Straight up the middle

The quarterback snaps the ball, and, darting first to the right then the left, suddenly puts his head down and goes straight up the middle of the field, plowing through the opposing team members like an icebreaker through Arctic waters.

It makes a good metaphor, you know? Life hands us the ball, a situation we didn’t know we were going to have to face. We can’t just stand there; life demands we move. And time moves us whether we wish it or not. We cannot throw that ball down, it will rebound into our hands. If we try to duck to right or left there are opposing forces waiting to trip us up and to lay us down to the ground, to pile on us in a mound. But those forces also loom at us from the road ahead as we can see it, and we don’t have any easy alternatives.

It’s a very human response, wanting to avoid pain and suffering.  However, there are those events we simply cannot avoid in any healthy way. YIELD! the crisis demands, and we must, or the hardship and suffering will follow us and haunt us and be dragged out far longer.

There are several ways we try to avoid our suffering:

Alcohol and drugs.  You may have seen the story from more than three years ago of the friend whose doctor placed her on an addictive sedative and left her on it for eight years. The addiction didn’t give her time for the pain to go away; it held that pain at the ready for a more sober occasion, it actually compounded that pain to her grief and adjustment. “Gina’s” story does not have a happy ending:  nearly three years after I wrote that post, she was found dead of alcohol poisoning by one of her children. Beautiful and stylish, funny, brilliant, enormously talented . .  but it wasn’t enough. She was absolutely certain she couldn’t cope with the situation she was living with. She tried so hard to avoid hurting, at all costs, but there was never a full payout to be free. And in the end, her avoidance method killed her and left her family coping with the collateral damage, in its wake.

Relationships and sex. We were lonely in our marriage, and the fear of unending loneliness is huge. We also have to recognize that the very disordered marriage to our SSA spouse left us feeling unattractive and disordered in terms of our own value. Consequently, when we start dating again, when other men pay attention to us and put the moves on us, it’s a heady experience. The energizing rush of a potential romance is a welcome relief after living in an emotional desert.  But the hormonal rush of sex masks a multitude of problems.  It covered them in our marriage for a while, and to a degree. Now it’s easy to use “romance” and sex to hide from our fear of being condemned to a loveless life.  But we need time to heal and to find our own integrity, and a hasty relationship can be as bad, in a different way, as our mixed marriage to a gay man.  I briefly remarried an alcoholic Peter Pan who was, in the end, as selfish and disinterested in me as DH had been.  I recently met a woman whose second husband was a serial womanizer.  This is something to protect ourselves against.

There are other forms of escape:  Work. Absorption in our children. Church. Injudicious and uncontrolled spending. Fantasy and daydreams. Anything that is good in our lives and a good in itself (imagination is a very good thing, for instance) can take on inordinate importance, and gives us a false sense of being protected from our reality or a respite from it. We have to be circumspect. Always.

Because some things in life — and grief and loss are among them – cannot be escaped. There are no shortcuts. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. One has to go straight up the middle of the field. The only way through it is straight through it.

 

 

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)

 

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.

Holiday challenges — Part One

The holidays are upon us – which for me runs from a couple weeks before Thanksgiving (family birthdays) until after the first of the year.  This is the time of year which brings out the best of people.  And the worst.

This is my “Black Dog” season — short days, frequent bad weather, being alone in a season that highlights families.

But for many people who have families, holidays can also be difficult because of unpleasant family dynamics.  Sometimes families bring out our inner child – not in a good way, but the uncertain, insecure, emotionally dependent . . .   Family stresses can cause us, or people we love, to turn in on themselves, to put up barriers and walls, to push away the very people who love them/us the most.

There’s not much to do.  All the hype about holiday as an idyllic season only makes things more painful when idyllic is one of the last adjectives one would reach for, in describing the holiday realities.  The movie Love, Actually, is a pretty sad but realistic portrayal of how disappointing Christmas can be.

What to do?

I haven’t decorated my house in years.  What’s the point, when no one will come by, no children will come home to celebrate? But I find myself committed, impulsively, to buying a Christmas tree from a local businessman, and so I’m going to decorate.  —-  and why shouldn’t I? Am I not capable of enjoying the festive glow of fairie lights in the tree? and Christmas dishes and wreaths and candles and the Nativity scene (I do hope the pieces are still intact!) and all of it?  And is it not perfectly realistic and reasonable to decorate the house for my own pleasure?  And so I shall.

 

 

An Open Letter to a Young Woman in Crisis

Dear Friend,

I am friends with your husband through an internet venue, and he’s told me that things are pretty rocky between the two of you right now. He’s also told me a bit about his past, so I feel so many things I wish we could sit down and talk about, you and I.

First of all, I don’t think anyone who hasn’t been through this scenario can even begin to guess what it’s like for us. Parents, siblings, best friends. . . unless they’ve been through and experienced our particular, warped dynamic, they just can’t understand. No matter how much they believe they do.

You’re a bit ahead of the game from most of us, because your husband told you, before you were married, what happened to him when he was younger and what a painful wound that has left in his sense of himself. Still, until you lived with him, you couldn’t be sure . . . also, as you told someone else, you felt coerced into the marriage, regardless.  So you felt cornered, then, and you feel cornered now.

