Speaking Out: Why Hiding Your Struggles Makes it Worse

At this point, the only real regret I have about my first marriage was that I didn’t know.

Not about the financial and sexual infidelity (although it would have been nice to have had some insider information!). And not even about his plan to leave and secure another wife.

I regret that I didn’t know about his struggles with addiction and depression.

Because when it comes down to it, that is the real tragedy.

And unlike the bizarre secret life and the bigamy, hiding battles with addiction and depression* is exceedingly common.

And the consequences of trying to conceal these struggles are far-reaching and often devastating.

*I limit my emphasis here to addiction and depression partly because I believe those are the struggles my ex faced and because those are the two areas that I still witness the most stigma around. These same ideas hold true for most struggles – from weight loss to divorce, from anxiety to dealing with loss. These are the hard parts of the human journey. And they share a common language that we all speak if we’re willing to listen.

thrive ad

—–

At this point, I can only guess at what happened. At what demons my ex was wrestling with behind closed doors and only witnessed with closed eyes.

I know that he was taught from a young age the skill of hiding. He covered for his father when he was drunk at his son’s birthday party. He created stories to keep classmates away from his house and its concealed secrets. He learned to keep his tears in and his shoulders up.

I knew these things. I saw these things. But I also thought he was different with me. That he could open up. Feel safe. He showed me some secrets. I mistakenly thought he revealed them all.

I learned otherwise when I opened the cupboard doors in the basement after he left. The clutter of empty bottles spoke of another side of my husband. A darker side. A struggling side.

A side he never let me see.

Part of me wonders if is some strange way, by living this other life in secret and then leaving suddenly, he was trying to protect me. Shield me from his shadow-self. He had always seen himself as my guardian.

Or maybe he was too ashamed to reveal his internal conflicts and fears. His concern with his outward appearance and perception increased while his downward spiral accelerated. Ever afraid as being seen as less-than, something he perceived in his own father.

Perhaps he was afraid at the repercussions of speaking out about his problems. I have to admit, I would not have taken it well, especially if it had been hidden for some time. He may have been fearful of my anger. My disappointment. And my own fear.

Or maybe it was more about the fear of being judged by his family. His friends and coworkers. The world. At being distilled down to a single word – “depressed”. Or “addict”. Instead of a singularly complex man.

Conceivably, his depression or addiction had him feeling spun out of control. And so orchestrating his own magic show of misdirection and misinformation became his way of exerting control. Of making the pain somehow a little more bearable. I’m no stranger to that trick.

Of course, he may not even have possessed that level of self-awareness, simply seeking refuge from his pain wherever it could be found. Doubtful that true help could ever be obtained. And instead of seeing himself as struggling in the moment, he may have seen himself as permanently broken. Or maybe he couldn’t even bear to face himself at all.

And that’s the part that breaks my heart.

For him. And for all the others like him that are too stoic or too afraid or too ashamed to speak out.

Because no matter what his reasons were for not speaking out, not reaching out,

Keeping it in only made it worse.

—–

I Don’t Want to Hurt Them

It’s natural to want to shield those we love from excessive pain or ugliness. We care for them. We want the best for them. Even when it’s at the expense of ourselves.

There’s a magical thinking that can occur – if I can only keep this hidden from them, I’ll fix it on my own and everything will be the same. Yet upon reaching that point, things have already changed. For one, it’s impossible to be fully present when you’re presenting with a facade. You’re playacting. And that’s not fair to you or to them. Also, one of the strongest human drives is to be seen and accepted for who we are. And by wearing a mask, you’re isolating yourself.

We all need a human connection. We wither away without affection, attention and connection just as easily as we do without without food. When you make a decision to keep it in out of a sense of obligation, you’re starving yourself of the very sustenance you need to get better.

Furthermore, although you may believe you’re holding this in out of altruism, it’s ultimately a selfish act. You’ve decided that you are the one in control of their reality and you’re guiding it along based on your script alone.And when they find out – and they will eventually find out – the fact that you have kept the truth hidden from them will prompt anger, frustration, sadness and self-doubt.

Truly acting in their best interest occurs when you present them with the facts and allow them to reach their own decisions.

