The Slow Crawl Back to Life - Part 2

The Slow Crawl Back to Life: A Two Part Series

Part 1
Part 2

It is both difficult and precarious to measure growth related to something so deeply painful and personal. Even acknowledging progress produces a reflexive twinge, like somehow that diminishes the devastation I experienced. That is definitely not the case, but I think, at least for me, making sure I don't forget how bad it was is a defense mechanism to ensure I don't get hurt this way again. Also, growth is not linear and sometimes is subtle, so it can be hard to recognize.

So, expanding on what I described last time, sometimes we don't notice growth when we are holding on so tightly in an effort to protect ourselves and just get through the day. Recently, I came across an email I had written about a year ago. It was illuminating and made me see very clearly that I have made significant progress since then. I still have a long road ahead of me and feel varying levels of pain every day but the contrast of my present to the words written by my past self was stark. The past version of me writing that email was crawling out of her skin with PTSD symptoms and unable to find a moment's rest. I look back at that and am so sad that I (or anyone else) had to live through something so gut wrenchingly painful for so long.

This is a portion of my email, written to my therapist at the time:

I don't think anyone really understands my desperation. My husband is ready to leave just to stop being a constant trigger. I am so conflicted by looking at him and touching him, with all the triggers created and the chaos in my head, battling between wanting to be near him and needing to pull away from him in pain and fear. I need him very badly but can't let myself be with him even though he is right next to me. It haunts me. It doesn't feel safe. I feel very alone. It consumes me day and night as I don't sleep more than a couple hours. I just can't stand the thought of him with his AP. I feel sick, my heart races, like I will explode. I still vomit at times from the images in my mind. I can't even imagine ever not feeling this crushing sadness. I feel like I am drowning and my sanity is at risk. I want to check in somewhere and just be put into a coma until this is over. There are still times I want to die. More than I care to admit. It is so intense, I feel no hope. I am absolutely terrified that this is my life and I can never escape it. I don't know who I am and I feel like I will be trapped in this new reality forever. I feel like a caged animal desperate to get out of this situation.

Reading that was a reality check. I remember that level of desperation very well as it was my daily existence for a long time. But it isn't my reality now. I really don't think I would have appreciated the significant growth and healing in me without having re-read that. I still feel a whole lot of "stuff" that I wish I didn't, but it isn't with the intensity and desperation portrayed back then. I am calmer. I sleep better. I manage my triggers better - not by white-knuckling it, but because they are just more manageable now (mostly). I still don't appreciate having to deal with them at all, but I can see how over time and with a lot of work, this has improved. Therefore I can only project that it will continue to get better and I have a sense of patience about this process that I did not have before.

Dr. John Haney once told me that fear begets fear. Meaning, if I am fearful that I will never feel any better, that fear feeds on itself to produce more fear, adding to the burden of recovery. Fear is natural of course, but it can take over and be its own battlefront, on top of the necessary work around grief, trauma, trust, forgiveness and potential reconciliation. Along the same lines, I am finding that hope begets hope. I was once hopeless. Completely devoid of hope or even caring that I didn't have any hope. But after finally experiencing some positive shifts within me, I had a tiny ray of hope. I felt if I had experienced any healing at all, even the tiniest bit, then I could draw the conclusion that I could heal some more. So the hope grew a little. That cycle continued, and while I am not where I want to be, I do have hope that I could get there.

In the initial days after D-day, everything was terrible. There was no mix of positive and negative emotions. It was extremely painful, but there was no confusion about how to feel. It was pretty clear cut and straightforward. I felt terrible. I was supposed to feel terrible. I felt like I would feel horrible forever and there was really no struggle in that aspect of it, it was pretty clear.

At some point along the way, I began to feel positive things about my current relationship with my husband, while still in so much pain from his affair. The full truth and subsequent pain had brought us so much closer, and I felt grateful for our new emotional intimacy and vulnerability. These were truly beautiful things that would have been phenomenal if they had happened outside of the devastation. Mixing pain with joy is confusing. In the beginning of this phase, it was easy to dismiss any positive feelings - I am not supposed to feel happy because 'this' happened and therefore this happiness I thought I might have felt for a moment is not justified, and I reject it.

