Lancing the boil

Every now and then, a flood of very ugly, bitter memories overwhelms me. This week has been one of those seasons. I hate it when it comes, but there it is. This morning I woke up, feeling much better after talking with a lifelong friend, last night.  I called this process “lancing a boil.”

The years immediately following DH’s leaving me were more horribly difficult than I can begin to describe. In common parlance, I had a nervous breakdown. Okay, for the sake of accuracy, I’m told there’s no such thing, medically speaking, as a nervous breakdown. The term is a sort of lay umbrella term that is so nonspecific that it doesn’t really mean anything.  It covers dozens of situations and so becomes pretty meaningless. The neighbor who had a bipolar episode requiring hospitalization could just as well be said to have have had one as I could, dealing with the nightmare stress and anxiety of going through the separation and discovering DH is gay.

More, at the time, I was under the impression that a nervous breakdown meant someone had been found curled up in the fetal position mumbling incoherently to herself, and couldn’t be pulled out of it. I wasn’t nearly so bad, I thought; I was functioning (more or less). Besides, I couldn’t think of things like that, there was too much at stake, I had a family to take care of, and I had to keep going.

But this is what I experienced. I am sharing so that others going through this can know they’re not losing their minds, but experiencing something not at all uncommon among us:

* I couldn’t concentrate.  This was particularly inconvenient since I was in college at the time, and English majors read a lot.  I’d look at a page for long minutes and not be able to figure out what it said. I’m not really sure how I was able to graduate and keep a B average.
* My mind was all over the place. Mostly, as I remember, was a litany of “I’m so afraid” or “I don’t know if I can do this” sorts of thoughts. Worse, a lot of my thoughts, and the interior voice that comes when one is reading silently, were screaming at me.
* I wanted to sleep all the time. Sleep was an escape. Plus, I was so, so overwhelmingly tired all the time. I could drop off to sleep so easily, and I hated waking up and having to be in the real world again (I still love to sleep, my dreams can be so entertaining! but I am also glad to wake up again.)
* I felt tense and anxious all the time. I came to refer to it as feeling as if I were living on the epicenter of an earthquake. Every single thing I did, no matter how normally inconsequential, seemed to loom in front of me as possessing potential for catastrophic consequences. I was certain that whatever I did, even to choose the pink button-up blouse over the blue knit pullover, would be WRONG.
* I couldn’t cry.  I just couldn’t. Still don’t. I pretty much isolated myself with my children and tried not to go to pieces. Complete isolation was impossible, being in college, living on campus in married student housing, having children. But I curtailed a lot of activities and kept to myself, still and quiet, as much as I possibly could.
* I felt on edge, had “the jitters,” all the time. No respite. For years.
* I had already established overeating, and eating the wrong foods, as a way of self-medication during the bitterly unhappy marriage. This continued through the Dark Days following the separation and the discovery that DH is gay. I’m not sure it actually increased, but it might have done.
* For months, people urged me, “Don’t deny the rage.” I didn’t know what rage was — until a horrible tragedy befell a friend, a year after DH moved out, and the cork popped.  Once it popped, there was no shoving it back in, and I seethed and boiled and simmered with rage. It wasn’t just that I developed a short-fused temper (also connected to my fear of catastrophe striking again at any minute) but my usual sense of humor turned sharp-edged, sarcastic, “black.” The negativity and resentments came out sideways. So did an overabundance of profanity.  Frankly? I didn’t like myself at all during this time. But I couldn’t seem to stop.

These things I simply attributed to “stress,” but it was stress to the breaking point.  For fun, I took one of those “stress tests” that assigns number values to different stressors — highest number for the death of a loved one, down through a series of other situations to more minor situations like car repairs.  A test similar to this one. The test warned, if one scored above an 85 over a six-month period, one’s health might be in jeopardy from excessive stress over the time indicated.  I scored 320.  Okay, I stretched the six months to 18 months or thereabouts because most of those issues were still currently causing problems.  But that was still a frighteningly high number.

