some time. Devouring posts new and old. Reading comments from longtime members like LLP, Sam A, Theresa, Hopeful30, Beach Girl (and so many others). I was constantly amazed that through their own pain, they were also shining a light of resilience and compassion. I got a lot out of learning about boundaries, that the other woman has nothing I’d want, that I’d best focus on my own care and feeding and worry less
about what the Waffle King was doing or thinking. Then, as part of my journaling, I wrote a letter to the other woman. I knew I would never send it to her,
on the advice of my therapist and because I in no way wanted to invite her any further into my life than she had already intruded. But. I took a big leap and posted my letter to one of the blogs about the OW.
And Elle responded. Suddenly, I was no longer alone and invisible in my pain. I had a voice. I had been seen and heard and someone said, “I see you. You’re gonna be OK.” I can’t explain how powerful that experience was for me.
My therapist had suggested to me that I build a three-legged stool for myself; a support system built of different people and things such that, when any one leg was not available, you still had two others you could count on. I ended up building an 18-legged stool, which included my sister, a few select friends, and a variety of health-care professionals and healers. One of the main legs became reading and posting to the BWC. It has all the healing and brain-clearing power of journaling with the added benefits of being
seen and heard and getting compassionate support and feedback from people who have been or are still there.
So, to address the headline above I have some suggestions for getting the most healing out of your time here. (With the understanding that everyone has the right to know what is right for them and participate, or not, at whatever level they choose):
1. Show up. 
As Elle mentions in her post about the retreat, amazing things happen when you show up. Keep coming here and reading as long as you find it helpful. When you show up, you are not only being present for all of us. You are showing up for yourself, choosing your own healing. That’s a big deal.
2. Comment. 
A lot of you don’t comment for a lot of very valid reasons. You’re concerned about anonymity. You don’t feel like you have the time or energy. Post-infidelity regular things can seem hard and scary, let alone posting to strangers on the internet. Recently New Mom said. “I don't post here often, mostly because nothing I have to offer is even remotely as profound or insightful as what all of these other wonderful women can offer.” I think her sentiments are like many who read and don’t post (and that’s really, really okay). I’m here to tell you that this is simply not true. Each of you has an amazing voice. Each of you has something to offer the others. It does not need to be poetry, or profound wisdom, or some ground-breaking insight. It can be as simple as “me too,” “I get it,” “my husband did the same,” “I felt the same,” “this sucks,” “you will be OK.” I give you all permission today to start using your voices, to post what is in your minds and hearts without it being perfect. You are also allowed to post about your own situations and pain. You are allowed to ask for support, empathy, commiseration, ideas or simply to be seen and heard. I’d encourage each of you reading this to comment below, “I am here” and see how that feels. (Tech support on doing this safely is posted in a link at the end of this.) I think, once you start commenting and interacting, you will find your healing turns a corner and ends up on a whole new track.
3. Take what you need. 
Leave what you don’t. You are not obligated to visit and read and comment on every single post, in every single section, on every single day. We are not obligated to fix everything for everyone or hold everyone’s pain. That is impossible. I used to read everything and had subscribed to feeds for all the pages. But I found that reading the “Just found out” page posts were very triggering to me, so I stopped going there. I gave myself permission to feel no guilt about doing what was right for me. Once I knew I was on the separating and divorcing path, I stopped going so often to the Feeling Stuck page because reading about husbands who were at least trying made me very sad. Again, no guilt. I can likewise see why visiting the Separating & Divorcing thread would be terrifying if you are still trying to save your marriage. You are allowed to take what you need from this site. No requirements for visiting all the pages or making a certain number of comments or expectations of any kind other than “be kind.”
4. Ask. 
Need a space for a particular topic and don’t see it available? Ask for it. That is how the Separating & Divorcing pages and the Sex & Intimacy pages came about. Do you have a post you’d like to try and write yourself? Ask. Need virtual hugs? Ask. This is a great skill for those of us recovering from infidelity to develop: Recognizing what we need and asking for it. Here is a safe place to practice.
5. Be Kind. 
We are all going through our own things. Pain, post-trauma is magnified. We recognize here that each of us is thrashing out our own stories and paths. I’m invariably amazed at the patience and compassion I witness here.

