Five years ago tonight, my world fell apart.
There sure is something about annual holidays… and it’s not lost on me that this happened on St. Patrick’s Day – never a favourite of mine, as my father, Patrick, was no saint…
So, it was pretty damned appropriate that my world fell apart five years ago, on St. Patrick’s Day. Of course, that might be a teensy bit melodramatic, since I am still here to write about it, but… it felt like my world had fallen apart – the world as I knew it had fallen apart.
My then-husband of 2-1/2 years had been home for a week from his month-long workshop retreat out west, at “our” retreat centre. He had come home declaring that he had learned many things, battled his inner demons, and was now 100% committed to our marriage, ready to be the most open, honest, supportive husband I could possibly wish for. Which was, of course, music to my ears.
But in the week since his return, actions had not been supporting words – that lack of integrity having been one of the biggest reasons for his heading off on retreat to begin with (and convincing me to pay for it… not that I’m bitter… ahem…) So after a week of clinging to the hope of his words, I finally paid attention to the actions (or lack thereof), and asked him why the declarations of open honesty were still being paired with a giant wall of disconnect?
I was not prepared for the answer.
Sitting at my kitchen table, I was deluged with tales of dishonesty, betrayals and infidelities that had been ongoing throughout not only our then-only-2-1/2-year marriage, but all the years leading up to it. That even as he had been working hard to convince me to stand down from my “I will never get married again”, because marriage was so important to him, my doubts were just “my trust issues” and he would “prove” that he was different… he was already engaged in the very dishonesty and betrayals that fuelled my “trust issues”. That even as he was speaking (and singing) his wedding vows, he was already in the midst of breaking many of them.
But he was being open and honest now, so I should appreciate it and not be upset, because he had learned so much, and was determined to be a better man.
Those of you good with math will realize that this occurred shortly after the whole “Gatekeeper” incident. So the fact that I had been betrayed so thoroughly by someone who was “supposed” to love me was not an unusual situation for me. But the fact that D said he was willing to do the work WAS a new situation for me – and one I clung to desperately (although you do remember that bit about actions not matching words being part of the reason he went on retreat?).
The rug had been ripped out from under me, I had no stable foundation. My “trust issues” had just been proven right, and I didn’t know how to move forward and rebuild trust in someone who had been lying to me for at least seven years (probably more, in hindsight). Both I and our marriage counsellor told D that if there was anything else he’d been hiding or lying about, now was the time to let me know. He spent the following week assuring me that there was nothing else he was hiding, everything was on the table, he saw the error of his ways and would be open and honest and fully transparent from now on.
Five years ago today, I thought my world had fallen apart.
But that was nothing compared to exactly one week later, when I discovered that not only had he spent the month-long retreat (on my dime, as you may recall) engaging in an affair with “the most beautiful woman” who “loves it when you go balls-deep”, but he had also spent all his “open, honest, transparent, fully committed to our marriage” two weeks back home engaging in a cyber-affair, plotting with her how to cover his tracks, and… oh yeah, those three other retreats he’d signed up for and convinced me to pay for? Well, she was going to be there too… and probably sharing a room with him this time. So much for seeing the error of his ways… Trust went out the window.
I at least had the presence of mind to not pay for the subsequent retreats. But that’s about as assertive and protective as I could manage at the time. (I will forgive myself, I will forgive myself…) My Codependent Tiara was screwed on tight – I was only too eager to accept all the blame for his bad choices and behaviours (because if everything was my fault, then I could figure out what to do right, and it wouldn’t ever happen again, right?!? – ugh…) Therapists were called, D’s behaviour was declared to be a symptom of addiction and mental illness. I needed to be understanding and supportive while he worked it out.
I immersed myself in the writings of Glennon Doyle Melton– after all, she had faced this exact situation a few years before, and she and her husband had worked hard, saved their marriage, and were happier and healthier than they had ever been! We could do the same. (This was, of course, before she decided to leave her marriage – I am still waiting for my hot soccer star to show up…) I just had to work hard on myself, work on my trust issues, protect D from shame, and all would be repairable.
"We can do hard things"
– Glennon Doyle Melton
I’d love to tell you that was my rock bottom, but… there were still a few layers to go.
Here I was again, not feeling safe in my own home. Not feeling safe with the person I was “supposed” to feel safe with. Yet believing that I was responsible for it all. I spent several months sleeping on the futon in my office, before it finally dawned on me that it’s usually the cheater who relinquishes the comfy bed. I somehow accepted the explanation that my (justifiable) anger after finding out about the ongoing deception, betrayals and infidelities was the reason why they all occurred in the first place – even as he was calling me “Sweetness and Light”, and telling me how much he appreciated my kindness and lack of rage (I now have great sympathies for his previous ex-wife, who I suspect had similar reason to be angry, but I took his claims at face-value… many of which, in hindsight, were obvious lies I overlooked). Talking with friends about what I was going through became dangerous – letting other people know what was going on was seen as a betrayal, fuelling D’s shame, which was what had caused his issues to begin with. I stopped telling anyone what was going on.
