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.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Looking back with gratitude and forward with anticipation

I heard a great quote in my meeting last night: "I feel like a ping pong ball, and I don't know what the paddle is. But something keeps hitting me!" I remember that feeling.

I remember hearing about boundaries, relationship-with-self, self-validation and similar things in the early weeks and months after I found out about Husband's sex addiction. But I had little idea what those things looked like in real life, no understanding of how to start practicing them, and no idea where to get that information.  After reading and asking around, I was still confused about where to begin. So I decided to start by asking myself once simple question: What do I need to feel safe, peaceful, and serene?

The follow-up to that was what can I do that is within my control to make sure I create safety, peace and serenity for myself?

The things that are within my control are the boundaries I set, and the consequences I enforce when they are broken.

Consequences must not be confused with punishment.
  • I define a consequence as an action I will take if my boundaries are disregarded to change something that is within my control, resulting in a greater sense of peace and serenity for me.
  • I define a punishment as an action I would take in order to change someone else's behavior when they aren't doing what they should be doing.
Boundaries and consequences seem to be on the right track when I enforce them with loving detachment and compassion, rather than with anger and resentment. 

I found that once I started to set boundaries about what I needed to feel safe, "I" started to emerge. I began to have more of an understanding of and relationship with myself - and a better ability to define and validate myself, rather than relying on the judgements and evaluations of others to understand myself and my place in the world.

I don't feel like a ping pong ball anymore. I feel more grounded and secure in who I am than I ever have in my life. That's what I've gotten out of discovering my husband's sex addiction. And there are so many stories like mine, so many stories of recovery and hope from so many who've resisted the temptation, one day at a time, to run, fix, or control others when it felt as if their worlds had exploded into a million unrecognizable shards.

Looking back, I'm grateful for all those who have shared my journey thus far. Looking forward, I'm excited about all the things that are possible for us that weren't possible before.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

How to re-establish trust?

It was a topic meeting this week at SAnon, and the topic was how do you re-establish trust?

SAnon is about sharing one's own experience, not about giving advice, so people spoke only about their own situations. As we went around the room, it became clear that the people in my meeting are in various stages of learning to trust themselves and speak their truths.

I think that is the answer, or at least the path toward the answer.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Talking, listening, and opportunity

I decided not to give weight to much of my conversation with Husband Thursday night. I'm not at my best when I'm drunk, so I chose to give him the benefit of the doubt. Friday morning he apologized for walking out on our conversation, and for the things he said. As I suspected, throwing in the towel was just a drunken gesture.

So we have work to do.

We both lost our wedding rings this year. He on a balmy September day at the beach, me a couple months later. I don't know where. I'd been thinking about what a new ring might symbolize for me, and I'd decided that instead of "forever" the circle would be an "O" and represent opportunity. Because our relationship is that for both of us - an opportunity to confront the deeper things we need to grow and develop as human beings. As long as we can maintain a healthy environment in which we're both working and progressing, I'm willing.

We went out tonight and had some good conversation. Mostly I talked, actually, and he listened. I talked about how much his lying hurts me, presses on the places where I'm tender - where my feelings of unworthiness reside. I told him that I hoped he'd try to get to the roots of the things it seems his addictions are servicing - his fear of being left, his resentments for being undervalued and unacknowledged, the entitlement that arises out of that, and his fear of inciting my anger. I'm an absolutist, but I'm not an angry, irrational person. His mother is. I'm not her, but I'm paying the price for their relationship and I'm not willing to stay in that role. I told him that, too.

I acknowledged some of my own issues that contribute to our dynamic: My absolutism, my deep seated feeling that I must never need a man so  I won't be vulnerable to dependency, and my need to make sure men I'm in relationships know that I'm not dependent on them. Of course they fit neatly into his issues. I guess we really do seek out that which we need to learn. 

He went to his first AA meeting today, and wasn't surprised to find he was in the right place. He told me he'd always avoided going to AA because he wasn't an alcoholic, and didn't want to give up drinking. But he said that recently all the problems we've been having - the lies he's told - have revolved around his drinking. He talked about how he'd stopped having boundaries around work, and let his practices and meeting attendance slip because of it. He's going to return to regular spiritual practices, regular meetings, and to regular exercise as well - the things he needs to do to take care of himself.

Addicts slip. We all do. But he's willing to own up to his mistakes, willing to take responsibility for his actions, for his well-being, and for his part in building a healthy relationship. He's willing, as I am, to choose to move toward his challenges instead of running and avoiding.

So things are better. I don't feel so lost. In fact, because I am more grounded in my own self now and less reactive, I feel stronger and more peaceful.

There is still work to be done, for sure. The difference now is I've learned that I'm up to the task.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Fresh pain - part of living with an addict?

Can't sleep. Husband came home drunk tonight from his company Christmas party (I went to a friend's birthday party, because the Christmas party was sounding like it might be dull and it's at least an hour drive to the company headquarters.) I hadn't heard from him all day and all evening, which was a little unusual. And I couldn't reach him. But he called when I was on my way home to say he was home.

He was coming out when I was walking up to the house, and he said he was going to park his car. That was odd, and I went down the street with him to see what it was all about. It was parked perpendicular to the curb, and it had run out of gas on our street. When I opened the door to help him push it into a more legal position, I found an open bottle of vodka on the front seat. Upon further investigation I found a bunch of empty wine containers in the car as well. Turns out that for the past several weeks (so he says) he's been drinking after work "a couple days a week" and not telling me, after we'd agreed that we weren't going to be drinking except on specific special occasions. Which came about because of another time he got drunk and lied to me about how much he'd had to drink.

I just don't know what to do. On the one hand I really do love him, and really want him in my life for so many reasons - he's a great dad, smart, great sense of humor, loves me, supports me in the things I want to do, encourages me, is a good partner in terms of sharing responsibilities. But there's a part of him that feels entitled to things (online games, booze, food, not porn or prostitutes as far as I know) when he feels overworked and/or under a lot of pressure, but he's so afraid of me that instead of coming out and saying so he sneaks and lies to me about it. He doesn't seem to know how to deal with those feelings in healthier ways when he gets overwhelmed. But the lies really hurt. I feel disrespected, and it brings back the pain and sadness about past betrayals.

I'm finding it really hard to make a deep emotional bond with someone I don't know that I can trust. So part of me is always withdrawn from him, and things like this just kind of cement that gap between us. And honestly the physical intimacy is a challenge, too, partly because he's not the person I thought he was, and partly because every time we are physical I can't stop thoughts of what he did from coming into my head. I often need a lot of time (days or weeks) to get to a place where I feel like having sex, and he seems to feel invalidated by that. Understandable, but I don't know what else to do but take the time I need. Sex feels too intimate do just lie back and think of England.

