Life After Five Years

FeaturedLife After Five Years

It’s been five years.

Really, it’s been five years, four months, two weeks and 1 day since the finely crafted lies of our marriage began to seep out until they were full blown rivers of filth.

But here I am. Whole. Healthy. With more love for myself than I ever dreamed possible, or knew I needed. More in love with the perpetrator of my pain than ever.  More confident of his ability to feel and to love and that it’s all directed at me. More able to receive love without apology or manipulation, and to love with grace and abandon.

Beautiful women of betrayal…it can be so. I am living and breathing proof that there is life ABUNDANT after betrayal for you. That there is the potential for something that is so much more than what your marriage looked like prior to finding out you were living with a cheater. It doesn’t matter if that betrayal came in the form of an on-screen lover, a chatting intimate, a sex partner or any other form.

First reality is – YOU CAN HEAL AND BE WHOLE. With or without his partnership in the process. If he won’t join you? Move on and move forward. Move to become all that you are created to be which I can almost promise you is way more than you’ve been able to see up til now.

Second reality is – YOUR MARRIAGE CAN BE AMAZING. But here are some caveats:

  • Your marriage will be totally new. There is nothing…NOTHING about my marriage that looks anything like it used to. Not the way we hear or speak or make decisions. Not the way we go to bed or spend money. Not even the way we eat. Or how we see, talk to and interact with our kids. It is new because we are new. Don’t be afraid of new. Think of a bad cut you’ve had and the festering and nastiness of its healing. But then think of the precious, blemish free skin that appeared after the last scab fell off. There may be a scar, but there is beauty and simplicity and clarity.
  • You cannot achieve this kind of marriage without both of you being totally in. No holds barred. No chains not willing to be seen and broken – yours or his. No secrets, no lies. There has to be full disclosure, a grieving process, new pathways forged. Your cheater must be all in. You must be all in.

There were days, weeks, even months that I wanted to quit. I wanted the pain to go away, I wanted to go back to life before cheating. There were hours of frozen fear and moments of rage. There were tears…oh, so many tears…and then anger that I had tears. There was denial of everything I’d ever believed about me. About him. About God.

But there was a steadfast promise that I made to myself: do the next right thing. Maybe it was just breathe. That was the next right thing. Or stay in bed for the day. Yup, there were days that was the next right thing. Journal all my deepest hurts and then force him to sit and listen to what I’d written. That was the next right thing. Go to the therapist. Just going…that was the next right thing. I took the big decision – “staying married” – off the table. I couldn’t think about that one way or the other. I just focused on the next right thing. And then those things began to string together to more and more and more right things in my own life. Since my spouse was open to discovering the path that’d gotten him to this place, he was also learning to practice the next right thing that was opening into a journey.

We had support. Therapists. Support group for betrayeds. (He went to support groups for cheaters). Online support through blogging. I wasn’t concerned about our marriage. I was concerned about surviving.

One day, I realized I cared about thriving. It came in gently, without fanfare. I realized I wanted more. More for ME. I’d learned so much. I was able to feel again, see colors on the trees and hear the birds singing. I craved it and almost felt like it was all something I’d never quite experienced before. My brain woke up from the deep, destructive patterns I’d lived in since childhood. And there was this man, this man who looked like the same guy that had brought so much pain, yet he talked differently. He moved differently and looked at me differently.

So now, the next right thing was paying attention to the possible. A Marriage intensive. Marriage coaching. Learning new ways to address old things. Two stripped bare, crazy-honest people that had a history, a jaded history, stepping into the next right thing. But now, doing it together.

Here we are after these five years, four months, two weeks and one day waking up every morning with more love for each other than when we’d closed our eyes. There isn’t a crevice of his being that isn’t open to me now, and no look can cross his eyes without me knowing the story behind it. He leans in to my moments of questioning or triggers, he embraces my inquiry into his soul. He caused the most incredible pain I’d ever experienced, and he works every day to love me with all of his being so that I can become unblemished. Ya’ll. It is so much more than any marriage I ever knew of or saw before. It is intimate, real, connected, passionate. And trusting.

I just wanted to share that it’s possible. Your complete, utter personal healing. To love and be loved fully. To live again.

