Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Guest Post: Post-Betrayal – A Movie Starring You

by Steam

Years ago I suffered a phobia. The one session I had with a coach who dealt with that phobia and only that phobia, changed my life. And though betrayal is, of course, different, I think what I learned might be helpful here:

Picture the future – and who you are in it.

This coach/therapist told me to carry a mental black-and-white photo in my back pocket that I was only allowed to glance at. It was me as a bitter old woman, stuck in my phobia (or in our case, pain), unwilling to move, unwilling to let go of this terrible thing that has happened. In fact we have clung to it because we think, somehow, that to move on will make what has happened see okay and it's not okay.
So there we are 20, 30, 40 years in the future. Still in pain. 

It's a sad photo and it's all crumpled up because we have carried it for years. It's cracking, it's tearing, it's faded, it's beat up. You can only look at it briefly as a reminder of what may become of us if we stay here in pain and bitterness, with no wisdom to share, no stories to tell. 
We didn't try to pick up the pieces of ourselves and move along. We just sat in our pain. Wallowed in it.

However, in my purse, I also carried an imaginary VHS (this therapy was a while ago – we can make it a DVD or a file on a thumbdrive now or on our phones). That movie is of me or of us, of you-of me – moved on through the pain – we kept going, we got better with time, we looked for and found happiness again, we refused to remain paralyzed by this awful event that has happened to us. We did not give up.

We worked it out, we lead full rich lives, we have great stories, and friends, maybe grandkids who want to hear our beautiful stories. Our lives have been fantastic. Maybe in small ways, maybe larger ways. (I had met a woman who raised a few dozen goats humanely for milk and cheese, after her husband passed – she loved working with those goats. She was a huge inspiration at the time.) 

We should watch that imaginary movie over and over and over again. It's hard to believe we can get there, but we can. First step is to take the first step.

We just cannot let ourselves be stuck here in this pain forever. (Look at that old picture again. Don't we look miserable? Now put it away. NOW!) 

Watch your movie again. In that vivid movie, the future you in HD is wiser, stronger, has risen through the muck and left that past (eventually) where it belongs and there you are in that movie, you are the star! Maybe a bit worn from the struggle (who isn't?) but there we are – there you are, happy in a beautiful garden you have planted, you have fruit and flowers for both beauty and sustenance for those in need of it and there's a chair on your beautiful porch to offer others a place to sit – and they love to sit with you because you are amazing and also have wisdom to offer.

Who would you rather be?

Getting through the pain is nothing you can or should rush. But if you can picture a goal, I think it can be helpful. Because I DID conquer that phobia, I lead a life I could never have led had i still been weighted down by it.

In regards to my H's cheating, I do lead a richer (but far from perfect) life, not because of his affair but because of my choices after the worst day of my life. 
I can't change that day. 
I can change what I did after it.
I did, I do and will continue to.
Take the step. Make your movie.

Monday, September 28, 2015

There is no "cure" for heartbreak after betrayal, only healing

"The thing about healing, as opposed to curing, is that it is relational. It takes time. It is inefficient, like a meandering river. Rarely does healing follow a straight or well-lit path. Rarely does it conform to our expectations or resolve in a timely manner. Walking with someone through grief, or through the process of reconciliation, requires patience, presence, and a willingness to wander, to take the scenic route."
~Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday

