The Shadow of Pain

When I was a teenager I babysat for this family. They were perfect. The husband was charming and handsome. He reminded me of one of my old Ken dolls. The wife had the right combination of sweet and assertive characteristics. They had three children that they often dressed alike, which may seem alarming but it was cute in the 80s. I became their regular Saturday night babysitter and sometimes even slept over when they were at social events until late in the night. I admired both the husband and wife because they appeared to have the life I might want someday. They looked after me and I always knew that I could come to them if I ever had a problem or question about life.

The husband passed away from cancer last month. The services were this week and it was hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that he was gone. It’s hard to imagine her without him.

As his wife and I hugged in the funeral home, she told me that it didn’t feel real. She told me she hasn’t been able to eat. Being alone is difficult. She doesn’t want to drive alone because the emotions come flooding in all at once. I understood those feelings and fears. I understand that food just seems so unnecessary when your heart is breaking and your dreams are disappearing. Death of a human is different, but maybe it’s that death of a marriage doesn’t always have to mean the passing away of one spouse. Marriages die every day.

I stood watching the video montage of his life. I stared at the pictures of their life and I wondered if life was as perfect as it had always appeared. I wondered if their marriage was as idealistic. The pictures sure made it look like it was just as wonderful as I believed it was as a young girl.

I’ve always loved video montages. I was a soap opera fan for twenty years and soap operas make the best video montages. Before my wedding day I would play a video in my mind of all the moments that defined our relationship. In true soap opera-style, ours included a few “tragic” moments too but it always ended with the most romantic kiss and always a perfect ending.

The night of my friend’s wake, I wondered what my life’s video montage would look like and if anyone would ever know or see that sadness that has cast a shadow over the last five years. I hate saying that. My husband’s affair still feels like a darkness that fell over our lives. I still have days I struggle to reconcile his actions. They are fewer and further between but I hate that I can’t just put everything in the past. I’m hurt and I’m struggling to let go of the fear. I look at the pictures and moments that make up my life and I wonder how many smiles were genuine, and how many were artificial. How many moments are legitimately true? No lies, no faking it, no dishonesty. In the end, I believe there are so many more happiness than not. It’s when the shadow feels heaviest that I need to push it aside and remember to feel and love again.

handmaids tale quote

Marriage always seemed so simple. Once upon a time, I didn’t understand people that said that marriage was complicated or hard work. I thought that meant their marriages were doomed or perhaps they settled for an imperfect mate. I believed my marriage was simple. And in so many ways it is picture perfect. We have a pictured lined hallway that showcases some of my favorite memories from our life. The details from the past eventually become foggy, and all those pictures become the memories I’ve engraved in my mind. I keep hoping with time that the emotions recede and my memory will be filled with the moments captured in the pictures lining my hallway.

I don’t know if all my ramblings tonight make sense. I’m sitting in an airport alone watching busy travelers on their own journeys. These moments will likely not be remembered in the video montage about my life, but they are real. They may not define my life, but they have changed me.

54406-Ram-Dass-Quote-The-shadow-is-the-greatest-teacher-for-how-to-come

Sex, Emotion, and Addiction

I’ve always considered myself to be an emotionally intelligent person. By that, I mean that I am able to identify and manage my emotional state, as well as, the ability to use emotional understanding in my day-to-day interaction with others. D-day was like throwing every emotion I ever felt and some I never imagined, into a blender and pressing “Shred.” I didn’t know what to feel anymore because what was happening in my life was not in my realm of probability. It was this feeling of emotional paralysis. I remember crying but I also remember just lying in bed blankly staring at nothing for hours with no energy or drive to do much else. This activity consumed me at times when I wasn’t running children around or pretending to be fine for an audience. For the first time in my life, my emotions were consuming me, dictating me, and hurting me. Hurt seems like such a wimpy word. I could say destroying but my emotions did not end me.

This is why hysterical bonding feels so good. With every orgasm it triggers the brain chemical dopamine to be released, creating a reward circuit in the brain: Dopamine = Pleasure = “Important” -> Do this again. Quickly, sex with our whealing after my husband's affairayward spouses becomes a way to diminish the emotional impact and damage from their affairs. Isn’t that a bit convoluted? We are having sex to feel better about them having sex with another person. While it makes sense that we are reprogramming our wayward spouses’ brains to be rewarded by having sex with us (not their  affair partners), we are also changing our brains to have sex when we feel emotionally exploited.

