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Foregiveness, the essential component

We go through a lot, we wives of homosexuals. The manipulations, the spiritual and psychological abuses… I think I’ve mentioned before that every one of the ex-wives I’ve ever spoken to or communicated with live with depression of some degree or other. Then there are the family battles, the drive to try to protect our children, or – I wonder whether this is prudent or a big mistake – even our husbands in the early days when we’re just discovering their homosexuality and geared toward “protecting” them and maybe even their families from knowing the truth…

And we carry this enormous load of sorrow and suffering and how do we survive?

The answer is simple: we forgive.

When we consider how he lied to us, we forgive.
When we consider how he mocked and ridiculed us, we forgive.
When we stand under a barage of insults, we forgive.
When we agonize in the neglect, we forgive…
When the manipulations get ugly and things we never dreamed of happen… we forgive.

Now, I want to make something VERY VERY CLEAR. Forgiveness is not shrugging our shoulders and pretending something awful didn’t happen. That’s not forgiveness – that’s unhealthy self-sacrifice. No! We can draw our line in the stand and take whatever reasonable steps are necessary to protect ourselves and our children – and in fact I am increasingly convinced we must, not only for our own sakes or for our children’s but also for his sake – so that we don’t become complicit in his self-destruction.

What we cannot do, however, is clear: we cannot, we must not, harbor bitterness, entertain thoughts of recriminations.Not toward him, not toward his mother, not toward the kids who decide he’s telling the truth and his being gay had nothing to do with the divorce…

No, Forgiveness means that we let God dispense the justice.

“Don’t Deny the Rage” — Part Three

Anger can be a powerful barometer to alert us something is Not Right in our lives, in our relationships.

It can be a powerful impetus for needed change. Anger at being abused, for instance, can motivate us to make changes to stop the abuse or to get away from it.

We have to be careful, though.  Anger, badly or recklessly heeded, can lead to some irresponsible or self-destructive choices.

Anger can be turned inward.  This is self-destructive. It’s been said for years that depression is “anger turned inward.”  It’s my personal opinion (and I’m not a psychologist) that that’s too simplistic an assessment, but there’s enough truth there for it to become an easy platitude. We punish ourselves for others’ wrongs, fault ourselves for not being able to “help” or “fix,” things that aren’t ours to begin with, and we become depressed.

I’ve seen anger lead to irresponsible and dangerous choices.  People who can’t cope turning to alcohol or drugs, for instance. Or flashes of rage and temper that cause us to hurt other people, in turn. Or a seething resentment that builds into a dishonest idea that we have a right to — get even, to get a bit of our own back, to have our needs met however dishonestly or dishonorably we have to do it.  I’ve known men and women who justified adulterous affairs by saying their spouse was “asking for it.” “I have a right to be happy” isn’t necessarily true — certainly no one has a right to be “happy” at the expense of others’ trust or if it means violating sacred principles.

I think more often anger is just a low simmering flame that reveals itself in our restlessness, an inability to find peace, an edginess in our relationships with others, punctuated by occasional yelling bouts and the like. Maybe we can’t stop replaying a conversation we had (or wish we’d had) and what we said or wish we’d said or would like to say. .     Maybe it shows up in an unaccustomed use of profanity, or door-slamming, or some other behavior that isn’t so self-destructive as alcohol abuse or the “I’ll show him!” affair — but still gives us that nagging warning that we aren’t doing so well with everything as we’d like to believe we are.

This is where we have to take ourselves in hand and be adult.  Some of these things, we can handle ourselves, and should. But there comes a time when you might just need some professional help to move beyond the rage to a place where you can start to be productive again, and to find some peace.  There’s no shame in getting help, although it can be hard to get started, especially with a stranger.  It’s worth getting through the discomfort in order to find some peace.

And life is far too short, and opportunities for joy far too infrequent, to have your life sabotaged by unresolved rage.

“Don’t Deny the Rage” – Part One

When DH and I separated, I received the same advice from several kind and wise people with whom I worked at the time:  “Don’t deny the rage.”