It is not your responsibility to ensure that others never feel pain. It is your responsibility to not willingly inflict needless suffering. And trying too hard to protect somebody often results in the pain magnifying needlessly.

I’m Afraid of Disappointing People

It’s not unusual for those stricken with depression or addiction to be people-pleasers. To want to be liked and often to find their own validation through that of others. And so when depression or addiction, with its inevitable impact on daily life and productivity, rears its ugly head, it can be easy to try to keep it under the covers for fear of letting down those around you.

You don’t want to go from being seen as “the smart one” to “the sad one.” From “the person who is always there for me” to “the person who never shows up.” Or “the responsible one” to “the don’t-trust-them-with-anything one.” And so you keep quiet. Keep the illusion.

Yet, just like you are not responsible for making sure that nobody ever feels pain, you are also not responsible for making others happy. For pleasing them. You do you and don’t worry so much about them.

Witnessing disappointment in the eyes of another is like a reflection of yourself that you have been avoiding. And maybe that’s exactly what you need to face.

I’m Afraid of Being Judged

And sadly, you will be.

By people who don’t understand, who believe that it can never happen to them and that you are somehow “less than” for letting it happen to you. By people that refuse to see you as a person with an illness rather than simply a walking label. By people who believe that strength is found in silence and that you are weak by speaking out. When in reality, their judgment is only because they’re cowardly with facing uncomfortable truths. By people that see depression and addiction as character flaws instead of character-builders. By people that have narrow minds because they are threatened by the inclusion of the unknown. By people that believe that they can control everything in their lives and are not willing to concede otherwise.

You will be judged.

Not because of who you are. But because of who the adjudicators are.

Don’t let them define your life for you. Be stronger than their fears and more forthcoming than their views.

Let them judge. And seek to prove them wrong.

I’m Ashamed of Who I Am

One of the most important things to realize about the illnesses of addiction and depression is that they lie to you. They devise reasons why its imperative that you remain secretive. Not because it’s better for you. But because it’s better for the illness. They grow stronger in the dark, unchecked by outside influence.

They tell you that because you have failed at something, you are a failure. They whisper that you’re hopeless and then feed upon your despair. They convince you that you’re broken, unlovable and that anyone would recoil upon seeing your true nature.

Shame is perhaps the most malignant of human emotions. It is the root of so many bad choices and behaviors as it tries to distract from its own misery while inadvertently feeding it. It is the wound that screams at the sight of the sun, when light is the very thing that will bring healing.

And here’s the thing with shame – it tells you that you are alone in your feelings. When in reality, they are feelings we have all shared. And it’s only upon sharing them that this truth becomes evident.

—–

If you are suffering with addiction or depression currently, speak up and get the support and help you need. There is no shame in asking for help. In fact, recognizing your need for help and being brave enough to ask for it shows your strength. You are not your illness. You are so much more. Begin by refusing to listen to your illness’s orders to keep it hidden. Because that only makes it worse.

If you have suffered from addiction or depression in the past, speak out about your story. Do your part to help remove the stigma and assumptions about mental illness. Silence implies complacency with the status quo. So refuse to be silent. Allow your story to become one of understanding for those with a tendency to judge and one of inspiration for those further behind you. You don’t have to be perfect. In fact, it’s better if you show that you’re not.

If you love someone who is suffering from addiction or depression, speak with compassion. Facing a loved one’s struggles is hard. Accepting that you cannot control their decisions is scary. And setting and maintaining healthy boundaries is an on-going cycle of hope and heartbreak. Understand that they are not doing this to hurt you, they are doing this because they are hurting. So be kind. Both to them and to you. After all, we’re all in this thing together.

For all of you who have spoken out, I respect you and your courage. I hope my former husband has joined your ranks.

Related:

Hurt People Hurt People and the 7 Keys of Conscious Compassion

It’s Nice to be Important

 

Advertisements

Identity Theft

My stomach dropped as I read the words on the screen:

We take your privacy and your security seriously. In order to process your request, you must first complete the following identity quiz.

The last time I had to take an identity quiz, I failed.

It was just over three years ago and I was in an AT&T retail store to open up my own account. I was already nervous about committing to the higher monthly fee of a smartphone and I was worried that I would fall flat on some credit score high jump.