Personally, I do believe that hysterical bonding was a way of veiling my emotional pain. How else can I explain wanting – no needing – sex seven or more times a day? I was on an emotional rollercoaster and sex became my drug. I was vulnerable and sex was my remedy. After all, the brain can only feel or think one thing at a time. So I was replacing my emotional pain with physical pleasure, telling my brain: “this is what’s important. Do this again if you want to feel good.”

I was watching a documentary on drug addiction the other day with my family. The parallels to substance abuse and the actions of a cheating spouse are resolute. But what I didn’t expect to hear was that my actions, as a betrayed spouse, since D-day also strongly align with addiction too. Trying to find a definition for addiction online I found this:

Research on the brain indicates that addiction is about powerful memories, and recovery is a slow process in which the influence of those memories is diminished.

Just like a drug, I eventually became tolerant to the “high” from sex and needed more. When I look back at the past year I can see myself struggling to just feel normal again. Most of the time, normal meant feeling anything but the pain associated with my husband’s affair. I really thought I had accepted the affair as part of my story but I guess I hadn’t because I began searching for a new high. I needed someone or something to fill the void and mask my emotional pain. I started putting myself in situations that tested me just to get that high. During the past year I have been forced to deal with my emotions and accept the affair because I no longer felt that rush from sex.

healing-after-my-husband's-affairThere is a fear rooted deep within my story and healing. My husband’s infidelity broke me but I have been persistently rebuilding, reconstructing myself in hopes of being stronger, smarter, and to live more passionately without regret. All these words often just mask a greater fear within me. A fear that at the end of this journey, I will still be broken or discover those missing pieces were more important than I realized. Recovering and healing from the pain of this affair is not just mind-over-matter or a matter of will-power, it is about transforming my mind, body and life to create a new set of experiences for my brain to register as important and pleasurable. This journey is about patience and understanding that an emotional relapse (e.g. checking my husband’s email) is not to be taken personally. With the passage of time memories will begin to fade and the emotions will no longer trigger my fear.

Triggers (again)

My husband and I were at Target last weekend doing some holiday shopping. It was late in the evening and we had just gotten in line to pay. My husband pulled his phone out of his pocket and saw he had two new text messages. It’s a new phone and he didn’t transfer his contacts properly so both text messages were from unidentified numbers. I glanced over to watch him open both messages. The first one said:

Thank you for making Thanksgiving special. I love you. ❤

My heart immediately swelled and sunk like an anchor in my chest. I stared at the number and found my voice in time to ask:

Who’s that text from?

It was from his sister but before I realized it was her cellphone number I panicked. As we waited in line I thought about my reaction. I trust my husband. I am as positive as I can be that he’s not screwing around behind my back. But there I was, over two years since D-Day triggered by a text message. The triggers are different now than they used to be. Immediately after D-Day a trigger would send me into an emotional downward spiral. Once I was spiraling my thoughts would become daggers, stabbing me repeatedly until I was emotionally numb.

It’s different now. Now, it’s just a sinking feeling in my heart. The fear that this feeling will never completely go away. Fear that in spite of the affair losing its significance in my day-to-day thoughts, there is still an element of distrust that creeps in and has the power to steal my breath and stop my heart. After that, there is only one thought left:

Is this the rest of my life?

There is an episode of Sex and the City I recently saw that is all about triggers and the loss of security. Once Samantha decides to take Richard back after discovering he’s been cheating on her, they go away with the rest of the girls to Atlantic City. One night Richard cancels on tickets to boxing match because he needs to work. Samantha’s immediate fear is that he is cheating on her up in their hotel room and she races to the room in an attempt to catch him in the act. When she storms in the room she finds him sitting on the couch, laptop open – working. It’s in that moment she realizes that she can’t live her life second-guessing Richard’s every move. She breaks up with him to save her sanity and because she knows the trust they once shared is gone. I think Samantha’s reaction is common: leave the relationship because the triggers will never go away.

I see things differently. I know that breathless, heart stopping moment is fleeting. Triggers don’t have to be life defining. I can understand why betrayed spouses sometimes end their marriages/relationships because of that feeling and fear that you will never regain that security you had before the affair. I get it. But I believe my anxiety will continue to subside with time. I also recognize that the closeness and bond I share with my husband is something special. The way we fit together emotionally, mentally and physically is unparalleled and I don’t think I’ll ever share a connection like this with anyone else. So I carry on. I’m confronting my triggers. Mostly I continue to have faith that someday I will let go of all these insecurities.

this too shall pass

This too shall pass and you will be okay again

Immediately after my D-Day I was searching for the answers to questions I didn’t even have yet. I wanted to be validated, heard and know that there were women that survived infidelity. In the beginning I felt isolated and alone. I had no idea that I was joining a silent alliance of betrayed women. I had no idea infidelity was so commonplace. It’s possible I just had the misfortune of discovering the truth. Up until September 22, 2012 infidelity and betrayal was foreign to me. Affairs were reserved for the covers of magazines at the grocery store and the few broken marriages I knew of in my town. Pre-D-day, affairs = divorce. It had been ingrained into my head that an affair breaks the couple and eventually ends the marriage, women should not forgive a cheating husband because their behavior will repeat itself in time.

