01: Ducks and other quacks

I use to believe some things were best kept private…but it is precisely the act of secret keeping that allowed my betrayal to fester so long. When the lies, secrets, and betrayal detonated on our lives twenty-eight days ago I was both sickened and relieved. The secret had been weighing down my soul and my relationships for a long time.

I’m glad the secret is out. Maybe now, with a little help and patience, I can move forward instead of being trapped in the past by remorse and shame.

Through this process, I am learning a great deal about myself and other people. I’m learning to grieve the loss of relationship and identity.

One of the first lessons was hard to face: people I thought were friends aren’t. However, the second lesson immediately followed: I have true friends.

Which is great because I was certain everyone would judge me and then abandon me once the secret was discovered. It’s why secrets are kept. We are afraid of how people will react and lose things we do value.

For example, last week some knucklehead I’ve known over six years threaten me and I had to tell the cops to protect myself in case he did what he said. He said this, not based on what I did, but based on what he thinks of me based on what I did.

We’re all arm-chair psychologist about other people’s pain and motivations.

Other friends were so kind that after acknowledging their anger and disappointment they gave me a safe place to rest my head without judgment. It was good to see. They know both my Painter and myself so their honesty was heartfelt: they are angry about what I did and who I hurt but also know humans aren’t always great. We all do things better undone. Their behavior reflects a level of spiritual and emotional maturity I don’t always possess.

Still, others see this solely as a black and white, good and bad issue, or some character deficiency or morality take. You can guess where I fall on their scales.

A surprising handful took my expression of pain as wallowing in self-pity and became indignant, accusing me of more deception.

They expected stoicism perhaps?

Of course, it’s easy to demand stoicism when the pain is someone else’s anguish. And while it is true I created this calamity, it doesn’t make it less painful or easier.

I recognize people will paint my behavior in the light of their own experiences, brushed by their own prejudices and colored by their biases.

From a detached perspective, it’s amazing…but I’m not particularly detached. I’ve always said, we take comfort in the sins of others. “At least I never…”, the first sentence of their self-talk on my public fall.

Others have said, they don’t understand but recognize they have their own secrets and haven’t judged mine…then given me buttered bread and fresh eggs. They don’t confuse my behavior with my feelings for Painter.

If anything, my lies and infidelity is a reflection of my feelings of self-worth; either too high or too low depending on perspective. We all have our things. I wish mine weren’t so public and ugly. I wish I knew who knew what.

I wish my secret was collecting rubber ducks instead of lies.

Some of what people know is my fault because when this secret came out it nuked the lives of good people.

In pain and shame, I vomited all over social media trying to drink my own poison. I carried other people’s water. I gave “friends” in social media an out by unfriending them to make room for someone else’s pain instead of giving them the freedom to choose. I arrogantly chose for them, unfriending a hundred people out of self-loathing and misplaced responsibility. People I’ve known over half a decade.

I think in my initial shame I left them before they could leave me.

I do that occasionally. I undermine what is best before they leave me. I won’t let people love me – or forgive me. Which makes me a complex person to love. Although this pain has introduced me to a couple of people that find happiness and can separate the actions of the people from the people. It was an interesting conversation.

However, my decisions often worsen the initial loss, pain, loneliness, guilt, sadness, and fear. I cut people off before they knew what happened or why.

What I did matters and I am addressing that appropriately. What matters more at the moment is what I do next. The outing of my secret allows me to also practice hope, courage, honesty, openness, vulnerability, and love. As awful as my behavior was towards my ex-wife Beatrix and Painter, it has opened the door to new opportunities, new friendships, and new lessons.

All pain is the touchstone of spiritual progress and although I am an atheist I still have a philosophical view of people and pain. I’m already in a better place today than I was when this started. I’m learning to own my self-destruction and the consequences.

Painter and I are done.

I have no illusions of that but I’m not making drastic changes. Perhaps it is best we are apart. Perhaps it isn’t. I don’t know. And neither does anyone else.

Painter and I both need to make decisions on moving our lives forward as complex as it is at the moment for me…and probably her too. When things are good we were definitely the cutest couple at summer camp. It cannot always be beautiful but at least now it can be real.

I moved what I could carry this past weekend. Everything else when to the thrift store. I’m not running out and adding chaos to avoid feelings. I’m not hiding. I’m using what I have to make choices that aren’t so rigid it leaves fewer and fewer options and myself more and more isolated.

The pain needs perspective, else it becomes a cycle of self-abuse and destruction. Perspective is born from time and distance. With help, time and distance provide pain meaning.

I’m glad I’m not shackled to the secret. I finally have choices. I can embrace my true north.

28 days. 12 states. 4k miles.

Still driving.