Saturday, February 27, 2021

We Are Made Whole, of Broken Pieces

We are creatures made, again and again, by what would break us. Yet only if we open to the fullness of the reality of what goes wrong for us, and walk ourselves with and through it, are we able to integrate it into a new kind of wholeness on the other side.

~Krista Tippett, The Pause, Jan. 16, 2021

Ah yes, the "other side". I felt certain that there was a line I would cross, a magical moment in time in which I would be "over this". On the other side. A place where I no longer felt the pain. Where I again felt whole. Normal. A place where I would feel kinda like my old self but somehow renewed. 

I have good news and bad news. The good news is that there is an "other side". There is an after, a time when you are not consumed with the affair, when you will go days, weeks, even months without thinking about it at all and if you do think of it, it will not make your stomach clench or your heart hurt. 

The bad news is it can take years to get there. And the neither good nor bad news is that it is not some magical moment but a process. You don't get there all at once but in increments. In steps. Sometimes you're aware of these steps, often you're not. Sometimes those steps are forward. Sometimes not.

It's the one thing I wish I'd known when I was in so much pain: This feeling will not last forever. 

The other thing I did know instinctually was that nobody was coming to save me from that pain. I was going to have to be my own hero.

It's a tough realization. That he can't save you. That whether he stays or goes has less impact on your healing than the work you do to save yourself. To remake yourself. 

We are creatures made, again and again, by what would break us, says Krista Tippett. We know this somehow even as we wish it was different. We know this even as our culture often tells us that pain is to be avoided, that broken people are to be pitied.

Remaking ourselves is the work of a warrior. It is the work of finding our wholeness. On the other side.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Excavating our deeper fear: How can I be sure I won't be hurt again?

 In our awareness, we can change.

~Elle's yoga instructor

I do not know if my yoga instructor has experienced infidelity but she knows grief, having lost two children to death from suicide. She speaks of her loss with pain in her voice. She is honest about her grief. But she is also upbeat. She is kind and has a compassion that radiates. And so, when she speaks, I listen. This is a woman who has much to teach because she has been willing to learn at the knee of grief.

The other day she told us that “in our awareness, we can change.” She was referring to a particularly challenging pose. But her instruction about yoga often morphs into instruction about life. Pausing. Being gentle with ourselves. Letting go of judgement. Breathing. Always, always it is about breath and the wisdom we find there when we let our minds release all of the chatter.

What struck me about her comment on awareness is that so often we get it backwards.

Consider a comment that was posted recently in which the betrayed asked if it was “normal” for her husband to not want to talk with her about what she shared in therapy. How was she to know if she was truly willing to change? she asked. How was she to know if was worth a second chance? Within her question, of course, was the deeper question: How can I be sure I won't be hurt again?

It’s a familiar worry. I, too, wanted to know that my husband was “fixing” himself because I imagined that fix would insulate me from future pain. I had a mental list of his flaws and I wanted them gone. I wanted him to address his fealty to his critical, occasionally cruel mother. I wanted him to address his anxiety about money. I wanted him to appreciate my role as mother to his children, to acquiesce to my ideas of how to raise them. And of course, I wanted some sort of proof that he would never ever betray me again.

How was I to know if he was fixing himself if he didn’t return home from therapy full of new insights and ann acknowledgement that I was right about things all along?

It’s amusing now. But at the time, I was very very serious.

His therapist made it clear that what they discussed was private. My therapist made it clear that what they discussed was private, just as what we discussed was private. Therapy is a safe, private place to explore our deepest beliefs and shames and desires.

I fumed but accepted it.

What happened was that, released from my insistence that he tell me what they discussed, my husband occasionally wanted to share what he was learning with me. 

What’s more, I was seeing change in him. He had an awareness that he hadn’t before. And, as my yoga teacher pointed out, in our awareness, we can change.