Those weren’t the problems.

“Okay,” the clerk said, angling the computer screen and keyboard my direction, “I just need for you to answer these quick questions to confirm your identity.”

The first question was a softball to the gut: “Which of the following is a name you have used?”

At least I knew that answer I thought, as I selected my former married name, swallowing hard at the rude intrusion of the past.

I hit “next.”

“Which of the following is an account you have had in the previous five years?”

I didn’t recognize any of the names listed. With a prickly sense of dread, I turned to the clerk, “I don’t know this one,” I explained, “My ex. There was a divorce. He lied. He hid. He’s wanted for a felony. I’ve been working hard to rebuild, but I…”

My voice caught as I feared that he would again manage to interrupt my future.

“It’s okay, honey, “she replied in a nurturing tone, “I’ve been there. Just do your best and don’t worry. We’ll make this work.”

Bolstered by her conviction, I did my best on the remaining nine questions, putting forth my best guess on account names, balances and addresses.

But my best wasn’t good enough.

I failed my own identity test.

The clerk (AKA my hero) got on the phone with the finance department and went to bat for me.

“She went through an awful divorce and doesn’t know most of the answers to the questions. I have in my hand three forms of photo ID, a checkbook and a bank statement, all in her name. It’s her.”

And I could have kissed her as she finally hung up with a triumphant smile on her face.

So you can see why I nervous about submitting to another identity test.

The first question?

“Which of the following people have you resided with?”

The answer?

My husband’s name. My current husband.

A tiny hint of a smile crept over my pursed lips.

“At which of the following addresses have you resided?”

The correct response was the address of the town home that my husband had when we first moved in together.

The pursing of the lips faded entirely.

The final question had to do with my current county.

I passed my identity test!

Once I was duly acknowledged, processed and allowed within the stronghold, I ran into the bathroom where my husband was taking a bath.

“I just had to take an identity quiz and all of the questions were from the past five years!!! Isn’t that awesome?!?”

“Sure,” he said, with an indulging smile.

I felt renewed as another layer of the past was shed.

My identity was stolen.

But I got it back.

Telling Stories: The Lesson in the Brian Williams’ Scandal

I never watch television news.

So I had no idea who Brian Williams was until the news about his false claims about his time in Iraq. All of the tidbits I read online or heard on the radio took the position that he intentionally and willfully fabricated these stories.

Until I came across this one.

It explores the universal truth of fallible and malleable memory, citing studies where false memories have been intentionally implanted and summarizing the results of interviews with memory scientists.

The data is unambiguous – our memories are not.

The article doesn’t absolve Brian Williams of any guilt. It simply asks us to consider the alternative – that perhaps what we are interpreting as an intentional manipulation of truth may in fact be a distortion of memory.

The problem is that from an outside perspective, they are indistinguishable. And according to a study a referenced in the article, people overwhelmingly assume that someone’s twisted truth has been purposely shaped for their gain (while also assuming that their own memory is somehow immune to the errors that may influence others). And the comments in the article support that research; they alternate between people claiming that they have infallible memories and people (often aggressively) concluding that Brian Williams set out to deceive.

And maybe he was. I certainly have no idea. But I do find it strange that somebody in a prominent position in media would choose to publicly tell falsehoods that could easily be disproved. It seems not only irresponsible, but dumb.

It certainly seems plausible that he believed his stories and failed to fact-check before sharing them with the world.

Perhaps it’s because we spend so much time in a digital world, but we seem to have this idea that memory acts like a recorder, filing away experiences as they happen so that they can be retrieved later with a neural click and replayed like a video on a screen.

But it’s not that simple.

If our memories are computer files, then they are filled with encoding errors, corrupt files and sketchy rewrites. Tidbits of original code may remain and the brain borrows from other memories to fill in the gaps.

Many errors in memory happen without us ever knowing. These are the unintentional changes in memory:

Fading

I no longer remember what my ex husband really looked like. The primary image I have of him is more a caricature of the facial hair he had the past few years of our marriage rather than any true visage. Time has softened the memories, faded the edges. I could probably still pick him out of a line up, but a police artist’s rendering based upon my description would probably contain some inaccuracies.

