Featured

Why I Choose Joy

Leading up to the discovery of my husband’s affair, happiness was a constant presence in my life. It’s not because he made me happy. In fact, he frequently let me down, especially around the time he became diagnosed with depression. I created my own happiness. I organized adventures with my children and my community of good friends and neighbors. I valued gratitude, and I chose to live happy.

7 months ago, I had had it with the lies, with the stories not adding up, with the looming sense that something was off. I presented him with an article explaining that it is often the trickle truth that destroys any chance of recovering a marriage. I was shaking and crying, yet I was fueled by an unstoppable force. I sternly told him to read it alone and think about it until he was ready to tell me everything, or we would have no possible future together. The longer I waited for him to return, the more I realized that something was very, very wrong. I went to the bathroom and looked into the mirror, telling myself that I would be ok. I told myself that no matter what I find out, I will be better than ok. I am strong, and I can handle anything. Nothing could prepare me for what he shared that day.

My husband confessed to a year-long affair with a mutual friend. This revelation immediately and systematically began to poison everything I believed about myself and the world I lived in. Like a cancer, it tried to mutate every cell in my core.

Luckily, I immediately fended off some of my own lies: You must be stupid. No, I trust because I am good. 

Other narratives are harder to shape into something less wounding. This is my rocky trail I am still navigating. I don’t know what majestic splendor will be revealed at the end, but I trust that whatever it is, it’s better than before. I will be better than I’ve ever been. I’ve read that it takes a minimum of 2 years to recover from betrayal trauma, and I recognize I have a long way to go. It’s not just time that cures this all encompassing and consuming pain, it is work. It is very hard work.

Work requires examining each poison 1 at a time: looking at it, probing it, rubbing it on your skin until it burns, letting it eat at your organs, and then finding a way to neutralize it. The work requires the inspiration of an alchemist, transforming the toxin into something better, something to grow from. 

Through all of this, I choose to not solely focus on the pain. I also choose joy, and if I say it enough, if I focus on this goal, I will make it happen. I know I am a long way from living joy, but I have moments. I have laughter. I have experiences, like the time I took myself to the Art Shanties on a frozen lake. I wandered from structure to structure, exploring the art and absorbing the bond of community. At the Wish Factory, I wrote a wish for myself, for the world, and for the person behind me. The person in front handed me a small piece of white paper, folded in half.

I wish you joy.

Joy keeps appearing every direction I look. It is in the movie I watched, the tattoo on a woman, the conversation with a coworker, the piece of paper from a stranger. The universe is asking me to notice it, to revel in the simplicity of 3 letters. J-O-Y. The universe reminds me to practice now what I want in my future.

Joy is not something that can be given to you. Joy is not owed to you. It is a choice under any circumstance. Joy is an intention.

I choose to see joy in my life, create joy, and spread joy to others.

“Cause the world owes me nothing. And we owe each other the world.” ~Ani Difranco

I Am White Privilege

Last night, a man was fatally shot less than 1 block from my house. If you squint your eyes, you can see the flashing lights and police tape at the end of the sidewalk. 

For those that don’t know me, I live in the third precinct of South Minneapolis. I live 8 blocks from where George Floyd was killed and less than 1 mile from the police station that was burned to the ground.

The days following the death of George Floyd, protesters peacefully walked past my house, helicopters hovered over my home incessantly, and there was a constant guessing game of what noise was that: fireworks, gunfire, or flash bomb. My kids were finishing their last days of distance learning for the year, and we allowed unlimited access to loud screen time to distract them. Between work and darkness, we discussed what happened while swimming in the above-ground pool we bought to compensate for COVID. We immersed ourselves in water and wondered how long 8 minutes would feel without breathing. There were sunny days when military convoys drove down our street while we were swimming. That’s normal, right?

I was so involved in a work project, I had little time to process what was going on during the day. At night, I watched on the underground news as our neighborhood was burning. I walked outside at 2 am to see it for my own eyes while ash rained on our street. 

In the morning, I returned to meetings on East Coast time and kept going, silently crying for my neighborhood and wildly wondering if my husband had made it to work safely.  

On Saturday morning of I-have-no-idea-of-how-many-days-in-we-are-because-it’s-all-a-blur, I attended a community meeting at Powderhorn Park. We were all wearing masks. We began with a beautiful song, and we quickly divided into groups based on geographical maps to plan how to keep our neighborhoods safe because white supremacists were making threats to the residential streets. I remember pausing for one brief moment and thinking, “What part of any of this is real?”

I hurried back home by bike, passing drummers and dancers on the opposite end of the park. I had made a commitment to meet friends at the George Floyd Memorial, so we could rally at a park nearby to clean up some of the local damage. Masked and separated by 6 feet, we tried to navigate the busy intersection with rakes, buckets, and gloves. There were so many helpers, it was easy to get lost in the harmony. Always look for the helpers.

