“I fell apart, and I survived”

c703fee12ef1a6dbf67106408e55054aWe all have days that mark different moments in our lives. Some of those days are remembered for joy and others for devastation. Today is a marker for me.

Six years ago I felt my world implode. I was utterly devastated, confused, and broken when I discovered my husband’s affair. As I type these words, my memory surges and the pain I haven’t felt all day is now lingering in the back of my mind… the back of my throat… like a dark shadow that can flood my being at any moment. But I’m okay. I’m really okay.

Six years later and my emotional attachment to my D-day is no longer a weight. Today could have gone the other direction completely. For starters, the exact day of the week aligns with my D-day in 2012. The other strange piece is that my husband is, once again, away on a camping trip just like he was six years ago. I spent a lot of time alone today just like I did six years ago. But I was okay. I haven’t cried. I haven’t been sad or melancholy.

I worry that an emotional detachment from my D-day is signifying something is wrong. Lately, it feels as though my marriage has slipped into that comfortable place it was before he cheated. Sometimes I worry that I am sharing everything with him – but is he sharing everything with me? I notice how much I talk and how much I feel the need to fill the silence. I also notice how much he doesn’t share with me and that I have to probe to find out what is going on during his day. I try not to be suspicious, but I am. I try to trust, but I don’t think I can give trust completely. I live in this space of uncertainty – can I trust him? Is he faithful? Were there other women before Bat Shit? I try not to dwell in this dark space. I find myself asking if I should even care if there are other women because he’s here with me.

That. Is. Fucked. Up. Or is it my reality?

During the last six years I’ve experienced the most rickety emotional roller coaster ride. Surviving an affair is no small feat. Every day I think about all the women out there that are on this ride with me – whether we know we are on it together or not. I think about how hard that first month was after my D-day. I didn’t know if I wanted to live. I just kept waking up each day and focusing on getting through each day. Survival mode.

I was naive once. I believed love equaled faithfulness. I believed marriage was pure. I believed my husband loved me more than I loved him, which meant he could never hurt me and never, ever cheat. I had chosen him time and again. Now I know he didn’t always chose me.

This post is feeling really glum and I that wasn’t my intention when I opened my laptop and started to write. The reality is that on this day, six years ago in the wee hours of the night… my heart stopped and it’s never truly beat to the same rhythm again.

Yes, I am happy.

Yes, my life is blessed.

But my heart beats differently now.

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Here we are, together

I’ve been silent for a long time on here. It’s not 100% neglect. It’s not avoidance – at all. Life moves at a pace that it’s often hard to find time for reflection and then capturing those reflections on a page.

I’ve been in a podcast phase again and I recently heard a completely [unrelated to this blog] podcast about finding yourself in a historical event that you did not intend to be a part of or foresee as being a defining moment in their life. Yet, here they were.

summerfield-336672_1280 copyInfidelity is like that. It felt like I woke up one day and was dropped into a new reality. A reality that I wasn’t prepared for and I just wanted to find a way out. I just wanted to rewind my life and get a do-over. The problem is that I didn’t know how far to rewind. And when I realized I couldn’t change the past, I wanted to press fast-forward and skip ahead to the future. I was assured by every book I read that the first two years are the most difficult and if we put in the work then we would be fine. Then two years came and went, and I was better but I didn’t feel like the books told me I would. I set my sights on five years – that’s got to be enough time for me to heal and move on, I thought. Perhaps, you can’t set a timer for healing. Perhaps, these wounds cut me too deep. Perhaps, I need to just let go of the anxiety and emotions attached to the affair. But is that even possible? Or right?

The problem with affairs is that you wake up to find your spouse/partner has been cheating on you. In my case, my husband was involved with his affair partner for over a year before I discovered it. It was only this week that I realized that our “first” marriage ended during his affair – not upon my discovery of the affair. For my husband, our marriage changed (died/ended?) upon his decision to be involved, emotionally and physically, with his affair partner. Which means my marriage died without me even being told or invited to the funeral. I was living in a marriage for just over a year that wasn’t really there anymore.

So much of that first year was the shocking reality and pain that I felt from my husband’s affair. In those moments we were going through everything together and while I was angered and hurt by him keeping secrets from me for over a year, I didn’t realize that he already mourned the death of our marriage. He already moved past that, perhaps he truly mourned it, or perhaps he accepted it and moved into a new phase, the infidelity phase. It’s strange to think that my marriage was dead and I didn’t even know it. I was living in it, frustrated by it, celebrating it, and believing in it, but it was gone. It’s kinda like Santa Claus and I was the child believing in something that wasn’t real. Maybe that’s not a good example but you get it.

Marriages might never really be what we believe they are. We may never really have what we think we do or believe we should. The question I come to ask myself time and again is can I live with this uncertainty without allowing it to become mistrust?

