Thursday, August 26, 2010

Are Unsuspecting Wives Senseless?

A recent Twitter comment noted that Tiger Wood's ex-wife Elin Nordegren said she didn't suspect Tiger's trangressions. "Does she have no sense?" asked the tweeter.
I recoiled.
Elin Nordegren Speaks: 'I Feel Stronger Than I Ever Have' | Elin NordegrenI'm increasingly fed up with the blithe remarks about how women who get cheated on are idiots for not somehow knowing. Behind the nastiness of the remarks, I think, also lies a bit of blame. As if part of the reason we got cheated on is because we're such dim-wit doormats.
Even Elin herself admits she felt "embarrassed" in her recent People magazine story.
I suppose I could be accused of being too sensitive. Perhaps the comments are just off-the-cuff remarks from otherwise well-meaning people.
But it's too widespread to completely ignore.
And, frankly, I think it's nonsense.
I didn't know.
I may have had niggling doubts. I may have, in hindsight, suspected more than I wanted to admit at the time. And I did discuss my concerns with my husband.
His response? Don't be silly. There's nothing going on. With her? Of course not. 
And I believed him. Because, after all, he was telling me what I wanted to hear.
Does that make me an idiot?
Some might say yes.
But not me.
I've never been a cynic. And I've never been someone who doubts. Though I put on my skeptical journalist's hat for work, I take if off in regards to my personal relationships. I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt.
Other people's husbands might cheat.
But not mine.
And not Elin's.
And not yours, too, I imagine.
So, to all those who think I somehow deserved what I got because, after all, I didn't have sense enough to figure out what was going on while my husband was, as far as I knew, working and while I was writing books, shuttling three kids to soccer, piano and friends' houses, making meals, walking dogs, caring for aging parents, volunteering at an AIDS hospice and spending time with friends...I say, well, I say they don't know me at all.
And I have sense enough to stop caring what they think of me or my situation. And compassion enough to not wish it on even people as smug as they are.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Creating the door to your future

Women will draw doors where there are none, and open them and pass through into new ways and new lives.(Clarissa Pinkola Estes)


I've been coming across a lot of quotes lately from Clarissa Pinkola Estes, author of Women Who Run With the Wolves.
Most of them resonate with my situation – not just that of betrayal, but reaching middle age, having a career crisis and dealing with kids whose hormones are raging at least as much as my own. Her quotes reveal a quiet wisdom, an understanding that my life must be about finding contentment and wholeness within myself if I'm ever to completely heal from betrayal...and cope with everything else that comes my way.
I love the above quote because it reminds us that sometimes, when we feel that there is no way out of our pain or our situation, we need to draw doors "where there are none." We need to use our creativity to imagine a way out.
It can seem to require more than, especially at this point, we are capable.
But it's often when we feel least equipped that we find a hidden reservoir of strength.
When I look back on what I coped with -- learning of my husband's betrayal with one week before a book deadline and two chapters left to write, my mother dying suddenly three weeks after D-Day, the day-to-day mothering required by three young children – I'm astounded. At the time, I was unaware of my strength. I could barely drag myself out of bed to brush my teeth...and yet I can look back now and see that somehow I found it within myself to "draw a door where there was none."
To find support. To seek out hope. To create a new life. Not the one I thought I was moving toward, but one that -- though it remains a work in progress – shows promise of things I couldn't have imagined for myself.
What can you imagine for your self? What will your new life look like? And where is your door? 