Being unable to recognize what was going on, I didn’t seek professional assistance. I’d already dropped out of therapy because DH cashed and kept the Blue Cross/Blue Shield benefit check that was supposed to have gone to our therapist for “marriage counseling,” and I was terrified of debt. I didn’t realize that I might be in need of medication to see me through the worst of it. I couldn’t see that continuing in therapy would have been a very sound investment for my recovery and my future life.

I had no family support. None. Due to problems in my own family, some of which deserve a post of their own, I had no help or support whatsoever from my parents. My evangelical church, which DH left as soon as we separated, was no help; the pastor laid the whole burden of blame on me. The support and encouragement I did have came solely from the college community, from faculty and administration who knew me.

It’s hard to look back and to see just how bad things were. I shed a few tears, yesterday, thinking what I’d had to go through, and how utterly alone I felt (and, in fact, was).  “Bleak” skims the surface, and I don’t know of a better word to describe the experience — a thesaurus of words, maybe, would be required.

A regular divorce is bad enough. Stress enough. But a divorce PLUS the discovery that one’s spouse is gay? The world that I thought I knew was suddenly revealed not to have actually existed. The most essential realities of my life suddenly — not true. Or vanished altogether. The world had collapsed, a new world had to be recognized, and I didn’t know who I was in this unfamiliar place.  I was terrified of failure, but failure seemed inevitable.

This is NOT the end of the story — but it will suffice for now — again, as an assurance to other women going through this nightmare:  your experience is not singular, you are not in completely unchartered territory, although it’s not a well-travelled path.  You can survive this.  You can probably come out of it better than I did. Take comfort from my experience, and learn from my mistakes.

(To be continued – – – God’s Grace Carries Us)


Reviving the Blessings Journal

Low. Not sure what has triggered it, maybe the big anniversary or the realization I’m single for the duration or something I haven’t put my finger on . . . or maybe it’s the cumulative effect of several things at once. Anyway, it is what it is.

Several years ago, I came up with the idea of recording the unusual, the beautiful, the blessed things that I encountered during the course of ordinary days, to counter the sense of drowning in grief. I quit after several weeks, when I was back on top of things, again.  I think it’s time to revive the discipline

You see, I believe that every beautiful thing that comes by us, even the “ordinary” ones, is a way God is telling us “I love you.”  And every reminder that God loves us is a step out of the dark hole, or a pushing away of the Black Dog —

So here goes:

BLESSINGS AND BEAUTY, Week of February 25, 2018
Signs of Spring:  Daffodils and jonquils are up and in full bloom. Ornamental cherries. Bradford pears are a cloud of bridal white. Saw some forsythia yellow on my way to Mass, Friday.
A good bit of sunshine, last week, with temps in the 70s, giving us a break from the clouds, rain, and general early spring chill that we’ve returned to, today (Monday, 2/26).
A squirrel came within a yard of me, yesterday. I don’t know whether he was distracted by his food or just used to people moving around him but he didn’t seem to mind me at all. I like squirrels.
A turtle was by the sidewalk as I came out of Mass, yesterday.  A good-sized turtle.  I stopped and got some photos. He/She hissed and turned his/her back to me, but I still took pictures.
There’s a fragrance in the air, here at my country home, that reminds me of my grandmother’s grape hyacinths’ fragrance. I’ve no idea what it is or where it comes from – there are no hyacinths anywhere around me! and this fragrance is strong. But it’s a wonderful scent, and I wish I could capture it into a perfume to wear all year round.
My cousins’ dog came to visit both Saturday and Sunday. There’s something very sweet about a dumb animal choosing one as a personal favorite. Several students’ cats and dogs also seem to have chosen me as a favorite; their humans tell me they don’t behave the same open and friendly way toward other people who come to their houses.
My cat seems to be very sensitive to my state of mind, and he has stayed very close to me, these past couple of weeks, all cuddly and  — well, demanding and sometimes annoying. But it’s still sweet.
A young friend honored me this week by sharing a moment of profound vulnerability with me.
Another friend shared with me one of her personal sorrows.
I received a most generous gift from another friend, a gift that has covered my recent car repairs and given me a little to put aside for the next crisis.
Another friend, an artist, contacted me, “Can I help you with your writing and speaking business promotion?” She designed a business card for me, and coordinating notecards. I have to pay the printer, but she gave me her talent.
“I love the hymns we sang today,” someone told me, after Mass. I choose the hymns each week.