The scenic route, huh? Not sure what was scenic about the route through hell I took toward healing. It was dark. It was terrifying. It was loud and ugly and full of demons. No way could I pull over and take a few photos for my scrapbook. I was too busy hanging on for dear life.
And through it all, I held on to one question: When will I be over this? Or, put another way, when will I be cured.
We talk about heartbreak that way, don't we? As if it's something we get over, like a cold or the flu. Whew!, we thought after our college boyfriend dumped us and we'd finally get to the point when our stomach wasn't in constant knots, when we could lift our face from the Ben & Jerry's or the gin-and-tonic and realize we'd rather go for a walk or read a good book or maybe even go a date with someone new. Whew. Glad that's over.
We were cured.
And then the tsunami of all heartbreak hit us in the form of our husband's affair.
When will we be over this? we wonder, one month, two months, six months, a year, two years into this.
We read it regularly in the comments on this site: "Why am I not over this?" betrayed women ask, noting that it's been months, even years, since they were slammed with the news. Inherent in that question, of course, is self-blame. What's wrong with me that I'm not over this? is the question buried in the question.
There's nothing wrong with us, of course. Because there is no "over", no cure. There is only healing.
Healing that requires the scenic route, the meandering path, as Rachel Held Evans points out, poorly lit, dotted with potential hazards.
It helps, as she also writes, to have someone on the path with us – a guide of sorts to help us stay far from the cliffs, dodge the distractions and recognize the Do Not Enters, to remind us to listen to our own hearts, which know the way.
It's the beauty of a site such as this one, I think. While I get much of the credit, the true healing comes when those of you further down the path walk back a bit to pull along a newcomer to this heartbreak. Or when those of you at the same juncture offer up a virtual hug and I'm-right-here-beside-you strength and compassion.
"Rarely does [healing] conform to our expectations or resolve in a timely manner," writes Rachel Held Evans. Ain't that the bitter truth.
But knowing that can be helpful too, can't it? Understanding that our expectations are out of whack gives us permission to throw away our unhelpful map and rely on the footsteps of those who've gone before us. Knowing that there is no tried-and-true timeline allows us to instead follow our own agenda. To plod ahead when we feel strong, to rest when we need it, to retrace our steps if we feel lost, to listen to the faint voices of those ahead urging us on.
There is no point of arrival, of course, no neon sign saying "Welcome to Healing" with a doorman offering up a glass of champagne, and a balloon bouquet. Healing is a process that will likely take us the rest of our lives. We will continue to be affected by our spouse's betrayal but not, perhaps, in the ways we expect when we first set out to heal. Rather we'll be affected by it when we hear of another's betrayal in our circle and, instead of averting our eyes or nodding knowingly because the wife, after all, had put on a bit of weight, we'll make the difficult phone call or stretch out our arms and pull her close, whispering our own secrets in her ear.
Or we'll be affected by it when our husband calls to tell us he bumped into the OW and our heart will drop and then we'll hear, his voice catching, how sorry he is that he's put us through this and we'll realize just how far we've come. For a moment, we'll allow ourselves to be grateful before laughing and agreeing with him that, yeah, he'd better be sorry.
Perhaps we'll be affected by it, years down the road, when we realize we hardly think about it anymore. Only when we see it glamourized in a movie and we inwardly groan. Or hear, yet again, of another celebrity forced to endure her betrayal with the spotlight fixed on her.
Until we're there, however, we're here. Helping each other limp along toward that misty destination called "healing". And taking the scenic route.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Silver Linings Playbook: My Husband's Affair Was the Worst Thing That Happened to Me...And Here's What I Gained