I really want to work on things with him. Thinking about my life without him, and Son's life with us divorced - neither of those scenarios seem appealing. But neither does "faking it" and pretending we have a relationship that we don't for Son's sake. I don't want to lie to Son like that. But I don't know if Husband is capable of resolving the things that are at the root of all his addictions - the entitlement and fear (and the family issues they stem from) which combine to result in him lying to me.

I don't know what to do right now. I know I can figure something out. (Although it may not be up to me anyway - in his drunken state he was talking about it probably being better if we decide it's over.) But right now, I'm just at a loss.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Emotional intimacy after betrayal

Maybe I'm no longer capable of being vulnerable enough to have a deep, emotional bond with Husband.

I've often said that deep trust is critical to deep love. But as I've been thinking about it, I realized that it's very common to deeply love people we know we can't trust. You can love deeply without attachment, without expectation, without an agenda, with an appreciation for all that someone is and is not.

So maybe the more correct theorem is that a deep emotional partnership requires deep trust.

I'd like to have that again with Husband, but a question remains before me like badly worn carpet: How do I open up to him without relying on trusting him?

My intellect replies that I need to trust myself to take care of my well-being, come what may. And I guess that's what I've done. I've sought help and support, learned about and drawn boundaries, taken responsibility for things that are within my control, tried hard to stay out of things that aren't mine to address, wrangled new tools. But all after the fact. After the searing, soul-shattering pain of being deeply betrayed by someone I thought I knew intimately and trusted absolutely.

So, if I must be honest, what I'm really searching for here is a way to avoid ever feeling that pain again.

Therein lies the shit. (Not the good kind.) Because to avoid pain is to avoid living. I know that, based on the life I have.

Everything is a balance between life and death, if I think about it, because if you're not living you're essentially dying. So one is choosing (if only by not choosing) life or death in every moment.

Do I take this moment and live, or do I let myself die a tiny death? And how many tiny deaths does it take to make a wasted life?

I don't want a marriage where there's no emotional intimacy, no attachment, no expectation. I don't want a marriage of loving detachment. That would be fine for many other types of relationships - friends, other family members, even a child, who is supposed to move away and become separate. But I don't what that with the person I'm drawing into my life to be my significant partner. I want attachment to deepen, and expectation to arise out of shared values, experiences and desires.

So many words that sentence us to suffering: attachment, expectation, desire.

But being attached and having expectations means living in denial of some things I've come to believe (all things change, the only thing predictable is that life is unpredictable, as adults we are solely responsible for our experience of life, the actions of others are completely beyond my control.)

How do I resolve those things?

Perhaps there is no need to resolve anything, and my longing for resolution is another manifestation of my inescapable absolutism, simultaneously blinding and crafty.

Perhaps faith is the only answer to me. Turn it over. Trust that my Higher Power is bridging a gap, doing for me what I cannot do for myself. Trust that I have everything I really need, and that everything before me, including Husband, is an opportunity.  Easy to forget when fear seeps into the cracks of life.  I need a structure that will help me remember.

Maybe my relationship with Husband is like a gym membership, and if I just get my ass up and go work out every day the results will be forthcoming.

We're all hurtling toward death anyway. What's it gonna do - kill me?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The difference between "letting go" and "giving up"

A little light bulb went on for me tonight in my 12-step meeting. Not something completely new, but something that finally clicked.

When I was younger, my mother often counseled me to "let it go." She was typically referring to feelings of anger or upset. "You don't gain anything by being angry. Just let it go."

It seemed reasonable, seemed to make sense, seemed to be something a nice, understanding person would do.

And as a child growing up in an authoritarian household it was her only option.

But it didn't ever feel right. If you're violated, how do you simply "let it go?" Isn't that just denial? Isn't that just stuffing it down, taking it, being a door mat?

Turning the other cheek never felt right to me inside. It felt like giving up, giving in, shortchanging myself. And it never felt honest. And it was never really gone.

So tonight when we were talking about "let go and let God," that phrase was snagging me.

But then our speaker phrased the question in a way that landed in my gut.

"How do you let go and let God? How do you take an appropriate action without being attached to the result?"

Clouds parted! That's right! That's the difference!!

What was missing from my mother's advice was the part about taking an appropriate action.

When someone is an asshole, the healthy way to let go is not to deny or oppress your feelings or response; it is to TAKE AN APPROPRIATE ACTION and then turn it over to your higher power (in other words, not be attached to the result.)

That is not giving up.

That is standing up for yourself, taking care of yourself, without being attached to a certain outcome (in other words, not expecting someone to change because you're pissed off, or validate your perspective - which they may not) and being willing to do it again as necessary until you feel heard and complete.

Letting go in the denial sense leaves me feeling angry, resentful and unresolved.

Letting go in a healthy way leaves me feeling empowered and peaceful.


Monday, October 24, 2011

Choosing to get off the fence I didn't know I was on

As I listened to my unhappily married friend talk about flirting with other men, I found myself wondering why she stays on the fence, frozen, with one foot out the door. "Why don't you just choose and then dive in? Be MARRIED, or be SINGLE, but don't waste your life in an impotent version of both by not making a choice. This is your life! Time is moving even if you're not!"

This is an example of higher power doing for me what I haven't been able to do for myself.

Those thoughts were immediately followed by a realization: She is me.

By keeping distance in my relationship with Husband, I've been in stasis just like my friend. By holding myself back, by not being willing to be vulnerable, yet not willing either to leave, I've been caught in suspended animation between being in a relationship and not being in one, depriving myself of the fullest experience of what my life can be.

My friend also said some very wise things to me as we talked about the anger and resentment that continue to surface from time to time, and my nagging suspicion that if Husband truly valued me he would never have done the things he did.

"Stop punishing yourself over bad choices someone else made!" she said.

And that's exactly what I've been doing.

As Husband has been actively growing and changing, in addition to doing my own growing and changing I've been lingering with pain, anger and resentment over his past lapses in judgment (and perhaps sanity) and nobody is paying a bigger price for this than me.

The folly of this was crystal clear as soon as she spoke those words.

I realized that making the decision to finish suffering over these things isn't letting him off the hook, it's letting me off the hook!

A street is just a street. A building is just a building. A hotel is just a hotel. Without the energy I give them, these things are just objects. They can't hurt me. My own constructs are the source of my pain.

So all of this is leading me to the edge of a cliff I'm scared but now also compelled by reason to jump off.

I want to take a deep breath, and then get off the fence and be fully in my relationship.

I want to stop clinging to my pain, no matter how justifiable.

I want to dive 100% into creating a deep, loving, fully connected relationship with Husband, not knowing how it will turn out, not knowing for sure that I won't be hurt all over again, not sure of anything except that I believe Husband is in my life for a reason, and I'm willing to take this risk to have a life that is lived to the fullest.