Betrayal Healing After My Husband's AffairThen, my D-Day happened. I was hurt, destroyed, and in pain, and I wasn’t sure if my marriage was over or not. I Googled questions and words and finally found a women that instructed me on what to ask my husband first: 

Did you do this because you wanted to end our marriage?

My husband’s answer was: “No.” I think he was actually shocked that I asked him that question. I imagine in his mind he was afraid that my knowledge of his affair was the end of our marriage for me. We sat at our dining room table when I asked that question. He sat with his shoulders down, fear and shame covering his face. I sat with blood-shot eyes, anger and sadness upon my face. I look back now on that moment and realize we both had no idea what to do next. We both wanted our marriage to continue but both of us feared the worst.

My Google searches eventually brought me to WordPress. I found countless blogs about betrayal. I found blogs written by betrayed wives, affair partners and wayward spouses. I had to learn a new language (AP, BS, OS, OW, D-Day, etc). I learned all the acronyms. Infidelity recovery is an underground movement. One that is amazingly strong but entirely clandestine. I wrote my first words about my husband affair on this blog. I hoped someone would hear me, respond, and let me know there was life after an affair. I needed to know I was not alone. Just like so many of my readers, I felt like I was treading water and I was afraid I might drown in my pain and sadness. It took the writer a few days to respond to me. She gave me a list of five things I needed to do and one item my husband needed to do on his own. I read her list repetitively and soaked in every word she wrote. I felt her instructions were my new Bible. Luckily, her advice was solid. [I only hope that I can give half the advice she succinctly gave me in five bullet-ed points.]

Eventually, I started my own blog and followed a few blogs including Surviving an Affair and Rescuing My Marriage. Months later, I saw on my reader feed that the Rescuing My Marriage blogger was going to be a guest on a conference call with Anne Brecht, the author of My Husband’s Affair Became the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me. I marked my calendar and told my husband I had to participate in this conference call. The night of the phone call I gathered all the house phones in the house (so that no child could listen in accidentally on this call) and sat in my bedroom. I was half excited and half afraid of what I might hear on the conference call. I recall Anne talking about affair recovery being one of the most challenging traumas to overcome. She spoke of women who have dealt with incurable disease diagnoses, tragedy and death before infidelity. Each of these women claimed that the betrayal from their spouse’s infidelity was the most difficult. At the time those words seemed a bit far-fetched but they were comforting to hear. What I was feeling might be the worst thing I will ever experience in my life. Ever since I heard those words I have questioned the validity of that statement. Perhaps it is true but I hope to never know.

Infidelity brings out the worst in people. Infidelity shames the couple. My husband’s affair made me feel as though I was an incompetent wife. If I had only done “XYZ” then he wouldn’t have cheated. Even as we try to rebuild our marriage I receive messages from Other Women telling me I am a fool for staying in my marriage and that my husband will never be faithful. Infidelity made me hide from family and friends. I didn’t want anyone to see my pain, depression and the uncertainty in my life. I didn’t want anyone to know my husband cheated. I hid my suffering to protect my marriage. Infidelity divides people. For some reason, people feel inclined to take sides and make judgments on the couple and their marriage. Infidelity is difficult to forgive so I chose to tell no one in order to not have to manage other people’s perceptions, opinions and advice. Infidelity pushed me into a dark hole and made me feel more isolated than ever before in my life. The one person I thought I could always trust was suddenly and inexplicably untrustworthy. 

Moreover, I no longer trusted myself. I believed with all my being that my life was what it appeared to be. I began living in safe mode. It’s like I pressed F8 the morning I woke up as a betrayed spouse. When I discovered my husband’s affair I was devastated and even if I discovered another element to the affair or received bad news, I was already suffering. There were days I thought I would welcome death. While that statement is absolute truth, I feel self-conscious admitting it. I never wanted to hurt myself but in the beginning stages of discovering my husband’s affair I felt dead inside, numb to my life. It took time but it’s difficult to live in a box. I feared living outside of safe mode to avoid being vulnerable again. As my life moved forward the pain subsided.The haze lifted and I believe now, perhaps, this is my new normal. 

