Anatomy of Infidelity, Part 1

First…a note about my absence of late. I was winding down a big project at work and excited to blog on several things: forgiveness, unexpected trigger, new life. And then came Hurricane Matthew that forced HUSBAND and me to deal with our respective businesses/clients, our home, family…and to evacuate to safer space. Returning to our home we encountered a felled tree magnificently missing our home or any other home, but making serious disaster of our neighbor’s brand-new and beautiful workshop/office. hurricanmatthew2

And my office also was the victim of a large tree falling. It is requiring removal with a crane and a delicate positioning to avoid the master-power lines. hurricanematthew

Yes…it has been a crazy last ten days but we praise God for the safety of so many, while we grieve deeply at the horrific loss of life in Haiti, and to a far lesser extent, the US. Please…join me in praying with fervor for these hurting people…

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Infidelity. The word obviously means unfaithfulness between two partners in a committed relationship. But it also means disloyalty, breach of trust, a transgression. From my personal experience, no one really expects it, and no one – NO ONE – can imagine the intense pain that sears through every fibre of your being when you become the victim of infidelity. As I have embraced my personal path of healing, I’ve become dedicated to trying to understand how it can occur…how it happens…what are the root causes, what happened to HUSBAND along the way to enable him to make those choices, and what role, if any, did I play? It has haunted me…sometimes with self-blame, other times with he/she/them blame, so I’ve decided to start at the beginning of the one case study I know intimately, HUSBAND. What follows, for as long as it takes, is the Anatomy of Infidelity.

The Anatomy of Infidelity, Part 1

This is about infidelity. My infidel. My husband.

I’m not pretending or purporting that this is a profile, or what all cheaters look like. But it is the story of my partner, my spouse, and the road of life that lead to him becoming a cheater in our marriage.

At the end of the day, I believe no one wakes up one day while in a committed relationship and just ends up in bed with someone else. Long before I knew I was a betrayed spouse, ironically, I used to say to our children as they got to their teen years that very thing. That it is myriad decisions, choices, wrong thinking and justification along the way that leads to the BIG ONE. Oh, such prophetic words.

So back to the anatomy of my infidel.

He was born into an appearingly loving family with strong traditions of just that: loving family. His mama had a rougher childhood in the 50s…her mom was married several times when it was pretty taboo to do so, and her stability came from her hard-working but devoted grandparents. They, and especially her granddaddy, were hero-worshipped by her and carried saint-status as she began to raise her children including my husband. HUSBAND’s father was second-oldest son of (eventually) six children. FIL’s daddy was smart, hard-working and diligent and founded a very successful business. HUSBAND’s father joined him in the business early on, working side-by-side to build a mini-empire. Along the way, HUSBAND was born, along with four other siblings in close order and everything was hunky dory.

Early family life included week-end trips to the tiny but beloved home of the saintly grands where HUSBAND and his siblings learned to fish and whittle and brush away yellow flies at certain times of the year. The trip included the purchase of white milk and chocolate milk, mixed together, for the kids and a six-pack of beer for the parents to drink on the way to the river. These are some of HUSBAND’s earliest memories.

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He also recalls fondly having to sneak his great-grandma cigarettes even when they had been banned due to her health, and watching the beer crack open at day break. He learned about plants and still has seeds from those days that he cultivates every year, passing on plants to all of our children along with the stories of his great-grandad after whom our oldest son is named.

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HUSBAND’s home he was born to was a cute bungalow in a darling neighborhood not too far from where he and I live today. By the time he was in first grade, there were four children and his parents decided they needed more room. They made the move to the other side of town and into a much larger home with a pool. He remembers being perfect in his mama’s eyes. And yet, he remembers being anything-but-perfect in his mama’s eyes. He remembers being told he was strong and smart and yet why did he do such a stupid thing and go cut himself a switch and stop doing that. He remembers that his mama took him to church faithfully but that his dad didn’t go with them and he never questioned that and she never said anything about it, but there was no option for him. He remembers that he got to go to the woods with his dad, and he got to fish at the river, and he thinks things were pretty good. His report cards indicate that he was learning well, and getting along with kids well, and the writings we have from those early years show he was progressing.

