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.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

All I Got for Christmas

I realized this morning that I’ve come to dread Christmas.

Years ago I bought Husband a Thai cookbook for his birthday. He’d always enjoyed cooking, and had discovered Thai food as several inexpensive Thai restaurants blossomed around Seattle. I was so excited for him to open his present, and was crushed when he seemed almost insulted by my gift. The details of what was said have faded with time, but I was left with low-level dread about giving Husband gifts that has increased with the passing years.

My experience was that Husband always felt dissatisfied with gifts, particularly at Christmas. He never seemed to feel he’d gotten exactly what he wanted, and always seemed to feel slighted when given gifts that weren't "him," declaring them impersonal. He could never look past the thing to appreciate the thought and effort that had gone into getting the gift, and the care that it expressed. So I’ve learned to ask for a List and just shop from that rather than to try to put any thought into something special that I think up myself.

At the top of Husband’s list this year was an iPhone. He was also lobbying hard for Guitar Hero. But he’s being laid off in January and I’ve had a slow 4th quarter, so I was hoping we could go a little easy on the gifts this year. However gifts are a very big deal with Husband (he loves to give as much as he loves to receive,) and I began to get the feeling that I was getting some big surprise gift and that if I didn’t match up, I’d be disappointing him again.

I’d finished all my shopping the week before Christmas but realized over the weekend that I didn’t have anything “mind-blowing” for Husband. I’d gotten many things from his list, but not the high-end items. I thought back on the video iPod I’d gotten him a few years back and the beautiful watch I’d gotten him for our 10th anniversary (both of which were from his List,) both of which he lost soon after receiving. Even expensive things just seemed to sink into the insatiable abyss of wanting, instead of being valued as much as they were sought.

But as my anticipation of failure grew, I toyed with getting Guitar Hero. For the money I didn’t really think he’d play it a lot after the novelty wore off. So I considered the iPhone. It was expensive, but I’d heard that it was going to be available after Christmas for $99. So I thought I’d give him a $100 bill with my old cell phone.

But then on Sunday I had the opportunity to get him a gift certificate toward some spiritual classes he’d wanted to take. That wasn’t on the official List, but he’d mentioned that he was interested in taking some classes just weeks ago. I knew he’d end up with an iPhone anyway (especially if they were really going to be available for $99.) I decided to get the $200 gift certificate because, while the iPhone was more practical and could be written off as a business expense, the classes were a luxury so he’d be less likely to do that for himself.

But this morning as Son opened his considerable bounty yet still seemed to feel disappointed when it came to an end, and when Husband made joking mention of “not getting what I really wanted anyway, an iPhone” (he hadn’t opened my gift certificate yet) that feeling of dread surged and I felt the hollowness of what Christmas has become.

As I pondered, it dawned on me that because of Husband’s narcissism and affliction with addiction, almost anything would fall short of his expectations. Just like with all the prostitutes, he was always looking for that one mind-blowing ultimate experience, conversation, gift, whatever, that always seemed just out of his reach. Nothing was ever as good as he imagined once he got it, and he was always left unsatiated. Of course, nothing was ever enough to fill the undistinguished empty space he carried with him.

So all these years it had nothing to do with me falling short. It was a manifestation of where he was on his path.

Though I understood that logically and the realization helped me get some space and clarity, a heaviness continued to linger until I began to look more closely at my own feelings of sadness and disappointment. (The benefit of all the therapy and reading over the past 19 months is that I can often stay with the muck long enough to recognize the opportunity for me to grow rather than spinning into resentment, blame, distraction or skipping down the happy path of denial.)

I realized that I was feeling bad because I didn’t get what I wanted either.

What I wanted was for Husband to be thrilled with the gift certificate I’d gotten him (he wasn’t.) And for Son to revel in what he’d received rather than to be looking for more presents under the now barren tree. I was attached to each of them having specific experiences and because I didn’t get what I wanted I was hurt, sad, angry, disappointed.

Then, my Higher Power reminded me that I have no control over the experiences of another.

Authentic gratitude is a steep learning curve for narcissists, and only through this crisis we've faced has Husband found a foothold with which to being his ascent. (As I heard in church recently, it is darkness that makes it possible for us to see the light.)

All I can do is give what I give with love and joy, and Husband and Son must make their own experiences from there. And that will depend on where each of them are on their own paths, not on anything that I do or don’t do.

I still want to do Christmas differently next year, with less focus on lists and what we want (in other words, less focus on lack and desire for the months leading up to Christmas day.)

