Rhona’s Story: I Don’t Know who I am Anymore

“I met my husband in church when we were both in our mid 20s. We have been married for 33 years. We were both very involved in our church, and my husband regularly volunteered to build homes with Habitat for Humanity. He also had a wonderful career, rising to top management in an international company. He’s been an awesome dad to our daughter and son, and has always been deeply interested in their lives, and their various interests and activities.

However … About two years I learned my husband had been leading a double life. He was using dating apps to meet up with other women while on business – and this has been going on for many years. Ten years at a minimum.

He is getting help today and is deeply remorseful. I believe he genuinely regrets the way he’s lived. He said he always loved me and this was an addiction. I think it’s likely true, and I want to stay with him. However, this has really done a number with my brain!

In some ways nothing in my life has really changed. I could easily argue that this is just new information related to my husband, and choices he made (not me).

I’m essentially the same person.

It’s still true that he was there for me when I had a hysterectomy. It’s also true that we spent most of our free time together. All the things we did with our kids really happened. I’m still the same mother, sister, daughter, and friend. Who I was as a wife was genuine, as well.

And yet, somehow I feel as if my whole life was a lie. It was all built on sad, and I’ve lost myself.

How do I make sense of this history? Of who I thought I when so much wasn’t true? I feel as if I’ve lost my identity. Can you help me understand what’s going on in my mind?”

First, let me say how sorry I am that this has been your experience. It’s extremely traumatic to learn something like this.

As to your question … Our identity is really a conglomerate of many things. It consists of how we see and think about ourselves. It includes who we are. Where we’ve come from. What we’ve achieved. What our different experiences mean. And what these say about us as a person.

This is the story we tell ourselves.

It isn’t something we tend to be aware. It exists in the background yet it guides our lives, and the way we interact with others and the world.

Our relational identity is part of this identity. We relate to people as we think they are. So, when we learn they are someone very different, this is very hard for us to reconcile. Especially if that person is close to us. And especially if they chose to deliberately deceive us. No wonder you feel you have lost yourself.

So what can we say that might help with this? In summary:

1.There are no easy answers when it comes to grieving over something like this. Be patient with yourself. Expect to struggle.

2. It is going to take some time to start to process all the facts, and to straighten out the truth about how things really were.

3. It’s likely you will always have to live with some grief around being deceived, and never being able to have the life you wanted. The life you thought you had. The life you’ll never, ever have. This is likely to be hard to accept.

4. As you said, there are parts of your life’s narrative that are still true. Perhaps you will be able to reconnect with them. The fun holidays were still fun holidays. You were still a great mother to your two kids. Who you were with your friends, and in your faith community are all valid pieces of your history and story. These haven’t changed. These are all key parts of you. In time, you’ll find a way to string these pieces back together. And this will help you find your identity again.

7 Questions to Ask Yourself When Moving on From a Relationship

1. What have you learned from this experience? What will you do differently next time?

2. What scars are you still carrying? What do you need to do to heal more fully? How can you begin that process?

3. What do you want from a new relationship? Are your hopes and expectations realistic? Are you setting the bar too low?

4. What was good in the relationship – that you can take into the next relationship?

5. Can you identify any negative patterns, or mistakes you keep repeating, in your relationships? How can you prevent this happening in the future?

6. What do you need to give yourself? Do you practice self-kindness and self-compassion? If not, how can you start doing this? What is the first thing you need to do?

7. What other nurturing relationships do you have in your life? Our partner or spouse is certainly important … but they shouldn’t be the only close relationship we have. We all need other people to build into our lives. Who really cares, and is there, for you?  

Some Thoughts on Broken Trust

“Trust starts with truth, and ends with truth.”

1. If you lie and choose to break your partner’s trust, he or she may never fully trust you again. The damage will depend on how major the lie is … But often the effects will be serious and long-lasting …

For how can you determine if they’re lying in the future? You were hood-winked in the past so it could happen once again.

2. Once trust has been broken, things can never be the same. There will always be a tiny hairline crack in the mirror. You can’t reverse the damage, or eradicate all traces. The facts are still the facts, and the memories remain.

3. Betrayal stops a person from equating trust and love. Now, trust has to be earned, and it must be verified. A person has to prove they are worthy of your love. Saying “sorry” or “I’ve changed” doesn’t cut it anymore.  

4. Trusting someone’s risky. We are laying ourselves open. And if someone takes advantage of our vulnerability, we won’t forget they hurt us, and they put their own needs first. They aren’t a safe person for they didn’t care for us … and they didn’t really care about the damage they would cause.

5. If we choose to trust a person, we are giving them the power to totally destroy us, or to cause us serious harm. Self-preservation must come first. And that’s why we’re hesitant to ever trust that person, or what they say, again.