I knew how to put on a brave face – I’d grown up as an expert in the “let’s pretend everything’s perfect” department. I smiled and covered up like a rockstar. Nobody, not even my closest friends, knew the hell I was going through. Occasionally, I’d reach the end of what I could endure, but I was skilled at waiting until after D fell asleep before allowing myself to cry. Except he caught me crying once, said I was raging at him, trying to make him feel bad. I learned to stop crying, except on those rare occasions when he left the house. Eventually, I couldn’t even make myself cry alone, either.
The therapists put plans in place to help rebuild my trust, which he heartily agreed to do – “anything to prove I’ve changed”. Lip-service was given, but… when push came to shove, D would “forget” or outright refuse. My mentioning this or being upset about it was, of course, an attack on him – I was too needy, too demanding, trying to control him. I learned to not need. I was making myself smaller and smaller, in the effort to avoid triggering him into a rage. I managed to avoid the words or phrases that I knew would send him off… but then it became my “tone”… or, if I didn’t even say anything, the way I was breathing.
“The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are. You trade in your reality for a role. You trade in your sense for an act. You give up your ability to feel, and in exchange, put on a mask. There can't be any large-scale revolution until there's a personal revolution, on an individual level. It's got to happen inside first.”
– Jim Morrison
About ten months later, his usual promise to check in and be available when he was away was met with not only his refusal to be available, but his turning off his phone as soon as he left the driveway. When he returned almost eight hours after he said he would, and I questioned where he’d been and why he’d turned the phone off immediately after promising to be available, his rage reached new heights – or lows. So much is a swirl in my memory, but I can still picture myself collapsed on the kitchen floor, as he punched the wall above my head over and over, and then banged his own head against the kitchen cabinet over and over. The next day, my therapist made me pack a suitcase, put the women’s shelter on speed-dial, and promise me that if such a thing ever happened again, I would call the police (it did, I didn’t). When I sent a note to his therapist, she was shocked as he hadn’t even told her there was a conflict the night before. (As I had learned several times before, he would never volunteer information in therapy that might make him look bad.)
And yet, just over a week later, I was buying our dream home.
Yes, this does boggle my mind (now) as much as it probably boggles yours. What was I thinking?!? Well… that previous incident had finally convinced D to go on the medication his therapists had suggested, and I had been begging for him to try. I guess I had great faith the drugs would fix everything. Plus I had felt so isolated in Orillia – perhaps if I moved closer to my girlfriends, I’d be able to get the support I so desperately needed. Plus… it’s a pretty amazing house! This was going to be our new start. Everything we’d always wanted, free of the bad memories, a place to start again.
That second “honeymoon” lasted until the fall, when I discovered that, even though he was getting everything he said he wanted, and claiming to be open and honest and 100% committed to our marriage – he was engaged in the exact same behaviours he had been in before. At that point, I’d spent more time trying to single-handedly fix this marriage than he’d spent being committed to this marriage. Again, I slept on the couch… because… unbefreakinglievable, I’d managed to forget once again that I wasn’t responsible for someone else’s deceitful behaviour.
“Don’t you dare shrink yourself for someone else’s comfort – Do not become small for people who refuse to grow.”
Therapy intensified. I made myself smaller and smaller, while building up the happier and shinier. The hope of spending time with girlfriends disappeared, as he systematically declared them “not our kind of people”, and would only tolerate visits from his own friends.
Every time I figured I was at the end, there would either be a big crisis that required attention (I still don’t think it’s pure coincidence that his cancer came back the same week my therapist and I put together an exit plan), or things would suddenly seem to be getting better. He would announce how much happier he was, all was going well. And then I would discover the same things happening over and over again. Nothing was working, nothing was changing.
I learned that if I kept a bottle of vodka in the filing cabinet and took a good swig before going to bed, I would fall asleep before feeling the urge to cry. I tried harder and harder to find ways to get through to him – even a freaking flowchart at one point. But the words and actions grew further and further apart, the rages closer and closer together. Therapists telling me they didn’t see hope and that I should protect myself. His seeing them “take my side” and assuming we were ganging up on him. Behaviour more and more erratic until the day he nearly killed us, a family in a van, and perhaps the driver of the very large truck he decided to lock horns with – later described by the therapists as a (fortunately) unsuccessful suicide attempt (actually, they described it as attempted murder-suicide, but I still have trouble facing how someone could do something like that… DeNile ain’t just a river…).
"The good news is that pain, whether physical or emotional, can function as a powerful catalyst for healing, change and growth."
– Friedemann Schaub
That incident, at least, was enough to convince him to apply to a 2-month residential “rehab” program at Homewood – something the therapy team had been talking about for a couple of years, and I had been begging for silently on the inside. He finally allowed me to recruit some friends to help me in the months before he was admitted. I had a glimmer of hope back! Even though I had spent four years unsuccessfully trying to get things on track, surely professionals would be able to turn this around?
He applied, we waited for his name to work its way up the waiting list.