But now I have an opening to give with love and joy, and to revel in what I’ve received – life’s important basics: food, clothing, shelter; the love and support of family and friends; my health; my son; a career; material luxuries; spiritual growth; good therapists; the breath I'm taking now; all my needs met; and my growing presence to myself and each of us as unique and vital expressions of the Divine.

"... if the wave bends down and touches her true nature she will realize that she is water." - Thich Nhat Han, No Death, No Fear.

Once again, my life leaves me present to gratitude. That's what I got for Christmas.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Learning not to be afraid of fear

A central concept in Buddhism is Dukkha, which translates generally as discomfort but encompasses the full range of discomfort from uneasiness and annoyance to the deepest pain and suffering.

My recent visit to a psychic medium represenced me to this concept and illuminated for me how far I've come in my journey.

I'd seen Laura soon after I found out about Husband's addiction when I was looking for anything that might provide some answers about how it came to be that my life was suddenly unrecognizable to me. The session had given me some good things to think about (letting him "off the hook" - in other words, not trying to make him pay for what he'd done is one of the things I recall her saying.)

This time my friend Sara had set up a group session with the two of us and 3 other women. Laura worked with each of us individually, serving as a vehicle for communications from the spirit world from people who've passed on, as well as from what I'd describe as the Universal Consciousness. When she came to me, she had little in the way of messages from departed relatives, but lots of thoughts from this Universal Consciousness presence.

She started out by singing "O Come All Ye Faithful" which, in retrospect, was very funny given how our conversation went. A joke from the spirit world, perhaps.

She said I was like a rose waiting to bloom with lots of opportunity available to me if I would stop focusing on others, stop living in fear, and focus on nurturing and developing myself. She suggested that I'd have to do this despite the fact that Husband might be threatened by success that comes my way. She told me I needed to start walking my walk, and to live up to the expectations I had for others. That was the good stuff.

She also said that my relationship was a cluster-fuck, that fixing absorbs 80% of my life and that I live in fear of when the next shoe is going to drop. When she asked my why I was still in this relationship, I said "because it's my path."

"For how long?" she asked.

She said I'm in a no-win situation because Husband is threatened when my life gets better. She said They were telling her it's a pattern I got on track with, and that I can't continue to hide my life being afraid of what he's going to do. There's more to my life than being a wife and mother. And, with respect to Husband's addictions, there have to be dealbreakers because people don't learn until boundaries are set.

She said I'm at a point where I must choose what to do with my life now, and the result with either be that I expand or crash and burn.

While I could listen in the context of my experience and find a lot that made sense to me, the context in which Laura was speaking and Sara was listening and later talking about it with me seemed to be based on the past, and it was very confronting.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

More opportunity to practice (AFGO)

On the CD that comes with the book Spiritual Liberation by Michael Bernard Beckwith, he says "In the mind of God there aren't any problems, there are just impetuses for us to evolve." He goes on to say that the real question to ask as we face challenges is "where must I grow, where must I evolve?" What is it within me that I must set free to empower myself in the face of this issue?

I've also been thinking about the difference between self-delusion and serenity. If I just choose to be happy, as I'm often invited to do, isn't it possible that I'm just looking on the sunny side and not dealing with the muck and darkness like I've always done?

After more thinking I've concluded that delusion is when I choose to be happy by ignoring or otherwise distracting myself from problems; and that serenity and empowerment come when I can choose to be happy in the presence of challenges and obstacles. This involves acceptance regarding what I can't control, and faith that I have everything I need within myself to meet all challenges that come my way. I can grow, I can evolve. It may not be easy, it may not be pleasant, but it's definitely something I can do. I can find the opportunity in any situation if I really want to.

So I have another opportunity, and my grand conclusion is easier contemplated than practiced.

Husband found out last night that he's being laid off in January. With my consulting work a trickle the past month, my mind immediately flings off in the direction of foreclosure.

This is part of my sickness. I fall into a downward spiral and hem and haw about disasters that haven't happened and things I can't control.

I have A LOT OF FEAR about financial insecurity, and about Husband being able to handle the stress of job loss, job hunting, stress in his current job, his continuing health issues, his upcoming operation, staying on his new medically supervised liquid diet, and sometimes not being able to get enough good sleep. I worry that the addict is going to pay us a visit.

So...I'm going to meditate more, exercise more, ask myself how I can evolve (I've already got a hunch this involves restructuring my relationship to abundance and surrendering to what I can and can't control,) talk to my higher power and turn things over...and we'll see. I'm getting better at seeing what is mine to deal with and what is Husband's to deal with, so that's useful progress.

Maybe over the past 18 months I've gained some facility in dealing with groundlessness and the impermanence of life.