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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 friend 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

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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 went home and registered.  

“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.

Love is a Choice

Five months after discovery of the affair, we attended a Retrouvaille weekend in January. It was so intense that there was very little space for negative thoughts. It was a way to reboot or reset, which allowed me to write this letter as our final assignment. After we left, the negative thoughts returned, but it is a good reminder to return to this hope.

love

Dear Husband,

Living on this Earth is a gift. We should not wish away our time, even the times faced with pain. Especially the times filled with pain. Because this is the time we have an opportunity to reflect, dig down through the wreckage, and prepare for a new rising. As Glennon Doyle says: First, the pain. Then, the rising.

When faced with the shattering heartbreak, my first choice was to believe that my life would become better than it ever has been before. It was innate. It was rote. It was part of my core. As my core has been dismantling, and the plates are moving in seismic measures, I still hold onto this belief. I just don’t know what the “it” is that will be better. It is part of the journey to discover.

Shortly after the discovery, a trusted friend told me that this heartbreak was something my soul asked for long ago to bring me to my highest good, to elevate my gifts. One take: that’s BS. Another take: But I thought I knew myself. Why do I need to suffer this pain to be better? Aren’t I pretty good the way I am? What more do I need to learn about myself that required such an irreversible crack? If I had asked for this, why wasn’t I given a choice in these decisions?

And then there is the voice that reminds me of what I have been missing. Sure. I knew happy. I studied happy. I lived happy. I chose to create my own happiness when things went dark prior to the affair. I chose to fulfill my life through adventure and love of my children. I feel connected to my community by maintaining meaningful relationships and sharing my values. I chose to protect my heart from the cyclical and enduring pain of being let down. I closed it off little by little, but I reserved a space for believing that one day, it could get better. I settled on “good enough” love.

But this wasn’t a space where I was happy in love. Clearly, neither of us were. I was happy with my thoughts, with most of my time, with who I am. But, I was missing something that could make my life better. Not because I need love of a partner to live. Not because I need it to be complete. Not because I need it to be happy. But because I could be more fulfilled, more challenged, more gifted by opening myself fully to an intimate love.

For whatever reasons, and there are many (some of which are baffling and deeply wounding), we didn’t come to the conclusion that something needed to drastically change until everything was lost.

I don’t need you to go on living. I don’t need intimate and mature love to go on living. But it sure would be nice to open myself up to love. I don’t want to squander this gift of life knowing that I haven’t sought my highest potential for a higher good.

Belief: The universe gives you what you ask for. Love gives you what you believe you deserve.

This conflicts me. I know I don’t deserve infidelity. Nobody does. I know I don’t deserve such an imbalance of function in a relationship. But somehow, I participated in our over/under functioning mayhem. And both of us were unfulfilled, dissatisfied in love.

I played my part in asking for what love gave me. I settled. I shifted my expectations. I protected my heart and yet I was still heartbroken. I carry the pain, the proof that I loved…even though it was not fully.

So, what do I want to ask the universe for?

What is the love that I deserve?

First, I must reflect on deserve. Deserve is a slippery slope that can lead to entitlement. I must first define deserve as what I believe I am worthy of. This is the question I have been preparing to answer for the past 5 months.

I deserve to ask the universe for a path to mature love. The kind of love where I don’t protect my heart. Where I open up my heart, my mind, my body to becoming vulnerable, and I receive this in return. The love that is a daily choice to work on appreciating and respecting my partner and vice versa. I deserve a love where the partnership is built on loyalty in thought, feelings, and intentions. I deserve a love that is safe, where both partners feel they can find shelter in the storm. I deserve a love where both partners challenge each other to grow as individuals and as a couple. When 2 become 1 without losing a sense of self. Without compromising values. With dignity and grace and with a lifelong goal to learn about each other to learn to be better. A love that brings us both to our higher purpose, which is to feel connected to the beating pulse of the universe.

When we were asked to become part of the processional on Christmas Eve, I was shocked. We are the last people who should be called to carry baby Jesus to the alter. The boys were in their matching track suits. Our youngest was wearing boots. Our marriage had dissolved in a raging fire and was still smoldering. But then, I ask, why not us? Through this message from the universe, I learned that we are chosen. We are connected. Love is a choice. Love is a connection.

Maybe it wasn’t just a message from the universe. Maybe it was an answer to my questions.

What is the purpose of this pain? What am I called to learn from this?

  1. Covering your heart to protect yourself when somebody is hurting you is called self preservation. It is healthy.
  2. Covering your heart does not protect you from heartbreak.
  3. Closing your heart prevents you from fully giving and receiving love.
  4. Love is a choice for both partners to become vulnerable in order to be connected.
  5. We are chosen.

I want to go on to explore what this looks like. What this feels like. I choose to be connected. To work towards making myself vulnerable to love.

This is my dedication. To be fair, I can’t say with certainty that you are the one I will achieve this with.

I can no longer promise you forever.

But I can pledge to begin trying for now. I can promise to slowly and carefully place 1 foot in front of the other in a path towards this direction. I invite you to walk with me if you have a similar vision. If you will grant me time and space I need. If you take the pressure off of me. If you release me from knowing where our relationship will end. We can take steps together.