All my love,

Susan

 

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Lessons in Living

healingdamagenolongercontrols

Saw this quote, and I read it. Then I read it again.

Then I read it again…and again…and rolled it around in my brain, in the way-beyond-just-the-glance-and-yeah-that-is-true part of my brain. I began to reflect on this journey of cheating, of being a betrayed woman, of realizing how lies had permeated the majority of my 27 year marriage when the truth began to unfold. And then the steps in to healing – the steps to letting the reality no longer control me.

It’s been a little over two years: two years, three months, and 12 days to be precise since I had the full picture of HUSBAND’s deception laid out before me. Not that I am counting, although I guess I am. When I reflect on this time, I see some things that I don’t think I could until now. It is likely this process will continue throughout my life…actually…I hope it does, so all this pain can always be moving toward something better and good and beautiful. I never want the pain to suck me back, incrementally or in one big swoop, to the place of despair and blackness so it is essential to keep moving away from it with bold intentionality…right? I have learned…

The utter despicableness of HUSBAND’s actions: Don’t think that is really a word, but it is obvious what’s meant. There is nothing redeeming, nothing to support, nothing to cheer about a person who cheats. Nothing. NOTHING. There is no cause, no reason, no excuse that makes it okay to cheat. And cheating? Well…I see now that cheating is taking any part of who you are that is intimate (emotionally, physically, spiritually) and sharing it with another outside of the marriage and not being able to tell your spouse. This is NOT to say that I don’t see much more clearly now how affairs and cheating happen…I do…but the more I understand the twisted hows, the more I see how despicable they are. From start to finish they are lies. Lies to self. Lies to others. Lies upon lies upon lies that will not lead to anything but PAIN.

cheatingsucks

The ripple of pain: Cheating isn’t just about the cheater and his partner(s). They can’t keep their smut and filth in an isolated place. No…spouses are obviously at risk. First, there is the emotional devastation if they find out. But guess what? There is emotional devastation even if they don’t find out. There is no way a person can be engaging in giving away their intimate being to another on a chat room, or in a bathroom as they jack off to a porn-hub delivered video, or having a happy ending at a massage parlor or meeting up with their flesh lover in a hotel room and it NOT impact their spouse. The cheaters tell themselves there is no clashing of their worlds (unless there is discovery) but that just isn’t true. Let me be BOLDLY CLEAR HERE: I did not know my husband was cheating on me with other women, or with porn. I had no idea. But now that there are no other women between us on screen or in person, our lives are entirely different from start to finish. He spent all his time hiding, and worrying about hiding, and being concerned he hadn’t hidden well enough and there could be no real intimacy between us with all that shit present. Whether the spouse knows or not, cheating is devastating to the marriage relationship. PERIOD.  And then…then there is the physical risk. If the cheater doesn’t use protection, which shockingly they often do NOT???…then the risk of STD’s is high. Or a pregnancy with an affair partner. Lifelong ripple effects. And our children, our babies. Just like the marriage relationship, whether the kids ever know or not, whether discovery ever really happens or not, THEY ARE AFFECTED. Our four children ranged from 17 to 25 when the truth came out. Not babies, not little kids. Young adults. And they all admitted that “things now made sense.” That there was a hypocrisy they couldn’t quite put their finger on in our perfect little family, an underlying current of something they could not identify that was always present (uh….that would be that their dad was living a double life, perhaps??). So whether our children had ever found out or not, they were victims of the rippling out impact of pain caused by cheating.

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It wasn’t my fault, and it wasn’t about me: Such a hard one here. But if I am to continue to press toward healing and wholeness and away from the vortex of pain, I have to keep this front and center. HUSBAND’s cheating was never about me, always about him. It was never against me, always about him hurting himself. It was never whether we had enough sex, or my body was attractive enough, or my willingness to give him oral sex or fix beautiful dinners or being nice/mean/happy/sad. It was always about his deeply hidden but widely open wounds that he covered with the sick salve of illicit sex. His healing has been a deep, deep dive into those gashes and slashes, taking him to places he never dared share with anyone. Places so raw that he had spent his entire life carefully covering and reshaping and renaming so he could keep living…

