Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Pain: Learning to shut the hell up

...Pain comes from the darkness
And we call it wisdom. It is pain.
~Randall Jarell, from 90 North

It can feel an affront, in the wake of discovering a spouse's betrayal, to be offered up platitudes. "We aren't given more than we can handle," we are told by well-meaning friends. "There's a reason for everything," we hear, knowing full well that the reason that particular armchair philosopher has in mind isn't that our husband is a morally-challenged idiot. Or, perhaps you're told, that within all this pain is wisdom. Um...gulp...that one might have been from me.
Nadia Bolz-Weber is a Lutheran "Pastrix" who has this to say about platitudes:
"...when I've experienced loss and felt so much pain that it feels like nothing else ever existed, the last thing I need is a well-meaning but vapid person saying that when God closes a door he opens a window. It makes me want to ask where exactly the window is so I can push him the fuck out of it."
Feel familiar?
Bolz-Weber goes on to explain, however, what she's figured out from working as a hospital chaplain, and being with people when they're in the worst pain of their lives – losing a child, a parent, a spouse:
 "...when...someone says something senselessly optimistic to you, it's about them. Either they want to feel like they can say something helpful, or they simply cannot allow themselves to entertain...pain, so instead they turn it into a Precious Moments greeting card.... As a chaplain, I felt that people really just needed me to mostly shut the hell up and deal with the reality of how painful it all is."
It's something so few of us understand about pain until we've experienced it ourselves. The cancer diagnosis. The death. The betrayal. And even then, some of us never learn. The continue to try and soothe us with well-meaning advice. Or quote-of-the-day wisdom.
Help, as my counsellor loved to remind me, is the sunny side of control. And control, many of us haven't quite yet learned, is what anxious people cling to because the alternative – that we're all just hanging on for dear life – is just too much to bear.
Those of us experiencing it right now? We don't expect others to fix it. We know they can't. But so much of the pain of betrayal is feeling as though we need to hide it.
Which is why those friends – in real life and in the virtual world – who can simply be with us in our pain are so valuable. They see us. Our pain is visible to them. And they respond not necessarily with advice (unless requested) but with compassion. They remind us gently that we won't always feel this way. They nudge us toward the tiniest bit of light.
As for me, I'll continue to write my experience. Some of what I've learned will sound like bullshit to you. Feel free to skip past it. As always on this site, take what works for you and leave the rest. There is no right or wrong way toward healing. There is only the way that takes each of us out of pain. If you want to share your own path, we're all ears.
Now I'll "shut the hell up" and listen.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Guest post: A Post-Betrayal Guide to Surviving the Holidays (or Just Surviving)

"Steam" often comments on posts and shares her hard-won wisdom with others on this site. She's got such compassion and common sense that I invited her to contribute more regularly. Here's her inaugural post:

There are many of us on this site who have been in this state of knowing what we know for many years; there are others, like me, approaching my first holiday season armed with a lot more sad knowledge than I had last Christmas. I am prepared in case I take a nosedive but I don't feel like I will.

It seems, though it might just be that I notice, that a lot of us find out about our spouse’s affair close to the holidays. Why, I don't know (there is a lot I don't know): new phones? New devices left unlocked? Too much holiday cheer leading to carelessness on the cheaters’ part or boldness on the part of the OW.

With a new year looming and, for many, without the “happy” to preface it, maybe it's time for a refresher course. Or for those just finding out…a how-to guide. Survival 101.
Not definitive, and your suggestions and thoughts are totally welcome.

You, in the moment of discovery, may stay focused in the moment, that moment your knees buckled and you ended up on the floor, or you opened your mouth but no sound came out and you quite literally could not breathe...or you may have immediately jumped to thoughts of your life alone, your first homicide (kidding) your 2nd (kidding) and how you are going to make though it at all – so let’s just look at what you can do to get through right now, and then maybe one more day.

This is how it happened for me: My H had gone to the store and I needed to download photos onto the laptop we were sharing (as I spent most of my time with a tablet.) As my photos were downloading, many many others were quickly drawn from the laptop into the photo program I was using. Due to the nature of my H's business, none of them really shocked me –they were going by me at a rapid blur. It was logging onto my OWN Facebook page to post when a dropdown menu appeared with a name I had never seen before, and a saved password. That led me to snoop for the first time ever, in 14 years, only to find an e-mail under the same name also with a saved password. Wow, was he screaming to get caught or what?

