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, July 15, 2010

Esteemable act for this week

This has been a big week. I had a planned hysterectomy on Monday to solve a problem of severe bleeding due to fibroids. And Tuesday Husband got some big news that equals a big step forward with his project. So the time for esteemable acts is now, because I can feel the sea of self-doubt churning.

At 46 my chances of bearing a healthy child were questionable at best, but now it's a definite no. As the date for the operation drew near I was very busy with work, so didn't have time to dwell on the sadness that came up from time to time. Which was a good thing I think. (And thankfully I've been able to talk to Husband, close friends and my therapist about it.)

We both realized we wanted another child almost the moment our son was born, but it didn't work out that way. We never went to extreme measures, I had one miscarriage at 15 weeks when I was 40, and despite lots of ovulation kits and pretty consistent trying, I didn't get pregnant. Even after I found out about Husband's sex addiction, I diligently kept going to the acupuncturist for fertility treatments, but I think I was under too much stress to get pregnant for the next couple years. Then Husband had medical issues of his own that made sex challenging. And then at the beginning of this year I had the period that wouldn't stop. I thought I was miscarrying because we'd been trying and my period was late, but after a month I ended up in the hospital with dangerously low hemoglobin levels. I was, as usual, busy with work and attributed my shortness of breath and exhaustion to allergies and not enough sleep. But no, actually I was slowly bleeding do death. (Kind of dramatic, but not an exaggeration.) The fact that it took me so long to notice brought up issues that I'm addressing. But that's not what this is about.

What this is about is Who am I if I'm no longer the wife who can bear children? I'm no longer young, I'm no longer in possession of a uterus, I'm not thin, I don't look like a model, I'm not the wide-eyed adoring girl he met 22 years ago, I'm not, I'm not, I'm not...blah blah blah...Who am I if I'm not an object of attraction to Husband?

I need to answer that question more than ever now, so it feels good to be working on it.

I've been thinking about my esteemable acts as things that I can do, actions that I can take without depending on someone else, actions that leave me with a sense of personal accomplishment, with the feeling that I'm doing what I was put on earth to do, with the feeling that if I died today, I'd have been doing something with my life that was meaningful to me and fulfilling in the moment.

All big things start with small steps, so the small steps I took this week all had to do with self-care. I took the week off of work and have been focusing on resting, spending time with my family, and reading two books: The 4-Hour Workweek, which focuses on freeing up more time; and Zen and the Art of Making a Living, which focuses on "creative career design."

Oddly, taking this kind of time for myself feels indulgent, so I'm counting it as an esteemable act, because I'm declaring by my actions that I am worthy of the time to consider and plan my future, that I don't have to be working every moment to be worthy and valuable - that I can declare my value and not have to prove it by working when I should be resting.

Like I said, it's a baby step.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Being loved used to be enough

Went to see my therapist today. I've been feeling better, not so heavy and sad, but I know I still have work to do on my self esteem issues so I was looking forward to getting back to it.

We talked about my anxiety over the prospect of Husband's success, and my fear that he'll get all caught up in his success and meanwhile I'll disappear. And that when he has success, that will make him attractive to hot young women who will look at him adoringly and giggle and make him feel smart and cool and sexy. My crazy head says to me, "If someone can have something better, then why wouldn't they want that? And what do I have to offer that would trump a hot young body, a gorgeous face and pie-eyed admiration? Isn't that much more attractive to a man than a 46 year old, nice looking but chunky woman who is sometimes distant, sometimes sad, and highly suspicious of you?"

One of my close girlfriends who knows what has happened between Husband and me told me that her therapist suggested doing "esteemable acts" as a way to build self esteem. I've been putting off thinking about what these could be for me because I've been so busy with work. (I also put of going to the doctor because of work earlier this year and ended up in the hospital with dangerously low hemoglobin levels because I was slowly bleeding to death, so I guess I don't learn, do I? I'm fully recovered now, and none the wiser apparently.) But I don't want to go along in this same self-esteemless rut and wake up in 5 years to see I've made no progress.

I also talked with my therapist about my sadness over losing the relationship I thought I had with Husband. I don't have any big accomplishments in life. I haven't climbed the Seven Sisters, or become a successful artist, or written a book, or traveled the world, or discovered anything, or cured anything, or become an expert in my field. Nor do I have the material trappings of success: no VP title, no big salary, no fancy car or house, no fantastic wardrobe. Before these things didn't bother me, because I always came back to my relationship. That was what I had. That was what was really important in life, and there I was successful. All that other stuff was icing on the cake - great if it came along, fine if it didn't. I had a loving partnership that was solid and true.

And then I didn't. Instead I had a husband who'd had sex with dozens of other women while we were married, spent tens of thousands of dollars on those prostitutes, and lied to me about all of it, even making me feel wrong and bitchy and crazy when I ever asked about things that I thought were questionable - odd charges on the credit card, for example (which I later realized were for subscriptions to prostitute review and reservation sites.) And I had the pain of feeling like I'd become forgettable to the person I thought loved me most in the world.

So now sometimes I feel I don't have anything. Not the material spoils, not the outward gains, and most important, not the trusted partnership that I valued above all else. I do have my amazing son, but I have to be careful to remember that relationship is ultimately about letting go. He's not my life partner. If he's healthy and if we have a healthy relationship, he'll be separating, not hanging around as I get to be a little old lady the way I envisioned Husband would.

Thinking about it, I realized I ended up in this position because I think that for me, being loved was enough. As long as I knew I was loved, other personal goals and desires became secondary. What could be more important that spending time with the person you love most in the world? Not that I gave up my dreams and interests. I just didn't pursue success or any particular accomplishment, didn't try to climb ladders and get ahead. I had my own life that was busy and full and didn't revolve around Husband. But I didn't have a strong agenda for myself. I didn't need one. I felt deeply loved, and that was enough. I didn't long for anything else.

But now I see that I stopped building my own identity out in the world. I wasn't an appendage to husband at all. But I stopped growing and shaping myself outside of my happy little world of family and close friends.

The best metaphor I can think of is boats. We weren't two boats anchored side by side. We were two boats, but he was the one with the anchor (at least that's how it felt) and I was tied to him with no anchor of my own.

So it's time to begin with esteemable acts, so that I don't disappear from the world if Husband forgets about me. (Not that I really think he will anymore, but the fear of that is hard to get past.) Time to define who I want to be in the world, what I want to do, and take action on those things. That doesn't have to take anything away from my relationship with Husband. And it will help me develop a relationship to myself. I will create my own anchor.