71: Now What?

We don’t see the world as it is, we see it as we are

― Anaïs Nin

There isn’t much to add at this point.

I did what I did. Beatrix did what she did. Painter did what she did. Pretty monkeys are gonna fly.

We each have our own reasons, stories, and imaginings about the others’ intentions and motivations. As the Dave Mason song goes, “So let’s leave it alone ’cause we can’t see eye to eye / There ain’t no good guy, there ain’t no bad guy / There’s only you and me and we just disagree.”

However, despite Mason’s suggestion, leaving “it” alone can still be hard. Especially as I am still sorting through lessons and consequences. I cannot sort through those if I am unwilling to discuss and reflect on my intentions, actions, and impacts. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” wrote George Santayan.

I’m committed to learning from the past and making whole new mistakes. Growth is best viewed as the externalizing practice of internal awareness. Meaningful growth depends on embracing an uncomfortable curiosity. It does my life no good to pretend I’m on life’s goal line when I’m actually on my own 25; different position, different playbook.

Beatrix, Painter, and I all coped with the skills we brought to the experience or learned along the way.

Even Painter’s Flying Monkeys aren’t bad people as much as wounded. These men and women imagined their opinions mattered and inserted their egos into a situation they knew nothing about because the narrative they were told fed their own insecurities and biases. As I was reminded recently, we don’t see the world as it is, but as we are.

After Painter ended the relationship, everyone involved made choices based on how each of us defined the stories of our discomfort.

Today I still occasionally dream about Painter. Not as often, but she is definitely carried in my memories and occasional fantasies. Admitting this makes me uncomfortable but it is true. Emotions don’t care about my comfort, which is also true. I’m not entitled to comfort, but neither is anyone else.

However, even if I could weed out the main taproot of those feelings, stories, thoughts, and memories, I wouldn’t. There is no such thing as a spotless mind and I loved my life with Painter. Yielding to the internal demands of bravado to extinguish the fires for Painter in my heart leaves a desolate emotional landscape. I’ve watched men and women salt the earth around their life only to regret their emotional impulsiveness. Patiently sitting with the grief of my discomfort has taken me a lot of practice.

As a result, I am learning to separate the emotional data from the emotional directives.

I’m grateful I didn’t scorch the earth around Painter or our life together.

Don’t get me wrong, I made mistakes.

A year after our relationship ended I burned a painting Painter gave me when we first started our affairs. Burning the painting was spiritually symbolic and emotionally cathartic but now, years later, I’d like to have the painting.

I always adored Painter’s paintings featuring people and places. If I thought it would be appropriate I’d probably buy one or two other of her paintings. Her paintings always spoke to an unspoken story in my heart.

I deleted my Facebook account in an attempt to disappear from my own life. Deleting the account was definitely an emotional directive. There were a great many stories on that Facebook profile important to me and are now lost.

I wish I hadn’t deleted so many pictures of my life with Beatrix or Painter under the guise of starting over.

In reality, I imagined by deleting the imagery and stories of our lives together I could escape the discomfort of stumbling over images that reminded me of my grief, remorse, regret, and shame. I naively believed deleting the records of those experiences might free me from my sorrow. Deleting those images was emotionally avoidant.

Over the last half-decade, I’ve come to appreciate the reality: I’m glad I took the risk to love Painter. Why would I delete it?

People never really start over. Instead, we take one of two actions. We either integrate the experiences and grow into our wisdom and truth each day or we embrace bravado to hide our discomfort and change only enough to find new ways to practice old patterns.

The reality is I carry a great deal of sadness for Painter. I imagine, if Painter has a conscious, she has some awareness of the impact of the unskillfulness beneath her acts of entitlement and vengeance…or maybe she doesn’t and she is all entitlement. It doesn’t really matter, her wounds are no longer my concern. If Painter wasn’t benefitting from her behaviors, she wouldn’t do it.

Frankly, Painter didn’t need my help in creating ugly, she created her situation by leveraging bravado to avoid her own discomfort. One of the many things I understand about shame is that to avoid feelings shame, we sometimes double down as we attempt to silence the shames over our behaviors.

Maybe she was doubling down? Is that more idiot compassion?

