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, 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.