I demanded, within one hour of finding out (longest hour of my life waiting for him to get back) that my H write ONE last e-mail to the woman he cheated with. Telling her that I knew (she didn't even think he had a GIRLFRIEND) and that this was OVER, he was deleting the e-mail account (which he did) and that I would have passwords to all of his accounts online (which I did). Ha! I'm writing like I did this all very rationally. I am leaving out my complete and utter insanity, profanity, slaps, threats of destruction of the laptop held high over my head.

Do Not Expect to Think Rationally
 What do you do if your husband is not ON HIS KNEES begging forgiveness, crying, swearing he never meant to hurt you, telling you he wasn't thinking clearly? I don't know. That was not my experience, but let’s just say, by the time he got home, I all but had his bags packed, I was ready to kick him out without a doubt. I had made arrangements in my head already that I would without a doubt, have carried out that day. I also would have taken his phone, work laptop and Kindle. 

This was a deal-breaker for me. It might not be for you. But if I thought for one second that he was going to spend one more minute online with her as he had that last two months, he was not going to do it while he was under the same roof as me.

What do you do then – what do you do after that first fitful night when you sleep or you don't, and the sun rises and you know it was – sigh – not just a bad dream.
I wish there was a one-size-fits-all fix.
I guess much of your survival depends on your situation.

Excuse yourself
Do you have kids? Is there ANYWAY at all you can fake the flu, and give them to a relative for a day or two? I really don't know because I am not a mother. 

Maybe being mom can help you feel grounded and give you something to keep you out of your head and all of those horrible thoughts that you cannot control.
If you have those thoughts, BTW, you are completely normal. 

I don't have kids, but I faked the flu anyway. I looked like HELL frozen and then boiled over. My eyes were puffy, there was no way to hide the history of tears and sleepless nights. So I said I had the flu. Everyone bought it.
I canceled New Year’s plans. I could not be festive.

While I was breathing via hyperventilating, I really did have to stop and really breathe – those big breaths everyone tells you about? Take them. 

Do your best to count to 10 before lashing out because chances are good you are going to lash out. I was lucky if I got to 3, but at least it got me somewhere.

You might think about next week or six months from now but it's really not the time. You will have emotions you did not know you had in you and just making it through the day, or the next hour should be your biggest concern.

You might want to stay away from the “once a cheater always a cheater” websites. I was angry as HELL and I could not even tolerate them THEN. I had enough anger to last my own lifetime and I did not need more. 

Avoid most 'reformed cheaters' websites, although you might be surprised at what you learn – that cheaters have a LOT of shame and remorse, they even take responsibility and don't blame their spouse but you might also read accounts of how much a cheater misses their co-cheater, and that's about the last thing you want to hear. You have enough fuel in your fire already. And watch out if you Google celebrity cheater’s names in the comments sections – EVERYONE has an opinion on EVERYTHING and it was probably, in the end, Obama or Bush's fault anyway. :o)
Download or buy a copy of “After theAffair” and start reading NOW.

Come to websites like this and realize you are NOT alone. It's amazing the compassion you might feel for others. It's nice to know you can feel something other than anger.

Take your anger and do something with it, even if it means just writing it down. Journal your broken heart out...put that unanswerable question on there – the WHY in big bold letters. Maybe when you get your emotions down on paper they will come to you, the questions you really want to ask.

 This next one is going to seem impossible... 

Be nice to someone
I don't know where it came from but suddenly I was connected to the great suffering of people around the world (I know – hard to believe there was suffering greater than mine) and realized that I never knew really what was going on with perfect strangers, acquaintances and even friends.

When I left my house after two days, it was the night of New Year’s day and I saw a few acquaintances coming into a restaurant, each alone, where I had agreed to go out to dinner with my husband (after of course, spending New Year’s Eve NOT celebrating). I had the urge to go over and wish every one of them a happy new year as they came in. These were all acquaintances, not people I would normally hug. I still don't know what they thought about it or me, but I remember a huge sense of gratitude that I was able to give something when I felt that I had nothing at all to give.

