Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Feeling It All

There is a story that Glennon Doyle tells in Untamed. She is at her first AA meeting and talking to a veteran 12-stepper, who says something that stuns her. "Feelings are for feeling," the sage says. "All of them. Even the hard ones."
It's an inflection point for Doyle who had, to that point, spent her life trying to be pleasing to others. To look right, to act right, to feel right. Happy was the goal, for herself and others. And yet...she felt all these other feelings too so what was she doing wrong?
Nothing, according to this woman. "Feelings are for feeling. All of them."
We are a culture that pursues happiness the way my cats pursue a beam of sunshine. Relentlessly. Only stopping for a moment when we've found it and then realizing we're about to lose it again.
We don't want those other feelings. They get in the way. We want happiness, all the time. 24/7. We'll settle for contentment, periodically. But mostly we want that pure bliss. And we're told we can achieve it, like it's something for sale in a store window if only we know where to look or who to ask.
It's a lie. The whole Industrial Happiness Complex is a total lie built by capitalism to make us constantly hungry for it, constantly striving for it. 
It's not that happiness isn't possible, of course. It is. It's just that a happy life isn't possible. Feelings are for feeling. All of them. Even the hard ones. And those hards ones will inevitably show up in anyone's life. No matter how hard we try to avoid them. No matter how high we've build the fortress against them.
And that's the thing that we don't hear about. How surviving those hard feelings makes happiness so much sweeter when we ultimately do get a taste.
My son and I are taking an online course right now. It's Yale University's most popular course and it's offered for free right now. It's about how to be happy. My son and I are only in Week Two but we've already learned that the things that we believe – that we've been told or rather sold – will make us happy not only don't make us happy, some actually make us less happy than we were. Among these things that don't make us happier are:
•weight loss
•plastic surgery
•stuff – clothes, jewellery, cars, houses, etc.
But most of us know that by now, don't we? We've learned that while that great purse might give us a momentary burst of happiness, it's pretty short-lived. By the time the VISA statement arrives and we have to pay for it, the purchase itself likely offers us no happiness at all anymore. 
But it's not all bad news. There are things we can do to contribute to our happiness. Not 24/7. But sometimes. The way happiness is meant to be experienced. It's a feeling, not a state of being.
And one of the main ways to generate more happiness in your life is:
•gratitude/savoring – science tells us that taking note of and thinking about the things we're grateful for contribute to a greater sense of happiness. As hokey as they sound, gratitude journals work. Sometimes you might only feel able to be grateful that you're still breathing. That you haven't murdered your spouse. That you stayed off the OW's social media. It still counts.
But remember that you'll feel all those other feelings too. Especially right now, when your world feels upside down. Especially, when things feel so uncertain. 
But you won't always feel so unhappy, just like nobody always feels happy.
Feelings are for feeling. All of them. Even the hard ones.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

"Becoming" pain vs "self-betrayal" pain

There is the pain of just being human, the pain of loss of losing people and animals and relationships and situations we thought we couldn’t live without. But there is another kind of pain and that is a pain that is chosen. That is the pain of a woman who has slowly abandoned herself. And that is a pain I will never choose again. If I can choose between pain and joy, I will choose joy. 
~Glennon Doyle

There is becoming pain and there is self betrayal pain. And you have to know the difference
~Brené Brown

