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)

 

On Marriage

I wonder how many of us have gone on to marry, and marry well.  I’ve not –

although I’d love to.

In our present moral climate, where words are being redefined to mean whatever anyone wants them to mean in that moment, and consequently to mean absolutely nothing at all, when marriage can be between any two (or more) people, or person and thing . .   when divorce is almost as common as marriage itself and most people are just living together without any pretense of commitment . . .

Marriage — real, authentic, traditional marriage — has become probably the most radically countercultural and courageous step anyone can take.

I doubt I will marry, now, after so many years, but I believe with all my heart that we who have experienced the worst of the legal institution must hold fast to our ideals of the spiritual realities of marriage, and defend them with all our might.

Let this be our legacy — a courage of a sort, defending the truth we believed, the fulfillment of union we were denied, the ideal that is bigger still than our loss or others’ failures or betrayals.  Let our voices proclaim the reality that others, including our former spouses, would deny: Marriage is a mystical and complete union between two people — one man and one woman for a lifetime — as complete as it is possible for any two individual souls to be united, in this world.  It is the bedrock of society, the only proper place for children to be brought into the world and raised, the haven from the sorrows and sufferings of the world.

We owe it to ourselves and to our children to hold fast to the idea, regardless our loss and heartbreak.

Even if we are denied the experience, let us not fail to affirm and support and advocate for the ideal itself.  Let us be victorious here, at least:  they could not deny us the truth of our thwarted dream.

Thirty Years, Part II

So, Tuesday, the 16th, was the 30th anniversary of the day DH actually moved out of our home.  The day passed quietly, even cheerfully, with work.  I was surrounded by people who like and respect me and I wasn’t troubled by depression at all.

Late last week, however, I experienced a personal challenge which has left me reflecting on these years.  I have spent more than 2/3 of my adult life alone, now.  Emotionally, I have spent the whole of it alone.

When I was a little girl, I wanted a boyfriend, and to be grown up, and to be married and have a home and a family and the whole “white picket fence” scenario.  I never was interested in a career, I never wanted anything other than to be part of a We.  I got a good college education, later on (graduated age 32) and thought of going on for advanced degree, but being a mom was much more important and, furthermore, there was that hope in the back of my mind that I might marry and have a second family . . . so I wanted to be “flexible” . . . which never happened, and now I’m 60 and I realized, last week, it isn’t going to happen.

I don’t know whether being single is my actual vocation, or whether it has become my vocation by default, but here I am.

“Don’t give up,” says a friend.  Don’t burn my bridges, he means.  Easy for him to say, fond as he is of me — but when I think of what I want from marriage, how unlikely it is I should find anyone at this point who would be an equal spouse  . .  I have friends, yes.  Good, decent men — but . . .

There’s that fundamental little trust issue. Thirty years — thirty damn years! — after I was “liberated” from the psychological abuse (okay, the “Free At Last!” day came later, with the divorce, but still – !), I still cringe at perceived disapproval. “Did I just blow that one to smithereens?” I’m still tormented by DH’s contempt.  There are still scars and sometimes they sit on raw nerve.

I expect to be abandoned again, I expect to be emotionally betrayed, so I try to anticipate that crisis before I become too irrevocably invested. I love my friend — admire, esteem, even trust — but I push, sometimes hard. Because everything in my gut says the abandonment will come and let’s get it over with now before it can hurt more than it already will.  I just don’t believe in someone being wholly committed to me. Even in friendship.

The odd thing is that I’ve never really worried about loving a gay man again. That’s not what has tormented me. It’s these other, more universal issues.

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.

“Don’t Deny the Rage” – Part One

When DH and I separated, I received the same advice from several kind and wise people with whom I worked at the time:  “Don’t deny the rage.”

I had no idea what they were talking about.  I was living on the epicenter of an emotional earthquake, I was wary and scared and anxious and tense and many, many unpleasant things, but angry wasn’t one of them.  In fact, anger was such an alien concept to me at that point, I didn’t even know what they were talking about. I’d been angry for years, but it had manifested as impatience, short temper, etc., quick firebursts that just as quickly, vented, died back down. I didn’t know what rage was.

It took a year, nearly an entire calendar year before it hit me, and even then it required a catalyst outside my own experience in the form of a terrible drunk driving incident that killed the wife and three children of one of my dear friends.  For my friend I became angry, and that righteous anger popped the cork and — I couldn’t get the cork back in.