Monday, August 16, 2010

Worrying that I Worry Too Much

One of the casualties of betrayal is a sense of safety. For many of us, that safety was our marriages and our homes. Not necessarily in a dull, passionless sense (though that might be the case for some of us), but in a warm, out-of-the-harsh-world kinda way. I, for one, relied on my marriage as a haven – and my husband as the person I could trust with my heart.
And when that trust is betrayed, it wipes out that sense of safety.
In the weeks and months following D-Day, I began having panic attacks. Nothing major. Just a sense of anxiety and fear that would mount until I could move myself away from whatever was triggering it.
And now, three years post D-Day, it has manifested itself as chronic, low-grade worry.
I haven't been a worrier in years, though I confess I leaned toward worry in childhood. As child of two alcoholics, I often worried when they didn't come home when expected. Even as a kid, I understood that drinking and driving often led to disaster...and I feared that disaster would befall my family. I worried about the fighting. About divorce. About whether I would live with my mother or father.
In my twenties, however, with my mother sober, my father sober(ish) and an understanding of the effects of alcoholism on children, I was able to leave worry behind.
Quite successfully.
I became almost the opposite, convinced that bad things simply didn't happen to me. In my twisted logic, I figured I'd paid my dues. Now was time to enjoy life. I succeeded at school, found a career I loved and excelled at, travelled (often hitch-hiking to get around), got married, had kids – I felt invincible. 
And save for a few scares, such as a cancer scare with my mother, and a health scare when I was pregnant with my first daughter, I worried very little.
But now.
Now, I worry about everything. Silly things. Like horrific car accidents that wipe out my entire family. Like my daughter growing up to become a meth addict. Like my son marrying someone who hates me and cutting me out of his life. That my career is over. That menopause will render me 50 pounds heavier with a full beard.
This chronic worry crept up on me.
At first, once I learned of my husband's affairs, I worried about the obvious: that he was still involved, that he wasn't where he said he was, that there was more than he was admitting, that my marriage was doomed, that I would live out my life in drunken, pathetic squalor...
But as those worries were eased by day-to-day evidence that they weren't going to happen, a tippy-toeing anxiety took their place.
However, as I fretted last week over something that I now can't even recall, the realization hit me hard.
I've become a chronic worrier.
And I don't want to be that way. I don't want to create anxiety where it need not be. I don't want to pollute my family's environment with toxic worry.
The solution for me seems to talk to myself (I swear, I'm getting crazier by the day!) whenever I notice that I'm worrying...and remind myself that my fears are groundless. Sure we could get into a car accident that renders all of us paralyzed from the neck down and suffering from third-degree burns...but it isn't very likely.
And sure my children could grow up to become white-collar criminals, crack whores or divorce lawyers...but it isn't likely.
And sure, my husband could betray me again with someone even more wretched than the OW. But it isn't likely (or possible. She was very wretched!!)
It's one more instance where I refuse to let betrayal's long reach affect me any further.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Movie Review: "The Kids Are All Right" (but you might not be after you see this movie!)

I just returned from watching The Kids Are All Right. I read the reviews. I thought I was going to a critically acclaimed film about a lesbian couple coping with the sudden appearance of their kids' sperm-donor dad.
And it was that. It was also a movie about betrayal.
Which I didn't expect at all.
I survived. I didn't storm out, in part because the betrayal was treated so...accurately. It wasn't romanticized. Or simplified. Either the writer has experienced a trust violation (such a clinical term for something so fist-in-the-gut dirty) first-hand or has channeled someone who did.
The look on the betrayed character's face when she first realizes that her partner has cheated was excruciating to watch. Her confusion as her mind wrestled with what she now knew intellectually vs. what she thought she knew emotionally. Her mental removal from the scene as she watched herself and everyone else, knowing somehow that life as she moved forward would forever be divided into "before" and "after".
And though she confronted her partner with evidence...and received the expected refutation, she knew. Just like so many of us knew, regardless of the denials, the blame-shifting. And the appeal to, "please don't make me feel any crazier than I already feel" speaks for all of us.
The newly betrayed might want to give this film a pass, at least until time has worked its magic.
And even those, like me, whose wound is slowly fading to a scar, would do well to think long and hard about whether they want to vicariously watch their own drama.
Consider yourself warned.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Taking a Dive...Into Risk

Our marriage counsellor wants me to consider taking risks.
Sure, I said. I'll jump out of a plane. I'll summit Everest. I'll eat deep-fried maggots.
Unfortunately, those aren't the risks he's talking about.
He's talking about something far more frightening. Far more likely to end in tears.
He wants me to consider trusting my husband again.
Ack!
Specifically, he wants me to engage in intimacy with my husband.
Now...and this is likely way too much information for some of you. In which case, put your hands over your eyes and hum the tune Yankee Doodle Dandy until I get past the personal stuff.
But my husband's and my sex life has been somewhat...sporadic. As in almost never.
It wasn't always like this. In fact, it was rarely like this.
Even post-disclosure – particularly post-disclosure – we were like caffeinated rabbits. I learned later it's called hysterical bonding. But whatever it's called, it's a whole heap of fun if you can prevent the occasional sobbing or urge to plunge a knife into your cheating husband's back. 
But then I came to my senses.Or perhaps I lost my senses. I'm still not sure. All I know is that, as quickly as hysterical bonding arrived, it packed its bags and hasn't been seen since.
In its place? Reading in bed. Working in bed. But very, very little sex in bed. At least not with my husband. Or with anyone else whose name isn't the same as my own (if you get what I'm saying...).
But now my marriage counsellor (and, incidentally, my husband) wants to change all that.
Admittedly, I wouldn't mind changing it, too. At least in theory.
But when I consider what it would entail...
Actually trusting that my husband won't decimate my soul once again. That he'll cherish my heart and my loyalty. That he is, in actual fact, being faithful to me and I won't end up with genital warts.
Well, all that seems like an enormous leap of faith that looks an awful lot like vulnerability to me.
And vulnerability isn't my strong suit these days. (Ha!)
I'm pretty darn good at cynicism. I'm a master at worst-case scenarios. And I've become adept at keeping my heart (and private parts) under wraps.
But, as MC explains it, there's no change without risk.
We can keep on keeping on (and keeping our clothes on). Or I can take a risk.
MC offers up this metaphor:
If someone is afraid of the water, we don't simply suggest she never wade in. Instead, we offer to let her go slowly. To wade in on her own terms. To maybe splash around in the shallow part for a bit. And then, when she feels as though she can trust those around her to not let them drown, she takes a dive.
I get it. I know I'm the fearful swimmer. And, apparently, I'm being asked to take a dive.
Gulp.
I remind myself that my fear is based on what happened. It is the product of memory, which focuses on the past. As MC says, there are no guarantees. Except that, without trying, he can guarantee that nothing will change. Trying to impose the past on the present will never wipe out the threat of being hurt.
Only facing that fear with risk...and achieving trust.
Ack...



Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Make the world gasp!

Kjerringsleppet, says Sue Monk Kidd in her book The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, was a group of women during the 1994 Norway Olympics who felt excluded from the men-only opening ceremonies of the Alpine Center. The 35 women crashed the ceremonies, emerging on skis from the trees and clanging cow bells.
The crowd loved them.
The term, loosely translated, apparently means "women on the loose."
I read this account with increasing discomfort. Not because of what the women did. That sounded like outrageous fun. And I love the thought of wronged women on the loose, as long as they're not armed. And I'm not the one who wronged them.
No, my discomfort stemmed from my recognition that I, perhaps too often, discourage betrayed wives for acting outrageously.
Instead, I suggest that betrayed women "take the high road". That we steer clear of drama and vengeance and instead focus on our own healing.
Now, I'm wondering if I've done women a disservice. And if I've missed an important step.
"Powerful women are always surprising themselves, always getting a small gasp out of the world," writes Monk Kidd.
I know what she means.
We can bolster our own power by doing something that shocks even us.
Like refusing to back down. Like digging in our heels and insisting that the world acknowledge the hurt done to us...and make it clear that we won't let it happen again.
Indeed, I did something that for me was outrageous...and outrageously empowering.
One morning, after licking my wounds for a week or so, I showered, dressed and arrived at my husband's office where the OW also worked. I was a nervous wreck. Confrontation was not what I wanted. What I did want was to make it clear that I was not going to fade into the background. That I was standing tall and proud and that I had nothing to be ashamed of.
I also, privately, made it clear to the OW that she had betrayed all women, including herself, by carrying on a relationship with a married man.
It may not have been as dramatic...or public...as skiing out onto the national stage. But, once the shaking subsided, I felt stronger than I'd felt since D-Day. Sometimes our actions send a message to our psyche: We are not invisible. We will not back down.
So let me revise my high-road stance:
I still don't advocate screaming matches and revenge-seeking if it leaves you feeling diminished and angry and ashamed. And that's the question you need to ask yourself. What can you do to declare yourself a survivor and thriver...that's legal, dignified (relatively speaking!) and empowering?
Then do it!
We'll gasp with delight.

(And, please, share your story with us here!)

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Cycling Through the Pain

The thing about being deeply wounded is that, just when you think you've healed, that it's safe to remove the band-aids you've relied on to keep the wound from getting infected, something occurs, or a memory is triggered...and suddenly you're right back where you were. Struggling for air and drowning in despair.
I should know.
It has been more than three years. In that time, I've gone from living minute-to-minute, to day-to-day, to week-to-week.
And yet, one thoughtless comment from my husband (husband for the time being. I'm thinking of putting a divorce lawyer on speed dial...) and I'm right back at D-Day. Feeling blind-sided. And wondering whether I'm going to survive the blow.
Admittedly, some days I'm more fragile than others. I'm missing my mom a lot lately, who died shortly after D-Day and who had always been my greatest supporter.
I'm feeling somewhat adrift in my career. I'm coping with kids who are growing increasingly independent...and hormonal.
So even without the backdrop of a marriage marked by betrayal, I might be feeling somewhat vulnerable.
But it doesn't take much to re-open the gaping wound. A thoughtless comment. A movie in which infidelity is romanticized. Song lyrics. My husband's eyes lingering a bit too long on another woman. A friend's shiny new boyfriend...which only makes my fixer-upper seem all the less appealing.
I try and remind myself that life is like this. That healing (nor life) is not a straight trajectory to bliss. That we go round and round, sometimes up, sometimes down. Mostly somewhere in between.

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