Oh, those annual holidays…
One year ago today – yes, St. Patrick’s Day yet again – I hosted a house concert “solo” for the first time – because D had been admitted to Homewood the day before, much earlier than expected. I felt hopeful. Once the rush of the concert was over, I felt… relaxed. I could show emotion. I could talk to friends. I didn’t have to walk on eggshells. I could feel my shoulders. I started to realize all that I had been sacrificing and enduring for the previous four years (and beyond). I felt good.
"Being free takes first realizing you’re in prison, and then questioning what imprisons you. Peace takes naming what keeps you ruffled. Joy takes realizing what separates you from it. It’s a process, not a one-time event; you’ve got to want your life back more than you want anything."
– Geneen Roth
As the weeks progressed, the treatment sounded promising. D’s phone calls back sounded positive, he was moving forward, learning much, looking forward to being open and honest and committed to our marriage.
By week five, it was all-too-familiar. The lies, the rages, the blame. And further investigation revealed that the lies were not – and had never been – just to me, and weren’t due to forgetfulness or omission, they were calculated manipulations and deception. This was not changing, it was not getting better, and I was finally starting to realize it never would.
I finally understood that it didn’t matter – and never had mattered – what I did or didn’t do, what I gave, how I behaved. It didn’t matter what he said or promised. He was not going to stop behaving the same way he had for the previous decade – and likely for several decades before that. That not even a team of professionals was ever going to be able to change something he was either unwilling or incapable of changing.
Here I’d been, reliving my childhood, tap-dancing my ass off in the hopes that it would earn me the right to be treated with honesty and decency from a person who was never going to treat me with honesty or decency. Thinking if I only found the perfect combination of words and actions, it would produce favourable results this time.
I’d been trying so hard to be “worthy” of love, I’d blinded myself (again) to the fact that some people are simply incapable of being loving. And I had exhausted myself so thoroughly with the efforts, I’d also blinded myself to those who were willing to love me without any effort on my part whatsoever.
I’ve chosen to spend a LOT more time with those people now! It’s way more fun, and a lot less exhausting.
Oh sure, intellectually I’ve known that I shouldn’t have to change who I am to be loveable. But I hadn’t let it fully sink in. “But it’s different for me” may be a line I joke with regularly, but apparently there are some parts of me that were still believing I needed to try harder in order to be just as worthy as everyone else.
My tiara is getting a little rusty. I’ve loosened the screws. I still plunk it on my head out of habit from time to time, but I quickly recognize its weight and take it off again. It’s never done me any favours.
About a month or so ago, a beloved friend admitted he had become “smitten” with me. My immediate reaction was “oh my lord, what did I do WRONG?!?” (Yes, I know that’s a ridiculous reaction, never fear.) After I talked myself down from that obviously neurotic knee-jerk, I recognized that I hadn’t done anything wrong – in fact, I hadn’t done a darned thing. I was loved, I was worthy of love, I was receiving love without any need for tap-dancing. Without needing to silence myself. Without hiding my snotty ugly-crying, frustrations, or needs. Without making myself smaller or lesser-than. Without sacrifice or caretaking or buying a dream home, or agreeing with everything he says, or… any of the tortures I’ve been putting myself through for forty…cough… something years. (More snotty crying ensued, but of the joyful variety.)
I would have kind of preferred the red-Ferrari kind of midlife crisis, but… I guess I’d rather learn some life lessons than lose money on a hunk of metal.
Oh, those annual holidays!
St. Patrick’s Day today. I’ve got my life back. I’ve learned some pretty important lessons that allow me to leave more parts of my past firmly in the past. I’ve reconnected with the friends who inspired my last move, and made several new ones. I’m getting ready to play a fun gig with a new band tomorrow, and another with a good friend on Wednesday. I’m excited to be getting back to my creativity. I’m putting my own oxygen mask on first these days.
As my old song said, “there’s love in my world and laughter in my kitchen.” And while there may not have been enough whiskey to get over him the first time, my filing cabinet is now vodka-free, as am I.
And to once again quote Glennon Doyle (no longer Melton, because she decided to put her oxygen mask on first, too): I am worthy of senseless, outrageous love.
So are you.
I know I had many people yelling that at me many ways ’til Tuesday and I didn’t believe them. So maybe you don’t believe it either. But please, don’t allow yourself to hide your light for as long as I did. There’s got to be SOME silver lining from all my slow learning… (That’s always my hope with my ramblings, that I can help others learn things more easily than I did – or at least know they aren’t alone.)
If you're hiding yourself to make yourself worthy of love, you're doing it wrong.
Shine your light, share your warmth. The world will be better off with you being the brightest, bestest You you can be.
"You are worthy of senseless, outrageous love."
– Glennon Doyle
Be a shiny freaking unicorn, covered in rainbow sparkles. YOU ARE the pot of gold AND the rainbow. And snakes are cool, so why drive them out? And mixing metaphors is my thing, so deal with it.
Today is also the feast day of St. Gertrude of Nivelles – patron saint of cats and the people who love them. So Happy St. Gertrude Day to you all.