Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Paying Attention to the Treasures

So grateful for so many amazing resources, people, things that help me heal. It’s like going on the hardest hike of your life and picking up beautiful treasures along the way.

Though I'm Canadian, it's impossible to ignore all the talk about Thanksgiving right now, though our Thanksgiving was in early October. Which is fine. It's never a wrong time to consider one's blessings, to catalogue what we're grateful for, to take stock of what's right in our lives.

It can, however, be challenging. Especially during a pandemic when many of us will be celebrating without the comfort of extended family and friends. Especially when our hearts are shattered.

But it is during those particularly challenging times in our lives, when, for instance, our hearts are shattered, that seeking out and noticing the "beautiful treasures along the way" are all the more valuable. Cultivating an ability to acknowledge treasures when they feel particularly few and far between is key to helping us heal from betrayal. It's key to experiencing a rich, meaningful life.

I was struck, one freezing cold winter morning, just weeks after D-Day, by how beautiful the snow looked on a sunlit day. I was walking my dog, who'd become something of a security blanket to me as I sobbed into his neck on more nights than I could count. But that morning, with the sun's rays dancing on the fresh snow, I found space in my pain to notice. To pause and to pay attention to the beauty. To remember that not everything was horrible.

That moment inspired me to begin paying closer attention to other moments. The sound of my children laughing together, even if I couldn't yet join in their joy. My mother's daily calls to "just check in". The release I felt to stop comparing myself to others because, I suddenly realized, none of us really knew what another's life was like beyond the smiles. I even allowed myself to take pleasure in finally – FINALLY! – losing the last 10 pounds of post-pregnancy weight. Yeah, it sucked that it took my husband cheating on me to rob me of any ability to choke down food. But, yippee! All my favorite clothes fit again.

That spring, I sat outside by myself staring skyward. My husband was out and I noticed that anxiety building. Was he really at a work function? Was he cheating again?

I had no idea. But I could pay attention to just how spectacular the sky looked that night, the moon a fingernail suspended in a black sky, the stars sprinkled to eternity.

I hadn't yet created this site so didn't yet know just how many treasures I would find here. I've forgotten so many of the names but remember the stories. I remember the kindness. I remember the feeling when I got first one reader, then two, then a dozen. I was among people who understood how much pain I was still in. I was among people who responded with such compassion and decency. So unlike a few of the other sites where I felt stupid for remaining in my marriage, where cynicism passed for wisdom.

NobleLola is exactly right. There are so many resources, so many people to help us heal. And she's also right that it is the hardest hike of our lives. Straight uphill in blazing sunlight without a drop of water. But along the way are treasures. Notice them. Cherish them. And share them with others.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Living in the Endless Now

Working in conflict mediation I learned that time passes differently for different people. Someone who has perpetuated a trauma might think the trauma was way in the past, because it was a year ago, a decade ago, half a lifetime ago. Someone who has lived with the impact of that trauma may not see this as “past.” For them, the past might be now, and now, and now, and now. Unaddressed trauma is not packaged away, and is often occurring again and again. 

~Pádraig Ó Tuama, from On Being's The Pause

Someone recently described these pandemic days as "an endless Tuesday". We were lamenting the sameness of our days. I see the same four family members every day. I see one friend who's my running partner. I see the occasional grocery store clerk. But a Saturday is pretty much like a Wednesday. Or an endless Tuesday. I have little sense of whether I sent that e-mail a week ago or a month ago. Or two months ago. Time is an untrusty elastic band. 

It reminds me, a lot, of what it was like in the days following D-Day. Everything suddenly different. An expectation that I would just adjust. That I would pretend that nothing had changed while everything had. 

And this weird sense of time. Had he told me a week ago? Or six weeks ago? How was that possible? What had I done in those intervening days? How could I not remember?


Personal or collective, it's much the same. A sense of foreboding. An endless now. No matter that, in the case of betrayal, that traumatic event, to him, is over. To us, it's now. It's happening now. And now. And now. 

"When will you get over this?" he asks, genuinely aghast that we're still devastated a week, a month, a year later. We wish we knew. We don't understand it either. It happened...when exactly? Now. It's happening now.