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Such were the early years of a little boy that would grow up to be a man that one day would get his wires crossed and do things he didn’t want to do but didn’t know how not to do and didn’t know why he did them.

The anatomy of infidelity. Part one.

 

 

 

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The Dance I Now See

I took the red-eye home from Vegas last night. Left a little before midnight and connected in Atlanta with literally just time for a quick bathroom stop between flights.

I suffer from motion sickness, so always need to be at a window seat. When I boarded, the aisle seat occupant was already there, so I had to ask him to please let me in. He was wearing professional clothes, not unusual for a 7:00 am flight out of Atlanta, and when I got there, his head was bent down intently looking at his phone screen. After I spoke, he glanced up, got out and let me in…all was well.

ManTextOnPhone

Immediately, my 50-ish seat-mate reattached himself to a furious texting conversation, and I got out my headphones along with my phone and texted HUSBAND to let him know I’d made the tight connection. We shared a few back-and-forth texts, and I was glad to know I’d be back in his arms within two hours. It was a sweet moment…yet the complete and utter intensity of my seat-mate’s phone communication drew me to glance…where I saw this that he had just texted:

“Last night was amazing. I’m crazy about you.”

I felt sick to my stomach. I saw the telltale band around the ring finger of his left hand, and began to watch his behavior in earnest. He was completely unaware of all that was happening around: the other passengers loading, people placing things in the overhead bins, the flight attendant asking people to be seated. I thought about what HUSBAND had told me he said to his affair partner, and “being crazy about you” was a common phrase between them. I thought about HUSBAND’s admissions to the nonstop texting, the obsessions with fantasy talk. Attention poured and lavished between them in the illicit relationship unlike the pittance of attention offered in our real relationship.

ManWeddingRing

I thought about a wife sitting somewhere in Atlanta, knowing her marriage was disconnected, aching to understand why her husband seemed to care about all things except her and their marriage. A wife who washed and folded the underwear he wore the night before that his slut had removed with her dexterous fingers so she could make his night amazing. A wife who made sure his kids had their school supplies and were taken care of when they get sick or got their hearts broken. A wife who showed up with bells on to greet a family member or client at her husband’s beckoning, even though she had worked a 50 hour week. A wife who invested so much of who she was wondering desperately why he felt like she expected so much from him, what was wrong with her, why couldn’t she just be happy…

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I texted HUSBAND what I’d seen, what I was observing, realizing I never would have even had eyes to see this before, or understand the secret dance that I was now part of, and that is so often danced all around me. HUSBAND responded, telling me he was so sorry that he had put me in the situation to grieve what I could now see. He told me that he was so thankful for my grace…for our life now.

I struggled with wanting to grab my seat-mate, tell him to look me in the eye and that I knew what he was doing and he had to STOP…that he was killing, no KILLING a woman out there, that he was stabbing and slashing and hacking at her heart and her life and that of his children. I fantasized about standing up in the cabin and telling the whole flight that I was sitting next to a cheater. I waited for the moment to ask the right question to let him know slyly that I knew utilizing innuendos and hidden meanings, that he hadn’t hid his smut from me.

But none of that happened, and I didn’t do any of those things.

I just grieved.

Right after we landed, making that long taxi around to our gate, my seat mate finished the trip in crowning glory. He pulled HER up on his phone, scrolled quickly down a long series of messages, seemingly rereading them at a fast pace. Then, quickly in a well-practiced pattern, he swiped and deleted, swiped and deleted, swiped and deleted message after message after message until there were none.

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Evidence gone.

Just like that, his transgression was erased.

Except, not really. The dance? I can see it now. Everywhere. And for that, I weep.

