The book and movie Into the Wild tell the story of Chris McCandless, a young man who dropped out of society, wandered the land, and finally died while living alone in Alaska.
Chris had every apparent advantage. A wealthy upbringing. An intact family. An education at top-notch schools. And yet, one day, he walked away from it all.
What was behind such a turn of events? Why did he turn his back on his life?
Chris (who changed his name to Alex Supertramp) uncovered a dark secret about his family. This changed him forever, and it knocked his life off course.
After finishing high school, Alex went on a road trip where he learned that his dad had been a bigamist. This long-held family secret turned his whole world upside down, and he couldn’t quite recover from the devastating news.
His sense of trust was shattered. He was shaken to the core. He thought all love was suspect, and that closeness just brought pain.
Hence, he set out on a journey. Restless. Broken. Seeking solace. And trying to find peace in the rugged empty wilds.
How This Applies to Us
Discovering those close to us have led a secret life, and have cruelly deceived us, has profound, lasting effects. It tears up our life’s narrative. It fills our heart with pain. It leaves our mind fragmented; our identity in shreds.
A story that made sense, and an unquestioned history, seem like a house of cards. It’s nothing more than a mirage.
The ending of the novel and the movie break your heart. Chris can’t survive alone, and so eventually he starves.
There’s a lesson and a warning here if you’ve been traumatized, or had to deal with secrets that have blown your world apart. It is:
We all need other people when dark secrets are revealed, when trauma overwhelms us, and destabilizes us.
We feel so isolated, and so cut off from the world. We don’t know who to turn to. Who on earth would understand?
But there are those who’ll listen. Who will help us bear the pain. They’ll be there in the darkness, in the long and endless night.
Support makes all the difference. Please don’t carry this alone. Reach out, and share your story. There are people here who care.
“Trauma affects the entire human organism … After trauma the world is experienced with a different nervous system”.
There’s a lot of pressure when you learn about betrayal, to work hard on your healing, and to move on with your life.
But you’re not the same person, and the scars don’t disappear.
Now don’t get me wrong, I think that progress can be made. But trauma leaves an imprint on our body, mind and brain. It changes our neurology and physiology.
In “The Body Keeps the Score” Bessel van der Kolk describes some changes that occur when a person’s traumatized, and is later diagnosed with PTSD. Some of these changes include the following:
1. In a person unaffected by PTSD, the hormone cortisol sends out an “all safe” signal after a threat or danger has passed. This doesn’t happen with PTSD sufferers. This is because the latter’s stress hormones do not return to base level after the threat or danger has passed. Instead, the person continues to experience severe anxiety. They remain agitated, they cannot relax, they remain on guard, and they tend to react disproportionately to minor or neutral stimuli.
2. A person with PTSD is primed to react to anything that might signal danger, many months and years after experiencing the trauma. This is true, even when the person has told their story, and has worked on their healing with a therapist. For as Bessel van der Kolk states:
“Trauma results in a fundamental reorganization of the way the mind and brain mange perceptions. (As a consequence of trauma, the person) remains hypervigilant, prepared to be wounded at any time.”
3. In ordinary everyday life, both the right and left sides of the brain work together. However, trauma temporarily deactivates the left side of the brain. This means that whenever the traumatized person is triggered, the left brain blacks out, and simply ceases to function.
At the same time, the right brain continues to feels the strong emotions related to the original traumatic experience.
Unfortunately, because the left brain cannot function when it’s triggered, it cannot distinguish between the past and the present. Thus, the person feels as if they’re trapped in the past, reliving emotions which are scary and intense.
Knowing the above, which is based on trauma research, can help relieve the pressure to “hurry up and heal.”
We need to recognize these facts, and to practice self-compassion … Because experiencing betrayal is a life-changing event.
That is, the impact is profound, it affects our chemistry, and it’s very difficult to make a full recovery.
*Quotes are from Van der Kolk, B. (2015). The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. London: Penguin Books.
“Hope is not pretending that troubles don’t exist. It is the hope that they won’t last forever. That hurts will be healed and difficulties overcome. That we will be led out of darkness and into the sunshine.”
It’s difficult to know what’s the right thing to do after you’ve learned that your partner has betrayed you. Should you try again, or should leave and walk away? Not all relationships can (or should) be saved. And deciding the right course is extremely difficult.
Really, this is a decision that only you can make. And it’s wise to take your time, and decide what’s right for you. Don’t let your friends and family influence you too much.
So, what sorts of things should you take into account? Below are some questions that might help with this decision:
1. Is your partner willing to do the work you view as being crucial for recovery (both his recovery and your recovery)?
2. Do you feel he really ‘gets’ how hurt and traumatized you are? Does it upset him to see the pain suffering he’s caused? Or does he seem detached, and unaffected by your feelings?
3. Actions count much more than words. This is absolutely crucial. What exactly is he doing to show he’s different now? What steps has he been taking to deal with the temptations?
4. Do you feel this Is this enough? What else would help to rebuild trust?
5. Do you still want him in your life? This is a really crucial question. Even if he works on changing you might feel that it’s too late. Perhaps you can’t respect him after everything he’s done.
6. Do you enjoy his company? Would you miss him if you parted?
7. Can you imagine being close and intimate again? Perhaps you cannot picture having sex with him again.
8. What are the benefits of staying in the marriage? (You have a history together; your lives are deeply intertwined; you want to stay together for the sake of the children; you want to stay together because you actually still love him, and so on.)
9. What are the benefits of leaving the marriage? (You don’t have to deal with trust related to him possibly betraying you again; it would be easier to deal with all the fall-out on your own; you don’t want to be with someone who hurt you so badly; you would rather start again with someone else, and so on.)
10. If you look back at your life 10 years from now, what different scenarios can you envisage? Which of those is the most likely to be the real scenario? Which would you choose, and why? Do you want to take a risk, and why? Do you think it’s wise to take a risk, and why?
Other readers may be able to add some other questions that could help you decide the right pathway for you.
But whatever you decide, please be kind to yourself, and make sure that any boundaries are respected and adhered to.