I write this post for every woman (or man) that has just discovered the affair. The betrayed spouse who has just discovered this is their new identity. The pain you feel will subside with time. You will know what to do in time. Trust yourself.

Empty Spaces Healing After My Husband's Affair

2014: The Year of Release from the Past

2013

The past month has flown by with the blink of an eye. It’s hard to believe that tonight I will be toasting in 2014 and letting go of 2013. I am surprised how much I am looking forward to putting 2013 behind me and moving on.

Over the past week I’ve been thinking about where I feel stuck and why I still find myself struggling with the affair at times. Looking at my life right now I am happy, content and there is a sense of appreciation that I’ve never experienced before. I appreciate and express my gratitude openly for my husband, my children and myself. Yet, there are still moments when I struggle and find my eyes filling with tears for the aspects of my life that I did not choose, the husband I never expected to betray me, the feeling that there is something lost or maybe it was missing all along. I’m not sure anymore. The struggles are rooted in pain but I know this pain is in my past. The affair is in the past. So why do I feel like the past defines the present? Why can’t I just let the past live where it belongs?

There are moments when my husband’s affair is like dark shadow that looms over my happiness. It makes me question him despite his actions today. He is doing almost everything right. Trust is just so difficult to earn back. Following the moments I am most vulnerable I fall apart. There is an element of fear that still dwells deep within me but I am beginning to see this fear is rooted in nothing.

I told my husband once that I never thought once he would cheat on me I always believed he was a better person than me. He was surprised to hear me say that. I’m not sure why but I really believed that he made me a better, stronger, more intelligent person. He was some form of inspiration for me. I never wanted to let him down because he believed in me. I believed he was the perfect man for me.

Now I doubt that last sentence. Could he possibly be the perfect man or husband for me if he cheated? I think my belief that he was my perfect match pushed me away from discovering the truth sooner than I did. I can look back at the time he was cheating and pinpoint dates that I questioned myself, our marriage and I was struggling… but I never questioned him until the affair was practically in front of my face. I couldn’t let go of my vision of him. This vision of a man who loved me with an affection only poets wrote about hundreds of years ago. The irony? I think he believed the same thing; he believed he loved me more than any man had ever loved another woman. Yet his love failed us both when it was challenged.

But we must move forward. I realize that so much of how we judge our lives and the people in it is by their past. When the pain resurfaces from the affair and I cannot help but see my husband for what he has done—betrayed our marriage, our friendship, and our family. It’s so hard in those moments of pain to be present.

To be right here in this moment.

Pain keeps me from being present in my own life and I am tired of it. I am looking at 2014 and I am hopeful that I can leave the pain from our past where it belongs. I want to shed the pain like a heavy coat and be the woman I am meant to be.

I want to live for today, not yesterday. I want to leave the demons in the past and release their control over me.

2014 will be a year of release. I am releasing myself from my past. I don’t need to go back to the beginning anymore. There is nothing in my past that can change my story today.

Happy New Year. Cheers!

Happy New Year

Infidelity Trax | Passenger | Let Her Go

Well you only need the light when it’s burning low
Only miss the sun when it starts to snow
Only know you love her when you let her goOnly know you’ve been high when you’re feeling low
Only hate the road when you’re missin’ home
Only know you love her when you let her go
And you let her go

Staring at the bottom of your glass
Hoping one day you’ll make a dream last
But dreams come slow and they go so fast

You see her when you close your eyes
Maybe one day you’ll understand why
Everything you touch surely dies

But you only need the light when it’s burning low
Only miss the sun when it starts to snow
Only know you love her when you let her go

Only know you’ve been high when you’re feeling low
Only hate the road when you’re missin’ home
Only know you love her when you let her go

Staring at the ceiling in the dark
Same old empty feeling in your heart
‘Cause love comes slow and it goes so fast

Well you see her when you fall asleep
But never to touch and never to keep
‘Cause you loved her too much
And you dived too deep

Well you only need the light when it’s burning low
Only miss the sun when it starts to snow
Only know you love her when you let her go

Only know you’ve been high when you’re feeling low
Only hate the road when you’re missin’ home
Only know you love her when you let her go

And you let her go (oh, oh, ooh, oh no)
And you let her go (oh, oh, ooh, oh no)
Will you let her go?