I had no idea what they were talking about.  I was living on the epicenter of an emotional earthquake, I was wary and scared and anxious and tense and many, many unpleasant things, but angry wasn’t one of them.  In fact, anger was such an alien concept to me at that point, I didn’t even know what they were talking about. I’d been angry for years, but it had manifested as impatience, short temper, etc., quick firebursts that just as quickly, vented, died back down. I didn’t know what rage was.

It took a year, nearly an entire calendar year before it hit me, and even then it required a catalyst outside my own experience in the form of a terrible drunk driving incident that killed the wife and three children of one of my dear friends.  For my friend I became angry, and that righteous anger popped the cork and — I couldn’t get the cork back in.

It revealed itself in several ways:  Bursts of excessive energy accompanied by the strong desire to inflict deep pain on those who had wronged me. Black humor, self-deprecating humor. Sarcasm. Profanity. An inordinate desire for revenge — I adopted a motto that reflected my resentment at DH’s efforts to sabotage my independence and success: Success Is the Best Revenge; sometimes, later, I would modify it: Happiness Is the Best Revenge.

It boiled, it exploded, it simmered. It waited still and quiet beneath the surface then it would erupt at unexpected times and under, often, unreasonable provocations.

When it didn’t go away on its own, I became frightened, by its intensity and by its duration; this was not my usual outburst but a months-long, years-long storm.

We women are told not to get angry.  We are told from childhood to hold in our tempers. A grown woman who lets her anger flare is dismissed as a bitch. We are told to be nice and to do whatever it takes in order to get along with even the most difficult and unreasonable people in our lives.  This is fine to a point, but it misses the greater point that sometimes a line has to be drawn in the sand and defended with might and main:

You may not hit me.  You may not tell me I am stupid and worthless.  You may not dismiss me as insignificant. You might think it, but it is an evil, nasty, unfair and abusive attitude, and you may not inflict it upon me. You may not abuse me.

Anger is the only reasonable response to abuse.  I read somewhere that anger is a secondary emotion to fear or hurt.  That’s true to a point — we have been hurt and so we are angry. We are afraid of abandonment or of insignificance, and so we are angry.  That makes sense.  But anger is also simply the only reasonable response to situations of violence, or moral outrage.  This is, I suspect, a uniquely Christian idea (“Be angry and do not sin” — Eph. 4:26) but an important one.

Maybe what made my anger so difficult do deal with was that it was a combination, a culmination of All The Above. It was secondary to hurt – “why am I never good enough?” — and to fear — “What is going to happen now? How can I manage on my own?” but it was also a gut reaction to the fact that I was being abused.

Still trying –

In the fall I went to a retreat for women who are married to men with same-sex attraction or sex addictions.  It was a profound experience, one of the key defining points of my life.  It was strange, and wonderful, and heartbreaking, to be in a room full of women who live with the same struggles and sorrows I experience.  So  many times, as they told their own stories, I found myself thinking, “What! You, too?” There was an unexpected universality to our experiences.

One woman spoke of how her husband cringes when she touches him. I know that cringe well. Another spoke of her anger at being deceived and lied to and blamed for what had happened in their marriage; I know that situation well, too. One spoke of how unfeminine and undesirable she had come to feel, and I wanted to cry (and, later, I did cry. Buckets, I think.  A box of tissues’ worth, at least — and I don’t cry) because that is what I have lived with every day of my life for many years.  More years than she has been alive.  More years than any of them had been alive.

And this retreat was glorious! – but coming home and returning to real life is so hard.  Living alone, I had a buffer and my season of grace dragged out much longer than that of the other women, who had families to return to, and family needs to address.  For once, I have seen my solitude as something of a luxury.

The luxury couldn’t last, of course. A visit from a beloved friend sent me into a tailspin.  I became so anxious during the visit – of being boring, or annoying, or that my house (which announces my coexistence with the black dog to anyone who comes in) would appall him . . .   when I wanted him to be comfortable and at peace and to see me at something resembling my best, I certainly was not.

