Healing the Traumas

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“The revelation of infidelity is a traumatic event for the betrayed partner. Understanding it as traumatic has important implications for healing. People who have just found out about a partner’s affair may react as if they have been viciously attacked. Where they formerly felt safe, they now feel threatened. In an instant, the betrayed spouse’s assumptions about the world have been shattered. Commonly, betrayed spouses become obsessed with the details of the affair, have trouble eating and sleeping and feel powerless to control their emotions, especially anxiety and grief, which can be overwhelming.”
Shirley P. Glass “NOT Just Friends”

“After having counseled thousands of couples with hundreds of marital conflicts, I am completely convinced that a spouse’s unfaithfulness is the most painful experience that can be inflicted in marriage. Those I’ve counseled who have had the tragic misfortune of having experienced rape, physical abuse, sexual abuse of their children, and infidelity have consistently reported to me that their spouse’s unfaithfulness was their very worst experience. To be convinced of the devastating impact of infidelity, you only need to go through it once.”
Dr. Willard F. Harley – Marriage Builders

I realised quickly it was going to take a long time to get over the affair and feel normal again. It wasn’t a quarrel with a friend or a family misunderstanding but the very fabric of my life, stained and damaged and only time could show how much. Will I be able to trust my husband again, be close to him and, what was most important to me – will I be able to continue to love him the same? Over night, from my closest friend and a person I loved dearly, he became a stranger, someone I didn’t recognise, almost an enemy. It took a lot of faith to see he was essentially still the same person I married and that was what he tried to convince me of. There was a glimpse of hope in the fact that he regretted dearly what he had done and everything he had done since then was right.

I knew I wanted to forgive him, wanted to put it all behind us as quickly as possible but at the same time I couldn’t stop feeling that deep grief and disappointment over what had happened. I questioned everything about him, our marriage and even myself.

It took many sleepless nights, hours of talks and a few revelations to understand that what happened wasn’t my fault, that in fact I couldn’t have done much more then I did and that no matter how much I tried to be a better wife I couldn’t have stopped the affair. If it didn’t happen then it would have happened some other time with someone else only because of what was in Charlie’s heart. It was him who repeatedly stressed that fact to me, him who took that blame on himself. I knew there were areas in my life where I needed change but ultimately it wasn’t what caused him to go the way he did.

Grief and disappointment weren’t the worst of the array of emotions that I was going through. The one I hadn’t anticipated was horror. You expect it in tragic life circumstances like accidents or murder and yet it was exactly what I felt at the thought my husband was with another woman. There were places, both in our house and in the office, that I couldn’t face going to, mental images that replayed over and over and fear that it all could have had much worse outcome for us all than it did. I was glad that I didn’t get a chance to see any more messages or e-mails, no pictures and no real life situations. What was in my mind was bad enough.

Wednesday after TT, one week after WW, as I arrived at the office, I met Charlie in the hall talking to a man I hadn’t met before. He was a son of one of the neighbours on the street, a slightly weird person. Charlie said I was his wife to which he replied “Nice catch”. I laughed – it was so ironic after all we had been going through. Charlie brought me closer to himself and said:
“She is working with me now and she’s a treasure, she makes me a better man.”
“Great! You are actually looking a lot better then when I saw you a week ago. Last time you looked really stressed.”
“I’m in a much better place now” said Charlie.

At around noonday I got a phone call from the children’s school. Our son had had an accident in the yard during play time and he wasn’t feeling well. We both hurried to him not knowing what to expect, thankfully the school was only a few minutes away. Turned out he fell and whacked his head against a concrete window sill. There was a huge bump and a bruise just below his hairline but the skin wasn’t broken. He was pale but conscious and looked himself, although the teacher said it took him a while to come round. We took him back to the office and got a painkiller on the way. I kept a close eye on him for the rest of the day and when he started feeling nauseous I went straight to our doctor. Charlie came to meet us there on the way back from work. I was angry and irritable, couldn’t help but blame Charlie for the accident although, obviously, he didn’t have anything to do with it.