We quickly formed organized neighborhood watch groups that were cognizant of our most vulnerable seniors and were sensitive to our neighbors of color. Our next door neighbors removed their senior graduate’s sign from their property because her last name is Asian, which could make them a target. They were already worried about their food truck because the “Asian” flu was causing restaurant window smashings.

We moved garbage cans to garages, disconnected propane from grills, removed anything flammable from our yards, and positioned hoses to extinguish flames.

By Saturday afternoon of what-day-is-it-anyway, many of us attended a second community meeting and were utterly aware that we needed to flee before curfew. Have you ever packed your car with your five most necessary items? Do you know what you would include? We shoved birth certificates, baby books, family albums, stuffed animals, and sleeping bags into our car. We had to leave the city to find a gas station that wasn’t damaged or temporarily closed. From there, a childhood friend opened her rural backyard for us to set up camp, despite the presence of a pandemic.

Things fizzled out, and our nightly vigilance disbanded. It was not sustainable to stay up all night and work during the day. Things slowly calmed down, and yet they didn’t. It is common for communities to experience a year of increased violent crime after an uprising. Add COVID, unemployment, and increased drug usage to it, and who knows what the equation is.

People keep calling to ask me about the news, and it’s difficult to explain. We are walking with fear at the same time that we are fiercely protective of our community. We are using this fear and temporary feeling of hyper alert edginess to gain empathy and understanding for how people of color carry a lifetime of trauma and fear, knowing I will never fully comprehend it.

Over the hotter months of the summer, a small group of us went camping. My friend is not a camper, and he really wanted to join us during the day. However, his tabs were not up to date. Normally, it wouldn’t be a big deal, but he is black. His wife worried what would happen to him if he were pulled over. When he did arrive (safely), I asked him about his lifetime experiences with the police. It never occurred to me because although he is tall and large, he teaches yoga and seminars on becoming enlightened. He exudes calmness. His answers astounded me. I am embarrassed I never thought to ask him before.

Last week, I watched the VP debates on the front deck while monitoring helicopters in the night sky. I was hyper aware because Chauvin had just been released. I realize I didn’t allow myself time to process all that we went through in May and June. I realize I need to find healthier ways to cope. As I watched the movement of the choppers, I heard a voice say that systemic racism does not exist through the audio playing on my phone.

In the morning, I read about a shooting on the 3100 block of our street. It’s OK, I told myself. We live on the 3600 block. That’s far away.

Yesterday, I watched my 8 year old play in the front yard. It’s such a treat, since the kids have quietly resigned to social interaction through screens. Oscar was playing with another white boy and two children of color. They were playing cops and robbers. I heard one kid shout, “You are resisting arrest!” Do they realize what they are saying? Is this healthy play to reenact what they have been witnessing? Should I intervene?

Last night, someone was killed less than one block from our home. The neighborhood watch parties quickly reassembled, warning us to stay inside as the shooter was still at large. It is my white privilege that allowed me to safely mosey over towards the police tape to check out the scene 1 hour later.

Everyone keeps blaming 2020, as if all our problems will magically go away when December 31st hits the reset button, but nothing will change by replacing the calendar. Racism stops when we decide enough is enough. This stops when we all agree that systemic racism is a problem, and it needs to be fixed. This stops when we decide to be more than “not” racist — to be anti-racist.

Are you ready to acknowledge your privilege? Are you ready to be part of the solution?

Look, I’m scared. I’m tired, but I’m ready. I know I have way more to learn. 

I Don’t Got This

I spent two weeks preparing the house for distance learning. Our home has become sprawling territories of desk spaces. From my office on the first floor, I can look out the door and see Oscar (8) working in the dining room and Afton (12) working in the living room.

It’s a struggle to keep track of my own meetings plus the boys’ two unique schedules that change depending on the day of the week. During my own meetings, I find myself going on mute to remind Afton not to multitask while his teacher is presenting. The hypocrisy of this constant beckoning is not lost on me.

Two weeks ago, I had to reschedule a meeting because Oscar’s Chromebook (which is more difficult to find than toilet paper) stopped connecting to Google Meet. After three hours finding a workable solution, I was in tears.

Another day, I confessed in a text chain between other moms, “I didn’t cry today, but I yelled twice.”

A friend asked if I yelled at my colleagues or the kids. I quickly responded, “Definitely not my coworkers.”

Looking at my response gave me great pause. Of course it’s not ok to lose my composure with peers, but how is unleashing on my kids more acceptable?

My husband is one of the lucky ones. He gets to leave the house. Originally, his position as a public school cook was a perfect match with our kids’ school schedules. He was home in the mornings and afternoons. He was off all the same days as them. Now, he is called for the opportunity to box meals for all the kids in Minneapolis who need it.

Yesterday, he came home to a harried wife, quickly switching from work to online parent-teacher conferences. I explained that it had not been a good day. Oscar missed thirty minutes of a class because I lost track of time during back-to-back meetings. He proudly produced a printed schedule, with a regimen of tasks for Oscar to work on every hour.

“If I can’t get him to one class on time, how am I possibly going to manage every hour of his day?”