I want to be in my life, not observing it from a safe distance.

This feels like a huge, huge risk.

But one of the best things I've learned from this part of my journey is that courage in the face of fear is a gift I can give myself, and I deserve nothing less.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

A way to move forward

When I first discovered Husband’s secret life, I immediately turned to my go-to tool set: Think about where I want to end up, and do what I need to cause that outcome. Be reasonable. Be nice. Be understanding.

These things often serve me well, but they fell short of helping me say thing things that I really needed to say in those early days and weeks and months.

What I didn’t have when I discovered Husband’s betrayal were tools to express the deep anger and resentment I felt about what he did.

With years of therapy behind me, I’ve learned new tools and I’m better able to say what needs to be said, to talk about my feelings, including anger, and better at facing conflict and situations that frighten me. So when feelings of anger and resentment come up, I’m more able to talk with Husband about them.

But when I try to express the anger and resentment I feel today about those past events, it’s confusing to both of us. Husband doesn’t stop me, but I know it’s hard for him because he feels so different from the person he was. And it’s hard for me because I know, after years of therapy and recovery work, he’s a different man, and it doesn't feel like anything is being gained in our relationship by me purging myself of these things that feel like they need to come out.

What I realized after talking with my close friend (who also happens to be a therapist) is that the person I have unresolved issues and unspoken anger and resentment toward is gone. The person I need to yell at - scream at, curse at - has disappeared.

I don’t know exactly what to do about my issues with an absent perpetrator (especially as I don’t feel very satisfied by role playing, yelling at pillows, or writing unsent letters,) but it’s very helpful to distinguish because it clarifies a couple things for me:
  • Husband’s recovery doesn’t invalidate my lingering unresolved issues.
  • It’s possible to be angry with “old” Husband, while trying to live in the moment and have a loving relationship with “new” Husband; it’s possible to let them be two different people so I can move forward with the healthier person who’s in front of me now.
I’m still not sure how I’m going to resolve things with someone who’s no longer around to hear me out, but this perspective helps me separate the person Husband is today from the person he was, which creates the opening for me to live the life I have right now, less constrained by unresolved issues from the past.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Getting to the root

Tonight at my meeting I heard tools that I can use:

1) Return to morning practice of connecting with my higher power (so other things, for example my anger and resentment, don't become my higher power.)

2) Return to step work and reading fellowship literature

3) Look farther back in my life to see if I can identify where this quality of being unforgiving, and these feelings of and this clinging to anger and resentment originate. What am I afraid of?

In talking with others after the meeting I realized that I still do feel that if I was valued enough this never would have happened; I realized that anger and resentment feel safer than forgiving; and that I hate the phrase letting go because to me it means being a good girl and not being upset, because I know it's the right thing to do. (My mother uses that phrase, and yet she never lets go of anything. Perhaps I have no role models for authentic letting go.)

These are concrete things I can do, and it feels good to have actions to take instead of staying mired in a fog of anger, resentment, sadness, confusion, and emotional isolation.

We read Step 6, and it said "It takes a brave person to step unarmed into the arena of the unknown, desiring only to relate to God and others with honesty and intimacy for the first time."

I need to remember that this is why it gets hard sometimes: The life I'm trying to live requires that I put down my defenses, and that is scary, especially when I lose touch with higher power.

My journey is my own, but I'm not alone.

Wednesday, 10.12.11, 12:20AM - Like a reassuring hand on my shoulder, a non-answer to my questions, Pema Chodron showed up in my inbox just now:

"To stay with that shakiness—to stay with a broken heart, with a rumbling stomach, with the feeling of hopelessness and wanting to get revenge—that is the path of true awakening. Sticking with that uncertainty, getting the knack of relaxing in the midst of chaos, learning not to panic—this is the spiritual path. Getting the knack of catching ourselves, of gently and compassionately catching ourselves, is the path of the warrior. We catch ourselves one zillion times as once again, whether we like it or not, we harden into resentment, bitterness, righteous indignation— harden in any way, even into a sense of relief, a sense of inspiration." - From The Buddha Is Still Teaching, selected and edited by Jack Kornfield, © 2010.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The question of trust

When I was in my 20s, I was nanny to a little boy from when he was born until he was 3 1/2. After I moved away, we continued to visit for years.

Once his parents brought him down to a sea-coast hotel in California near where I was living. I came to the hotel one night to stay with him while his parents went out to dinner. He was still little - maybe only 4 or 4 1/2.

The hotel faced the ocean, and the terrace had a beautiful view. I scooped him up in my arms and walked outside to show him the beach and the stars. As we approached the railing he said in a simple, sweet way, "Don't frow me over, okay?"

I suppressed my giggles of amusement, put on a serious face, assured him that I would do no such thing, and together we enjoyed the nighttime view.

But what if I had thrown him over?

What if I'd broken the bond of trust established between us over the years and thrown him over that railing? Would he ever again let me scoop him up in my arms and take him out on the veranda to enjoy the view?

What is trust?

On the one hand, it can bond hearts over distance and time, stronger than vows, or laws, or even beliefs. But at the same time it feels as delicate as the wing of a cicada - easily broken with a careless gesture, rendered seemingly irreparable in an instant.

How can something so delicate be healed?

Longing to go back, longing for what was: Those things bring suffering.

Many broken things heal, but not all.

What use to the cicada is a broken wing?

Can a broken thing heal and become something new, and equally whole? Or does it always remain a compromised version of what it was?

I wish answers came as easily as questions.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

It works if you work it

I've had a feeling lately. A feeling of choosing.

I find that I'm effortlessly choosing to not regret the past.

Not that being betrayed is a past I'd choose if I had a choice. But I don't.

And it's not a Big Deal, this choosing. No "doing the right thing," no looking for the silver lining or deep breathing needed.

I simply wake up having chosen.

Liberty Bradford wrote recently that "There is a turning point of acceptance one must reach on the path of grieving and recovery from trauma...We will all be survivors eventually."

I think that's true for me.

And I think on my particular path one of the things I'm accepting is myself, separate from any event, separate from the evaluations of others. I'm accepting that I am not lacking, that I am whole and complete in my flawed packaging. I'm accepting that I'm on the journey that is meant for me, and that pain, obstacles, and frightening situations are simply opportunities to deepen my relationship with myself and with my Higher Power. I'm accepting the value of faith to my life, and between two unknowable things, I choose to ground myself in faith over truth.

Some things I have faith in are that loss is an expression of change; that while things always change, the Self I have come to know, the Self that is both a single wave and the whole ocean, will always be whole; and that clarity, consciousness and joy are the products of leaning in to life.

