What To Expect From The Aftermath: Emotional Flooding
It's really important to understand what this is, as I have never, ever, EVER felt anything like it in my life before. I had no idea what was happening to me. I thought I was going crazy. Uncontrollable, overwhelming emotions of such magnitude they felt like a tsunami. When triggered by the smallest reminder, thought or action, the effects were crippling, debilitating and utterly exhausting, cascading down like a black wave, smothering everything in its path. When you feel that tumbling, snowballing shudder start, hold on for the ride because there's nothing you can do and it's fucking horrific.
This black hole of a flood is caused by physiological and chemical reactions in the body. Once triggered there is very little you can do to stop it. Your body tenses, your mind races, your rational mind is disconnected, your nervous system is saturated and your prefrontal cortex ceases to exercise its controlling function. All this causes an avalanching surge of rage, nausea, shortness of breath, panic, verbal abuse, asking highly charged questions and demanding answers, feelings of disgust and hatred, and a level of pain you never knew existed. I lived with this, pretty much every day, for five to six months. Luckily, I didn't have to work as I moved out to join my husband overseas. However, I had relocated to the place where the affair had taken place and a walked into plethora of daily triggers. Every time I saw a plane over head (because he had picked her up from the airport from her holiday), every time I went to his work (because she used to visit him there or meet him out the back), every time I took my dog for a walk (because she had a dog he used to walk), every time we went to the Mess (because that's where they were all the time), pretty much every time I left the house I had to go past her house. I had one when my moving boxes arrived as it was a reminder of how quickly I had to pack up and leave my life. I had one when I was on a sailing course, as I could see the restaurant they went to on his last night before he came home. I had one when I returned after flying back with the dog, as again, we were at the airport. I had one in the car, where I had to get out and vomit when I saw her for the first time, 3 days after I arrived. I had them washing up, having a shower, driving, watching tv, cooking dinner, running, supermarket shopping. They would often come when I was in bed at night. As soon as I was relaxing and trying to sleep, I would feel that horribly familiar cascading feeling coming over me. I would warn my husband and grip to the sheets, tensing, breathing heavily, gritting my teeth trying to fight off the urge to bombard him with unhelpful, bitter questions. I had them again, and again, and again and again. As I wrote in "The Abyss" I would convulse and sweat, be unable to breathe, scream into my pillow until my throat went sore and gag into the toilet. Shake, sob, howl, wail and whimper, then fall asleep with exhaustion, wake up and somehow get myself together for when the kids were coming home from school. This was almost every single day. I once had one so bad, I had to message my neighbour to come and get the kids, as I didn't want them to see me so wrecked.
I soon learnt to just lie down with a roll of toilet roll to mop up the mess and go with it, sob into the bed, clutch my sides with the pain, scream into the pillow then curl up in my duvet and sleep. I was incredibly fortunate I didn't have to work. They were truly exhausting. After experiencing these states I completely and wholly understood why crimes of passion are committed, why people get all consumed and obsessed with revenge. I have never experienced levels of emotion like it. I never knew levels of emotion even existed. Unless you have been there, it is very difficult to explain, as it simply isn't rational and often very frightening. So unbelievably overwhelming and uncontrollable. You just can't stop them. It was during this time the Sally Challen case was in the news again, as her sons were campaigning for her case to be reviewed. Sally was convicted of murdering her husband in 2010. Now, I just want to point out, my husband was nothing like hers. He is not and never has been abusive or controlling. However, I was watching the news, listening to her story, what he had submitted her to and how she had killed him by hitting him over the head with a hammer. I was so engrossed in listening to the whole tragedy on the news and how everything had effected her emotionally. I listened to the argument for the prosecution she was convicted for in her first trial, saying she killed him in a jealous rage as was seeing other women, but I knew it wasn't that. I got it. I completely understood those levels of emotion a rational prosecution barrister wouldn't. I believed the unbelievable explanations an every day person would probably think sounded ridiculous. It's not condoning it, as he didn't deserve to die, but as I listened to the part where she hit him, I said out loud to myself "I bet she felt amazing." For that split moment, I bet she did. Then reality would've hit a nano-second later.
Emotional flooding is not rational, however it's very real and extremely relentless. It feels like it's never going to end. I remember saying to my husband once that I understand why people take drugs or drink to escape. Just to get a moment's relief from its perpetual ferocity is a very intoxicating idea. So if you're there, getting smashed about in the waves, engulfed and unable to breathe, hold on, you're not going crazy, take care of yourself. There is nothing you can do but go with it, rest, curl up and sleep. It does end, eventually. One day I woke up and that underwater, on edge, slow motion feeling was gone. I was so relieved. I remember thinking "thank fuck for that!" I felt like "my" head was back. Trouble was, I started to process everything again. This time from "my" viewpoint and not this wailing, emotionally crazed mess. Much of the fear had gone. Up to this point, I had always thought I was terrified of losing my husband as every time it got close to that I simply couldn't cope. Once the flooding stopped, I realised it wasn't losing him I was fearful of, it was taking on more pain to deal with that, if it happened, that I was scared of. I was so saturated with pain, at my absolute limit, I felt like I simply couldn't withstand even a millilitre more. Once the flooding stopped, so did the fear. I had some space to breathe so I went through a few days of pure "Ahhhhh, I'm back! Bring it on! How fucking dare you! I'm not scared anymore." I started to confront my husband with a lot more confidence. Numerous times from this point forwards, I told him I wasn't frightened of leaving and I wasn't prepared to stay if he didn't want me, but was just too chicken to say it. However, I wasn't going to do his dirty work for him. If he didn't want me there, all he had to do was say so and I would leave. He never did.
Although I was wholeheartedly and ridiculously relieved when the flooding stopped, it's important to remember there are layers and layers and layers of this torment to wade through. Every time I thought there was a break in the cloud, there was......but not for very long! Even though the fuzzy headed, muffled feeling had disappeared and the emotional tsunamis had subsided, the anger, fear and general upset rolled on, still very prevalent. Plus, as I said, every time there was a shift, it was like I had to process everything all over again from yet another viewpoint. New feelings came to light all the time, my realisations and perceptions of what went on and how I saw that changed, the physical side effects continued and triggers still occurred, just not as often. In fact, it got to the point where, if a trigger did occur, my body would literally shut down. It felt as though it just went into power-save mode to protect me, like it simply couldn't take anymore and would just stop functioning. I would suddenly become incredibly tired, so tired I couldn't move or keep my eyes open. Any energy or motivation I had would instantly disappear and I would have to lie down. My head would hurt, I'd lose my appetite, I'd cry and just have to go to bed and sleep it off sometimes for as much as 12 hours.
During these times I needed care and attention. You need care and attention if you're in this stage of the healing process. A cuddle and some understanding that it's happening not by choice. That it's not to make anyone feel bad or to prove a point. A "I'm so sorry you're feeling like this again, is there anything I can do?", not an eye-roll or sigh of impatience and frustration. When my husband managed to put his own feelings aside of how seeing me like this, knowing he was responsible, made him feel, he did look after me and tell me we'd get through it together. He'd put me in bed and take over with the kids. When I resurfaced he'd give me a cuddle and ask me if I was ok and we are, slowly, getting through it together.