Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Guest post: Time – and you – can do amazing things

by StillStanding1

Time can do amazing things. A deep wound scabs over, and the scab becomes a scar, and then one day you look for the scar and it’s barely visible. ~Neil Gaiman

I’ve been noticing a theme in some of the comments lately, where many of the warriors here are feeling like they should be able to let go and forgive or their partners are pushing them to “get over it” and they feel badly for a) not being over “it” yet, or b) bringing “it” up all the time, or c) not feeling ready to forgive, or d) for still being triggered unexpectedly.
As if there is a timeline for healing. As if there is a set path that we all must follow to get “better” (i.e. healed). As if we are not allowed to feel our feelings. As if we are not allowed to grieve.
So many of us, in the wake of betrayal, rush to forgive. We want the pain to go away. We want this to never have happened. We think, “If I can just put this behind me, if I can just forgive, everything will go back to the way it was. Everything will be better.” But what does putting it behind you really look like? What does that even mean? And what is forgiveness?
I think there are some mistaken assumptions out there about what those things are. That once you get there everything will get and stay fixed. Destination. End. No more worries or pain. We get fed the same ideas around happiness. It’s just not how those things work. Happiness and forgiveness are not destinations. They are choices and places you pass through again and again. The past? This stuff we need to put behind us? Well, it already is in the past, but we will carry it with us until we deal with whatever unfinished business we have back there.
Before we get to forgiveness, there are some other stops we need to make first.

I mean goddamnit, we just had the rug pulled out, our lives were turned upside down, the person we most trusted completely and utterly failed us, broke our trust. When, exactly, should we magically be over that? It’s one of the most traumatic things that can happen to you. So much so that the trauma response gets its own acronym (PISD – Post Infidelity Stress Disorder). When someone gets a cancer diagnosis, we don’t walk around saying they should be over it already. So why should you be over “it” before you’ve processed your grief. You’ve experienced a loss. You get to grieve.

F#@k this sh!t. Amiright? What has happened in our lives, the hurt, the shame, the disappointment, the fear, the loss of safety, the health risks, all that garbage and our partners’ crappy choices are a big steaming pile. Be. Mad. About it. You are allowed. Sit with your anger. Let it rise and pass. You need to have it and then get it out of your body.

(Wait. What?) One of the most important tools that came my way early post d-day was the practice of radical acceptance. Because when you stop fighting reality, you suffer less. For me it took the form of accepting the conflicting feelings I was having and stopping the war inside myself. Accepting doesn’t mean agreeing, minimizing or letting our partners off the hook. It means moving from “this isn’t fair”, “this should not be happening” to "this is what happened". It is the first step in healing. In the early days I had to say things to myself like “I accept that I don’t want him to continue contact with the OW AND I accept that I have no control over whether he does or not.” “I accept that I don’t want to deal with this AND I accept that I am doing my best to deal with this.” “I accept that I love him AND I accept that I hate him.” “I accept that I am afraid AND I accept that I don’t want to be afraid.” I did this over and over until the list was exhausted. And I found that after I engaged in this practice, I felt less stressed, less pain.
Radical acceptance takes practice. You can start with little things AND you can begin to target your conflicts and ruminations around betrayal. Little things: sitting in traffic. Late for a doc appointment. You can rage against the cars, the people in the cars, the red light, but none of that changes your situation, doesn’t get you to the appointment any faster. All it does is increase your stress and pain. But if you tell yourself “I accept that I really don’t want to be late AND I accept that I have no control over this traffic that is making me late,” you’ll arrive less stressed. (This also ties in to the practice of compassion for self. You are doing the best that you can to get to the doc on time.) Around betrayal it could be: You are having an epic internal battle. “I will never trust him again… but I want to trust him.”  “He has hurt me so much… but I want him to make me feel better.” “I always thought I would leave if he cheated and now he has I don’t know what to do.” The next step is to accept your inner reality, that all these things are true.  “I should leave him AND I don’t want to leave him.” The reality is that it is OK to be feeling ambivalent.
You’ll pass through grief, anger (and depression, sadness, exhaustion, FTS) and acceptance more than once and not in that order. It’s different for each of us and such a personal process. Don’t worry whether you are doing it right. If you are breathing, you are doing it right.