Those are some of the things related to where I am and how I feel right now.

I'm full of gratitude for the life I have. And I'm not afraid of what the future holds, because I know it holds everything I need.

Of course, peace, like everything else, one day at a time.
"If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves. Are these extravagant promises? We think not! They are being fulfilled among us – sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them." (Alcoholics Anonymous, pp.83-84)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Family of origin and self esteem issues

On Wednesday nights, Son and I usually go to a hobby group together. Sometimes Husband joins, and sometimes Son and Husband go without me.

Husband is working late tonight, as he has been of late with his still-new job. So Son and I have gotten into a routine of meeting my mom for dinner before our hobby group.

I'd stayed up too late last night (watching Battlestar Galactica in bed on my iPad!,) gotten up early, and had a long day. As we waited for the check, Mom asked how my day was and I mentioned that I was pretty bushed. She thoughtfully offered to go to hobby group with Son. Since she'd accompanied him a few times before I didn't think he'd mind.

But when I told him Mom was going with him instead of me, he began to protest and continued to beg me to go as we made our way to the parking lot. I was surprised, and torn because as we approach the end of Son's single digit birthdays, I have a limited number of such opportunities left.

He continued to cling to me and whine (not too passionately, but stubbornly nonetheless.)

My mom absolutely couldn't tolerate it.

As I listened to Son's faux-whining and gave further consideration to my decision, she immediately tried to shut him down - I think in my defense, although I hadn't asked to be defended.

"It's okay, Mom, he just wants me to go with him," I said, soaking in the feeling of Son's arms wrapped around me in his attempt to obstruct my progress toward departure. But she kept offering alternatives and telling him to stop being upset.

I quickly lost my patience and told her the conversation was between me and Son, and to stop involving herself in a discussion that didn't involve her.

And then came the truly astonishing, revealing part of the conversation:
Son: You have to go, and that's that!

Mom: Stop that! She said she's tired. Do you want her to drive while she's tired and get into an accident?

Me: Mom!! Stop trying to make him feel guilty!! Stop trying to make him feel responsible for things that he's not responsible for!

Mom: Well he has to know the circumstances!
Oh my god, how instantly she can transport us to another universe!
Me: But that's COMPLETELY MADE UP!!! That hasn't happened, and it's not going to happen!
But she couldn't see it.

She doesn't understand that she was trying to make him feel guilty for wanting me to come with him to hobby group, and she doesn't get the concept that she's teaching him to feel responsible for everything that happens in the world.

If you want your mother to come with you to hobby group when she's tired, and then she does, and then she has an accident, it will be your fault for begging her to go.

She can't see that she's teaching him to try to anticipate how things will turn out and then shape his desires, needs and feelings around that, as if anyone can really anticipate the future.

She can't grasp that she's telling him that he has the power to keep his mother alive by not expressing what he wants in that moment.

No wonder I've lived most of my life unable to validate my feelings, needs and desires in a healthy way.

No wonder I feel responsible for things beyond my control, and believe deep down that if I'm just fill-in-the-blank-enough, all bad things will be averted (and then conversely if they're not averted, that some failure on my part must be the cause.)

It further amazes me that until recently I would have been unable to even recognize the unhealthy dynamic transpiring.

Aside from explaining my particular fucked-up-ness, this interaction is a succinct illustration of the fact that people who love you can mess you up just as much as people who don't love you.

Being really exhausted and knowing I have a full day ahead of me tomorrow, I told Son I really wanted to go home this time, and that I'd go with him next week for sure.

"Oh, fine!" he harrumphed, assuming a mildly British accent. "And you're going to make me late, woman!" (One of the many things I cherish about Son is his keen sense of humor.)

As we parted I called out to my son, "Don't let your Grandmother make you feel guilty!"

And then I turned to my mom. "Thanks, Mom."

"Well get some sleep!" she said. "And don't forget to get gas!"


God! Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change!

Courage to change the things I can!

And the wisdom to know the difference!


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Update from Recoveryland: It's Working

Husband is a writer. The other night he asked me to read something he'd written.

As I read along, I realized one of the characters was a prostitute. A prickle went through my body and the hairs on my arms and neck rose. Not because he was writing a character that was a prostitute. It was her name: Angie.

"I hope you enjoyed your time with Angie."

Those are the words that blew apart my world 4 years ago. Angie was of one of the many prostitutes Husband had sex with, whose name I accidentally found in an email one day.

Husband was asleep beside me in the bed. I didn't wake him. I had lots of feelings, and I wanted some clarity before bringing it up with him.

Lesson number 1: There will be triggers.
Maybe forever, maybe not. Right now, they're part of this path that I'm life. Even after 4 years, there will be triggers.

Next day, when he asked what I thought, I told him about that name. He looked clueless for a moment, then ashamed. "I'm sorry," he said.

"You don't need to apologize," I said. But I would have been angry if he hadn't felt bad about it. "You didn't mean anything by it."

HOW could he not remember that name??? I read him that email! HOW could he not think about me?? Fuck him that he has a whole slew of "prostitute names" stored in his head to draw from! And why Angie? Was she a favorite? One special gal he keeps hidden in the folds of his memory as the rest of that secret life slips away as he progresses in recovery?

Lesson #2: Husband will probably always have narcissistic tenancies.
He's a wonderful person in many ways, but he's human and, by definition, flawed.

I could feel the anxiety swirling...the unwanted thoughts and images cascading down on one another. I pushed that away.

Would he ask me to read that piece again later in another draft? Would I have to be reminded again, brought back to that moment in time when my lips got numb and my face and hands grew icy and my field of vision seemed to shrink as I tried to grasp what was happening to the life I thought I'd had? Or would he do the thoughtful thing and change that name? If he didn't, I'd be pissed. Resentful that he still seemed not to grasp the enormity of how his actions had impacted me. I would make a mental note.

I could still feel that dark swirling vortex sucking at me, and it would have been easy to sink into those thoughts and feelings. Even now they don't feel very far away.

But another part of me knew that I had a choice.

Lesson #3: After working hard on recovery, focusing on my side of the street, I no longer have to get helplessly broadsided by every trigger that screeches across my path.

I took a deep breath and focused my attention on the present. What does life look like right now? What am I feeling right now? What do I need right now?

I wanted Husband to change the name of that character. And I was going to be angry and resentful if he didn't. I wanted to wait and see if he did it without me asking.

But I also knew that I was being presented with an opportunity to voice my needs, and not wait for them to be detected. (My interpretation: Higher power at work.)

Lesson #4: In order to move forward in my own growth, to take responsibility for my own experience of life, I need to rid myself of the thought "If he loves me, he'll know."
Husband does love me, and he can also be a clueless, thoughtless buffoon (or asshole.) Those two things are not absolute - they can and do coexist.

