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, 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.