To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you. ~Lewis B. Smedes

A word on forgiveness. There’s a lot to it. It is complex and deserves its own post. What I will say here is that you have a lot of places to pass through before you even need to think about forgiveness. Forgiveness may happen, may eventually be something you do for yourself, but there’s a mess to sort and some healing to do first. Whether or not your partners can see that, support that or understand that. They do not get to decide what is best for you or where you should be emotionally at any given point. (Perhaps they, too, need to practice some radical acceptance. “I wish I didn’t have to see how much my choices have hurt my partner AND I need to support her healing, so I will have to witness how much I’ve hurt my partner.”) You are allowed to focus on you, what you need and your own healing process and not be beholden to their expectations or wish to avoid dealing with the harm they have done. Be kind to yourself. Accept not only that you are where you are but that you are exactly where you need to be.

It can be a four letter word, especially when it comes to grief. But it can also do amazing things. Time on its own will not heal you. It’s what you do in that time and for yourself that heals you. But I promise, if you take care of you, in time you won’t feel like this. In time, you will have a day where betrayal is not the first thing you think of when you wake. In time, you will feel joy. In time, you will feel ready to let it go, to forgive. Just don’t rush to those things before their time.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

You are entitled!

Esther Perel, couples counsellor and author of the just-released The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity, was being interviewed the other day and she said something that so many of us find difficult but that we absolutely need to hear. She said that, in the wake of a partner's affair, it's the perfect time for the betrayed partner to claim entitlement to what she wants and needs in her life. An affair, says Perel, is often the cheating partner laying claim to something that makes him feel more alive. It's the reconnection with that part of himself that feels excited by life that's a big part of the allure, she says, far more than the sex. But it isn't just the cheating partner who necessarily feels as though life has become routine and mundane – the betrayed partner frequently feels that too. We want to feel young and sexy and alive again too! We just don't necessarily think we'll find that in someone else's bed. Or we've been too busy taking care of everyone else that we've barely given much thought to our own feelings of loss.
But we deserve that. And so, post-betrayal, when we're negotiating reconciliation, is the perfect time to build into our marriage and our life what WE need going forward. It's time to feel entitled, in the best sense of the word.
The hard part, of course, is that too many of us respond to his affair by trying to be more lovable, more worthy of his attention. We mistakenly believe that he cheated because he'd grown bored with us and so we set about making ourselves more interesting, more sexy.
It's not necessarily a bad response but it's for the wrong reason. Rather than rediscovering ourselves for him, we need to do it for us. 
On Monday, StillStanding1 gave us a long list of affirmations she uses to treat herself with kindness and respect. I'm suggesting an action plan that provides the chance to reconnect with ourselves and take pleasure in who we are. 
Over and over on this site, I read of women who've taken up running again because it makes them feel strong and healthy. Or women who've rediscovered knitting or crocheting. (Incidentally, I'm often struck by how many of these activities that help women find themselves are meditative.) Or they've made time for friends again. Or gone back to work.
Let me repeat: This is NOT about making yourself worthy of loving by him. It is about getting back to the truth that you have always been lovable but that, just maybe, you've been neglecting yourself. It's about loving yourself, not proving yourself lovable. 
And I agree with Perel that, as you're negotiating this new marriage, it's time to make some demands. Along with the standard reconciliation pact, tell him he needs to make room for you to pursue your own interests, to have some fun, to keep yourself healthy. To feel alive.
The affair might have done that for him – helped him reconnect to a part of himself he'd lost. It was a huge mistake with painful consequences for everyone. But you can now take this chance to reconnect with yourself. If not now, when?

