Monday, December 11, 2017

Listen

"The truth is we live in a world where we don’t listen to people anymore. So often we’re just waiting for the next opening to respond. What we need to realize is that sometimes people don’t need advice. Sometimes people just need to be heard. Sometimes the greatest gift we can give someone is just to keep our mouths shut and let them empty themselves into our hands. When they’re finished, we don’t need to do anything with what they’ve given us. We just need to show them that we’re holding it for them till they can catch their breath."
~David Joy, novelist

It has been heartening lately for me to read some comments from betrayed wives who welcome newcomers here with the promise that this site has helped them more than anything else to heal. I take pride in this community that I created out of my own loneliness post-betrayal and that has grown into such a warm and compassionate place. It's rare that someone posts with anything other than a hearty "me too" and, perhaps, some advice borne of experience.
When I read the above quote, it struck me that listening is what this site offers. I've grown frustrated these past few months that I haven't had the time to respond as often as I'd like, or I haven't been able to easily find the words or advice to help those seeking it. And yet...healing continues. Others fill the gap. We listen.
And it is, perhaps, more than anything else, the listening that heals. It is the exquisite relief of finding a community where our story is invited, where our pain is validated, where we are heard. No matter the details of our particular story, the broad strokes are familiar to each. The shock. The bewilderment. The acute pain. The loneliness. The dark "what next?" 
And then, the sigh of recognition that we aren't alone after all. There are others, wonderful, wise and warm-hearted others, who have been where we are. They are funny and smart. They are strong. And they are waiting for us to "empty themselves into [their] hands." It's a beautiful image, isn't it? To imagine emptying our broken hearts into another's warm hands, to be held, to be kept safe, to begin to be made whole again.

It has been a helluva year to be a woman. Each day brings a fresh outrage, new reminders of the ways in which women are harassed and devalued and silenced.
And yet, here we find our voice. 
Within these communities of women – strong smart women – we are reminded of how fierce we are. We remember that we are warriors. We understand that our armour doesn't come from making ourselves hard but keeping ourselves soft. 
One of our fierce-hearted warriors posted a few days ago of the shame she still feels about staying to rebuild her marriage. Others replied with those powerful words, "me too."
I ache to help them banish that shame. I ache to remind each of you of the strength it takes to give a partner a second chance when he's hurt us so profoundly. I wish I could help you see in yourselves the courage I see, no matter which path you're on as you heal, to continue to show up. 
Which takes more courage? To allow our choices to be dictated to us by a culture that traffics in the fantasy that marriage is anything but a work in progress? Or to make our own choice, rooted in what we believe is best for us, for our family? Surely the latter.
When we strip away the expectations to be perfect, to be beautiful, to be desired, what remains? 
What remains is our truth. Our story. 
And what remains is a community of women who listen and who, within our stories, hear courage and resilience and strength. 

Monday, December 4, 2017

Guest post: Finally! The recovering perfectionist's all-you-need guide to surviving the holidays

