How Do You Know If You’re Healing? Part 2

Healing is not a gentle journey. We are raw and the fire burns. Because everything is new. And that's healing.

How Do You Know if You're Healing? Part 1
How Do You Know if You're Healing? Part 2

"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."

—Hebrews 11:1

I guess when I first heard someone talking about the process of "healing" I envisioned a feeling of relief, like a balm to a wound. For me, I have found that sometimes healing actually feels… really uncomfortable. Sometimes it feels more like a state of suspension, between where I was and where I want to be. It's unknown, unpredictable, and uncomfortable. As awful as depression feels, depression is safe. There are no expectations. No surprises. No vulnerability required. Hope is scary because it can lead to disappointment, and then more pain. It's so exhausting that sometimes it's easier to not hope at all, rather than risk being hurt again. But I try again anyway. The line between acceptance and resignation is murky. One is empowering, and the other is sustained powerlessness. Sometimes it can be hard to tell which one I am feeling on a given day, but it is getting easier to discern as time goes on.

Before I continue talking about healing, I want to take a moment to recognize the difference between triggers and reminders. I think it's important to distinguish between these because it can be a helpful barometer of progress and healing over time. In my "un" expert, but very seasoned experience as a betrayed spouse, the main difference is that a trigger is something that brings up an automatic physical reaction, sometimes even before I am consciously aware of the connection. Whereas a reminder is a cognitive thought that relates something to the infidelity or the pain. A trigger is an automatic response and beyond my control. A reminder does not necessarily bring with it an emotional response. It reminds me of sadness, disappointment, or pain, but may or may not elicit those actual feelings in that moment. It depends on what it is, where we are in the process, and how I'm doing on a particular day. For example, if I am experiencing a trigger, I might feel a sudden onset of physical symptoms (rapid heartbeat, tightness in my chest, a knot in my stomach, sweaty palms etc.) combined with a sense of panic or feeling unsafe. If I am experiencing a reminder, it is primarily taking place in my thoughts, as opposed to my body. I might feel sad or disappointed with a reminder, but it lacks the sense of panic and immediacy that a trigger presents.

I think it is important to note the difference because it's easy to get discouraged when so many things still remind me of his affair, and makes me feel like I am not making any progress. In the beginning everything was a trigger, and it was all intense, and it just was what it was. But over time, and once I started doing the right work, the responses started to vary. Now, some previous triggers are more like reminders. That's not to minimize having to endure the ongoing reminders of something that caused so much destruction and never should have happened, but in the realm of recovery, the distinction is important.

It's been interesting to see what still generates an automatic reaction in me after all this time, and what doesn't. It can be inconsistent and sometimes it really takes me by surprise - in either direction. Such as when something that I wouldn't consciously think would even bother me at this point unexpectedly creates an intense physical response. Recently, I overheard a benign phone conversation between my work-at-home husband and a female coworker, and it sent me spiraling. It took me completely by surprise, and I found myself suddenly shaking uncontrollably from head to toe, and struggling to catch my breath. In contrast, on another day I came across an object that would normally generate a 10 out of 10 response, and I marveled at the lack of reaction that I had - like I was observing someone else. It would have previously sent me through the roof, but in that given moment, it just registered as being there, and not much else.

So how do you know you are actually healing even in the midst of all the mess? Today, I drove by three different places that have significance in relation to my husband's affair. These three places all happen to be on a route I have to travel frequently. As much as I still hate the thought of all of it and I still feel degrees of resentment, pain, and disappointment, my heart no longer races as I drive by. I no longer feel a sense of panic. I don't get nauseous or physically shake anymore. I don't (usually) break down and sob in the car as I drive by. All of these used to be my consistent automatic responses to these same exact places, but they haven't in a while. Just because I still feel pain doesn't discount that some healing has taken place. Am I done healing? I certainly hope not. This is not a place I want to stay. It all still deeply hurts my heart. The reduction in intensity is progress, but I would like to think someday I could truly experience peace.

My counselor often reminds me that healing comes in layers. Sometimes I am fearful to describe progress in a specific area, as I worry my husband or counselor will check the box and say - "good - you're all done!" And then I will be stuck here forever; still unhappy and hurting, just maybe less so. "Manageable" and "tolerable" are not where I want to stay, but are admittedly better than where I was. Two steps forward and one step back. This is the persistent dance of recovery. It is not linear and so frustratingly exhausting. Glimpses of progress and hope jumbled in with setbacks and despair. Fear of feeling too confident about finding "success" in a particular area, while looking over my shoulder for it to come back to bite me again, and leave me wondering if I really made any progress at all.

