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 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.


Briar said...

I like this, and I aspire to this. Just yesterday I was seized by anxiety over a trigger that wasn't even nearly as direct. It was ambiguous.

I did bring it up with my qualifier, and experienced relief, but I still have quite a trek before I feel like I can really handle these things.

I'm also in the place of not knowing if I want to have to deal with triggers 4 years from now. Should I have to? Isn't my growth possible without it?

Those are my questions to answer.

woman.anonymous7 said...

Briar - I love this quote from Pema Chodron: "If we're willing to give up hope that insecurity and pain can be exterminated, then we can have the courage to relax with the groundlessness of our situation. This is the first step on the path."

It's from her book When Things Fall Apart. (One of my very best friends sent soon after my initial discovery. Reading that book kept me from going over the edge.)

For me, triggers have to do with the past, and are different from having my boundaries violated in the present. In other words, if Husband demonstrated a pattern of disregard for my boundaries now, I would definitely end our relationship.

Sometimes I feel like it would be easier to put the past in the past, to forgive and release Husband, than it is to try to heal from betrayal while staying with...the perp. But ultimately I've decided that since I believe pain is inescapeable, it will leave me freer if I can do as Chodron suggests, and relax with the groundlessness of being alive.

At those times when I do stand my ground long enough to find peace in the face of pain and fear, I feel serene and free, and clear that I will be okay no matter what I have to face.


Briar said...

These are very good points, and I think I get caught in the 12 step-isms or good advice because I still have two qualifiers who are pushing boundaries and I haven't yet located where my lines are.

I'm not making excuses. I fully understand how much work is my own, and I'm full on board with that every day, but it does feel extraordinarily difficult at times to stay grounded and keep my footing in the current situation. Thankfully I found an amazing therapist, who even though she is not "trained" in sex addiction seems to intuitively get it right in helping me navigate.

P.S. Fun fact, I met Pema Chodron years ago. When Things Fall Apart was one of the first Buddhist books I read, but right now Women Who Run With the Wolves is my recovery bible.

woman.anonymous7 said...

I have that book, but have yet to read it! I'll have to pull it out now. And it would be nice to meet Pema Chodron. I think I value her perspective so much because she's gone through betrayals similar to my own.

I completely relate to that feeling of having trouble staying grounded. That still comes up for me, although less frequently as time passes.

Peace and courage on the journey. You're working, so you'll get both answers and results.

L said...

I always love to hear from you because you've chosen to stay with your husband. It's given me such hope. My SA has been sober 7 months (yesterday) and while I'm still dealing with triggers, he's been so supportive of me, he's also been very remorseful for what's he's done, and yet, I still have such a hard time with what our future may bring. Hearing from you reminds me that while there will always be struggles, it can be done. Thank you.