Caring for Your Body after Betrayal Is Essential - Part 1

Because the body is (at least in part) the location of our trauma—the body must also be a location of healing.

~Aundi Kolber

About a year after discovering my husband's affair, my body started to capsize under relentless waves of sickness. An illness would hit. I'd recover and feel decent for a few months. Then, another surge of sickness would seek to drown me again.

My husband had betrayed me, but now my body seemed to be doing the same.

I began to understand firsthand that infidelity's impact on a person could be more nuanced and complex than I had initially realized. The thing was, I had done many things "right" when I started my recovery.

Prayer and journaling became my lifelines. Finding outside support also saved me early on in my journey. My Harboring Hope group provided me the safe space I needed at just the right time. My tribe also included my therapist, my sponsor, and a few friends who had navigated the same crisis in their marriages. These spiritual practices and individuals collectively helped me contend with and process the influx of emotions, trauma, and intrusive thoughts.

Nurturing my spiritual, emotional, and mental health was a significant part of my recovery. Yet, I underestimated how all the grief, pain, and changes taking place in my life (aka: STRESS) impacted my physical well-being.

The Body's Response to Prolonged Stress

If you've experienced betrayal in your relationship, you've also likely felt physical effects:

Sleep might be obsolete.
Your appetite might be gone, or else it's gone into overdrive, and you want to eat every box of Oreos you can get your hands on.
You might be physically tired but mentally wired.
Even if you've downed three cups of coffee, might still be devoid of energy.
You might be catching colds and illness more easily.
You might have digestive issues, migraines, joint pain, muscle tension, autoimmune flare-ups, and other physical manifestations.

These are all outward signs that your body is under duress.

It looks different for each of us, but the stress of coping with betrayal may trigger new health complications or exacerbate existing ones. The hard reality is that the physical impact of betrayal can and often does, extend far past the acute stages when the trauma is fresh. It makes sense, given that our bodies store and house our emotions, experiences, and memories, that the onset of some of these harshest physical issues could be delayed.

Bessel Van Der Kolk, author of The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma*, writes about this topic (the bold font is mine for emphasis):

"Under normal conditions, people react to a threat with a temporary increase in their stress hormones. As soon as the threat is over, the hormones dissipate, and the body returns to normal. The stress hormones of traumatized people, in contrast, take much longer to return to baseline and spike quickly and disproportionately in response to mildly stressful stimuli. The insidious effects of constantly elevated stress hormones include memory and attention problems, irritability, and sleep disorders. They also contribute to many long-term health issues, depending on which body system is most vulnerable in a particular individual."

I don't share this to scare you or add an additional layer of stress. Worrying about all the extra tension your body might carry, or what it could potentially cause somewhere down the line, will not help matters (Trust me, I continue to learn this in my own life!). But it's essential for us to understand that there are physical consequences of stress and trauma. As interconnected and thoughtfully interwoven beings created by a masterful Creator, our bodies, souls, and spirits are impacted by every other part in addition to outside influences.

There is so much that may feel out of control right now. But ensuring that you're taking good care of your physical needs is one area where you can exercise personal agency.

In Part 2 of this series, I will share more about deepening your self-care practices and physically supporting your body during recovery. Until then, as a traveling companion walking alongside you on this journey, I want to invite you to consider the following:

You are worth the effort to care for.
Your health matters. Your well-being matters. Your life matters.
Be kind and gentle with yourself along the way.

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