Monday, October 9, 2017

Guest Post: Becoming the Center of Our Own Story

by StillStanding1

I think one of the reasons d-day hit me so hard (aside from the obvious) is because I had completely let myself go. I don’t mean in the “gained weight, stopped wearing makeup, societal expectations” way, although there was certainly some of that going on. I mean in the “Alice In Wonderland, don’t forget who you are” way. I had this very physical sensation of being stripped bare. If I wasn’t a cherished wife and mother, who was I? All the things I had wrapped around me to keep me safe were exposed in that harsh light as a bunch of useless nothings – my extra weight, my social justice causes, my wine weekends, my efforts to cook nice meals, my unquestioning investment in his career, my kids' activities. So many things I can’t even recall at this point but all around being too busy to notice my own pain, too busy to see how things were coming apart, too busy to see how my needs were not being considered.
I can remember a point, just a few days after finding out and I was pouring my heart into the “pick me” dance (laser hair removal...actually glad I did this), botox, sexy underwear, weight loss (which was happening anyway thanks to anxiety), cooking elaborate meals, purchasing a book about “how to win your man back even if he’s in love with someone else” (eye roll) and doing nothing, absolutely nothing that might rock the boat or “scare” him away, like suggesting that he could not be in contact with her and live under the same roof with me, when I asked myself, “Well, if I am all stripped down, if I am a nothing, who do I want to be?”  And I realized I was tired of hurting, tired of being a victim and tired of feeling not good enough every goddamn day. I decided, without fully knowing what I was committing myself to, that I was finally going to be the heroine of the story I had always wished to be.
I had hit on the crux of the crisis, part of the “how did I get here”. I had not, for the longest time, been at the center of my own story. Husband, kids, family, coworkers, dogs, random strangers in the grocery store, everyone came before me. I had lost the ability to voice an opinion, even for simple things (where do you want to go to dinner? I don’t care. Where do you want to go to dinner?) and on the rare occasion I did voice an opinion, I was both super-apologetic and full of guilt. It was, in hindsight, an awful way to live. I think, like so many women, I had bought into the societal pressures to be the super-mom, always burning herself out for others, putting herself dead last behind kids and spouse. This falls under the Brené Brown category of “The danger of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as a metric for self-worth.” We are not worthy if we are not wearing ourselves to the bone for our families (in whatever shape they take). I had also, in the pursuit of wifely and motherly perfection, let go of the things that fed me, that helped define me. Things like art, photography, connecting with nature, friends, my own career.
Over time and with a lot of effort and a whole lot of falling down and getting back up again, I am, in general, much better at keeping myself in the center of my story. There are still old habits, particularly when I am dealing with old, dysfunctional relationships or people with very bad boundaries (my ex, my MIL) but I’m a work in progress and I’m proud to say I’m coming along nicely. 
What does keeping yourself at the center of your story look like? Here are some ideas, in no particular order:

1.     I am responsible for my own happiness
2.     No one is responsible for taking care of me except for me
3.     I am not responsible for the happiness of others
4.     What others think of me is none of my business
5.     I am allowed to make choices that are good for me
6.     I am committed to taking care of myself emotionally, physically and spiritually
7.     I am learning to make decisions and voice opinions
8.     I listen to my body
9.     I am kind to myself and interrupt negative self-talk
10.  I set boundaries
11.  I can listen to others and accept their feelings without agreeing or needing to “educate” or teach them
12.  I trust myself and my decisions and am willing to live with the consequences, even if things don’t go as planned or when they go better than planned
13.  I give myself permission to say no to people and things that’s aren’t right for me
14.  I accept responsibility for my choices
15.  I recognize that in a family unit, sometimes others’ needs are equal to our own, that sometimes I can make a choice to put someone ahead of me, but that for the majority of the time, it is healthy and acceptable to consider my own needs and wellbeing first
16.  When I try to fix things for others or protect them from the pain or consequences of their actions, I rob them of an opportunity for growth
17.  I try to accept people and relationships as they are not as I wish them to be
18.  I am learning to self soothe and reassure myself rather than seek reassurance and validation from others
19.  I have as much time as I need to make choices and decisions. I can wait and let things unfold. I don’t have to do or fix everything right this second
20.  I will stop judging and comparing myself to others
21.  I will no longer “fake it till I make it”
22.  I am beautiful, smart and courageous and I will not apologize for it
23.  I accept that I am enough and when people in my life can’t see it, that is their failure, not mine

Nowadays, I know when I am not keeping myself in the center of my story because my anxiety starts to rise. I start worrying about caretaking in co-dependent ways and trying to control things that are beyond my control. I feel my chest tighten and my gut gets grumbly. I stop sleeping well. I worry about the future. And I start to lose my grip on doing the things that serve me, like running, like painting, like meditating, like spending time with friends, like eating healthy food, like taking care of my home. Putting myself in the center has the remarkable side-effect of placing me in the here and now. What’s good right now? The sunshine, my coffee, my dumb dogs, this photo I just took, this meal I’m having with a friend. The other stuff, the big stuff, whether or not my ex gets his act together, that will play out and I neither want nor have any control over the outcome. These days, I’m not killing myself over it because his “stuff” is not central to my story anymore. I think this can be true whether you stay or go. His stuff needs to take a back seat to your stuff. Put yourself in the center of your own story and make it a good one.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Fearing Fear

