The Ex Purge: How to Break Up in the Digital Age

From the moment I came home to my husband’s cleaned-out office and a typed letter on the kitchen island, I became a certified professional level cyber stalker. I used Google Earth to get a bird’s eye view of the home he was staying in with his other wife. I learned her school and employment history. I discovered where she grew up and I even found her sister’s name. I compulsively read her blog, where I found pictures of her and mentions of my, I mean our, husband. I even had to endure a description of them showering with monkeys on a trip to Uganda shortly before the court date for the divorce. As I read about their seemingly happy travels, I couldn’t help but wish they encountered monkeys throwing poo.

Fifty years ago, if a spouse disappeared, they disappeared. There were no options for information short of hiring a private investigator. But today, we can all be P.I.s with nothing more than a phone. It’s a bit scary when so much information is available so easily.

I was obsessed. Driven. Once I started looking, I couldn’t stop. Each new image or tidbit of information made me feel ill.

But the sad part? The part that kept me going? It also gave me a thrill. Not in a good way, but in an addiction-feeding way. It was like an itch I couldn’t scratch. Chasing the dragon of information into a rabbit’s hole of social media. With each click, I felt worse and yet somehow I expected the next click to make me feel better.

But it never did.

Instead, all it did was drive my addiction for information.

I felt like I needed to know what he was doing and where he was. Part of it was learning to let go of him; for 16 years, I always knew (or at least thought I knew) where he was. It took time to adjust to no longer needing to know about his life. Part of it was driven by the divorce process; evidence of his whereabouts and activities were fed to the lawyers to bolster the case and refute his outrageous claims. And part of it was that I hoping to find some sign that he was not happy. That he regretted his decision. I wanted some sign that he missed me.

And I never did.

I knew that this obsession wasn’t healthy. I could feel the itch growing stronger with each scratch, worrying the wounds open and allowing them to fester. In the weeks leading up to court date, the behavior grew along with my anxiety about the possibility of seeing him again and of the outcome of the court’s decisions. I was consumed and it was eating me alive.

So I decided to fight back. I set a date – March 12, the day after the court appearance – as the last time I would ever look for information on him again. On that morning, still riding high from the relief of the conclusion of the legal process, I checked the wife’s blog one more time. She didn’t mention her husband’s divorce. I wasn’t surprised. I closed the window, cleared the search memory on my computer and packed away all of the papers around my desk that held the results of my searches. It felt a little scary, cutting that last tie. But I felt in control again.

I was done; I would never look again.

And I stuck to it, resisting the urge even when I learned information from a television producer that made it sound as though he had new charges pending. I didn’t dig when Jeff Probst informed me about the felony warrant. And I didn’t even think about talking to Google when I saw him two years ago at a local festival.

It was a complete and total ban. A self-imposed safe-search filter that has no work-around.

Want to institute a similar ban yourself? Here are some suggestions:

Be Firm

This is no time for moderation. Facebook posts are not like food; you can survive without them. This is all or none. Commit to none.

Put It In Writing

Write down your conviction. It helps to make it more real and makes it a little more difficult for your brain to try to justify “just one click.” In the beginning, make sure a written version of your ban is visible. You can even change your wallpaper on your devices to a reminder to stay safely away from that rabbit hole.

Dig Into the Why

Explore, preferably in writing, why you feel the need to view these pictures and read this information. What do you gain from it? How does it make you feel?

Enlist Others

It’s difficult not to turn to your preferred search engine when you hear a tantalizing piece of gossip from somebody about your ex. So, ask them to help you stay clean. Explain what you’re doing (and maybe add a dash of why you’re doing it) and request that they not pass along any information to you.

Watch the Precursors

Be mindful of the times and/or situations that make you more prone to initiating a search. Is it when you’re lonely? Bored? Facing an anniversary? Prepare a change of venue or activity ahead of time that can be implemented during those dangerous times. For example, I knew that I was more inclined to look when I was feeling anxious. So, I would go for a run (sans phone) whenever my nerves were singing.

Understand the Limitations

Social media is a Photoshopped version of real life. You’re seeing what people want you to see; not the reality of the totality of their lives. When you are concluding that your ex is over the moon because of a particularly sappy photo, you’re doing the same thing as a teenage girl comparing herself to an edited supermodel. It’s not real. Don’t spend your days contrasting your real life with a fantasy.

Verbalize Your Urges

When you feel the urge to look, say it out loud. Yes, you’ll feel silly. That’s partly the point. When you verbalize your drive, you are pulling it into your conscious mind where you have more control over what you do with it.

