TW: Infidelity, adultery
JUNE: Do you know what it is like to not trust yourself? Everything is upside down and backwards and all you can do is float through your own life like a helpless spectator who forgot to take off her cheap 3-D glasses when the movie was over. If you do, you may have a past like mine. I was the wife of a serial adulterer.
Looking back, I try to decipher every situation of my former life. It feels as if I’m decoding some ancient, foreign language without the translation key. So many emotions. So many. I suffered in silence all those years because I knew it must be my fault he was going to other women. Something was wrong with me. What else would be the issue?
Certainly, it couldn’t be him. This idea was reinforced by many people in my life. My bishop told me I would have the greater sin by divorcing my husband, my family expressed concern about eternal bonds I would be breaking, my friends shared that they had experienced adultery and come through it with better, stronger marriages. It was all on me, not him. Some intentionally reinforced that he wasn’t the problem, others unintentionally. But they reinforced, nonetheless.
It must be me.
That was my very real scripting when I was living the life as a wife of a serial adulterer. And it nearly broke me.
One particular discovery day (which I have come to refer to as D-Day) happened when I was 34 weeks pregnant with my fourth child. We didn’t have money to pay for beautiful maternity photos, so I convinced him to take photos of me at home. Of course, my huge and growing belly was the source of self-consciousness but I trusted him and believed he loved me no matter how deep my stretch marks grew. Later that day, my smile faded and my joy turned to bewilderment with the revelation that our marriage, our baby, all our children were compromised by the selfish, irresponsible and unbelievable actions of the person I loved and trusted.
Awful, awful, awful day. So incredibly awful. From that point, there would be multiple D-Days as regular as bombs going off in the middle of a world war. Years worth of more revelations and more affairs. More meaningless indiscretions. On one particular day, I found out about three of the other women. How did I react? I went to Walgreens and spent $200 on wrinkle cream and diet pills.
Fix myself, be more desirable, become skinnier, look younger. Juggling thoughts of worthlessness while caring for four young children under the age of 5, I lived everyday in a minefield. And of course, I smiled like a Christmas card family, pretended everything was perfect. Because the real shame of infidelity falls on the woman who is the victim of it. She must be a prude, she must not be doing her duty as a wife, she must be cold, unfeeling.
It must be me.
Betrayal trauma is especially damaging because of who it is committed by and against whom it is committed. As a wife, I trusted my husband. People don’t get married thinking they can’t trust their spouse. Just the opposite: people likely trust their spouse with their lives. (For time and all eternity!)
You trust them to love you despite all the reasons they could find they shouldn’t–the weird dimples on your butt, your skin with visible flaws when the makeup is washed away, your tenuous family issues that fester from childhood wounds, the fact that you managed to burn Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. The deep-down insecurities that no one else knows about except the person sleeping next to you every night. And then that person–the person who knows you so intimately, the person who you completely trust–betrays that trust in ways that are unimaginable… The subtle gaslighting, the thoughtless comments, the cleverly disguised degradation, the lies and manipulation that permeate all aspects of your life together. It is far more damaging than a stranger’s betrayal. It is personal, intimate treason.
It must be me.
I think a lot of the processing also comes with the fact that over and over again, I would convince myself that I was safe. That he was in therapy. That he promised to never do it again. That he saw how much it hurt and devastated me. That of course he would fix this to keep our family intact.
When in reality: I wasn’t safe. Therapy became another way to justify his unvirtuous actions. Promises were broken. He saw the hurt but didn’t care. He chose instant gratification over our beautiful family. Time and time again. I have learned, by experience, that the myth of a woman scorned is merely a negative, stereotypical blame-shifting trope. A scorned woman is likely one that has experienced life-altering trauma. Don’t reduce that to thinking her ego was bruised. Her soul, her life, her reality was smashed to bits and then some.
It must be me.
I can still remember the teeny tiny bits of the hope that I would feel when I would think, This time, this time it will work. This is the time he will get control of this. This is the time he will stop this harm and hurt. This is the time that we can truly heal. This hope felt so good. A big stream of fresh water in the middle of a scorched-earth desert. But my hopes would inevitably be dashed with more revelations of infidelity.
Soon, I learned that my hope could not be dependent on his actions. I am not sure what exactly led me to that life-saving realization, other than a few very loving and trusted souls. Two of them were my visiting teachers, assigned to visit me by the same Church that had been browbeating me into staying in the marriage. These women, pure and good women, lit the way; they led the way for me to leave.
Hope started to build and resilience formed, little by little, once I stopped looking to him to provide approval and assurance. I could cultivate it on my own. It was the difference between canned vegetables served on a cafeteria tray and picking a perfect vine-ripened tomato grown from a tiny little seed in your own garden.
It must be me. Suddenly that painful mantra evolved, became new and empowering. It must be me—it is me. It has always been within me.
Me, who could love myself. Me, who could grow my own perfect tomatoes.
Healing trauma like this is so painful. Some days, it comes from nowhere and sits on my shoulders, a literal burden that I carry. Other days it is a heavy cloud of thick grief for the naïveté that I lost. There really is not much band-aid healing, just learning to live with scar tissue.
I had it within me. The entire time: the fight, the hope, the healing, the drive, the determination, the little tomato seed.
It must be me.
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