I knew I needed to grieve, but didn’t know how.
“We run from grief because loss scares us, yet our hearts reach toward grief because the broken parts want to mend.” – Brene Brown
There is a grief cycle, you know. A lot of us have been through it at some point in our lives, whether we consciously realized it or not. I wasn’t aware until I learned about it from a podcast I subscribe to (The Betrayed, the addicted, and the expert). I pulled this Kubler-Ross chart off of another website to demonstrate one view of the grief cycle. Just a quick FYI, there is no order to this and it isn’t necessary to go through each emotion listed to “complete” grief. It is a very individual, personal process. I’ll lay out my experience below.
- Shock: The initial paralysis at hearing the bad news.
Yep! This was me. I was in shock when my husband talked to me about his secret. I sat. In shock. He was crying, and I just sat, in shock. I know I didn’t hug him, and he probably wanted a hug. I sat. In shock. Within a week he stopped working.
- Denial: Trying to avoid the inevitable.
When other professionals told Danny that he wasn’t an addict (due to the low # of times he viewed pornography, sometimes up to as much as a few years of sobriety), I jumped all over this in acceptance! “What a relief!” I thought. “Few! He’s not one of those guys. I’m not married to one of those guys.”
In my initial session with my CSAT therapist she referred to my husband as an ‘addict.’
I cocked my head at her. She paused and said something like “Did I miss something?”
I quickly responded “Well he’s not an addict. He’s had professionals confirm that he isn’t.” She responded perfectly and adjusted her reference to him to one that I could emotionally handle at the time. I was in denial for a solid year and three months. Partly because my husband was too.
He and his therapists were hyper-focused on addressing his anxiety/depression. I theorize that as humans we choose to believe what we can handle emotionally. I wasn’t ready to address or refer to my spouse as an addict, so I chose to accept that he wasn’t. My husband was non-functioning, so we had plenty of other items keeping us distracted like . . . you know . . . keeping kids alive, finding the right medication cocktail, my employment, finding nannies/sitters/help, keeping house clean (ha! I definitely learned to let go in this arena), etc.
It wasn’t until January of 2017 that real recovery, with regard to my betrayal and Danny’s behavior, started. Danny hadn’t reported any relapses in a long time, so I casually checked in. He had been relapsing and hadn’t been telling me (at this point he hadn’t committed to tell me anything and I hadn’t asked him to). I freaked out. In my next therapy session my therapist told me again: “He has an addiction.”
Accepting the behavior for what it was led us both to where we needed to be.
We both had our own roads of recovery to walk. Scary! Just writing about this brings up so much emotion.
I felt so alone. I didn’t feel like I had anywhere to turn. At this point I felt too much shame to go to any women’s support groups.
- Anger: Frustrated outpouring of bottled-up emotion.
The focus on managing his anxiety/depression all-consuming. I’m sure the addict piece inside was thrilled about the distraction. When I did accept the addiction for what it was, I got mad. Outbursts, angry thoughts, you name it. To be in this mode and not have people to talk or vent to) because it was still supposed to be “hidden” from everyone) was unhealthy for me. I had some emotions I needed to process. Anger isn’t necessarily a bad thing in a marriage. Showing emotion demonstrated that I still cared about the relationship—but I obviously needed to process this crap. Where could I turn when I was in between appointments? Very few humans were aware of the addiction and I didn’t feel comfortable dumping on them all the time.
So what did I do? I wrote. I wrote letters to people and didn’t send them. It helped.
I heard recently (from that podcast listed above) that when people with betrayal trauma go to therapy one of the first things they can do for themselves is to move something from the inside of their body to the outside (singing, playing instruments, exercise, writing, etc.). Listening to music also helped me process emotion.
- Bargaining: Seeking in vain for a way out.
I was desperate to believe that this bad news was reversible. I was kidding myself. I didn’t want this bad thing to happen ever again, yet I had no control over it.
- Depression: Final realization of the inevitable.
Ugh. This. Was. So. Freaking. Painful. In my mind my life had spiraled from something “better than my dreams” to something horrible. It felt so unfair. There were a few 2-week periods where things that normally brought me joy weren’t. I lucked out and only stay in this phase for a week or two and I remember thinking “this is a very small glimpse of what Danny is going through.”
- Testing: Seeking realistic solutions
Who hates the grief cycle!?!?! I did!! I went through a few of these stages more than once. I’m not 100% sure how, but I now know it happened exactly as it needed to. I had some serious pain to process. I learned how to survive, thanks to my therapist. In May of 2017 I got interested in life coaching.
The information i was gathering seemed ‘beyond reach’ but not far enough out of reach that I lost intrigue. Was it possible that I could learn to thrive in my current circumstance, regardless of anyone or anything else? I thirsted for more. I got more.
- Acceptance: Finally finding the way forward.
I started to take more ownership for my emotions, rather than blame them on others.
I realized how liberating it was to accept that I had no (none, zero, zilch) control over anyone else’s emotions and 100% control over mine. I get to choose what to think. Those thoughts elicit emotions which drive my actions and results in life. Uh, if this isn’t the most empowering bit of information I could allow myself to believe I don’t know what else is.
I didn’t change past circumstances, I changed the way I thought about them. I found a way to heal, to survive, to thrive, to the point where I couldn’t help but share this information with anyone who has ever experienced anything similar. I used to think life “happened to me.” I now realize I am in complete control of my results in life.
I’m not talking about controlling other people’s results, that’s irrelevant. I am in control of my results in life. If I want to believe that I am a complete victim and that I didn’t deserve any of these things to happen, I am in control of that. If I want to believe that everything happened as it needed for me to progress and be the person I am today—that is a choice my friends. This is what I choose to believe. I am choosing to think thoughts that create this belief.
“We run from grief because loss scares us, yet our hearts reach toward grief because the broken parts want to mend.”
I ran from grief out of fear, but I ran to it because I needed to mend. I stayed in each step for as long as necessary. I repeated a few of the steps, and that’s ok. I didn’t have to rush through the steps to get to the end as quickly as possible.
Feeling these emotions fully is healthy.
This stuff is so powerful and I am choosing to share it with you because I want to help anyone who wants to to take the reins of their life. We are so much more in control of ourselves than we can imagine. Understanding “the how” has been life-changing for me. I now help people professionally. If you know someone that could benefit from this information please share!