Our memories are more like cassette tapes than digital imprints; time and use damage the recordings. They’re still there, but faded and under a layer of static.

Rewriting

The Brian William’s article compares the way memories change with the retelling of a story to the childhood game of “telephone.” When we have a major event in our lives, we assume that the intensity of the memory leads to its preservation. Yet, the frequent retelling of the story often changes the memory over time. It mutates.

Another way we rewrite our memories reminds me of a documentary I saw about the making of the first season of The Real World. They collected countless hours of authentic and raw footage. Then, the show’s writers were tasked with watching the tapes, sketching out the storylines and editing the footage to match the story.

Our brains do that too. We naturally create “stories” out of our experiences. And then we select the memories that fit and discard the ones that don’t. And just like with reality television, all of that happens behind the scenes.

I’ve seen this happen with my own divorce story. As it is repeated, small errors in memory replicate and carry through. I have to edit and summarize to get the gist across and so some details are left out. It all “feels” true because it’s been repeated, but it’s not quite right. I make a habit of returning to my primary documents – texts, emails, journal entries – of that time period to refresh my memory before any interview or post which requires details from that episode.

And I’m always a bit surprised at what I read.

Because I am no longer the same woman that had those experiences.

Change in Perspective

There was a hill in my childhood neighborhood that was enormous. Until I went back after several years away. I have to assume that the neighborhood pooled their resources to have that mountain shaved down to a molehill. It’s the only reasonable explanation:)

Have you ever read a book or watched a movie and revisited it 5, 10 or 20 years later? Was it the same as you remembered? Probably not. Because you’re not the same person either. We see the world through the filter of our own perceptions and we see our memories in the same way.

No memory can ever completely reflect the moment it happened because you see it through the knowledge of today. That hill in my old neighborhood is both huge and daunting (according to my early memories) and insignificant (as I see it now). Neither recollection is necessarily wrong. My perspective has shifted.

Not all manipulations of memory are unintentional. Here are the ways that memories are deliberately changed:

To Deceive

This is your standard lie. Deliberate. Intentional. Twisting the truth for your own gain or protection. In this post, I dig down into the different types and motivations for deceptions.

Now here’s where things can get interesting. A “fact” can begin as a lie, but as it is repeated, that falsehood becomes the truth to the person reciting it. This is how researchers, therapists or others in trusted positions can either intentionally or unintentionally “plant” a false memory that grows into “truth” for the subject.

My ex stated in a text to my mother that he “started to believe his own bullshit.” It seems like he may have planted and nurtured false memories in his own mind.

To Find Peace

I stumbled across this application of deliberately changing memories accidentally. I changed the names of the people and places involved in my story to protect the identities of the innocent and not-so-innocent. Over time, I found that the fake names felt more real to me than the real ones. The shaped memories slowly suffocating the actual ones.

Once I realized the power of taking ownership of my story, I deliberately shaped other memories. These have no impact on anyone else, so their rewriting was not intended to mislead or deceive. Rather, I deliberately chose to reframe certain moments, delete others and filter some of the most painful experiences through a lens of compassion, even if it’s not fully accurate, because it brings peace to my current life and has no bearing on anyone or anything else.

When I do revisit the primary documents, this intentional rewriting is temporarily stripped away as I face the brutal reality of that period. Yet even though that is the “real” memory captured in those texts and emails, I don’t allow it to take up permanent residence in my mind. Read more about how to separate your memories from your suffering. 

As for Brian Williams, we may never know if his stories originated from an intent to deceive or if his memories mutated over time. He certainly was irresponsible for widely sharing stories that impact others without verifying the facts from other sources.

Because, as science has shown, our memories may be true to us even when they are not true.

We are not mere recorders of our experiences. We are storytellers.

The Faux Commute

In the book I’m reading right now, the main character continues her weekday commute into London months after she was terminated from her job. Part of her motivation seemed to be habit and a lack of purpose and direction. But the main reason she continued the act is because she was too ashamed to tell her landlord/flatmate that she was no longer employed.