Remove the Triggers

Clear your history. Unfriend as needed. Remove associated reminders from your surroundings. Do everything you can to avoid seeing anything that opens that door.

Plan Alternatives

Sometimes the drive to look becomes so powerful that it demands action. So have an alternative lined up. What will you do when the pull becomes too great to resist?

Use Technology

There are countless apps and programs that deny you access to your social media accounts for a set period of time. These can be useful when you’re feeling particularly vulnerable.

Create a Virtual Hug

Surround yourself with images from your life that make you feel happy and hopeful.

Prepare for Slip-Ups

You may fall off the wagon. That’s okay. Plan ahead to make sure you don’t stay off. If you start looking, set a timer. When it goes off, you’re done. After a cyber-stalking binge, go on a technology diet, restricting your access until you feel at peace again. Have a “sponsor” at the ready, a friend who knows of your plan and is supportive. Reach out when you need to borrow somebody else’s will power.

Like with anything, removing your ex from your digital life becomes easier with time. And as the urges fade, it’s replaced with peace. You no longer what he or she is up to. And you no longer care.

Because you’re too busy creating your life.

Related: What Happens to the Ones Who Leave?

farewell-20196_1280

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Speechless

We arrived home last night this morning just after midnight after a weeklong Alaskan cruise and a Seattle stay over. We had been gone so long, the cat hid under the couch until she decided/remembered that we are effective feeding and cuddling organisms. Today is a day of tackling the emails and work tasks that lack of connectivity forced us to ignore as well as chipping away at the seemingly ever-expanding load of laundry piled high on the dining room floor (dressing in layers translates to LOTS of laundry loads!). Our jet lagged bodies seem to keep finding the bed for impromptu naps, Tiger often joining in, exhausted from playing with his buddies at the vet. Our muddled brains struggle to form coherent thoughts as our circadian rhythms straddle both coasts.

It feels great to be home. To be reunited with our animals and our routines.

Already, the sights and smells of Alaska feel like a dream. Too big to be real.

But it is. And those are memories that we will carry. Images that can be triggered by words or pictures, but never truly captured – the jade green of the water darkening into endless chasms, the soaring heights of the jagged cliffs, clouds dancing across their fronts like some teasing burlesque dance and the power of nature in its rawest forms.

I have yet to transfer the pictures from the camera or from my husband’s iPhone, but here are a few from my phone:

So much of Alaska reminded me of a Bob Ross painting. Look at all the happy trees!
So much of Alaska reminded me of a Bob Ross painting. Look at all the happy trees!
This was from a hike around the Mendenhall Glacier outside Juneau and there's a story to tell about that day!
This was from a hike around the Mendenhall Glacier outside Juneau and there’s a story to tell about that day!
The temperature seemed to always be 59 degrees. But that could mean shorts or winter coat!
The temperature seemed to always be 59 degrees. But that could mean shorts or winter coat!
We drove a small Zodiac boat in Ketchikan. A bald eagle snatched a fish out of the water just feet in front of us!
We drove a small Zodiac boat in Ketchikan. A bald eagle snatched a fish out of the water just feet in front of us!
One of the coolest moments of my life - Tracy Arm Fjord and glacier from the hot tub!
One of the coolest moments of my life – Tracy Arm Fjord and glacier from the hot tub!
We were extremely lucky and never had rain, although it was almost always cloudy.
We were extremely lucky and never had rain, although it was almost always cloudy.
It's pretty amazing how close these ships can get to the water's edge!
It’s pretty amazing how close these ships can get to the water’s edge!
I REALLY wanted to see moose in Haines. This was the closest I got!
I REALLY wanted to see moose in Haines. This was the closest I got!
We tried to see a sunset every night to no avail (I think it's a myth that the sun sets in Alaska in summer). We finally succeeded near Victoria BC!
We tried to see a sunset every night to no avail (I think it’s a myth that the sun sets in Alaska in summer). We finally succeeded near Victoria BC! Cool detail – that’s the moon just above and to the left of the sun:)

 

I want to extend a thank you to all my guest posters and readers for taking care of the place while I was gone. I’ll try to catch up on comments and messages in the next couple days. After a nap.

Pandora’s Envelope

It looked like nothing special really.  A plain brown 13″ x 9″ envelope.  It sat tucked in a file drawer for two years, its brown frame slightly larger than the file folder which contained it.  Over time, the edges grew a little worn, but the clasp stayed sealed tight.  I didn’t think of it often, but when I would open the drawer, it sat there taunting me.  Haunting me.

