I was looking for a picture for this blog and instantly connected with this one. I felt like this for 15 months. 15 months of the most intense emotions I have ever endured. 15 months of swinging between raging like a mad woman one minute, to sobbing like a love sick teenager the next. From pain, to despair, vehement rage to deep intense sadness and everything in between. 15 months of shaking and retching at the mere tinge of a trigger and 15 months of compulsive, overwhelming reactions whenever I saw this woman. "Well, it's understandable after everything you've been through" people would say. That may be, but it was fucking horrendous and I just wanted it to stop. This is how a website I discovered called "Affair Recovery" describe it:
"Long after a couple commits to work on the marriage, the fire breathing trauma dragon continues to raise its ugly head and scorch the progress a couple makes. I call it a dragon because this type of trauma appears as if from nowhere only to ruthlessly attack you. This dragon of trauma is difficult to describe, so for those around you who don’t know this kind of pain, it can seem imaginary. For you though, it feels so big and so impossible to manage that recovery feels utterly hopeless."
It was websites like these and the help I received from professionals that helped me realise I wasn't going crazy. Post Infidelity Trauma Syndrome (PITS) sounds dramatic and a bit over the top, but after experiencing what I did for over a year, it definitely exists. It's not just soldiers who get PTSD. Eventually, as I said in my blog about trauma and fear, I found this quote and what I knew I had been doing, but couldn't fight off, felt validated. Not for anyone else's benefit but my own. I needed to know I wasn't completely crazy or being totally unreasonable.
To those who fail to understand how betrayal trauma works, these individuals frankly seem angry and somewhat crazy. Their instinct is to tell them, “Just get over it. Just move on.” Unfortunately, society doesn’t understand that these spouses are in fight mode, they are trying to protect themselves, and they are genuinely suffering.
I was certainly in fight mode and I was definitely suffering.
I probably need to add a bit of context here too. During the week after D-Day, I decided that if I was going to try to move past this and keep my family together, then I had to rescind on the decision to stay in the UK and move to join my husband. I didn't see I had much choice in the matter. You may be wondering why we didn't request a posting for him to be moved and trust me, I asked about it, however it's not as simple as it may be perceived. Army personnel can't just get posted about randomly. To get my husband another job and to then find someone to come and do his job, then fill that post and so on, could have taken months. I was told if I wanted to sort things out with my husband, it would be easier and quicker to move out to him. There was no way we could work through this if we were living in different countries and my mental state couldn't cope with it. With the rug literally being pulled out from under me, I left all my friends and my belongings almost overnight. I dropped all my plans, put my business on hold, sold two cars, took the kids out of school, packed up our life in a couple of suitcases each and within six weeks of finding out, I left my home and flew everyone to join my husband. Two weeks before we were due to move, I visited for a week to organise final details and spend some time with my husband. I had a panic attack on the plane on the flight out there. I also had a very intense meltdown when I went to try and set myself up some counselling support for when I arrived. I was trying to be proactive and positive however, it came to light very quickly that the support team already knew of the situation from the other woman's perspective, which just added to my shock, embarrassment, horror, feelings of isolation and vulnerability. I just lost the plot. On my return, I took myself to the doctors and asked for anti-depressants as I felt like I needed something to help me get through the next few months. I was a complete mess, desperately trying to hold it together for my kids. How I managed to organise what I did in such a short space of time is a mystery to me and all much of a blur.
We arrived two days before Christmas, moving to a place where I knew virtually no one. I had no confidants or friends to support me there and no idea who I could trust. Our allocated house was 200 metres round the corner from the affair partner's, whom I had no idea what she was capable of after all the calculated, malicious antics. I was incredibly unstable and very conscious of bringing my children there. I couldn't get through a day without sleeping for hours, was having panic attacks, intense headaches and nightmares pretty much daily and fighting off emotional flooding constantly. My husband felt like a stranger and an enemy I couldn't trust, I had no idea what to expect and felt like I was walking into the lion's den. It was a very anxious and unnerving feeling. Carrying my kids across a frozen lake, never sure when the ice could crack underneath me. Everything I knew and trusted had come crashing down and my life had been turned upside down. I remember thinking to myself "WTF are you doing? Who does this? You must be fucking crazy to move right into where it all happened and live down the road from this woman." It all just added to the state of enshrouding shock and bewilderment I stumbled about in for months on end.