6. If someone “forces you” to trust, then this should sound a warning bell. For trust cannot be forced. It must develop over time. Also, if that person truly loved you, they would let you set the pace. They wouldn’t pressurize you. Your wellbeing would come first.

A Night on Trauma

Let’s paint a picture.

It’s getting close to bedtime.

As you start to think about heading upstairs you begin to notice you feel vaguely agitated. There’s a very subtle feeling of anxiety.  

You try to calm your feelings by reminding yourself that life is really good, and everything’s OK today. There’s no need to worry. And there’s no cause for concern.

And you actually believe it. You almost feel secure.

You dim the bedroom lights, and you escape into your book. You soon give up on reading, and are dropping off to sleep when – all of a sudden – you jolt awake again.

You feel as if you are having a heart attack. Your heart is thudding loudly in a stark, dramatic way. Adrenalin is rushing down one side of your body.

Now you’re really hot, and you are sweating profusely. You throw off the covers, and you gasp for air.

Focus on your breathing.” You tell yourself. “Breath in slowly … and then slowly out again. Breath in slowly … and then slowly out again.”

As you begin to fall asleep again, your body jerks awake. Your heart is racing wildly, and your feet are tingling.

You try to relax. You try to focus on your breathing. But this time, it’s much harder. You’re alert; much more awake.

But eventually you manage, and you drop back off to sleep.

About twenty minutes later, you are wakened once again. Your heart is pounding loudly. The adrenalin in rushing.

You might as well get up. You’re going to be awake for hours.

This is what it’s like to live with PTSD. This is what it’s like when you’ve experienced a trauma.

Perhaps the days get better, and you’re on an even keel.

But then there are the nights – when you relive it all again.

“Real healing is hard, exhausting and draining. Let yourself go through it. Don’t try to paint it as anything other than it is. Be there for yourself – with no judgment.” – Unknown  

Listen to your Fears

Become intimate with your fears. Listen to them. Sit crossed-legged with them. Give them your undivided attention. Offer them comfort. Offer them rest.” – Nayyirah Waheed

Why should we pay attention to our fears?

Because they are trying to warn us.

Because they are trying to protect us.

Because they have our best interests in mind.

Because they don’t want us to suffer, or be harmed.

Because there were times when we ignored them in the past … and look at the heartache and the havoc that has caused.

Because we need to think about the things that could go wrong.

Because our own well-being is their focus and concern.

So notice – pay attention – to the niggles and the fears

And listen to your worries; don’t suppress anxieties.

Then thank them for their voice, for their insistence, and their care.

And let them know: you’re always going to take them seriously.  

Sacred Ground or Haunted Territory?

My past still haunted me … This is trauma: a near constant feeling in my gut that something is wrong, or that something terrible is about to happen, the automatic fear responses in my body telling me to run away, to take cover, to hide myself from danger everywhere. My trauma can still rise up out of mundane encounters. A sudden sight, a particular smell, can transport me back to the past.” – Edith Eva Eger

Perhaps you’ve heard it said that memory is sacred ground. But I would also argue that it’s haunted territory.

Think about it …

What happens if you live through something absolutely awful? A trauma or a horror? Something truly devastating? How are you told to handle it?

The message we pick up from society is: Bury all that stuff. Never, ever talk about it. Push it down inside. Don’t look at it again. Whatever you do, don’t ruminate on it. Don’t allow yourself go there. Just pretend it didn’t happen.

So that’s what we try so desperately to do.

The sensible – even the perfect – solution?  

But here’s the problem

This isn’t the solution – for it doesn’t go away.

When we refuse ourselves permission to face and grieve what’s lost, we doom ourselves to constantly re-living all that pain. That’s why we keep being triggered, sometimes after many years.

The past remains haunted, and it holds us in its grip.

Finding Freedom

There is a way to be free – but it’s a very different road. It’s embracing all that happened, and then facing it head-on.

Freedom means we find the courage to look at all that stuff. We make the hard decision that we’ll tear the prison down. A slow and painful task that is accomplished brick by brick.

This is not an easy choice. But it’s the best choice we can make.

But let me also warn you …

Freedom happens very slowly. Unbelievably slowly. Depressingly slowly.

But, in time, you’ll see and difference and you’ll find that you have changed.

The past is in the past, and you can move on with your life.

Paradise Lost

Try this.

Picture yourself as happy, carefree child – maybe 6 or 7 years of age.

Where are you? What are you doing? Try to identify what you might be thinking and feeling.

What makes this child so adorable? What makes your heart fill with love for her?

This is the real you.

The you you used to be. Before all those painful, damaging experiences. Before you stopped liking and loving yourself.

This is the you who got lost along the way.

But that you still exists – beneath the layers of the years.

That you is still there – maybe buried, but still there.

Oh, wouldn’t it be wonderful to reconnect with her!

If only you could access that child once again.

“This is the beginning of loving yourself. Welcome home.”

