I never knew that affair or betrayal trauma was actually a thing, but I do now. Post Traumatic Infidelity Syndrome exists. There is even a doctor in the US who has studied over 250,000 people in its effects, resulting in officially recognising symptoms similar to PTSD.
I tell you what, when I discovered this I had such a sigh of relief. So much finally made sense to me, however, it was very late on in the process and was discovered out of desperation more than anything else. I thought it was me. I thought I was over sensitive, too stubborn, not getting over it, too difficult and over emotional. This one paragraph made such a difference to this and totally sums it up:
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.
It is the result of two main things. 1) the betrayal of the main person in your life. The one, who above all is there to love and protect you. The shock, confusion and realisation that my husband could do this was unreal. As I said I was totally blindsided. 2) the level of pain and devastation this brings. There really are very few words to describe it. The combination of these two things simply overloads your survival system causing confusion, disorientation and a hyper-vigilant state. The fear is real, fucking real. It started from D-Day and covers pretty much EVERYTHING!
In the very beginning the pain and fear was about losing everything. Losing my husband to someone else, losing my family, losing my home, how would I tell people, what would people think. My brain simply couldn't cope. For the first few months I felt like I was constantly fighting off looming disasters. I was so frightened of more pain. I didn't realise this at the time however. I completely understand why, from the outside, it may seem like weakness when some decisions are made immediately after exposing an affair, however, it's simply a way to protect yourself from more pain. Your body and brain simply can't cope, so you'll do anything to keep it at bay. I was not going to let anything get to my family. I was terrified of this unknown entity of the other woman's shadow looming over me. Because I wasn't clear of what I was up against, it felt like a big hovering cloud constant genuine threat to me. Who was she, what was she like, why was she more appealing, did he still have feelings for her, what's the threat, what's the threat, what's the threat? This I overcame pretty swiftly when I came face to face with her and literally had the shock of my life at how plain and simply odd she was. There may be a blog on the horizon about this encounter, but until then I'll just tell you that the affair fell into place for me and made a lot of sense after that meeting. Knowing my husband as I do, I could see exactly what he was doing and the fear of losing him to someone else went in an instant. I actually went home after it happened and told him if that was who all the fuss what about, then he was free to go, as I could keep my head held high. If he wanted to lose his family over that, as they say in the Army, crack on, fill your boots and I absolutely meant it! (Yes, I do feel another blog coming on!) One tiny triumph over the fear, only 98.3% to go!
I thought I was terrified of losing my husband. I was so paranoid about my behaviour, paranoid about how I looked, how I came across, if I was too upset, too unpredictable, too moody. What was he thinking, did he really want to stay or was it just because he felt guilty? Was he relieved every time he left the house, was he just pretending? It wasn't until the flooding finally stopped, five months later, I suddenly realised it wasn't him I was frightened of losing, it was just coping with more pain. I couldn't stand the thought of dealing with anymore on top of what I already was. That fear of losing him left me from the day I woke up and the flooding had stopped and things started to change for me, I got a bit of fight back. I felt myself and my worth coming through more. Like they were just breaking through the surface after being buried for a while. A small crack of light and fight was seeping through. Losing him or leaving him would be painful, but I had a bit more space for it now. I felt a bit more ready. Without the constant tsunami of emotions, I didn't feel so swamped, overwhelmed and out of control.
At the same time as all this was going on, in amongst all the breakdowns, there was also the fear of moving on. The idea of having to let go and not talk about this anymore terrified me. It's the most paralysing place to be stuck. I wanted to move on more than anything as the daily struggle was horrific. All I wanted was for it to go away, yet I was petrified that if it did, what I was going through would be forgotten. I had committed to staying and working through things, so I knew that constantly revisiting things wouldn't necessarily help and I specifically made a point of not throwing things back in my husband's face, which for the most part I was able to stick to, but I had to fight this fear of disappearing every step of the way. I didn't want my pain to be forgotten. I didn't want what I was going through to become insignificant. I didn't want my husband to just forget about what he did to me. It was a crippling state to be in. Desperately wanting to move on, but just as desperately not.
Then there was the fear I would never get over it. I knew rationally, if I couldn't get over it then that was ok and absolutely my right to decide. I also knew it would not be my fault if I couldn't, however that fear was incredibly real and it felt like the weight of my whole family and future of my children was on my shoulders. This one was excruciating and brought me to my knees many a time. I don't think there has been a day gone by, since D-Day, when I have not got to a point where I've decided it was simply too much. The details are never going to change, the level of deceit and actions taken are simply too hurtful, the extreme level he took it to, it's never going to be ok, ever, now it's time to finally admit that and go. I actually had one yesterday. However recently, with the clearing of the biggest fear I was fighting, the feeling of it never going away has eased somewhat and there is a little more hope that one day, this will be a bad memory. It's taken 14 months to get here.
