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.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

One Year Later

The beginning of the most deeply painful experience I've ever had was a year ago today. It was the day I discovered that my lover, partner, and best friend of 20 years had been lying to me and seeking out sexual activity with other women outside our relationship since before our marriage.

"I hope you enjoyed your time with Angie." I'll never forget the words I read in that email from the escort service that began to unravel the horrible truth over the course of that Friday evening after which my life would be profoundly and irrevocably changed.

A year ago I had no idea what today would bring. I remember thinking about my wedding vows, about what it meant to have made the decision to publicly declare my commitment to spending the rest of my life with Husband. To me that meant that when the going got rough I was going to give it my best to work things out. With that in mind, I decided the next day, or maybe even that night, I really don't remember, that the result I wanted was to try to stay together, mostly for the sake of my son. So I made decisions based on what would cause that outcome. I didn’t leave. I didn’t kick him out. I didn’t tell the world about his lies, the sex with prostitutes, the tens of thousands of dollars he’d spent, the anguish I was experiencing at this profound betrayal.

After a solitary drive that ended up at the beach, I came home and took my son to his martial arts class on Saturday morning. As usual my mom came with us. I couldn't say anything to her because I knew she'd never be able to forgive Husband, and would forever be trying to use this against him. My close girlfriend was there with her son, and she could tell something was not right with me. She put her arms around me and hugged me tightly. "I really needed that," I said. She'd recommended a therapist for me before, and I got the information again from her that day and immediately made an appointment.

Monday morning I was in my therapist's office. She introduced me to the concept of sex addiction, and gave me a list of suggestions for Husband. I met him for lunch later that day and passed on the information. "You can do whatever you want." I told him. I wasn't going to lay down any rules or ultimatums. I was not going to step into the role of parent and tell him what he had to do to make up for what he'd done. I wanted to see what he would do, and then make my choices accordingly. He said he'd start going to SAA meetings and see a therapist, but that he didn't think he needed inpatient treatment she’d suggested.

I didn't know it at the time, but his addict was sill very much in the driver's seat, despite being found out. I don't think he had any more sex with prostitutes after that, but he's since told me he really didn't think he had a problem that day. He was still very much in denial, and it would take months of SAA meetings and therapy with his wonderful therapist and our amazing couples therapist before he could begin to understand how lost he was that day.

There was a lot I didn't know either. What I didn't know about Husband was only part of the problem. What I didn't know about myself was equally significant.

Through individual therapy, couples therapy, SAnon meetings and spiritual reading and practice, I've been able to begin the journey of my own recovery. After the first several months of dealing with the shock and the raw, agonizing pain of having my deepest core beliefs about my life, my husband and the world as I believed it to be ripped away, I have been able to explore how I got to where I was in my life and my relationship with Husband that June 1st.

I’ve learned that I’m an absolutist who sees things at their extremes, with little ability to tolerate the grey, murky, messiness of real life. I've realized that I didn't listen and/or didn't provide Husband the experience of being heard about important things in our relationship. I idealized him so completely that I wasn't able to see the depth of his unhappiness, and couldn't see that he felt he had no space to express his fears, upsets and imperfections. I've seen how neither of us had the tools to deal with conflict and did everything we could to avoid it, once again leaving no space for either of us to express upsets or deal with problems. And I've a tremendous spiritual growth. I've learned the practice of leaning into the fear and pain of life rather than turning or running away from it. I've learned how to express myself more in spite of fears and doubts. I’ve learned that I don’t have to be afraid of other people, that I can be an adult who doesn’t worry about getting in trouble or disappointing or angering others. I've learned how much I depended on Husband for my sense of self, and how much I've let other people's responses define me throughout my entire life. I've learned what boundaries are, why they are necessary, and how to define and express them. I've learned the power of reaching out for support. I've begun to accept that I can't handle everything all by myself, and that a higher power doesn't have to be a crutch, but can be a source of compassion and an opportunity for surrender. I've learned that life will continue to present me with the same lessons over and over again until I stop turning away from them. I've come to believe that there is little we can really know about life outside of our own selves, and that any thought that we can control people, situations or outcomes is an illusion. I've started to explore Buddhism, and this has been an incredible source of strength and peace for me. I would never choose to experience the pain I've felt over the last year, but at the same time the opportunities for growth and learning this pain has presented have been profoundly life changing in a positive way, and I'm grateful for that.