When I drove to work Friday morning, the book fresh on my mind, I peered at my fellow commuters, wondering if any of them were burning fuel and hours on a faux commute to a job that no longer existed. If any of them were keeping up the pretense while using up the savings. I pondered spouses back home, blindly secure in the belief that their partner was gainfully employed and unaware of the daily play-act.

It seems like something meant for fiction.

But it’s not.

My ex husband did it too.

He was too ashamed to concede that he could not find work. So he pretended that he could.
For years, he simulated a job. He invented clients and projects. He manufactured payments from lines of credit. I’m pretty sure he even falsified an award. Apparently, he was the best at his pretend job.

And he’s not the only one.

A friend’s first husband pretended to be enrolled in school full time while spending time in bars.

A coworker’s husband fabricated a start-up business while engaging in an affair.

And there’s a woman in my periphery who spent her time shopping while maintaining the facade of employment.

Here is a related piece I wrote for The Good Men Project that explores how this shame around employment can grow and spread through families.

But the problem isn’t just that the secret is kept from the partners.

Often the person can’t even admit it to themselves.

Continuing the faux commute and maintaining pretense even for themselves.

Now obviously most of us will never hold down a pretend job and engage in a daily trip of make-believe.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t engage in our own faux commutes.

That there aren’t truths we’d rather not face and so we keep us the pretense, even for ourselves.

That we don’t catch a ride going nowhere because we’re afraid to admit that it’s a dead-end run.

That we don’t pretend that something is still working for even when we no longer work for it.

So take an honest look at your life.

And make sure all of your commutes are authentic.

The book is called The Girl on the Train and it is a great thriller, especially for anyone who has experienced gaslighting.

Overcompensation

I know I was shocked when I first heard the news.

I’ll bet you were too.

We trusted him. We respected him.

We felt like we knew him.

And then when the stories about his impropriety began to surface, we started to question.

Not only his authenticity, but also our own judgment.

Like so many that lead lives of misconduct, Bill Cosby hid behind an illusion of perfection. He played the father we all wished we had, and his off-screen demeanor paralleled his on screen performance. He always seemed kind. And patient. Making us laugh and making us learn.

And also making us look away from his behavior behind the scenes.

Causing those that heard of his behavior to question the veracity of the claims.

And perhaps even making those subject to his offenses question their own memories.

Because in so many ways, he was so good.

Too good to be true.

I never realized that my ex was also too good to be true in many ways.  I thought I was lucky to have a husband that I got along with so well that we never seemed to have areas of friction. I felt blessed that he was so patient with me and would strive to temper any anxiety I felt. I was in awe of his ability to solve any problem and I delighted at the fact that he always had an answer.

I trusted him. I respected him.

I felt like we knew him.

And then when the stories about his impropriety began to surface, I started to question.

Not only his authenticity, but also my own judgment.

And all too often, that’s how it is. Sometimes the wolves walk among us unshielded. But much of the time, the wolves are dressed in the finest wool, revered as the ideal lamb.

And who suspects a lamb?

Watch out for those who overcompensate. Those who seem too good to be true. Be wary when tensions never rise and irritation rarely shows. Be cautious around people who never sweat and never seem fazed.

Because all of us are a blend of both wolf and sheep.

And those who pretend otherwise are hiding something.

Related: Covert Abuse

Virtual Reality

He noticed her as soon as her entered. An older woman, well dressed, standing at the counter watching the gemologist examine a rather large stone under magnification.

As my husband completed his transaction, paying for the new battery and taking possession of his watch, he couldn’t help but overhear the exchange between the woman and the expert.

“Ma’am, I’m sorry, but I don’t know how else to tell you. The stone isn’t real.”

“The bastard!, she exclaimed,”The other one wasn’t real either.”

Through the remaining conversation, my husband was able to glean that the woman had recently been divorced and the jewelry was awarded to her in the proceedings with an assumption as to its value. Only now she was learning that part (or maybe even all) of what she thought she had to her name was worthless. And a lie.

Perhaps she was spoiled, and looking for more than her substantial settlement, but my husband read her as more panicky than pampered.

When Brock recounted this story to me, my first thought was to the duration of the deception. Did her ex husband gift her that jewelry twenty years ago with false stones in place from the beginning? Or, as I was afraid my ex may have done, were the real stones replaced at some point with lookalikes so that the husband could surreptitiously withdraw from the marital funds?

