Pain is Pain

What I know to be true: discovering your partner is unfaithful is a painful experience. In addition, living in an abusive relationship can be like hell on earth. I have written on this blog rather openly about discovering my ex-husband’s infidelity, as well as experiencing domestic violence, in posts like The Cave or Weak is the New Strong.

But in the last year, I have mentioned my former marriage more peripherally as opposed to writing about the experience of it. I will explain why in a moment, but first, I want to explain why I wrote about it to begin with.

I started this blog in 2014. Writing about my past experiences I had worked hard to heal from, seemed to help me to find my voice. It also helped me to process the past, look back on what I had learned, and more importantly, to maybe even help someone who was going through difficulties similar to mine.

I feel so thankful, to this day, for the painful experiences that have been a part of my life. Those experiences shaped me into a woman with an empathetic heart, and a spirit that seeks peace. I have a different view of the world, and a deeper understanding of human behavior, due to experiencing darkness. I learned that the pain was only pain–that it wouldn’t kill me, and in fact, pain is just a reminder that we are alive. Pain is our most powerful teacher, if we have the courage to sit with it and let us teach us what we need to know.

As a result of sitting with that pain, one of the universal truths I now know is this: humans are neither completely evil nor completely good. We are complex people with layers to us. We hurt people when we’ve been hurt, unless we dig deeper to understand what’s behind our feelings.

And no one has life figured out. I don’t care if you’re the smartest person in the room–you still don’t. Life has this very interesting way of breaking us in two when we cling to things or people not meant for us. And then we have to learn all this crap, all over again.

And now, here I am, eight years post leaving my marriage, processing these universal truths, and remembering some things I’ve never said before.

Amy Schumer, when speaking publicly about her own experiences in an abusive relationship, said, “You don’t choose to fall in love with someone that hurts you.”

And yet we do. Why do we do that? I don’t know, because each one of us has our own particular true reasons, but what I do know is this: most abusers are not always abusive. Sometimes they are the kindest, most loving people you will ever meet. And yet, the next moment, they are not. And that is sometimes what hooks us–grappling with the confusion of it all.

In 2010, my therapist I saw right after my divorce, invited me to attend a women’s therapy group. We listened to each other talk about experiences from the past. The therapist would look at people’s faces around the room and stop and ask us things like, “Jane, what emotions does this bring up for you when Teresa talks about relapsing on alcohol?” And even though Jane had no experience with alcohol addiction, she could somehow make a connection to her experience because PAIN IS PAIN. All of us had very different stories, but this never seemed to matter, because we could somehow make the most insightful connections by listening to each other.

One day, a woman named Anna (whose name I changed of course) was speaking about her father, who was dying.

She told us all about how confused she was by the fact that her father, who was extremely physically and emotionally abusive to her and her entire family throughout her life, had sort of “mellowed out” once he figured out that his death was eminent. And what was even more confusing to her, was how her heart had softened towards him.

“I guess there were always parts of me that loved him no matter how abusive he was at times,” she said, somewhat perplexed. “How jacked up is that?”

The therapist saw me tearing up.

“Emily… you seem to be having a reaction to that. Is there anything you would like to share?”

I took in a deep breath. I had learned that deep breathing helped to keep my voice from being shaky when I was tearful.

“Yes,” I finally said. “I don’t think it’s jacked up, Anna. Because nobody is entirely good nor entirely evil. We are humans. We are complex.”

It was hard for me to admit this. And yet, I knew it was true. I felt it in the depths of my spirit. Even today, I still feel it when someone who has hurt me deeply does something that is kind, such as genuinely apologizing for past behavior.

Please do not mistake the words I’m writing to be in alignment with the belief that allowing people to abuse you or even keeping people in your life who are abusive is in any way, shape, or form OKAY.

I value my peace, so that I can do important work in this world, which has lead me to have boundaries that may be firmer than most people’s at times. I block people from my life and put up a metaphorical drawbridge when needed to protect my heart, my spirit, and my energy.

But I don’t choose to live in the thought that I am any better than anyone else.

Instead, I choose to live in the thought that each of us is responsible for our own life. And what that means by default is that I am in charge of my peace and joy, and living my best life. What that further means is that I must have boundaries with people who engage in toxic behaviors with me or behaviors that steal my joy.

Humans are complex. And I refuse to engage in the belief that I am a better person or more righteously evolved than another. It is that very belief that fuels indifference to other’s pain. We cannot be indifferent, but what we can and should be is AWARE of how others’ choices affect us, and undoubtedly act on this, to protect our dignity and wholeness.

I love knowing in the depths of my spirit that I can do hard things. I can break in a million pieces, feel deep pain, and still will rise. I believe this for you, too. But the only way to arrive at this is to be aware and act on taking responsibility of this awareness through a combination of honesty and action.

When we feel continually hurt and devastated by the actions of another human, it’s time to put up the drawbridge. Like don’t overthink it–put that drawbridge up! Because it is only then, when we are in our separate castles and at peace, that we can begin to forgive and to start to see, when the time is right, with clarity, that the person who is hurting us, is simply a person–someone who is showing up in their pain and hurt, maybe even doing the best he or she can.