As I am writing this article I Googled “uncertainty synonym” because I wasn’t sure if that was the right word. It turns out antonyms of uncertainty are: happiness, trust, faith, and peace. Ouch.  Maybe uncertainty isn’t the right word because I don’t want to live in a marriage without happiness, trust, faith, and peace; but uncertainty, indefinites, and vagueness seem to be an inevitable result after an affair. All the things I believed were definites are now maybes. The role I once had in our marriage as “the one and only one” has faded and perished. While some of these words seem masked in sadness, I am not sad about this change anymore. I am sad that I ever fell into the mythical notion of ever being someone’s enough. Love just doesn’t work that way.

In the beginning it was hard to accept this gray area that was introduced to my marriage and my belief system. Learning to live without a 100% promise of ever knowing what is real, true, alive/dead is not what I thought my life would be. But I’m not giving up happiness, trust, faith, and peace for a life without guarantees. I’m putting faith and trust that I can be happy and find peace in this life that I’m living.

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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 is so much more happiness than sadness. It’s when the shadow feels heaviest that I need to push it aside and remember to feel and love again.

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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.

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4 Years

Sometimes I forget the date.

Most of the time I try not to remember when my D-day is but it’s difficult to separate myself completely. There will always be reminders or connections to my D-day. I’ve always had a unbelievable memory, so it’s unlikely I will ever truly forget.

After four years I don’t have the same emotional connection I once felt on this date. I did find myself emotional yesterday but it’s not the same feeling I once had. I no longer spend time wondering or wishing I could have done something differently that could have changed life’s course or my husband’s decisions. I accept the decisions that were made. I don’t agree with them but I can recognize that his choices are not within my control.

I no longer feel that knife in my heart, or lump in my throat, or sinking feeling in my stomach. I’m no longer physically impacted by the affair. Yes, I admitted  that I cried yesterday but I think that’s normal. I was also realizing how far we’ve come since September 22, 2014. I also remember that it was more than one day that I suffered. I had been suffering before my D-day without a clear understanding of why and I was devastated for a long time after my D-day.

Four years later there are still reminders that I am not completely healed.

I struggle with trust. There are times when my husband works early, or late, or maybe it’s just a normal day and doubt creeps into my mind. I find myself questioning him about his day every so often in a way that is not healthy for me or us. I try to let go of my doubts but I’ve found burying doubts can lead more to stockpiling my fears than a peaceful resolution. I want to trust again but it’s difficult not to doubt. It’s difficult not to wonder if I am a fool to believe a cheater can change and be faithful. Learning to trust again is my goal for year five.

There are times I still feel like something is missing. The strange thing is I don’t really feel broken anymore, but I feel like there is a piece of me missing that my husband can no longer complete or fill. With every day that passes I find that this hole is being filled, but not by him. Sometimes that scares me.

In four years, I’ve learned that I love my husband with a love that I cannot define. I spend days and nights with him and realize our lives are forever intertwined and I do not want to change a thing. Over the past four years I’ve witnessed my husband become more engaged with our children, our families, and our marriage. Sometimes I am afraid that I have become less engaged as a result of his affair. I often have to check myself to make sure I am not pushing myself away from the rest of the world. It would be so much easier to hide and block out the rest of the world. The challenge is to keep going and be an active participant.

lionkingI no longer feel so absorbed by the pain of my husband’s affair that I would characterize it as the worst thing that ever happened to me. I won’t say his affair is the best thing that happened to me but the pain is separate from me now. I can look back and remember the horror of the first week, month, and year, but it doesn’t suck me in now.

One difficult part of being at four years is that we no longer talk about the affair or how we are feeling. I know that I could bring it up if I needed to but I also know that I don’t want to open up that box. I don’t want to have to talk about all of this with my husband. I don’t want him to feel like I am punishing him. I know it’s not good to stay silent but I guess I am not ready to go back to the past. I know I need to learn from the past but I’m not always sure how to navigate this now.

Four years after the affair I feel like we have begun a new chapter in the story of our life. Maybe it’s even a new section – Part 3. Life goes on and we must continue on too.

Did I Choose Wrong?

This year has been full of doubts, flip-flopping, and wondering if I made the right decision. In one moment I am happy, confident, and blazing forward. In the next moment I am hesitant, untrusting, and overwhelmed with fear. Luckily, the latter moments are not in the majority. But the mere fact that they exist bothers me. All the books and articles say it takes two years to heal from infidelity as a betrayed spouse. But what does it truly mean to be healed?

