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 wayward 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.
There 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.