How Do You Know If You’re Healing? Part 1

It can be the small, incremental, things that feel like nothing, that are actually tiny steps toward healing

For that matter, what is "healed" anyway? What does it mean? What does it actually look like? I will explore this further in a future blog, as this question has perplexed and frustrated me since I learned of my husband's infidelity. More to come on that.

In the meantime, the process of healing is hard to measure. You can't take out a yardstick or step on the scale to track the progress. It's subtle and murky. Healing is slow and often undetectable day by day. It takes some intentional scrutiny to see it, and it looks different for every person. I can only tell you my own experience but maybe it can offer some insight in your situation too.

I think it's easy to dismiss progress when we still feel pain. Pain can be deafening against the quiet of progress. But sometimes we need to really take a closer look to get an accurate measurement. For example, if you think back to the days you first discovered your spouse's betrayal, you were probably knocked off your feet by the overwhelming pain and disorientation. Your world as you knew it was no longer the same, no longer safe, and everything was turned upside down. The pain was blinding and completely enveloping everything around you. If some time has passed since then, and you are still in pain, you may think that means you aren't healing at all. But take a closer look. Even if you are still depressed, or feel pain and disappointment, you might be able to notice a shift. Did you eat today? Did you sleep last night - at all? Did you get out of bed this morning? Those may be improvements, and while four hours of sleep versus two is not wonderful, it is progress. It can be the small, incremental things that feel like nothing, but are actually tiny steps toward forward momentum. If you are reading this blog then you are actively seeking healing and that is progress, too. Even if you don't feel it today.

One of the things about healing is that it can be so frustrating and painful that it doesn't feel like healing at all. At times, it is like seeing Bigfoot. Even if you did see it, you're pretty sure you didn't, and you think it must have been a figment of your imagination. Nonetheless, even if you did see Bigfoot you know you're not likely to see him again. That's what healing feels like at times. A fleeting feeling, just for a moment, and then it's gone. It's so frustrating to almost catch a shift in perspective, a tiny nudge toward understanding, and then it's gone. Poof! Like you never felt it, and now you can't even really remember what it felt like, but you thought you had it for a moment. I have found over time these "glimmers" arrive in more frequency and stick around a little longer. They still come and go, and when I lose them it is so disheartening and sometimes I still get really depressed. But I am finding the glimmers are appearing more often and lasting longer each time, so I feel a little less anxious about them disappearing as I have increasing confidence they'll be back.

Healing is often messy, and might not feel like healing at all. Last year, we finally decided to put new carpeting in our bedroom. The carpet was not new even when we moved in over 20 years ago so it was pretty old. (Don't judge me.) For years, we focused on updating all the other rooms in the house: the kids' bedrooms, the living areas, the kitchen and bathrooms, and just kept putting off our bedroom. Anyway, even last year I was still hesitant to get new carpet when my husband suggested it. Why? The closet. We have terrible closets with deep, impractical, unreachable recesses on both ends that hold stuff we put there all those years ago that had mostly never been touched. To put in new carpeting, we had to pull it all out and actually go through it. I've "organized" the closet over the years, neatening things up and buying organizers or nice storage totes, but it was superficial, and I never really took everything down to the bare floor waaaay back in the hidden and very hard-to-reach corners. The only way to really clean it was to take everything out, spread it all out, and take a good look at it. Only then could we make some hard decisions on what to throw away and what to keep. Before we could have a nice clean closet, we had to make a mess - there was no other way. Anything else would have just been surface organizing and wouldn't have addressed the hidden junk in the back. Even if we avoided it for a while, sooner or later we're going to move and we would have to go through the hidden junk anyway. Looking back, I was definitely not looking forward to doing this work, nor did I enjoy it while it was happening. But now, I fully appreciate knowing there is no disorganized, non-functional, outdated stuff in there and l have a closet that is organized and feels much better than it did before. Despite my initial reservations, I am glad we took the effort.

That's how I think healing works. Sometimes it feels like it gets worse before it gets better. Digging out all the junk we have ignored, suppressed, or didn't even realize was there, is uncomfortable, even downright painful. "Surface organizing" (by one or both of us) has kept the peace at times, but has glossed over the pile of junk that really needed attention but was too hard, or just too much to deal with. The only way to really clean it out is to dump it all out all over the place, see what we have, and start picking through it. What a mess. It's uncomfortable and way too vulnerable to have that stuff hanging out all over. I just want to put it away quickly, close the door, and make things look nice and neat, but that is not how this works.