I know some of you want to comment or leave a little footprint on the beach with us saying, “I am here” but have fears around taking that first, vulnerable step. One of our sisters at the retreat received some encouragement from her therapist to participate; to hit send. Her therapist was concerned she was further disconnecting, something we do, like wounded animals, when we’ve experienced trauma. Her assignment? Reach out. Let someone here know you need them or that they have spoken directly to you. Ask for help. That’s your assignment too. I know this community is richer for each voice, each woman who reveals herself here.
I will reiterate that no one other than you can determine what is the right level of participation for you.
If the idea of posting makes you feel sick or worried or anything, that’s okay. There’s no expectation or requirement for anyone reading this to do more than they wish. There’s no timeline.

Tech Support

I’m going to outline a few simple options for posting with anonymity and/or a screen
name. I will outline step by step and include screen shots. Because of the posting limitations, I’ve created this guide as a PDF which you can view here.  

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Some thoughts on anger and vulnerability

Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. ~BrenĂ© Brown 

I run with a friend three times a week. She's dealing with betrayal. Even in her own heartbreak, she remains one of the most grounded, clear-headed people I know.
I told her about the heated exchange over on the Once a cheater... post. I was angry when I told her. Anger, as I'm so fond of reminding everyone on this site, is a mask for hurt and fear. So let me tell the truth: I was hurt when I told her. 
My friend listened to me. I told her about how betrayed I felt, about how quickly people turned on each other and me. I told her how angry I still am that women are not believed when they tell their stories of sexual assault and how vulnerable it feels to lay your heart bare. I told her how disappointing it is to have a woman, someone you thought was an ally, respond carelessly to another's pain and then, when you call her out on it, have her, metaphorically, take her ball and go home. 
My friend took it all in.
Then she reminded me that I put myself in this position. By creating this site and sharing my story – so much of my painful story, including recently, the story of my sexual assault – she pointed out that I walked "into the arena" to use BrenĂ© Brown parlance. I made myself vulnerable to criticism. I opened myself to judgement or mockery or contempt, all of which I've experienced at various times over the years of this site.
But this felt different, I told her.
So she asked me another question. Did what you wrote reflect what you believe? 
And my answer was immediate. Of course it did. I won't take responsibility for what others posted but what I posted? Absolutely. I stand by it.
Then you did what felt right for you, she said.
Yes. But it still feels yucky.
I have governed this site with an overriding principle. It is a place for women to bring their pain and to feel safe sharing it. 
If I had not responded sharply, if I had not pushed back on a thoughtless comment that put others' emotional safety at risk, then why would anyone else feel safe sharing her story?
But still. Other people's anger makes me feel small and scared. When someone is angry, my knee-jerk response has always been to assume fault for it. What did I do to cause this?
But I'm learning – albeit slowly – that I'm not responsible for other people's feelings or for their actions. Just as I've come to learn – albeit slowly – that I was never responsible for my husband's choice to cheat. 
As part of an environment of emotional safety, I don't owe anyone a platform for conspiracy theories. I don't owe anyone the opportunity to dismiss a woman's painful story, including a story that has been on the front pages of the newspaper or dissected ad nauseam on CNN. 
And let me be perfectly clear: Responding to disclosure of betrayal, or sexual assault, or anything else that's deep and private with a "not all women can be believed" response has been part of the toxic playbook for centuries to keep women small and quiet and in line. That this response came from a woman doesn't make it any less dangerous. Ann should know better. That she didn't isn't her fault but it is her responsibility. 
This is not a complicated issue. 
This is not a partisan issue.
I understand that many of the women who come here already feel victimized, to some extent, by another woman. A woman who has been complicit in her betrayal. A woman who has lied. Who has, perhaps, lobbed false accusations. I make no apologies or excuses for Other Women. 
But I have given them space when they have come here to tell their stories. Even when those stories were hurtful to us. 
I gave Ann the space to share her thoughts, even as I knew they were insensitive.
I will always err on the side of listening over closing my ears.
But I will always point out when someone is being hurtful or insensitive or when she needs to cede the floor, to be quiet and listen. Nobody gets carte blanche to give her opinion, especially when that opinion props up misogyny, without being held to account for it. 
Yes, I preach openness and honesty, as one commenter noted in what she perceives as my hypocrisy. And yes, I have long loved this BWC secret sisterhood because it is so unlike other sites out there, which descend into name-calling and mud-slinging and mockery of anyone who doesn't follow a prescribed path. 
But it was exactly my dedication to openness and honesty that made me click "publish" on Ann's comment, and it was my dedication to openness and honesty when I said that she was not only wrong about her "facts" but that her words were incendiary. She missed a chance to respond differently to others' anger, even if she needed to take a few days to lick her wounds before responding. She missed a chance to show up for others in the way that, she admits herself, they've shown up for her. 
When we are called out for behaviour that others find offensive and personally hurtful, we can respond in a number of ways. One of those ways is what I'm learning to do: To be vulnerable. To listen in good faith. To remember, that within this vulnerability, which can feel so horrible, is where all that good stuff I want is born: joy, empathy, authenticity. 
As another friend put it, "Use your voice. You are gonna piss some people off. When you plant your flag in the sand, not everyone is going to stand with you. But you don’t want or need everyone to agree with you (or like you). You just need the people who are going to charge down the field with you."