To love is to be intensely vulnerable. To choose love means we also choose to know the loss of love. We are raised to believe that love is the antidote to loneliness, and all the emotions that accompany being alone: sadness, rejection, misery, and heartbreak. We live in a world that equates love with hope. But the truth is that choosing to love another person is the equivalent of asking them to hold a glass egg forever – at some point it will be dropped. And heartbreak is, well, heartbreaking. I believed with all my heart that my marriage was unique, our love was pure and unbreakable. The heartbreak I felt, and sometimes I still feel, was as if I lost something essential to my existence. Sometimes I still yearn to touch what I lost; to grasp it in my hands, pull it tight into my chest, close my eyes, and cherish it one last time.

Recently a friend of mine posted this quote on Facebook:

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Heartbreak is heart breaking. It is painful and it is paralyzing. But we cannot let it define our future. Love can break us into a million pieces but it can also fill all the dark places that we never thought could be filled. Love, at it’s finest, feels as though I finally fit into myself. I clearly see myself, feel myself entirely, and my confidence exudes from my being when I give and receive love. Betrayal made me doubt all of that.

Somewhere along the path of healing I asked myself, repeatedly, did I choose the wrong man to marry? What if the answer is that we all choose wrong. It’s impossible to expect I knew at 23 years old what my needs would be at 35 or 46 or 52. I chose my husband because he offered familiarity, a compliment to me. I chose him because I never felt love in the way he gave it to me. I needed him and he needed me back. For better or worse.

Is it ever possible to know if we married the right person?

Every time I begin to fall into the doubts that still linger in the shadows of my mind I remember that love does not mean perfection. Love is having hope that as we break we will recover. Love is having the courage to believe that heartbreak does not mean devastation. Loving is risky business but somehow it’s the most desirable dream we share.

Sometimes I feel as if I am stuck in a Chinese finger trap – the more I pull, the more I am stuck in the same place. I just need to push, redefine the things I cherish, and move forward.

 

 

The Weight of Failure

I’ve never been comfortable with failure. I was the child that sat in the front row, center desk in school if seats weren’t assigned. I learned very early that not only do teachers tend to favor those students, but it is literally the best seat to learn from in a classroom. I also recall this feeling of failure or separation within me if I was seated in the back of the room.  It was hard to be a part of the discussion and I no longer felt included. I believed I could control my successes and limit my failures if I made all the right choices.

I was never taught to plan for failure. Relationships are not very different from everything else we engage in life. Yet, in business we understand that getting fired or a failed business plan can lead to success. One of the most famous stories of failure turned success is Steve Jobs. We herald Steve Jobs and view Apple dumping him as a catalyst for what we now use to define success. Steve Jobs may have never reached his full potential if he hadn’t been betrayed, devastated, and faced with failure – reassess and rebuild. Steve Jobs is quoted saying that what separates successful entrepreneurs from the rest is perseverance.

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Very few of our failures are fatal. Yet, post D-day I felt as though I might collapse. I felt as though the weight of my husband’s affair might slowly suffocate me and there was a piece of my soul that was suddenly stolen. There is an emptiness within us that accompanies failure. I’ve spoken about this emptiness many times throughout the blog. There was a time I believed I could solve why I felt this way or maybe with time whatever was broken would heal, or maybe even regenerate like a starfish. My therapist told me three years ago that I should mourn the loss of this unnamed feeling/sense/being and acknowledge that it is gone.

Gone but not fatal.

Failure is a part of my story. But I keep going. I’ve picked up the pieces, reassessed, and rebuilt my life. My marriage is not the same as it was when we first fell in love. It’s different. Not every betrayed spouse can forgive and stay with the partner that cheated but we can all heal ourselves. The healing part of my story is what has defined this journey.

Love, Acceptance, Belonging

A Mindfulness Objective Takes Root

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I find myself craving love, acceptance, and belonging in my weakest and best moments. I want to be worthy of being loved, accepted, and to belong; and I want to love, accept, and belong to my life story. My struggle with all three became magnified in the aftermath of my husband’s affair. To understand my struggle, I identified the opposite of these mindsets:

Love – Indifference, Neglect

Acceptance – Rejection

Belong – Disconnect

There have been so many times during the last three or more years that my mind felt chaotic. I would be fine and then one stray thought about the affair sent me into a panic, making me feel neurotic. I could trust my husband completely and not trust him at the same time. I’ve spent countless hours writing mental rationalization lists of why or how my husband is not still cheating on me or lying to me. I often have to be mindful of what is real versus the triggered emotional memories that awaken in my most insecure moments. My most insecure moments were affirmations of the opposite of what I truly need and want to feel. In the movie, Pretty Woman, Vivian and Edward are lying in bed in an incredibly intimate moment and she says:

The bad stuff is easier to believe. You ever notice that?

Yes, I have noticed the bad stuff is easier to believe. So I’ve made a resolution for 2016: Mindfulness. For me, mindfulness means awareness and acceptance of my thoughts and feelings without judgement or belief. My goal is to bring myself closer to truth and become more objective of my experiences and see my life with greater clarity. My life choices and motivations need to align better with my authentic essence.