So often though, we demand the change quickly, in ourselves and in others. Whether it’s weight loss, or kicking an addiction, or working through a relationship problem, we want the change now. We are impatient for it. But without the awareness, change, even if it does happen, often won’t stick. And that’s because we have yet to pay attention to the why. Why do I reach for a glass of wine when I’m tired? Why do I endlessly scroll social media when I’m feeling bad about myself? Why do I overeat when I get off the phone with my mother?

And, of course, why did he cheat? What was he seeking? 

Within that why is the seeds of lasting change. Change rooted in a genuine desire to have different and, possibly, to be different.

Within our awareness, we can change.

So yes, it’s normal for your husband to not discuss his therapy with you. It is, frankly, healthy. Because he needs to reach awareness without you pointing to it.

It’s scary, I know. We want control when we’re scared. 
We want to choreograph his remorse, his recovery.

We can’t.

But we can reach for our own awareness. And within that, we can be the change.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

When Life Intrudes

 I have been largely absent from this site for a week or more, and only sporadically engaged since the winter holidays. I am sorry for all those who have found themselves here, seeking guidance or advice only to be met with silence. I tell myself that the telling of our own stories is healing in itself but so is the comfort that comes from someone saying, "you're among friends. Welcome. You will be okay."

And so let me tell all of you, "you're among friends. Welcome. You will be okay."

It is the truth.

The last time I was this busy was in the weeks before D-Day. I was finishing up a book and organizing a massive fundraiser (we raised $75,000 in one night!!). I had three young kids and a husband who had just moved firms and was working around the clock with his clients. What I didn't yet know, but would find out soon, was that it wasn't all work. He and his assistant were taking time for sex. 

D-Day hit, my book got finished in a fog, D-Day #2 hit and my mother died suddenly, literally the day before my book hit the shelves and I had umpteen media interviews to do. It all happened in six months and when I look back, I remember little more than the emptiness I felt, interspersed with such biting pain that I could barely breathe.

But here I am. Still breathing.

And, again, busy in that same way where there doesn't seem to be enough hours in the day. 

So perhaps it's not surprising that old feelings are surfacing. Resentment at how responsible I am for so much around this house. Quiet fury at how little my work is prioritized among family members. Fear that the opportunities now presenting themselves will vanish before I can fully seize them. There is no question that opportunities that presented themselves in the wake of D-Day were lost because I simply didn't have the mental or emotional bandwidth to grab them. 

That was then, I tell myself. This is now.


I have to remember all the lessons I've learned in the years since. I'm resentful for how much responsibility I take in this house? Well? Whose fault is that? My 20-year-old is capable of folding his own laundry so why am I doing it? My 17-year-old will not starve if I'm not reminding her to eat. Taking "responsibility" for others is really about my own anxiety. It's about control and my (unhealthy) need for it. "Help is the sunny side of control," my former therapist insisted.

I feel furious that I'm interrupted during Zoom meetings, or that I'm asked to "pick up milk" during the day, as if I don't have better, important things to do? Well? Whose fault is that? Why should I expect family members to prioritize my work when I've never prioritized my work? I have always always taken on the lion's share of tasks because it's more comfortable to me to feel resentful at others' lack of participation in household tasks than to ask and be disappointed. Far easier (and familiar!) for me to play the martyr. I need to feel needed because, on a deep level, I believe my value lies only in what I do for others. Ugh. 

And so I remind myself again, that was then. This is now.

I can do things differently. I can stop taking responsibility for things that others can do themselves. I can breathe through the anxiety as I let others deal with the consequences of their own actions. I can prioritize my own work and model self-respect rather than expecting others to mind-read. I can remind myself that have value because I exist, not because I serve.

I can do things differently. Without behaving like I'm some kind of martyr. Being honest with myself and them.

Life is challenging right now. Five adults living together on month 11 of a pandemic lockdown. Five very busy adults trying to navigate school and a growing workload. Serious mental health issues. A new puppy. 

And it's when we're under stress that old habits can resurface. Long-buried resentments. Barely suppressed fury.

I need to be careful that I'm not falling into old patterns.

That was then.

This is now.


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