I'll continue to show up here and hope that we continue to create a space where we charge down the field together. Where we can share our stories, trusting that others will believe us or, at the very least, listen with an open heart. 
Even when it hurts. 

Monday, October 22, 2018

The Most Baffling Post-Betrayal Question: Why Do I Want Sex with My Unfaithful Husband?

Seriously, right? You've found out your husband cheated on you, maybe once, maybe an ongoing affair, maybe multiple affairs. And sure, you're angry. You could take a sledgehammer to his testicles. You could punch him in his stupid face. You're furious. You're devastated. You're...aroused?
It's called hysterical bonding. Hysterical not in the sense that you'll be clutching your belly, which aches from laughter, but hysterical as in a consequence of hysteria.
Hysterical bonding, otherwise known as "why the hell do I want sex with this idiot of a husband", is one of the weirder responses to infidelity. Not weird as in unusual. Weird as in...unexpected. Even unwanted.
I shocked myself when I responded to my husband returning home upon demand (I had confronted him over the phone and told him he either came home now to find me here or came home later to find me gone) by unzipping his pants.
That was not, let's say, my usual greeting even when I didn't want to drive over him with a cement truck.
But there it was.
Over the following weeks, of which I remember very little except that I ate about 1 1/2 pieces of toast and maybe a bowl of soup, cried despondently through the day, stared a lot at the ceiling at 3 a.m. and tried to present a somewhat sane face to the world lest my children be removed from my care, I also found my libido in overdrive.
My husband was, shall we say, pleasantly surprised. He was also as baffled by this as I was.
In hindsight, it was a valuable reconnection during a time when it was abundantly clear how disconnected we'd been. It felt like a rediscovery. I insisted he look in my eyes when we made love (it was the only way I could stop the mind movies). We talked like new lovers. What did you first notice about me? When did you know you were falling in love with me? What's my best feature? and so on.
And then, after months of daily (sometimes more) sex, hysterical bonding suddenly ended. I felt disoriented. Betrayed by my own body. Him? Seriously? What the hell??
Another woman on another betrayal web site (I wish I could remember which and link to it), wrote about her intention to make love to her husband every single day for a year (I think?). And she'd kept to it, their liaisons varying from quickies to slow and sensuous. For her, it was a way of reconnection but also prioritizing her own pleasure.
Women on this site have also written about how reconnecting sexually with their partner was as much as about valuing their own pleasure as rebooting the marriage.
And that's an important consideration. Betrayal can make us feel powerless. Reclaiming sex with our spouse can be a healthy response to that and a way of focusing on our own sexual pleasure.
But it can also be an unhealthy way of trying to lure a wayward husband back. Sex as manipulation.
What's more, it can be unsafe. If your husband has been having unprotected sex with others, you are potentially exposing yourself to sexually transmitted diseases. Even if he says he's used protected (he's a liar, remember?), get tested yourself and use protection.
Like so much of our response to betrayal, it seems the difference between whether hysterical bonding can be a positive way to reconnect with your husband or an experience of manipulation or humiliation, is to check your motives and your expectations.
If you think frequent sex will keep him faithful, you're fooling yourself.
If you think sex will heal your pain, you're wrong.
If he thinks sex means that you've forgiven him, correct him of that delusion.
But, if you each can look at sex as a teensy tentative step toward reconnection, as a way to give and receive pleasure, and as a healthy escape from almost constant pain in the early days, then have at it, you crazy kids.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Who Do We Think We Are? Let's Answer That Honestly

