“It used to be divorce that carried all the stigma. Now it’s choosing to stay when you can leave that is the new shame.”
I travel. A lot. It tends to be a solitary process.
This week I’m in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania rebuilding a materials loadout – and my life. As I often do, I geotagged my location on a Twitter post. I do that so when I look back over my feed looking for progress I can see where I was when I was feeling, learning, or exploring as I am rediscovering my new life.
On Monday I tagged myself at the hotel in Monaca, Pennsylvania.
As such, when Mighty on Twitter saw I tagged myself on Twitter she sent me a Twitter note. Ironically, her and her husband grew up in Aliquippa and now live about 20 miles north. Because we are so close I invited her and her husband to meet for dinner.
It isn’t very often I get to sit and talk with people riding the same stormy seas. Too often I am sailing this storming sea alone and as a result, I miss out on hearing things from C’s perspective.
There are a couple of things I want to say about L (aka Mighty). First of all, one of the things I like about her is she has chosen a handle that reflects who she wants to be and not simply the victim of infidelity. Secondly, she is leaning into her hurt and using it to help other people and therefore helping herself. I admire what she is doing.
I do want to say, one of the overriding themes of the conversation was the shame and social stigma attached to betrayal. By staying, L and J have lost lifelong relationships and valuable friendships.
Consistently it seems, an obstacle for couples to honestly and truthfully engage with one another and work through either staying or leaving is the social shame and judgment interlopers insert into an already hurt-filled and personal situation. Everyone has an opinion making it difficult to simply find non-judgemental and non-shaming people to reason things out with. Too many people think they know what is right for others.
It was nice to sit and talk with people that have their own Ugly and shitheadery and see it for what it is.
I wrote more about the experience and conversation. It posts this Saturday.
Let the pain have a purpose.
About the Authors
Here are letters we have written.
One was written by me and the other by J. The function of these letters are for me to express the destruction & what I would like to hear from him. And for J to express he does get it (that is why his letter is written as if it is me).
This was an exercise we have done twice. It was helpful to get a look into each other in a way that can be looked back upon as well. Keep in mind we wrote these but read them out loud to each other, we are not writers and they are fairly lengthy.
Letter #1: By L
I see you act in love in every gift you have ever given to anyone. You are my reminder of what the most precious gift I’ve ever seen, Love.
When I think of gifts I think of Christmas. It’s a day of celebrating, there are all these beautiful decorations done by you, a tree decorated in perfect harmony, selected by you, food abundant, stockings hung and overly stuffed. Family and friends is a time to show our love of faith, each other, and our blessings. Every Christmas morning our home is bursting. There is a mountain of gifts consuming an entire room.
Each gift is specifically selected, wrapped and handled with care. Every one of them is a thoughtful expression of love in the physical form. You have spent weeks preparing for this day. Countless hours thinking, pondering, and hunting for the perfect gifts for everyone. You take great care to plan the meal. All the details, planning preparing, cleaning to make sure everything is perfect. Every year you give and give till there is nothing left to give in time, money, energy, and thought. Your exhaustion is noticeable but you desire to express your love for the others prevails. You express love in every sacrifice. Everyone gathers, our most cherished loved ones and they all have a memorable and loving environment to celebrate togetherness. This day I can see very clearly all of what you are poured into everyone including myself.
What I failed to see all this time are the ordinary days, where you have acted in the same way. These days are everyday, these gifts come continually. You take great care to plan, prepare, your sweat, tears, smiles, laughs, exhaustion, thinking, and pondering, working for the perfect everything. They simply do not come with the same backdrop as a special occasion. There is no wrapping, bows, lights, sparkle, or grand meals. Yet everyday you loved me, sacrificed all of yourself to be my wife and mother of our boys. It took center stage and I wouldn’t accept it.
At points all the gifts you have given to me everyday, I took for granted. I wouldn’t allow me to see the beauty in your gifts, they didn’t sparkle and come in fancy paper. You gave me countless gifts in love this way. I devalued the love you have given me so easily. I looked at some of these gifts as crimes against me and failed once again to see the love you were giving. This allowed me to take from you what enabled you to conquer the world. I took that gift and made it a dagger, pierced it right through into your heart, so deep to the place your soul is. Who you are and what drives you in every act you’ve ever done for us and more for me, gone! My dagger stole from you the gifts in love you have given me in grains of sand so abundant it could create the most magnificent beach in all of the world, they meant nothing to me at the time and now you feel empty. I destroyed every gift unrecognizable, there’s only pieces left and no way of telling how you can ever gift me a gift again. Its like waking up Christmas morning and the Grinch stole all of your gifts.