An article in Psychology Today identifies relationship partners of both genders, affected by infidelity, experiencing similar of the classical symptoms of PTSD:
Repeated intrusive thoughts.
Unstable emotional regulation.
Out of body experiences.
Alternating between feeling numb and striking out in retaliation.
Inability to stop scanning for any new data that might cause more distress.
Feeling overwhelmingly powerlessness and broken.
Needing to regain self-worth by assigning blame.
Confusion and disorientation.
Yes, yes, yes and yes to all of the above! After two months of struggling I referred myself to mental health after spiralling to the point where suicide felt a realistically nice option. It was such a dark time and I genuinely wanted to just give up. I was exhausted. It was just too much to take in and deal with. I felt completely useless and replaceable, a complete burden to everyone with my constant wailing and despair. I felt like the whole future of my family depended on my ability to get over this and I was drowning in it every day. I figured my husband would just move on anyway. I didn't even feel he would be that upset if I died and it would actually be a relief to everybody. My whole being hurt, the bottomless sensations of shock and bewilderment wouldn't leave and it was on my mind 24/7 whether I wanted it to be or not. Utter agonising torture. I completely understood why people turn to drink and drugs for some relief. What I would've given for just a moment's mental and physical peace. The intrusive thoughts and visions were crippling and had a complete life of their own. Imagine a 3D horror movie playing in your head without your permission day in and day out, tormenting you, laughing at you as a hand reaches out from the screen as the vivid images play, and grips, then twists your guts as you watch. Through a mental health assessment interview, I was referred to receive intensive EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing) therapy. I had this treatment everyday for a week. It's very easy to do, but it did totally wipe me out. My brain was even more fuzzy than usual as I could feel it reprocessing things and I literally slept all day. I'm sure my kids just got used to me being asleep on the sofa constantly. It was worth it however, as it did succeed in easing the intensity of the flashing images of the two of them together, just not the anger I felt about it.
These feelings of anger and rage were constant and every now and again I would feel so much rage it would scare me. I was frightened of what I was capable of in that enraged state. I've been a runner for many years now and throughout this time I ran A LOT! On numerous occasions when I was running through the woodland with mine and my neighbour's dog, talking to myself, talking to my husband, talking to her, the rage would come out of nowhere. The first time it happened it was like a bomb went off. OMG! I didn't know what hit me. Have you ever seen The Wizard of Oz? When the wicked witch arrives in her tornado? That's what it felt like. It came on so fast, a whirling tornado of rage busting out of me. The rage was rising up and up my body like fury, swirling into and engulfing every nerve cell. I had to find a stick and quickly. A fucking big stick and once I found one, I just let rip at one of the trees. Screaming, crying and swearing, smashing the tree with all my might. Feeling the utter insignificance of my existence while those two ran about like drunk teenagers without a care in the world.
"How fucking dare you!" SMASH!
"How fucking DARE YOU!" SMASH!
"HOW FUCKING DARE YOU, YOU MOTHER FUCKING PAIR OF FUCKING PATHETIC FUCKING MORONS!!" SMASH!
After a good 5-10 minute outburst I collapsed in a sobbing, heavy breathing heap on the ground. The fury well and truly extinguished. The dogs came over, nuzzled at me and just sat down panting and patient, looking a bit bewildered, but with that innocent love only animals can. My hands were sore and bleeding, my face salty and sweaty, I had to wipe the thick snot dripping onto the grass, on my running vest, but it was a great release and I had more #smashtheshitoutofatree episodes after that. I always apologised to the tree afterwards, but I think he understood. He could take it.