My heart ached for the woman. Not only does it hurt terribly to discover you’ve been living in a virtual reality, it is disorienting beyond belief once those goggles come off and you have to decide what is real. And what is illusion.

The mystery of the woman and the ring mirror the one question about my first marriage that still haunts me – did I marry a false man or did I marry a real man who was replaced at some point with a counterfeit? 

That’s one mystery that will never be solved. All I know is what he was at the end was certainly no diamond, despite how he acted.

And when I went to sell my ring at the conclusion of the divorce, my stone was still real. I guess he wasn’t clever enough to squeeze that stone for cash. Thank goodness for small blessings:)

What Happens To the Ones Who Leave?

What happens to the ones who leave?

The ones who lie and deceive and then walk out the door into their next chapter without so much as a glance behind.

Do they feel pain? Guilt? Remorse?

Are they happy with their decisions and in their new lives?

Or do they regret the choices that ended their marriages?

For many of us, we will never know. Even if you still have contact with your ex (or keep tabs on his or her whereabouts), the life they put on display for the world may well be a front. And even if they do come back, crying about how upset they are, do you believe the tears? Or are they of the crocodile variety?

It’s common to wonder how your ex is doing. After all, they were once your partner in life, and how they felt directly impacted you. And now that they’re gone, your mind still seeks that information. Perhaps your mind even seeks retribution, wanting to see them face the consequences of their choices.

For a long time (longer than I like to admit), I needed my ex to be in pain. It was almost as though I saw it as some sort of tug-of-war with only a limited amount of happiness to share between us. And so I had to pull his away to ensure that there was enough for me.

photo 1-102

But that’s not really how it works, is it? It’s not as though his okay and my okay were mutually exclusive. I could be okay on my own regardless of how he was feeling.

photo 2-100

So why do we have such a strong drive to see those that hurt us be hurt in kind? Does it mean that we’re somehow malevolent if we harbor feelings of vengeance and pray for karma to hurry up and do her job?

I don’t believe so. In fact, I see these feelings of revenge as coming from a basic human need.

The need to be understood.

Intimate betrayal and deception is one of the most acute pains that one can be subjected to. It’s a deliberate act, carried out by the one you trust the most, that leaves residual tenderness for a lifetime.

And we desperately want someone, anyone, but especially the one responsible, to understand the depths and quality of that pain. We want them to feel it so that we can be understood and, in turn that they can know what devastation their actions have caused.

In even the most mundane of circumstances, it is beyond frustrating and isolating to not be understood. In fact, I’m feeling this way now after a day of attempting to teach math and interact with my colleagues with absolutely no voice. All day, I wrote commands on the board and tried to pantomime how to find the slope of a line only to be greeted with puzzled expressions. I would spot behavior across the room and be unable to do anything about it until I finished with the current student and navigated through the maze of desks. All I wanted was to be able to get my points across.

To be understood.

But not being able to talk for a day or two in a middle school is nothing compared to not being understood by the spouse that caused those feelings in the first place.

That goes way beyond frustrating and isolating.

In fact, for me it went into rage.

I was angry for a long time. And that anger feeds upon itself. I not only felt an immense need to be understood, I also wanted him to face punishment for his actions (it seemed only fair) and I wanted find some pleasure in knowing that I was doing better than him. Petty? Yeah. None of this was pretty.

I didn’t care where he was or what he was doing. I just wanted him to hurt. To feel guilty. Maybe even a little remorseful.

And it was my now-husband who made it clear to me that I had to learn to let the anger go. That it wasn’t hurting my ex, it was hurting me and, in turn, my new relationship. Releasing that anger was a process. I had to enlist some mental choreography to shape conclusions that let me find peace. It was a process. A slow process.

I have an advantage in this over many of you; I don’t have children. And I can’t even imagine what it feels like to see your ex hurting your child. It’s one thing to let go when you were the one who was hurt. It’s quite another when it’s your child. In fact, I see this with my mother, who can still be brought to tears when talking about my past even when I’m smiling because of my present. For you parents, all I can say is do everything you can to teach your kids to be resilient while taking care of yourself. Practice modeling for them what you want for them. And be willing to learn from them; kids often have wisdom that we overlook.