We went in to see the doctor, he examined our son’s head and decided it was a small concussion, advised to give him plenty of rest, no TV or screen games for a few days to let the head trauma heal. He said to keep a watchful eye in case other symptoms appeared; he gave us a list of them and when he mentioned: confusion, memory problems and irrational behaviour out of character, I thought to myself “My husband must have been concussed for the whole last year”.

That evening I finally knew what to do with the ring. There was no point in giving it back to the shop or to anyone, we would never want anyone to wear it, not with it’s history. Having it back gave us an opportunity to throw it away somewhere, in an act if cutting off the past. We just couldn’t think of an appropriate place. None of the places that came to our minds felt right but then I got it – it was right there under my nose all the time, the photograph of it was on our wall, it was near to one of our favourite walks and we went there with Ana that first summer when she arrived and we took her to the beach. It looked like a cauldron and had an evil look to it.

Let’s return to the devil what he tried to give us – we said.

Terrible Tuesday

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The way of the aftershock waves is that when you are up, you have to go down again and sometimes it seems like ‘down’ has no end.

Tuesday after MM (Miraculous Monday) was my rock bottom, one of those days when you don’t believe you are going to make it and you don’t even particularly want to.

During the weekend we sent a message to Ana saying she has to return the ring. There were other things Charlie gave her over the previous 15 months but I didn’t mind them as much. The ring symbolised to me his connection to her, a vow of having her in his mind and memory for ever. Now that we wanted to cut the affair out of our marriage we had to do everything to get it back. She got very upset and initially refused but Charlie insisted. They arranged she would bring it to the office outside work hours altogether with things she borrowed from us and leave it there with the keys she still had.

On Tuesday morning we came to the office to collect them. We were planning to travel out of town for two meetings that day and we wouldn’t be back for the whole day. The bag was under Charlie’s desk: several books, a scarf, a hat, some jewellery including the ring, a few bits and pieces like tea and some gadgets. It all had a strange, New Age aura, particularly some of the books and made me feel uncomfortable. She returned everything, to the last little thing. It seemed she got so mad at him for wanting the ring back that she thought: “You want it back? You might as well have it all.” There was a note on his chair and a letter in the bag. We took a quick look at the note, just an information about the bag and then a P.S.: “The state of my former desk, knowing that I was coming, has hurt me beyond belief.”

I took a deep breath and tried to remain calm. The state of her former DESK? How about my MARRIAGE? The one I cherished more then anything else? Has she never paused to at least consider what she was doing to my marriage, my children, my family? How can a woman do it to another woman and then care about the look of her desk? I felt like screaming, not for the first time since WW.

We took the bag to the car and drove to a nearby parking lot, knowing people would start coming to work soon. There, Charlie took the letter out and we started reading. In the first paragraph she asked him to read it by himself. I waited for his reaction, he said: “We will read it together, there is nothing I want to hide anymore, no more secrets, unless you feel uncomfortable about it”. I did and I didn’t. I knew why she wrote it,  she still believed that what was between them was real, that he truly meant the words he had said, that she could reach into his heart and maybe stir a little sadness about the break up. Now she was the abandoned one and it felt bad.

I was a little apprehensive that she might have written about something I hadn’t heard yet from Charlie but it was something I had to face. We started reading. She wrote about her disappointment for the way he treated her after D-day, about him not being able to take away the memories with the things she just gave back and about believing he was nevertheless a good guy at heart. She wrote she didn’t regret what had happened and she hoped he didn’t either, that life is too short to miss the opportunity they had had. She referred to herself as a “person with a heart of gold” and she thanked him for the year of good work experience.

I could feel her pain although she wanted to come across as strong. I didn’t cry even though the letter made everything that happened seem so real. I was in survival mode. Move on and don’t look back. Deal with it and don’t let it crush you.

Charlie folded the letter, put it back in the envelope and we drove on carrying with us the returned things and a strange heaviness. It was a beautiful, foggy morning. Light just lingered on the fields as we passed them talking about how unreal it all was.