And this is what people don't realise. The levels of emotions experienced are just off the chart and they don't let up. Everyday life simply doesn't warrant this degree of adrenaline, responsiveness and highly charged compulsion. It was a fight every single day. So, when people say, "I wouldn't let it bother you" or "I would just ignore her" they have no fucking idea. NO FUCKING IDEA WHATSOEVER. Until you have experienced the same, you simply don't know how much it would bother you or if you would be able to ignore her. As I have said in "Blowing up the Myth of The Wife", none of this is rational or reasonable. It's very unpredictable and uncontrollable. After experiencing trauma on that level the brain goes into hyper-vigilance mode. It wouldn't let me let it go. It wouldn't let me move on. I became a fight or flight mumma bear on crack and the worst part of it is, I didn't even realise it was happening and when it did, I felt totally justified in my actions. It wasn't until I managed to get rid of it, that I could see things much more clearly and how potentially destructive and damaging it could've been. I was very lucky to be able to control it in the way I did. I absolutely 100% understand crimes of passion and why people kill or plot to kill without thinking too much about it until afterwards.
The first time a compulsion happened to me, I was running. It was shortly after I had confronted the affair partner face to face. I had my neighbour's dog and my dog with me and was running across one of the main roads, here on camp, grappling with the dogs and their leads which had got a bit caught up. As I was in the road a vehicle was coming towards me from the left. I didn't really pay that much attention as it was still at a distance and I was too busy trying not to trip over the dogs. As I was almost on the pavement, I noticed it was the affair partner in her work vehicle (she wasn't Army but worked for a supporting Government service). Just as I hit the pavement and the vehicle went past, out of nowhere I shouted "Hi!" as my free arm shot up in the air and started waving over my head, while my body turned inline with the vehicle passing me. Then I stood watching it drive away as my arm waved its BIG wave back and forth. I know it must sound completely ridiculous, but it was like I was a puppet with someone else controlling my arm and body. The other tell tale signs of it being a compulsion were the rush of emotions I got afterwards and the physical shaking. I stood there looking at my trembling hands, feeling sick thinking WTF just happened and got this rush of a naughty kid like energy, but worse. An awareness of enjoyment followed by a level of anger. Like I'd done something really naughty, but enjoyed it, then realised that what I'd really like to be doing was shout "Hi! Fuck you, you fucking bitch!" as I gave her the finger and threw rocks at the car as it drove past.
Well, it's understandable after everything I'd been through, right? I guess so and harmless enough, until I couldn't stop it.
The months trundled on from that first knee-jerk experience and it happened again and again and again! Never more than a smile or wave, a chirpy "Morning!" or "How are you?", a car beep and a wave. It was only when I happened to see her, which could be a couple of times a week, then not for weeks at a time. I have been as honest as I can throughout this blog, so will continue to do so here, there was definitely a part of me that enjoyed it. There had been comments made about our relationship not lasting, about how we would just be playing happy families and about how I would just throw the affair back in my husband's face. Obviously lots of judgements about me and my performance as a wife, whether I was paying attention to my relationship etc. etc. so, it was a big "FUCK YOU! I'm still here, you tried your best to railroad us and didn't succeed", which goes right back to what I said in "So, What About The Other Woman?" The affair partner has no true idea of what is really going on in the marriage or the connection between the husband and wife. Just wishful thinking, huge assumptions and negative judgements based on their own agenda and standpoint. She didn't have a clue about what we were like as a couple or whether we could brave this storm. It was also a big fuck you to her demeanour and attitude towards me which was infuriatingly contemptuous. There was an air of righteous denial involved which I found disgraceful. Maybe that's what's required when having affairs with married men, I don't know, I've never done it. I shouldn't have been surprised really as I got an insight into who she was from the card she sent to my house and the covert pictures debarcle, but again call me naive, I thought there may be more remorse. It would've made me a lot less combative, but there wasn't so, I did find it funny, smiling and waving and rubbing it in her face. I was still there, she had to deal with it. The previous wife (or wives) may have been just an invisible entity, but this wife was fucking real and she would know about it.
