I was poking around the depths of the internet recently and I found an old, but still relevant, article on betrayal in the NY Times: https://nyti.ms/2k8oupp . As much as I dislike the level of discourse in most comment sections, the NY Times moderates and curates theirs pretty carefully. Two comments to the article hit really close to home:
From stuenan in Kansas:
Liars are also thieves. They steal time and possibilities. What life might you have led if you hadn’t believed all their lies? What opportunities did you miss out on because you made choices based on the lies you were told? What did you give up and sacrifice for someone you loved, believed in and trusted?
It’s hard not to feel that you have been preyed on in the worst way and that your life has been wasted.
From Amy in Chicago:
Discovering betrayal is like taking a hit from a baseball bat to the knees. It takes a lifetime to learn to walk upright again and look the world in the eye.
To me, both comments ring true in a very personal way. Yes, Handsome is a sex addict, but his addiction involved multiple forms of cheating and betrayal. I’m no different from any other betrayed spouse except my cheater now goes to 12-step meetings. Any infidelity is sufficient to cause these feelings, whether the betrayal is emotional, physical, or otherwise. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I don’t even think it matters much if your spouse cheated five times or five hundred, or over the course of one week or one decade. While some may find consolation that what their spouse did wasn’t “as bad” as what another spouse did (or, conversely, believe that their misery is greater because of a longer duration or greater number of misdeeds) it’s a distinction without a difference.
If you are betrayed, you suffer. You hurt. You cry, rage, scream, and lash out. You question. You doubt. And then you suffer some more, usually for a very long time.
What life might I have led if I hadn’t believed all of Handsome’s lies? On my good days I think that if I had pressed harder in 2012 (after the Flame reared her ugly head the first time) maybe we wouldn’t be where we are today. Perhaps I should have believed less or doubted more. On my not so charitable days, I feel as though I was sold a bill of goods about Handsome from the very beginning and that had I been shown a truthful picture of him from the start, I’d be blissfully living a trigger-free life with someone else. I can’t imagine being with anyone else and the very thought of it makes me sad, but still…
What opportunities did I miss out on because I made choices based on the lies I was told? What did I give up and sacrifice for Handsome? I left an amazing job with fantastic benefits, dear friends, and a full, independent life in a big city to move back to where he and I met, because he said he’d love and honor me forever. And here we are, facing the fallout of that unfulfilled promise. I seem to have also sacrificed healthy portions of my self-esteem, dignity, and confidence to his lies as well.
Most days, I get by okay. Some days now, I actually do well. My mind only reels for portions of the day, not all of it. Nonetheless, Handsome’s betrayal has maimed me and inflicted a trauma of the type I’ve never had to deal with before: a Tonya Harding-esque bat to the knees for sure. So, when Handsome exited his therapy session with the Doc yesterday and started talking about forgiving himself? Well, forgive me, but my initial reaction was along the lines of “Now? So soon? That’s it? You’re told to magically let this years-long shit storm you created go after 6 months, but I get the joy of dealing with it, and you, forever?” Uh, no.
I should have seen this coming though. As the article says: “…it is often the person who lied or cheated who has the easier time. People who transgressed might feel self-loathing, regret or shame. But they have the possibility of change going forward, and their sense of their own narrative, problematic though it may be, is intact.” Yes, Handsome certainly knows his own story, while I grasp at straws to figure it out. He knew the life he was living, even if it was compartmentalized. My narrative, on the other hand? My life hasn’t been what I thought it was for a very long time.
I’m all in favor of Handsome not carrying shame with him every day for the rest of his life. Shame was a driver for his acting out. And yes, at an appropriate point he should forgive himself. To me, however, that point comes after he has (i) made a full accounting of his behavior and the harm he has caused, (ii) endeavored to make amends for that harm, and (iii) evidenced the commitment to never betray his family again by living a life of integrity day in and day out for longer than a red-hot minute. Once he does these things I will be prepared to forgive him as well. But he’s nowhere near that point, and neither am I. I’m still struggling to walk upright again and look the world in the eye.