The Beginning of Something Else

On June 1, 2007 I found out my husband and partner of almost two decades had been unfaithful to me since before our marriage, and had been having intercourse with prostitutes for 3 1/2 years. This is what happened next.

Friday, August 3, 2012

The risk of spirituality

I came across a phrase today: "The will of God will never take you where the grace of God cannot keep you."

Substitute Higher Power, The Universe, Love Intelligence, or whatever else you call the power in your life that's greater than you, if indeed you have such a thing. (If not, click here.)

I Googled the phrase, and found this poem, attributed to Anonymous:

The will of God will never take you,
Where the grace of God cannot keep you.
Where the arms of God cannot support you,
Where the riches of God cannot supply your needs,
Where the power of God cannot endow you.

The will of God will never take you,
Where the spirit of God cannot work through you,
Where the wisdom of God cannot teach you,
Where the army of God cannot protect you,
Where the hands of God cannot mold you.

The will of God will never take you,
Where the love of God cannot enfold you,
Where the mercies of God cannot sustain you,
Where the peace of God cannot calm your fears,
Where the authority of God cannot overrule for you.

The will of God will never take you,
Where the comfort of God cannot dry your tears,
Where the Word of God cannot feed you,
Where the miracles of God cannot be done for you,
Where the omnipresence of God cannot find you.

What I appreciate about this poem is that it suggests that even from the worst of situations and during the darkest of times, I need not despair.

During my darkest times, faith (inherently risky in that it requires believing without evidence) has been my biggest opportunity.

When I believe without evidence that all difficulties and challenges in my path are there to benefit me, anger, disappointment and despair can fall away.

When I believe without evidence that I will ultimately get what I need, in fact, that I already have exactly what I need to be happy and to progress as a human being, then forcing, struggling, resisting and hopelessness become unnecessary options.

After hanging on to skepticism for as long as my rational mind would permit, I've come to the conclusion that Faith is not a crutch, it's a shortcut. A shortcut to the surrender that results in peace and serenity.

All that's required is believing without evidence that there is a higher purpose for everything.

What if that's not true?

I don't care. Because from that perspective, my experience of life is better.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Five years later

I noted a couple days ago that the anniversary of one of the most traumatic days of my life passed unmarked and unnoticed.

That's healing. And for that I am so grateful.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Who should I trust?

After quite a long upward cycle, I'd become complacent about spiritual practice, and had been lulled into the idea that I could begin to trust Husband. Out of habit, longing, wishful thinking, or something equally beguiling, I had put my trust in the wrong place.

I had lost sight of a realization I've had before: The most important thing for me to trust is Higher Power. The next most important thing for me to trust is myself.

Why do I think Higher Power and me are the best places for my trust?

I trust Higher Power because taking the perspective that I am loved and cared for no matter what and believing (pretending, acting-as-if) there is a higher purpose and a positive purpose for whatever circumstance I find myself in give me the will to look for the growth opportunity, and the strength of heart to take action.

I trust myself because I have been learning to do so. And the more I practice, the better I'll get. And I want to learn to place the greatest trust in myself, because I'm willing to assume the greatest responsibility for my happiness and well-being.

Eleanor Roosevelt said, "With freedom comes responsibility."

I've found that with a willingness to take responsibility for my own experience of life comes freedom.

Friday, May 11, 2012

What higher power means to me

I don't consider myself religious in any traditional sense of the word. In fact, prayer and the word God in my S-Anon 12-step book was an obstacle to me as I began to read recovery literature.

"I might not belong in a group of people who start every meeting with a prayer to God," I thought immediately.

But I stuck it out anyway, figuring that something was better than nothing in terms of dealing with Husband's sex addiction.

I'm glad I stayed. Today I do have a useful relationship with a Higher Power. I don't tie that Higher Power to any specific religion, although for the sake of simplicity I sometimes refer to that Higher Power as God. (For me there really is no one word that accurately describes what I understand Higher Power to be, and that's find for me.)

This post from a Jesuit priest really captures the kind of relationship I work on cultivating with Higher Power.

I'm reading Marianne Williamson's A Return to Love right now. She writes, "I had never realized that depending on God meant depending on love," and quotes A Course in Miracles, "God is the love within us."

Williamson also writes, "...a miracle is just a shift in perception."

So I take the perspective that when I read just the right post from a Jesuit priest at just the time I needed to hear it, that's my Higher Power providing what I need.

Does A Higher Power really exist?

I have no idea.

Do I believe in God?

I can't say.

But what I do know is that when I...