That doesn't mean I want to "dredge things up" or keep "rehashing" them. It means I have things I haven't been able to process for one reason or another, and they are never going to settle without cleaning it all out and getting to the back of the closet. Do I wish there was an easier way? Of course I do. This is not fun. This is not enjoyable.This was not my choice. I am dealing with something to which I never agreed, in the best way that I can. But shoving all that junk back into the closet without actually cleaning it out will just cover up the problems, not solve them. Like a bandaid over an infected wound, it might hide it in the moment, but it won't heal anything or make it go away, and the wound will continue to seep into everything it touches.

So what was the point of all that? Sometimes it feels like it gets worse in order to get better. Sometimes the messy part is a means to an end. It's not pretty, but it can be productive. The hardest part is staying motivated to hang in there through it. It's not like someone can say - listen, if you make a mess for three weeks it will be all neat and tidy by week four. No, there are no guarantees, and the messy part is going to last a while. The more trauma and deception you have experienced, the messier it may be. Despite the old saying, time does not heal all wounds. Time doesn't really heal anything. What we do with the time is what matters. For that matter, throw out the timelines. They may give some guidance, but can also add pressure to feel a certain way by a determined point in time, and if that doesn't come to pass, (it definitely didn't for me) it can leave you with an added sense of failure and hopelessness.

Next time I'll talk more about how healing feels to me at this point. It is not exactly what I expected, but I think part of the key for me has been to let go of expectations. I wanted a step by step formula, and diligently tried all the things that others had said worked for them, but I did not find success following another person's prescription. We are all different, and things don't look and feel the same for every person. We each have unique stories of betrayal, and individual differences in ourselves, our pasts and our relationships, so there is no one size fits all. In order to move forward I had to cut myself some slack and be open to the possibility that my journey may not look the same as others. Letting go of expectations and cleaning out the junk is really daunting, and I didn't want to do it. I still don't. I would have preferred to shove it all back in the closet and close the door because I didn't want this to be my reality, and I didn't think I had the fortitude to clean it out. But here we are. Join me next time for Part 2, and in the meantime, I want to encourage you to keep going; keep trying. You are not alone.

"One doesn't discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time."

- Andre Gide, French novelist

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Difference in healing

I think there’s a huge difference in the healing process for those whose marriage ended in divorce. Sometimes, as in my case, we don’t get closure so that makes the healing process much more difficult. Do you have resources/articles on these situations? I also have additional trauma in my life (prodigal child) which makes healing even more difficult.

Hi Denise

I'm sure there is a difference between healing in a marriage versus healing after divorce. I would hesitate to say one is more difficult than the other, as each has aspects that is uniquely painful. I can understand that if you don't get the full picture of what transpired that has to be extremely challenging to feel closure, as you mentioned. I think in most cases there are things we will just never know, even in the most truthful of disclosures. It is impossible to fully know the secret life of another person, and that is very hard to live with, even in reconciliation.

I'm sorry you have additional trauma in your life. We have a prodigal child as well, and the helplessness that generates is very difficult. As far as resources, if you are an Affair Recovery member, they have a variety of articles and videos on topics such as trauma and divorce that you may find helpful. I can't think of any specifically, but hopefully you can find some that you find validating and help you toward closure.

I hope you are finding support through friends, family, and therapy, regardless of your marital situation. I didn't really make any progress until I started trauma specific therapy, so I recommend that if you have not already done so.

Thank you for reading and for commenting. I wish you the best.

Jen's article on Healing

Thank you Jen for yet another brilliant piece of writing: I find great comfort in realizing I am not alone in questioning my recovery program. I am six months now dealing with this same issue of trying to understand Healing. When you take the time and effort to be authentic and vulnerable in your blogging, it has a ripple effect on us other survivors. I think about what you said when my patience and hope wears thin. Bless you, Raphael

Thank you Raphael

Your words are very kind. I am glad sharing my experience is helpful and that this blog made you feel less alone. It can be a long and confusing road, so hang in there. :)

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