It revealed itself in several ways:  Bursts of excessive energy accompanied by the strong desire to inflict deep pain on those who had wronged me. Black humor, self-deprecating humor. Sarcasm. Profanity. An inordinate desire for revenge — I adopted a motto that reflected my resentment at DH’s efforts to sabotage my independence and success: Success Is the Best Revenge; sometimes, later, I would modify it: Happiness Is the Best Revenge.

It boiled, it exploded, it simmered. It waited still and quiet beneath the surface then it would erupt at unexpected times and under, often, unreasonable provocations.

When it didn’t go away on its own, I became frightened, by its intensity and by its duration; this was not my usual outburst but a months-long, years-long storm.

We women are told not to get angry.  We are told from childhood to hold in our tempers. A grown woman who lets her anger flare is dismissed as a bitch. We are told to be nice and to do whatever it takes in order to get along with even the most difficult and unreasonable people in our lives.  This is fine to a point, but it misses the greater point that sometimes a line has to be drawn in the sand and defended with might and main:

You may not hit me.  You may not tell me I am stupid and worthless.  You may not dismiss me as insignificant. You might think it, but it is an evil, nasty, unfair and abusive attitude, and you may not inflict it upon me. You may not abuse me.

Anger is the only reasonable response to abuse.  I read somewhere that anger is a secondary emotion to fear or hurt.  That’s true to a point — we have been hurt and so we are angry. We are afraid of abandonment or of insignificance, and so we are angry.  That makes sense.  But anger is also simply the only reasonable response to situations of violence, or moral outrage.  This is, I suspect, a uniquely Christian idea (“Be angry and do not sin” — Eph. 4:26) but an important one.

Maybe what made my anger so difficult do deal with was that it was a combination, a culmination of All The Above. It was secondary to hurt – “why am I never good enough?” — and to fear — “What is going to happen now? How can I manage on my own?” but it was also a gut reaction to the fact that I was being abused.

My own letter to Lauren Pearson

Dear Lauren,
I have been very slow to write to you, following the avalanche of news items about your husband coming out as gay and leaving your family. There is so much – too much! – I have wanted to tell you, and too much anger for your sake to inflict so much on you.  I hope you saw Janna Darnelle’s letter in Public Discourse; I thought it was a fine letter, but there are things I thought ought to be said, that Janna never said. Now perhaps enough dust has settled that you might be able to think more clearly and my own passion on the matter might not add to your difficulty, so I will say them.

My husband did not tell me, when he left, that he was gay. When I figured it out, meeting his new “best friend,” he scoffed and denied and generally behaved very badly.  I suppose Trey has treated you more honorably in being honest – of a sort.  He gets some props for that.

But that does not make what he has done okay.  It doesn’t absolve him from his personal responsibility or his obligations to you, your children — and to God.

My imagination travels to your home, and how lonely and bleak things must have been for you, during the years of your marriage.  People assume that homosexuality is about sex, when it’s about everything — every dimension of human relationship.  I am lonely in my solitude, but I have never been so desperately lonely, so desolate in spirit, as I was during my marriage, when I wasn’t good enough even to be a companion and friend. All DH wanted from me was the “beard,” someone to hide behind; beyond that, he regarded me as pretty much useless.  I expect your life was pretty bleak, too; I’ve never heard an ex-wife say her gay husband was an affectionate, companionable man.

Friends gave me some very good advice, which I pass on to you. It perplexed and confused me at first, but it was good counsel:  do not deny the rage.  At the time, I didn’t know what they were talking about; I was many things during those horrible days — frightened, worried, confused, depressed — but I couldn’t register anger.  It was only a year later, when a dear friend suffered an unimaginable, obscene tragedy, that I experienced rage for him and his family, and, once the cork had popped, rage boiled out of me, years’ worth of rage.  It boiled and festered, and it frightened me.  But in retrospect, that rage gave me strength, and it is one of the things that kept me from a complete breakdown (to which I was frighteningly close). So do not deny the rage. 