....take the perspective that I am not in control of everything (how people will feel, how they will respond, what they will or will not think, do, say...need I go on?)...

...and that I am connected to other human beings in the way a wave is connected to the ocean (a wave is distinct from ocean yet is never separate from ocean)...

...and at the same time do what I can do and turn the rest over to Higher Power (or whatever I need to call it to feel comfortable)...

...I am able to relax enough to find peace and feel good in my skin again. And that creates an openness that seems to allow what I need to come to me more readily. (I've also seen that what I think I want and what I need can look and/or be very different from each other.)

It's an on going process - a practice, not a destination - so, as with exercise, I have to do it again and again to get the desired result.

I don't know why I'm writing about this now.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Expectation, Reality, and how do you re-establish trust?

A common question early in this journey, and one that continues to come up, is how do you re-establish trust?

That was the discussion topic in my S-Anon meeting this week.

The consensus in the room, expressed in many different ways, seemed to be that one's notion of trust is forever changed by betrayal this deep. "Those of us in this room no longer have that dream, that fantasy, of completely trusting."

The answers that did come...

"I'm learning how to trust myself."

"I trust the process."

"I trust my Higher Power."

Nobody said, "I trust my qualifier exactly as much as I did before."

The point being, for me, that the amount of trust I'd placed in Husband before was not appropriate.

It's not reality-based thinking to expect that humans will be perfect at anything. 

Humans are flawed by definition.

A healthy adult is prepared to maintain wholeness, and to take appropriate action for self-preservation, in any event. Betrayal by loved ones included. A healthy adult does not give away that power to another.

One can have expectations that "my [fill-in-the-blank] would never lie to me." But if one isn't prepared to maintain wholeness and take actions for self-preservation were that lie to happen, one might find oneself in a bad (painful, traumatic, apocalyptic, etc) position.

Being human, and therefore not perfect, we all find ourselves unprepared at times. That's an opportunity to grow.

Another point that came up is that it's appropriate, given past events, to expect that someone who has lied to you must re-gain your trust over time. They must earn your trust. That's appropriate. They don't have your trust because they've shown they don't deserve your trust.  That's appropriate.

Expecting you to trust them on their timetable instead of your own because it makes them feel bad to be considered untrustworthy...well, that' shall I say about this? That's a natural consequence of their actions and not for you to control. (I started to say "that's just TOO BAD!" but decided that was less helpful.)

Right now, the natural consequence of Husbands recent lies is that I've pulled away. "What do you expect?" I asked him. I recently realized that not responding according to his expectations doesn't necessarily mean I'm unreasonable or passive aggressive or unwilling to forgive. It just means that my response and his expectation were different. Period. Anything else is just meaning that he or I have added.

(Can we just redefine expectation to mean a fantasy about the future? That would be so helpful.)

What causes fear (for both of us I think) is when expectations aren't met, because that introduces the unknown.

As creatures programmed for survival, nothing is worse, nothing is less tolerable for human beings, than the unknown. I suspect that developing that capacity is the reason I'm here.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Flash of insight, as sometimes happens

It dawned on me that I've been putting off my 4th step for a long time because I've been worried about getting it right. I've been looking for the perfect format - a symptom of my perfectionism I thought. I asked Husband and Mom to go down a list of possible flaws and pick out the ones they felt characterized me, so that I could see where they overlap. Therein must lie the answer to what is wrong with me, I felt.

But I've realized that a large part of looking for the right format, and also for input, is that I've not trusted that I can do it accurately by myself. I'm worried about blind spots, about an inability to be honest with myself about my flaws, about missing something important. And this comes from my inclination not to trust myself when it comes to me. I've always looked to others to define me - to tell me how I'm doing in the world - and this is another manifestation of that.

And as I look at how others have defined me, I'm starting to see that sometimes what they think they see is just their own issues. I've done the same.

I've decided that I'm going to define what my flaws and strengths are. I may not get it 100% right, but I'm going to trust that my Higher Power will give me the clarity to see what I need to see right now. And that will be good enough.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Some clarity in the fog of battle

Husband and I argued this morning (a good thing for two conflict avoiders) and he said two things that gave me surprising insight into his thinking.

He was finishing cooking breakfast and I was on my computer responding to some emails for work. He asked me to go upstairs and get Son out of bed for breakfast, which I said I'd do.

The inability to get off the computer when I say I will as a character flaw of mine. I didn't get off right away as I should have, and Husband called Son downstairs. I could tell by his abrupt actions, his stomping around, and his clipped speech that he was mad. But he wasn't saying anything about it. So when we were brushing our teeth I asked him if he was mad about me not doing what I said I would do.