For the most part, I’m past the anger now. In fact, at this point, I want him to be okay. Partly for him, because regardless of everything else, this was a man I loved deeply for many years. Partly for me, because I feel better knowing that I’m not putting any more bad energy out into the world. But mainly for the others that will cross his path. I want him to be okay so that others will be okay. When I saw him and (I think) the other wife hand-in-hand at a festival a couple years ago, I really did hope they were happy. Goodness knows, I was happy I wasn’t the one holding his hand.

But want I want has nothing to do with reality. If he is a narcissist or sociopath, he is incapable of feeling guilt or remorse and most likely will never change. If he has compartmentalized his actions and his past to the point where he no longer remembers the truth, he will not feel pain but may continue to inflict it upon others. If he has spent so long living in a house of lies that he can no longer find the door, he will remain forever trapped.

Even though I no longer harbor a secret desire to fill his car with fire ants, I don’t really worry about how he’s doing. Because I trust that if he has been able to feel the pain from his choices, he will change how he responds in the world. And if he has not felt the anguish, then the negativity he spreads will come right back to him.

And as for me? I no longer have a need to feel understood by him. I think if he was able to understand how it felt, he wouldn’t have done it in the first place. I no longer care to see him punished; I put my faith in karma. And I no longer need to feel superior that I’m doing better than him because my okay is now completely and totally independent of him.

Besides, I’m just happy to be happy.

And I’ll be even happier when I have my voice back:)

Which Pill Do You Choose?

My ex used to be obsessed with The Matrix. I think he somehow saw himself as Neo, an invulnerable character who was able to manipulate reality and was the one chosen to save the human race. I grew tired of the movie after so many repeated viewings and so, after my ex left, I pushed the series out of my mind.

Until today, that is, when an article referenced it in passing and made me remember one scene from the first movie in particular.

For those not familiar with the movie, the majority of humans are so-called bluepills who live their lives hooked up to a machine where a virtual reality is fed into their minds to keep them placid and peaceful while the machine uses their bodies for power. They are glorified batteries. Happy, but enslaved.

Some of the humans are able to break free from the illusion. These are the redpills. They are independent and aware, but also have to face the harsh realities of the world dominated by evil forces. They are fully sentient yet also fully responsible for creating their own realities.

In the scene above, Neo is given a choice: take the blue pill and re-enter the contented slumber of the ignorant or ingest the red pill and learn the entirety of the truth. Whichever choice he makes, there is no going back.

In my first marriage, I was taking the blue pill. I was as ignorant and prone to suggestion as those that are slaves to the Matrix. Within days of his leaving, it was as though a red pill was forcibly shoved down my throat, reality body slamming me to the floor. And there was no going back.

I’m not generally one for what-ifs, but I find it interesting to ponder what I would have chosen if I had been given the option at some point in my marriage to see the whole truth or to remain blissfully unaware.

Now that I’m a redpill, I can’t imagine going back. I want to live my own reality on my own terms and deal with the consequences.

But when I was a bluepill, I don’t know if I could have imagined the other option. After all, life as I knew it was good. Why risk it?

How about you?

Red?

Or blue?

 

 

 

Cutting the Last Tie

It’s going on two hours now and I can’t stop crying.

 

I thought I had six more months. That’s what I had paced myself for and steeled myself for.

But I don’t have six more months.

I have one.

One more month and the last tie to my past is cut clean.

 

I received a generous birthday gift today that will allow me to pay off the rest of debt from my ex. He left me with so much to pay – lawyers, doctors, court fees, insurance, utilities, car payments.

And two credit cards in my name.

One of them made me angry but didn’t make me feel violated. It was used for furniture we owned and I was told it was paid off (as per our agreement) before the end of the one year grace period on interest. I was angry that he didn’t pay and I was left holding the bill, but at least it was for a joint purpose.

As for the other?

That’s different. I never checked the account because it was only supposed to be an emergency line of credit. I guess we had different definitions of emergency. After he left and I first saw that account, I felt a weight press down on me.