My husband opened his mouth to say something more, then realized that proceeding would set us down a path to reenact the angry elf scene from Elf. Instead, he took the time to program our Amazon Dots (we have 5 sprinkled around the house) to announce to Oscar what he should be doing throughout the day. It’s actually helping!  

On Sundays, I provide a list of foods the kids can cook, and they choose what they want to make for lunch Monday through Friday. We write it on a fridge whiteboard, and I shop for the groceries. They often deliver a warm meal to my desk.

Some things are working. Most days, I feel like I’m racing an impossible obstacle course with a punishing stopwatch. The reality is, I don’t “got this.” I can’t change this situation. I can’t make COVID go away. But I can change myself. I can remind myself to have gratitude every day.

  1. I am grateful for teachers who are working harder than they ever have before to make distance learning successful.
  2. I am grateful my children are learning about social justice at their new school, which will help make them better humans and help them process all the recent loss in our community.
  3. I am grateful Oscar takes the time to run into my office for drive-by kisses.
  4. I am grateful Afton takes the initiative to Zoom with Grandma for math help.
  5. I am grateful my husband can provide food for our community’s children.
  6. I am grateful I have a job that I love.
  7. I am grateful my coworkers are understanding and helpful.
  8. I am grateful for this beautiful sunny day and fall foliage. 
  9. I am grateful my family is safe.
  10. I am grateful Amazon delivered a greenhouse big enough for one chair, so I can quietly sit in the light over the winter.

“Gratitude turns what we have into enough.” ~ Aesop

Trouble Often Begins With Fun

In Michigan, it is illegal to pick tulips. We posed
in white hats, bright twill, and wooden shoes
with other siblings, eager to sweep the streets
with modern brooms. Like most pictures
from our childhood, I hooked my elbow
around your neck, keeping you uncomfortably 
close. In Minnesota, it is illegal to grab the arm
of a girlfriend when she is leaving. You posed
for the police before calling our mother, eager to graduate
with the science degree of our parents' liking. Like most
of our conversations, I kept the phone pressed to my ear
as my husband retreated to the computer
alone. In Southern Texas, it is immoral to have fun. You posed
inside the church with strangers and a kilted bagpipe player
while a sign in the parking lot read Trouble Often Begins 
With Fun. Like most presented with a warning, you pressed
forward fiercely, urging your wife to turn
off the television, to stay at a job
for more than six months, to return your calls.
Brother, I wish we weren't still learning when to hold
on and when to let go.
Poem written in 2005. 

The Whore and the Whale

For the best experience, listen to whale sounds while reading.

When I was fifteen, my family went on a whale watching tour off the coast of Maine. There are no guarantees. It was a rainy day, so we mostly stayed inside the boat, pressed to the window panes for any movement of marine life. After scouring the ocean surface, the boat turned around and began to return empty handed. I tried to embrace the experience for what it was. Surely, a landlocked mid-western girl should be grateful for charging through Atlantic waves as spray ignited the air around us, yet it was hard not to be disappointed. Suddenly, three whales appeared, and we all ran out to the deck. There is nothing to prepare you for the magnitude of visiting these creatures. The only word I can find is awe.

Over the years you swam the ocean
Following feelings of your own

Three decades later, I found myself touring the Art Shanties on a frozen lake. It was a mere six months after discovering my husband’s affair, and I was savoring the solo expedition of weaving through community and art as a thick snow quieted the air.

Now you are washed up on the shoreline
I can see your body lie

I entered a whale’s mouth. In reality, it was an ice house disguised as a whale. Inside the belly, a tangled network of glass bottles dangled from the ceiling, and lonely whale calls filled the remaining space at 52 hertz. I read the instructions: What message would you write if nobody could ever receive it? Write your message and leave it in a bottle.

It’s not that we don’t know
It’s just that we don’t want to care

I picked up a pencil and started scribbling something hateful to the other woman, maybe how I wished all her hair would fall out. But then, I scratched out the beginning. It was wrong. I wasn’t following the instructions. I reminded myself the intention was to write as if nobody would ever receive it. Without hesitation, the revised message surfaced.

I forgive you.

I knew this new message was a lie. Frankly, it shocked me. I wasn’t anywhere near forgiving her. Two years later, I am still not ready. Yet, this untruth felt exactly right. I was honoring the assignment, so I rolled up the message and deposited it in a bottle. It would hang there, suspended over ice, and visited by strangers in the coming weeks.

Under the bridge
Over the foam

There are as many definitions of forgiveness as there are layers of pain. It is a gift that you give to yourself. It is a decision. It is a process.

I attended a three day healing conference specifically designed for women who have been betrayed. I discovered that a lot of my anger was towards myself. I picked a husband who was capable of hurting me. I tolerated her friendship for years because our families were friends, even though my gut told me there was something off about her. I did not suspect the betrayal. I trusted him. I believed he cared about me. I invested in someone who did not invest in me. I did not protect myself.

