It took me over a year until I felt like I could even consider talking to a counselor about what had happened, about the level of betrayal I felt when I found out that the person I was with, whom I had trusted wholly in life and in love had, essentially, been living a secret double life. For months, I did not tell anyone what had happened, the thought of physically opening my mouth and saying the words was so overwhelming that I would become light-headed just thinking about trying to say it aloud.
I didn’t want to answer questions that I couldn’t answer, or, perhaps worse, questions that I could answer. I didn’t want to experience anyone else’s emotional reaction to my story, my experience, because I still felt like my entire chest was a gaping wound, one so jagged and deep that if I breathed in or out too hard, the pain would swallow me whole, and I couldn’t possibly take on the weight of anyone else’s emotional response on top of my own.
In general, humans do not like to be vulnerable. It is a state of complete discomfort, of feeling like you are on display and in a position where you can be judged for your own weaknesses. It is a position where you have to face your own weaknesses, or your own pain and hurt, and do it in a way that is head on and visible to others – and yourself. It is a position where you have to face, and trace, patterns in your life – like connecting the dots of your life that are experiences, and begin to see a picture take place that leads you to where and who you are today. As someone who does not like to appear weak at all, putting myself in a position of vulnerability is especially terrifying.
This is, in part, why I want to share my story, because it makes me so incredibly, so nakedly, vulnerable.
The level of self-loathing and failure about what had happened was also unbearable. If I tell people what happened, they will see through me, they will see my scars and my weaknesses and say to themselves, and to each other, “…this is why this happened to her, this is what’s wrong with her…”.
I was terrified of being stripped down and raw, I didn’t want anyone to know I failed, that I wasn’t good enough.
Predictably, when she told me about the baby, about the second life, when I wasn’t responding to her and her emails, her comments on my (then) blog, her Twitter attacks, etc., she brought this up… ” … he leaves you at home to cook and clean for his son and comes to me because you aren’t good enough…” she had said.
This kind of thing doesn’t happen to people, why did it happen to me? It must be me…
In one of my first meetings with my counselor she told me that we often try to find fault in ourselves in situations of hurt/betrayal/grief/trauma because, if it was something we did, then we can control it next time, we can do something differently and prevent the same situation from happening again. If it has nothing to do with us, we are faced with the fact that, sometimes, we have no control over a situation – that what we experience is just that – a traumatic experience, a loss, a betrayal. The experience of being human.
Once we begin to accept being in a place of vulnerability, we begin to heal, to grow, to accept ourselves. We begin to accept our story and how our experiences have shaped us.
I spent 10 months where I was home alone, all day, with no job, in-between my masters and doctoral work, with very little to do but be faced with all my pain and self-loathing and feelings of being invisible, with the, sometimes unbearable, feeling of being entirely alone. I would question if life would ever be okay again.
Being alone every day, with very little to do, while everyone else got on with their lives and worked and got engaged and had babies and did what people are supposed to do in their late 20s/early 30s, was one of the hardest experiences I have had to date, not to mention the images and questions our brains like to play on us when we have no distractions as we relive traumatic experiences.
I journaled extensively, learned mindfulness-based training and meditation, and fell in love with trail running.
I slowly began to tell people what had happened, although I never fully expressed the timeline, because the little details still hurt too much and I was still trying to make sense of it all (in hindsight, and using the clinical/intellectual part of my brain, I think I dissociated from the experience for about 9 months)- I wanted to get out the high-level details and get used to saying it aloud, to accepting that, yes, this is part of my story, it is part of who I am, but it doesn’t have to break me, it doesn’t have to cause me to hide from life, from my life, forever.
I finally got to a place where I knew I was ready to be vulnerable. Where I was ready to share my story and move forward.
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
Run on, my friends.