Thursday, October 28, 2010

Your "Story of Us": Don't Censor It

"So how did you two meet?" a new friend asked me recently, about my husband and me.
My stomach clenched.
Of course I have my "Story of Us". Most of us do. It's the one we tell new friends. The one our kids love to hear, at least until they become teenagers at which point they'd prefer us not to speak at all. It's our time-worn, agreed-upon version of how two strangers came together...
Until one steps outside the marriage...and that story suddenly seems more like fiction. How can all that be true? we wonder. And this betrayal be true also? One truth seems to cancel the other out. In our versions of "us", most of us never considered a chapter where one partner violated trust in the worst possible way.
So, when asked, it can be tempting to leave out the painful bits. To give the world the Hollywood version, where even complications are simple and everyone pretty much lives happily ever after, the lighting is never bad and even women who've had three kids have abdomens you could bounce a quarter off.
And, frankly, that's pretty much the version I offer up...though it's clear to anyone looking at me that the abdomen bit is pure fantasy.
But there's a real danger is censoring the story we tell ourselves. In editing out the grief and shame and fear and agony because it just doesn't fit with the version we want.
We just want to get on with it, for goodness' sake. We don't want to keep tripping over the mess and it's so much easier to shove it aside.
Yet it's that mess that often is the soul of our lives.
Honesty can be a balm and a blessing. It can also be painful as hell. But the price we pay for not being honest with ourselves is a sort of half-life. A publicly acceptable life that belies a private hell.
Tell friends and strangers whatever you want and whatever feels safe and right.
But make sure you tell yourself the whole story. Your "Story of Us", especially if "Us" survives intact, just got a whole lot richer and grittier...and real.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Is the Affair the Problem? Or the Symptom...

A few years ago, a friend of mine, Mary, left her husband for another guy, with whom she had only just started an affair. I was bewildered. Her husband was a good guy. I thought they were happy. This new guy was kinda...creepy. But, Mary insisted to me, she'd never been happier.
That is...until a few months ago. When she dumped this new guy, after a few years of emotional abuse that was inching its way toward physical abuse, I figured she'd be filled with regret. After all, her first husband was really nice guy. And they'd cobbled together a really good friendship, with their three kids as a common denominator. She must be sorry for the way she'd treated him. Sorry she'd left.
Right?
Nope. Not at all.
Mary's affair had really nothing to do with wanting IN to another relationship and everything to do with wanting OUT of the marriage she was in. She just didn't have the clarity or courage at the time to recognize that.
They're called "exit affairs". And they're basically the coward's way of getting out of a relationship. They're frequently the affair of choice for conflict-avoiders, people who don't have the guts to face their spouse and state what they want.
And, at one point in my life, I was one of those cowards.
I was 21 and in a relationship that was getting out of hand. I knew I wasn't happy. I knew it wasn't healthy. But tentative steps out the door resulted in threats of suicide or bitter recriminations. I lacked both the maturity and the sanity at that point to just keep walking.
Instead, I took up with an ex-boyfriend, knowing full well that my current boyfriend would find out. And that his pride simply wouldn't stand for being cheated upon. He, I knew, would dump me.
Which, though totally passive-aggressive, worked just fine for me.
Now though, through the lens of betrayal, I recognize how hurtful my actions were. How immature.

Within a marriage or committed relationship, and when there are children involved, the exit affair makes a painful proposition – the dissolution of a committed relationship and family – so much more painful. It makes a complicated situation so much more complicated. And it makes it far more likely that bitterness and acrimony play starring roles in the divorce proceedings.

Mary was lucky, if you could call it that. Her first husband was as unhappy as she was and, though he initially directed some anger and spite at my friend for her affair and subsequent departure, he ultimately recognized that he was somewhat relieved the marriage was over. He was able to move past his anger and develop a relationship with Mary based on their mutual love for and interest in their kids.

If you suspect your husband had an exit affair, ask yourself whether you think, honestly, the marriage is worth saving. Often by the time one of the spouses wants out, the marriage has actually been dead for awhile. That's not to say it can't be resurrected – and it's worth exploring that option if you genuinely see a future together, even if your spouse doesn't right now.
But some marriages are dead for a good reason. There is a such a thing as a bad fit, two people who, when it's all said and done, simply don't want to be together for any good reason (and no, money, prestige, laziness, fear of being alone, etc. etc. are NOT good reasons).

Was your spouse's affair the problem? Or was it simply a symptom of a dying marriage? Once you can answer that, the next step often seems a whole lot more clear. Either working damn hard to build a marriage that fills both of your souls...or pulling out your best self to work toward a dignified divorce.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Three to Five Years: There Are No Shortcuts...