Random photo, circa 2013:

The Cave

When you decide to walk through the dark caves, searching for light, you may eventually find that you ARE the light.

On a sunny day in April of the year 2006, I woke up in a cave.

My body was aching and asking me to pay attention to it. But I didn’t, and I went to work anyways. I felt nauseated and weak. I went to the school nurse’s office and she took my temperature. It was 102 degrees. My principal told me to go home.

As I was walking out of the building, a colleague stopped me. I told her I was very sick. She said she would pray for me, and I asked her how she was doing, as I was getting into my car, and she paused to tell me she was feeling sad. Why? I asked her. She then told me that her sister-in-law was filing for divorce because her husband was having an affair. When I asked how she knew he was having an affair, she said, “He was often out late at night, came home drunk, and made excuses about feeling depressed and needing time with his friends.”

In my fogged-up, feverish state, I told her I was so sorry about her sister in law and that I would hopefully see her Monday and we could chat more.

As I was driving away, the pit in my stomach abruptly felt as if it were bottoming out. I was no longer nauseous. I was STARVING. I am embarrassed to say I drove through a Culver’s drivethru and ordered a big, greasy cheeseburger. I went home and devoured it and took Tylenol and went to sleep.

As I drifted in and out of dreams, my skin vascillated between chills and sweats. My thoughts went to the story my colleague had told me about the family member whose husband was having an affair. I knew why the pit in my stomach had bottomed out. The pit had cracked open from hearing the truth: I was that woman, too.

My body was ready to feel this truth. It was so exhausted from lies. But my spirit wasn’t.  It was in fight or flight mode. I tossed and turned in my feverish stupor, and finally went back to sleep.

I began to dream. I dreamt that my husband was drowning, and I was trying to resuscitate him, but he asked me to let go of him. Under the water, he called to me, “I’m having an affair. Let me go.” I let go and watched him sink further into the water.

As I continued to dream, my fever broke. My body jolted awake in a sweat. I remember sitting straight up in bed, completely clear-headed, yet terrified.

I called my mom.

“He’s having an affair,” I blurted out. “I know it because I dreamed it! And my friend, she said it happened to her sister in law-that’s what’s happening to me!! I know it. But I can’t prove it.  What should I do?  Should I hire a private investigator?”

My mom listened. She didn’t think I was insane. She knew I had been searching for answers as to what was feeling “off” in my marriage. But, she knew I was afraid and told me, “God has already shown you so much. Don’t go out and investigate any more. God will continue to reveal the truth in the time that you need to know.”

After I hung up the phone, I started to pray. I prayed so hard for truth. I prayed for more information. I prayed that I wasn’t crazy. And as I was praying, I suddenly heard a voice–a voice that I believe to be God–who spoke to me and said, “Go check your mail.”

And here’s the freaking thing…as I’m walking to my mailbox, I KNEW I WOULD FIND SOMETHING SIGNIFICANT THERE. I was awake, yet zombielike. In that walk to my mailbox, I was feeling like every sensation I felt, every person I passed, and every detail I noticed was a sign, pointing me in the direction of truth.

I went to the mailbox, turned the mailbox key, and a piece of mail fell out from a jewelry store. It was addressed to my husband, and looked like a bill. I opened it up, and was not surprised to see a credit card bill with several hundred dollars worth of necklaces, bracelets, and jewelry purchased that wasn’t for me.

I held this bill close to me. It felt important, almost sacred. Here I was, holding a piece of gold in my hand that was pure truth. I went upstairs, and once again, I heard the voice saying,  “Go to the computer.” I sat down at the computer, and looked up our cell phone bill online and pulled up my husband’s phone line. There was one number on there repeatedly at all hours of the day and night that I didn’t recognize. I called it.

A woman’s voicemail came on.

“Hi, this is Maricela. I can’t take your call right now, but leave a message and I’ll get back to you.”

I didn’t know a person named Maricela. But I ascertained that my husband knew her very well.

The rest of the weekend, I curled up in a ball and cried and ached and talked to my family. My husband had told me he was going to Chicago for a concert that weekend.  I called him many times, but he never answered. I didn’t know what I was going to say or do. I just knew that this truth was crumbling everything I had been clinging to and destroying it. This truth wanted to break me from my attachment to my husband, because that’s what the truth does-it breaks you wide freaking open and you can’t hide. Or run. Or really do anything, except for sit with it until it’s taught you what you need to know.

The next day was Easter. I didn’t go to church. It was a sunny day, yet I couldn’t move. I didn’t eat. I sat in the darkness of my bedroom, wondering what was about to happen. I had been split right open in the course of 24 hours with a truth that felt so threatening to me; however God had revealed it in such a precise manner that it was impossible to ignore.