I was constantly fearful that what I had to offer wasn't enough. When my husband was having his affair there were no kids to worry about, he was getting drunk all the time, going out whenever he wanted and on top of that there was the excitement of it being new and elicit. In comparison, I've known him for 12 years and life with two kids is relatively boring. I spend my time driving them to clubs, friends' houses, cleaning, tidying and trying to keep up with the numerous school activities, kids' birthday parties and two minute notice requests for kids coming over for dinner or sleepovers. I remember once going out for dinner with him about 10 months after D-Day and sitting there worrying it simply wasn't what he wanted. That I wasn't fun enough or exciting enough. He always assured me otherwise, saying all the other affair stuff was just ridiculous nonsense and this is what he wanted, but didn't always stop the fear.
Taking it up a notch, there's the fear of my husband and I don't mean physically. This was, and still is, a really tough one and has caused quite a few panic attacks and meltdowns. Again, it's another cliche when people say "are you able to trust him again?" I always took this to be trusting that he is where he says he is and doing what he says he's doing. What I'm talking about here is on a whole different level to that. I still don't really check his phone, I don't wonder where he is or what he's doing. I wonder what he's thinking and what's going on under the surface. I had no idea he was even unhappy in our marriage. I had no idea he was thinking what he was thinking. I was kept in the dark for 5 weeks about what was happening and, up until the last couple of weeks, he was pretty much normal. I had NO IDEA what he was thinking. I don't know if it's an Army thing but he rarely flinches at anything. He is a very poker faced, flat line, steady as a rock kind of guy. It's impossible to know what's going on underneath without chipping away at him and even then it's like going at a rock with a tooth pick. Wondering what's going on is now a genuine fear. It hits me hard sometimes when we are just chatting about normal stuff to do with our life and what's happening next, or when he has to go away for work. He's getting better at being open, but it still creates quite a lot of triggers for me. I've had several very full on panic attacks triggered by very normal conversations. The need to feel safe is overwhelming.
I have seen the worst of my husband and I am frightened of what he is capable of as this person (more about this in To Leave or Not To Leave?) The level of resentment, arrogance and selfishness he was capable of and where it led him is genuinely terrifying. This then filters over into worrying about people in general. After this experience and the trauma caused by that last night, the covert pictures and card fiasco, I am terrified of what people are capable of and what pain they are willing to inflict on others for their own personal gratification and gain. If my own husband can do it, then anyone is fair game and the only thing you can rely on is their own sense of integrity. Nothing else. Not what you think you mean to them, not what society may deem acceptable or not, not what you think is ok or not, nothing. Nothing accept their own sense of strength and character, which when faced with walking over people to get what you want, in my experience, does not always carry much weight. I have seen the worst of women, selfish, callous, emotionally manipulative and spiteful all wrapped up in a nice righteous, self justifying bow. All of this makes for feeling pretty vulnerable, which in reality I guess we all are and in truth, have no control over how people treat us whatsoever.
This brings me onto my final, and most intense, experience of fear and trauma this last 14 months. It's actually pretty good timing, as the full ramifications were not fully known to me until very recently. The sudden, unexpected and intense shock and trauma of finding out about the affair, then being smashed again by the extraordinary levels of distress caused by the final night of betrayal and all that followed it, created symptoms of post infidelity shock syndrome which threw me into fight mode for over a year.
This shit is real!
"Discovering that a spouse has been unfaithful is a legitimized traumatic event. In fact, researchers have found the “emotional responses to infidelity to mirror those of other traumatic events, including shock, repression, denial, intense mood fluctuation, depression, anxiety, and lowered self-esteem,” all of which are symptoms of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
But what’s most shocking, and seldom talked about, is 70% of women with unfaithful partners met most criteria for a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder and 71% demonstrated a severe level of functional impairment in major areas of their lives."
I know all this now, at the time I just felt like I was a crazed, angry, unreasonable nightmare, backed up by the phrase "well, it's understandable after everything you've been through." Upon finding the two quotes above, I was profoundly struggling, driving myself crazy thinking I was never going to get over what happened. Now I understand I was simply stuck in protection mode and wasn't ready to drop my armour, which is understandable after everything I'd been through!