I've been thinking a lot about a comment that Lynn Pain made on this post, where she wrote:
Does there always have to a happy ending, something to salvage from a wreck or look for the silver lining? Are we just saying something good came out this to make us feel better? I had the illusion of certainty about my marriage and about myself, I guess. Then push came to shove. Regardless, I think whenever something bad happens we automatically question everything about it, circumstance, ourselves, other people, was I wrong, was I good enough, did I say the right thing - you get the idea. Betrayal is something bad that happened to me but it is the not center of the universe. I have to disagree this time Elle, nothing good came out of this. Nothing. 
And then Mandy, a woman who was conned by a man she didn't know was married into believing he would marry her, a woman who is questioning whether it's ever worth trusting another man with her heart, asked this here
"Some questions for you all – considering what you have gone through, is marriage really worth it (beyond having children)? Would you marry the same man again?"
So I've been thinking a lot about what I write on this blog. 
Thing is, my husband cheated and it was the most devastating experience of my life. There's no changing that. I've also said often on this site that I refuse to say, as another Betrayed Wife puts it, that my husband's affair was the best thing that happened to me. It was not. It was the worst thing that has happened to me and I wish it never had happened. 
But...and this is my point: that doesn't mean that good hasn't come of it. And it doesn't mean that I can't celebrate the good that came of it. It forced me to do some reckoning re. my past. It forced me to consider what kind of marriage I wanted and create that with an intention that I was lacking. It helped me connect with some really incredible women – both in real life and on this blog – that have enriched my life in so many ways. It gave me the strength to cut some people out of my life that were not good to me or for me. 
Those are all really positive things that have helped me create a life that I love.
Of course, I might have achieved those things in other ways. Lots of people do.
But that's not what happened to me. I can't change what happened to me and wishing I could kept me in a state of misery for far too long. This is the hand I've been dealt. 
This is the hand we've all been dealt. And yes, we can be outraged that our husbands cheated on us. We SHOULD be outraged that they cheated. We did not deserve this pain.
But at some point we have to stop wishing this never happened and accept that it did. And then, we get to decide where we go from here. 
Some of us feel that our only options range from lousy to worse. And when our choices are stay in a marriage with somebody who we can't imagine ever trusting again and leaving someone we still love because we can't imagine ever trusting him again, it's true: The choices do suck. Either way, we're left with a whole lot of pain to wade through. 
I wrote to Mandy that I can't really answer her question because it assumes that any alternative would have been better than my husband's cheating and I have absolutely no way of knowing that. It feels like a fool's game to believe that any other option would have guaranteed me greater happiness. 
So I'm back to accepting my reality and figuring out where I go from here.
I've chosen to stay and create, as Esther Perel puts it, a second marriage with my first husband. It has not been easy. But I have yet to meet the wife or husband, even in marriages without infidelity, whose marriages have been easy. And, to date, our marriage has a deep love and an ease that many don't. Who could have imagined that? Not me way back when. But, as I've often said, storms make better sailors. Unless, I suppose, if the storms kill you.
I hope, Lynn, that something good does come out of this for you. And if it sounds as if I'm suggesting that you make lemonade out of lemons, well I'd rather be drinking that than the salt of my own tears. I've made the choice to focus on the good that came of this, even if that good came at a huge cost, and I have no regrets. That's not to say that staying is the right choice for any of us. I would be walking the same path, I suspect, if I'd left: My story has as its center the place where I'm free, not the place where I'm stuck.
Lynn and Mandy, you're both still drowning in the pain of this and it can be hard to see any silver linings. They might not be visible yet. Nothing prepared me for the agony and trauma of my husband's betrayal. And frankly, I could have written both your comments when I was still writhing. What the hell?? I couldn't begin to understand.
But I paid attention to the silver linings when I did begin to see them. I saw no point in ignoring them. 
And I see no value in hardening your heart toward any possible love. It will save you from pain, sure. But it will remove you from anything else worth feeling. 
My hope for both of you, Lynn and Mandy, is that you continue to work through this pain. That you keep your hearts soft, that you slowly learn to trust yourselves thoroughly enough that you can recognize those in your life whom you can also trust. And I hope the day comes for each of you when the silver linings become clear and even if, like me, you can never believe that this was a good thing, you can still acknowledge that good things can come of horrible things. And that the suffering you've experienced has carved in you spot big enough to hold your enormous hearts.  

Friday, September 18, 2015

What Fear Has Betrayal Awakened in You?

I'm a highly capable person. At twelve, I was hosting my own birthday party, routinely cooking myself dinner, doing my own laundry and checking my own homework. By 15, I was cleaning up after my alcoholic parents, discussing my mother's treatment with the psychiatric doctors at the hospital where she was held, working a job, and still maintaining an honors average at school. At 23, I was living in Europe and travelling alone to many countries.
At 25, however, in love with an emotionally undependable guy, I became the slightest bit aware that I had issues about being left. That being left, even under quite average circumstances, made me feel abandoned on a much deeper level.
The morning after my boyfriend would stay at my apartment, I would get a knot in my stomach. I would wonder if he'd stay for breakfast, would we spend the morning together, perhaps the whole day? Inevitably, he would leave: He had a squash game. He had work. He had plans with other friends. This went on for close to seven years and I developed my own coping strategies. I would leave at the same time he did to go for a run. I would mentally prep myself for his departure. I would stay at his place instead so that I was the one leaving, not him.
Therapy helped me pay attention to this deep fear of being left. Therapy helped me leave him.
Fast forward 15 years and I'm married to someone else, someone who felt far safer than this one-foot-out-the-door ex-boyfriend.
And then D-Day hit with the full impact of a meteor into my world.
And that long-dormant terror of abandonment was awakened.
Despite my tough talk, demanding that my husband get his ass home "right now if you even think you want to save this marriage!" Despite my list of non-negotiables – counselling, a 12-step group, access to his phone/computer, no contact with OW – I was shaking inside. I was nine years old again and the person upon whom my survival depended was drowning in vodka.
That's the thing with a deep emotional wound like betrayal. It awakens old fears, it underscores old messages, it says "see, I told you you weren't _______ enough." Not young enough. Not pretty enough. Not nice enough. Not sexy enough. Not a good enough daughter/wife/mother/friend.
You're too demanding. You're too bitchy. You're too busy with the kids. You're too old.
You're. Not. Loveable.
That's the biggest fear of all, isn't it? That we are not loveable. That the reason he cheated boils down to that one thing: Not loveable.
Despite evidence to the contrary, we begin obsessing on anything that supports that lie. Our college boyfriend dumped us. We've been fired from a job. A close friend stopped including us. We have crow's feet. Stretch marks. It all adds up to a mountain of evidence that WE'RE NOT LOVABLE.
And if we're not lovable, well, then what did we expect?
Most of us don't realize, at least right away, that behind the fear of telling others about our husband's affair, behind our humiliation at his cheating, behind our shame, behind our fear of drawing clear non-negotiable boundaries to keep ourselves safe is that horrible, dangerous lie. After all, if we believed ourselves lovable, we'd have absolutely no choice but to accept unequivocally that his cheating is about his failings, not ours. 
Even now, years out from D-Day and with a whole lot of therapy under my belt, I can quickly be reduced to that one fear: the terror of abandonment. The realization that I cannot control what others around me do.
Even with my Escape Plan and my understanding of boundaries. Even with my intellectual understanding that, without my husband, I will be fine. Physically, emotionally, financially fine. Even with all that, how quickly I become that nine-year-old.
These days, though, I'm able to far more quickly reach to wherever that nine-year-old sits, paralyzed, and wrap my arms around her. I'm able to assure her that she is not alone. Because I, a fully capable and sane adult, am now the one in charge.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Heartbreak at Any Age