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Going Back in Lies

I often contemplate how I married HUSBAND. How I chose a man who would begin cheating on me a mere two years after we married. A man who artfully hid his double life from me as it ebbed and flowed in and through his original life with me and I was not-so-blissfully unaware.

What was wrong with me that I couldn’t see it? That I didn’t know?

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My family valued honesty. I was told as a young girl that honesty was the premium value…that breaking a lamp while breaking rules would be not so good, but breaking a lamp while breaking rules and then LYING would be AWFUL. My parents were meticulous about keeping their word in so many ways: always paying bills on time, arriving at appointments, events or work early, and certainly never lying to us kids or each other.

And I believed that was the reality of my home, and my life. We were defined by our H O N E S T Y.

honesty

Except it really wasn’t. We really weren’t.

I’m prefacing this by saying I have stellar parents who defied so many odds. They overcame myriad challenges individually and as a couple, and they were really fantastic parents using all they knew how to do and dealing with all they had to deal. But they were the offspring of their own parents and they of their parents and so on. I was raised by beautiful, hardworking, dedicated and loving parents who knew how to parent me as they had been parented, and to understand honesty as it had been defined for them and it ends up it wasn’t quite as black and white as I had been made to believe.

I began to have glimpses of the confusion between truth and sort-of-truth and not-so-much-truth and out-and-out-lies a couple days before our oldest son’s second birthday. My parents were headed up to spend a few days and celebrate with HUSBAND and me and 10 or so other little two-year-olds and I got an early morning phone call. Mom told me they wouldn’t be making the trip. My uncle, my dad’s brother, just 15 month’s his elder, had committed suicide and they had to go to be with his widow and children. The processing of that event left me overwhelmed…and I decided to go to a therapist to work through some of my confusion.

It was there, on his proverbial couch, that I found out that my fantastically honest parents might have lied to me – and I was only just seeing it – although I’d known it. See my dad’s side of the family was the bad side – included alcoholism and abandonment and now suicide. Mom’s side – the good side that did no wrong – until I began to recall the stories. The stories I knew that had been presented as rosy and pretty but when I shared them with the therapist I stopped myself part way: Wow…they are pretty screwed up too, huh? That side of the family included adultery and separate homes and an adopted child who never was told he was adopted although we all knew and were told to keep the secret (that wasn’t a lie) even when he asked us to our faces. So I wasn’t allowed to lie except when I was told to lie and it wasn’t a lie in that case.

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I was so confused.

I shared all this with HUSBAND who listened with his very young and distracted mind, nodding occasionally and thinking I was thinking too much. Thinking it was good I didn’t see lies since he’d already successfully completed his first marital affair and lied brilliantly and I was none the wiser. Of course I would not know about that lie of his for another 25 years…

Funny thing is because the surprise of discovering the inconsistencies within my own childhood I decided I would be hyper-honest with our children. I tried very carefully to tell them truth as best I could based on their maturity. But there is something about someone who grows up lying and that is they don’t see the lies. They don’t see how wrapped around truth they are, and how their (my) very default position is lying, justified in hundreds of ways…by sparing one’s feelings, or it not really being their business, etc. So even though I determined to not lie, I continued to lie, unbeknownst to me, but fairly consistently. Not about things that mattered, but instead about things like why my child couldn’t go spend the night with a friend (truth is I didn’t trust that friend’s judgement on movies and bedtimes and food choices, but I said we had another commitment). Things like why I was late to an appointment (truth is I was habitually a wee-bit late, but I said something happened with the dog or the kids or the car). Things like how glad I was that HUSBAND was able to __________________ (hunt…fish…play…leave me…. – fill in the blank – ) because it made me happy for him to be happy (truth is I was lonely and sad and felt like I had no value, but it wasn’t polite to say such things and they would get better, right?? RIGHT???)