Its balance was equal to my take-home pay for one year.

The activity showed expenditures on his honeymoon with the other wife as well as large transfers to a card in his name and multiple cash withdrawals.

I’ve been paying on that account for years, trying to mitigate the sick anger and disgust with every payment by including a note of gratitude in my “July disasster” file.

I’ve been carrying the weight of that account for years, cash-strapped as a significant portion of every paycheck has gone to fund whatever lies he was living.

 

This gift today is a gift of freedom.

Freedom from the emotional burden of that damned debt that’s like a monetization of his lies.

Freedom to receive my entire paycheck for the first time in five years without paying for the mistakes of the past.

Freedom to begin to save to finally replace my car.

Freedom to build without encumbrances – looking forward and paying forward.

 

I can breathe.

But I still can’t stop crying:)

 

Character Assassination

I didn’t like reading how many of you relate to being gaslighted. It’s one of those areas that I know for me is still tender. There is much un-probed because it hurts too much to counter often-good memories with the knowledge of the duplicity and lies. And I finally realized that the daunting task of separating the strands of truth from the pot of lies is pointless. Even though I now know otherwise, I have chosen to find comfort in the fact that it was real enough to me at the time and that’s all that matters.

But that only works with the personal gaslighting, the stories told to me to keep me placid and distracted.

It doesn’t work with the external assault. The character assassination that carried nefarious seeds far and wide. That requires a different approach.

 

For much of our time in Atlanta, my then-husband and I were estranged from his parents by his choice. Over the years, we had many families “adopt” us for holidays and get-togethers, but one always stood out. The husband-wife owners of my husband’s company welcomed us into their family. We were at Christmas and birthdays. We knew the kids and the grandkids. We knew them as friends as well as employers. I loved the time with them and always appreciated the inclusion.

A few months before he left, my then-husband took a job with another company. It made the relationship with the family a little strange but we still kept in touch.

In the immediate aftermath of his abandonment, I did not think of them. Until a few days in when I found a note from the wife on my mailbox with instructions to call.

I picked up the phone expecting to hear shock and horror – the emotions expressed by everyone else I knew when they tried to digest the news. Instead, I got a more distant and guarded message. Condolences mixed with a dash of “well, what did you expect?”

I was shocked. Almost speechless. I asked what she meant. And heard about stories that my then-husband told at work. Tales of my cheating exploits, complete with a vivid story of walking in on me in his office with a man. Claims of staying late at work to avoid me and my wrath. He painted a picture of a horrible wife, a victimized husband and a marriage in peril.

This from the man that kissed me tenderly every night.

This from the man who knew where I was at all times because I was rarely anywhere but work, school or home.

This from the man that couldn’t keep his hands off me and bemoaned when work kept him away.

For years, I thought this family was my family.

But they never even knew me.

Because my monthly or so visits could never compete with his daily fictions.

I was too confused and surprised on the phone that day to try to defend myself. I simply hung up after muttering something in response to her request to keep her in the loop and ask for help if I needed it.

I never did call her back.

And I never will.

 

There are so many tears that come from this. I’m horrified that he was intentionally darkening my character for years. It’s hard not to wonder for how long. I’m embarrassed that people thought I was unfaithful and shrewish. And I’m sad that I lost these friends and others, as I chose to simply cut off those he had access to rather than to try to vindicate myself against his stories. Although I was tempted to send them a copy of his mugshot:)

He was telling them stories to cover his tracks. He was creating a fiction in his mind to defend his actions, both past and future. Perhaps he was desperate to see himself as the good guy so that he could temper any guilt. I’ll never know.

Much like I chose to walk away and cut my losses from the financial deception, I made the decision to leave those friendships behind. Some damage is too great to repair.

 

So, what’s the lesson in all this?

I know I first started to trust Brock when he actually encouraged me to have time around his friends without him there. It made me realize how my ex carefully negotiated my encounters with his friends.

I know I’ve had to let go of the concern of what people may believe about me and focus on what I know about me.

I know that realizing how my ex lived one way with me and another with others helped me realize that he was not the man I loved.

And I know that I’ve made many, many new friends who know me. The real me.

And that in the end, the only character he assassinated was his own.