This was the beginning of a spiritual awakening.  I did not go gently into that goddamn night, though.  I went on to wrestle with the truth and what it meant to be awake.  I even went on to have a baby with this person.  That’s right:  I ignored the truth and hoped that a child would change it.  But I discovered that as I fought that truth, it continued to fight right back.  And this moment in April when I was curled up in a fetal position in my bedroom in Madison, Wisconsin was only the beginning of the fight.  My husband’s affair was pure PAIN for me. But it was only a thread of the truth that was about to unravel before me.

The good news is this: once it unravels, there are treasures to be found.  You just have to be willing to enter the darkness to find the light.


 

I Was Shooting at the Wrong Target. 🙅🔫🎯🎯🎯

Sometimes when we are in a state of anxiety, we do stupid sh**.

About ten years ago, I discovered my then-husband was having an extramarital affair. We were living in Wisconsin at the time, and he was studying at the UW-Madison. 

Upon my discovery, we separated for awhile, but then decided to work things out. He came back home. 

You may be reading this and thinking, “How can she tell this story so matter of factly, as if it was just a little blip on the screen of life, with no heart wrenching emotions attached to it?”

Wait for it. The emotions are coming. 

(I’m just “building background knowledge,” a term we educators use, in order for you to fully understand the forthcoming story.)

One day, soon after our reconciliation, my husband told me he was going to the University to study in the afternoon. It was summertime. I was at home, working on chores.

Five hours later, it was dinner time, and he still wasn’t home. My stomach was churning, and my heart was heavy. I tried to call him. No answer. I tried again. No answer. I texted him. No answer. I waited another two hours.

Anger and fear was slowly building up in my chest. I had to do SOMETHING. I was tired of living like THIS. I was tired of feeling anxious and angry about a situation that–to me at the time–felt completely out of control.

This is a picture of me on that day:   

 As I previously mentioned, sometimes when we are afraid, we do stupid sh**. We do it to prove to ourselves that we can do whatever the heck we want and nobody can push us around and ruin our freaking lives, damn it.

I left my house and drove to “the other woman’s” apartment. 

I was not one to ever do such ballsy things. Confront my husband’s mistress? Good heavens, no!

It was as if this little, quiet shell of Emily had transformed herself into a bad b**** from hell. This is me, driving to her house: 

 

When I arrived to the apartment complex, I barged into the building.

I found the buzzer with her name. I buzzed it. No response. I buzzed it again. No response. 

“Those &$!@%#^*ers aren’t going to keep me from coming in!” I said to myself.

I started buzzing other people’s buzzers. 

Lo and behold, someone who didn’t know me buzzed me in to the building.

I go up to this chick’s apartment door and bang the hell out of it. For some dumb reason, she answers it. For another dumb reason, she let me in.

I spotted my husband coming out of a room that I perceived to be a bedroom.

I do not remember much of the conversation that ensued. But what I do remember is this: I looked into the eyes of his mistress and I saw a young woman who looked ashamed. She looked sad. She looked scared. I looked around her apartment. About fifty empty cans of Bud Light were scattered around the living room. The place was a complete mess. 

This woman, who I had targeted with a bullseye of contempt on her chest, had suddenly removed herself as my target when we made eye contact.

I had imagined many pictures in my mind of how my husband’s mistress would look–the woman I saw was the opposite of those pictures.

It was so much easier to attach hate and anger to a stranger than it was to deal with the real issue at hand–that my marriage was unhealthy and I needed to not be in it anymore. 

The infidelity I experienced was a SYMPTOM of the real problem. I had missed the target. I was shooting in the wrong direction. I was making the same self defeating decisions that caused me to remain in a tornado-like state of anxiety. I didn’t know how to deal with my anger or fear or sadness. I just kept trying to shoot pinballs at a machine that wasn’t working and those pinballs were shot back at me every. single. time.

Enough with the shooting analogies though. 😳🔫🎯

What I learned from all of this was that while it momentarily felt good to be that big bad bitch version of myself, that energy wasn’t helpful when it unfairly targeted someone that had NOTHING to do with my happiness. I was putting two other people in charge of my life, and I thought if I “stopped them from having the affair” I would regain control. 

A year after my divorce, I received a FB message from this woman. In a roundabout way, she apologized to me for any hurt she may have caused me as a result of the affair. She stated that she was in the process of a divorce herself because her husband had cheated on her. She stated that she “felt my pain,” and was sorry for it.

For various reasons, I chose not to respond. However, when I contemplated a response, I thought of sending her a poem that I had pasted on the back of my door in my apartment in Wisconsin. I knew the words in it were meaningful to me, but I couldn’t wrap my mind around it until I got my spirit into a healthy state. These words definitely helped to get me there, though:

“Always we hope

someone else has the answer,

some other place will be better,

some other time,

it will turn out.
This is it.
No one else has the answer,

no other place will be better,

and it has already turned out.
At the center of your being,

you have the answer:

you know who you are and

you know what you want.
There is no need to run outside

for better seeing,

nor to peer from a window.

Rather abide at the center of your being:

for the more you leave it,

the less you learn.
Search your heart and see

the way to do is to be.”

-Lao Tzu