BigorSmallLies

Yes…it is very hard for a person who has learned that the way to deal with pain or fear or shame or sorrow or sadness or regret or guilt or abandonment is to lie through it and pretend it wasn’t so to stop lying…mainly because I just could not see it. And that is how I married a man who could do this to me…

The real question is could I have married a man who was any different? A man who was honest? I don’t think so…

It was really tough to consider these possibilities. It was a new kind of pain and hurt, but it is the path that has led to me discovering I could be free from the bondage that engulfed me. And it was my path to take, or not. That’s where and when I thought I just couldn’t do it, and I saw Christ in the garden telling His Father…God…please, please take this cup from me. Yet even then, even when He didn’t want to, He still took the path. Despite all the odds, despite it making no sense at all, it led to healing. To freedom. So I took it too…

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Healing. For Me.

After the discovery of the porn, things began to break open in a new way. We were immediately at entirely different places…HUSBAND floating in a new reality of freedom that he had not experienced before…and me…duly and heavily burdened with even more knowledge of betrayal and inadequacy and shame and disgust.

Our therapist sensed the deep pain and inability for me to move forward, while HUSBAND was experiencing the opposite. He took us through an dastardly exercise aimed at releasing the dark emotions…ending with identifying the things I wanted to be different, and finally, the things that I could be glad about. It was excruciating…taking nearly 3 hours to get all the emotions out. I sat facing HUSBAND, holding his hands, looking into his eyes, as he asked me each of the prompting questions and anger after anger after anger after anger followed by sadness after sadness after sadness after sadness followed by fear after fear after fear after fear bubbled up out of my soul and spilled out my lips, accompanied by tears. HUSBAND’s eyes never left mine. He cried with me. He cringed with me. He received it, and heard it, and took it. And then he held me and said I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so so sorry.

I could breathe again. I could think, a little bit, again.

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Then our therapist suggested, again, that HUSBAND may be a sex addict, and we didn’t reject it this time. He recommended a couple things: another intensive weekend soon, this time with a small group of couples and coaches, and that we consider attending support groups.

Really? Support groups for perverts and their destroyed partners? This was my life now?

I didn’t want to go, but I honestly didn’t know how NOT to go. Every piece of this story was like a daytime shock-show and so completely removed from what I believed my middle-class, mundane life had been, and I still was operating somewhere between denial and hatred and denial and anger and denial and leaving and denial and staying. So I went. The meetings were at the same facility, but in different buildings, so HUSBAND parked near my building and saw me to the door then turned to go to his building. I stood outside, not sure that I could go in, or that I wanted to go in. This really wasn’t real, it really wasn’t my life. I wasn’t a betrayed wife with a sex addict husband. And what the hell was a sex addict, anyway? Isn’t that just an excuse for a man who is a fucking CHEATER? No way. And as I stood near the door, out walked a man. A man I knew. A man I knew well…my banker…and with a big smile he greeted me and asked what I was doing there?

Um. Um. Um.

I stuttered something quickly about a meeting, gave the brief smile and turned quickly – and now I was headed inside just to get away from the awkwardness of the moment.

I pushed open the door, and there were 8 or 10 women in the room, talking. Chairs in a circle, but no one yet sitting. A couple kind of glanced my way, not rudely, but didn’t say anything. So I asked one of them if this was the, uh, the, uh, MEETING. And she nodded, and said yes, you are in the right place.

I sat down.

The other women sat and 8-10 more women joined over the next few minutes. And then, they got out a book, and each person simply said their name, and a couple words to describe their feelings at that moment. I was told I didn’t have to say anything…which was good…because I just sat in my chair and listened and before I knew it, I was weeping. I heard women describe feelings of optimism and hope, and women describe feelings of despair and disgust. The facilitator taught a lesson about grief, and I continued to weep. No one ignored me, but no one embraced me either. It felt oddly right.

I looked around the room at these women…smart women…beautiful women…determined women…and all betrayed women. I had no idea, no idea that this scourge was real and present and reaching so many all around me. All total strangers, yet sisters in the deepest sense. It felt oddly good.