Trauma is notoriously difficult to treat because the traumatic event has been filed in our brains differently than a non-traumatic memory. It has been filed in the eternal now. Hence the hyper-vigilance, the thudding heart, the shallow breath. Oh no, oh no, oh no, oh no....

Pádraig Ó Tuama calls it "in the waiting" and reminds us that in the waiting, we don't need to be alone. The incredible women of Betrayed Wives Club are here. Professional support is available (which I strongly recommend -- particularly EMDR, which specifically deals with trauma). Books and podcasts are available. In fact, I'm in the process of compiling a list of resources to include on this site so please chime in with whatever has helped you.

But right now, in this endless Tuesday of trauma, call it what it is. Betrayal is trauma. And trust that you can move past this with courage and support and enormous self-compassion. 

As Pádraig Ó Tuama puts it, "A new future will only be built on courageous moments, and those are happening now, and now and now."

Monday, November 16, 2020

Afraid of Being Afraid

To release this terror, we must stop pretending to be unafraid, and confront the terror from within. We need to first unmask the fear; we need to let go of pretending we have no fear. In my own experience, once I understood that it was okay to be afraid, the healing began. The wisdom in my bones came alive and I became aware in the midst of fear and anxiety that the mind and body were begging to purge the terror within. With this awareness, the waters of my mind stopped whirling and I could at last begin to see my reflection.

~Zenju Earthlyn Manuel, from Ten Percent Happier

It started with tingling hands. From the tips of my fingers to my arms to a flood throughout my body, I would be engulfed by it. Fear. Terror. What I was afraid of wasn't always clear to me. Just...an uncertain future. Just...a misunderstood past.

The fear fed on itself. I became afraid of being afraid. I carried around a bottle of anti-anxiety pills that I was afraid to take. I felt debilitated. Unfocused.

What Zenju Earthlyn Manuel learned, and what she tries to teach us, is that trying to outrun the fear only exacerbates it. Refusing to acknowledge it only increases its power over us. As most of us should have learned by now, only by looking the monster in its face can we overcome it.

Manuel learned to do this through meditation. "To release this terror, we must stop pretending to be unafraid, and confront the terror from within. We need to first unmask the fear; we need to let go of pretending we have no fear. "

We can't eliminate it all at once, she says. I'm reminded of the Wicked Witch in Wizard of Oz. She melts rather than vanishes. When gripped by fear, Manuel tells herself, "I am in the past." We might try the same. It's sometimes as accurate to say, "I am in the future." Where we are not is in the present. And that's where refuge, counter-intuitively, is found. In the now. "Right now, I am fine."

That became my mantra. "Right now, I am fine." Fine was open to interpretation. It didn't necessarily mean that my husband wasn't again cheating. It didn't necessarily mean that my marriage was okay. What it meant was small and simple and profound: Right now, I am fine. Alive. Breathing.

Perhaps you're afraid too. Betrayal is frightening because it reminds us that we control so much less than we thought we did.

What's more, at this moment in history, so much is frightening. Our vulnerability is laid bare, our need to take care of each other has likely never been so important in our lifetimes. I've been feeling that familiar fear begin to creep back. I notice it. I acknowledge it. And then I remind myself that fear catapults me back in time or forward. But right now, I am fine.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Love After Love: A roadmap back to yourself

We talk lots on this site about learning to care for ourselves, to love ourselves, to reaquaint ourselves with who we were before we lost ourselves. But what does that mean? What would it look like to love ourselves? I came across this poem in the incredible Brainpickings newsletter and it sums it up perfectly. Read it, sit with it, marinate in it:


by Derek Walcott

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Monday, November 9, 2020

On Karma and Liberty

 It doesn’t matter what other people say or think, it only matters what you do.

~Marcus Aurelius, The Daily Stoic

A woman came to this site recently talking of "karma". Her husband was with the Other Woman and she was still hurting. She wanted some sort of universal justice, some indication that right wins, that cheating will be punished.

I'm 56 years old and still cling to my fiercely held conviction that life should be fair. Should, yes. But it's not.