Of course, there are moments when I want to revenge, retaliate, and blame shift for the fucketty and shitheadery belonging to others. These responses would have been all built on bravado as I sought to avoid my own ill-ease. I’m content knowing I didn’t go down that path.

Emotionally agile adults don’t revenge. As they say, “Vengence is for the weak.”

Although I am skillful in other places, my infidelities’ lies and secret-keeping reveals equally unskillful coping mechanisms; like venging, there is not a lot of emotional agility in infidelity.

However, I like myself for not being the hater while compassionately loving Painter, even if it is from a distance. Even as Painter and her friends sought to undermine my business, reputation, and identity by smearing and “cancelling” me, I didn’t lash out.

As such, because of how I responded I am free of shame about anything that I have done since the relationship ended. I know who I am and what I did–and didn’t do.

Frankly, in most moments I don’t carry any shame about anything that happened in our relationship or passed between Painter and me. Most of the time I did a great job of treating her, the kids, and our life tenderly and lovingly. Anyone that ever heard me talk about her or saw us together knows I loved her wholeheartedly and enthusiastically.

Of course, I didn’t say, I acted this way “all the time.” After all, no one is perfect. I can be, like everyone, inconsistent. As I said, mistakes were made, while I also treated my life with Painter with love, passion, and intention.

Maybe that is why so many people were confused by my infidelity. They imagine my intention as defined by their biases, entitlement, expectations, and discomfort…and too many hours watching Showtime’s Shameless and Dexter.

Men and women that have been betrayed create a great deal of suffering for themselves when they embrace the narcissistic “Chump Narrative” that the “entire relationship was a lie” or infidelity is a moral failing or character defect. They gaslight themselves. Not all the wounds we carry are inflicted on us by others, sometimes the most damage is self-inflicted. As Mark Twain wrote, “I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.”

Emotionally agile people know more than one thing can be true at a time.

For example, I betrayed Painter and I loved Painter.

Although, those are equally true statements the impact of love doesn’t mitigate the impact of the betrayal. A reality more men and women that cheated should also embrace. I have watched more than one person that betrayed their commitments double down on “loving” while avoiding discussions of impact and accountability. As Stan Tatkin writes, “Love isn’t enough.”

In the first few months after the reveal of my betrayal, I was confused and wounded by the accusations being tossed at me on social media and in the rumor mill by Painter’s friends and sexual suitors. I was angry at the overt and covert threats of violence and acts of intimidation directed toward me. At moments I am still confused and angry.

However, I was never confused or angry about Painter’s decision to end the relationship. I’m still glad I made the effort to reconcile as I sought to consistently take responsibility for my choices and mistakes.

My friends often remind me that there was more to my life with Painter than my secrets and lies pertaining to my behavior with Beatrix…or with Painter. Life is too short to try and pretend seven beautiful and meaningful years didn’t exist with Painter. Even if the relationship had foundational issues, the time invested mattered to me. Just because Painter gaslights herself to she copes with her own internal demons, doesn’t mean I have to do the same. To paraphrase Mason, “There’s only Painter and me and we just disagree” on what the relationship meant to us as a couple and as individuals.

It is the same with Beatrix.

I’m never going to pretend I didn’t love Beatrix. She needs me to be someone I’m not…and she isn’t ever going to be able to conform to my idiosyncrasies.

I have no regrets about loving Beatrix or being in a marriage. I carry regret and remorse that I didn’t love her better and speak a language of love she could hear. However, she was the best wife she knew how to be just as I was the best husband I knew. As Beatrix reminds me, “We are all just people.”

I miss my stepson, Little Lion, and think of him often.

In reality, we can know something and not know what to do about it. I knew I wanted to be married to Beatrix but I didn’t know how to be married to her.

I know these truths about myself and my life because for four years I’ve invested the resources to reevaluate, reflect, and sleeping in the discomfort lying in long shadows and tall grasses of grief, loss, and loneliness. I know who I am. I understand the consequences. I am accountable only to what is true. Paraphrasing Brene Brown, “I’d rather do right, than be right.”

Now what?

I will own that and continue to practice living in the moment.

Beyond that, I don’t really know. Every meaningful moment of my life was built on risk and uncertainty. “There is no tomorrow,” writes Mark Nepo. “Only a string of todays.”

And today, I’m okay with that.