As I listened during the rest of the time together, I realized I was not hearing spouse-bashing or nasty stories revealing the disgusting things their husbands had done. But what I saw and heard was women determined to get healing, to get whole…women with courage, women of strength. It felt oddly safe.

That night, I curled up in bed, and realized how incredibly wrong I had been for so long about so many things. How deceived I had been about who I was, and what my life was, and even what my life could be. I had a couple flashbacks of moments…

Years before when I was required to get a vaccine because of working around kids and a breakout of a virus in our city, I’d gone to the Health Department for the shot, rather than my private doctor. The clientele was predominantly need-based/free care, and the woman sitting next to me in the waiting room told me she was there to get “checked out” because her man had ‘stepped out.’ I wasn’t even quite sure what that phrase meant, until she said that she’d kicked him out and thrown all his clothes out on the lawn, and now she was just making sure he hadn’t given her a disease. I remembered thinking, “Well, I’m glad that isn’t MY life…”thinking that my middle-class educated life exempted me from the possibility.

But it was my life, and always had been my life since very early in my marriage.

And I remembered when I heard an ad for a daytime talk show in which a man had a double-life thinking that was either completely and utterly made up bullshit or the people involved were downright stupid and ignorant because there was no way that could happen in my little pristine world without me knowing it which it couldn’t happen in my pristine world.

But it did happen in my world, and it was my world which really wasn’t so pristine and hadn’t been since very early in my marriage.

And curled up in the bed that night, I was humbled and knew that somehow, someway, I wanted to become whole. And to heal. And to be strong. And to be courageous. However the story ended, I wanted it. For me.

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Telling Our Children. Part 1.

Before you read this, I want to be really clear about a couple things:

  • I am NOT a therapist, counselor or in any other way in a position to give you advice on how/what you should do regarding this tender subject
  • Based on my limited exposure to affairs and their aftermath, one thing I can say with absolute certainty is THERE IS NO ONE WAY to go through this shitty experience that is THE RIGHT WAY. It is deeply personal, completely different based on so many factors no computer could even calculate the variables. I am in NO WAY trying to say that you should do what I did, or how I did, or when I did.

Ok. That being said, here is what happened regarding my husband’s double life, and our children.

There was never a question in my mind if we should tell our children. Not if. But how. How much. When. Where. Who. Those things took some thought, advice and decisions. Our kids ranged in age from 18 to 26. Three boys, one girl. Our daughter’s boyfriend had called us on 4/2/2014 to ask for our blessing when he asked her to marry him…a beautiful moment that I thought was intimately shared between HUSBAND and me as we huddled together on the phone with SIL to be. A mere 10 days later, that intimate moment began to shatter when I received the anonymous email, and by early June, I knew that indeed there had been multiple affairs along with a little one nighter.

If HUSBAND had engaged in one affair, I don’t know how I would have felt. Perhaps it would have been different, and I would have either moved toward healing me and potentially believing there was a way to heal us and would have done this without letting the kids know.

But HUSBAND’s revelations meant that throughout our entire marriage, there had been lies and deceit and women. As the truth unfolded between us, and he began to realize how much the lies, and then lies to protect the lies, and then lies because he couldn’t remember if he’d lied had affected him even in periods when he wasn’t actively engaging in an affair, we both saw the destruction it had quietly waged.

INSERT FROM PAST for INSIGHT:

Years before, I had attended a parenting session in our neighborhood in which a local (well-known) family psychologist had presented on alcohol, drugs and kids including thoughts on how to minimize the risk of abuse and addiction in your home. I did not want to ask a question in front of the group, but afterward went up to speak to him. “Doctor,” I started. “What is detaching with love? What does that mean?”

DR: Well…if your husband came home and the kids were in bed and he was really drunk…so drunk that he threw up on the kitchen floor and then passed out right there, what would you do?