"Yes!" he said. "Don't sabotage me just because you're mad about something! I have to get to work on time!"

I was taken aback by the accusation that I was deliberately trying to mak him late. Simply put, I'm more mature than that.

"If you're upset about something I wish you'd say something about it," I said.

"So do I," he said. "If you're mad about something I think you should talk about it, and you know what I'm talking about."

Now I was pissed!

"If you mean that I should be talking about my angry feelings about you lying to me about drinking, I already told you I don't feel like I can talk about that without professional help!"

(Son was there, brushing his teeth with us, hearing all of this. Which I think is starting to be ok. He's old enough to see that adults in relationships have problems, and that it doesn't always have to be perfect.)

Then Husband said something that really shocked me. "I just want you to know that that promise I made about not drinking wasn't to you."

Denial? Maybe so. Last straw? Definitely.

I yelled back, "I don't care who you made that promise to! You lied to ME! When I asked you if you'd been drinking, you looked into my eyes and said no. You lied to ME!"

Two points for me! That's what progress looks like! (Arguing with a super-smart addict is definitely a workout in mental gymnastics.)

Of course he called 20 minutes later to apologize for being mad (after he'd already apologized at home, and I'd told him he didn't have to apologize for having feelings.) I told him that I don't need him to apologize for his feelings, that he's just saying what he thinks I expect to hear (I don't think anyone can be authentically sorry for having feelings. It's like being sorry for having skin.) and it just leads to resentment. I said that if he wants to apologize, he can apologize for accusing me of sabotaging him, and for trying to justify lying to me by saying that the promise he'd made hadn't been made to me. (I think I get two more points here, don't I?!) We went back and forth, and I let out a lot of my anger and  held my ground. He did the things addicts do: apologies, feeling shame, saying he'd do anything to make it right, etc.

While I appreciate his desire to be contrite, and believe that he believes he's sorry, I don't value those words. Only his actions can guide me now. And that will take time. We'd built up a few years of fragile trust which he mangled with his lying about drinking 4 months ago. And, silly me, I felt we were recovering strongly from that. Now I don't know how long it will take before it feels right to trust him again. Too long to make it worth trying? I just don't know.

After all this, I still don't think it's totally hopeless. (Denial? Maybe so.) But it's going to require super-human effort on Husband's part for years to come and frankly I have my doubts. The Narcissist is strong in him, and he's terrified. I could see it in his eyes when we were arguing. Totally fight or flight. And for that, I have compassion. I really wish I could heal him. But I know I can't. He needs a power bonus to his Fortitude. 

As an aside, I started listening to some Al-Anon podcasts, and I'm wondering if Husbands issues are also related to Adult Child of Alcoholics issues. He's used the phrase "walking on eggshells" many times to talk about how he felt with his mom, and feels with me. His mom is extremely mercurial, which must have been terrifying as a child. So I'll bet his anon issues are as strong as mine. In fact, the way he gives me so much power, I'm sure of it. I mentioned to him yesterday about the eggshells comments on the podcasts, and that ACA might be something he should check out. We'll see. That ball is now in his court.

In the meantime, I need to find an Al-Anon meeting for myself. I can tell from these podcasts that I have a lot of work I can do. And I need to get better at doing what I say I will do. Cleaning up my side of the street, as the wisdom goes.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Daily practice is important for me

I've been a fog of depression and indecisiveness for the past week. I think I've been re-traumatized by re-experiencing betrayal. But it dawned on me today that this fog could probably have been avoided if I had not stopped going to Anon meetings. 

Come to think of it, if I'd been going to meetings, I probably wouldn't have accepted Husbands lies, or neglected to speak up when I thought something was off.

Things were feeling on such an even keel that I was trying to spend more time with Son, and to focus more on work, so I let meetings slide. Not because I felt finished or "cured" but because it just seemed like a good idea to do other important things, too.

But since I've not been maintaining any daily spiritual or recovery practices, I'm now ill-prepared for weathering this current situation. I'm lacking the clarity that daily practices provide. I don't know if it's because I didn't go up going to church, or because I grew up with parents who both have issues with authority, but for some reason I think I'm resisting the need for daily spiritual and recovery practices. But now that I see the folly in this, these things can become part of my self-care, like exercise and eating healthily, like spending time with family and friends, like flossing and brushing.