There are still bruises and when those bruises are bumped, I yelp.  And my friend bumped into one I hadn’t yet encountered, and I don’t think I really recovered from that  – and I didn’t yelp, I roared.

It is so hard to love someone, and at the same time to feel that these circumstances of my past have so battered and warped me that I am no longer worthy of being loved.  “Would Christ Himself see you that way?” he asked, when I confessed this to him, in fear and trembling, one evening.  Ahh, Darling, but Our Lord is not so fastidious as mortal men.  He sees beyond the superficial things that are, so often, all that we mortals can see.  There are times when spiritualizing a corporal problem doesn’t help, and this is one of them.

Nevertheless, I will go back and re-read my notes from my retreat, and I will talk with these other women some more, and I will write, and I will try to live well and to see and honor my best self — even if.

But it is hard to feel condemned, rather than called, to being alone.

Finding Healing

Despite my anger over what has happened between me and my ex-husband, and in the gay agenda in general, I have learned that there is a lot of woundedness there which truly warrants compassion.

Gays aren’t born that way — twin studies have always verified that — but they are born with a personality, a disposition which renders them at odds with the traditionally masculine world and sets them up for possible imprinting and identification as same-sex attracted.  In a gender that applauds athletic prowess and physical agility, the more sensitive or artistic male may have a sense of alienation from other boys.  He identifies more with girls.

Sadly, the sensitive male — and this includes my ex-husband — often possesses great moral insight and a strength of character that deserves to be recognized and respected as manly qualities . . . but are not.  DH was a force of nature when it came to personality, strength of opinion, power of persuasion.  In our circle of friends, he was universally regarded as a chaplain or sorts, a spiritual mentor.  He was loved and looked up to . . . but it wasn’t enough. He couldn’t recognize our esteem. Years later, when I told him how we’d felt about him, he wept.  He was still wracked with disbelief in his own worth.

That strength of mind and will and faith are what made me fall in love with him.  Of course, my love couldn’t begin to heal his broken spirit; that required the affirmation of a masculine man; I, a woman, couldn’t meet his deepest emotional needs.  It takes a man to teach a boy how to be comfortable in his own skin as male. His father, a good man, a brilliant man, was also of a more sensitive nature:  quiet, gentle, studious.  Introverted. He could teach his sons how to handle the basic mechanical maintenance of their cars (masculine skills set), but he wasn’t in possession of those interests and skills that would have helped his boys fit in more easily with the other boys in the neighborhood.  DH preferred music to sports; he built up the self-defense of dismissing ordinary boys, then men, as “idiots.”

I wanted to be his all-in-all.  This was an unrealistic expectation, particularly given the circumstances.  Men need other men in their lives to push them to be stronger, better — “iron sharpens iron.”

Not only could I not be his all-in-all, the fact is that his misery with himself  rendered him too wounded to be able to love me at all.  I can pity him for this woundedness now.  It does not justify how he treated me after we were married, during our divorce, and after, in his continued insistence that, first of all, he wasn’t gay, but then, yeah, he was gay but that still had nothing to do with the divorce.

But it does allow me to look beyond my own sufferings and loss to find something in him that I can pity.  And I’m able after many years to remember that beautiful boy we all loved and looked up to — and to realize I still love him.

And in loving him, interestingly, I’m not tied to him by sentiment, but I’m at long, long last! liberated to get well, myself, and to build a proper life for myself, in which I can be my best self and not be entrapped in the bitterness or the resentments that had been my daily fare for so many years.

Anniversary musings

Thirty-nine years.  That’s how long we would have been married.

That’s an enormous number. I’m not sure I have quite gotten my mind around it.  Of course, we have been divorced for twenty-five. That’s another big number.

It’s bigger, still, when I realize how old I’m getting, and when I have conversations with men friends and feel myself keeping them at arms length, looking askance at what might well be ordinary male behavior or perspective (Particularly Alpha Male doings) —

because the fact is, I don’t trust any more.  I’d like to.  I look at some of my men friends and I know they are good men.

But DH was also a “good man,” and look how that turned out.  If he could deceive so completely, how can I trust anyone?

I don’t.