Positive emotions can feel foreign, like they don't apply anymore. It is further confusing to have a brief moment of laughter only to fall back into the abyss a few seconds later. Like - oh yeah, I forgot for a moment how much my life sucks. Everyone's timeline for healing is different but I actually took note of the day I made it through a whole 24 hour period without breaking down and sobbing, as it was so monumental it actually felt foreign. I got used to feeling terrible and forgot what it felt like to be happy or to smile or laugh without it being fake to placate everyone around me. Happiness and peace were just memories of feelings and they were hard to recall.

Sometimes healing feels elusive, like the carrot on a stick that is continually just out of reach. As I mentioned last time, I am now in a place where I am holding pain and gratitude side by side. That is obviously better, but harder for my brain to manage. It is much more complicated and feels unnatural sometimes. Sometimes in this place, my inner thoughts argue with each other about which feeling will be allowed to come out and play, and it can be tiring. But on the days I am discouraged and hopeless about ever getting to true healing, I remind myself that back in my darkest days I also never imagined feeling like I do today. I hope you might find that encouraging. Just because healing takes a long time doesn't mean the entirety of that time will be spent where you are right now.

Hope acknowledges that while what we see and feel may be excruciating right now, it will not always be this way. As the apostle Paul reminds us, "hope that is seen is not hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience." (Romans 8:24-25) The following is an encouraging blog post I came across, and wanted to share it with you all too: Choose Hope — Vaneetha Risner.

"Deep grief sometimes is almost like a specific location, a coordinate on a map of time. When you are standing in that forest of sorrow, you cannot imagine that you could ever find your way to a better place. But if someone can assure you that they themselves have stood in that same place, and now have moved on, sometimes this will bring hope."

— Elizabeth Gilbert

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thank you

Jen, that was a painfully perfect and beautiful description of my feelings. Perhaps I can hope... soon.


I think you will, my friend. I know it's hard and exhausting and it sometimes feels like it would be easier to just give up. But there is more for you, and for me, and you are stronger than you think, even when you don't feel it. Hang in there and we'll be here for each other along the way. You're not alone. :)

Same. *sigh*

I’m a couple years down the road from the initial d day. But we have had so many d days. We have been together for 12 years, and he betrayed me for 10 of those years.
I’m quick to anger, to hide my pain. I realize that’s not the primary emotion, so I guess that’s some growth? I really feel so validated and seen when I read your submissions. Sometimes, it feels like we share the same thoughts. I suppose that’s where the truth lies, because the pain of the betrayal is so universal.
I move through my days, some better than they were for sure. But I protect myself from my WS, at all costs. I haven’t found anything that will help me grow towards him. This pain, that was so easy for him to put me in, puts me constantly on edge and scanning for the danger.
How does one just let go and soften themselves towards the person who is capable of so much destruction?
I feel like I’m working on finding myself again, but too fearful to share with him.


Thank you. I'm so glad you feel less alone when you read these, and I really appreciate your comment.

You asked: "How does one just let go and soften themselves towards the person who is capable of so much destruction?" I guess that depends. Has he done any work? Has he demonstrated consistent behavior changes that show he is safe? If he hasn't then you're probably not going to be able to just let go and soften toward him because your body will remain on guard - maybe for good reason. If he has done work and shown that he is a safe person fro you and you believe he is sincere but you still can't soften toward him, I strongly recommend trauma therapy.

Sometimes there are parts of us that we are unaware that are "guarding" us after being on alert for a long time and they might require some outside help to resolve. It is your body's way of defending against a threat but sometimes we can't easily turn off the switch when the threat is gone. I am doing some of that work now, and had no idea how much "stuff" was stored in me that I had been ignoring and discounting.

I wish you the best.

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