Despite the growth and my gratitude, things aren’t resolved. I still feel pain; I still have unwelcome thoughts and images passing through my mind. I still feel incredibly alone at times, and deeply miss the trust that I had in my relationship with Husband prior to all of this. That took years to develop, and may take years to restore, if it’s even possible. I’m still having trouble with surrendering to what is so. Husband is someone who’s hurt me more than anyone else in my life, he’s given me reason to profoundly distrust him, and yet if I want a relationship with him these are the things that I need to surrender to. For example, the knowledge that he could hurt me the way he did, and that there is no way for me to prevent that from happening again.

Just yesterday I realized in therapy how much I idealized Husband. Before all of this, when I expressed unhappiness with my job Husband’s response was something along the lines of “I’m sorry you’re unhappy, but if that’s the case why don’t you do something about it?” In other words, he didn’t provide the support I could have used. He didn’t acknowledge and have compassion for my fears and my sadness. But I couldn’t conceive that he had anything other than my best interest at heart and therefore took his words to mean that there was a problem with me that I had to fix. It never crossed my mind that a narcissistic addict full of anger and resentment was speaking to me. It never occurred to me to believe that I was okay, and that he was being a jerk who was lacking compassion for my feelings. He was wonderful, loving and brilliant, so there must be something wrong with me. I didn’t think about it exactly like that. I didn’t say those words, or even think them. But that’s how I processed it internally. I never questioned his response, only my thoughts, feelings and self-expression. I defined myself, my validity, according to his response to me. And this is something I just realized yesterday. With that realization came a deeper understanding of how much farther I have to go in healing my own self, developing my own core of strength, a strong sense of and belief in who I am no matter what anyone else says, thinks or does. The path may be long, but at least I’m on it now. A year ago today this path wasn’t even on my map.

With this great pain has come great opportunity and growth. I can’t say how things will turn out. Perhaps that’s partly because I think now that things will always be evolving. I’ve come to believe that I will never arrive, but that I’ll be walking a path into the unknown for the rest of my life, one day at a time. I do believe I can find peace with that. It may be something I have to do over and over again, but I know from experience that peace is possible.

And as I continue to face fear, to be present to non-duality, to accept the inseparable nature of joy and pain, to honor myself and all others as expressions of the divine, to have compassion for myself and others, and to practice loving kindness, I believe I will experience joy in a deeper way. I believe I will be able to love and trust Husband as he is, and to accept his love. I believe I’m developing a core of strength that I never even knew I was missing, and that I’ll experience with increasing frequency the depth of peace and serenity that comes with love and compassion for self and others.

The pain, fear and despair I’ve felt over this year have been unprecedented in my life; yet in spite of that, the resulting spiritual growth I’ve had leaves me with the experience that profound peace, joy and serenity are possible ways I never imagined before.


Stephanie said...

It gives me some hope that you have made it a year. Today - June 2 is the 2 year anniversary of the day my husband first physically got sex outside of the marriage (outside of the porn and chatting with hookers, etc). We had come home from a 10 day trip to Disneyworld the night before. He returned to work (a Friday) and he called a hooker named Little DeDe RubRub for a massage and handjob on the way home. In fact he passed our home talking to me on the phone as he did to go 20 minutes further to get this handjob. I hate him today for destroying our marriage. He wrote a review of her performance. She had kids at home. The whole thing is sick. I can't stand this duality of loving a person who did something so sick. I feel like I am hugging Hitler and telling him it will be ok.

