Decisions

Continued from Soulful Expedition

“By your decisions, you paint a portrait of Who You Are” –Neale Donald Walsch

The entire year of 2005 felt disjointed… I vacillated between believing that I was making a good decision and wanting everything to go back to the way it was – well, not really… I wanted it to be the way I wanted it to be. I didn’t want what I had but I did want all of the things that we had dreamt about. I didn’t make those dreams by myself. Hubby was right there, using his own paintbrush to create the portrait of our lives together. I thought we had been painting on the same canvas, using the same colors, and sharing a muse.

Existing in the same environment was unbelievably difficult. It fostered an obscure sense of hope during those moments that were like a transparency overlay of ‘normal’ on the reality we were living. I knew when Hubby didn’t come home at night and I couldn’t help but wonder where he was or who he was with. Even though I didn’t want that mania in my life, I didn’t want to be without it – another conundrum that fought to root in my mind. I just couldn’t get myself to a place where I didn’t care.  In many ways, it was like a slow, excruciating, painful death… seemingly absent of an endpoint.

Frank graduated from college in May that year and I made arrangements to take the girls. I had booked the hotel room six months in advance and shared the location with family so I was surrounded by love as Hubby and I shared the first major life event since decision day, partitioned from one another. We had agreed that we would attempt to ‘co-parent’ effectively right from the beginning but this was our first ‘major’ test. We would have to take pictures that Frank could look at for the remainder of his life – a celebration for him – somewhat tortuous for us as we understood the completeness, the totality of the end of our marriage. And yet, we struggled to believe it.

We would occasionally discuss a reconciliation but I had learned how to establish boundaries of steel. Actually, my boundaries by then were made of vertical steel columns and horizontal I-beams… the kind you find in skyscrapers that keep them vertical regardless of violent summer storms. Those limitations included an exit strategy for Abee from our business and some kind of treatment initiative, a long-term – evidence based – plan to eliminate the potential for infidelity to ever again exist in our marriage. I was unwilling to budge from those two ‘deal breakers’. They were my ‘hard limits’ and they represented the dead end of every bridging conversation we attempted to have. He also had deal breakers.

Nevertheless, we continued to show up – separately – at swim meets, school, and scouting events but didn’t sit together. I wasn’t there yet. There were times when I could feel his eyes seeking mine but I refused to give in and glance back. I was insanely stubborn and unyielding, refusing to be flexible. This is the result of betrayal. It was the only way I knew to ‘fight back’ and the love I had for our children was bigger than the disdain I had for him. I put their interests first to the extent that it wasn’t complete and total disrespect of myself. I had finally learned to put self-respect first.

After being deceived by Hubby and Abee, our therapist fired them as clients but I still went. I was learning a lot about myself although I admit I was still a bit lost. I was directionless. I knew I wanted to share everything I was learning – about life, life lessons, love, God, spiritual growth, I knew there was a message there but I had no credentials other than my life and I was in the middle of some big stuff. I credited my therapist for being the map reader for me … helping me to lay it out and observe the roads, to help me decide on the destination and to plan the route there. I wanted to do that too… I decided that summer that I would become a therapist and was almost immediately dismayed at the expanse of the journey. Five years. I would be fifty. Shit. I felt defeated and bested. I was in the middle of a divorce; how could I make that happen?

Right after Frank graduated from college, I started. I was scared to death of Behavioral Statistics and even more so when this tiny, petite, old (really, she was 70 something) woman walked into the room wearing a full suit with a high collared blouse, buttoned to the top. It was 80 degrees outside and for some reason, there was no air-conditioning. She spoke in a low monotone voice and cleared her throat every 5th word. The chick behind me started texting a mile a minute (I could hear every button push) and I knew I was in trouble. Within a week, I understood that if I raised my hand, asked questions, and demonstrated (well-deserved) respect for my elders… It would all be ok. More than half the class had dropped but I survived. I got a B.  I was encouraged and so I registered for a full semester of Psychology classes, French, and Women’s Studies beginning in September. I had only a few months left before I became a full-time student.

