There is no growth without discomfort. Pain is not the enemy.
Not once since this chapter began have I avoided confronting discomfort. I haven’t always done it skillfully, but I am doing it. Most of the time, I had no idea what was fueling the pain.
Sometimes discomfort simply is.
I do realize my stories about the discomfort fueled a bit of the shame I carried. Betraying your own life in such a spectacular way raises deeply unsettling questions around identity, heart, and intelligence.
The answers aren’t beneficial when shame is providing the answers.
Early there were moments of pain shopping as a balm for my discomfort. We seek what we know. I would look at social media and see what my ex, Painter, was doing or look at pictures of my life with her.
I stopped doing that early as I knew Painter was neither the solution nor the problem. I knew unconsciously focusing on others was an obstacle to insight and growth. In hindsight, this awareness reflects a mature and unconscious understanding of pain’s importance.
However, if you are still pain shopping, that is okay. I’ve learned most people do some version. It is not an unusual behavior of people suffering grief and loss. Try to keep the shame-fuelled stories about pursuing connection, even if it is by pain-shopping in perspective. Growth will take as long as it takes. Keep this perspective and remember the judgments, advice, and expectations of other people are projections of their opinions on your pain. They aren’t living your experience. You are not doing it wrong; you are just doing it. Just do you, even when no one else understands.
A nonjudgemental therapist or counselor will help you decipher where you are in the feelings of discomfort.
For the first three or four months, I would wake up in the middle of the night in tears, rollover, and check my phone to see if Painter texted, emailed, or called me. I might do that ten or fifteen times a night searching for a note, wondering if she was thinking of me. I was only sleeping an average of three or four hours per night for months. I would lie awake missing Painter and wondering if she missed me.
After three months of sleepless nights, I finally awoke to an email from Painter. Inside she listed seven years of her unheard or unspoken resentments and unfounded accusations about my behaviors.
In the process Painter accused me of behaviors she imagined to justifying her rage. For example, she accused me of sending dick pics to my ex-wife, Beatrix. An act she imagines happened but never did.
Early in this experience, outsiders described my writings about the loss of the relationship to Painter as pity-seeking or some other need to get attention. Too often, I would spend my many sleepless nights defending my life to the nonsense of the ill-intentioned, ill-informed, and plain ignorant. The Flying Monkeys found power in ridiculing, stalking, and harassing me.
In many cases, I’d respond out of a desire to feel understood by the same people determined to twist everything I did into a story of spite and maliciousness. I thought if they understood I wouldn’t feel the discomfort. I wouldn’t feeling unheard or abandoned by people whose own misery twisted their opinions to justify some deeply disturbing bullshit.
None of my responses to my discomfort were particularly helpful or skillful, but I didn’t recognize this reality for the first four or five months. Only after months of writing, therapy, and grieving did I stumble into the skills to properly use the mute and block buttons. A skillset equally valuable for mitigating both the external and internal dialogues.
An approach I am still refining.
However, as I’ve grown in understanding my life and grief, I see how the narrative around infidelity remains misguided and entitled. The cultural dialogue around affairs is full of nonsense. The stories revolving around intentions, motivations, and expectations are entitled. The conversation is drunk on the high ideals of ethics, character, moralities, and pathologies while running over people’s more pedestrian practicalities. Repeatedly I witness people whoring out accountability and responsibility as punishment and revenge.
Pop culture approaches to “affair recovery” simply perpetuates the discomfort in new ways for everyone involved. The brutal truth is, infidelity isn’t the root of the pain; instead, it is a symptom. I recognize the current approach to infidelity is culturally oversimplified and largely dependent on a misunderstanding of neurology and self.
The stories we tell ourselves about infidelity are what gets in the way of growth, healing, connection, vulnerability, intimacy, and understanding. My stories are attempts to circumvent the experience and shortcut the discomfort. People need the pain to mean something.
There is no story. There is no meaning. There is no wisdom. There is no action required.
But that isn’t the story we tell ourselves based on the world. As such, we just pain shift from one moment to the next, pushing the emotional puck down the ice.
The only path to befriending discomfort is to experience discomfort. Building skills and confidence requires repeated reflection and experience. I have to be willing to expose myself to pain to discover if what I am experiencing is worthy of a response. I have to let go of the pride and ego and call things as they are and not as I think they are.
For example, your opinion about my infidelity, secret-keeping, an escalating series of lies is about you. It has nothing to do with what I did or didn’t do. Your opinion is a story you made up to make your discomfort make sense.
Think your husband had an affair because he is a narcissist? That’s a story. Because he has low character? That’s a story too. She’s a whore, addict, or abuser? Showtime story. If he cared, he wouldn’t have cheated? That’s an enormous story. That the right kind of intervention, religion, or faith will restore your marriage? Whopper of a story.
No workshop will heal your marriage or remove your discomfort. There is no book or podcast, or Facebook group that will provide answers. There are no answers. There are only stories we imagine are answers.
There are only choices, and choices have an impact.
I have grown to recognize, we make choices based on the stories and the universe will work its way around it. The impact of my choices resulted in the loss of meaningful relationships. My choices hurt people.
Nearly all the misery in my life results from avoiding the stories I imagine of hurt, pain, and loss. These stories are built on past experiences, some of which remain profoundly troubling and traumatic. A few actually happened.
The more traumatic the experience, the broader and higher the wall of stories I built to protect myself from new discomfort and make sense of old. Like all walls, they are rigid and fixed and become increasingly impossible to defend. My imagined pain creates anxiety, which creates more stories, which fuel more anxiety. In the end, I avoid the very actions I need to take to learn from discomfort take because I was avoiding experiencing the feelings I imagined.
Using infidelity et al as an example, it is like getting off at an exit because there are brake lights in the distance. I don’t know what the lights mean, but I imagine the worse. I hop onto a sideroad that takes me sixty minutes longer to reach my goal because I don’t want to be trapped in an imagined traffic jam.
For example, I lied and kept-secrets to avoid the discomfort of feeling rejected. Essentially, I visualize pain that hasn’t happened. I make a choice based on something I imagined and not something that is happening. As a result, I created the same emotional and life traffic jam I imagined.
When I spend resources trying to avoid the painful moment I am imagining, I will never know how to respond to the actual experience. Everything becomes a story about a fix to a broken fix to another useless hole. These responses to my discomfort only create a new narrative of pain for myself and others. I avoid living in an impermanent moment out of fear.
In truth, sometimes discomfort is just a bridge from one breath to the next. It doesn’t need a story for being.
At least, that is my story.