Some of these blessings also bring pain and sorrow — the love of my young friends and their parents is such a contrast to the estrangements I live with in my own family, and the affirmations of others’ gifts brings me the pangs of remembering the struggles to be known and taken seriously by my parents and by DH — but this is also part of the healing. One pushes through the resistance to find peace.

And I will push through.  The fact that a fragrance can stop me dead in my tracks while I delight in it, and the cloud of pink from a particular ornamental makes me say “ooooh!” before I’ve known I’m going to say it — these are signs of great hope.  I may feel low, but I am not too low.


I don’t mind being an ex-wife defining my work. This is something I do, it’s part of how God redeems that experience and brings something out of it that, I hope, helps others.

But I’ll be damned if I’ll sit back and let being the ex-wife of a homosexual define my life.  Even after thirty years. The warping of the psychological and emotional abuse of that decade-plus may be too much to overcome, and I may not be able to find happiness in married love, but I will not go through my life as a victim.

A “wounded warrior,” maybe, but not a victim.

A friend I dearly love made a remark – I’m sure, now, it was innocently-intended – that set off a chain reaction of memories. . . miserable, bitter memories. And a knee-jerk reaction, “I hope you don’t mean to imply . . . ” that I’m cringing over, now — but that’s okay, he’s tough and he can take it. My life isn’t endangered because of an accidental trigger.

Memories. Weaknesses. We think we’re sailing along in calm waters, we think that, because it’s been a long time since we have been tormented by thoughts and memories and reactions that we’ve finally come clear of them, and WHAM! something slams into our gut and there they are again.

As far as I can see, there’s only one thing for it: grit my teeth, fight my way to the surface of the wave, and ride it out. If I have a hard time getting my thoughts back under control, I have a local counsellor I can talk it out with. I have friends who will support me. I have this writing as an outlet.

I’ve been through this before, I know it will pass.  And it takes less time, now, than in the early years.


It’s All Okay

Much better the day after that last post.  Most of the time I do very well.  This one took me unprepared.

There are days I know will be difficult:  my daughters’ birthdays. Our anniversary.  Christmas.  As those approach I give myself a bit extra pampering, allow myself a bit of grieving, buy myself a good chocolate bar and maybe some other delicacy.  I take extra naps.  In advance, I might take extra vitamins and immune boosters, since being low in spirits often coincides with a lowering of resistance to sickness.

I’m not a cry-er; it would probably be better for me if I were.

But what the mind doesn’t consciously identify, the body often will know and react to.  This can be brutally hard at times. Suddenly finding oneself low and not knowing why is almost more distressing than being low in itself.  When I’m low on certain expected dates, I know it’s because it’s that date and will pass by the time I wake up, tomorrow morning; but when I’m leveled and don’t know why, it leers at me and threatens to become my permanent state.  This is unrealistic, of course, but sometimes the feeling dominates all.

The good news is that I got through a couple of anniversaries, this past year, with barely a wobble.  There is a lot to be grateful for:  if time doesn’t heal all wounds, it does generally make them less acute.

Thirty Years

Thirty Years.  It’s been thirty years since the morning he came in and announced he was leaving. “I can’t take it any more,” he said.

Of course, he dropped this bombshell on me as I was changing clothes to go to my first final exam of the semester — timing I can’t help but feel was not an accident. He had sabotaged me before. This time the sabotage was only a bump in the road; I still completed my work.

But how those years have flown by! Thirty years! In some ways it seems like just a couple weeks.  There are hours and days when I still feel fragile and raw, uncertain where to step, when my wounds still feel raw and I feel timid and weak.

There are times when I grieve deeply for lost family, dreams, and possibilities. I look back on the thirty years when, under other circumstances, I might have remarried, had another family, known love. . . but for the wounds and scars left by the very disordered relationship of marriage with a gay man.

“You need to find yourself a straight man and get married again,” he counseled me, when my first social outing was a large school event, and my way was paid by two gay colleagues. But he himself never acknowledged to me that he is gay, and he denied to others that his homosexuality had anything to do with our divorce,

So how could he admit that the dysfunctional relationship between the two of us had done any damage to my mind and soul, at all?  He couldn’t, and all these years later, still can’t. Or won’t.