ME: Well…I’d drag him to the bedroom, clean him up, clean up the floor, and probably be telling him the whole time what a jerk he was, how could he do this to himself and to us…

DR: Right, so in the morning, where does he wake up?

ME: In his bed.

DR: Right. Not smelling, in clean sheets, with all consequences removed, other than your, what appears to be, displaced anger.

ME: So…what should I do?

DR: You should leave him, on the kitchen floor, in his vomit. Allow him to experience the result of his actions.

ME: But!!! The Children!!! I was panicked.

DR: (Stares me in the eye) You Think They Don’t Know?

Why was I so convicted and convinced that telling our precious, vulnerable children was, not only ok, but necessary? Why would anyone shatter the image their beloved children had of their father? Their father, HUSBAND, was terrific in many ways. He is funny, he is resourceful. He knows how to go camping and forget the forks and create forks out of palm fronds. He can grow peppers and figure out why the water heater isn’t working. He helped them learn how to ride two-wheelers and to fish and to say please and thank you.

But he taught them some other things. Like how to manipulate in a cunning way that is so dreadfully skilled no one knows they’ve been played until much later. He taught them how to lie magnificently and to believe their own lies. He taught them fear of being found out, and to cover that fear with jovial moments and surface conversations.

He did not teach them about abiding relationships. Or loyalty. Or truth. Or integrity. Or respect. Yet he lauded himself as so downright honest, trustworthy and thoughtful that even I thought I was the bad egg in the relationship and he was the one who could never do anything wrong, at least on purpose.

So was this about retribution? About setting the record straight and having our children turn on their dad?

NOT IN ANY WAY. It was because deep in their souls, I knew that they knew something was off-kilter. I knew that they knew but just could not quite put their finger on the discord between what they heard and what WAS. That they needed truth and healing as much as I did, and no matter what happened to our relationship, they deserved to know why there was always a funky off-ness deep inside even though the outside of our lives and our family looked so pretty and shiny and whole.

More than anything, I wanted to make sure that our kids could see THEMSELVES in honest light. That they could know that their normal wasn’t really as normal as we all thought/pretended/intended/meant it was, and that they would have some chance to CHOOSE to be different than their childhood’s had predestined them to be.

That all made sense, at least to my muddled brain, and HUSBAND was right alongside. But the hard task was still to come. Telling them.

 

 

Going Back In Order To Go Forward.

Resolutions. Made with fanfare, broken in silence.

It seems that the habit of some of us humans is to make grandiose gestures of great promise, then to quietly walk away from any direction that may take us closer to realizing those dreams. At least that has been my habit. Over, and over, and over.

New Year’s Eve/Day is such a profound example of this, and we do it year after year. We make our declarations, and within days, weeks…or if we are one of the real persistent ones, months…we have broken our intentions of loving more authentically or eating more healthy or exercising more regularly or or or or… Why? Why do we repeat this ritual despite it not bearing the fruit we pretend to desire?

Maybe one of the problems is we fail to reflect back before we try to move on. If you consider physical laws, it takes backward pressure to launch forward…a runner rocks back slightly before the sound of the gun, a basketball player bends his knees downward before he leaps in the air, the quarterback draws his arm backward before launching the ball in a pass.

I know for me, when I began the journey of betrayed spouse, I was immobilized. For the first time ever in my life, my type A personality was completely shut down. Frozen. I had no earthly idea how to do anything other than breathe, and even that was difficult. Then, I was compelled by something bigger than me and I looked back. No…I really LOOKED BACK, trying to see not what I thought I had seen, but what was really there. Slowly, it began to unravel…as one layer peeled off, I looked into the face of the man that had shared my life for 27 years and realized I had no idea who he was. The man I thought I knew could never ever do the things this man had done. I LOOKED back, and questioned every part of my life, gathered all the pieces of the puzzle that I could find and began to try to put it back together. So much of it was tarnished, and chipped, and off-kilter…but I couldn’t see that before…but I could see it now…

Painful. Excruciatingly painful to look back with new eyes, revealed eyes.