So.  Right now you have two choices: to go, or to stay. Sounds and looks simple, but it’s not. No matter which you choose, you’re facing a frightening set of risks.  Let’s talk about those.

First of all, women do choose to stay with a gay/ssa spouse. Sometimes, it’s easier, especially for older women who are not emotionally up to starting from scratch, after years not having to be self-supporting, or who don’t want to see their families fractured into bits. There’s a bit of safety in hanging on to the hurts and disappointments and the unhappiness we already know, rather than facing the hurts and fears and risks we aren’t sure we can survive.

No one will blame you if you stay.

Also, if you stay, you might have a stabilizing and redemptive effect on Hubby, and that’s not a bad thing.

However, if you stay you are going to have to learn not to play passive-aggressive games with your husband to punish him for not being quite who you wanted him to be.  You’re going to have to take the initiative to grow up, to build a life of your own within the marriage that brings you a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.  You’re going to have to learn to live your life, not be a passenger being carried where you do or don’t want to go.  You’re going to have to take some risks, and some of your efforts will be disappointing and possibly embarrassing, and you’re just going to have to accept that.

You’re going to have to own your depression and face it and work to master it.  You’re going to need to make choices about independence and self-fullfillment even within the marriage that, so far, you’ve been hiding from making.

If you stay, there are things you will lose.  You will not have the sort of husband you thought you’d one day have; yours has too many scars in too many places, and he has cultural shaping that probably can’t be altered.  You will have to come to accept your husband for who he is, not resent that he’s not who you wanted him to be.  Give your disappointments a proper funeral, mourn them for a day or two, then get over it.  This is your choice, now; you are not a victim of someone else’s choices any longer.

You say you don’t want to have children with a man who has same-sex attraction, so you have opted for a celibate marriage.  You will have to come to terms with that decision, too; it’s a painful one for a woman who’s always dreamed of having a family. Frankly, I think it’s the only responsible choice you can make when you aren’t sure how the ground is going to rumble and roll, next, or what part of your life might possibly collapse around your head. But he’s not happy about it, and he also has rights for marital affection and intimacy — even if it’s only “of a sort.”  You’re going to have to face that conflict head on and there isn’t an easy resolution for it, even using Natural Family Planning diligently. Again, you’re going to have to be an adult, not a dependent.

Of course, many of these issues are going to be with you if you decide to go.

If you go, you can’t just go home and expect your parents to take care of you.  First thing you know, you’ll be finding yourself “coerced” into another marriage, and another man might not have as many good things going for him as DH does now.  Face that.

If you go, you need to prepare sensibly, build yourself up to be self-reliant, and then step out in courage and determination, and deal with things.  You’ll need to face and fight back against your depression.  Granted, SOME of it will probably evaporate when you’re no longer in the ssa-marriage; but some of it will haunt you for the rest of your life and you might as well start learning to get the mastery of it now, before you’re utterly and completely crippled by it.

If you go, you have to own responsibility for making this choice.  It is, after all, your choice.  Don’t blame him – don’t punish him. Simply own your choice as your choice and be done with it.  Because, Dear, face it: under other circumstances, you’d probably like your DH a lot.  There’s a lot about him to like. And to respect. And admire.  So look honestly at who he is and admit you’re going because you want a different sort of life.

No one who has a clue what you’re going through will fault you for going.

And the rest don’t matter. They can take a flying leap.

You’re going to have to be able to grow up enough to be able to say that, by the way, and mean it.  Regardless of your choice.

Dear, you were a child, emotionally, when you went from your parents’ home to your marital home.  You cannot remain a child any longer.  DH has in many ways treated you as a child – I fault him for this, but I fault you for playing into that role.  You’ve both got a lot of growing up to do.

But you can do it, and I want you to know, I am rooting for you. Whatever you choose.

Much love,
E.

Isolation

For such a small, neglected, and insignificant little blog, I hear from a surprising number of women fairly regularly.  This always surprises me.  Someone takes time to post a comment, or to send me an email . . .

The recurring theme of the messages I receive from other women is that of feeling isolated.  “No one knows . . .” they say.

They’re right.  No one who hasn’t been through a marriage and divorce with a gay man has any idea what we go through. It’s a subtle and insidious form of abuse, what we live with in the marriage

And, as one woman recently pointed out, when we divorce a gay man, the social reaction is different.  A woman divorces a man who’s been committing adultery, everyone sympathises with her, supports her, sympathises with her in the sense of the betrayal she’s experienced, the humiliation . . .

But when a woman divorces a man for being gay, or he leaves her for another man, the ex-wife is completely overlooked in the general rush to applaud the man for being gay.

That’s all that matters in this society — he’s gay, he’s got to be the hero. Isn’t it wonderful! isn’t it good! He has finally been able to come out and to live honestly.  Now he can be happy – – –

So it’s terribly lonely, even more so than a regular divorce.  And, as this same (very astute) woman pointed out to me, “I know a lot of women who’ve gone through divorces, but none of them have a gay (or transgender) husband.”  So our situation is odd and we go through it very much alone.

 

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