"There are no shortcuts to any place worth going," said Beverly Sills.
And ain't THAT the truth.
Still, we think we should get there faster. Whether "there" is getting over our husband's betrayal. Or, perhaps, "there" is no longer caring that he's with the other woman because you're separated. Perhaps "there" is feeling ready to date again. Or maybe "there" is no longer beating yourself up for something that was never your fault in the first place.
But wherever "there" is for you...you're likely not reaching it nearly as quickly as you think you should.
And, I believe, you won't.
It's gonna take a whole lot longer than you expect.
But that's okay. Because, if you take your time... if you really do the hard work necessary to peel back the layers of pain and really turn them all over in your mind and heart, when you do get there, you won't need to keep looking over your shoulder to make sure heartbreak isn't gaining on you.
Three to five years, say the experts. Three to five years!
Yep, I know it sounds like an eternity. I'm with you. For gawd's sake, I could have conceived and given birth to an entire basketball team in that time.
But – and I speak from experience here – I'm finally starting to feel as if I'm wearing my own skin again. And it has been – get ready for it! – two months shy of FOUR YEARS.
When I first heard the three- to five-year timeline – about one month after D-Day – I didn't believe it. Didn't want to. Figured that maybe it takes OTHER people that long. But I'll just fast-track this healing stuff and be back on my feet in a few months.
Uhhh...sure.
That was around the time I was face down on my bathroom floor, sobbing into my dog's neck (who, incidentally, was just diagnosed with bone cancer. Honestly, can't I catch a break?? Please??).
It was around the time I had lost 15 pounds without even trying (I'll be honest – the highlight of my day was stepping on the scales...then I'd go back to feeling miserable) and I didn't bother applying any makeup because it was just going to slide down my face by 9:15 a.m.
Still, THREE TO FIVE YEARS??
Yep.
You could probably reduce that time-frame if, unlike me, you manage to skip the whole self-loathing suicidal period, which lasted close to a year and forced me to face all sorts of childhood abandonment issues I thought I'd successfully drowned in copious amounts of wine when I was 15.
But though it seems like a long time (and it is!), the place you'll end up is really amazing.
Having to reassemble my heart took time and courage, but it also allowed me to step into myself fully – something I'd never done. It offered me a glimpse into how much of my heart was going into relationships (not just my marriage, but with friends, colleagues, hangers-on...) that drained me. I'm far better able to recognize these emotional vampires, and to protect myself. As a result, I'm less blurry around the edges. I know exactly where I end and someone else begins.
So, yeah, three to five years.
Sorry.
But you just might find, as I did, it's worth the trip.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

I'll tell you my story, you tell me yours...

I recently ran into a friend whom I hadn't seen in a few years. Last I'd heard, her divorce was final and she was dating a wonderful man, whom she adored.
However, she now filled me in. Her new man, thanks to a fling before the two of them got together, had fathered a child – a fact that came to light after my friend was completely in love and committed to this guy. And though her new love was eager for a relationship with his new son, the mother was using her child as leverage to try and extract some sort of relationship.
Which left my friend feeling constantly off-balance. And wounded. Full of fear. Full of "what-ifs".
I could offer little more than my sympathy.
"I'm in such pain," my friend confessed. "And I wonder if it'll ever go away."
I know the feeling. Well.
And so I said, "It might not. It might just be something you learn to live with." And, I suggested, leaving her beloved might remove the pain of his fatherhood and relationship with this other woman...but it will replace it with the pain of the loss of this man in her life.
She looked at me, surprised. And relieved.
Her friends had all pretty much told her to "get over it," she said. They thought she was making a big deal out of nothing.
Easy, I assume, for them to say.
And it drove home something of which I've become increasingly convinced.
Pain left unshared isolates us. It keeps us feeling alienated.
Yet pain shared connects us. It allows us to bear up beneath its weight and know that though we might not feel we can handle it, there are those who will carry us. If you take one step towards the gods, the saying goes, the gods will take ten steps towards you.
The need for connection is why I began this site. And why I'm so grateful for your comments, the ones that let me know how valuable you find it. The ones that tell me your story.
No matter the specific details, our stories, though ours alone, connect us. They remind us that we're not alone in our pain. Every crisis we face is a chance to step into our own greatness. And to share our story in order that we can help each other.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Getting Unstuck: Ask Your Body For Answers