I used that time to educate myself in a different way. I was more fortunate than many, many women like me… I owned half of a company that had some value. I was still married to a man who generated a healthy income and continued to pay the bills so I didn’t ‘have to’ work – not right then at least. I had to believe in divine direction because at any other time before, the circumstances were different, the resources less abundant, and so now… I had options. The timing of the reality provided the capacity for me – with much diligence – to investigate and navigate what would be in my (and the children’s) best interest. I was a hawk. My eyes and ears were everywhere from business evaluation to support allowances. I became an expert traversing Google; discovering resources and precedent for situations like mine and I waited.

With each passing day, I garnered strength. I used my support network, built new alliances, and got informed. I kept my finger on the pulse of the finances in our business and stood up for my rights as co-owner. I will comment again on how difficult it was to walk away from that part of me. The internal struggle to push through it and go to work even if it meant I had to be around Hubby and Abee versus letting go and observing it in action was at times, maddening. On the few occasions that I did drop in for one reason or another, it was like breaking through a barrier betrayal and disillusionment, like what football players do as they enter a stadium for a game rematch each week. I finally had to decide that constant exposure to such painful energy was simply unhealthy for me, keeping me tethered to the shadows of my soul. It was my first true experience of ‘letting go’ that I consciously practiced and it was laborious; a daily endeavor.

My goal was to stay focused on love. I knew that was the most important decision I could make for myself and for my future. I was tempted, so tempted to give in to my anger, my contempt, the humiliation, and sorrow… and occasionally I did, in the form of vile language directed at Hubby or the disparaging conversations I would have with friends or in my thoughts; my ugly thoughts. I am only human though and I knew that love was more dominate in my spirit and so I learned to forgive myself and to keep going.

The Tipping Point

Continued from Discovering My Soul

“Look at the world around you. It may seem like an immovable, implacable place. It is not, With the slightest push – in just the right place – it can be tipped.” ~ Malcolm Gladwell

I believe that much of life is what we make it. I had decided to think about the adversity in my life differently and in fact, my life was different. There was a ‘settling down’ of things. Every once in a while, there were ‘twinges’ of fear that activated my internal alarm system and I addressed it in counseling immediately. I wasn’t about to allow ‘gaslighting’ to re-enter my world – I wasn’t going to be a ‘fool’ again. My ability to trust was exceptionally fragile. Anytime a comment, behavior, or action didn’t fit into the schematic of my reality, I addressed it. I was learning. It was still far from perfect but there was some peace in my heart for a change.

It was the holiday season and Christmas was always a relaxed time for us. We made sure the focus was on family, food, and time together. That doesn’t mean that I was calm, cool, and collected for sure as during this time of year my definition of ‘relaxed’ changes a bit. My emotions were relaxed – my stress level of completing everything that needed to be finished, stayed elevated – which was the norm. It had become my Christmas Eve challenge to finish the matching jammies that the kids would wear to bed but it always got accomplished and by midnight, I was sipping a glass of wine next to the fire anticipating morning smiles.

It was a good Day. We had gotten the kids a pinball machine that year as a collective gift and most of the day was spent downstairs in our rec room taking turns to see who could rack up the next ‘highest score’. Mom and Abee had come by earlier in the week on their way south to spend a few days with Emma and her family. I was especially grateful that I wasn’t facing having to dedicate a holiday to the rigorous attention of emotional regulation. In that way, it was particularly ‘relaxing’. Hubby and I actually had fun together as we interacted with the girls, now eight, eleven & twelve; there is something endearing about that ‘tween’ time in adolescence.

We typically spent one day over Christmas week with Hubby’s family; exchanging gifts, catching up, and enjoying cousin interactions. It was a full day as we watched all twenty-two open gifts one-person-at-a-time, in order of age – oldest to youngest. What else does one do on a day like this but eat, drink, and be merry?! It was a tradition that we all held in the highest regard. Spending an entire day with extended family was always a holiday treat.