I built my ego on never needing help. I fed on others' praise for being so "together". Asking for help felt akin to walking out my door completely naked. Exposed. If I didn't have it all together, why would anyone want to be my friend?
Dysfunctional families teach us that the world exists on a binary. We are either good or bad. Right or wrong. Valuable or worthless. We are either doing great or falling apart. We matter only or we don't matter at all.
Enter betrayal and the ridiculous binary that our culture imposes onto it – women who get cheated on are nags, frigid, homely; men who cheat are dogs, players, cads.
If we tell anyone, we face judgement: "You're not going to stay with him, are you? or "Think about what leaving will do to your children." Or, as a friend who'd been betrayed herself said to me, "Well, I certainly wouldn't stay."
And what that judgement does – whether experienced outright or perceived – is stir up the rot of our old stuff. My old stuff included a conviction that staying with a husband who cheated was what pathetic women did. It included a sense of non-surprise. Of course, he cheated on me. After all, I was all those things that I'd heard for years that I was: too sensitive, too demanding, too selfish, spoken in my mother's drunken slur. 
I'd suited myself up in armour over the years. I'd made sure that I was fit (two marathons!), a good mother (plenty of fresh air and no processed sugar for MY children!), successful (ten books written while my children napped). That I thought that armour of faux perfection could protect me is laughable in hindsight. At the time, however, it offered the only protection I had.
Then D-Day, the metaphorical bomb that blows up our worlds.
And suddenly my armour was revealed to be as useless as it always had been. Being "perfect" hadn't saved me from heartbreak. It had only lent the illusion of protection. As Liz Gilbert puts it, "perfect is just fear in good shoes."
And my rot was stirred.
Those old messages might as well have been written on my bathroom mirror. I couldn't see past them to the woman standing there. 
"You're not sexy enough."
"You're too demanding."
"You don't make enough money."
"You don't dress up enough."
And on. And on.
It felt akin to walking out the door completely naked. Even with very few people knowing about my husband's betrayal, I felt utterly exposed as a fraud. One of saddest, most vivid memories I have about that time is my sense that everyone was laughing at me, delighting in my humiliation. 
Who the hell had I thought I was?
Which is the question that has underscored every other lesson I've learned through this.
Who the hell did I think I was?
It's the shackle that binds so many of us who grow up in dysfunction. Hell, it's a shackle that binds pretty much any woman who expects to be seen, to be treated fairly. Any time we think we've transcended the shame of our childhoods, or shed the low expectations, it's there. Just who the hell do we think we are?
Who do we think we are to imagine someone could love us?
Who do we think we are to believe ourselves worthy of a good education?
Who do we think we are to apply for that job, that promotion, that opportunity? To be allowed in the room?
Who do we think we are to deserve fidelity? To be able to age? To go grey? To grow soft?
Who do we think we are?
Who I think I am is someone who is human. Who is worthy of love and belonging, despite – even because of – my shortcomings. Who deserves a seat at the table.
Just who the hell do you think you are? That's a question for you to answer based on the truth of you, not the old stories you've been told. 
But here's a start: You are someone who did not deserve to be cheated on. After all, just who the hell does he think he is? 