I've been preoccupied lately. My eldest daughter, who's dealing with a relatively recent diagnosis of bipolar spectrum disorder has begun experiencing psychosis. She spent a few days last week in a psychiatric hospital. A day after her release, she called me, whispering that people were watching her.
I handled her hospitalization just fine, thank you very much. I swung into action, organizing my other kids, rescheduling appointments and interviews, all so I could race to the city a few hours away where my daughter is at school.
I met with doctors and psychotherapists and social workers.
After two days, I came home to rest and my husband took over, driving to the city and meeting with doctors, etc.
He returned her to her apartment when she was released. She was eager to get back to school and to her life. And then, just one day later, came the call and a clear indication that the psychosis was back.
Back upstairs to re-pack the bag I had barely unpacked. Back onto the highway.
And this time felt different. I was able to put on a calm face for my daughter but I felt terrified. Terrified that I was going to lose her to her conviction that she was a "burden". Terrified that this disease will transform her, that the potent medication will steal this beautiful, smart, talented, open-hearted girl from the world.
I reached out to friends – desperate for someone to listen to me. I felt an ocean of tears just behind my eyes that seemed blocked. I, a confirmed non-hugger, needed a hug.
And I noticed something.
Fear terrifies people. 
Though all of my friends mean well – and I'm blessed to have really good people in my life – only some can hold our pain. And the ones who can hold our pain have learned to do so because they've learned to hold their own. While all of my friends offered up reassurances, only a couple could just listen without trying to convince me that she'll be fine. And those friends felt like a port in my storm.

A woman posted a comment on this site yesterday. It's rare that I censor anyone but the snake-oil salespeople who insist their potion will transform our errant spouses into repentant Romeos. Even if what someone has written is inflammatory, I hit "publish" because I trust you soul-warriors to rally to each other's defence and because I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing to work through our responses to those who insist we're doormats or pathetic for staying. What's more, occasionally we're offered an insight into the thinking of an Other Woman.
But this woman had nothing to offer other than two sentences of ridicule so I didn't click "publish" because I knew that my immediate response would be to tell her to go fuck herself. I'm in no mood to listen to her boring old clichéd bullshit.
But then, driving home today from helping my daughter through this latest episode and meeting with her doctor yet again, I was mulling over my friends' response to my fear and how it was those who've been in dark places themselves who were best able to be with me in mine. I was thinking about the matter-of-fact empathy of the doctors. And I was listening to a podcast with one of my favorite poets/memoirists Mary Karr who was talking about how she's learned to be kind to herself because, she said, it's impossible to be compassionate with others if we haven't yet learned to be compassionate with ourselves, and it's impossible to be gentle with ourselves, to accept our foibles and our "peccadilloes" (her word, which I love)  without accepting our own.
And it hit me that this low-blow commenter is terrified – of facing her own grief, of facing her own fear of failure, of accepting her own peccadilloes. I don't know her whole story. But I know that nobody would spew such cruelty without deep self-loathing and a deep fear of facing it.

It takes courage to face our fear.
That's what we're doing here every day. Sometimes we move inches, sometimes miles. Sometimes we can't see that we're moving at all. But make no mistake: Showing up, day after day, and working through our fear is brave.
Showing up for others in their dark places is brave.
Because we can only show up and hold another's pain when we're able to hold our own.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Becoming the Decider

There's a great conversation happening over on the Sex and Intimacy After Betrayal page. I'm struck by how vulnerable the women posting there are – how candid they are and how deeply they want to be seen and to be loved.
But I'm also noticing, there and on other threads, how many women wrap up their (completely legitimate) rants with something along the lines of "maybe I should be more patient" or "maybe I'm expecting too much".
So let me say this: You get to decide what you want your marriage to look like.
Especially after betrayal, we get to decide.
I've noticed how articulate and firm you all are when you're detailing what's missing in your relationships. You have absolutely no trouble outlining what you want and what you don't. But then...something happens. Doubt creeps in. Your inner critic whispers something to you that sounds like truth. Maybe that "you're demanding" or "you're never happy" or any number of messages that make you back down, that convince you that what you want isn't okay.
It is.
Whatever it is you want or need to feel like a full, respected, equal, valued part of your partnership is okay. In fact, it's a requirement.
Glennon Doyle, author of Love Warrior, put it this way in a recent podcast: "...the only advice that is worth hearing is what you already know. Nobody else knows what the heck you should do with your life." She recommends – as I do here and here and here – being still. Finding that time (indeed making that time!) to sit yourself. We are often good at avoiding that. Far better, we think, to do. To busy ourselves with the minutiae of the day – the laundry, the school forms, the grocery shopping, the Netflix binging. To just sit? Blech.
But it is in that stillness, that space where our thoughts are free to arise without getting crowded out or yelled at, that we discover we already have the advice we're seeking.
And it is there, too, when we wrestle with the discomfort of the emotions that arise – the ones that insist we have every right to want a respectful honest intimate partnership, the ones that refuse to be silenced – that we discover we can only treat ourselves respectfully by honouring what we want and need. Silencing ourselves isn't an option, nor should it be.
"...as women, we are trained to not go inside. We are consensus takers. We will ask every freaking body what we should do. We will trust the Internet before we trust our deepest selves," says Doyle.
This isn't to put Betrayed Wives Club down, nor is it to suggest it's not okay to ask for advice here.
Sometimes we need a light to guide us forward. But pay attention to your body's response to others' stories. Does something deep deep down say "yes, yes, yes. Exactly!" or is there a deep resistance. Not a "that sounds scary" but "that sounds wrong." Scary = good, much of the time. Wrong = wrong.
It's crucial to learn to follow the light inside each of us, the one that knows which direction is best for us. It's there, I promise. But if you've spent a lifetime ignoring it in favour of listening to your dark nasty critic outline the "shoulds", then you may need some practice finding it.
And when you do, let it light your way forward. Let it illuminate your wants and your needs to create the life, the marriage (or the divorce!) that feeds your soul. You get to be the decider of your own future.
Nobody else has that privilege. They have their own lives to decide.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Guest Post: "Should" is what's between you and your joy