I had some wounds too: Obviously, when 4/12/14 followed by 4/29/14 followed by 5/9/14 followed by 5/13/14 followed by 5/24/14 followed by 6/12/14 occurred…successive trickle truth/DDays…there was massive RIPPING OFF of my personhood to reveal a bloody, wounded me. At first all I could do was exist and breathe through the pain at hand. Survive. Then slowly, slowly, slowly I began to allow myself to see pain in a wider circle around my marriage and then a wider circle around things before my marriage and so on. Stepping into my own pain with authenticity and allowing myself to see, to feel, to grieve, to forgive, to accept has given me more than I ever dared envision. I was trapped too, trapped by things deep in my soul that I had not dared consider and the reality of the cheating required me to either keep them buried and completely turn away into denial, or to summon courage I didn’t know was there.

Secrets are the enemy of intimacy: Ultimately I have learned this. My own secrets that I dared not look at, or even knew I was keeping from myself. His secrets – some of the same ilk…so painful and hidden he didn’t even know, others that were self-inflicted during our marriage and he was very aware of. Secrets destroy intimacy. The only path to the marriage we all think we are getting and want so desperately is through the pain of pulling off the mask of the secrets. Freedom comes through pain, through walking deep into the dark and hidden places of our own lives, and coming out with wounds and scars, but real. In this beautiful and tattered realness, I have discovered pure communion of souls and the strength and love of God all bound together in a messy relationship of beauty that is all-at-once bound tightly, yet offers complete freedom like I’ve never experienced before. Inexplicable, but the lies and the secrets kept us in bondage apart, and the truth has connected us together in opportunity. How can this be?

real

And so, two years, three months and 12 days into this journey – this new marriage – I see that healing doesn’t mean I can ever change the story – the events. But I can move toward writing new chapters and an ending that is…

 

 

 

 

Vegas Feigns Freedom

This summer took me to a conference in Las Vegas. Seriously, Las Vegas. I’m in the business of helping design and implement community-wide prevention efforts related to substance abuse, and promoting health and wellness. And our national convention is in Vegas.

Vegas, where the perverted is promoted as compelling. Where temptations are touted as deserved. Where what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

Vegas1

I’m not trashing Vegas…there are some amazing people doing good things and trying to rise above the onslaught of support for selfish indulgence that is sold by many advertisers. But it is a unique place to observe the dichotomy of humanity. For the most part, humans all over the world and right here in the US speak of wanting to find their life-partner and of living in harmony together, of raising kids that are healthy and happy, of doing work that is fulfilling, and playing in ways that are fun and challenge them to grow, and of investing in their community or world to make it a better place.

Yet the heart of downtown Vegas screams a different story. A story of entire self-satisfaction, of disdaining any inhibition because of values or commitments, of pushing limits of restraint whether related to money or sex or drugs or rock ‘n roll. It calls…begs…taunts…you to dare! To live! To try! From the garish advertisements that start inundating you at the airport, to the recovery water prominently available right in your room…from the legal prostitution and bare pools to the free drinks when gambling and concierge’s willingness to make anything available for you at any time…

Vegas2

So what do we really want? What do we really value?

I think for many years, for all my years, prior to discovering the double-life that was my life…right in my own home…I somehow thought we could balance the onslaught of transgressions-made-to-look-pretty and not-making-bad-choices. I thought it was all about morality and being a good person and doing what was right and have a strong-will. But now I see that we are so incredibly multi-faceted and the normalization of the macabre does wear us down. It can, very subtly, without even realizing it, shave the edges off the strong parameters we have made in our own lives, we can find ourselves cheering for or engaging in things that would have caused us pause at one point. From the clothes we accept our loved ones wearing to the shows we watch ourselves…from the jokes we laugh at to the websites we frequent. We are inundated in a culture that flaunts it is all about YOU-yes-YOU, BABY! And it is all there for the taking and my happiness is the most paramount reality to be pursued and truth is all relative and by DAMN I deserve this or that or that or this RIGHT NOW…

You get it. We are affected by our culture. By no means in any way do I believe this is an excuse for betrayal, but we must begin to see it as one of the many root causes, core attitudes. Somehow the painful, ugly and devastating reality of illicit sexual and emotional relationships have been normalized. They are on every tv show and movie, often glamorizing the affair partner and reducing the spouse to a needy, driveling idiot. They are touted in magazines, and just search websites for affair sites…you find sites to help you have affairs, hide affairs and for sure, not-get-caught. Then search for apps that can help you out if you want to shop for lovers, chat with lovers, meet up with lovers or track your partners. There are thousands. Some of them help you out by deleting all the information with the simple shake of your device (you know, for when the spouse is asking to see your phone). Some look like stock apps or weather apps but when the secret pass code is entered, voila! There are all your secret communications with your lover along with storage for pictures and videos. Doesn’t it just make you warm and fuzzy all over? And of course, we need to start them young: youth love apps like Snap Chat that ensure no one can see their photo or video after 30 seconds. Why would such an app even be developed except for illicit purposes?