We celebrated New Year’s Eve in a traditional way by hosting a small get together with friends. Our children had basically grown up together and it had become customary for us all to gather, let the kids hang out, and ring in the new year – quietly – with friendly faces. There were two to three times as many tweens as there were adults and so by midnight, it was noisy and late… the evening didn’t last much past the stroke of midnight. We had closed out another difficult year and ushered in 2004 with a promise of impending dreams come true.

Just a few days later, on a Wednesday morning, after everyone had left for school and work, I sat down at our home computer to check my email. Hubby and I shared a computer, the girls had their own desktop although when everyone was home – it was a free for all…. Whatever chair was empty. As I moved the mouse to ‘wake up’ the screen I noticed that Hubby’s email was open. That was unusual. He must have been on it this morning and forgotten to close it.

“It is strange how often a heart must be broken before the years can make it wise.”     ~ Sara Teasdale

I didn’t intend on doing anything but clicking on the upper right-hand corner – the little ‘x’ that promises to end your view but his inbox was right there, in front of me and full of emails from Abee. A quick glance at the topic line indicated that many of them were work related and then I saw one that said ‘apartment’ and another that said ‘meet me’ …

I wanted to vomit on the spot. I began to shake uncontrollably. My heart began to race and I couldn’t find my breath. They weren’t the only emails. There were emails from several different women – not related to business – women I knew. I instantaneously lost my sanity. I became unglued – a crazy woman. My perception of good judgment, rationale, or sound conscience disintegrated on the spot. My insides erupted in an explosion of panic and my nervous system took over reading, one by one, letters that were right there in front of me, depicting a life I knew nothing about. It was the closest thing to an out of body encounter that a living person can spontaneously experience. I noticed a vibration in the room that I soon understood was a result of the violent spasms occurring in my body. I was screaming vulgar, violent words that no one could hear.

I made my way to the car stopping just long enough to pick up the phone and call the man who had shattered my life for the last time. “We are done. I want a divorce.” And I hung up the phone. I probably added some expletives, most likely strings of them before we disconnected and still shaking, drove straight to our therapist’s office. In the demonstration of my lunacy, I entered her waiting area, walked right up to her office door, and began pounding. She was in session but I had no regard for anything except the prevailing annihilation of my morning; of my life. An emotional nuclear detonation had just obliterated my heart so completely that I was a walking, talking, shell of the woman that had awakened that day.

She came out, annoyed that I was being so disrespectful but as I shook a wad of crumpled papers in front of her with the announcement that “they’ve been lying, I’m done… I can’t do this”… she ushered me into a small kitchenette with instructions to ‘hide’ here for a minute. I had no idea who she had in her office but occasionally it’s important to protect the identity of one client from another for confidentiality’s sake; a task that can be challenging in a small town. I waited a bit, having no real concept of time passing as my head was still reeling in another dimension and then she came to get me. She only had minutes as I obviously wasn’t there for a scheduled appointment but quickly, as any good therapist would, she assessed me for suicide ideation and or violent considerations.  I hadn’t gone quite that far off the deep end thankfully and I was slowly regaining my sanity, my breath, and collecting my thoughts.

“You can’t stay in this marriage,” she said. “I know, I know…” I replied and without the protection of delirium, I slid to the floor and the dam of sorrow, of broken dreams, of failed hope – collapsed with me into agonizing heartbreak.

Crippling Questions

One thing you can’t hide – is when you’re crippled inside.” — John Lennon

The moment of Dee’s admission is burned into my memory as clearly as if it happened yesterday, almost as brilliantly as my memory of watching Rocky fall backward after electricity conducted in his hands. I remember what I was wearing and I recall the short walk back to my van. I vaguely recollect the phone conversations I made between her house and mine. I remember sitting in the rocking chair and holding my new baby, only two weeks old, wondering how the hell I was going to take care of her.

There is a compassionate numbness that engulfs our consciousness during times of extreme pain as if to protect our hearts from literally exploding and poisoning our bloodstream with heartbreak. It serves a distinct purpose as it allows us to function mechanically, doing what needs to be done, bearing our responsibilities. I was a mother with four children, three of them under five years of age. I had obligations and I felt unable to crumble in the way that I wanted. I would have preferred to melt into my bed and merge into selfish dreams of an easier life.