Monday, October 15, 2018

"Once a cheater, always a cheater" is a lie that won't die

I recently posted on Twitter something about how none of us is obliged to give anyone a second chance and that if we're going to extend such a gift, to make sure he's worthy of it. Don't give a second chance to someone who insists you need to get over this on his timeline. Or who doesn't believe in therapy, except for you because he's fine but you, clearly, are crazy. Or who refuses to talk to you about your pain, or support you when you're triggered.
I should have known. I should have known that when I posted something about second chances, I was pretty much holding the door open for the "once a cheater, always a cheater" crowd to walk in and start ranting about how second chances are for suckers.
I get so tired of it.
Maybe I'm more tired of it than usual because everything feels so polarized right now and nobody seems to want to give anybody any leeway, or have a conversation with any nuance, or consider that another's motives just maybe aren't as horrible as we assume.
Maybe I'm more tired of it than usual because I've been hearing this same bullshit for 12 years, since I first learned of my husband's betrayal and figured there was only one door I could go through and it swung just one way.
Maybe I'm tired of it because so many of those old nuggets that we thought we'd left behind – that women lie about sexual assault, that sexual harassment is just women being too sensitive, that if women worked as hard as men they'd have shattered that glass ceiling – have been revealed as alive and well in our culture. We haven't come as far as we thought we had.
Maybe I'm particularly tired of it because, with my new book out, I'm still hiding in the shadows because cheating remains the most unforgivable of sins and my husband continues to live in abject fear of being exposed as the scummiest of scumbags. Despite 12 years of working his ass off to be a better husband. Despite 12 years of learning how to reconcile acceptance of what he did with the values he holds.
Or maybe I'm just tired of it because the "once a cheater..." adage is demonstrably untrue.
I think, however, that what I'm most tired of is this notion that we have to choose a team. Team Second Chance vs. Team Once a Cheater.
I don't have a problem with anyone for whom cheating is a deal-breaker. Nobody is under any obligation to stay with a cheater (or a non-cheater, for that matter). But it's a far different thing to stand firmly in the "it's a deal-breaker" camp than in the "once a cheater" camp. One focuses on responding to past actions. The other focuses on predicting future actions.
I have many friends who've been betrayed. Some have left, some have stayed, some are still the process of figuring it out. It matters not one bit whether they extended a second chance or whether they showed him the door within five minutes of finding out. Without fail, every single one of them has had to navigate the heartbreak of betrayal. Some husband have stepped up, some have continued the affair, some have remained utterly clueless about how their actions devastated their wife and children, others have morphed into husband-of-the-year. It hasn't really mattered. What has mattered is that the betrayal itself changed everything. And within that devastation, our sisters need our support. Not our judgement. Not our opinions. Our support.
Support looks like a hug. It looks like a casserole. It looks like a Miniature Horse or two (seriously. Ask one of our retreat attendees). It looks like showing up for each other with no advice at all. It looks like the freedom to make our own choices about how to respond to betrayal without shame or ridicule or dismissal.
I can't possibly know whether your husband will cheat again. I can't possibly know whether my husband will cheat again. What I can do is encourage you to examine your marriage with clear eyes. I can encourage you to create and enforce boundaries. I can point out when your husband's behaviour is abusive. Or dismissive of your pain. I can remind you that hope isn't the same thing as evidence.
And I can help create this place where you can bring your pain and your disappointment and know that you will not be shouted down or mocked because your response to betrayal is different than mine.
This tent is big enough to hold all of us. Except the liars.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Forgive Yourself Friday

Yeah, I know you weren't the cheater. But sometimes, when we peel back the layers, we realize that we're holding ourselves accountable for all sorts of things. For not knowing. For ignoring our spidey-sense. For not being sexier, or thinner, or a better cook. For working too much. For not working outside the home. 
Whatever it is, it's time to release yourself. That's not the same as not taking inventory of what you'd like to change. Rather it's no longer letting those regrets hold you back. 
None of us is perfect.
But that's not why he cheated.
He cheated because he believed his own stories. And it's his job to break those stories down and separate fact from fiction.
Your job? To heal from this, moment by moment. To become conscious of the stories you were telling yourself, about your worth. 
And to forgive yourself.
You did your best.
Let it go. 

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Who do you trust when you can't trust anyone?