Culture

Over and over in all kinds of surveys, between 85 and 90% of people indicate marriage should be monogamous, yet (depending on the survey) 40-60% of those SAME PEOPLE admit to having been involved in an illicit relationship. So what is that? Other than cognitive dissonance? Our culture is boldly and subtly, overtly and covertly screaming to seek constant self-pleasure at all costs, despite costs, yet deep in our souls, it never satisfies.

And then…then the game comes to a grinding halt with discovery and devastation and soul-death and often divorce.

So, back to Vegas where I started this diatribe. Vegas is simply a symptom of the soul sickness we have allowed to permeate our culture. It makes so many promises, but ultimately, keeps none. Surreal experience visiting Vegas, promoting health and wellness in the midst of degradation and darkness. I am grateful, oh so grateful to have found the real light, the light of transparency and commitment and grace and truth. It cost everything, but what price freedom? What price love?

loveneverfails

 

 

 

Redemption in Telling

Recently, the great wordpress blogger, @crazykat, posted this about sharing her story. It was a really great post, and one that I found resonated in many ways for me. It got me to reflect on my attitude, on our attitude of revealing our story…so here it is.

I kept things very secret for a bit, but HUSBAND and I have a small, close circle (4 couples) of friends with whom we have traveled some other challenges. One by one, I met with the wives and shared our story…my story. HUSBAND met with the husbands and shared our story…his story. I blogged about telling our children (difficult, but ultimately amazing) and his parents (awful and ultimately a mistake).

Then, when the Ashley Madison hack occurred, a local tv station decided to make a story and called (our therapist) to see if there was a couple who would agree to a confidential (voices changed, faces not shown) interview. He asked us, and we did it. Interestingly, as it was airing on the news that night, one of my friends texted me that she was proud of us (so much for anonymity). Of course, this was one of that small circle of friends who knew, so I still felt protected.

A few months later, at a small retreat, HUSBAND told a very abbreviated, cryptic story (just said he’d done “everything to trash our marriage” but we were experiencing great healing) but it started a tumbling down of transparency amongst a few people at the retreat. That led to our church asking if we would consider making a video. We did. The morning it aired, to kick off a series on being “Strong and Courageous,” I felt anything but. Yet the individual people, and couples, that began to reach out and share their pain with us made me certain we had done the right thing.

That led to a local tv station asking if we would do a more in-depth story/interview about sexual infidelity and the possibility of overcoming the pain. We did. It was for a daytime (11:00am) very-low-viewer talk show, and we felt fairly safe watching it, knowing few people would see it. Until about 4 that afternoon when a friend posted a link of it to our facebook talking about our bravery. By the time I saw it, numerous people had liked the link (or I would have removed it). HUSBAND and I decided that it was meant to be, and more people poured out their hearts to us about their lonely marriages, their quiet desperation and sometimes, their own sexual infidelity.

At every juncture, we have encountered other brokenness…individual sex addicts who didn’t have a name for it, didn’t know there was help. Spouses who have been devastated by infidelity in all forms and either stay in silence punishing themselves (because it had to be their fault, right?) or leaving the marriage with their gaping open, bloody wounds and no healing. Couples who were white-knuckling each day but living in misery, thinking they were alone in the situation. We have discovered the problem of shitty marriage with or without infidelity is so widespread, so vast and we are incredibly overwhelmed, but desperately want to shine light on the darkness of this reality. The darkness that marriage is mediocre at best, toxic at worst, and often leads to cheating. We meet with couples almost every day, coach couples through an intensive weekend monthly and follow up with group meetings weekly.