They say we know. Other women declare that we must know they are fucking our husbands. One of the women I follow said recently that she goes to a counselor who’s been dealing with infidelity for over 35 years and THE WIFE ALWAYS KNOWS.

No. I. Did. Not. Know.

I would not have been afraid to confront. I would not have quietly stayed in my marriage knowing my husband was a cheater because I was afraid or needed his financial support or thought the kids would be better off or any other reason.

I stayed in my marriage because I never dreamed that he could or would cheat on me, and if things were tense or there was space in our relationship, I believed it was life, and we were life, we were married, we were in it together. Relationships ebb and flow, good times/bad times, intimate times/disconnected times. It literally never remotely occurred to me that my husband contacted, called, texted, video messaged, met with, slept with, planned with, dreamed with another woman. Ever. Even writing these words now takes my breath away, because it is hard for me to believe.

Before I knew of infidelity, I stayed in my marriage even in hard times because I loved him.

So…looking back…there are so many missing pieces. I can’t even complete the edges, put the border together, because the very foundation of the person I was married has holes. Initially, I became desperate to figure out those gaps, desiring to understand what the picture REALLY looked like, and I sat in that place for a long time.

I am not desperate anymore, although some of the pieces have not been easy to find, and honestly, there are still holes that I want to fill.

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So on the threshold of a New Year, I will continue to look back, but am also moving forward. I’ve learned that for me, I want to know – I want to confront – I want to look at the good, bad and ugly – and I want to dream in real-color of what the future can be. That is what I am looking forward to in 2016, as odd as it sounds: grasping in truth the missing pieces that I need to be whole, and creating the more beautiful future in which I play a role in shaping the puzzle pieces.

I hope, for you, an astounding 2016.

Dark and Light…

The journey of my broken marriage has some real darkness, and difficult holidays aren’t necessarily real darkness (perspective). I realize as I write this post how many old pains, deep wounds there are to mend. Please bear with me as I work through these things. I’m sorry if I seem trivial…and thank you for visiting.

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Last night. In a beautiful connection, we felt each other and held each other and caressed each other. It was significant because Christmas was unexpectedly challenging-actually, painful. We struggled to stay connected over the last couple weeks, and I spiraled into a pretty dark place.

Last Christmas, the first following the discovery that much of my married life had been a sham, we fled. Husband, our three boys and I loaded up in the car and drove 20 hours to meet up with daughter and her fiancé, and to meet his family. It was a completely different environment, including places we’d never been (Adirondacks), places we love (NYC), meeting delightful new family and friends and a focus on the upcoming nuptials of daughter and fiancé. From beginning to end, the holiday season was entirely different than any year since our marriage, and our little family unit worked hard together to make it all work – and it did.

This year, Husband offered to let me “drive” the decisions for what our Christmas would look like, and I considered traveling again but having just hosted a wedding, paying for college for two students and thinking I was ready, I decided we could return to old traditions. The Christmas Eve tradition, in particular, in which we go to the in-laws along with 60 other people and lots of booze and presents and brokenness.

It was excruciatingly difficult to walk through the path and actions we had taken for the majority of our marriage, smiling and nodding at all the folks. The Christmas Eve events had always been marked with pain for me: my MIL had decided after year one of our marriage that I was the HATED ONE, and everyone else either agreed, or avoided me so year after year it was a miserable experience that I endured for HUSBAND and our children.

Everything in our world is so dramatically different than it was in December 2013, yet that scene played out just the same as it always had through the many years of our shared life. The same masks were tightly adhered to each of the players in the drama. Same words were falling out of their mouths. Same pretenses and cliques and ridiculous bullshit.

BUT IT IS ALL SO COMPLETELY DIFFERENT.