It looked like nothing special really.  But it was.  That plain envelope contained a few sample images of my former life, pictures and memories I had not faced in years. I had imbued the images within with power, talismans of a former life. I didn’t know what the consequences would be for breaking that seal.  I feared the pictures would act like horcruxes, their sum total assembling into some great evil.

Last year, I was finally ready to find out what would happen when I broke the seal.

I made the preparations.  Secluded outdoor table at a coffee shop? Check.  Dark sunglasses to hide the tears? Check.  Journal and pen ready?  Check.  Bravery?  Check, I guess. I began to pull the pictures and letters out one at a time, recording my memories and reactions.

My ex’s first car was a ’56 Chevy.  It was a noble, yet fickle beast.  He had to carry entire flats of oil in the trunk so that he could top it off every 100 miles or so.  In this picture, we were redoing the upholstery while parked in my mom’s driveway.  The older man next door always came out when the Chevy was in the driveway and he would share memories of his 20s, when he owned the same car.

This picture was the only one that actually brought tears to my eyes.  This was Max, our Wonderpug.  We got her shortly after we moved in together and she quickly became an integral part of our family.  She was so full of spunk and spirit. We would take her camping, hiking, and swimming, earning her the title, “All Terrain Pug.”

When I found myself suddenly alone and adrift, I was completely unable to care for any my dogs physically, emotionally, or financially.  Friends and family helped to find homes for all three of them.  Giving them away was the most painful part of the entire divorce, but I had to do what was best for them.  Max was the hardest to place, as she was elderly and in failing health.  One of the amazing volunteers at Southeast Pug Rescue personally took her in and gave her a wonderful home in which to spend her remaining years.  Here come the tears again…

A family portrait with an adult Max.

We had an unorthodox wedding.  We were married on the beach in Vero Beach, FL.  The only attendees were the minister (a gay Methodist minister who looked like David Lee Roth and threatened to marry us while wearing a speedo) and the photographer, who actually worked for the newspaper.  We both cried when reciting our vows, trembling with emotion.  As soon as the ceremony was over, we removed our shoes and walked along the beach for miles.

We honeymooned on a Windjammer cruise.  Apparently I though short-alls were the height of Caribbean fashion.

It was strange seeing him in these photos.  His face no longer seemed familiar to me.  What stood out was one picture where you could see a mole on his neck.  That image, not his face, brought memories rushing back: the feel of his hands, the texture of his chin, the smell of his hair.  I examined all his images, looking for emotion.  Looking to see if his love was real.  Comparing the pictures of him then to his more recent mugshot.  It’s not the same man.

Strangely, the wedding pictures did not bring sadness.  Just a disconnected sort of reminiscence.

Not long after we were married, we bought our house.  This began 10 years of remodeling projects as we worked to make it our own.  We always worked so well together.

This was the last picture I pulled from the envelope: my cat looking out my old dining room window at the activity in the garden.  That cat is all that I still have with me from all these pictures.

The past only has power if we allow it to. By keeping those pictures hidden for so long, I built them up in my mind and made them into more than they really are. Now they they have been released from the envelope, I find  that they have also been released from my thoughts.

I only have a few pictures with me.  Most of them, along with other memories, are in a sealed  box in my mother’s attic across the country.  I’m no longer afraid to open this Pandora’s box; I know I can handle what comes out of it.

Learning to Trust Myself

New Orleans. Mardi Gras. And Super Bowl!
New Orleans. Mardi Gras. And Super Bowl!

 

The hardest part of learning to trust after betrayal has been learning to trust myself.

My fiance and his cousin, both huge Ravens fans, were lucky enough to score tickets to the Super Bowl. In New Orleans. During Mardi Gras. Talk about the ultimate boy’s weekend!

Brock came back into town Monday night but due to his exhaustion on Monday and our crazy schedules on Tuesday, we really didn’t have a chance to connect until last night.

We went to one of our favorite eating spots, ordered our food and he set up his iPad to show me the pictures from the weekend. It was a bit of a deja vu experience for me.

Almost four years ago, I sat in a similar restaurant with my husband, a MacBook Pro open in front of us as he showed me pictures of his recent 10 day trip to Brazil. On the surface, much was the same between those two days. Underneath? Nothing in common at all.

Just weeks before leaving the marriage, my husband returned from what I thought was a business trip in Brazil. I was told that he was there to work with a frequent client of his and the specified show he was supposed to be working was in Sao Paulo That was true. The rest was not. The details he told me about the build and his frustrations with the Brazilian labor were complete lies. The names of people he was working with were utter fabrications. Instead of a work trip, it was actually a pre honeymoon with his soon-to-be second wife.