However, I didn't like the way it made me feel in terms of the compulsiveness, the physical shaking and nausea, the rush of anger and feelings of overwhelm afterwards. The urges to do more than just wave. I literally felt like I wanted to rip her fucking head off. The desire to cause someone else the same amount of pain I was dealing with was very overpowering and terrifying. The scenarios I would play over in my head were not nice. There was definitely a lot more going on than I could handle. It was horrible. It wasn't as straight forward as a get your own back fuck you. It felt very uncontrollable and I didn't like that. It scared me and I wanted it to be gone, but as I said my brain, reacting to the trauma wouldn't let it. I wanted to be able to not react, but I genuinely felt like I couldn't stop doing it. I was getting too much from it like perceived power and protection, angry satisfaction. I was scared it would escalate, I managed to contain it to the smiling and waving. I tried to address it with my coach, but every time I did I felt a block. I just couldn't go there. Fortunately there were so many other issues to work through, I could always skirt around it and delve into the million and one other concerns I was dealing with. Plus I could always justify it. "Why should I stop? Why should she get away with it? She should think twice next time before getting involved with someone's husband. She's lucky I'm only smiling and waving, compared to what I should be doing. Actions have consequences, she's got to live with this now." That part of me didn't want to stop it. That part was feeding off the rage. That part didn't want to contain it, it wanted to do more than just wave. That part believed she deserved it and wasn't ready to back down.
After about six months I was talking to someone about it at a party and it got me thinking about why I was doing it. I know from the work I do and from working with Richi, that the answer to anything being projected outwards like that, comes from going within yourself. I had to get underneath that compulsive reaction and really go there to unravel the hidden meanings and motivation behind it. Anger is a very surface reaction, there's usually a lot more to it. Using Richi's techniques I started to try and feel into these reactions to find out what that was. This is where the effects of the PITS started to come to light a bit more. I realised it was all linked to feelings of being incredibly vulnerable and that I really hadn't dealt with the effects of that "last night" and all the resulting actions. That night, the photos, the setting me up, the maliciousness of it all had betrayed and blindsided me to a whole new level. The shock and devastation and the realisation of being utterly insignificant to people is something I never wanted to experience again. I got this overwhelming sense of don't let this go, you don't want to forget this pain in a hurry. Remember how much this hurt, protect yourself. You let it go and you're opening yourself up to it again. That was as far as I got. I was definitely in fight mode and not ready to back down, that's where the compulsion was coming from, but the irrational thing was, there was no threat anymore and there hadn't been for a long time. My brain, heavily in protection mode from the trauma it had experienced, however, refused to accept that and I wasn't ready to either, so this was causing the conflict I was suffering with. I genuinely wanted to move on, but it was too painful, I wasn't ready to do it. The other irrational point to mention is that I was stuck in a time warp. It didn't matter how many days or months went by, to me, it felt like this still happened yesterday. Everything as fresh as cut grass. Everyone else involved, I'm sure, was experiencing a sense of distance in time and space, from what happened. Trauma stops time, so from the outside I probably looked like an angry, bitter, crazed wife desperate for revenge. From the inside I was still right in the thick of it, feeling that pain as if it were yesterday, hating every minute of it, wanting to get past it so badly, but simply not being able to as it was still so present for me. I was adamant, defensive and steadfast.
