I once was a swimmer who tossed herself into the deep ocean, swimming fearlessly with all the beauty of the sea. It was too deep, I got pulled under, and barely made it back to shore. I took time on that coast to rest, gather my courage, and learn how to swim in a safer way.
Now as I venture back into the water I am approaching it with new respect. The ocean has not changed, but my understanding of it has.
I have been learning to put my faith, not in my own abilities to keep me afloat, not in the deep, unfeeling ocean, but in the creator of the sea. The one who knows both the danger and the beauty of the tides.
He is the one who keeps me afloat, who gives me the lifeboat, who advises me when it is time to come in from the ocean, or when it is safe to dive deeply into the beauty of the sea.
Several weeks ago someone shared with me the following quote from Russell M. Nelson, former surgeon and current president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
“Mourning is one of the deepest expressions of pure love . . . The only way to take sorrow out of death is to take love out of life.”
Often, when describing my experience with my husband’s sexual addiction, I have shared that the discovery of his addiction was like a death.
The person I thought I knew was gone. The marriage and life I believed I had was gone. My husband, the one I fully trusted, the one I gave my whole heart to, didn’t exist anymore.
In circumstances like death or divorce, when all can see that you are grieving, there is generally an outpouring of love and support from those around you.
In my situation everything looked the same to those on the outside. The neighbors didn’t know that my life had just exploded into a thousand little pieces. My family didn’t know I was on the fence about staying married, and that I didn’t know from one day to the next if we would still be together.
The people that would normally be pouring out all that love and support had no idea I was mourning the loss of my husband, my marriage, my family, and my life as I knew it, because it all looked the same.
I say that I lost my husband. We were still married, he didn’t physically leave this earth. To me it felt worse than that.
I know what it is to lose someone you love.
Before discovery day I had lost both of my parents to illness and death. My parents may not physically be here on this earth anymore, but I know who they are, and I believe they still exist, and are still themselves; just in a different form, and in a different place right now.
I may not have the opportunity to physically be with them, but I haven’t lost my memories of them or my experiences with them.
I know, down to my core, who they were by the way they lived their lives. As I teach my children about their grandparents I feel closer to them, and I find joy in sharing things they loved.
When discovering my husband’s secret life my world spun upside down. There was suddenly a stranger in my world wearing my husband’s face.
Unlike death, after the initial shock and grief, there were no comforting memories for me to think back on. There was no assurance that he still existed, in some form or another. There was no finding peace in sharing what he loved with those around me.
There was grief and mourning for a person I loved with my whole heart who suddenly didn’t exist. There was no hope of that person coming back, because he was never real in the first place.
This is where that quote from the top of the page comes in for me. “The only way to take sorrow out of death is to take love out of life.” I had sorrow, grief, and pain beyond description when I found out about the betrayal of my husband.
There are some great posts on this site about betrayal trauma and how it impacts us, so I’m not going to delve deeply into that topic right now. The betrayal of one who we counted on for support, love, help, and strength runs deep and is not a simple topic. I want to address just one small piece of it.
For me, the sorrow was deep because my love was deep.
I think of my world often in terms of “before” and “after”. Before the discovery of the secret life, and after working recovery. Before discovery I loved my husband and our family. Life wasn’t perfect, and there were times when things got rocky. But I was fully invested and I loved my husband and children. The sorrow that I felt was, in part, because of my love.
So, do I regret the love? Do I regret fully committing myself to the marriage and relationship when he didn’t? Do I regret my choice to love deeply?
The AA big book says we will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.
There are lots of choices I made in my life that, through working recovery, I have learned were unhealthy. My go-to coping strategy is to either rescue and fix everyone around me, or to run and hide from life. So, in looking back to my “before” life I can see lots of decisions I would make differently if I had the knowledge then that I have now.
Do I regret trying to constantly “save” my husband when he was in the victim role that addicts so often fall into? (This post on the drama triangle explains that dynamic really well.) Do I regret choosing to marry him?
I have thought about this a lot, and I can sincerely say I don’t regret any of it. Not the choice to marry my husband, or my uninformed decisions; I can recognize I was doing the best I knew how to do.
I am deeply grateful for the lessons I’ve learned through working this 12 step program, and am so glad to have another way to live.
In this “after” section of my life I am far from perfect. I still find myself trying to rescue and fix, or run away and hide.
Sometimes I still get caught in the drama triangle. I often find that my Higher Power is not the focus of my life, and that’s when I lose serenity, and slip into old coping strategies.
But I keep trying.
I keep showing up to my meetings, even when I feel like I have nothing to give. I keep working the 12 steps, even when it feels overwhelming. I keep calling my sponsor, or others in the program, even when I think they must be so tired of hearing from me.
Most importantly, I keep working on connecting with my Higher Power, and seeking knowledge of His will for me, and the power to carry that out. (Step 9) Even when I feel like the heavens are closed to me.
So again, “Do I regret the love?” My answer is no.
My sorrow was as deep as my love. The wound cut so deep because the love and commitment were also deep.
To say the pain and betrayal were hard is a gross understatement, and I definitely don’t want to go back there again. I also don’t regret having been there, because the alternative would’ve been to live a life without love.
I don’t want to live without love. I don’t want to live with barbed wire around my heart. I want to love wholly and deeply.
And that brings me to today. I do tend to keep barbed wire around my heart. I have so much fear about being betrayed and hurt again. And I should feel cautious about that, I would be concerned if I didn’t fear after such a big hurt. After a LOT of recovery work, therapy work (to include EMDR), writing and journaling, surrendering, 12 step meetings, prayer, and faith in my Higher Power, I am to a point where I am willing to take the walls down.
And you know what? It feels good. I didn’t realize how cold, dark, and lonely my heart was when I locked up all the love inside of it. I am choosing to step outside of the self made prison of fear and start loving again.
I tried to take the sorrow out of death and loss by taking the love out of life. It was cold, lonely, dreary, and sad. That is no way to live.
I can choose to love in spite of the pain that will come. I can choose to love myself enough to set boundaries that will give me safety. Which, interestingly enough, will create more space for me to love others as my safety increases.
Does that mean I will get hurt again? Absolutely. I am human and imperfect, and I walk the earth with other imperfect humans. We all fail at times, we all let each other down more often than we’d like. It is part of the human condition.
But opening up my heart to love means opening myself up to joy, light, true connection, and more beauty than I could have ever imagined.
I may still fear the enormity of the sea, but this ocean of love need not be forbidden to me. I surround myself with faith in the one who created the beauty. I see the fear, but I choose to step into the waves. I see the dangers and am cautious of them, but I choose to see the beauty that is present too.
I choose to love.