I could not recognize the shark in the tank.

Maybe we’ll go
Maybe we’ll disappear

We wrote down all the baggage that weighs us down, all the things we need to forgive. Page after page, I rattled off all the injustices I need to forgive myself for. Each one came out hot and hurried, spewing like lashings on paper, barely recognizable as letters. I carried the heavy burdens one last time outside to a bonfire, and a guide helped me dispose them. We witnessed the words turn into flames, then ash, then nothing.

And in the long run he will kill you
Just to feed the pets we raise

Did you know that whales are capable of forgiveness? The grey whales off the coast of Baja were nearly hunted to extinction and tortured with military sonar. Some of the whales still display the scars, but their growing population have recently begun to make contact with humans in the same area where they were mistreated. Showing great vulnerability, they even allow boaters to rub their tongues.

Over the years you have been hunted
By the men who throw harpoons

I am careful not to associate the whore with whales. They are too majestic and beautiful to be ruined by sticky, saggy side pieces. Besides, this isn’t about her. Even the affair was never about her. It was never about me either. It was my husband running away from himself, yet I still feel the wounds from harpoons used to drag himself to a different current. These wounds are no longer oozing. They have scabbed over, and thick scar tissue is forming underneath.

Maybe I will become the whale. Maybe, just maybe, I already am.

Wind on the water
Carry me home

“To the Last Whale” by Crosby & Nash

Things We Lost in the Lake

Late last season, my husband and I bought a 1976 Chrysler Buccaneer. I’ve always dreamed of owning a sailboat even though I’d only been sailing twice in my life. After we exchanged money for the purchase, my husband confessed that he had never even sat on a sailboat. We got lessons from friends, and we had 8 successful sailing voyages aboard the Life is Good.

As I was leaving work yesterday, I was monitoring the winds. It was gusty at 23 mph, but the wind was supposed to die down incrementally every half hour. The wind had not diminished as much as we had expected as we were preparing to launch, but we were excited to take my brother (visiting from Texas) on his first sailing adventure. An experienced sailor on shore advised us to forgo the jib sail and leave the centerboard at 3/4 to compensate. He also added, “Get ready to go swimming.”

After cruising back and forth, we got stuck in a bad spot, and a gust knocked us down. I admit that we didn’t have the best evacuation plan. I had read about how to bring the boat back upright, but my basic plan was to wear life jackets and to rely on the kindness of our Lake Nokomis sailing community. It worked.

Immediately, we had 3 boats circling us as we bobbed in the warm water like apples. Our 4 year old was crying, which sent his older brother into a short bout of tears. A dynamite teenage girl was the first to respond. She dove into the water, and began giving commands to our crew and few Scouts in training trailing behind her. The kids and I swam to the welcoming arms of the Doribell. The kids’ spirits quickly turned once they realized that our cookies were still dry in the ziplock bag.

At this point, I had said little other than fumbling towards gratitude and consoling the kids. The Doribell crew explained that the Scouts were learning about water rescue missions just before we capsized. I exclaimed, “Performance based learning!”

We watched as our boat was brought back to an upright position. We watched the team of workers bail all the water out, and then the Doribell towed the Life is Good back to shore.

Back safe in bed, my 8 year old declared that it had been a bad luck day: someone threw up in the community pool, our neighbor’s car got stolen, and we tipped over. We talked about how there will always be days that we capsize. We talked about how some of the greatest adventures include a knock down, and it’s the people we share the memories with that make it great.

We lost a bottle of Surly, 2 juice boxes, Laughing Cow cheese, an anchor, and a rudder. But we gained so much more.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

— Mark Twain

Originally written: 07/13/2016

A Funeral for Our Marriage

I turned to our therapist, “I want to have a funeral for our marriage, and I want you to help us make it happen.” All of the literature, all of the infidelity experts, they all say the same thing. The first marriage is dead. I have to grieve that the marriage is dead before deciding to build a second marriage. It only made sense then, that we should have a funeral, so the planning began. One month later, we gathered at our therapist’s office with the warm sunlight pouring in through the windows and our bags full or props.

Reflection

We started with a moment of verbal silence to look at the artifacts displayed before us on the floor: our original wedding candle, our wedding book, and a framed photo of us laughing in our wedding attire.

Song: “Best Time of My Life” by Cloud Cult

Breaking

We had this idea to bring a small vase or a bowl to break. In time, if it felt right, we could begin to glue the pieces back together. The cracks would always be there, but the glue can be stronger than the clay. We were cautioned not to read too much into the outcome of the breakage; some shards are impossible to reassemble.

Our therapist recommended that my husband should pick up the hammer and break the small green planting pot from IKEA. It seemed right.

Blowing Out the Light

Gently, our therapist nodded towards me to blow out the lit unity candle. I thought I had thrown it away since discovery, but it came tumbling out of the cabinet as I was pulling out candlestick holders for our own individual candles.