I’m the monster who stole many of the gifts in my destruction, my lack of appreciation, and cruelty at times. All of these gifts are a representation of you, your love for others, your love for yourself. Now I am as guilty as the ones who have hurt you like this before, you had every reason in life to never to love or trust. almost everyone in your life has left pain and fear in parts of you. Yet you somehow did what I and most others believe is impossible and allowed your love to grow and spill over vs hide it away. You allowed yourself to love and to feel loved, trust and receive trust. Now I am afraid I have robbed you exactly what you used to conquer the world and its trials by not loving you and gifting back what you deserved and needed. Love is your strongest self and I drove a dagger in it, slaughtered it. You loved me so dearly and purely that you have seen me better then I seen myself. My ugliness I felt towards me I painted you as. I didn’t allow myself to believe your love until I robbed you of it.
You are a lovely woman. You possess all you ever needed to conquer. Don’t you see your love is not gone, for I see all those gifts. I cherish every single one of them now, they sparkle, come to life, every single one of them for they are YOU. You are love, you are loved. I truly believe I have not given enough gifts of myself and was a greedy man, but please allow me to start giving you gifts of my love. You will see your love is not worthless, that I cherish it. I see you, you’ve been with me at every moment even when it seems you weren’t. My love will conquer all. I see how my unfaithfulness can make it scary to love again. My love for you was not gone, this has happened because of my fear of being unlovable. I see how love comes from within and embracing it never doubting my capacity to love myself, you and others, its small gifts I give not receive. Not wanting for, being selfish, love goes outward.
You have been the one that never wavered in your expression of love for me, yet I have wavered in fear rejecting it. Fear is no longer an option, love is my only option. Everything you are is what I want to give to you. Strength, dignity, loyalty, sacrificing, integrity, strong sense of self, right and wrong, courage to stand up, never wavering and most of all Fierce Love.
My sweet girl, J
Letter #2: By J
So here we are a year later. We’ve spent thousands of dollars and countless hours of therapy, and hard work. I feel like you understand a great deal of what I’ve lost, and what you have cost me. You don’t understand all of it and most likely never will. The best way for me to describe it at this point is through the parable of the good Samaritan. I am the one attacked by the bandits. You, J are that bandit. You robbed me of many things, the life I had, the family I built, the past I had so many fond memories of. You stole my present because I am crippled with grief and I lose every day paralyzed by pain. I will never get each sunrise and sunset that goes by back. You stole the future I had planned for us. The happiness I knew in my heart I would have as we aged. Watching our children grow together and start their own families, loving our grandchildren together. I can no longer count on these events to happen with you because I really don’t know if I can forgive your crimes and bear this cross you’ve handed me.
You stripped me and beat me too, just as in the parable. You stripped me of the vigor I had. You did this slowly, over time. My passion for life was eroded. You beat down my self esteem and self worth. Didn’t provide me what I needed to feel like a beautiful woman. All that and you were unfaithful. Now I am laying in this ditch, half dead. Days go by that I can’t get out of bed, and when I do I just want to run back to it. My thoughts haunt me. Your actions haunt me.
I need a good Samaritan J. The people I thought would be there for me are like the priest that crosses to the other side of the road and keeps walking. I need you to be like the Samaritan, despised by many for your unspeakable acts, But with love too strong to just walk by and leave me for dead. I need you to transform from the bandit to the Samaritan To care enough to pick me up out of this hellish ditch. To love me enough as a person to take me to safety. I need you to forego your comfort, and put me on the horse to trek the many miles to the inn so my wounds can be dressed. This to show your commitment to my needs over your own. A loving sacrifice to your wife. When we get there I need to see that you are willing to pay the innkeeper whatever it costs for my care. Then J, I need you to transform into that innkeeper. To willfully take me in and dress my wounds. To love me unconditionally and consistently check in on me while my strength is being used entirely to survive. Compassionately understand that in my vulnerable brokenness, I will require much more than you have been capable of giving in the past. I need you to be strong as I cannot. Be patient, as my wounds are not merely cuts and bruises. The bandit wounded me to the deepest pits of my soul. Soul wounds only heal with the purest of love.
So I will need one more transformation from you J. I need to see you change from the innkeeper to my husband, my J. Because he is the only one down here on this earth who is close enough to love me purely. Who knows me inside and out, good and bad, strong and broken. He is the only one who can love me as Christ loves the Church.