I didn't see it at first. My husband's betrayal eclipsed all else in my life. So devastated by it, I couldn't see anything beyond what he did to me.
I completely missed what I had done to myself.
But over the following months and years, it became impossible to ignore. Yes, my husband had betrayed me, profoundly. But the deeper betrayal was how I had betrayed myself.
It had happened slowly. In hindsight, there wasn't one moment I could point to and say "there, yes. That's when I abandoned myself." 
Rather it was many smaller moments, where I chose him over me, where I prioritized his comfort over my own, where I silenced my voice so that his was all either of us heard. Let me be clear. This was not abuse. My husband isn't cruel or domineering. Rather, I had learned in childhood to keep the peace, to not rock the boat. And so, when marriage got sticky, I let him define the narrative: I was "too sensitive", I was "looking for problems". And when I pushed back, which I still had the guts to do, I was "crazy". Want to know what "crazy" looked like in my house? Let me tell you. Crazy was me pointing out when his mother was judgemental and cruel (my son was a "momma's boy" because I comforted him when he cried, for instance). Crazy was me insisting that our sex life seemed off. Crazy was me stating my truth. 
Our culture has a long history of silencing women with "crazy". And it worked. Mostly. I silenced myself. Why bother pointing out that his mother was unkind to me? Why bother asking for more help with the kids? Why bother bringing up that my work was important too?
Why bother? 
Far more important to find workarounds, to call on other people for support, to not rock the boat. Marriages are about compromise, right? All marriages have rough spots, rights? And when you've never seen a healthy marriage, you believe that yours is probably better than most. Certainly better than any you've seen modelled.
And in those words – 'why bother?' – lay my own betrayal self.
Why bother? Because I was frustrated by how low on the priority list my own career fell? Why bother? Because his mother's unkindness hurt me. No matter that he'd lived with it his entire life. No matter that she "old and unlikely to change." It hurt me. That should have mattered.
Why bother? Because we matter. Because our wants and needs matter. Because what we identify as impediments to us living a full, rich life matter. 
And when we pretend they don't, or when we convince ourselves that we can work around them rather than ask those invested in keeping them in place to help us dismantle them (and yes, I'm not just talking about my marriage here but a patriarchal, misogynistic culture), we betray ourselves.
I operated under the mistaken belief that I needed my husband to agree with me in order to create the change I wanted. If I couldn't convince him, then maybe the barriers I identified didn't exist. Maybe my wants and needs were the problem. Maybe, like we women are told so often, we want too much. We are too hungry. We are too much.
But now... Now we know that was never the case, don't we? With our blinders off, having been brought fully to our knees by another's betrayal, it's crystal clear, isn't it? The way we betrayed ourselves first. The way the system works against us. 
Everything I had identified was revealed as truth. My husband, who formerly defended his mother and dismissed me as "crazy", revealed years of emotional and physical abuse at the hands of her and his father. Our sex life? No wonder it felt like something was wrong. It was. My husband was a sex addict. The household labour imbalance felt wrong because it was. I had taken on the lion's share because I bought into the idea that the person making the most money should have the most power, completely, of course, misunderstanding the value of all the unpaid labor I did.
Every single time I questioned what I knew to be true, I betrayed myself. 
No longer.
There is the pain of becoming, says Brené Brown, and then there is the pain of self-betrayal. I know both. And I resolve to always, always choose the former over the latter. I hope you will too. 

Friday, June 19, 2020

Infidelity Grief: The Death of the Life You Thought Was Yours

Grief feels bigger than sadness, more all-encompassing, threatening to retrieve every shard of loss and sorrow from the past. It can feel like a weight on the chest, leaden limbs, dulled thinking. It veils the eyes and shutters out the light. It's physical; it yawns open its maw like a Grand Canyon slash in the earth. There is no crossing from one rim to respite on the other rim without going down into the wound.
~Kathy Karn, photographer/retired psychotherapist