“Straight Spouse” “experts” will tell you that you should be happy for Trey’s declaration, for his decision to be “true to himself.”  They say you must accept, support, and approve gay marriage in order to demonstrate support and love for your husband.  I say that is a wicked lie; it is a self-immolation; it is a violation against yourself and your identity as Woman as well as Wife.  We are free and independent and valued human souls, created in God’s image and bearing in our bodies and our feminine natures something of His own Character. We possess an intrinsic value in ourselves. Moreover, we are an inimitable and irreplaceable part of marriage. To support gay “marriage” is to betray ourselves and even the very vitality and glory of Marriage. Giving credibility, deference to a gay spouse’s choices is a violation of your worth and your dignity.  You are not an interchangeable part. Your role as woman and wife is not one that can be substituted by a gay lover, not even in the “dominant-passive split” of gay relationships.  I urge you to honor yourself — your own intrinsic value as Woman, as Wife.  Do not sell yourself, do not betray yourself, for an agenda that is built upon holding Woman in disdain.

There are several things I must urge you to keep in clear view: Homosexuality is currently a very popular, lauded lifestyle choice, but it is physically, emotionally, and spiritually dangerous. I urge you to resist sentimentalism, in this period of your separation.  You will surely be under a great deal of pressure to be “supportive,” but I want to tell you again: “support” is a lie. You cannot support a man in self-destructive behavior and be true to yourself or your promise to love, “for better or for worse.”  This is the worst, and you must keep a clear head about you in order to survive, and survive well.  

The gay lifestyle is dangerous. Gay men have a range of infections and physical disorders that the straight community never hears of, or imagines. The abuses they put their bodies under are brutal. There is nothing sweet or loving or “supportable” in any of it.  And AIDS is on the increase again, in the gay community. So are other STDs, many of which are becoming drug-resistant. For a painfully honest look into what the gay lifestyle is really like, you might want to investigate the work of a man named Joseph Sciambra.  The truth is unpleasant and painful to see, but in the Name of Love, I believe you need to look, anyway.  

Gay men resent opposition.  Brace yourself.  You may be sorely tempted to go along to get along.  I must tell you:  it is not worth it. At least, it wasn’t worth it for me. I thought being kind and sweet and accommodating would win his trust and something akin to love. You will be told you must, you will be sorely tempted to go along with Trey’s decision in order to get along with him.

Something very ugly is happening, here.  What you have gone through is, in strictly impersonal psychological terms, abuse.  You have been used to protect and make “safe” a person who engaged you in this situation under false pretenses.  The consequences to you of this use have been deemed unimportant — because it is predicated upon the presumption that you, yourself, are unimportant.  Again, this is abuse.  And the insistence that you must now deny your anger and your righteous sense of having been betrayed in order to “support” and even cheer your husband in his decision is a continuation and a perpetuation of that abuse.  What is worse, you are being required — by the gay community and the “Straight spouse” group — to not only endorse the abuse, but to participate in inflicting yourself  with that abuse by “supporting” Trey in his choices.

I beg you to be clear-thinking and to stand firm against that destructive idea.  In fact, a friend said this to me, and I share it with you:  you can’t get someone to heaven by encouraging their lies.

It can even come masquerading as “help.”You may hear or feel a little voice telling you that you must go along in order to wield influence with him. This temptation will masquerade itself as a false heroism:  that you and you alone have the power to save him from himself.  This is a false heroism because, as a man, he must own responsibility for his own choices, he must stand on his own two feet. You might say, “I believe in your better self,” but you are fooling yourself when you think that you, and the power of your love for him, can help him to achieve that better self.  

If he were capable of that love, he would never have left his family for the gay community.

No matter what the revisionists say, Homosexuality is neither normal nor is it an acceptable choice for a Christian.  Sexual depravity is part and parcel of pagan culture, explicitly and unquestionably forbidden by God.  Deconstructionists and revisionist are playing a nasty and deceitful game to deny this, but history and sociology support the traditional Biblical view of heterosexual monogamy and chastity as normative, and the solely acceptable choice for the Christian disciple.

There are no easy answers for the challenges you face.  Janna urged you to fight for your children.  I second this. You will have to face the fact that perhaps Trey would never willfully hurt your children, but you cannot assume that his chosen companions will be conscientious.  Some of them will prey upon your sons, they will scorn and ridicule your daughters.  The wounds inflicted on my daughters by their father are enormous; I thank God! that we did not have sons who might have been preyed upon by his friends. We had a neighbor who did not protect his son from his friends, and the result has been more than tragic.  Fight for your children.

None of this is easy, and I do not have Janna’s sweet and gentle spirit. I am angry for your sake and for your children’s. This may seem excessive to you, even this far out from the initial shock. But I am with you in this bizarre sorority, and in our shared suffering.