Thank You for the Music

We cling to music, to poems, to quotes, to writing, to art because we desperately do not want to be alone. We want to know we aren’t going crazy, and someone out there knows exactly how we’re feeling.”

Isn’t that the truth.

Going through some really difficult is made a whole lot worse by feeling we’re alone. By feeling that there’s no-one who truly understands. By feeling there is absolutely no-one we can tell.

And the fact is, we desperately need other people. We need them to witness our sadness and our pain. We need them to walk through the darkness with us. We need them to tell us that we’re going to survive.

We need them to tell us that we’re not alone. That others have experienced what we are going through. That we’re not going crazy when we’re tormented by thoughts that really shock and scare us, and distress us even more.

So the music, and the writing, and the art all bring us comfort. They tell us someone else has felt excruciating pain. They tell us other people found a way to speak about it, to process their experience, and slowly start to heal.

They tell us that: “They get it”. They were knocked off course as well. They experienced confusion. They were in the wilderness. The heartbreak and the sorrow felt interminable to them.    

Yes, they know what you are feeling …

And they shine a ray of hope. 

I Don’t Deserve to be Loved

I wonder if you ever struggle with that painful feeling … The feeling that you really don’t deserve to be loved.

And when we’re in that desperate place we often move to self-attack. We turn against ourselves and we recite the countless reasons why we ought to be rejected, disliked or even scorned.

But this self-attack is crazy on so many different levels.

It usually has no bearing in reality.

Also, it serves no useful purpose, and it scars and wounds us deeply as we turn against ourselves with loud, self-shaming accusations.

Why do we do it?

There is a voice inside our head that has been nurtured through the years by negative experiences that left their mark on us. The voices of our parents, or of cruel, unloving people, have gathered evidence that now feels hard to contradict. Words like:

“Nobody likes you.”

“No-one cares about you.”

“Who would ever love you?”

“You’re not beautiful; you’re ugly.”

“Have you heard the way you sound?”

“You have nothing to contribute.”

“You’re stupid, and you’re boring.”

“You are worthless.”

“You’re a loser.”

Something to Think About

But that person in our head – the way we’ve come to see ourselves – is just some fantasy. It isn’t really who we are.

We need to shake off that false image, and to search for our true self. The person who went missing when we listened to the lies.

How to do that?

1. The first thing to do is to start to notice every time you ruthlessly attack, or are mean to yourself. Make a note of what you said, and what was happening at that time. Think about how you were feeling, and why you felt that way.  

Usually, a pattern will start to emerge.

2. Think back to other times when you have heard those things being said. Who made those accusations? And why did you believe them? Can you challenge what they said? What could you say to yourself? What would be a reasonable and accurate rebuttal?

Now practice talking back to the voice inside in your head. It will silence that old critic so it starts to lose its power. And you’ll find that, over time, your real self will get much stronger.

3. Notice how your thinking has affected your behaviour. Has it caused you to withdraw. and to isolate yourself? Has it stopped you taking risks, or setting goals for yourself? Has it stopped you being funny, or being natural with new people?

Start to notice these connections. Start to see how you’ve missed out. Then start to change those patterns. One small step by one small step.

4. Think of people that you’re drawn to. Think of why you like that person. You might find them attractive – as you see yourself in them. Because they have some interests that are part of you as well.

“You are standing in the answer. It is when you start to lose yourself that you start to look for yourself in other people … other things. But there is a place and a time in your life that links you to the person you were before all the chaos. All the pain. All the heartache.  Before you looked in the mirror and judged the reflection looking back at you. Find this place. Go back to this place. Because, in this place, you knew exactly who you were. You just got a little lost.”

– April Green

It’s Good to Talk

Tell your story. Shout it. Write it. Whisper it if you have to. But tell it. Some won’t understand it. Some will outright reject it. But many will thank you for it. And then the most magical thing will happen. One by one, voices will start whispering, “Me, too. ” And your tribe will gather. And you will never feel alone again.”

-L.R. Knost 

Can you imagine how good it would be to be able to talk? To be able to share. To have your pain held – like a scared, tender thing?

Can you picture that?

Can you imagine what it would be like to be understood? To feel understood. To know that you are not the only one. To know that others have walked in your shoes, and experienced what you’ve experienced.

Of course, it can never be exactly the same – because everyone’s experience is different. But something similar enough for them to absolutely get it. Without having to defend yourself, or explain yourself to anyone.

Can you imagine how good that would feel?

Can you imagine how the weight would lift from your shoulders?

Can you imagine the relief? The sense of being able to let go – of all the pain, the heartache, the sorrow, the judgment, the deep, deep disappoint and pain.

Can you imagine what a difference that would make to you?

I hope that you are able to take that first step. To find a way to talk, and to share what you’ve been through.  You owe it to yourself. Your story really should be heard.

Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one!’” – C.S. Lewis