Again, it was a horrible way to spend the remainder of a vacation, but my D-Day was during a vacation, so I was able to sleep in and answer to no-one.
Grab sleep whenever you can.
I can't give medical advice of course but there are over-the-counter remedies that can help. I was fortunate enough to have the Big Guns due to a slight insomnia issue. They are not Ambien but I will add, do NOT try to stay awake on Ambien. You will most likely live to regret your actions, and you have enough going on. Please be careful how you use any medication as the temptation to overuse them was incredibly strong.

Be careful who you tell
I wanted to shout it from the rooftops! I wanted to tell his family! I wanted to tell my FRIENDS. Selfishly though, I worried that they might secretly wonder just what it was that I DID to “drive” him to this.
That ended up being a great self-defense mechanism because now, almost a year later, only two people know and that was one too many. Unless someone has been through this, his/her automatic reaction is to think your husband is scum and you might be teetering on the edge of foolishness to stay. You know, the way YOU might have reacted had the same been done to them prior to your own D-Day and they told you. You don't need to defend your actions to anyone and, one way or another, you will be asked to in blatant or subtle ways

It's good if you are able to lean on and cry on your friend’s shoulder. Friends can be a godsend, but they are sometimes going to give you advice and a bunch of platitudes and sometimes it feels like they are patting you on your poor little head. They cannot always know what to do...not only with your life in general but NOW.

By the way, what you will find out is if you choose to stay is that it is not a sign of weakness. It's a sign of strength, compassion, forgiveness and even love. Not now – you don't need to feel compassion or forgiveness or love now – but love is probably the deeply hidden driving force that eventually leads to compassion and forgiveness.

Strength, you have always had, it just probably has never been tested like this. Women who get that surge of adrenalin to pick cars up that have rolled onto their kids? Yup, we're strong like that.

Don't make long-term plans right now.
 Everyone who has gone on this unplanned journey or studied the travelers on this well-beaten but rarely-spoken-of-rationally-in-public road says to wait. Wait six months to a year before making this big decision or any other big decisions.
Things will change. He will change, you will change. And the 3rd entity in this – your relationship will change. The one you thought was going pretty well can thrive and MUST change so that you are not in this situation again.
I often say “if you're lucky” these things will happen, but it's not luck. It's work. You will eventually have to work (and so will he!)  but right now…

You have just received a terrible blow. You can rest a while. You need to. This was like a surgery to rip your soul out. Your doctor would tell you to rest after having a tooth removed. This is a lot more painful than that.

Find help for your recovery
I am sure there are people who can make it through without therapy. I don’t know any of those people. Nothing in your life, hopefully, has prepared you for this. What do you do with the anger, sadness, not to mention that shame that is NOT yours (so stop feeling ashamed)? How do you eventually learn to talk without screaming and crying? A good marital counselor will gently help you regain your balance and remind you that this was not your fault (I mean, come on, did he tell you he was doing this ahead of time? Or even considering it? Or perhaps mentioning he was a bit bored or restless? Give you a chance to 'fix' what needed fixing? No? There ya go, no wonder you felt like you were slapped upside the head.) Your spouse should go, of course your spouse should go, not that you asked me but that's a must in my book. If he won’t go, then YOU go. None of this “but he refuses and gets upset if I go”. To this I say “too effing bad.” Does he not realize if he doesn’t go that he's going to be talked ABOUT behind his back for an hour at a time? Come on – he's got to go. But if he doesn’t, you MUST. You might cry your way through the hour but you may be doing that anyway, and every counselor’s office has already paid for the big box of Kleenex. Take advantage of at least that. 