by StillStanding1
The holidays can be tough, what with families and history and people in our lives expecting unrealistic things of us and our own selves expecting unrealistic things of us. Add in post-trauma from betrayal and you have got a seriously heavy load to carry.
I am a recovering perfectionist. Being a perfectionist sucks. You think no one will love you unless you do everything absolutely right. This always comes back to my “enough-ness”, that softest of all my soft spots. You destroy yourself through over achieving, you hustle for worthiness, trying to make everything just right for everyone else and losing yourself in the process. 
At this time of year, it takes on an even deeper level of intensity. Christmas (that’s the holiday I do. Feel free to insert your holiday loaded with expectations and desperation here) must look like the love child of Currier & Ives and Pottery Barn. Everything must sparkle and glow (decorate every room in the house and do the outside lights by myself). Mince pies perfectly dusted with powdered sugar (stay up till midnight baking because everyone will be disappointed if you bring something store-bought). All presents on list purchased and wrapped (everyone must have piles of things to open. Everything for the kids must be fair and equal. I must make sure I get presents for my friends and my kids' friends despite my dwindling budget). All parties attended and dressed in appropriately festive attire and everyone well brushed and behaved (crap, my son needs a haircut. Does he have clean pants that aren’t athletic?! WTF am I going to wear?). Fake that smile as if my life depended on it (even as I’m triggered watching other people’s husbands over-indulge in alcohol and breathe the fumes on me). Visit out-of-town relatives for parties I dislike and sleep in uncomfortable rooms or on slowly deflating air mattresses (but don’t dare suggest we say “no” because someone might be disappointed. Gasp). A frenzy of shopping and shipping and wrapping and cooking and visiting and trying so hard to make sure all the people in my life have all their needs met. Even needs they didn’t know they had. Wow. I’m exhausted just writing that.
With the discovery that I don’t have to be perfect to be loveable and these amazing things called boundaries (what is and is not okay with me), the holidays get just a little bit easier.
1.      Give yourself a break. You don’t have to do it all. You don’t have to sit through movies or music or anything that upsets you or just makes you feel lousy. You don’t have to be strong for others. You don’t have to be strong at all. You don’t have to be super mom or Mrs. Claus.
2.     Say no.  To invitations that don’t fit your schedule.  To doing things for other people that you don’t want to do. To anything that feels like a bad idea. To your husband wanting to go out for drinks with his pals, if that doesn’t suit you just now. To anything your gut tells you is not good for you right now. There’s so much pressure to be nice and do all these things we don’t want to do. You can say no and still be nice. They are not mutually exclusive. Resist the urge to explain or justify your no. “Thanks for thinking of me, but no thank you.” Repeat as necessary.
3.     Let go of expectations. For yourself, that you get everything done, that all the boxes are checked off, that you feel a certain way.  Don’t expect that you should feel happy or joyful or forgiving just because some arbitrary holiday season says you should be feeling those things. Let go of expectations for others; that they do more or be more capable of something or different than they are. When you can start seeing and accepting people where they are, you don’t get disappointed. And those people can tell when there is a new room for them to show up in.  Let go of the idea that things need to go a certain way or look a certain way or be a certain way.
4.     Say yes to self-care. Sleep, eat to take care of yourself, exercise, meditate, read, make time for you. See #2 above. Get your nails done. Visit with friends. Call your mom/sister/other reliable support person.
5.     Whenever possible don’t engage with toxic relatives. Don’t take the bait when one tries to get a rise out of you. Let the complainer’s complaints roll off you. They are about her, not you. Don’t bite when individuals question your life choices. Don’t sit next to people who set you off or are emotionally risky for you. Have an escape plan. You are allowed to leave early.
6.     Boundaries. Boundaries. Boundaries.  A well-meaning relative may pressure you to eat more because they have made something “especially for you.” You can say thank you and then go ahead and eat or not eat what you had intended. Your husband wants to go to a work holiday party after hours. Does that make you uncomfortable? Does he get to go but needs to check in? Or do you go with him? You decide what works for you. That’s your boundary.
7.     Drop the judgement. You are not a bad person for not wanting to spend more time with relatives or in-laws. You are, rather, putting yourself first and that makes a lot of us (and others) supremely uncomfortable. You are not a failure because you did not make 800 lbs of shortbread cookies. Be gentle and compassionate with yourself.
8.     Remind yourself that you are doing an awesome fucking job. At showing up. At breathing. At getting through each day. Maybe you made your bed. Win! Maybe you had tea with a friend. Win! Maybe you decided the laundry could wait another day. More winning!
9.     Ask. For. Help. Really. You don’t have to do it all yourself. Refer to #1. Delegate decorating to kids or ask your partner to help you this year. Maybe you go to the grocery store to get the dinner fixings together. Maybe your husband can be in charge of buying the gifts for his side of the family if that usually falls to you. Make a list. Assign to your team. Kick back with your tea and watch people actually rise to the occassion.
10.  Resist the urge to swoop in and make sure they do it your way. Reference #3. I think the reason so many of us go in to fix it mode after betrayal is because it was our go-to coping strategy to begin with. When in doubt, take over, be busy, don’t think, don’t feel.  And also make sure everything is just so because perfection makes everything better (#sarcasm). Once you’ve delegated a task, trust that the person doing the task will get it done. It may not be your way but there is more than one “right” way. Let go.
11.  Be grateful. For whatever you can muster gratitude for. Your health. Your kids. The roof over your head. Your dog. For friends and family that love and support you. For sunshine. For the smell of snow. For a chance to live another day. Whatever you can feel gratitude for, keep your eyes on that. Its hard, in the wake of betrayal to feel grateful for anything. But over time, remembering what you have, the good stuff, helps you get past or let go of what no longer serves you or what you feel you’ve lost.
12.  Be sad. If you need to. The overarching glory of the holidays tends to silence or erase our sad feelings.  And like so much of our experience as betrayed wives, we just need room to feel our stuff all the way through. We see others being happy, normal, living lives not marred by this weight and we think why not me? We think of what’s missing and it takes our breath away. Ideally, share your sadness with someone who understands and can love you through your sadness. But even on your own, sadness won’t kill you. I promise. Let yourself have it, if that’s what you need right now.
13.  You have permission to change your mind. You can feel like you want to go to a party when you get the invitation but when the time comes, you may just have had a bad day. You may be too tired and sad. You are allowed to stay home and take care of yourself.
14.  Be happy. Give yourself permission for this too. There’s a lot going on right now. If you find yourself surprised in the moment by some happiness, wrap your arms around that shit and enjoy it. Post-betrayal, some of us feel like good feelings are not permitted. That if we feel happy, even for split second, we are letting him off the hook. Our happiness is just that. Ours. Let yourself have it.
Holidays can be tough for so many reasons. Remember that you are not alone. We are all standing here with you. And if you feel overwhelmed, stuck in depression or like you just can’t take another day please call 1-800-273-8255. It’s for everyone, open 24/7 and free.