I ignored it for a few more months. I enjoyed my summer as much as I could. I faced and dealt with every other issue I needed to. I flushed out so much through my coaching sessions, I was noticeably feeling a lot better for it, I could tell it was coming down to this last sticking point. The more progress I made with everything else, the more frustrated I got because I couldn't get past this one last point of contention; how I felt about her and the devastation of that last night of heartless betrayal. I was stuck. Well and truly, infuriatingly cemented shoes, stuck solid, couldn't move on. Richi could tell. When I would express my fight mode justification of not wanting to let her off the hook, he described it as letting myself off the hook so I could focus my energies on my family. I knew what he was saying was right, although I didn't wholly believe it would go away. It just didn't seem possible that I would ever be ok. He invited me to take the prickly path, the one I have been reluctant to and have been avoiding, the one that is the most uncomfortable. He knew I had to go there and I knew it too, so I agreed and tried again.
So, I started to let these feelings rise instead of ignoring them and over a period of a couple of weeks things escalated quite quickly. Now, I'm afraid it's not that exciting or shocking. I didn't stab her or throw myself at her in a screaming fit of rage, my actions were still very tame in comparison, but it felt like as soon as I had agreed to go there, the compulsion strength and force doubled overnight and the Universe went "Right, I'm going to stick her in front of you until you do something about this." I was also getting so frustrated with myself I called out for help. You can call it God, Angels, a Higher Power, whoever, but I felt so desperate and powerless, I asked for more help with this. I needed more help with this. However, in my mind, the form this help would appear in, was a beautifully divine miracle removing the problem somehow. Just make it go away. Make her realise she needed to move away, make a great job opportunity pop up for her or something. I didn't count on the help I just asked for would have to come from me helping myself and unbeknownst to me, that's what I had just agreed to without realising it and He/It did not disappoint! They simply went, "Right ok, have some of this." BANG! "What are you going to do?" And again, BANG! "What about this time?"
In the space of about two weeks I must have seen her about four or five times in very close proximity. Might not sound a lot but when you'd rather not see someone at all, often go for weeks on end without a sighting, being within spitting distance at 6.30am while walking your dogs and twice in one day is a bit much. The compulsion felt like it was getting out of control and my reactions started to feel worse. Instead of a "Morning!", it was a "Morning, I'm still here!" or a "Morning, yep, I'm still playing happy families" or a "Are you not going to say hello?" Still in my best, cheery, polite tone. Yes, I know, it really isn't that bad. I don't think it was that bad, but it was the energy I felt behind it that unnerved me, which was much more forcible, and the rush of anger afterwards was intense. It felt out of control, as I really felt I couldn't not do it, yet I was doing my very best to control what I did. I never swore, was never aggressive, insulting or threatening. In the grand scheme of things, it was incredibly tame, especially considering the explosive context. After one of the early morning chance meetings, I was very close to my house. When I got home I was shaking so uncontrollably. I told my husband what had just happened and burst into tears saying that I couldn't handle the level of emotions I was feeling. It was too overwhelming. That day, or maybe a couple of days later I can't quite remember, these encounters culminated in a complaint being made when I walked out of work to find her standing right outside the doorway talking to someone. I walked straight though the middle of them, with my cheeriest "Excuse me. Morning!" and tapped her on the hip as I walked past! OMG! Daring I know #sarcasticeyeroll and now when I retell the story it just sounds funny, quite stupid and it really makes me laugh, but at the time it felt horrible. I was on my home to check on the dogs, as one wouldn't open his eyes that morning after our walk, and when I got there I had to lie down. My hands were shaking violently again and I thought I was going to be sick.
It was in this same week that I was told, by a concerned friend, that my husband's affair had been talked about at a party, by the wife of someone with quite a prominent role here and I also found out what nasty comments had been gossiped about us, by the same people, when I had first arrived here. So the Universe seriously laid it on all at once, forcing me to confront it and the pressure built and built. About a week after my hip tapping run-in, my husband forwarded me details of the complaint. Ironically she had complained to the person behind much of the judgement and gossip I had faced here, the person who had tried to persuade others not to socialise with us and the very same person who's wife had been talking about me the week before. I just snapped. I was so fucking upset and angry and jumped straight into a wonderfully warm pity pit and splashed about for a while. I felt so misunderstood, so persecuted, so annoyed for letting myself get so worked up and basically opening the door for more judgement. Here I was, thrown into this situation by THEM, and had been left to deal with this horrific aftermath all on my own. I was fighting all these excessive byproducts of someone else's actions and I was the one always in the wrong. No one cared about what I was going through. I was so angry that my husband had opened me up to this level of scrutiny and judgement. No one seemed interested in my point of view, what was going on for me or how I had been treated. What I was battling every single day, what I had given up and faced to move in order to try and save my family, how unfair everything felt. Yet again, it was "the wife" getting all the flack. I was just the shitty, angry, bitter wife. I am not just "the wife", I am a fucking human being.