On Christmas Eve I sat in the back of the church sanctuary next to my husband and children. As I held my lit candle in my hand I felt a moment of complete stillness and peace wash over me. There can be so much discontent after an affair. We are left with thoughts that race through our minds when there are no distractions, and mindfulness can feel unattainable. My moment of peaceful mindfulness on Christmas Eve was comforting. In that moment, I felt content.  My mind was not wandering to sadness, anger, frustration, or guilt. Instead, as I sat in my pew, I meditated on those three words:

Love, Acceptance, Belonging

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Two Years Later

730 days. 2 years

The past two years have been building up to this so-called anniversary. I read in a book shortly after my D-Day it takes two years to heal from betrayal/infidelity. All I wanted in the beginning was to get to this point: Two years after D-Day. In two years I hoped that I would have clarity on my husband’s affair. I hoped that I wouldn’t be angry, sad or damaged in two years-time. I hoped that the affair would be far behind me. . I hoped that I would be healed in two years-time. As I was approaching the two year mark I started to ask myself: Am I where I hoped I would be or has this journey led me to a place I did not expect?

Year One = Survival Mode

Healing after my husband's affair-move onThe first year I counted each day following my D-Day, then weeks, then months. I wanted time to pass quickly. In the beginning I wanted to wake up from the nightmare that had become my life and reawaken years later in a happy place. I believed there was something I could have done to prevent my husband from cheating. It was also the year I put my husband and marriage on trial. I asked him questions about his affair. I wanted to know everything. I believed that if I knew every detail of what went on behind my back that I could evaluate and figure out why my husband cheated. I wanted to have a reason this happened to me and my marriage. I needed to understand how Bat Shit penetrated our life. I couldn’t understand how we got to a place where my husband was having sex with another woman, writing her emails, lying to me and risking his career for his affair. If I had all the facts, understood the deception and intention then I would know what to next: stay or leave.

The first year was the emotional rollercoaster year. The first year was full of tears. I cried on my way to work on a daily basis. I cried at my desk at work. I cried at night when the house was dark and quiet. I cried as I watched my husband with our children. I cried until I became numb. The first year was full of triggers. By the end of year one I was beginning to focus on learning to live with the affair and not letting it control my emotions.

Year Two = Moving Forward

As I began year two all I wanted was to leave the affair in the past. I hated the baggage that I was carrying. I hated that I was left with a scar on my heart. I hated that my mind would drift to thoughts about the affair arbitrarily. I resented the control the affair took over my emotional and mental sanity.

Healing after my husband's affair-acceptanceI began year two with some acceptance of the affair in my life but I still felt unsettled and frustrated. I still hated Bat Shit. Hated, detested, cursed, etc. I wanted her to live a miserable life and I was still processing thoughts of what I would say to her given an opportunity. A year ago I was still contemplating contacting Bat Shit and having fictional conversations with her in my mind. At some point during year two I let go of the anger I was harboring towards Bat Shit. I do not forgive her. I do not like her. I do not empathize with her but I do not have to spend my energy hating her anymore either. I accept she targeted my husband, offered him the opportunity for an affair, and he accepted.

Year two was about moving forward and leaving the affair in the past. The pain subsided over the past twelve months but this feeling of emptiness lingered. The more I felt like I was moving past the affair, the more I felt a hole inside me. My husband’s affair attacked and shattered my inner-self (soul/heart/?) and left me with an empty space. I’ve spent the last six months trying to fill that empty hole I feel inside myself. I wish I had the answer on how to feel whole again but I don’t. Maybe year three will bring more answers.

What I’ve learned in two years is that marriage is not easy or black and white. I understand that choosing to stay or leave a marriage after infidelity is not always clear. Immediately after D-Day I decided to stay in my marriage until or unless I reached a point where I knew I needed to walk away. In two years I’ve had more instances that pushed me to stay in my marriage than leave. Actually, I can’t think of one moment I considered walking away. The last two years have been about appreciating the love and the relationship in spite of failure. I’ve learned that perfection is not everything. Sometimes the flaws in our relationships can transform into our most attractive features. I’ve learned more about myself during the lowest point in my life than any other time.

Healing after my husband's affair-chaosSo here I am, a little more than 730 days later. I am confident in my marriage. I am in love with my husband. It’s possible I am more in love with him now than when we first married each other. I’ve learned to let go of the pain from my husband’s affair but that doesn’t mean I’m over it yet. I still cried the day before my D-Day. I still struggle with my emotional memory of the past two years but, mentally, I know it’s in the past. I am certain I am where I need to be right now in my life. And really, that’s all I could ask for.