One of the things we least expect to feel in the wake of betrayal is grief. Which is why so many of us don't recognize it even as we're experiencing it. Grief is about death, right? It seemed unfortunate on D-Day that my husband was very much alive. Being a widow struck me as far preferable to being a betrayed wife. But there he was, alive and appallingly well. So...why would I feel grief? 
Murderous rage? That made more sense. Sadness? Sure. But though I didn't recognize it for a very long time, I was grieving. And I didn't recognize it in part because our culture doesn't associate grief with infidelity. 
It should. Betrayal ushers in a death. Of the marriage we thought we had. The life we thought we knew. The man we thought we could trust. There's so much loss in betrayal. So much, yes, death. Hence...grief.
Dammit, huh? Cause grief doesn't take the short road. Grief meanders, never in a rush. It lingers. Which is bad news for those of us who just want this to be over. To get back to "normal". To move past this ache.
Psychotherapist Kathy Karn notes that grief feels all-encompassing, "like a Grand Canyon slash in the earth". We can imaging falling in but can scarcely believe we'll emerge. But the thing with grief, if we give ourselves the chance to trust the process, is that we'll not only emerge, we'll emerge carrying the seeds of transformation within us. 
It's a bittersweet thought. I remember hearing all of that "suffering makes us grow" stuff and even while I hoped it was true, I resented it. I didn't want to grow. I wanted to not be in so much pain. The idea of grief was more than could bear. It meant that this wasn't something I was going to "get over" quickly. Grief requires time and patience and I was out of both. 
The thing with grief, however, is that there's no fighting it. It casts its shadow over us whether we try to move into the sunlight or night. The best approach, we learn, is to stop resisting it. Stop pretending that this pain has a quick-fix, stop pretending that something didn't die. Stop pretending and give in to the reality that grief is going to be our companion for a long while.
And when we stop resisting grief, we can begin, well, grieving. We can remember to be more gentle with ourselves. We can try and judge ourselves less harshly. And when we allow ourselves to grieve – to feel the pain and the loss – our hearts become a wee bit less restricted. Like the hand squeezing them loosens its grip just slightly. And then slightly more. 
Because though grief doesn't gallop, it isn't immobile either. There is respite on the other side, as Karn reminds us, but not without going into the wound.
And so we descend. Into grief. Moving through it like wet cement. 
The day will come when we climb out. Not all at once, perhaps, but finger by finger, limb by limb. Moment by moment.
And when we have emerged, we will see that grief was never the enemy, but the guide.
It's crucial that we keep our hearts soft or grief will have done nothing but knock against a hardened heart.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

What's the difference between private and secret?

What's the deal with counsellors who say that unfaithful partners are entitled to "privacy"? To have a bowel movement, yes. To use the phone/computer/etc they used to cheat? No way. I'm not advocating for a police state but I do think there needs to be transparency.