The thing that comes to mind is that I'm afraid I won't have enough time for work. My priorities are all messed up. Work is important, because I need to help support our family. But it can't be the focus of my life, especially because I'm not satisfied in my job and I'm only getting paid for a part-time schedule right now.

I'm glad to be back to writing because it's helping me sort our some important things.

Note to self: GO TO MEETINGS!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Hard things settling in

Warning: This is just stream of consciousness, so don't read further if you have little tolerance for disorganized thoughts and feelings.

It's been a week since I found out about Husband's most recent deceptions. Over that time it's begun to settle in that I need to take a look at where I really am in this journey. And that's been gradually more and more depressing as I realize how much is called into question.

Today I've been feeling a big sense of loss, some regret, and a good amount of anxiety and fear. I was at the bookstore this morning and saw a former classmate who went on to have a successful career as a studio executive in the entertainment industry. She was there with a handsome, fit man and two girls - her family I assume. Since I've know her she has launched her career, risen to the top, and then retired to be with her family. I hid from her. I couldn't bear to face her because I didn't know what I could say about my life. "Hi, I've accomplished little professionally, I'm unhappy in my current job, I'm married to an addict, I've just found out for the 3rd time that he's lying to me, we have no savings for the future, our house is under water, we live paycheck to paycheck. How are you?"

I feel so pathetic right now, it's hard to think straight. Part of me asks how I could possibly have ended up here, and the other part of me knows my life is mostly nothing more or less than the result of choices I've made. Most of the time I'm happy with our modest lifestyle because I've felt like I had the important things in life: family, friends, love, companionship, a solid relationship. But with the loss of the progress I thought Husband and I were making in our relationship I don't feel like I have anything. The only positive thing I can point to is my wonderful son, but I don't consider him a personal accomplishment.

Maybe I need to start doing gratitude lists so I can get re-connected with the wonderful things I do have in my life: Family who love me and would always be there for me, girlfriends who are like sisters who love me, a wonderful son who loves and appreciates me. I have my health. I have a job. I have a car. I have health insurance. It's only when I compare myself to others, or to where I think I should be that I feel the pain of failure. And that's a big pain. I'm beginning to fear that I've wasted my life. As I search for jobs and feel the ageism creeping in, I'm beginning to understand that doors are closing for me, whether or not that's right or fair.

My anon program recommends that we let self-seeking slip away and look for where we can be of service. Maybe that's my best next step. Where can I be of service today? How can I take who I am and the things I have to offer and be of service to others? I've never known the answer to that, but now the question is much more pressing. I feel like my options are to figure that our or to give up. And I really don't want to give up. But today I feel so heavy and tired, and the way forward looks fraught with obstacles, and I feel like the clock is ticking on life which means there's so much at stake. I feel like there's no room for error and that paralyzes me.

Action. I have to take action. Move in a direction, any direction, because movement is better than no movement. I think my absolutism is heightened when I feel insecure. But if I make list of actions and just take them, something will happen. And then I can take other actions based on the result. It can be that simple if I just stop thinking about it.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

I'm the idiot still married to a liar

Last weekend Son and I came home from Son's sports lesson to find Husband passed out drunk on the couch. Not great by any standard, but really fucking bad because Husband was supposedly not drinking because of the last time he'd been secretly drinking and lying to me about it.

Four months ago I spelled out for Husband again how painful it is for me to be lied to,  how much damage it does to my ability to trust him, and how difficult it makes repairing our relationship. But husband is sick, and he's still not dealt with the things at the root of his sickness.

I've been trying to decide what to do now.

Instead of relying on only myself and withdrawing into problem solving in my head, I immediately called my three close girlfriends to get their perspective. They share my values, they all have kids (which gives me confidence that they understand my need for Son's well-being to be top priority,) they love both Husband and me and are mature enough not to take sides, and so I trust them to help bring clarity when there is too much fog on my path.

I can feel how much progress I've made in terms of boundaries, self-definition, and recognizing what's mine to deal with and Husband's to deal with. This weekend's incident brings into sharper focus where I still have work to do.

Husband lies to me for two reasons: He feels entitled to the things he does that he thinks I disapprove of him doing. And he's afraid of my response, my anger, disdain, or disappointment, if he does something I don't like. I've taken this as reasonable. Of course someone might lie if they're afraid of the consequences - afraid of losing something they value. And this is where my sickness comes in.