by StillStanding1

I’ve been thinking an awful lot about the word “should” lately. I’ve done a lot of rumbling with it in the nearly two years since d-day.  Early on I came to the realization that it was a “bad" word best removed from my vocabulary. Should is a whole lot of judgement disguised as motivation. Should is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It pretends to be interested in bettering ourselves, but really, it is a bold underlining of all the places we believe we lack; all the places where we don’t measure up; all the times someone told us we weren’t enough and we bought it. Should is the leather belt in the hands of our inner parent “motivating” us to do better. Should is our inner critic’s open-handed slap to our face when we believe we’ve missed the mark, when we should have seen the signs, when we should have been thinner/younger/sexier/cooked more dinners/fill in the blank. Should is a bunch of bullshit.
Should is about fitting in, not rocking the boat, not making people uncomfortable and not being true to ourselves. It’s about keeping silent. It’s about shame. It’s a single track, downhill ride to pain and loneliness. It took me a long time to realize this. I had been a poster child for the dangers and self-destruction of perfectionism since my teens. It’s what happens when you grow up with an alcoholic (or in any other dysfunctional family system for that matter). My inner critic was brutal. Nothing I did was good enough. Ever. I was apologetic for my existence, for taking up space. And when I tried and didn’t get the response I expected, I was devastated. Imagine, struggling with depression at 16 and your own father asks you what they did wrong. The clear implication was that something was wrong with me. I was inherently wrong. My inner critic has a mean left.
Post d-day, lots of lessons started coming my way around judgement. One was that the inner critic was an asshole who had sucked the joy from my life for too long and I should dump her. Another was that I could be a lot nicer to myself about successes and also not successes. One of the biggest was that I drop the word “should” and replace it with “could”. Should is a requirement that comes packed with judgement and topped with a set-up for failure. Could is a free choice with no expectations and no losers. There are big shoulds and little insidious shoulds that crop up in our lives. Learning to notice them is the first step to becoming a recovering should-aholic.
The other day I got a message from my daughter, away at college. “Mom, can I tell you something awesome that happened to me?” Yes, of course. She had left her laundry in the laundry room in her dorm for a full day. Had completely forgotten about it. She went to retrieve it, expecting to see it scattered, gone or dumped on the floor. Instead, she found it folded neatly on top of the dryer. Even the socks had been matched up. How lovely! She felt so grateful. The first words out of my mouth were, “Oh that’s so great! You should write a thank-you note.” Well…there was a group chat for the floor but she wasn’t sure she wanted to say anything since it might embarrass the person. I pushed the idea of a note again. It’s less public so they’d still get it but it wouldn’t be out on social media. I felt my daughter’s anxiety rising. And…I realized I was laying a big, fat, old “should” on her. And I said, “Hold on a sec.” And I thought about it. I was creating that anxiety. There was no reason she had to write that thank-you note. It was me taking a wonderful experience and turning it into a situation where she had to do or be more. Ouch. So I backtracked and said, “You know what? You don’t need to write a thank-you note. The only thing you need to do is enjoy feeling grateful.” That’s it. There’s nothing inherently wrong with writing a thank-you note. But there was no need or requirement for it either. I was stunned at how slick my own “should” was at sliding itself in there. And how easy it is to pass on the “do more, be more” message.

 A “should” is all the things we’ve ever heard or been taught about how we don’t measure up. It’s the world’s sneaky, gigantic countermove trying to keep us from who we are. When you move away from should, you move toward yourself. When you start to let go of all the shoulds (I should be a better mom, wife, daughter, friend, artist, writer, manager, leader. I should be smarter. I should be thinner, prettier, sexier, stronger, faster. I should be better with money. I should be able to remember names. I should have known. I should have done this differently. Whatever your personal list of “shoulds” are) you make room for a whole lot of love and acceptance. Then you have two hands free to hang on to yourself.


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