Later that evening, I told Husband that I wanted him to change the name of that character because I didn't want to be reminded of things I was trying to put behind me. He said of course he'd do that - he'd already been planning on it.

He could have responded any number of ways. The victory is that I said what I wanted to say, I stated my needs, without knowing what the outcome would be.

I felt better. Because he was going to change that name, and because I'd said what I needed to say. I had taken care of myself by asking for what I wanted. (Funny, that feels like a such risk.)

There will be triggers.

Husband will probably continue to exhibit narcissistic tendencies.

Because of the work I've done, I'm no longer at the mercy of those things.

I can ground myself in the present, accept the responsibility (and consequences) of voicing what I want and need, and free myself to create a life that works for me.
No more waiting for others. I have a relationship with myself such that I'm empowered to call the shots in my own life.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Why I am no longer a brain-dead extremist: Finding my middle way

Listening to playwright David Mamet talk about the transformation of his politics on the radio yesterday made me consider the (I think Darwinian) tendency for people to react to the heartbreaks and disillusionments of life by growing more frightened and closed minded. It makes sense that in a survival-of-the-fittest world we're programmed to learn to identify what seems harmful or painful, to judge as instantaneously as possible if it is a potential threat, and to destroy it or push it away if so.

And it makes sense that it's more efficient (and more likely to keep us from getting eaten) to compare current experiences to past experiences in that evaluation process. So that we don't think "Hm, what is this thing bounding toward me? It's large, it's brown, it has a mane and big teeth and looks like that lion that ate my brother. I wonder what it is?" but instead think, "that looks like the thing that ate my brother so I'm going to run!"

Rapid, almost unconscious categorization of possible threats is useful in many, many situations. But in some, it becomes an obstacle to seeing what is really there.

Because this can be the path to a "men will hurt you, never trust them" response, rendering impossible the individual evaluation of different people and relationships, and the potential for someone to be more trustworthy than people you've encountered in the past. That certainly keeps you safe, but it also assures that you won't meet trustworthy men because untrustworthy has become part of your definition of man. Fine if it doesn't diminish the quality of your life (and that's a judgment one can only make for oneself.) For me the thought that I might never have a deeply intimate partnership again leaves me feeling like I'll be missing out on the fullest experience of life, and I don't want to be resigned to that sacrifice.

In my case, this Darwinian evaluation of Husband, based on experience, looks like "Husband will hurt me." To create an opening for a different possibility between us, my thinking needs to be along the lines of "Husband of 2007 without the therapy, recovery, self-awareness and tools he has today hurt me, but Husband of 2011 may be different and requires separate evaluation."

Mamet's evolution / devolution made me realize that it takes conscious effort to remain open and unbridled by the fear and pain one inevitably knows intimately, having lived a number of years as a human being.

The same applies to my relationship with Husband. It will likely require a conscious effort on my part to remain open and courageous in the face of the fear and pain I associate with him. The betrayal was so profound, it may never be second nature to be vulnerable with him. But if I want an intimate, satisfying experience in our relationship, vulnerability is required (albeit with boundaries and a better understanding of our humanity and flaws.)

Since I have chosen to stay and work on working things out, I must choose Husband, not just be with him, not just stay with him. I must wake up and choose him each and every day, (or have the courage to choose something else if that what needs to be done,) or suffer the regret, sadness, and dissatisfaction of a wasted life.

I need to read this daily, or stick a Post-It to my head.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Beyond aversion and separation

Seeing our oneness is the beginning of our compassion, and it allows us to reach beyond aversion and separation. -Sharon Salzberg, “A Quiver of the Heart

I think the "oneness" Salzberg talks about is integral to my concept of Higher Power.

Higher Power as defined on the SAnon website:
1. A source of help greater than we are; 2. A source of help we define ourselves (for example, the group, nature, God as defined in an established religion, etc.); 3. An ever-present Power greater than ourselves that gives us an increased feeling of peace and comfort when relied upon.

And I think it's through my relationship with this oneness, a power greater than myself, through faith in this bigger picture that I don't always immediately perceive, that I'll be able to reach beyond aversion and separation with Husband, and get to the love that persists.

For truly, I cannot do it alone.

I say this because that's so easy for me to forget. Even after 4 years of recovery, the self-sufficiency that has helped me survive and thrive is my go-to response and the direction in which I drift when I am lulled by the day-to-day into unconscious living.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Need input

After Husband recently lied to me about how many drinks he had at a party, I asked him what he was going to do to address this breach of trust.

In addition to returning to therapy (still hasn't happened) he said he was going to stop drinking for a year.

Well, this morning he woke up and told me that last night at his "dinner with the guys" he had a glass of wine. From the rest of his tale I suspect it may have been more than one, but no matter. Another breach of trust.

Here's an email exchange between us from this morning, with me trying to hold firm to my boundaries, express myself, and figure out whether or not I'm holding Husband to an impossible standard:

Husband: Sorry for being cranky this morning and for drinking last night. This [issue I have at work] is really stressing me out but that is no excuse and certainly not your problem. I will make sure I don’t bring any baggage home any more.

Sorry also about asking you to take Son to camp all this week. I know you’ve been taking most of the responsibility for him since I started this job and I really appreciate that.

Me: I appreciate your email, and that you're acknowledging things and taking responsibility for them.

The thing that's disappointing to me is how quickly a commitment you made to me went out the window. A commitment you made to me because you lied to me about drinking.

We need to get help to work on rebuilding our trust and intimacy to a higher level, and to work on the issues we have that are obstacles to that.

Can you make it a priority to make an appointment for us with somebody?

I have re-contacted [my SA therapist] about setting up a couples session.


I'm really sad about this. I want to make progress, but it's impossible to grow intimacy without trust.

You are a fantastic dad, and a fantastic person to have a kid with. It's just in the relationship between us that I don't feel safe. I don't lie to you, or treat my commitments to you with only mild regard, so it's very hard for me to understand when you do that. I feel like, when it comes down to it, our relationship is not worth the effort to you. I know it takes rigor and discipline to have such a high level of integrity, but I can't accept anything less, given our history. And if you feel like I'm asking too much, I don't know what to think about that. Which is why we need some help.

So thanks for contacting [the therapist.] If we don't have something scheduled with her within a week, I'm going to find someone else.

I don’t think you’re asking too much. Why do you think that?

Not thinking that, so much as wondering if that's the case. It's been less than 6 weeks since you made the commitment not to drink for a year. And you made the decision to set aside that commitment. So I wonder if my expectation that you'll keep your commitments to feels too great for you.