Eulogies

We each prepared our own eulogies for The Marriage. My husband read his first. He was nervous that it wouldn’t be “right,” but what really mattered is that he clearly put a lot of thought and effort into this preparation. As directed, he crumpled up the papers and deposited the words in the bag containing the wreckage.

I wept as I read My Eulogy for the Marriage, especially as I said goodbye to the light. Following my husband’s lead, I crumpled up the papers and added them to the bag.

Poems

We each selected poems to read. After reading our poems, we lit our own individual candles.

Husband’s selection: “Dear Lovely Death” by Langston Hughes

My selection: “Remembering Loves and Deaths” by Tom McGrath

Nourishment

Our therapist provided nourishment for our journey. She brought delicious cupcakes in a variety of flavors. She graciously served us and provided a pronouncement (which I had asked for during our planning session).

We were invited to re-light the unity candle. This was something I hadn’t planned on, and I was actually quite adamant about making this ceremony focused on the ending, not the new beginning. But I trust our therapist, so I shared my reservations while picking up the flame anyway. Together, the three of us lit the 15 year old candle.

Her parting advice was to take the bag of broken pieces home and stash it away. “Don’t even open it for a long time,” she said as I tied a shoelace tightly around the neck of the bag. My wedding ring dangled from the end of the shoelace. It finally had an appropriate home. “When the time is right, you will know what to do with it. Maybe you glue it back together, maybe you bury it in the backyard, maybe you put it away longer until you know.”

It Was Good

I don’t know if I was expecting some sort of epiphany or feeling from this funeral. All I know is that it felt exactly right, and it was good. As I am putting away the props from the event, I might just return our framed wedding picture to the top of the bedroom dresser instead of burying it back in my sock drawer. I might just be OK with that now.

My Eulogy for the Marriage

Fifteen years ago, we celebrated our wedding on the longest day of the year. Although the marriage died long ago, it feels appropriate to lay it to rest on the Spring Equinox, which is a time of struggle between light and dark. To me, it is a time of awakening and acceptance.

Our purpose for this ending ceremony is to finally acknowledge and accept that our marriage is dead. There is nothing we can do, no amount of hope, that can change the past.

Our vows were broken. The promises we made have lost their meaning. Our original unity cannot be revived.

Despite living in years of deceit, it doesn’t change how I felt about the marriage for over a decade. I must first honor the light.

Through the marriage, I adopted a new name and new roles as a wife and mother. These roles played prominent characters in the cast of my identity.

I grieve the loss of the marriage for what it brought me, for what I believed in, for what was sacred.

  1. There was a specialness that meant our love was irreplaceable to each other.
  2. The faith that as a team, we could conquer any obstacle.
  3. The security of bringing children into a stable family.
  4. The confidence that our adventures were cherished.
  5. The dream of a long future together, retiring by the river and continuing new adventures with weathered faces and gray hair.

The Vernal Equinox marks the equal balance between darkness and light. It gives us energy to get rid of that which no longer serves us. The end of the marriage frees me to shed the darkness. This list is short, but the roots are expansive.

  1. Inequality
  2. Settling my expectations
  3. Deception

Grieving the end of a marriage is like grieving the loss of a good friend. Attending a funeral does not signify the end of grieving, but the beginning of adjusting to life after loss. The ceremony makes it easier to accept that a death has occurred. You and I both had different relationships with our marriage, so we will grieve the end in different ways.

I am learning to accept that you did not value our marriage as much as I did. I grieve that our marriage was not worth protecting. I grieve that we will never have the innocence back. I acknowledge our failed marriage. I grieve the death of our marriage and all the hopes and dreams that came with it.

Choosing My Religion

Cue the R.E.M. music.

“Every whisper of every waking hour I’m choosing my confessions.”

Following the disclosure of the affair, we lived in our home separately. We took turns eating meals with the kids. We arranged daily slots of time for the kids to have our individual attention. For weeks or maybe months, it stayed this way. I couldn’t fathom showing up in public as a family unit, yet I knew the kids craved a family outing. I knew they needed some normalcy. 

“That’s me in the corner. That’s me in the spotlight losing my religion.”

Our first adventure out into the world led us to church. It was the only thing that I felt comfortable doing. It’s not that we are big church goers. We attend mass about 6 times a year. Somehow, it became my safe place; it became my saving place.

“Like a hurt lost and blinded fool, fool. Oh no, I’ve said too much.”

I can’t remember much about sitting together as a family for the first time. I remember my awkwardness and my husband’s gratitude. I remember sandbagging the tears as they kept finding new holes to leak out of. Focusing my attention on the church bulletin, I spotted a weekend seminar: Put Your Oxygen Mask on First, for women in troubling times. I immediately registered when we returned home.

“I thought I heard you laughing. I thought that I heard you sing.”

I left for the church basement seminar early in the morning while the kids were still sleeping. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was even more terrified of not showing up. While it was mostly an individual exploration within a room full of retired women, I felt the kindness of strangers among me. I felt the connection as we learned to live in limbic spaces, a place I camped in for the next year. 