I don’t remember details of that day after I returned home. I have no recollection of where Hubby was or where he went, only that I could not or would not look at him. I don’t recall where the children were or who exactly was caring for them. It could have been Francis, maybe I mustered through it. I know it was a summer afternoon and I can see – in my mind’s eye – where I was sitting when my mother came in that day. She came back for me, to take me away, or to help me, or to save me… she was there, and as I did so many years prior when my world fell apart the first time, I again buried my head in her lap and sobbed until every tear had fallen.

It’s such a cliché to say that I was heartbroken but when you are physically aware of an ache there, in your chest where your life force exists, what else is there to say? My heart hurt. I had allowed myself to love again and even though I had been warned, sign after sign, I was unprepared for the reality of deceit. I had been in such deep denial regarding both the man I married and the friend I thought I had made. Pictures flooded my brain, over and over of the times we were all together. I saw things in my remembering that I had missed the first time around. Oh how stupid I felt! I went through it all again and again, trying to decipher when and where there was time and opportunity. It was right there in front of me – daring me to notice and their intentionality of it made me sick – physically ill. My body ached; my stomach was nauseous, the muscles around my ribs hurt from sobbing, and my throat was sore from extended bouts of crying. These feelings of loss were so familiar, different factors but excruciatingly similar.

I’m not sure where the experience of this affair ended and memories of Rocky’s death began. The pain I was feeling now punctured old wounds of loss from a decade earlier and I was reminded of feelings that had been buried as hope for a new life grew. This time, it was much more complicated. Instead of one child – I had four. I was eleven years older and still having not finished college, my employability was wrapped completely in a business that WE operated. I had allowed myself to love and dream and hope and plan…

I wondered where, when, how, and why… the ‘why’ just wouldn’t leave me alone. I could almost understand why Dee was attracted to my man, he was handsome enough, charming, and always helpful. Her husband was gone so often and she felt alone but why ‘my’ guy?? I wondered how she could have sex with him and then look me in the eye the next day, smile with me, laugh with me, or pretend with me. Was it the same kind of denial that I had operated under? Was it a disassociation, a disconnect from reality that merely offered her an opportunity to survive? How did she reconcile her heart? Was she ashamed, guilty, or sorry? I didn’t even know if she was sorry. After I realized she was affirming my fear I stopped paying attention to her words… was she sorry? Does she have any idea of what I was going through? Isn’t there some kind of honor code that women are supposed to adhere to? Or friends at least?

I couldn’t turn off my mind. It kept me awake with silent questioning; constant and unrelenting wondering thoughts and images that promoted more of the same. Hubby had tried talking with me but I wasn’t having it. Now, I felt ready to ask him about some of the details that were rolling around in my head. It’s extremely curious that people who have been injured by infidelity want particulars as if somehow knowing all of the pertinent information will make it sensible or easier to digest. I felt as if I needed answers – if there were any – to my questions; I called Hubby.

He had been trying to reach out to me but getting through my mother was no small feat. When I finally called him, he answered on the first ring. Essentially what I heard was that he didn’t have any answers as to ‘why’ – “it just happened”. He insisted that he hadn’t intended to hurt me, that it was a mistake, an accident (doesn’t really fit the description of accident but I was listening). He was apologetic, sad, and more humble than I had ever imagined he could be. ‘It’ happened a few times, blah… blah… blah…

I have no evidence for the details I heard and I wasn’t sure then if they were true anymore than I know for sure today. When people – anyone – breaches trust so violently, there is rarely a tale told that is fully, completely believed going forward. It might be the truth and then again – it may not.  It’s never again really clear if the individual is covering his or her ass or being openly vulnerable. At some point, the injured person simply acquiesces to what ‘feels’ like the truth or something that kind of resonates internally. You learn to live with ‘uncertainty’.

Hubby was full of remorse and wanted to see the children. He was gentle when he asked if he could come by the house to spend time with the kids and talk if I felt like it. We scheduled some time when mom – who was still there caring for us – could standby.

Photo credit: Ksayer1 via Foter.com / CC BY-SA