An old weathered heart can still break.
My 17-year-old is nursing a broken heart. After spending much of the summer with a certain young man, she asked him what, exactly, they were doing. In other words, was she his girlfriend? His responses – "I'm too busy for a relationship"; "It's not fair to you because I'm so busy"; "I like you but..." – has made it clear that her desire for more is not his desire. At least not right now.
And so...her heart breaks.
My daughter is kind. She's beautiful. Smart. Funny. She's also achingly open-hearted. Loyal. Guileless. Though there have been a few boys interested in her, none held her attention as anything more than friends. Until this one.
She's had trusted friends suddenly turn on her – some teenage girls can be merciless. Excluded from groups. She was stung by their cruelty. And sad.
But this is different. Perhaps not for her – she seems to be dealing with her heartbreak in healthy ways, seeking out fun with other friends, throwing her energy into school work and extracurriculars.
Nope, this time it's different for me.
Since my daughter confided her heartbreak to me a few days ago, I've felt sick. Food tastes bland. I can't sleep. I have a rock in my stomach that won't budge. I'm having a hard time concentrating on work. My heart aches. There's a weight on my chest. It feels, for all the world, like D-Day all over again.
So I'm putting into practice all the advice I'm forever offering to each of you: I've laced up my sneakers and am trying to walk my way to clarity. I'm trying to eat something – soup, smoothie, anything healthy that goes down easy. I'm meditating to make space for the feelings rather than pushing them away. I'm trusting that these feelings won't sweep me away into an abyss. That they will abate.
Clearly this is triggering in me deep feelings of loss and grief that have nothing to do with this particular boy (who, incidentally, I would like to throttle). I would give anything to spare my daughter this particular pain, one that cuts into our sense of who we are, that challenges our belief in our worth.
I remind her, gently, that she will likely go through this a few more times at least – heartbroken at being rejected or heartbroken at rejecting another. Rejection. It's a cruel word. One that speaks to our sense of feeling alone. Cast aside. Unvalued.
But we can withstand rejection when we don't reject ourselves. I'm reminding my daughter that this boy's inability to place value on her right now is a reflection of him, not her. A diamond unrecognized is still a diamond. 
And I assure her that, no matter what life dishes up, I will, as long as I'm alive, provide her a soft place to fall. But that I hope she'll continue to create such a space for herself. To be gentle with herself. To keep her heart open to all life has to offer, including the really really tough bits.
I'm heartened to see she's instinctively encouraging her own healing. She's spending time with a friend who's going through his own heartbreak – the two are shoring each other up and making each other laugh. She's launched herself into a running campaign with plans to tackle a 5K race in a few weeks. Yesterday, during lunchtime, she sought out the practice room at her school and played piano, texting me that she just thought she "needed to be alone."
In the meantime, my D-Day Revisited continues. So I try, really really try, to follow her lead.


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