“Consider this. The slip that brought me to my knees failed.”

We were honored and bewildered when the priest asked our family to be in the processional on Christmas Eve. Our kids were wearing matching track suits. Our youngest was wearing boots instead of shoes. Our first marriage was dead, and I wasn’t sure if rebuilding a second marriage was worth the effort. We were the last people who should have been chosen to carry baby Jesus to the alter while the candlelit gym played Silent Night. Yet, we were there. We were present. And then I asked, why not us?

“Consider this. The hint of the century.”

I am learning that we are all chosen, we are all connected. I see this every time I look at the sapphire ring my husband gave me for Christmas. After 14 years of marriage, I couldn’t bear to wear my wedding ring anymore because it lost its meaning, and there was emptiness for many months. Now, I see Silent Night. It gives me comfort. 

“What if all these fantasies come flailing around.”

I found strength from the priest’s inspiring summer homily. It is easy to live “careful” and protected in fear. It is easy to sit on the bleachers. It felt as if he were speaking directly to me. I am reminded that love and vulnerability and trust in ourselves are what we are here for. This is our reason for living, to live fearlessly. To be open and honest and brave. To show up.

“The lengths that I will go to. The distance in your eye.”

Seasons pass, yet the slurry of ambivalence, hurt, and anger hold on like a Minnesota winter that won’t let go. I celebrate the birthday of my firstborn son for the first time since learning that he was born into lies and deceit. It is devastating that a joyous day is now clouded in darkness. I take my aggression out on a snowbank with a shovel until tired becomes the dominant feeling. The entire landscape is covered in snow, devoid of color. Gasping for air, I look up and ask God to let me focus on the beauty of his birth. The sky opens with broken blocks of clouds coming towards me, a path paved with golden bricks from the setting sun. The longer I look, the brighter it gets. I am enveloped in the light. 

“Oh, life is bigger. It’s bigger than you and you are not me.”

I’ve never been one to talk about my personal relationship with God, so this is not part of my normal vocabulary. God chooses me. It sounds a little silly coming out of my mouth. Every time I show up, I find a new clue that God has chosen me. I stop fighting it. In a time when my husband did not choose me, God chooses me. It becomes part of my story. God chooses me. It becomes part of my recovery. 

“I think I thought I saw you try.”

Cinnamon Tea

There has been a long hiatus. Long story short: My husband disclosed new information after 10 months, and I went underground, wrestling uncertainty and indecision internally. I am back with a heightened intensity to share where I am. Now. In the moment.

Because of my husband’s betrayal, I frequently find myself reliving past moments of my life in attempts to reclaim my power and protect myself. So many key moments. So many opportunities to change the trajectory of my life.

I.
  • The night the other woman visited my home with her kids, and she entered the living room acting like she owned it.
  • I stand large as if stumbling upon a small black bear and announce, “You are not welcome here.”
II.
  • The time my in-laws arrived around Christmas, and I asked them to take my husband out for coffee because his emotions were unbearable.
  • When they return and give me a stern look to say we “both have things to work out,” I race to the bedroom to shove handfuls of his clothes into a large blue suitcase.
  • I catch them as their hands touch the door, “Wait! Take him with you. We are better off without him blaming me for his problems.”
III.
  • The months I waited for a proposal he confided he wanted to give me but never did.
  • I sob as I pack my belongings, and I let the parcels bump each hard wood stair down the 3 flights from our cozy first apartment.
  • I never look back.
IV.
  • The day after I met him, and he invited me to a show at a local bar.
  • I hesitate for a moment, but I stay with my friend.
  • I let the car drive me to the gay club to go dancing.

I erase chapters of my life. I protect myself.

I envision how my life could have been different.

Before my babies were ever born, I made them a promise. If there were one thing I would teach them, it would be to honor the decisions they made: good or bad. I would teach them that we all make mistakes, but we should never wish away our moments. What happens to us is shaped by our decisions, and it is all part of the plan for us to be exactly who we are. We are not defined by our decisions. We are defined by our character and how we choose to grow from our experiences.

Once you have been betrayed by your life partner, it is easy to exempt yourself from your guiding principles. It is understandable to feel the undertow of unfairness. It is acceptable to get pulled so far out to sea, you have to squint to see the flash of the light house.

My six year old occasionally asks me questions he already knows the answers to.

  • “Mom, would you be mad if I broke something you really like?”
  • “Would you get mad at me if I stabbed my brother?”
  • “What if I killed you?”

OK. His brain can be a little dark. He’s loved zombies since toddlerhood.

The answers is always the same: “There is nothing you can do to make me stop loving you.”

In a recent seminar on how betrayal affects self esteem, I was struck by the notion that there are two parts to self esteem. While I have never doubted my value or worth despite my husband’s infidelity, there is a depletion of self efficacy (the trust in my ability to make relational decisions). I question myself for choosing to marry this man. I question myself for trusting him. I wonder how I could have been so unsuspecting.

I do not trust my ability to make decisions about the people I allow into my life.