Monday, November 27, 2017

Where did you learn to live on crumbs?

I was driving to my father's home the other day, with Esther Perel's Where Do We Begin on podcast. This episode focused on a gay couple, one partner had suffered an abusive childhood and considered himself a sex addict. Even in the wake of this partner's infidelity, the other partner wanted to learn from it and the two had recently married.
Perel spent considerable time encouraging the partner who'd experienced childhood abuse to mine his past, to really explore its connection to his difficulty accepting comfort from his new husband.
The husband, who longed to offer comfort to his traumatized partner, noted the other's "drama" and prided himself on being low-maintenance. "I don't need much," he said.
Which is when Perel said the words that, literally, made me stop the tape and take big gulps of oxygen.
Where did you learn to live on crumbs?
I've made no secret of my own childhood dysfunction. I've often shared how my mother's alcoholism created much shame in me and how my father's reliance on me turned me into a parent for him and led me to all variety of boy-men who lacked both the maturity and the emotional bandwidth for healthy relationships. They brought drama. I brought low maintenance.
But never had I heard what I learned from my childhood, and what I continued to allow, referred to as clearly and succinctly as "crumbs".
I'm asking you: Where did you learn to live on crumbs?
So many of us did, didn't we? So many of us, even putting aside the infidelity (that most of us didn't know about...until we did), overlooked his long hours at the office (he's working hard for his family), his TV watching (he deserves to relax after a long day/week), his hanging with the guys (he needs his friends), while we took on the bulk of the housework, the childcare, the care of parents, the day-in/day-out details that keep a house running. And I'm not saying that men don't work hard, deserve to relax, need friends with whom to have fun. But how often did we allow those things to our husbands while denying them to ourselves?
And how often did we accept behaviour in our husbands that wasn't ultimately healthy for us or for our family?
I barely noticed that I was accepting crumbs. I knew I felt angry a lot. I knew that when my husband would come up behind me to wrap his arms around me while I was at the sink doing dishes, I had to stop myself from jamming my elbow in his ribs. I didn't need a hug, I needed help with the god-damn dishes. Did I say that? Of course not. I chastised myself for not being more satisfied with what I had.
StillStanding1 did a great job with her recent post about the rage so many of us feel post-betrayal. But I want to extend that backward. How many of us felt it, on some level, before we learned about our partner's betrayal? How many of us are doubly (triply? quadruply?) angry about the betrayal because not only did he cheat on us but he cheated on us while we were at home doing everything. While we were sacrificing ourselves for the good of our family and barely being noticed for it?
That's a betrayal too, isn't it?
Of course it is. But maybe not in the way you think.
That was a betrayal of ourselves.
That was our acceptance of crumbs.
Where did you learn to live on crumbs?
Maybe it was from parents who expected you to swallow strong feelings and not rock the boat. Maybe it was from teachers who expected girls to be kind and nurturing and take turns and be polite and demure. Maybe it was from a culture that still recoils from angry women, no matter that we have plenty to be angry about.
Wherever it was, it's time for a new lesson.
It's time to reconsider what we've been willing to settle for and set out new terms for ourselves. No more crumbs. Let's ask for exactly what we want. If we've decided to stay in our marriage and rebuild, then there's no better time to make it abundantly clear to our spouse that the only way we can continue is if our needs and wants are acknowledged and respected. It's time to make some demands of our own – beginning with what every betrayed wife should demand (total transparency, access to his accounts/computers/etc), but including everything that we need to make our marriage more equitable and, ultimately, healthier for both.
Maybe you need him home more often, maybe you need him to deal with his toxic family instead of you doing that job. Maybe you need him to talk to you rather than turning on Netflix. Maybe you need help with childcare on weekends rather than him teeing off for 18 holes. Whatever it is, we need to ask for it. Settling for crumbs starves us emotionally.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Guest Post: Anger is Armor