Living with somebody who is willing to lie costs me dearly in ways that are not immediately evident. Just like last time, I thought something was off. He'd come home smelling like alcohol after work sometimes. I even asked him about it once or twice and instead of getting defensive like I worried he might, he'd smile warmly and say "no, I haven't." Then I'd apologize for asking. But mostly I wouldn't ask, because I knew he was working hard, because he is a great dad and partner, because he is a good person, and because he'd made a promise to me after hearing clearly how much it hurt me to be lied to and hearing my explicit request for total honesty between us. I was sure I could trust him. 

So what I did was I readily, willingly negated myself, my sense of smell, my concerns, my ability to protect myself - I negated my own thoughts and instincts - in order to believe and give the benefit of the doubt to someone who has a history of repeatedly lying to me. 

Ah, the river Denial. It's depressing and embarrassing to be floating on your waters after five years of hard work. To be making this mistake, to still find blind spots (chasms?) with regard to my co-dependency. After all the progress I feel like I've made. I guess humility is part of this growth opportunity as well.

I'd stopped going to my weekly meetings because things were on an even keel. I was feeling closer and more loving and accepting toward Husband each day. Work was demanding, and I wanted to be sure to have time with Son while he still wants to spend time with me. So I let my meetings slide.

Lesson #1 (again): If I want to change lifelong patterns I'm going to need ongoing support - even after I feel like I've conquered those patterns. Five years is not enough practice to master the unlearning of behavior I've cultivated over a lifetime. Anon meetings need to be a regular part of my life. Maybe forever. (Ugh. I don't want to accept that.)

Lesson #2: Trust myself above all else. This is part of self-definition. I WILL SAY if things seem okay to me, and not rely on others to say that things are ok. And I will not trust known liars, no matter how repentant they are or what kinds of promises they make.

Lesson #3: Trust actions, not words. Promises mean shit. Actions are what make the difference. I know Husband loves me, he says he loves me, and his actions make him a great dad and partner to raise a child with. But his actions DON'T make him a good adult relationship partner, no matter what he says, how sorry he is, how different he wishes things were.

When Husband disappeared after our argument about his drinking this weekend and Son started asking where Daddy was I couldn't make up a story - I couldn't lie to Son. I didn't know where Husband was or when (if) he'd be coming back. So asked Son if he remembered how we'd talked about addiction and alcoholism in relation to drinking. He said yes, and I told him that Daddy actually had that problem, and that when we'd come home Daddy was passed out from being drunk. I told him that Daddy had been secretly drinking and lying to me about it. And that we'd had an argument and I didn't know where Daddy was but that he'd probably gone for a walk and would probably be back.

I've been not telling Son about any of our issues for the last five years. But I felt like the ground had been laid for a relatively frank discussion, and I wasn't going to lie to Son and break the trust in our relationship to cover up for Husband. I kept a positive tone, told Son that Daddy and I would be working on these issues. He seemed sad, and wanted time to himself. I let him know that Daddy was still the same Daddy and that we both loved him and that we could talk about anything whenever he wanted. I asked if he had any questions or concerns or worries. We talked a bit more and then he went up to his room "to think about things and listen to my story." (He loves to listen to stories on the iPod.) I asked him if he wanted to call any of his friends for support. "Not yet," he said.

I'm trying to get to a therapist to help me work out my next steps. If it was just me I'd throw in the towel, but I want to do the best I can to work on our issues for Son's sake.  But Son is old enough now and has enough emotional maturity and enough tools to handle what may come with support from Husband and me, and professionals if necessary. And I don't want to set the example that betrayal is trivial.

And another thing worth noting is that because Husband is willing to lie, I can't be sure that there aren't other things he's lying about as well. I don't think there are, but this is where Lesson #3 above comes into play, right?

Thinking about the input I've received from friends and from my Anon meeting, I'm pretty sure I'm ready to say that this is the last time. I'm willing to continue to work, but if husband lies to me, deceives me, betrays my trust again I'm going to get a divorce. That is really scary, because it's giving up a lot. Husband is a wonderful father, a great partner in many ways, a relatively responsible provider, he loves me, he's my champion, he's smart and warm and funny, he only wants the best for me. But I think sacrificing my Self in order to keep the positive things I get out of having Husband in my life is not going to turn out well for me. Living with lies confuses my relationship with the core of myself. It doesn't feel like a good thing to do because it requires not trusting myself. I have to write this here so that I have a plan to refer to if the going gets rough.

I am trying to hang on to the life I want, but the truth is I just don't have it and I never did. A hard thing to process at 47 years old. Another thing I don't want to accept.

God...please, please, please...grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, help me find the courage to get the support I need to change the things I can, and help me hold on to the clarity and the wisdom to know the difference.

I don't feel that clear right now.