This is no small thing - I take the steps you said you'd take after you lied about the drinks very seriously, because I'm looking for opportunities to build our relationship. We've made a lot of progress, but there is still a significant amount of damage to be repaired. Some of it can only be repaired with the passage of time, and things like lying about the drinks and deciding to drink when you told me you wouldn't reset the clock for me. I feel like I have to start over. (I don't know what came of the nightly 10th step - maybe that's what prompted you to talk with me this morning, and that was a good thing.)

Again, I'm not talking in generalities about you as a person - I know you're trustworthy and reliable in a lot of areas. It's only in the relationship between us that I have huge doubts, because it feels like you keep throwing me over when the going gets rough, or even just choppy. You need to find other ways to handle your stress if we're going to maintain our relationship. Abandoning promises and lying aren't going to work for me. Nor will the other extreme - not talking about things and pretending everything is fine when it isn't. Those are both old ways of dealing with things.

I wonder if a journal, where you write down 3 things you're grateful for in your life, will give you some perspective on the stresses you have. And maybe, so you don't discount things that should be addressed, you write down 3 things you need to address and an action you'll take to address them, too. This is one thing that comes to mind as an alternative to those old ways of dealing with things.


Do I just have to accept certain behaviors if I'm going to stay married to an addict with narcissistic tendencies in recovery?

I really can't tell if I'm expecting too much. I know perfection is an impossible standard. But when I think about whether or not I could live up to the expectation I have in terms of truthfulness and integrity, it doesn't seem impossible at all. But I'm also an absolutist with blind spots who often needs help taking an honest look at herself, so I'm asking for feedback.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Another note to self: Life will look different from what you expect. Get used to it.

This article by Katia Hetter on CNN is a great reminder not to allow myself to be disempowered by any circumstance, along with some good next-steps for partners on the receiving end of betrayal.

My personal takeaways:
  • Focus on the present moment
  • Create something & take charge of my own joy
  • Create an empowering context
  • Look for my own truth
  • Don't take the role of victim (i.e. If I'm unhappy about something, what can I DO about it?)
Do, Do, Do!

In conversations with my mother, I notice how easily she is stopped when something doesn't look the way she thought it would.

"I can't [insert desired thing here] because [insert obstacle here.]"

Mom: I can't have a studio because I don't have the money.

Me: Well, why don't you share with another artist?

Mom: I don't want to share a studio with another artist with no money! What if they can't pay their share of the rent??

Me: Okay. Why don't you share with an artist who is wealthy enough to let you pay $150 a month and they pay the other $600?

Mom: [Long pause.] Well...

And the list of obstacles and reasons why she can't continues from there.

Rather than looking for the window when she finds the door locked, she either walks away or feels victimized. Why doesn't she know how to fight for her dreams? I don't know. Why does she not even think to look for another path to that destination? Maybe she was never learned that is an option.

I see this in Mom and I know I've learned to do the same.

But awareness is my spiritual plunger, so...

Next item of business: Create something!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Will June 1st ever be just another day?

Tonight marks the 4th anniversary of the discovery that instantly and dramatically shifted my understanding of the world.

After 4 years of therapy, reading and recovery groups, I’m a very different person and I have a dramatically different understanding and experience of myself.

I’m aware of the need for boundaries. I understand how to validate myself instead of seeking validation from others. I have and nurture an empowering relationship with myself, in which it’s possible for me to acknowledge my strengths, talents and abilities, as well as my weaknesses, flaws and vulnerabilities. I’ve learned how to be responsible for myself (the topic of my SANON meeting last night) – emotionally, psychologically, financially, physically. I can stand my ground in the grip of fear and uncertainty. I had so much growing I didn’t know I needed to do, and I’ve done a lot.

That’s the upside.

I still have a lot of work to do. First and foremost in my mind is the need for me to find a way to express the anger and resentment I still have about what Husband did. I moved very quickly, probably too quickly, to being reasonable and understanding, to working toward a level-headed resolution. (A winning formula that often works in my favor, but has worked to my detriment in this case.) Most of the time I don’t suffer, but sometimes I’m plagued by thoughts I can’t escape. These thoughts are obstacles to happiness. They are often a bucket of cold water on our sex life. Together with the sudden and bitter rage I sometimes feel, they form the thin but impenetrable barrier I have with Husband.

I’m still afraid of him. He hurt and betrayed me so badly. Sometimes I think I’ll never be able to forgive him – as much as I want to. We have both worked so hard. But though I’m working against this tendency, I’m an absolutist, and I grieve the unblemished trust I had with Husband before I found out about all of his lies. And my most vulnerable part holds itself away from him like tender flesh flinching away from a hot stove. How can I not?

He’s the cobra that lays in wait for me. His presence helps me understand who I can be in the face of fear. It helps me access a strength that I never knew I had. But part of my ability to be with the cobra is the vigilance in my animal brain. That part of me is ready to fly at any moment, ready to say, “I knew it,” ready to sever the knot that joins us and sail for open water without a backward glance. How can we have the depth of intimacy and trust we had before when that part of me stands ready to defend me against undiscovered, unimagined parts of him?

I grieve.

I grieve loss of trust, loss of innocence, loss of respect, loss of passion, loss of lust, loss of a friend, loss of a husband, loss of a confidant, loss of safety and security, loss of bliss, loss of a past, loss of so much I thought I had.

As I write I know the answer lies in letting go somehow. And letting go again, and again, and again until there is nothing left to let go of but one last breath of air.

Letting go of how I want things to be, feel, look, and instead being with what is so, and shaping my life in that context. What kind of life can I make for myself in a world where people you love and trust the most can hurt and betray you so deeply that you feel like you’re walking through fire with all your skin scraped off? That’s a question I need to consider.

Because that’s true.

Little children who’ve been abused and abandoned can attest to a confusing and unpredictable world. Sometimes people who love you hurt you more than your enemies ever could. It happens.

Letting go of the idea that I can create safety. The right person, right job, right situation, right word, right moment…if only I can find The Right SOMETHING I’ll know I’m safe. What kind of life can I make for myself in a world where the only thing I can count on is that everything is temporary, everything changes? That’s a question I need to consider.

Because that’s true.

We can plan, anticipate, and be vigilant, and yet a loving parent can get cancer, an innocent child can be killed in a car crash, and a trusted husband can have a secret life. It happens.

Letting go of judgments of my circumstances as good or bad, right or wrong, fair or unfair, black or white, and just experiencing each moment as nothing more or less than a moment on my path, every challenge as an opportunity to grow or turn away from growth.

Because that’s true, too.

But some judgments and wishes I find hard to let go of.

I am sad, so sad, about the good things I feel I’ve lost: The ability to trust Husband completely, the certainty that Husband would always be a warm, safe port in any storm, the indescribable, unmatchable bond I felt when I looked at him, and the history of being true to and for each other that we shared.

