“You are broken inside.” Sitting in front of a psychic in her apartment with my close friends a few years ago on a hot and humid July day, this woman, who didn’t know me and whom I had just met, said I was broken inside. I was broken; she was right. He had left for another woman.
As she was making note of the lines on my forehead to indicate the hardship I had recently been faced with, my thoughts immediately started to race back to when my ex walked out of our marriage and of our home while I was holding our daughter tightly in my arms, crying inconsolably, scared and in shock, not knowing how to handle the situation of grieving a lost husband, caring for my three children who were so young, and getting myself through this unbelievably challenging time.
The sun had set, and the next door neighbor was pulling into her driveway, coming home to find me standing outside on the front lawn watching my husband get into his car and drive away. She knew what had just happened and, like me, she was at a loss for words. Tears coming down our cheeks, she held me and my daughter. Her hug meant the world to me at that moment, and I didn’t want to let go of her embrace.
Getting to know me through the process of being cheated on and ultimately left for another woman was so frightening. Nothing prepared me for how to deal with the pain I experienced when I realized my marriage and friendship with another person would never again be the same. For almost 20 years, I had been someone’s partner and, as such, many of the things I did and the way I thought about my future was very much centered around another person.
After spending months crying over my failed marriage, mourning the loss of a future I had imagined for our family, I came to realize that I had defined much of who I was based on this partnership, and I was lost.
What now? How do I move forward? Who am I?
For months after I found out about the affair, I hated that my mind arbitrarily drifted to thoughts of the affair. I hated that these thoughts had taken over my emotional and mental stability. I couldn’t make sense of what was going on, with him or with myself. He was a completely different person than the person I had known and loved for all those years. What had happened to him, to us?
I also felt like I was becoming another person … I couldn’t recognize myself and the things I was doing. For some reason I convinced myself that I could somehow make sense of his actions by rummaging through his cell phone and computer. That I could uncover evidence that he did still love me and would not leave me for this other woman. I convinced myself time and time again that we would be okay and that all we had to do was figure out how to get through this bump in the road.
All I ended up finding was more evidence of his love and affection for another woman and the growing distance he had created from me and our life together. I felt unsettled and frustrated a lot of the time. I constantly replayed events in my head, pictures, email, and text exchanges between them that I had found on his phone. None of it was helpful, but I didn’t know how to stop myself from these thoughts, from trying to uncover evidence of his love for me. Evidence that he would leave her and realize that he and I could have a happy life together.
I was spinning out of control and couldn’t stop the madness that had settled within me.
One of the most difficult things for me to wrap my head around was the betrayal of trust that had shaken my inner peace to its core. I struggled with the emotional trauma of reconstructing what had happened between them while he and I were together, before I found out about the affair. Painfully putting pieces of the puzzle together from the things he told me he did and said to her while he was with me — this haunted me day and night for a long time.
Not only was my mental and emotional state declining, so was my physical health. Struggling to eat and take care of my body, I quickly lost 35 pounds over the period of only a few months. I’ve always wanted to lose weight, but this was not how I wanted to go about it. The worst part was his comments to me of how “hot” I now looked after having lost so much weight. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Who was this person, and why was he talking to me in such a crass way?
I also had some fainting spells during the first few weeks after I found out about the affair, and I was dumbfounded at how annoyed and unsympathetic he was when I would faint. He saw my pain, but for some reason he was unable to help me or pick up the pieces of my broken heart.
Despite the small steps to finding my way again, there was still the daily struggle of caring for the kids on my own and dealing with the separation. On most days I felt like I was in survival mode. I would often come home after dropping off the kids at school and go back to bed and hide under the covers and cry. It was terrible. I felt extremely guilty that I was hiding in my bedroom and not being fully present with the children. The lack of energy made it difficult to keep up with the kids on the weekends, but I managed it as best as I could, and by the time Monday morning rolled around, all I wanted to do was sleep. I was physically and mentally exhausted.
I knew I had to get out of the cycle I had created for myself, one that was spiraling out of control. I had to do it for myself, and more importantly, for the children.
The first thing I did: I asked for help. Many (well-meaning) people had advice for me and encouraged me to meet new people, to get out of the house and find a new hobby. Easier said than done … Imagine you’ve just jumped out of a plane, you’ve landed in the middle of nowhere and you’re afraid and panic-stricken. You have to get yourself up and figure out how you’re going to find a way that will lead you to where you want to be. This was me. I was lost, frightened, and didn’t know how to find my way. I needed a plan.
I knew that before I could make new friends or do all the things I’d been encouraged to do, I had to get to know myself. Not myself as a wife, long-term companion, or mother. I needed to date myself, push myself out of my comfort zone and try new things. I took myself out to dinner, the movies, walks on the beach, tried new restaurants, joined online women’s groups, and went to therapy–a lot of therapy.
Through all these experiences, I began to develop a voice that was my own–I literally had not heard myself speak so much in my life as I did in only a few months. The sound of my voice was actually a little foreign to me. I began to gain confidence and to think about what kind of future I wanted to have. I could see myself coming out of my shell.
This is also when I started to realize how confined I had been in my marriage, how much I had given of myself to another person, and how much I had allowed myself to stand aside to allow someone else to move forward on their path while I got left behind. I had completely lost myself.
Although a great deal has happened to me, I can see how much I have learned about myself and the world around me in only a few years. I now know that the events that once broke me no longer define who I am. They have led me to where I am now — standing strong and feeling whole.