I tweeted that a couple of weeks ago. Responses to it ranged from hell yeah to yeah but to I don't know about this...
I get it. It's confusing. If we've been in a relatively grown-up relationship – by which I mean we haven't made a habit of monitoring our partner's whereabouts or communication – the "total transparency" so many of us talk about with regards to healing can feel weird. Factor in that our heads are spinning, we're terrified/anxious/agonized, and there's not a hard-and-fast rule book for surviving infidelity (though Encyclopedia for the Betrayed is the closest I could create), and it's no wonder we're stymied by what's reasonable to expect from our partners in the wake of their infidelity.
Though lots of us could care less about reasonable. We want to chain our unfaithful partners, take away their phones and computers, and, in some cases, castrate them.
But, in the interest of keeping ourselves out of prison and rebuilding a healthy relationship, let's let "reasonable" be our guide.
To start, let's consider the difference between secrecy and privacy.
Privacy is information that isn't harmful to your partner's health/well-being but that you don't necessary want to share except with the intended recipient. For instance, texting your best friend about your husband's apparent inability to wash dishes.
Secrecy is something that is harmful to your partner's health/well-being.
Where things get muddy is where partners draw the line. For one person, watching porn is private whereas for another, it's secret. It comes down to: If my partner knew I was doing this/communicating this, would he/she be okay with it? If the answer is no, you're keeping it secret. If the answer is yes, it's private. To muddy the waters further, some partners choose to plead ignorance about their partner's response. As in, "I didn't think it would bother you." "I figured you'd be okay with it." When pressed, however, most of us, if we know our partners, know roughly where the line is drawn. And if we don't know, then it's time to ask clearly and, if appropriate, negotiate. Let's take porn again. Your partner sees it as betrayal. You see it as harmless fun. In a healthy relationship, you might discuss how it affects your relationship and reach a compromise.
What happens post-betrayal is that behaviour we thought was fine – lunch with a work colleague, for instance – becomes fraught. When I believed my husband would never cheat on me, it didn't bother me in the least that he sometimes had lunch with colleagues of the opposite sex. After D-Day? No way. My heartbreak, my rules. If he were to violate that, it's secrecy. He knows it's harmful to me and our relationship.
We opt for secrecy to avoid negative consequences. How many of us are told by our partners, when we ask for details, that it's for our good that he doesn't tell us. It would hurt us, we're told.
Yeah, it probably would. But the problem here isn't that the information would hurt us, it's that his behaviour has hurt us. The emphasis is being put on the wrong thing. Only when he has come clean about his behaviour – as much of it as we choose to know – can we start over with a clean slate and a clear understanding of what is and is not acceptable within our relationship. He doesn't get to claim "privacy" when what he's doing is protecting himself from the consequences of bad behaviour. That's not private. It's secret.
The rules, of course, can – and likely should – change with time. In the months following D-Day, my husband no longer went out for a beer or two after hockey. If he wasn't at work, he was at home. My pain required it. Now? My needs are different. He is entitled to privacy. I don't need to know every conversation. I don't check his phone (though I reserve the right to do so, if I feel something's not right). I trust him. Not 100% but enough.
Who wants to live in a police state? Over the long term, that feeds your anxiety, rather than assuaging it.
It's a tired theme but communication is your best tool to address the pain of betrayal and to heal from it. Communication will help you work through what's private versus what's secret. Talk about what you need in the wake of D-Day and continue to talk as those needs evolve. Secrets are toxic no matter who's holding them.
What's the deal with counsellors who say that unfaithful partners are entitled to "privacy"? To have a bowel movement, yes. To use the phone/computer/etc they used to cheat? No way. I'm not advocating for a police state but I do think there needs to be transparency.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Using Our Pain To Make Space for Others' Pain

I’ve had a hard time showing up here the past week or so. Like so many, I’ve been gripped by images of protests around the United States and even Canada, where I live. It’s not that I’m not feeling your pain right now. I am. I’m feeling it more acutely because of the clear pain that so many others are feeling right now. My heart feels broken open yet again for a world in pain.
I won’t pretend that I know what it’s like to be Black in the world right now. I have the privilege of growing up in a culture that prioritizes whiteness, that confers upon us status and goodness that we have not necessarily earned. A culture that, largely, protects me. But even with my privilege, I know what it feels like to be betrayed. You know too. And if we’re open to it, that pain we know, that agonizing pain of betrayal, can help us remain open to the pain of others who have felt betrayed for generations. It can help us keep quiet while we listen to their stories. It can, as Nadia Bolz-Weber urges us to do, help us stay curious
What did you want more than anything in the wake of betrayal? (Except to undo what had happened, of course.) I know what I wanted: Someone to really hear my pain, to not look away, to not wish I were over it, to not imply that my pain was inconvenient or uncomfortable or undignified. I read a quote online this past weekend that resonated: Don’t let those who denied your pain tell you how loud to cry.
The images we’re seeing might look to some of us like an over-reaction. But – oh man! – can I relate to the urge to burn it all down. To act out my rage. When the world won’t listen to our whispers, what choice do we have but to scream.
I am going to count on you, my incredible invisible sisters (and brothers), to keep your comments respectful. I know that what’s happening right now has our emotions heightened. Those among us who are people of color, who belong to marginalized groups, need our compassion right now, not our judgement. They need those of us who’ve been broken-hearted to use that pain, that memory of trauma, to hold ourselves open to their pain. To make space for it. And to understand that their stories hold as much truth as ours.

For those struggling, here are few suggestions for self-care:
•limit your use of social media
•donate to causes that can use your money to amplify their voices
•escape into a book, a movie, a TV show, a hike in the woods
•you are not selfish if you simply do not have room for any more pain right now. You must tend to your own wound first


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