I used to laugh at the idea that my husband would ever cheat on me. "He's the most principled man I know," I would say. "Besides, he's clueless when women are openly flirting with him."
And the universe laughed.
I miss that conviction. The absolute certainty that my husband would never cheat on me. He just...wouldn't.
Except he did. He was.
And, if you've read my story either on this site or here, then you know what happened. I fell apart. I considered suicide. I blamed my mother for grooming me for betrayal. I blamed every horrible boyfriend I'd ever had. I blamed friends who'd betrayed me in the past. And I absolutely blamed my husband who knew what I'd gone through...and hurt me anyway. I blamed myself for not knowing better. For trusting someone who didn't deserve it.
Eventually I got out of bed, got off the floor and got on with it. At first, that was all I could do. Put a fake smile on my face, pretend I was fine.
But with more time, it became clear to me that I was becoming fine. Not great but fine.
I was doing the work to heal. Seeing my therapist, briefly attending a 12-step group for partners of sex addicts, being gentle with myself, practising radical self-care. Meditating. Running. Hiking. Culling toxic people from my herd.
But the lesson that continued to elude me was this: Learn to trust myself.
It seemed counter-intuitive. How could I trust myself when I had been so wrong? I was the last person I should be trusting.
And yet.
And yet, when I got still and paid attention to the still small voice, I could acknowledge the ways in which  had tried to protect myself, the ways in which I had tried to get my own attention. I could acknowledge that the problem wasn't that I couldn't trust myself to know what was right for me, the problem was that I couldn't trust myself to follow through. To protect myself. To create and defend boundaries. To treat myself like I mattered.
And that's a problem I could fix.
It can be hard for those of us who have spent much of our life as pleasers, those of us who dedicate ourselves to not rocking the boat.
We can confuse assertiveness with aggression.
It's a process. Of checking in with ourselves. Paying attention to where our feelings are showing up in our bodies. Noticing that fight or flee response and sitting with it to trace it back. Our bodies give us really valuable information that women, especially, are taught to over-ride in favor of not being rude or angry or disruptive.
And so rather than trusting ourselves, we trust those around us. Who tell us that everything's fine when our body's alarm signals are going off. Who tell us to "calm down" when there's an emotional emergency. Who dismiss our concerns or our wants or our needs as selfish, self-centered, silly.
It's not that we can't trust ourselves, it's that we can't hear ourselves over the loud voices of a culture that has long believed women can be believed.
When I think back, I knew something wasn't right. I knew my husband was emotionally absent. I knew he was often physically absent. I believed the "working late" and "stressed" and "too busy" excuses. I congratulated myself for being such a supportive wife, even as I was exhausted myself, and my own career was being held back.
In other words, I knew. I knew...something.
Not all the signs are so clear.
Maybe you also didn't suspect cheating.
But were you aware, on some level, that he had disengaged? Do you notice when your kids seem particularly worried? When your best friend is distracted or unavailable? We're so much better at paying attention to others' pain than our own.
But that's something we can fix.
It isn't about becoming self-absorbed, it's about becoming self-aware. Noticing what's happening in our bodies. Paying attention to our thoughts. Respecting that internal alarm system that goes off when something doesn't feel quite right.
When we feel that trust in ourselves deep in our bones, it's an amazing feeling. It's a healing feeling.
I get it now.
It has taken a long time but I get it.
I don't need to trust others when I can trust myself. That doesn't mean I don't trust others, including my husband, it just means that I'm not reliant on them to keep me safe.
That's an inside job. And I'm on it.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Help Me Get Encyclopedia for the Betrayed into More Women's Hands

I'm asking my beloved secret sisters here to do me a favor: A friend of mine, a book publicist, offered me some advice regarding how to promote Encyclopedia for the Betrayed when I'm a) unable to do traditional promotion because I wrote under a pseudonym and b) when I have a $0 budget. Her advice? Get Amazon to promote it for me. And this happens when it goes up in rankings. And that happens when people click on the page. You don't even have to buy it (though, if you haven't yet, what are you waiting for?). You just need to click through. And you can click through as often as you want. Each time sends some sort of magic code message to the algorithm that says, "hey, this book is generating some attention. Let's tell others about it."
So...if you could add "click through to the Amazon page of Elle's book, which is right here to your list of to-dos each day, or a few times a week, or whenever you remember, I would really really appreciate it.
Please help me get this book into as many betrayed wive's hands as I can.
Thanks, in advance, for your support and your help.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Riding out the storms

It is, at the end of the day, the individual moments of restlessness, of bleakness, of strong persuasions and maddened enthusiasms, that inform one’s life, change the nature and direction of one’s work, and give final meaning and color to ones loves and friendships
~Kay Redfield Jamison, An Unquiet Mind