Being present in the PRESENT that looked so much like that past was literal crazy-making. Then, MIL does her annual ding ding ding time…listen to ME because I pretend “it is all about Him and all about others” time…and then pats herself on the back for the good deeds she has done over the past year…

And this night, she reports her faith leader has declared the upcoming year the Year Of Jubilee. What does it MEAN? It means, she tells us, that the year is to be marked with mercy. MIL continues on, reading a description of what mercy is.

She described…ME.

You know, the one who was WRONGED from head to toe, beginning to end, for 25 years and chose not to seek retribution. Who chose not to seek revenge. Who chose to, despite her own personal and gut-wrenching pain and ache, to care for her husband, and to find a way to somehow include the lying, nasty, manipulative group who are his family in their lives…in my life. That would be me.

But the self-righteous MIL went on and read a whole page of words, smug look on her face, choosing from time-to-time to look at me (and she normally looks anywhere BUT me). Not with kindness or humility or appreciation, but with nasty little brows raised high in loftiness, daring me to forgive – her? Her son? It was so incredibly sickening; eventually I could not allow myself to look at her, and instead looked around the room. Such fraud played out before our eyes, but in this sick family system, no one calls BULL SHIT. This woman, who slays people with her tongue, lies and carries out retributive actions on so many, is educating us – ME – on mercy and forgiveness. And everyone stands there and nods despite having been victimized by her at least once through the years.

I’m SICK, literally sick.

Then, the annual gift-giving. HUSBAND and I had contributed to the group gift for MIL and FIL, but in addition, I gave MIL three more gifts, wrapped in lovely wrapping accompanied by personal notes. The frenzy of gift-giving happened, the 15 cousins exchanging, and then MIL giving out the child/in-law and grandchild gifts…there were diamond earrings and canvas photos and elaborate American Girl sets. Nothing for my kiddos, nothing for me. MIL comes along and says, Oh HUSBAND, come out here with me so I can give you your gift, and presents him with some camo chair for hunting. Nothing for our kids, nothing for me. MIL comes along and hands me 3 ornaments saying daughter already got hers, nothing for our kids, nothing for me. We are getting ready to go, MIL says DON’T LEAVE YET, I NEED ALL MY CHILDREN NOW BACK HERE and someone says Should Spouses Come? And MIL says NO! Off they go, to the back of the house with MIL’s oblivious husband/FIL remaining at the party, at the bar, engaged in conversation and laughter while the drama goes on around him. HUSBAND returns, we gather ourselves and our kids and our cousin gifts and our sister-brother gifts and make our way to the door…which takes 20 minutes…and eventually tell MIL goodbye (and she looks at me with a beady piercing stare and says curtly Good Night, stiffly throwing her arms toward me) and thank you and still nothing for our kids, nothing for me.

In the car, HUSBAND asks our kids if their grandmother gave them a gift.

No. They answer.

But it’s our fault I guess, says the youngest. Our fault because she didn’t know we were coming since you didn’t RSVP.

Stunning silence. I’m stunned, and can only remain silent.

My baby-boy has been made to believe by MIL – his GRANDMOTHER –  that if he doesn’t do things JUST SO – according to her rulebook or expectations, then he shouldn’t expect a gift. From his grandmother. On Christmas.

And it’s his fault.

And he’s okay with all that.

I realize how very very very broken my children are. I realize how very very very broken HER children are. This is their normal, and it is so not-normal, or loving, or kind, or merciful. But this is HUSBAND’s life experience, what shaped him, and is now – to a lesser degree – shaping our children.

There is so much work to be done to right the wrongs that started long ago.

Incidentally, there were gifts. When we got home, there was a bag that HUSBAND thought was from his SIL, but there were gifts inside for the boys and me:

Each boy got a hoodie, and a book on how to be a gentleman. And there was a $25 gift certificate to each for a fast-food chain. And for me? 8 Christmas-decorated hard plastic luncheon-sized plates.

I’m regifting the plates next year. Regifting them to MIL, since she obviously really liked them.

Finally, last night wrapped in HUSBAND’s arms, I began to see light again. I am thankful for that.