I am curious, did you ever tell your mother after that first day? At my therapist's urging, I have not told her or most people. But I feel like I am going through each day like a fraud. My marriage is based on lies. I could have my annulment through the church with no hassle and yet it is eating me up like a cancer to have to create more lies to protect my husband while he heals from telling the old lies. I don't want him alienated from the family but I am sick of perpetuating this facade at the same time. If we divorced, I would have no problem telling everyone. Why am I urged to keep lying to keep the marriage together?


woman.anonymous7 said...

Stephanie - I have not told my mother and I don't plan to. Her bad feelings would forever be a challenge to my effort to create a healthy, loving relationship with Husband for myself and also for my son.

I understand the feeling of being a fraud. The fact that there is something very large and profound that I'm now keeping from loved ones and close friends has caused me considerable discomfort and stress at times. But because I am choosing to work to create a good relationship with Husband, I won't do anything that will create and environment that undermines that. I have a hard enough time understanding, even with all the reading, therapy and support. I don't want to count on the understanding and compassion of others regarding Husband's sex addiction and his betrayal of my trust. I believe that our conversations create much of the context for our lives, so I don't want to create negative conversations around us when I'm working so hard to create a positive outcome.

I’m not going to lie about or even minimize the truth if it comes out, but I’m not going to initiate conversations about these issues with people who can’t do something about the problems. I selected 4 close friends I believed would be able to refrain from judgment, and relied on them when I needed support. All the other support I’ve reached out to has come from anonymous groups and therapists.

That being said, nobody can tell you what is right for you to do. Everything I'm doing, I'm doing by choice. I'm working to keep my marriage together because I feel that it's the best choice for me given my personal priorities. I did not make my choices to spare Husband the consequences of his actions. I make my choices based on the outcome I want to create.

If people are urging you to do something that feels wrong to you, that feels not just difficult, but fundamentally opposed to who you are and what is right for you, I want to be clear that I am not advocating for that approach by the choices I've made or the things that I've shared on my blog.

Just as I can't control whether or not Husband will betray me again, neither can I control his experience of the consequences of his actions. I can't protect him, or make choices to help his recovery. I can only take actions to create what I want for myself, which is what I've done. True, I could take actions that I believe will have negative consequences for him, but in reality what he makes out of the circumstances or challenges he faces will be up to him. In other words, Hhe can make lemonade out of lemons if he chooses to do so. And so can I.

That's an over-simplification, and I'm not saying that everything can be turned into something great. But I believe I can empower myself in the face of the unknown, unanticipated, unwanted, unwelcomed, or I can be dominated by those things. So my choice is to do my best to empower myself (easier said than done, definitely a one-day-at-a-time process.) Whatever benefits Husband seems to derive from the choices I make that are good for me are not really relevant to me. What is important is that I feel on the path to becoming stronger, happier, healthier, more self-expressed, more able to be my own source of self-esteem.

If you feel that your choices are getting you closer to where you want to end up, based on my experience I'd say that the accompanying discomfort (and that may be an understatment) is part of the growth. But if you don't feel like you're getting closer to a better place, you might reflect upon what would get you on that path and seek support for taking those actions.

Catherine said...

What an inspirational post you have made it a year - I wish you and your family the best.

Stephanie said...

Thank you for your response and giving me an alternate angle from which to view the issue. You are right. I am not looking for more negativity right now. My negative feelings are more than enough for one person to carry. I guess that is part of accepting the powerlessness. If I share, I cannot control the emotions and reactions of the other friends and family.

Mary P Jones (MPJ) said...

"I would never choose to experience the pain I've felt over the last year, but at the same time the opportunities for growth and learning this pain has presented have been profoundly life changing in a positive way, and I'm grateful for that."

This says it all for me too.

This is the day you mourn the death of your old life. This is the day you celebrate the birth of the new. Condolences and congratulations, Woman A.