Sometimes I feel like I'm making steady progress, and then something will hit me and I take 10,000 steps backwards. It feels like I have lost ALL of my progress and am back at the beginning, starting over. But am I really? It sure feels that way, but if I try to be more objective, I can say the time "in the pit" is a little shorter every time I fall back into it, and the times in between falls to the bottom of the "pit" get a tiny bit longer. In the beginning, it was hard to discern, and really didn't matter because it all felt so terrible. A little later on, it became more evident, and while I still hate revisiting the pit, now I feel more confident that I will only stay for a brief visit, rather than a full-blown, miserable vacation. Setbacks do not mean you're not healing. It certainly feels that way and it's easy to convince ourselves that it does, but this journey is complicated and setbacks are just a part of it.

As hard as this all is, failure is not as scary to me anymore. After experiencing the worst thing ever to happen to me, fear about anything else pales in comparison, which is weirdly liberating. I can't undo my reality, so having already checked the box on the biggest devastation in my life, leaves me less fearful of pretty much everything else.

Healing feels like different things at different times to different people. Sometimes it feels like an unexpected laugh. Like hearing laughter, real genuine laughter, and then realizing it's coming from you, and then realizing you can't even remember the last time you actually laughed. Or maybe it's a moment of peace and contentment. Just for a second. It feels foreign after being depressed for so long.

I recently saw this depiction of healing from writer and artist Topher Kearby and thought it was beautifully accurate:

Healing is not a gentle journey. It takes strength and courage because it's not a straight line from pain to joy. It's a cycle. And one that must be repeated time and time again in order to truly grow. As we shed our skin of the past we become exposed to the light of the future. We are raw and the fire burns. Because everything is new. Those parts of ourselves have never been seen by the sun before and now that they have nothing will ever be the same.
And that's beautiful
And that's terrifying
And that's healing

Healing can be as simple as getting out of bed. Taking a shower. Eating something. Sitting quietly. Being able to think clearly for just a moment. Wiping your tears and trying again. You are doing the best you can with the cards you have been dealt, and you will find your way. Just make sure to look around once in a while to acknowledge your progress. It may be so faint that it's hard to see, especially in the beginning. But if you are here reading this today, you are already doing something toward healing. It will get better.

Hebrews 12:1 Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.

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how do you know if you are healing part two

Dear Jen, thank you once again for writing that perfectly mirrors my experience as a betrayed spouse. I'm seven months into this process of Healing, still exploring new territory, but I am finding that the Pain has become like a comfortable old sweater: it does not dominate me the way it did early on, and I know now it will pass. So I pray and I exercise and I talk with friends and I find Joy wherever I can (and it's all around me, all the time). I have this theory that there is a pool of Grace and Love beneath the emotions/feelings/reminders/triggers/our own thinking that we can access. You could call it God's love, or the deep calm of the Universe, but I just know there's some beautiful force beyond the turmoil we survivors go thru every day. I am trying to harness the energy of the Pain and use it to spring forward to a new plateau of Loving Kindness. This requires me to focus on the positives, be grateful all the time, force my wandering brain away from the "old sweater" concept of the Pain. It takes courage and determination, but with God's grace, I really feel like I am making progress. I hope you, and me, and all the other beautiful souls struggling with betrayal find some peace today. Thank you. Raphael

Hi Raphael

I think your analogy about a comfortable sweater is a good one. I'm glad you feel you are making progress. It does seem to be forward and back, and can be really slow at times, but you sound like you have a really positive perspective. I appreciate you sharing your experience with me and I wish you the best.

Healing Part Two by Jen

Hello Jen, I return to your posts frequently, your words mirror my experience and you really capture the arduous and uncertain path we who endured betrayal are all on. It is now three months since I last commented about your post Healing part Two, and I do see and feel I've made significant progress. I don't know if there will ever be a day when I can say I am free of it all, but that's ok, I have gained a greater understanding of myself and what I am capable of going through and coming through. Thank you, I hope you are finding Peace and Grace. Raphael

Hi Raphael :)

It's good to hear from you again. I'm so glad you are noticing progress and healing. I agree we learn a lot about ourselves in this process, and once we get past the initial stages, we often see strengths we would never have guessed we had.

You mention not knowing if you will ever be able to say you are free of it all. I think that is the big question for those of us still going through it, isn't it? Will "better" ever be good enough? Time will tell and for now, I'm glad you have the patience and perspective to acknowledge the milestones and forward movement you are seeing in yourself. For now - that is enough.

Thank you for updating me on your situation. I wish you continued healing. ~ Jen

I didn't realize

Hi Jen, Thank you for this post. I didn't realize the difference between triggers and reminders was so great and that when triggers have been downgraded to reminders that I could look at that as beginning to heal. It is 3.5 years for me and yes, I still have some triggers that produce instant panic attacks or other horrible physical symptoms, but many of those are now just very sad, disappointing reminders. I still cry with most reminders, but that is much better than the physical pain of triggers. Incremental, tiny steps toward healing...

Hi Pan

I'm glad you found some encouragement in this blog that you are healing, even if you hadn't recognized it before. Healing can be so slow and occurring in very thin layers, so we don't always notice without intentionally looking back to observe subtle changes or small victories that slipped in somewhere along the way.

Thank you for commenting, and I pray for your continued healing.

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