Tuesday, August 31, 2021

What does your Betrayal Impact Statement say?

A friend of mine recently discovered that her husband was cheating. Again. It's our nightmare scenario, isn't it? That he learned nothing. That he changed nothing, except, perhaps, to become more adept at lying, more discreet. 

My friend's husband is a sex addict. And those of us who've dealt with addicts know that it can be a long road to recovery. That they are likely to "slip" as the recovery community refers to it, which hardly reflects just how excruciating it is. "Slip" sounds like a "whoops" when the truth is it's a banana-peel wipeout with massive head trauma. 

One of the things my friend is participating in, as she and her husband try and recover from this latest "slip" is impact statements. He, the offender, has to offer up a full accounting of everything he did, when/where/with whom. And after she has digested this (and perhaps cried an ocean of tears) she presents what's called an Impact Statement, not at all unlike what crime victims submit to courts in order to influence sentencing and have an acknowledgement of their pain.

It got me thinking that, whether or not we're dealing with an addict, we might all consider writing an Impact Statement. It would serve two purposes: 1) Make clear how deep and broad the pain of his betrayal and 2) Force us to acknowledge all the ways in which we've been affected. Far too often, I think, we fail on both accounts – to make him face what he's done, or face it ourselves.

It could be that it's too much. That was the case for me when my husband's sex addiction counsellor wanted him to do a "full disclosure" session. By then, I'd been grilling my husband for weeks and I knew what I wanted to know. I chose not to hear more. It stopped mattering to me whether he'd had sex with 12 people or 40, whether he'd done it in a car or a living room couch. He had betrayed my trust, my body, our vows. That was the case whether he'd one it one time or many. The details became immaterial. What mattered to me at that point was his own willingness to face what he'd done, his own willingness to prepare the disclosure because, whether I saw it or not, he had to see it. 

So if that's the case for you – if the idea of compiling a full impact statement is too much right now – then pay attention to that. You don't need to do anything that feels like it's harmful. But you might want to pick away at it. Writing down the impacts as they occur to you. "I can no longer go to my favorite restaurant because you went there with her." "I gained 30 pounds from stress eating." "I felt alienated from my closest friends because I couldn't bring myself to tell them." Those are the impacts we often minimize or overlook or that get lost. And the idea isn't to keep stoking that rage, it's to honor our experience. It's to help you understand that everything you're going through – the confusion, the memory fog, the hyper-vigilance, the instability – is because of something. It's not you overreacting. It's not you being dramatic. It's you absorbing a massive trauma. 

And then, when you're ready, read it to him. Insist that he sit down and listen. Perhaps better that he not respond immediately, if that response is to make excuses or defend himself or dismiss your pain. There is only one acceptable response: To acknowledge how deep your pain and to take full responsibility for it.

Because this is potentially fraught, because it often triggers the same shame/anger/immaturity that led to the cheating, it's wise to do this with a trained counsellor.

But it's an exercise worth doing if only to bear witness to our own experience. You matter. Your pain matters. It's real. 

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

What is possible for you today?

 ...the trick in life is not to try harder but to resist less.

~From a conversation with Anne Lamott, Washington Post

I am the queen of trying harder. I have a daughter who's the princess. When she was young, I posted a quote on my fridge that read something like: Reasonable people adapt to suit the world. Unreasonable people try to change the world to suit them. Therefore all progress depends on unreasonable people.

It was my way to put a positive spin on my daughter's "spirited" personality. It was my way to put a positive spin on my own personality. Somewhere, perhaps before birth, I became wired to believe that I could make anything happen simply by trying hard enough. That I could change my world through sheer force of will.

It's a tough lesson to unlearn. And living with addicts, both as a child and an adult, didn't do much to change my mind despite overwhelming evidence that I was changing nothing except myself, and not in a good way.

The lesson eventually stuck, however, and I am now convinced that our happiness, or at least our peace of mind, depends on learning the new lesson. Depends on accepting that no matter of trying can change another person uninterested in changing. No matter of trying can unbreak a heart. What's more, I've come to understand that so much of my own healing, my own growth, has come not from trying but from releasing: Expectations. Perfection. My breath.

There's magic in release. Almost instantly, our bodies relax. Our hearts soften. Toward others definitely but also towards ourselves. Which is what prompted me to write this to one of our secret sisters who is working so hard to forgive her husband and herself:

I sometimes think that our valiant attempts to forgive ourselves and him can exhaust us. I have come to believe that rest is at least as important. To give ourselves a chance to just breathe. To take it moment by moment. To stop looking ahead in the hopes that we see a rosier future than our current present. I think aiming for acceptance is wise. "Today, I am fine. Today, I choose to be here." To focus on cherishing and nurturing our best selves but in a gentle way, not a striving one. We are such a culture of strivers. And yet, I think healing from the trauma of betrayal is learning how to just comfort ourselves in healthy ways as our bodies and mind adjust.

