“I’m in love with someone else.”
Words that instantly turn lives upside down. Words that only other people say and hear. Words that were never, ever going to be heard in my family. Sick hollow emptiness in the gut. Shock, disbelief, pain, more disbelief. Inner peace shattered, lost, in one short sentence.
The beginning of five years of the greatest trauma and testing of my life.
“But we’ve been married for 23 years. What about our children? We’ve always told them they never need to worry about our family breaking up. And she’s 20 years younger than you – she was only TWO years old when we got married!”
George felt terrible, but he was so deeply in love that he was beyond any form of appeal. “I’m so sorry to do this to you and the children. I don’t not love you, but I have to be with her.”
Lying alone in bed, I struggled to work out what had gone wrong. For most of our marriage we had been very close, sharing joys and sorrows, goals and growth. Yet gradually, without realizing it, we had spun ourselves into a cocoon of complacency, and stopped taking care of our special bond.
It was almost impossible for me to process the reality of what was happening. I was even further confused by his continuing kindness and gentleness. He did not turn from me in my pain and grief, and more than once I ended up crying in his arms, receiving comfort from the one who was inflicting the wounds.
When he finally left for good, my light went out. Could I possibly survive such depths of despair? The cold constant reality of his absence was unbearable. Without my co-driver, there was no joy in life’s ride. I simply couldn’t see my way out of the suffocating darkness pressing in on all sides.
Sobbing out my pain to my mother, I said, “I feel as if I’m being scoured out, and the hole is as big as the Grand Canyon. I can’t sleep, and the nights just bring chaotic thoughts whirling round and round in my head, going nowhere.”
My friends were shocked when they saw me. “Good grief girl, the flesh is falling off you in chunks. You need to force yourself to eat.”
“I just can’t,” I responded. “It’s a guaranteed way of losing weight fast, but not one I’d recommend.”
I sometimes found myself penning words, which gave me at least a measure of relief:
In my ignorance
I rode the crest
not believing the wave would ever crash to the shore
and splinter my soul into a thousand fragments.
Is there anything I could have done
that I did not do
to keep you true?
Your arms that once held me close
now push me away,
that once kept me safe from life’s storms
now expose me to their violence,
as you set your face
and close your mind and heart against me.
in the stillness of the night
enduring the emptiness inside
caught in the web of my longing for you,
despair stalking me, relentless and cruel,
your absence an ache in my throat
a constant knife-thrust in my heart
a wound which never heals.
In time, I started reading books and seeking help. One of the most helpful insights was the issue of focusing on the present moment. My counselor was kind but firm: “Live fully in the present; let go of the painful past, let go of future fantasies. George is not going to return to you – accept that. He has married her.”
Slowly I moved into the release of living each day, rather than staying mired in those wistful backward and wishful forward glances. I took a long hard look at myself, and saw how I might have contributed to his need for attention from another woman. Accepting my own share of responsibility for what had happened, rather than heaping all the blame on them, and ultimately forgiving both myself and them, was also very helpful. It enabled me to avoid the corrosive bitterness that burdens so many women in similar situations.
With the encouragement of some wonderful people, I became involved in helping other women still in pain, struggling with their own losses. I realised that I could make a contribution, and use the darkness of my experience to start bringing some light into theirs.
It was five years before I could say with certainty that I was fully healed. I expressed it to a friend like this: “I can talk freely about him, and the loss, and the recovery process – the emotions no longer have the power to disturb me. I love him, but I don’t have to have him. I am whole, I am at peace.”