And the sooner we accept that, the sooner we can move on with living our own lives rooted in our own values and letting go of the outcome. What's more, the sooner we do that, the sooner we'll realize that's enough. That though it's infuriating when the refs make the wrong call, when liars and cheaters get away with it, when the powerful hurt the weak, it doesn't change our fundamental responsibility to live our own lives with integrity, to refuse to get down in the mud, to accept that the only thing we can ever control is ourselves.

It sounds infuriating. I have a daughter, 22 years old, who's refusing to address a medical issue. What I want to do is drag her into a doctor's office and insist that she be treated. I won't. I can't. She's an adult. And what I'm learning is that the more I plead or cajole or shame, the more she digs in her heels. One would think I'd know this by now. I'm a slow learner.

But it's a reminder. That when we liberate others to live their own lives, we liberate ourselves. We are not responsible for whether he goes to therapy or his 12-step group. We are not responsible for whether he shows up to work on time, or whether he's too hungover to make that meeting, or whether he forgets to come to his son's soccer practice. He can bear the consequences of his own actions. We are only responsible for our own. My friend Betsy calls it "keeping my own side of the street clean."

Ignore the haters and the critics and the whisperers. They aren't living our lives. They'd do well to focus on their own. As my mother, a longtime 12-stepper used to put it, what others think of me is none of my business. So hard, I know. I often try to think of myself at my life's end. Will I really care what some mother of my kids' friend said about how I raised my children? Or what some person on the Internet said about staying with someone who cheated? Or what some woman cheating with my husband said about my marriage? Pretty sure I won't.

But back to karma. Oprah once said that the problem with karma is that we so rarely get to see it work. And though I don't believe in karma per se, I do believe we reap what we sow. Which means, if you're a fundamentally dishonest person who doesn't honour commitment then that's who you'll remain in any relationship. So, if that's who he is, then that's who she got. It hurts now because you thought he was different than that. It hurts because you're telling yourself a life about how it has something to do with your worth when really it's about his. It hurts because it hurts when people let us down. When we put on our perspectacles, as Glennon Doyle calls them, and realize we weren't seeing clearly. But now we do.

And that's the key here. Seeing clearly. Really understanding that we didn't lose a great guy, we lost the fantasy. Whether or not karma catches up with him isn't the point. By the time the misery and dysfunction he takes into a new relationship reveals itself, we'll no longer care. We'll be focused on ourselves and the life we've created, surrounded by others worthy of being there. 

Friday, November 6, 2020

"No More...But Not Yet"

No more...but not yet. 

I read that phrase in a tweet by Samuel from Overcoming Infidelity. And wow, right? "No more...but not yet."

It so beautifully sums up that place so many of us inhabit where, sure, things are better. He's not cheating for one thing (as far as we know), our marriage hasn't collapsed (not yet, anyway). But steps feel tentative, as if at any moment the floor just might fall from beneath us. We hold our breath. 

No more.

If we've taken steps to create clear boundaries, then there are many "no mores". No more tolerating his unexplained absences. No more ignoring our own needs. No more telling ourselves that this is just what marriage is like after a few years, after a few kids. No more.

But not yet.

We're not where we want to be, are we? Where is the trust? We don't feel it yet. Where is connection? Not feeling it yet. Are we sure we made the right choice? Not yet. We're not yet able to trust that when he says there was traffic on the way home, that there was, truly, traffic on the way home. Not yet able to believe that "it meant nothing". Not yet able to forget him saying that he loved us but wasn't in love with us. What if he cheats again? What if he's still cheating? What if? No. Not yet.

And so our challenge is to figure out how to inhabit this space of transition, as Samuel calls it. He urges us to face this dark place but to bring backup. Like a superhero with sidekicks. A therapist. A trusted friend. A support group. Online programs. Even, perhaps, this blog. 

It will feel horrible. Uncertainty will summon all of your fears. That's okay. Stay with it. You can handle it. It's temporary. We can endure just about anything when we know it won't last. 

Inhabit the space of "but not yet". It's where we live most of our lives even as we pretend it's otherwise. And if we can make peace with that, if we can embrace that "today, I'm fine even if I'm not yet where I want to be", we will take ourselves a long way toward genuine joy. 

Transitions are hard. That is the nut of it. So hard. Gather together your superhero sidekicks to support you as you carry on.


Related Posts with Thumbnails