I was lucky to have my coach, Richi, on call and I text him that week in a state, so we got on the phone. I explained what had gone on. He obviously already knew I had been trying to face this challenge and he knew how highly charged and difficult it was. I was in full on melt down mode ranting away to him, about how much I didn't fucking care about what these people thought of me, let them think what they fucking like, they're all judgemental bullies, they've no fucking idea what I've been through etc. etc. He let me rant, he let me cry, he gave me space to feel in that moment and then said "You know what *****, you're not going to get past this until you start being honest with yourself about where you are right now. You do care what these people think. You do care because it's hurtful and what has happened to you sucks." As soon as he said it, something clicked in that moment. He was right. I did care, it was hurtful and it did suck. Once I was able to do that, I could meet my feelings where they actually were and they could do their job properly. If you feel one thing, but don't acknowledge or allow it, then it creates an internal conflict. The message your emotion is trying to give you can't be delivered so it just keeps badgering you until it can. When it's delivered, then it can transform. I don't know if that makes any sense, Richi's much better at explaining it than I am!
In layman's, it turns out that complaint was the best thing that could have happened. It forced me to face all these emotions head on and get unstuck, albeit with some incredibly insightful help. Richi made me realise what I had been doing and how caught up I had got in trying to get people to see my pain. During that call with him I could see it all so clearly. One of the things I had been doing was relying on other people's reactions, opinions and allegiances to make me feel validated and if someone didn't respond in the way I wanted them to, it hugely affected how I felt. In this circumstance, I'd also not been acknowledging my emotions properly, which is the whole basis of Richi's teaching. I wanted so much for people to care and see how wronged I had been. Unfortunately, in reality, most people didn't care and why should they, just because it would have made me feel better? I had to do that myself, but first I had to acknowledge and be honest about how hurtful it was. One call, a serious challenge in how I was thinking, an honest evening with my feelings, an emotional hangover for a few days and voila! Cement shoes gone and OMG is was so fucking freeing. I was elated! I cannot tell you how amazing it felt. I almost knocked on her door to say "THANK YOU!" Such a gift. Such a crazy, fucked up ridiculous way to go about it, but a wonderful, wonderful gift, nonetheless. As much as I trusted Richi's process, as it had been so helpful up to this point, I genuinely didn't ever see this leaving me. I was beyond grateful to feel so free. To be able to not care, to see her as irrelevant and insignificant as she actually was and is, was bliss. To realise how blessed I was to not be in her shoes because life would issue its own form of karma if she continued with the same patterns of behaviour. My conscience was clear in comparison and I was loved. Despite everything that had happened, I could go to sleep at night, with my husband, knowing that and look at my kids with the knowledge I had stuck it out for them and was finally getting there. As long as I continue to be honest and open, working through everything that comes my way I have this renewed and rejuvenated love of my family to focus on. I could finally see how the fight mode had taken over and how stuck, defensive and controlling I really had been, but I wasn't anymore. I had finally let myself off the hook and I literally felt like doing the cancan!
Right in time for Christmas with my awesome family, right in time for my thirteenth wedding anniversary, which was just the best anniversary ever, and right in time for going into the new year. I was elated I really was. After 15 months of post traumatic utter hell, that was the biggest and best fuck you, EVER! And do you know what's weirder? I've hardly seen her since then!