22: A Love Letter to Betrayers – Discomfort (Part 2)

Read Part 1 by clicking here.

I never went to Albuquerque expecting to find love. I thought it had found me there, followed me home. I never came home expecting to lose love in the space of one brief telephone call. Is it always so short-lived?

— Ellen Hopkins

I arrived in Albuquerque on Thursday afternoon and planned to stay for two days. I never expected to be comfortable.

There are stories of joy for me here. There are stories of sorrow here for me. 

In October of 2012, I fell in love in Albuquerque with a passion and vulnerability I didn’t know I possessed. I didn’t think I was capable of this level of commitment. If there is a soul, my ex, Painter, was its passion. I was never entirely comfortable with how I felt when I was with her. 

In Albuquerque, I chose to betray a marriage that mattered in fundamental ways to me. I didn’t know I was capable of this level of betrayal. I should have shown my ex-wife, Beatrix, more respect. I was never entirely comfortable in my marriage.

But knowing something is not the same as knowing what to do about something. From the day I met Painter, I knew I never wanted to be anywhere but at her side as her Partner, Lover, & friend. In the process, I pursued belonging and partnership in exchange for integrity. 

No one teaches ending a marriage and starting over, so I threw it all in a blender and turned it up to eleven. In the end, I hurt people that love me and I loved because I allowed FOMO to act as a directive. 

There is a lot of discomfort around my choices and the stories of my infidelity.

I will not do that again.

And by “that,” I mean I will not barter my life away in pursuit of feelings or the love of another. I will not consciously pursue acceptance, approval, or love as a balm to my feelings of discomfort. Nothing about these choices makes me comfortable. I will always struggle with a sense of sadness when reflecting on my behaviors and how they impacted Beatrix, Painter, and other relationships. Choices I made consciously and selfishly.

What I have come to recognize is my discomfort is not a problem to be solved. My discomfort is simply data and usually doesn’t mean what I imagine it means.

For example, on my recent trip to New Mexico, I suffered a bout of food poisoning that left me simultaneously sitting on the toilet and projectile vomiting into the tub. It was unpleasant. It was uncomfortable. It was messy. It was violent and traumatic.

I’m not sure exactly what I ate or when. All I know is I was painfully ill. 

Frankly, I wasn’t feeling great most of the afternoon. I labeled my physical discomfort as an unconscious shame story knocking about my mind hijacking my mood. I imagined a ghost story and dismissed my discomfort as simply an emotional hangover. 

I never imagined I was physically ill until I ended up crawling off to the bathroom. 

One difficulty in addressing discomfort is I make up stories about what it means. Sensations become clouded by the tales, I imagine. In Lisa Feldman Barrett’s book How Emotions Are Made, the neuroscientist and psychologist argues our feelings are a story we imagine about a sensation. 

For example, my body has a sensation, I imagine a feeling to explain the phenomenon and react based on the story. As I often do, I mistake a feeling as a directive instead of data. I imagine meaning. 

My perception mistakes are another example of the cost of living in the long shadow of generational trauma. I imagine meaning where there is none, and I ignore meaning when it matters. As Anaïs Nin writes, “We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.” 

In my case, I was uncomfortable and tied the discomfort to historical shame and regrets. 

I couldn’t imagine being physically sick because I’m hardly ever physically ill. I imagined what I knew, and I don’t have any experience with food poisoning. However, I do know the physical discomfort of being a cheater, liar, and secret-keeper. My behaviors often left me feeling physically ill and emotionally hungover for days. 

Apparently, among other things, lying, cheating, and carrying secrets feels like food poisoning. And like food poisoning, when we sit in the discomfort long enough everything will eventually pass.

My discomfort rarely means what I imagine it means.