The brilliant Kate Bowler puts it this way: Somewhere between "anything is possible" and "nothing is possible" is the question: What is possible for me today?

Putting it that way changes everything, doesn't it? What is possible for me today? It takes the pressure off. It gives us a break. It allows us to nap. To be angry. To sob into our pillows. It accepts the truth that today is just...today. It is not forever. It is not necessarily predictive of anything other than what we can manage right now. What a way to live our lives – moment my moment. Hour by hour. Day by day.

I'm often asked how I got through those horrible early months post D-Day. And it was like crawling over broken glass. But broken down into those moments, it was manageable. Not pleasant. Often painful as hell. But manageable.

We get through not by trying harder. We've done that, haven't we? It didn't work out so great. But by resisting less. By being easier on ourselves because healing from betrayal is, perhaps, the hardest thing we've ever done so we deserve some kindness, some gentleness, some nurturing, some, yes, forgiving. We get through by unclenching our jaw. By letting the house be messy. By letting our kids watch TV for the 24th day in a row. By screaming all our lost dreams into the pillow. 

What is possible for me today? What's possible is to try, just the tinest bit, to release yourself from having to feel better. From having to forgive either him or yourself. Release. Try it. 

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

What Anne Lamott Can Teach Us About Forgiving the Other Woman...and Ourselves

Writer Anne Lamott tells a story in her recent Dusk Night Dawn about the time she came face to the face with the Wife of the man she'd had drunken sexual encounters with before she got sober.

Lamott began by reaching out by mail. "I tried to make amends to her," she writes, "for having a drunken and sporadic affair with her husband."

Lamott did not expect forgiveness. She writes that she understood the damage she had caused to this Wife and, she says, her children. She wrote not expecting forgiveness, noting that "sober friends" suggested that whether or not the Wife could forgive "was her business."

It's advice I've given to Other Women who've come to this site looking for direction on whether they should contact the wives they've hurt. Only if you can do so without asking them for anything, including forgiveness, I've told them. Only if your intention is to acknowledge their pain and your role in it. 

Many can't do that. The same self-absorption, moral ambiguity and emotional immaturity that got them into an affair with a married man (who, incidentally, shared those characteristics) gets in the way. And so they reach out to us trying to explain themselves, to defend themselves, or to ask for some sort of absolution for the pain they've caused. In far too many cases, they're centering themselves and their experience. 

Lamott didn't do that.

The Wife responded by letter, telling Lamott that, as a Jew, she was compelled to forgive. She told Lamott that she had already forgiven her. "She hoped that I was able to stay sober and that, because my guilt had alienated me from humanity, God, and myself, over time I could forgive myself."

Lamott wept.

Lamott tells us she was, with time, able to forgive herself. That she wanted a life that was "lighter...with looser chains." 

Years later, she tells us, "the craziest thing happened."

Imagine. You come clean, thanks to the 12-steps and a small church community (and no small amount of determination). You write to the Wife you hurt, in part because the 12 steps require that you "make amends". You become a bestselling writer. And then, one day, in a class you're offering to aspiring writers, a woman shows up. The same women whose husband you had an affair with.

They hugged.


They hugged.


"You can't get there from where either of us was," writes Lamott. "This is no straight route."

I can vouch for that. While I have not hugged the OW in my situation, I have let her go. She never wrote me a letter. Never apologized. She never asked for my forgiveness though I, like the Wife of Lamott's affair partner, hope that my husband's OW got sober, gained an understanding of why she sought intimacy with other wive's husbands, and eventually forgave herself.

Because I believe that in true self-forgiveness there is more than just loosed chains, there is a refusal to again hurt others. Only when we can look directly at the ways in which we harmed others, and therefore hold ourselves accountable and do the necessary work through that pain, can we put ourselves on an alternate path.

This is no plea to Other Women to write letters to us Wives. For one thing, they're not likely the ones reading this.

It is, however, to remind all of us that forgiveness is possible. That a true apology can soften hearts. And that, whether or not the Other Woman asks for our forgiveness, it is still in our power to give it. That by extending compassion to others, even when they are at their least deserving, it reflects back to us and allows us to extend compassion to ourselves too. 

Lamott's story reads, to me, like a parable. It has been more than three decades since she cheated with this Wife's husband. Decades since she got sober. There has been much time for the messiness, for the pain to heal. For the story to become myth.

But it nonetheless shows us what's possible. It shows us how we can heal when we center ourselves and our experience. When we refuse to let the bad behaviour of others alter our own humanity, our own moral compass. When we see it as the product of damaged people, rather than looking at ourselves as damaged.

"The experience left me longing to be more like her, to evolve toward deeper goodness and courage...," writes Lamott.

To feel whole. To feel worthy. 

In the wake of infidelity, that is often our job too. Not to make them feel that way but to remind ourselves that we already are.


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