When I wrote my book, Encyclopedia for the Betrayed, I had to consider why I was doing it. I'd been picking away at a "survival guide" for years. But none of it was working. Organizing it chronologically didn't work because betrayal doesn't happen in a straight line for a whole lot of us. Dividing it into categories didn't work because there's a whole lot of overlap so it became repetitive. I'd get frustrated and put it aside. And I kept asking myself what my book would contribute to the conversation that wasn't already out there. 
When I hit upon the idea of writing it like an encyclopedia, inspired by one of my favorite books Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by the incredible Amy Krouse Rosenthal, everything fell into place. I had my "how". But more importantly, by then I was also clear about the "why".
I wanted my book to assure readers of two crucial things:
•You are not alone in your pain. 
•You will get through this.
Sure I wanted my readers to have the information to help them with specific concerns – how to avoid pain shopping, how to manage mind movies, what the hell to do about hysterical bonding. But more than anything else, I wanted people to read between every single line these two things: You are not alone. You will get through this.
Because neither of those things feel true when you're going through betrayal hell. You feel so incredibly alone. Surely nobody in the history of the world has felt as gutted as you do, as hopeless. 
And you, by no means, believe you'll get through this.
You believe you'll feel like this forever, don't you? Maybe not completely devastated but sad. You'll carry on but you're convinced that this taint, this sense of defeat will remain with you. 
I told my husband he had "ruined" me. That I was "broken". Which wasn't untrue at that moment. What was untrue, and what I wish I'd known then, was that my broken-ruined stated was temporary. Yes, I was sad. I was deeply wounded. But that too was temporary.
And what I also didn't know then and I even hesitate to write it here because it reeks of self-sacrifice is that out of the rubble that was my life on D-Day, I recreated myself. I recreated my marriage. I recreated my family. My life.
I can hear you already. "But my life was just fine!" you say. "I liked who I was!" you tell me. "I will never feel carefree again!" you insist.
I hear you. I really do. 
And I'm not saying those things aren't true (well, except your life wasn't "fine". Your husband was cheating). I'm glad you like yourself because it will help you remain clear with your boundaries as you're healing from this. So much easier than those whose self-esteem has long been in tatters. And I know how painful it is to realize that you likely will never again just trust that your partner would never hurt you. That's an excruciating truth to accept. It really does change us.
But Kay Redfield Jamison, who has struggled her whole life with bipolar disorder, is right in that it's the storms we weather that shape us. An easy life is never to be confused with a good one. The struggles we have don't only shape us negatively. We get to decide what we do with the bleakness. Consider the mothers who created MADD, the veterans who are demanding appropriate mental health support, Malala who continues to fight to get girls into classrooms. My own daughter, who lives with bipolar disorder, is using her experience to prepare to counsel others with the illness. My mother, who lived 25 years as a recovering alcoholic, never hesitated to get someone struggling with alcoholism to a meeting, long after she'd stopped attending them herself.
Betrayal is excruciating, I know. But without it, I wouldn't have met the incredible women at our retreat 10 days ago – women who dazzled me with their kindness, their humor, their brilliance. I wouldn't have my book, of which I'm enormously proud and grateful to be able to put out in the world. I wouldn't have healed deeper wounds I had around abandonment and self-worth. I wouldn't have this blog. And all of you who, every single day, amaze me when you show up for each other, even when your own hearts are breaking. 
Do I wish I'd never gone through it? It doesn't really matter, does it. I did go through it. My husband went through it and is a more humble, considerate and compassionate man. 
So. Here's what you need to know:
You are not alone.
You will get through this.
I promise. 

Friday, October 5, 2018

Their Comfort? Or Your Self-Respect? You Pick

When it comes down to somebody else’s comfort and my self-respect, I will always choose me first because that’s the right answer. If my options are teach you how to treat me or suffer in silence, you’re going to learn something today. ~tweeted by Ashley C. Ford (@iSmashFizzle)