I agree it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. But what do you do when you’ve loved and lost and you still choose to lead a life together? How do I stop wishing for a past I thought I had with his presence as a constant reminder of what never was and will now never be?

In this world as it really is, what kind of life am I willing to create? What am I willing to risk? What am I willing to demand?

Even after 4 years, I don’t have answers for many of my questions. I don’t know if June 1st will ever be just another day. Perhaps after 4 or 8 or 16 more years I will tire of this bit of suffering and finally let go of questions.

Maybe I’ll do that that tomorrow. The timeline for all of this is another thing for which I have no answer.

Maybe freedom lies in letting go of the assumption that there are answers.

Surrendering purpose to moments that I can fill with love, without attachment to a result.

Love Husband and be loved by him without attachment to the result?

My grasp of all that is fleeting, like a little ghost girl playing hide and seek with me.

The best I can do now is hold tight to the reins of the beastly fears I sometimes ride, whisper my now-favorite mantra, “…every challenge as an opportunity to grow or turn away from growth,” try to let go of those wishes, detach from the outcome, and breathe deeply into the gritty intensity of reality as it really is.

I read an article today about a miracle pill that can erase painful memories and wondered to myself if I would take that pill. The pain is what sharpens all the details of life – the good as well as the bad. If I dull that pain, mute it so that it is only a vague notion, instead of facing it head on like a warrior, would I sacrifice all that I’ve gained? Since I’ve been through so much and reaped the benefits of those battles, I’m not willing to give up that hard won ground. I’m not here to live in a blissful haze. Maybe that’s what I was doing before all this. But I feel like Neo in the Matrix, and now there’s no going back.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Schwarzenegger's behavior catches up with him

Question of the day: Do politicians become narcissists or do narcissists become politicians?

I'm not a mental health professional or sex addiction specialist, but IMHO the characteristics are there.

Arnold Schwarzenegger finally comes clean about decades of rumors.

Will the term "sex addict" get introduced into the discussion in a helpful way this time around? Let's hope so.

Feeling so over sex addicts today.

Prayers for Maria Shriver and their kids.

Addicts lie. Now what?

We went to a benefit for Son's school last weekend, and as soon as we got there Husband ordered a double scotch on the rocks.

Okay. It's Saturday, it's a party. You're not an alcoholic in recovery. Fine.

I think Husband drinks too much, and he knows that. The addict / narcissist in him feels justified on some level, and he is annoyed by my (in his words) judgment of his tendency.

A short while later, I decide to have a drink, too, and we head to the bar to get me something. Husband orders another double.

"You're getting another one?" I ask. "That's eight bucks a shot, you know."

"I know," he says with an annoyed look on his face.

"So we paid $150 at the door, and now we've spent $40 on alcohol." Even though we have two incomes now, the financial hole we dug still leaves us essentially paycheck to paycheck. I assumed maybe we'd each have one cocktail, hang out to be supportive of the cause, and get out the door early.

I should have been clear and stated my concern outright, instead of implying it. I should have said, "I don't think we have the budget to buy any more drinks." But I didn't. My bad for passing on direct communication. I don't want to be the parent or police in our relationship. And so often in the moment I'll make my displeasure known, but not make a direct request or set a boundary. I'm getting better at this, but there's still work for me to do.

About an hour later toward the end of the event, I saw Husband with another drink in hand.

"How many of those have you had?"

"Two." he replied.

"This is the same one you had before?" I asked, feeling bad for making the assumption that he'd continued to buy $16 doubles after I'd expressed my concern about it. (A common experience of partners of addicts - that feeling that you've done something wrong by questioning the addict's questionable behavior.)

"Yes," he said. I gave him a hug, and a "good job" for making it last.

But I had a sneaking suspicion just the same. So yesterday I checked the bank account and sure enough, the charge to our card was much more than it should have been had he been telling me the truth.

Last night I asked him about it. He tried to spin it, but finally admitted that he'd deliberately lied to me about how many drinks he'd bought.

"I didn't want to get in trouble," he explained.

He knew as well as I the flaw in that thinking. But I spelled out for him that trust is a large, critical piece of true intimacy, and that the options are that he get help for this fear of getting in trouble, because I won't accept the role of scary mommy in our marriage, or we figure out how to gracefully end our relationship.

I can fake it as part of the work toward making it, but don't want to fake it if the situation feels hopeless because I can't perpetuate that lie to my son. That would be as big a betrayal as my husband's lies to me. I've been willing to work hard while doing my best to keep our grown-up issues between me and Husband, so that Son can feel secure in our family unit. But that's been because I've been working toward authentic intimacy with the feeling that it's possible. If I pretend to my son that we have an Ozzie and Harriet relationship when I feel hopeless and firmly disconnected in the relationship, that's gone from keeping grown-up issues between grown-ups to lying to Son about what healthy relationships are, how they work, and what they look like. I'm not willing to do that.

This lie is a huge setback for the state of our relationship.

Lying about a cocktail is the same as lying about a prostitute. It is a firm indicator that Husband is an unsafe person to be vulnerable with. This does not do much for the intimacy quotient in our marriage.

In addition to the general numbness I'm experiencing, I know I have a lot of feelings.

I feel disrespected. He took the cowardly way out and lied to me because it was better for him. What about for me? What about the trust I've been trying with all my fucking might to develop? Ask me to trust you and then lie to me AGAIN? That's not what I want from a partner, nor will I continue to accept it.

For whatever reason (and I've met his mother so I'm sure he has good ones,) he gives me this power and won't man up and take responsibility for his actions, won't jump into conflict with me. I get that it's difficult because I'm a major conflict avoider, too. But I've been working hard at taking risks and communicating without knowing what the result will be, and without sacrificing saying what needs to be said to avoid negative outcomes.

I feel hurt. Aren't I worthy of basic respect and truthfulness? Don't you value me and our relationship enough to tell me the truth? Because, regardless of whether you lie out of malice or fear, the impact on me is THE SAME! I feel kicked in the stomach, I feel like you don't value me, I feel betrayed by someone I'm trying hard to trust, I feel like it's not safe to love you, I begin to wonder if trusting anyone at all is a joke.

I feel disconnected. Safety mechanism, and I know it. It's also a consequence. Trust is EARNED. So he has work to do if he wants that from me.

I feel sad. This is not what I want. I don't want a relationship that feels 75%. I want trust, intimacy, respect. I'm willing to go through hard stuff. I don't expect him to be perfect. But I do expect him to respect my boundaries. DON'T LIE TO ME is not an unreasonable boundary. If it feels too demanding to him, he's married to the wrong person.