‘Cause you only need the light when it’s burning low
Only miss the sun when it starts to snow
Only know you love her when you let her go

Only know you’ve been high when you’re feeling low
Only hate the road when you’re missin’ home
Only know you love her when you let her go

‘Cause you only need the light when it’s burning low
Only miss the sun when it starts to snow
Only know you love her when you let her go

Only know you’ve been high when you’re feeling low
Only hate the road when you’re missin’ home
Only know you love her when you let her go

And you let her go

Love and Fear

Fear & LoveThere are moments when I feel like Katniss standing on the metal circle before the [Hunger] Games begin. As if an invisible protective wall surrounds me but it does not control me. At any moment I could step off my metal circle and be blown to pieces. If I wait until the moment is right, I can step off but I still risk falling prey to my fears.

The other night I collapsed into my husband’s arms after we made love. He kissed my neck and whispered into my ear his love for me. His body relaxed as he sighed with sexual contentment, his arm increased in weight and I heard him breathe deeply and steadily until he fell asleep. I could feel his entire body embracing me, holding me tightly against his body. He holds me much closer these days. As I listened to my husband, somewhere between a deep breath and a light snore, my fears flooded into my mind.

I stepped off my metal circle and let my guard down completely when we made love. I exposed my raw needs and desires while giving myself to him completely. My invisible wall disappeared and I was standing in my version of Katniss’s Cornucopia. My hopes and dreams within my grasp, yet drowning in thoughts and  the reality of my husband’s affair too.

Why must moments of intense pleasure and happiness be followed by extreme anxiety? Evil thoughts and memories of his affair flood my mind. It’s like I am being tormented and harassed.  It’s ironic really. Following the moments I let my guard down and trust my husband I am tormented by the pain of his deception again.

I always find it amusing when an OW writes me a comment on my blog telling me I am naïve for trusting my husband after his affair. I was naïve before and during his affair. I believed that love prevented failure and disappointment. I believed that our love was so strong it created a bubble around us that was impenetrable. I am not naïve anymore. I spend every moment of my life (post D-Day) knowing that no marriage is immune from infidelity. I am more prepared now than ever before. I am armed with knowledge about my husband that no one else has—not his parents, siblings, friends and especially not his AP. I understand him on the most intimate level. That place where you fear to let even yourself inside. I not only know his failures but I also comprehend the profound depth of the damage done by his affair. He didn’t walk away unscathed and free from consequence.

The consequences are clear every day. We don’t walk around and ignore the affair or it’s aftermath. Paradoxically, when he was in the affair he believed his AP and the affair had no significance in his life. He consistently said after the affair that he believed his relationship with her would just run its course and end. I looked up what that meant because I hated the phrase: “Run its course.” According to the Free Dictionary online it means that something will continue its existence until it dies naturally, such as a disease. Yes, the affair was like a disease.

As I lay in my husband’s arms tonight, I start to wonder if this disease has a cure. In his arms I feel safe and secure. My memory has the ability to haunt me if I let it but his embrace reminds me that we have so many dreams together. As for the other night, when I was laying in bed and the nightmare began to replay in my mind… I whispered to my husband that I needed a distraction. He squeezed me and sleepily told me a story about his day until I fell asleep. Overcoming the disease of his affair is a fight we will have to conquer together. And if I am going to be Katniss, I choose to be the girl on fire. The girl that can overcome incredible hardships and survive.

MLK JR

Infidelity Trax | Pompeii | Bastille

I was left to my own devices
Many days fell away with nothing to show
And the walls kept tumbling down
In the city that we love
Great clouds roll over the hills
Bringing darkness from aboveBut if you close your eyes,
Does it almost feel like
Nothing changed at all?
And if you close your eyes,
Does it almost feel like
You’ve been here before?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?

We were caught up and lost in all of our vices
In your pose as the dust settles around us

And the walls kept tumbling down
In the city that we love
Great clouds roll over the hills
Bringing darkness from above

But if you close your eyes,
Does it almost feel like
Nothing changed at all?
And if you close your eyes,
Does it almost feel like
You’ve been here before?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?

Oh where do we begin?
The rubble or our sins?
Oh where do we begin?
The rubble or our sins?

And the walls kept tumbling down
In the city that we love
Great clouds roll over the hills
Bringing darkness from above

But if you close your eyes,
Does it almost feel like
Nothing changed at all?
And if you close your eyes,
Does it almost feel like
You’ve been here before?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?

If you close your eyes, does it almost feel like nothing changed at all?