Not sure about the rest of you but I responded to this tweet with a "hell yes!". And then I felt ridiculous. Because though I support this with my whole heart, I have actually spent much of my life as the QUEEN of choosing somebody else's comfort over my self-respect. 
I concluded early on that I could handle more than most people around me (typical among children of addicts) and so I routinely sacrificed my self-respect, my comfort, my wants, in favor of not rocking the boat. 
If someone was upset, it was my job to smooth things over. 
Amazing how entrenched those old lessons from childhood are, isn't it? iSmashFizzle's follow-up tweets noted that she was routinely shut down when she would demand apologies from adults who'd disrespected her as a kid. So where I learned to stop asking and to start prioritizing their comfort over my self-respect, she learned to demand louder. And to never stop demanding. 
How I wish I could channel some of that chutzpah. That inner knowing that what I want and need is just as valid as anyone else.
But when we grow up in dysfunction, we usually learn one of two ways to exist in our relationships and the larger world: I matter and you don't. Or: You matter and I don't. Which approach we adopt depends on all sorts of variables, including gender, personality and culture. 
But a healthy relationship is one in which I matter AND you matter. 
Not sure what that looks like? I didn't either.
Which brings me to something I had to accept in myself after D-Day. I had long taken pride in abandoning my needs and self-respect for other's comfort that I cloaked myself in sacrifice.
I loved playing the martyr. And it added fuel to an unhealthy relationship. 
This wasn't all on my husband. His family's dysfunction was fostered in a highly patriarchal environment. Everyone bowed to his father. So my husband, who always felt like he didn't matter was nonetheless male, which convinced him that he SHOULD matter. And so, with me, he operated from a fear that he didn't matter but also from a determination to fight hard for what he needed because he should matter. After all, he was the man. 
I came to our relationship with my brand of "don't worry about me", delivered with a sigh and a metaphorical polishing of the halo over my head.
He took me at my word and didn't worry about me. After all, I was super-capable and clearly easy-going.
And I fell deeper and deeper into this stew of resentment because he wasn't supposed to believe me when I said not to worry about me or my needs. He was supposed to just know better. 
Recipe for disaster. Or at least marital breakdown.
It was only with my husband revealed as a low-down scumbag cheater that I finally felt justified making some demands. First among them, get her out of our lives. And then, work on your issues via therapy and a 12-step group. No negotiation. No putting his comfort over my needs. For the first year, my needs mattered. His did not. The pendulum had swung the other way.
Which, in the short term, is fair. In the weeks and months following betrayal, I do believe the betrayed partner's needs take priority. He might be hurting but she is devastated. He might be injured but she is on life support. 
If we want a healthy marriage, however, we can't stay there. Even if our marriage breaks up, we need to learn to operate within relationships in which both partners matter. In which nobody's comfort routinely trumps the other's self-respect. Nobody should never suffer in silence. 
As @iSmashFizzle reminds us, we teach others how to treat us. Perhaps it's time for those around us to learn something today. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

When We Show Up: Thoughts on My Heartbreak, My Rules, My Healing Weekend

I'm on my way home from our retreat and – wow – where do I begin?
For a start, can I say how incredible the women of the Betrayed Wives Club are? Smart and funny and warm-hearted and beautiful. The beach house shook all weekend with laughter.
I was also struck by the candor of every single woman. What sweet relief to just call it what it is, yes? No mask. No tight smile. No, "oh I'm fine. Just a little tired." Cause that's the thing, isn't it? Pretending is as emotionally taxing as the reality.
My head, though, is spinning. I took in so many stories. And they ran the gamut. Pretty much every version of cheating was represented. And yet...there was no "other". I'm not sure I've ever been in an environment so devoid of judgement. There was curiosity. Gently phrased "why do you stay" questions, "are you happy?"questions, "have you forgiven?" questions, "am I forever broken?" questions. There were also some hard truths spoken, some prodding offered. It can be an act of kindness to point out to another that, just maybe, there are things she isn't looking at.
One woman called it "love." She said she'd never seen it before, at least not like this. Women showing up for each other, women sitting with another in her pain, women seeing the ache or the choked back tears and reaching out her hand.
It's something of a new experience for me too. I've always been leery of the so-called sisterhood, even as I've envied those who seem to belong. I'd had too many betrayals, too much hypocrisy to trust it. And yet, I saw it in person after years of opening myself to it on this site. And yes, I agree. It looks like love.
So let me say thank you to every one of you who gathers here.
Over the years you've slowly chipped away at my mistrust. You've shown up for each other even as your own hearts were breaking. You've read each other's stories and carried them into your offline lives. One of our secret sisters at the retreat told me that she worries about some who've dropped off, or who still struggle. You all are not just made-up names to her, you're people about whom she cares, about whom she thinks as she goes about her day, her healing.
It's hard to sum up how I feel. I think I'm still digesting it all, still sorting through it. But more than anything that's what struck me. I haven't imagined the love on this site. Or the healing. You all really are as strong as you seem, as kind as you seem, as genuinely invested in each other and in me.
Our little club, the one not one of us ever wanted to join, is a magical place. I created a name and a URL but it's you all who sprinkle the fairy dust every day. You who trusted me, a stranger with a blog, with your most painful secret, and then showed up for each other. To offer advice, to offer comfort, to extend a virtual hug and a "hey honey, hang in there. It gets better."
So again, thank you. It continues to be one of the greatest privileges to witness this magic. The sisterhood is real. 


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