by StillStanding1

There was a comment on one of the threads recently where one of our sister warriors couldn’t understand how calm and level we all were. Where was our anger? Weren’t we furious!? Why weren’t we screaming and breaking things!? This post is for you (and for all of us).
I think we are taught young that anger is “bad.”  Especially if we are girls, the inevitable silencing we experience emphasizes the erasure of any difficult emotion that makes us appear unladylike or, worse, makes others uncomfortable. We must be quiet and submit. We are fed messages that tell us we must always be positive. Don’t pout. Turn that frown upside down. Just smile. You’d be prettier if you smiled.
Then D-Day happens.
After the grief, pain, shock, horror, numbness, fear (or sometimes before those things), there is an unquenchable rage, like nothing we’ve ever felt before. And we are totally unequipped to deal with it because we have no practice. We maybe even fear our own anger. It's big. It makes us say and do crazy things. But that anger, in those first moments, is protecting us. It’s a kind of temporary armor. It is shielding us from the pain and hurt that is fueling it.
I was sitting in bed early evening on Jan.1 reading. We had returned from visiting a relative for New Year’s Eve. It was a gruelling, exhausting trip but one that we made, despite no one wanting to go, because of how hurt the host would be if we hadn’t (the address is at the intersection of dysfunction junction and codependence court). My husband had been awful. Drinking even more than usual and being just a cocky shithead. I was glad to be home, unpacked and resting in some relative quiet (cue the ominous music).
He walked in to the room and shut the door. Gave me his prepared speech. He was unhappy, thinks I’ve been unhappy too and wants a divorce. “What are you talking about? Are you crazy?” This is out of nowhere from where I’m sitting. Then…in less than a second, all the pieces click together and these words come out of my mouth before the synapses stop firing. “There’s someone at work, isn’t there?”
He admits, yes. And I am, in that moment, pure rage. I have so much adrenaline my skin hurts. I can’t see. I’m shaking. I spew something at him like “You are the only person I have ever loved, you worthless piece of shit.” I push him aside and race out of the room. Some hind part of my brain knew I would not look good in prison orange and got me out of there before I beat him to death with my bare hands.
I came to myself driving. I had no idea where I was going but realized I was in no state to drive, so I pulled over in a park. And sat there, shaking, raging, my skin on fire, ready to run 500 miles and kill a bear at the end of it. And for many months since then, anger has been a regular visitor. I did many embarrassing things in those immediate weeks, in addition to crying and generally losing my shit, sometimes barely making it from one second to the next, and eventually discovering my strength. But often, I was just fucking angry.
The thing is, anger is a feeling like any other. It’s not good or bad in and of itself. It just is. Just like love. Just like sadness. Just like contentment. Feelings just come up. Each has a job or something to tell you. And its what you do with them that matters. Anger scares people around us because it generally means that we are about to not put up with their bullshit anymore. It means they might have to face some uncomfortable things themselves. Anger tells us when our boundaries have been violated. It's part of our body’s fantastic and sensitive alarm system.
Anger is also a defense mechanism. Have you ever observed someone get angry when they are embarrassed? Or feeling hurt? Or shamed? They lash out to push the shame or embarrassment or hurt on to someone else. It’s a kind of emotional offloading. And it armors them up, makes them hard. They think maybe if they just stay angry, they won’t be hurt again.  And they end up hurting others instead.  Sound familiar?
Anger is essential to recovery. Your anger is legitimate. Justified. You are entitled to rage. Lean into it. Do no harm. But feel all of it. Let the revenge fantasies rise. Picture chasing her naked ass in your car and mowing her down with it. Or, if you are like me, you prefer the simple expedient of smashing their heads between concrete blocks or with a crow bar.  Lean into those thoughts. Don’t fight them. Run them out. Bench press. Hit a punching bag. Expend that energy. That’s all it is in the end. Just energy. Get that shit out of your body. And what you’ll find underneath is what the armor of anger is hiding. The hurt, the grief, the pain, the sorrow. All the pieces of you to be put back together. Softened up but more beautiful than ever.
I had a neighbor who had been through an ugly divorce preceded by her husband’s infidelity. (I didn’t get it at the time. You often don’t until you join the club.) She wears her pain like a badge. She’s bitter but disguises it as longsuffering. It has been nearly a decade. I’m not saying she needs to be over it because I don’t know the other parts of her story and that’s not mine to judge. But what I do know is that I don’t want that to be me. Although I give myself permission to feel my anger, I won’t build a suit of armor from it.
Months after D-Day, I found two photos that my phone snapped as I was running from that awful moment. It captures exactly what I saw. Dark strange lines, blurred, red, hint of a window. The room familiar yet completely alien, tilted crazily. It was like nothing I had ever felt before (or thankfully since). And when I look at those pictures, I can still feel the ghost of that rage in my body, the burning of my skin. I’m hopeful that someday those pictures will not command that same power. That I will look at them and feel only sympathy for my wounded, former self, and now it was just a single chapter in a really, really long, incredible story.  Because anger, like all things, like all feelings, has its time and then passes.

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