I get by.  Right now, anniversaries being low points, that’s the best I can do.  Forty-eight hours ago I was happy and hopeful; perhaps in forty-eight more I shall be there again. But right now I am low.

It passes, so I hang on.

Forgiveness, the essential component

We go through a lot, we wives of homosexuals. The manipulations, the spiritual and psychological abuses… I think I’ve mentioned before that every one of the ex-wives I’ve ever spoken to or communicated with live with depression of some degree or other. Then there are the family battles, the drive to try to protect our children, or – I wonder whether this is prudent or a big mistake – even our husbands in the early days when we’re just discovering their homosexuality and geared toward “protecting” them and maybe even their families from knowing the truth…

And we carry this enormous load of sorrow and suffering and how do we survive?

The answer is simple: we forgive.

When we consider how he lied to us, we forgive.
When we consider how he mocked and ridiculed us, we forgive.
When we stand under a barage of insults, we forgive.
When we agonize in the neglect, we forgive…
When the manipulations get ugly and things we never dreamed of happen… we forgive.

Now, I want to make something VERY VERY CLEAR. Forgiveness is not shrugging our shoulders and pretending something awful didn’t happen. That’s not forgiveness – that’s unhealthy self-sacrifice. No! We can draw our line in the stand and take whatever reasonable steps are necessary to protect ourselves and our children – and in fact I am increasingly convinced we must, not only for our own sakes or for our children’s but also for his sake – so that we don’t become complicit in his self-destruction.

What we cannot do, however, is clear: we cannot, we must not, harbor bitterness, entertain thoughts of recriminations.Not toward him, not toward his mother, not toward the kids who decide he’s telling the truth and his being gay had nothing to do with the divorce…

No, Forgiveness means that we let God dispense the justice.

“Don’t Deny the Rage” — Part Three

Anger can be a powerful barometer to alert us something is Not Right in our lives, in our relationships.

It can be a powerful impetus for needed change. Anger at being abused, for instance, can motivate us to make changes to stop the abuse or to get away from it.

We have to be careful, though.  Anger, badly or recklessly heeded, can lead to some irresponsible or self-destructive choices.

Anger can be turned inward.  This is self-destructive. It’s been said for years that depression is “anger turned inward.”  It’s my personal opinion (and I’m not a psychologist) that that’s too simplistic an assessment, but there’s enough truth there for it to become an easy platitude. We punish ourselves for others’ wrongs, fault ourselves for not being able to “help” or “fix,” things that aren’t ours to begin with, and we become depressed.

I’ve seen anger lead to irresponsible and dangerous choices.  People who can’t cope turning to alcohol or drugs, for instance. Or flashes of rage and temper that cause us to hurt other people, in turn. Or a seething resentment that builds into a dishonest idea that we have a right to — get even, to get a bit of our own back, to have our needs met however dishonestly or dishonorably we have to do it.  I’ve known men and women who justified adulterous affairs by saying their spouse was “asking for it.” “I have a right to be happy” isn’t necessarily true — certainly no one has a right to be “happy” at the expense of others’ trust or if it means violating sacred principles.

I think more often anger is just a low simmering flame that reveals itself in our restlessness, an inability to find peace, an edginess in our relationships with others, punctuated by occasional yelling bouts and the like. Maybe we can’t stop replaying a conversation we had (or wish we’d had) and what we said or wish we’d said or would like to say. .     Maybe it shows up in an unaccustomed use of profanity, or door-slamming, or some other behavior that isn’t so self-destructive as alcohol abuse or the “I’ll show him!” affair — but still gives us that nagging warning that we aren’t doing so well with everything as we’d like to believe we are.

This is where we have to take ourselves in hand and be adult.  Some of these things, we can handle ourselves, and should. But there comes a time when you might just need some professional help to move beyond the rage to a place where you can start to be productive again, and to find some peace.  There’s no shame in getting help, although it can be hard to get started, especially with a stranger.  It’s worth getting through the discomfort in order to find some peace.

And life is far too short, and opportunities for joy far too infrequent, to have your life sabotaged by unresolved rage.