I think about trust as I fill my tea cup with water. The exterior of the vessel is a combination of smooth glaze and stripes of raw clay. My fingers rub up and down the vertical roughness. I wonder how I can be so committed to sharing unfailing love to my unborn children, yet so easy to discard self love because of decisions someone else made without my knowledge or consent.

I microwave water for two minutes for the perfect tea. Sometimes, I get hurried or impatient and remove the cup prematurely. It’s never quite right then. Watching the tea revolve through the glass door, I think of my father’s perpetually positive living. While I was driving home from work, he blurted out, “The doctor told me how I will die.” He detailed how his organs would shut down, then finished with his mantra: “And life is good.” Two minutes can feel like forever. If I wait the entire time, I may have to answer my own question.

Why is it that Dad could gaze at death without losing his positive outlook, but I feel entitled to choose bitterness after a stab of unjust cruelty?

We aren’t always ready to answer our own questions. Sometimes, the brew isn’t perfect, but you can still tell that it’s meant to be cinnamon tea. On these days, we are lucky to be brave enough to wait the minimum duration needed to simply ask the right question.

Affair Discovery Survival

My husband disclosed the affair on a walk in our neighborhood. It was a good decision because I was mobile, and I don’t associate it with my home. The end of my marriage as I knew it was brief and surprisingly devoid of emotion, as if we were 2 strangers exchanging insurance information after an accident. We talked for a few minutes. I asked some questions and then it was over.

I used the last fragment of a clear mind to plan for the immediate future because I could feel myself unravelling. I asked him to go back home to welcome our oldest son from his first day of school. I challenged him to rise and be strong for our kids, to balance the black void I was entering. Even though I was a mere blocks from my house, the initial revelation was so crippling, I honestly didn’t even know where I was. The first minutes alone involved wandering the alleys of Minneapolis, lost in my own backyard.

I began making phone calls and texts, not strong enough to stand, incapable of sitting. I have never felt so disoriented by my own body. My brother who lives far away was the first to respond. I don’t even remember what we talked about before my oldest friend came to rescue me. I expressed that she had a family to take care of; she replied, “But you are my family.” Those words are the brightest light in this murky memory.

The first hours, days, and weeks after discovery are about survival. Here is what worked for me.

ddd

Get Realistic

I naively thought that because I am strong, I would move through this pain relatively quickly. I initially compared it to losing my father and how I wasn’t able to focus well at work for a couple of weeks, but this is different. This is a trauma. Reading books and articles helped me realize how deeply wounding infidelity is and helped me normalize my symptoms of post-traumatic stress.

Tell People

I process emotions by talking to trusted friends. The first night was a drunken tour of my neighborhood, telling friends and then moving on to the next person when the feelings started to sink in. I quickly resolved that overindulging in alcohol was a 1 day allowance. Over the next few days, I carefully chose who I told, and it became increasingly harder because it made it all the more real, which is probably why it took me several months to tell my mother what happened. I immediately told her that we were having serious problems and that I needed her support. That was all I could offer at the time.

Good friends grieve with you and sit with you in your pain. They don’t tell you what to do. They don’t try to fix the situation. It cannot be fixed. Telling people also meant that I received supportive texts, cards, phone calls, flowers, casseroles, and desserts. I am grateful that we haven’t told everyone, as there are times when I enjoy being able to hang out without the sympathy looks or wondering what others think of my choice to work on the marriage. In general, I found that my male friends had no idea what to do with me. They awkwardly hugged me and then looked away. Perhaps we deal with pain differently as genders, or perhaps it was because the affair drew me mostly towards women, so the second-hand knowledge from their wives made it more difficult to be direct.

Still, the hardest part of the silence is pretending that everything is ok at school meetings or soccer practice. Silence carries the shame of bettayal despite the fact that I did nothing wrong. I find myself telling less and less people as time goes on. Enough people know to support me, yet I still crave new avenues to share my truths. This is where writing comes in.

Ask for Help

The first few days, my coworker encouraged me to take care of my basic necessities. Without her, I wouldn’t have showered, remembered to drink water, or eat. I asked a close neighbor to sit with me, so I could eat a few bites of soup. I took any help I could get. I used my company’s EAP program to schedule counseling sessions, talk to a lawyer to review my options, and chat with a financial planner. I accepted help from my company’s stress coach, and found ways to be more present with the use of scheduled meditation and essential oils. It is important to me to be intentional in my healing.

Find Others

Until I started reading, I had no idea how common affairs are. I wanted to shout it from the rooftops to everyone I know: Talk about this! This is important! Use me as an example. Knowing the statistics made me feel less alone, but I desperately craved the comfort of someone who was walking my path. Through the Surviving Infidelity site, I found the Beyond Affairs Network (BAN). The first time I attended the support group, I burst into tears walking into the door. I was instantly welcomed by normal people who get it. I still attend these meetings monthly and have developed helpful friendships.