You do not have to accept that time heals all wounds. That’s just something people say when they have no idea what else to say. The reality is that the more time between you and discovery, the less and less it hurts. I'm not saying there won’t be a scar, I'm saying that time will somehow work some magic, like it or not.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Mid-Life Cheating Crisis

"In 1974, in her best-selling book Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life, Gail Sheehy depicted midlife crisis with the example of a 40-year-old man who
'...has reached his professional goal but feels depressed and unappreciated. He blames his job or his wife or his physical surroundings for imprisoning him in this rut. Fantasies of breaking out begin to dominate his thoughts. An interesting woman he has met, another field of work, an Elysian part of the country—any or all of these become magnets for his wishes of deliverance. But once these objects of desire become accessible, the picture often begins to reverse itself. The new situation appears to be the dangerous trap from which he longs to take flight by returning to his old home base and the wife and children whose loss suddenly makes them dear.No wonder many wives stand aghast.'"

This passage was included in a great article about the so-called mid-life crisis, a period during which many men (and women) experience depression, disappointment, a sense that life has passed them by.
I suspect it might also read as an account of events regarding many of our adulterous husbands (and, for the betrayed men among us, wives). 
It speaks to our confusion when our spouse offers up the "I love you but I'm not in love with you" speech. Or our bafflement when our husbands, whom we genuinely thought had it pretty good with us, suddenly find fault with our very existence and seek distraction in the arms of women whose allure is just that they aren't us.
Oh how I wish our culture had a deeper understanding of the drivers of affairs! Instead we deal with the myths – that men are fleeing shrewish wives, that men are seeking mind-blowing sex, that men are simply not monogamous by nature.
Well, maybe not "myths" necessarily. Sometimes those things are very true. Sometimes men are miserable in their marriage and lack the courage to leave until they have someone to leave to. Some men are led around by their penises. And some men don't see the point of monogamy, believing that a variety of sex partners is preferable to a one-partner commitment. And to those men I say...vive la difference. And...stay away from my daughters!
To the rest of us, however, I say that we need a far deeper acknowledgement of how impacted we are by life changes. I also say that our primary relationship, which we've been culturally told should fulfill all our needs, takes the brunt of our disappointment in many other arenas of life. 
How often I've read, on this site, of women who've been cheated on by men dealing with sick or recently deceased parents, a wife's illness, disabled children, job loss, chronic illness, or – how cliché – middle age. 
If our society did better to educate us about what middle age feels like and how to prepare ourselves for the typical angst, we might recognize when we're tempted to flee something good for something...different. 
My father, something of a wise old man, commented recently on a phenomenon he noticed at his newspaper job (which he worked at for close to 50 years): Men, he said, would leave their wives in middle age. And then, he told me, they'd remarry women who were pretty much carbon copies of the wives they left. A few years later, he said, these men would claim to be miserable again.
Perhaps they just married the wrong women (repeatedly) or perhaps, if we isolate the variable, the problem wasn't the women, it was the men.
Then again, given what research is showing about a cross-cultural tendency in middle-age to weigh our lives in the balance and find them wanting, maybe the problem is that so many seek change when wisdom dictates that patience is far more likely to deliver happiness in the form of perspective. And gratitude.
This is not to advocate for doing nothing when doing something is prudent. Sometimes we do need to stir life's pot now and again, to challenge ourselves, to leave unhealthy relationships. But perhaps mid-life isn't a problem to be solved but a stage to be endured. Perhaps it doesn't need to be a crisis...as long as we don't create one by cheating. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Guest post: Awesome advice from a betrayed wife

"Steam" often comments to this site, offering up her experience as a guide to others, and supporting those who aren't as far along the path as she. 
She wrote this awhile back and it's so succinct and compassionate, that I requested her permission to re-post it so that more can read it.
I love that this site has become a hub for so many who feel isolated and confused. I love how respectful we all are of each other's experiences, always recognizing that we each need to walk our own paths.
Thanks, Steam, for helping make this such a great space.