Here we were, fighting for our marriage after so many happy years together. The question kept coming back then and for a long time after: how did we get to this place?

The first meeting went on for ages. I have never met the people there so Charlie introduced me as his wife. I was aware I didn’t have my rings on, they were still waiting on Charlie’s shelf, and I caught myself hiding my hands a few times. I felt naked without them and I missed them terribly.

We left quickly after the meeting to be on time for our second one. It was about a project I was involved in and I wanted to attend it with Charlie. We stopped on the way to get some food. I went to the loo and there a thought stroke me. I felt another wave coming. I wanted to stop it but I knew I would have to confront it. We got back into the car and I asked Charlie: “Do you remember last summer, when my dad was here and we went to your parent’s holiday house? You said you had an important meeting you had to attend one day. Did you see her on that day before you came back?” I expected him to say something in the line: yes I saw her afterwards. He looked at me with one of ‘those looks’ and said slowly: “There was no meeting. I went especially to be with her.”

I felt my stomach tighten and I lost all appetite. I put the sandwich away and looked outside the window. What had he just said? There was no meeting? He left us there in this beautiful place to be with her in that dungeon of hers?

I didn’t think of myself as much as of the kids. They were so looking forward to spending a few days with him. We asked if there was a possibility to postpone that meeting, he said it was too important, too many people involved, he had to be there. Why did he do that? For sex? I was there, every morning, every night, next to him, why not me? Did she ask him to come? Was she jealous he was with us?

Hundreds of questions were flooding me but what I felt most was abandonment. It wasn’t that he just stayed longer after work or conveniently took her with him to a site but he purposely lied and left us behind while on our holiday for something I couldn’t understand. I was quiet for a good while, in that time my attitude and feelings changed.

I wanted OUT. Out of the lies, away from the cheater. This was not part of the bargain when we said “I do”. If he wanted her he could have her, I wasn’t going to stop him. In fact I believed God must have someone better in store for me. Suddenly I felt strong, even my appetite came back. I leaned down to pick up my sandwich and started eating. Charlie was surprised, “Are you ok?” he asked. “Never been better” I answered “In fact at last I know what I want – I’m leaving. You can see the children as much as you want but I don’t want you anymore, not after what you have done. You can ring Ana and tell her, maybe she’ll have you back.”

I said many more hurtful things, it almost gave me pleasure. I wanted to hurt him just as much as he hurt me. I was angry, furious and bitter. If I had had the rings on in that moment I would have thrown them out the window happily to prove to him I wasn’t joking. “I’m not going for the meeting, you’ll have to go by yourself. I don’t want to have anything to do with you anymore.”

I still don’t know what exactly hurt me so badly in that particular situation and his confession but whatever it was it hardened my heart. Forgiveness? Forget about it. I was going to show him what it feels like to be rejected and left behind. At least he deserved that.

We got to the place, I left the car, slammed the door and didn’t look back.
“Will you be ok?” I heard Charlie’s voice behind me.
“Don’t you worry about me. Let me know when you’re finished and we’ll meet here.”

I was in a town I didn’t know at all. I realised I was very vulnerable, particularly in my state. Luckily we were in the centre so I just followed the main street. I wasn’t sure where to go or what to do next. I just wanted to be alone. I checked my phone and there was a missed call from J&D. I called them back and said I was really upset. We talked for about an hour while I was walking up and down the street, probably looking like a lunatic as I attracted a few strange looks. I said to them I didn’t want to be with Charlie anymore and I wanted to have another chance with someone else. I meant it. D’s reaction was fast: “Ella, I forbid you to say that. Your place is next to your husband and you are going to keep fighting. Whatever happened is in the past. He is repenting from it now. I don’t want to hear you say that again.”

I laughed. Not because of what she said but because of how quickly I was put in my place. Almost immediately I saw I was pitying myself, exaggerating and looking for an excuse to get back at Charlie. It was a normal, human reaction but I needed to stand above it, look at my Lord and keep walking the waves. I lost my focus and went down under. She helped me to see it, that conversation, however difficult was essential. I will forever be grateful for the people God put in the right place in that time.