Don’t Make Major Decisions

It was very appealing when the lawyer told me to strike fast while the iron was hot. He told me I would likely get anything I wanted. Even though I have since made the decision to work on the marriage for now, I still daydream of divorce; however, the intensity and frequency has diminished. I read that a decision should not be made when in an emotional state and that I should wait at least 1 year to make a decision. Initially, I wanted him out of the house, but then I realized that I could benefit from his help with the kids in my time of crisis. I allowed him to stay in the guest room. I made the decision to wait for 1 month until my next decision. Sometimes, my decision was not to make a decision. I started sifting through writing lists that were less intimidating: Who am I? What do I want out of a partner? What am I afraid of if I stay? What am I afraid of if I leave? This sifting gave me power.

Tell the Kids

We decided to tell the kids the next day that Mom and Dad were having problems. We have never told them about the affair. As a united front, we sat them down and explained that things were going to feel very different; we tried to be honest about preparing them as best as we could. We would schedule time to spend with them separately each day. We told them that our problems were not their fault, that these are adult problems. These problems are only between adults, and they shouldn’t have to know what the problems are. We constantly reminded them how much we love them, and every night, I asked, “What questions do you have? What are you worried about?” I made a conscious choice to never say negative things to them about their dad. He is part of them. I need them to know they only come from goodness.

Say Yes

I said “yes” to friends more than I ever have in my life. I chose to do selfish things away from my family, like going on girls’ weekend trips or outings. I knew I needed to be selfish to be a better mom. I accepted offers to help, offers for dinner parties. I said yes to play dates. My schedule was full of friends and activities to look forward to and distract me and the kids. I also scheduled activities into the future that I would really look forward to, like zip-lining with my oldest son and taking my youngest to see sharks.

Say No

I cooled it on some of my volunteer activities, on busy things that just didn’t matter. My counselor helped me phrase an explanation: “I have experienced a trauma, so I need to take care of myself right now.” People were receptive and not pushy. It helped me pull back without feeling guilty. When I got too tired at dinner parties, I left. When I had enough of sympathy glances, I drove home and let the tears flow out. I said yes with limitations. I said yes until I had enough.

Give Yourself Grace

I allowed myself the grace to be out of character. I don’t regret that I yelled and said mean things. It’s ok that I didn’t fight fair even though I prided myself on rules of engagement for our entire relationship. One night early on, my husband and I were talking about the affair, and I burst out laughing at how ridiculous he sounded. I seriously could not stop laughing. I removed myself from the situation and sent him a text, saying I was sorry. For several weeks, I would make messes in the house on purpose, spilling bowls of soup, leaving garbage on the counter. It made me feel like I could get some jabs in without losing my good character. After all, I wasn’t hitting him or destroying his possessions. I was rightfully angry, but I wasn’t betraying my values, which would only make me feel worse.

I also gave myself the grace to recognize I wasn’t operating as a mother the way I normally do, and that’s ok. I did the best I could, and I allowed myself this temporary lapse. During this time, my oldest son commented that I had not been paying attention, that sometimes, I didn’t appear to be listening when he talked. I thanked him for letting me know, and I told him that it would get better soon. I apologized for my behavior. Once, I found myself too tired to make it all the way up the stairs, so I laid down midflight. My son caught me, and I reminded myself it his not his job to feel sorry for me. I am allowed to be sad, angry, and bitter. I just cannot buy an extended lease to live there, and I cannot wish for my kids to cosign the paperwork. They deserve so much better.

Focus on You

This resolve was probably the most beneficial to me. I allowed myself to be selfish after so many years of putting others first. I controlled when I spent time with the kids. I controlled what we spent our money on. There was no asking, no arbitration. I splurged on getting my hair dyed. I bought a new outfit. I didn’t share where we going or whom we were with. I boxed him out. I made both of us aware that I don’t need him. I made us both aware of how accommodating I had been in the past. I made him realize how good he had it and how much he had risked losing. Each choice on my own reminded me how good of a wife I was. It was not my fault that he didn’t appreciate me. His bad choices were his alone.

Destroy Things

It felt good to use power tools and rip the shrubs out of the front yard less than a week from discovery. Destruction was easy, almost fun. Digging in the dirt and pulling the roots out was agonizing, but it was an important next steps. The dirt talked to me, and I listened. I learned I had an unstoppable might. I also learned that the roots that seemed so large and menacing were actually quite small and innocuous once excavated. The next step was building something new, something that was all mine, but you can’t skip ahead. First, you must destroy before you can build. Midwestern seasons require long pauses; winter helped me slow down and wait to be ready to decorate the deck that I built when the time was right.

Find Rituals

I needed to take my power back. I needed rituals to guide me. I wrote little signs on 3 doors in my house: I only allow that which is beneficial to enter. I bought sage and cleansed the house. I collected phrases of encouragement and strength from my friends and wrote them on the back of a notebook. I diffused lavender oil while I was working. I plan on creating a prayer box soon, to write down the pain that I need help releasing, to offer my pain to a higher power.