One of the most painful and difficult parts of healing from infidelity, is riding the roller coaster of emotions. One minute, I feel really good–maybe even joyful–the next, I’m sobbing in the bathroom. I often feel crazy. Like many of you, I have to work through all of this, and the trauma of this experience has made it very difficult for me to feel confident in my work performance, even though I am an extremely hard worker who cares about my career. Some days, I am very forgetful, and others, I am on the top of my game. I’m never sure which me to expect to show up.
In the April 24th issue of Time, Belinda Luscombe interviews Sheryl Sandberg, who lost her husband suddenly in 2015. As COO of Facebook and the author of Lean In, Sandberg is living a life most of us would agree is successful. Yet when her husband unexpectedly died, she crumbled to the ground in grief. In the article, she shares how people did not reach out to her because they were afraid of saying the wrong thing. They were afraid of opening her wound–yet as most of us know, when your wound is open and you are basically bleeding out, there is no time when you are not thinking about it. Each day we start the roller coaster over. Sometimes, I start out doing really well, only to crash an hour (or even a minute) later. Sandberg shares how grief and loss made her feel less confident. People would think they were helping by taking work away from her, only for that to make her feel less self-confident than ever. And this particular grief? The one we are hurting from? Well…those who have not experienced it simply have no clue. They say they know they would leave, but I said that too. They do not understand why even a year or two later, we are still in so much grief. It is one of the reasons that I sought out online forums, along with the reason I started this blog. I needed and craved understanding and connection. It is not as if we can openly share what has happened to us without worry about commentary and judgment. Our society believes infidelity means the wife/husband deserved what happened. Certainly a spouse should not attempt to stay after such a betrayal. Going through this is very isolating.
In my own job, I have experienced another betrayal. My boss knew about the affair because on Dday, I was honest and told her. I needed a few days off. I felt I could trust her. Months later, I find out that the knowledge of my deepest pain in my boss’s hands was a mistake, and she used the knowledge to manipulate me at work, and in fact, re-traumatize me. One of the things that Sandberg states in the article really stood out to me based on my experience. She says, “Expressing emotion when you’ve gone through extreme pain is not weakness. It is humanity.” Exactly that. You see, it seems as if in our culture, the strong do not express emotions. Ah, ok. So that got my husband where? He shoved his emotions down until he resented and became a person I did not know. In the midst of your deep grief, you need to be able to have a safe place to express your pain. It is NOT weakness. Showing emotions at work means you care about your performance or that you are struggling. In those deep moments of grief, that is the time colleagues should hold us up because who among us has not suffered from loss and pain? And if someone has been that lucky, they soon will have their own experience where they will need a tribe of people to support them.
Along with the grief, for me, comes the near constant anxiety, anxiety about how my boss sees me and will evaluate me, over small things in my day-to-day life that rarely bothered me before, and over what is to come. What choices will I make? What choices will he make? The anxiety, for me, is the worst. I almost can handle the grief more easily than I can handle that constant sick feeling that sinks deep into my gut. It is like we take the normal worries of life and compound them exponentially because we are grieving. It is overwhelming.
We go through the grief, anxiety, and then the fear hits. I try so hard not to operate on fear. The fear of now, the fear of what he will do, the fear of the future, the fear of not knowing the past, the fear of making the wrong choice…my gosh, can we list the fears now, or what?
I want to rise above all of this pain to become the stronger, amazing person I know is here. So today, I am taking a step toward the future. I’m riding the roller coaster but taking breaks waiting to ride the ride again. Sometimes, I enjoy the downward coast after a very difficult climb. Sometimes, I feel stuck at the top. But today? Right now? I am going to choose to live. I will feel the pain, the grief, the fear because I have to in order to heal, but I am also going to find moments of joy in each day. If we string enough of those joyful moments together, we can dig out of this hole and see the beauty through the pain and the tears.