In many ways I envied the women who, upon learning of their spouse's infidelity, simply walked out the door with a breezy buh-bye over their shoulder. But even more than I envied what I believed to be the shiny new life they were walking into was their certainty.
I sometimes blame the fact that I'm a Gemini (on the one hand..., but on the other...) for my inability to simply, uncategorically make choices without second-guessing, regrets or what-ifs. But whether it's the stars or my parents or my second-grade teacher who's to blame for my wavering, I seem stuck with it. I can barely decide whether to buy the generic toilet paper or pay extra for the name-brand, let alone whether to stick with my unfaithful spouse and keep my family intact, or make for the hills.
Which is why I found the following (thanks to Martha Beck's Finding Your Own North Star) so interesting:
Your social self lives by what psychiatrist Alice Miller sees as the cardinal rule of all repressive social systems: "Thou shalt not be aware."... Don't know what you know, and don't feel what you feel.
Once you've learned to obey this rule, you can easily lose access to your own experience of joy and desire, loathing and revulsion... Since the only way to find lost feelings is to feel for them, the search for your own heart is always a blind one. Instead of any clear impulse, you register only flat nothingness, a hollow, yearning ache that doesn't lead you clearly in any direction at all.
Wow. Sounds a whole lot like me. And, likely, a lot like you if one of the ways you coped with your spouse's betrayal was to stop feeling.
Cutting yourself off from feeling can work in the short-term. It can get your kids to soccer practice. It can get you to your desk. It can get dinner on the table.
What it can't do is get you to your next step. At least not decisively.
It's taken me a few years of putting in time to realize this. Of not feeling and simply moving along in my life and marriage. Not so much deciding what I want in my life as letting life decide for me. Which isn't a bad thing for a period of time. It can make sense to simply bide your time until choices become clear. But they won't – can't – become clear if you're so divorced from your own feelings that you don't even feel them anymore.
What Beck suggests sounds rather odd. She maintains that the answers rest in your body. Literally. That by taking an inventory of your body parts and soliciting their opinions (I'm not kidding here!), you'll find your answer. She takes her view on this from Asian philosophy which, as she points out, insists that it's our bodies that hold the answers, not our minds, which bend and change to all sorts of untrustworthy beliefs.
It's an interesting exercise and one that I recommend, if only because it can't hurt and doesn't cost a thing.
How?
Get as relaxed as you can without the benefit of drugs/alcohol. Try and still the mind, which, if yours is as annoyingly toddler-like as mine, is no easy task. Then start paying attention to your body, starting with each toe. (Settle in, this is going to take awhile.) Ask yourself what it's feeling, Beck suggests. Hot, cold, itchy... "Don't think," she admonishes, "just describe." Again, if you're like me, you'll likely start to notice, if you don't on a regular basis, that certain parts of your body are...tense or tight. Beck advises us that there's likely a lot of information being stored in those parts.
Think of these tense parts as frozen. Try and breathe warmth into them and let them thaw.
This is where the exercise can get uncomfortable emotionally. Locking feelings up keeps us safe from them. And letting them out releases the capacity to once again feel pain. And as we all know far too well, pain sucks. A lot.
The thing is, NOT feeling pain doesn't serve us either. It keeps us alive...but not living.
The time will come when you have to let it out. Sadness, anger, hatred, fear. You have to allow the feelings to breathe...and within them to find your answers.
You'll also be surprised to discover that, rather than paralyzing you with pain (though it can be excruciating to feel them) these feelings will actually make things a whole lot clearer. You might not miraculously know what the rest of your life will look like, but you'll be far clearer about what you want it to look like. And therefore, what you should do to create it.
It's not magic. And it takes a certain conviction, not to mention suspension of judgement to undertake such an exercise.
But if you stick with it (even making it a daily practice, as Beck does), you just might find your answers aren't in the stars at all...but in your kidney.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

More Danielle Laporte: How to Build Confidence

Tummy trembles. Brain Fuzz. That discombobulating feeling that you’re not quite sure what you should be doing but you should be doing something to keep your act together. Think of it this way, beneath the butterflies in your stomach, behind the clouds in your mind…is your greater truth, and it’s trying to break on through. Whatever you want to call it, positive thinking, re-framing, self-encouragement, ra-ra-rah, this is where you need to step up to the plate, look at your fear head on and confront it with your truth. The truth being, that you manage to get through everyday whether with grace or grit; that fear will not kill you; that your God, or your friends, or your grandma in heaven will have your back; that you have risen above before, and that you will rise above again; that, it’s only life after all.
—Danielle Laporte, creator of The Firestarter Sessions

Read the whole interview on Girl Habits! 

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