I was immediatly diagnoised with PTSD in our 1st MC session. Our counselor made it very clear to my husband that my reaction to his selfish and fucked up action was completely NORMAL, not that that makes you feel instantly better, but it was good to have a name for it. Reliving it over and over again is hard to avoid when you cannot stop thinking about it. I am 10 months out this week and I have done my best to "reclaim" the places and things that gave me joy, that he stole, that I thought he had stolen forever. Since most of his affair was online with only three in-person meetings – when they met (in another country) and two months later when they had sex twice (in another country) –  there is not much to reclaim. All I have asked is that he NOT take me to the place they had their one dinner. He said it was bad anyway and he would never go again, good I dont need to go there, it was never mine to begin with. I am starting to feel safe again, and although I cannot ever trust him again like I did when I was blind, I do trust him a lot more. I no longer hit every e-mail address and social media page of his every day or even every week, I no longer search for her online. But I watch the cell phone bill like a madwoman. Something I never ever checked which had all I ever needed to know.
I feel a lot more like a better me, and our relationship has changed so drastically it's almost a miracle. And the hardest part to admit? It was not just him who had to change. I had to do my part too.  

If you are brand new to this, don't think YOU need to do that immediately. You need to heal and he needs to help. It's only then that you can find a better version of yourself...she is in there, I promise. 

It's not your fault, it was never your fault, you are not the one who cheated. You are not the one who risked everytihng, so just take it minute by minute – don't rush it – go through it, not around or over or under it, and if you have a new relationship with your partner (we could never have found one without counseling, relish it. 
BTW, I had EMDR about 20 years ago and it was quite astonishing. If I was still living in the land of PTSD I would not hesitate, but first I wanted to beat my H up in counseling for a while. 
Look at that, I just laughed. You will too...you will get through this unless your husband is an absolute a-hole and you are with a bad man, not a good man with issues and mistakes. Hang in there if he is worth staying with – and he will show you if he is – and thrive.  

All I have wanted to do other than save my own relationship was to be able to help others who have been through this. The spark came while I was googling within hours of finding out on that horrible d-day. I was of the school "once a cheater, always a cheater" and "if anyone ever did that to ME, he would be gone SO fast".  

Arent we all?

But when he DID do that to me, I gave him an immediate (and I add, loud and hysterical) choice he had to make – her or me. When I saw the absolute devestation in HIS eyes, seeing what he had done to ME, seeing his tears, hearing his words, feeling his absolute remorse, sadness, and looking into an opening into his soul I had never ever ever seen before. When I locked myself in the bedroom and he sat outside talking to me through the window, I surprised mySELF when I realized that even though I could not touch him or look at him right NOW, I wanted him to stay.
I wanted to know if we could survive this.  
I wanted to know I would be ok (because how could I EVER be ok again??) 
I wanted HOPE. 
and this was the only place I found it.  

I hated the name "club" – lol. I thought it would be just another husband bashing site, but it was not. [Elle's] words, as someone who had been through this, gave me HOPE – her essays and her links and her answers to others – so much wisdom and compassion, smart funny and sarcastic, but not bitter – it gave me what I needed. I wanted to get "there" where [she is], and I am on my way.  

No one could have told me that I would ever get through this, but honestly, somewhere on this blog that very first day – [Elle] actually did.


Friday, November 14, 2014

No Path by David Whyte

came across this poem by the incredible David Whyte and it describes so perfectly those paralyzing moments when you just can't imagine which direction your life will take. Nothing seems right any more. Nobody seems who you thought they were. But as Whyte reminds us, "there is no path that goes all the way". Instead, focus on breathing. Focus on that first step – nobody's step but your own. Whyte, I believe, is talking about death, but betrayal is a death. Of our hopes. Of our "reality". Of our perceived future. Mourn that. And then recreate your life.


No Path by David Whyte

There is no path that goes all the way

Not that it stops us looking

for the full continuation.

The one line in the poem
we can start and follow
straight to the end.
The fixed belief we can hold,
facing a stranger that saves
us the trouble
of a real conversation.
But one day you are not
just imagining an empty chair
where your loved one sat.
You are not just telling a story
where the bridge is down and there’s
nowhere to cross.
You are not just trying
to pray to a God you imagined
would keep you safe.
No you’ve come to the place
where nothing you’ve done
will impress and nothing you
can promise will avert
the silent confrontation,
the place where
your body already seems to know
the way having kept
to the last its own secret
But still, there is no path
that goes all the way
one conversation leads
to another
one breath to the next
there’s no breath at all
the inevitable
final release
of the burden.
And then
your life will
have to start
all over again
for you to know
even a little
of who you had been.
~David Whyte


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