There have been casualties of our openness: We have “friends” who have smiled, nodded and walked away…not wanting to “catch” what we had. I get it, I probably used to be that person although I would have denied it. We definitely have family that wants us to be quiet, that have clearly shunned us, but they were unhealthy relationships anyway, so for us there is no real loss other than what we always pretended family to be. But mostly what we have found is an ever-increasing number of hurting, desperate people who need to know they are not alone. Who need to know there is help. Who need to know there is not a path that is predetermined and that they must take. Who need to know they are cared for, and loved. So much pain, who knew?

For me, there is redemption in sharing our story. There is sharing the redemption that IS our story, obviously. But now, there is the deep awareness I have of the widespread sadness amongst married couples. It is more the norm than actual satisfaction whether there are affairs or not. The impact this has…that our children then grow up with deeply imbedded (where they cannot even identify it) pictures of marriage that is less than satisfying – countered by literal fairy-tales on the big and little screen that can’t be replicated and lead to even more confusion for all parties. This is the legacy we are leaving our kiddos when we live in mediocrity, when we live together and “stay married” but really, have no intimacy or connection or love. Seeing this, and speaking/living/walking into it…this is redemptive.

It is redemptive to walk alongside broken marriages and provide hope, encouragement and skills to increase their ability to reveal, to be safe, to love. To watch them heal, or make a healthy choice to part but with more care and dignity and kindness. Now, HUSBAND and I see that sharing our story is an incredible privilege, and one of the sweetest outcomes is that evil did not win. Instead, love wins.

 

Another Kind of Weary

The last three weeks have just done me in.

My head is bursting from the devastation of infidelity. Of betrayal and abandonment.

A phone call, a desperate request from a cheating husband to my cheating husband begging me to reach out to his wife. A series of texts from just-recently-married-Daughter, confused about the abandonment of a husband by the wife of dear friends who she esteemed. A different phone call, asking for support for the daughter of a friend who has discovered betrayal by her spouse.

The swath of pain ripples out from the epicenter of the couple…hurting children and families and friends and co-workers.

Many of us keep our truths silent and those around us create their own stories about why our marriages end, or we suddenly lose mass amounts of weight, or appear as if we cannot quite connect because we really cannot quite connect.  And in our silence, our betrayer can, and often does, continue to look like the great person we believed him to be and that he sells himself to be to the world at large.

We carry on…we continue to move through our lives and take our children to school and show up for doctor’s appointments and go to the grocery store. We are literally shattered into millions of pieces but somehow kept together by our skin and as we walk around we wonder how other people don’t look at us and scream and run from our bloody wounds. But they don’t. They don’t see. They don’t know. And our pain goes deeper and deeper and deeper inside.

I cannot believe that less than two years ago, I had no idea this world existed other than rarely and amongst “those people,” not people like me. I’m not sure who “those people” were, but they were not people I knew or walked with or worked with or lived with. Now I know that I am “those people,” and that I was sitting next to them on the school bus headed to a field trip, or in the waiting room at the doctor’s office or in line at the grocery check-out. “Those people” are me and you and them and us and everywhere. They are young and old, newly married and long-time-married. They are faithless and faithfilled and overweight and underweight.

The few people we share with think they get it, and try to help.

They tell us what they would do and how they would respond and how to get better. But it doesn’t help because they don’t know. We didn’t know. We still don’t know. We just keep going to bed and trying to sleep and then waking up and getting out of bed. Each moment we try to figure out if we are doing what we should do but then we realize we don’t know the rules of this game.

So when I get the call and need to support someone else, I am so confused. I am confused by the rush of emotions it quickly brings up in my soul, and by the reality that there is no advice I can give. Only care. Only support. Only faith in that person to be brave and be able to wake up each day and to discover the strength they never knew they had.

The support to the family members who are trying to make sense of it all…this is a new role…and one that I don’t know how to move in. It is heavy for me, and hard for me, and I hope to help them see that there are no rules or must-do’s or have-to-be’s. That they need to give care. And support. And have faith that the person can be brave and able to wake up each day and find strength they never knew they had. They need to keep their advice off the table, and refrain from telling anyone involved in the situation what to do…and just love. Just comfort. Just share themselves and no one else.

I am weary now, not just for my story and recovery, but for so many around. Can we just stop the madness…