I'm fucking angry. WHY is it easy to lie to me? WHY does he choose to do that? WHY did I end up with a self-righteous asshole with narcissistic tendencies? WHY is he so fucked up? WHY doesn't he treat me like like a valuable gift? WHY is he afraid of me? I have a lot of questions like this that I'm angry about. And I know the answers to many of them. But knowing the answers doesn't help right now. I'm pissed.

The hard thing is that I actually like Husband. There are lots of things I love and value about him. Maybe we should just be good friends. That way we'd have less at stake with each other, I'd have the distance to protect my mental and emotional health from his lying, and he'd probably have no reason to lie to me. I wouldn't have to worry about sex (because frankly, sex with Husband when I can't get to intimacy is fine at best, but often echoes with emptiness which is painful when compared to how I know sex with him used to be.)

So we did talk about all of this last night. And we're going back to therapy. He to his sex-addiction group, and us to couples therapy with a sex-addiction specialist. And he still goes to SA and OA meetings (although many by phone now.)

I'm willing to keep trying because at the bottom of this, Husband is a wonderful person - smart, funny, creative, gentle, compassionate, thoughtful, a fantastic, loving dad. He's fucked up by his fear, and I know it.

But I'm not willing to continue trying if I don't see progress. He needs to become willing to "get in trouble" with me and see where that goes, or I'm going to have to figure out a plan B.

Because this is my promise to myself: I will not stay in a relationship with someone who isn't capable of being truthful.

This is a hard one, since because of our history there is little room in my mind or tolerance in my heart for even little white lies that many couples use to smooth out the sometimes dangerous, frightening and rocky road of a long-term relationship. But complete integrity around truthfulness is what I need to feel safe in this relationship. I don't expect perfect, but expect him to have the courage to choose to respond to his fear differently, and to call himself out when he makes a mistake, rather than to feel relieved that he escaped his mother's wrath, and satisfied by that. Our willingness to have courage in the face of fear will create a path toward restored trust.

I still believe there's hope, because Husband's willing to dive in and work this issue head-on. And I have work to do, too, because right now I can feel that I'm very disengaged.

And I know we can only make progress if we're both willing.

"Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than one's fear. The timid presume it is lack of fear that allows the brave to act when the timid do not. But to take action when one is not afraid is easy. To refrain when afraid is also easy. To take action regardless of fear is brave."
— Ambrose Hollingworth Redmoon, from No Peaceful Warriors!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Pain and joy

"...though we will inevitably experience pain, joy is our true destination..." - Jillian Michaels, Unlimited

When I read that my heart skipped a beat.

True? I don't know. But as a context for processing pain, betrayal, loss...if I make the assumption that joy is my true destination despite circumstances and evidence to the contrary, then I have a reason to continue facing what's in front of me when the going gets rough.

This context allows for light at the end of the tunnel
, for a future that serves as my foothold on the face of the cliff, as the rope I can use to keep my head above the swirling dark pit of fear and despair until I have the strength to use that rope to pull myself up. Whether or not I believe it to be true in any given moment, if I base my actions on the assumption that my pain is an experience on this journey, much like each course is only part of a meal (so perhaps pain is the brussel sprout course,) and that joy is my true destination, I can reclaim or at least move myself toward peace and happiness.

I've made the mistake in my life of believing that I could avoid pain. I've followed rules, done things the right way, been a good person, had integrity, done unto others as I'd have them do unto me, etc. I've done all of that. And, truth be told, I expected payback.

I saw Marianne Williamson speak for the first time last night. The topic was relationships. She suggested that, from a spiritual perspective, we are in relationship with the people who will afford us the most growth.

That has certainly been true in my case, although it looks nothing like what I would have expected or chosen.

Thinking about my life as that kind of opportunity, perhaps I'm not here for payback for my good deeds. And if pain is inevitable, unpreventable, unavoidable, then it's not just about figuring out how to do everything I've already been doing better.

With the goal of avoiding pain out of the way
, operating in the context that pain is one of the aspects of a joyful life, I have space for a new goal.

If I'm born for joy, so to speak, what do I want to do with my life that affirms that? And what next action can I take in that direction? (Important note to self: Thinking is not an action.)

Maybe from there it's just a small leap to waking up every day knowing that, in fact I have arrived, and that joy is simply available.

Friday, February 4, 2011

What I learned from Facebook

I think this talk by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg speaks to some of the issues faced by women in their personal lives, as well as in their professional lives:

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Note to self: Do not turn away from fear

I just read this quote, and it encapsulates one of the fundamental things I've learned from this journey:

"To willingly reside in our distress, no longer resisting what is, is the real key to transformation. As painful as it may be to face our deepest fears, we do reach the point where it's more painful not to face them. This is a pivotal point in the practice life." - Ezra Bayda, “Bursting the Bubble of Fear”

A hard-earned lesson that I don't want to forget.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Three and a half years ago, I would never have imagined...

I haven't written for a while. At first because I felt like a needle skipping across a scratched LP, repeating and repeating a chorus of nagging thoughts and reactions I was tired of having. And then because one day I realized I was unstuck, and there was nothing to be worked out.

There was no drama, no euphoria. I just realized that I'd been spending more time in the present with Husband, and that was why I was feeling better.

The man I used to be married to did One Big Terrible Thing and hurt me more than I ever imagined possible. But the man I'm married to now, although genetically identical to that first man, is a completely different person.

The man I'm married to now is living inside recovery. He's been looking for ways to be of service to our family and to others. He cooks meals, does dishes, takes care of our son, takes care of me in many nice ways. He's much more self-aware, able to admit that he's wrong, able to apologize, able to take responsibility for his impact on others.

After 2 years of trying, Husband has gotten a job. He had his first day on Monday. It's a great relief to me because, like Citibank, we were days, if not hours away from financial collapse. It's a miracle that we still have our house. Since he got the good news (just days before Christmas!) he's been looking forward to the job as an opportunity to go in and do good work and make a difference. Where before he seemed to me to do just enough at work to not get fired (coming in for a couple hours before and after those long lunches during which he went to the movies and saw prostitutes,) now he seems to be grateful for the opportunity, humble, and thinking about how he can do a really good job. No longer is he living inside the fantasy of being a Creative Genius just biding time until his Big Break, full of all the disdain and resentment that goes with that mentality. Instead he's a husband and a father, lucky enough to have employment during hard times, and grateful for being able to help support his family and meet his financial responsibilities.

We have a budget and we're sticking to it. We're not living in denial or fantasy about how much money we have. We're not overspending because we "deserve" some luxuries here and there. Instead we're seeking out the true pleasures in life - time with people we love and value, home cooking, hanging out at the beach, reading good books, taking care of the things that need our attention like adults. There is a new quality to our life together that seems to be really blossoming right now.

It's like the elevator door has opened and I've found myself on a different floor. The view is better from here.

I'm enjoying the moment.