I went back to the building where we parked. There was a café in the ground floor, I went in and got a cup of coffee. I sent Charlie a text saying to come meet me there after the meeting and I let him know I felt better. He came as quickly as he could, we both apologised, prayed, cried, laughed and left a lot happier then we came.

Back at home I asked him to give my rings back as I didn’t want to be without them anymore and we decided we would get a new ring to renew our vows when we both felt ready for it.

Miraculous Monday

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Monday was a special day. So special we called it Miraculous. The miracles that happened were small but God spoke to us through them in His unique language, just as He speaks to all of us using the language we can understand and letting us know He is close.

It was my first day back at work after a short break and first after WW (Wicked Wednesday). First after reclaiming my desk and my place in the office, next to my husband. We learned in the morning it was also World Architecture Day – what great timing – I thought.

I was driving to work, alone in the car as Charlie dropped the kids to school earlier, delighting in the silence and colours of the Autumn. I left the radio off as to not let anything distract me from my prayer of thanksgiving. Although it was too early to say our marriage was out of the woods, we were going in the right direction. As I got closer to the city centre I noticed a rainbow which ended approximately where the office was. I smiled to myself. I arrived to find a sweet message from Charlie on my chair saying how happy he was to have me there. Soon after that he came in and asked: “Did you hear us on the Spirit Radio? We won tickets for a concert!”. Ha! I give up buying lottery tickets only to win something the next day when I’m not even playing! I loved it. It turned out it was our children who won it for us. They entered a competition for a landmark building and got lucky. We got 2 tickets for a concert on the following Saturday.

It was a strangely quiet morning in the office. Usually the phone doesn’t stop ringing but that day it rang only once, our colleague answered, it was for Charlie, his friend Frank. We looked at each other. Frank? Ringing the office number? Today? Frank was on old friend of Charlie, from many years ago when we lived in my home country before we moved back. He kept in touch, usually calling us at home about once a year. He had a sad life story which we always referred to as ‘how to lose your life’ kind of a thing. He had a successful business in England which he lost in a recession and moved to Spain with his family to start a new life. There he had a short affair with a Spanish girl, his wife found out and that was the end of their marriage. He had to give her their house, new business, leave their children and move away. He spent the next many years teaching English in the eastern block saving for holidays to visit his children. He has NEVER called the office before so why was he doing it today? They had a short conversation from which I recall Charlie saying “I thought I needed a change but I realise now I was wrong.” Throughout the time he was on the phone we kept looking at each other, smiling and shaking our heads in astonishment.

We collected the children together after school and I asked Charlie if he could walk with us for piano lessons. We had to go past Ana’s house and I couldn’t bring myself to do it alone. Just when we were passing it I slipped on a dog’s poo, it was classic. We looked at each other and burst out laughing, after the story I heard the day before this seemed so funny. God really has a wacky sense of humour.

Next stop after piano was a shopping centre. I had an idea to get a book and a bookmark for Charlie. The book’s title was “The Shack”. I read it some years earlier and remembered it spoke well on the subject of forgiveness. I’ve wanted him to read it for a long time. I found it in the bookshop, there was only one copy. I looked for a bookmark to go with it but they were all very uninspiring. After checking a few other shops I went to a card store and there it was, first one on the display and one of a kind. I knew it was waiting for me. There was a picture of a sun with a silhouette of a dove on it and there were the words:

I thanked God for YOU today.
You are one of my heart’s favourite people, and I want you to know that I thanked God for you today. I wished you an abundance of love and joy, good health and the best of everything. I prayed that you would have the kind of faith and wisdom you need to accomplish anything and everything your heart desires. I wished you happiness. People who enrich our lives are such a blessing. I consider you a treasure that I would never want to lose.

(by Donna Fargo)

I gave it to him when he came home, he was very moved and could not believe those words. “Is this for me? Do you really mean it?” , he asked.

I did, more as a friend than a wife in that moment but I did.