I didn’t know any of this until later.

I completely trusted my husband. It never would have entered my mind that he culled pictures to make a file that was “Lisa” safe, removing all evidence of his fiancee. I never thought to carefully examine the “work” pictures in the mix, looking for signs that they were pulled from the internet or from earlier shows.

My brain trusted my husband completely. Yet, my gut was unsettled during that entire trip. I was anxious, restless, filled with concern for his safety. It knew something.

Last weekend could not have been more different. My fiance was at the ultimate party and I was completely calm. I had no anxiety. No unease.  I looked at his pictures with complete calm, enjoying his enjoyment.

It’s crazy to think that I used to trust my husband more than I trusted myself. I believed him more that I believed my own instincts. I have learned how to trust myself. I have tuned in to my instincts and I am less inclined to rationalize any twinges that I feel. There is no guarantee that I will never be betrayed again, but at least I know that I won’t be the one to do it.

Pandora’s Envelope

It looked like nothing special really.  A plain brown 13″ x 9″ envelope.  It sat tucked in a file drawer for two years, its brown frame slightly larger than the file folder which contained it.  Over time, the edges grew a little worn, but the clasp stayed sealed tight.  I didn’t think of it often, but when I would open the drawer, it sat there taunting me.  Haunting me.

It looked like nothing special really.  But it was.  That plain envelope contained a few sample images of my former life, pictures and memories I had not faced in years. I had imbued the images within with power, talismans of a former life. I didn’t know what the consequences would be for breaking that seal.  Last year, I was finally ready to find out.

I made the preparations.  Secluded outdoor table at a coffee shop? Check.  Dark sunglasses to hide the tears? Check.  Journal and pen ready?  Check.  Bravery?  Check, I guess. I began to pull the pictures and letters out one at a time, recording my memories and reactions.

My ex’s first car was a ’56 Chevy.  It was a noble, yet fickle beast.  He had to carry entire flats of oil in the trunk so that he could top it off every 100 miles or so.  In this picture, we were redoing the upholstery while parked in my mom’s driveway.  The older man next door always came out when the Chevy was in the driveway and he would share memories of his 20s, when he owned the same car.

This picture was the only one that actually brought tears to my eyes.  This was Max, our Wonderpug.  We got her shortly after we moved in together and she quickly became an integral part of our family.  She was so full of spunk and spirit. We would take her camping, hiking, and swimming, earning her the title, “All Terrain Pug.”

When I found myself suddenly alone and adrift, I was completely unable to care for any my dogs physically, emotionally, or financially.  Friends and family helped to find homes for all three of them.  Giving them away was the most painful part of the entire divorce, but I had to do what was best for them.  Max was the hardest to place, as she was elderly and in failing health.  One of the amazing volunteers at Southeast Pug Rescue personally took her in and gave her a wonderful home in which to spend her remaining years.  Here come the tears again…

A family portrait with an adult Max.

We had an unorthodox wedding.  We were married on the beach in Vero Beach, FL.  The only attendees were the minister (a gay Methodist minister who looked like David Lee Roth and threatened to marry us while wearing a speedo) and the photographer, who actually worked for the newspaper.  We both cried when reciting our vows, trembling with emotion.  As soon as the ceremony was over, we removed our shoes and walked along the beach for miles.

We honeymooned on a Windjammer cruise.  Apparently I though short-alls were the height of Caribbean fashion.

It was strange seeing him in these photos.  His face no longer seemed familiar to me.  What stood out was one picture where you could see a mole on his neck.  That image, not his face, brought memories rushing back: the feel of his hands, the texture of his chin, the smell of his hair.  I examined all his images, looking for emotion.  Looking to see if his love was real.  Comparing the pictures of him then to his more recent mugshot.  It’s not the same man.

Strangely, the wedding pictures did not bring sadness.  Just a disconnected sort of reminiscence.

Not long after we were married, we bought our house.  This began 10 years of remodeling projects as we worked to make it our own.  We always worked so well together.

This was the last picture I pulled from the envelope: my cat looking out my old dining room window at the activity in the garden.  That cat is all that I still have with me from all these pictures.

 

The past only has power if we allow it to. By keeping those pictures hidden for so long, I built them up in my mind and made them into more than they really are. Now they they have been released from the envelope, I find  that they have also been released from my thoughts.

I only have a few pictures with me.  Most of them, along with other memories, are in a sealed  box in my mother’s attic across the country.  I’m no longer afraid to open this Pandora’s box; I know I can handle what comes out of it.