Painful Feelings

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I intended to finish an e-book I borrowed from the library this weekend, but I never did.  It disappeared from my Kindle app this morning–returned mostly unread.

I also intended to finish the movie “Eat, Pray, Love” this weekend, but I never did. However, I own that one, so no fear of it disappearing from my Amazon Prime lineup.

I did watch another hour of though, and when it hit too close to home, I turned it off and went for a walk.  I intended to go to the ice cream shop, order a hot chocolate, and then take over their window seat and read my book.

Instead, I walked to City Hall and right into him–he was helping the City take down their Christmas decorations. I felt like I needed to do something bigger than me, so I helped. The ice cream shop came a few hours later–not with a hot chocolate, but a large milkshake. With sprinkles.

The movie evoked some painful feelings.  One character shares his story of “too much alcohol, too many drugs, too much mindless cheating”–a path that led to his wife leaving him with their then 8-year old son.  His son, he shares, is now 18 and he grieves that he’s “missed it all.”

And this is where I turned it off.

One of the steps of CoDA is taking a full moral inventory of oneself and sharing with another human being the things you’ve done to hurt others.  You could say that this is something I’ve already begun in the silence of my own heart.  As I practice self-awareness, memories come back.  The gravity of the choices I made in my marriage is heavy.

The affair I had that led to the end our marriage was not the first.  Nor was it the second. As I write this, I cannot honestly tell you a firm number with any degree of certainty.

Maybe six.


A one night stand.  Phone sex with a stranger in a dead end of our neighborhood. One non-sexual encounter but the meet was with romantic intent.  After one, I was so appalled at what I had done, I claimed I was raped and went to the hospital with a friend, and my now ex-husband, then boyfriend met me there and then took me home.

Oh, and then there was drinking.  Toward the end of my marriage, I started drinking more.  I wasn’t an alcoholic by any means, but there was at least one night I got so drunk, I went home with a veritable stranger, found myself very uncomfortable, walked to a nearby restaurant, and had friends bring me home.

What the Hell was I doing?

At the end of it all, he–my latest affair partner and still boyfriend two years later–both agreed that we’d agree to the same parameters in our divorce settlements.  We’d give custody to our spouses. And I did. I part of me did so because I didn’t see how I could responsible care for them.  I was a stay-at-home mom, sleeping nights in the car, his truck, or hotels. I had no income. I knew that with my ex-husband and his family, the kids would want for nothing.

But I was wrong.  As as my then two year old screamed and cried from the front steps every time I dropped them off after visits, it was clear that they needed me.  The memory of this innocent little girl with long brown hair bawling and reaching out for me is one I’ll never forget.

Nor will I forget the weekend he and I decided to go away together. My now ex-husband knew our plans. I packed a suitcase and stood in the kitchen with him as the kids bounced around us.

“I feel like I’m making the biggest mistake of my life,” I said.

My ex-husband looked at me and said, “You are.”

My instinct was screaming at me to stay home, with my family. To call him up and say, “No, I’m not coming.” But I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. My marriage was in shambles and he was my “rescuer.” And so I dragged my suitcase down our front steps, down our long driveway and around the corner as my kids giggled and waved goodbye at me from the stoop.  My now ex-husband told them that I was going to spend the night at school.  They thought it was silly, but exciting.

Melody Beattie stresses that shame and guilt have no long-term purpose.

Stop the “shoulds,” she writes.

Guilt and shame keep us so anxious we can’t do our best, she explains.  Guilt makes everything harder.

And dealing with painful feelings is excruciating. The memory of my daughter on the stoop crying and reaching out for me tears my heart open. Every. Time.

When my ex-husband moved himself and kids 3,000 miles away, I felt pain I’d only ever felt since miscarrying our first two pregnancies.  And when they were gone, my boyfriend’s kids were not.  When his kids started making regular visits to our home and sleepovers and they were still present for birthdays and holidays, I felt such pain.  Such unbearable pain and shame and guilt and ANGER!

I didn’t recognize it as anger then, but I do now.  And in typical codependent fashion, I lashed out with passive aggression–at him, and at the kids.  I moped. I sulked. I made faces. I interrogated. I tried to be overly involved.  I got easily offended.  I got greatly offended.  And more.

What I didn’t realize then was that my painful feelings are just that–mine. And my grief was largely result of choices I had made not just in giving my ex-husband custody but over the entire length of our relationship. I was unfaithful to him from the beginning because I was unfaithful to me for a lot longer than that.

I had no self-worth.  I certainly had no self-respect.  I based my value on whether I was “worthy” of a man sleeping with me.  If I elicited lust, surely I was worth something, I reasoned.

Letting go of guilt and shame is not easy, but it’s imperative, Beattie says.  Again, it serves no long-term purpose.  What I’ve done has the laid the path for where I am now, but I am not the same person who made those mistakes.  Furthermore, those mistakes do not define me.

As she writes:

There is nothing wrong with us.  There is nothing fundamentally wrong with us.  If we’ve done wrongs, that’s okay; we were doing the best we could.

Doing the best we could.  I’m starting to see that.  I did the best I could with a great dearth of self-respect, self-worth, and self-awareness.  Blind to who I was, blind to the feelings I mislabeled, blind to my codependency and borderline tendencies, I groped my way through life as best I could.

It could have been much worse.

I was doing the best I could, and from that platform, I need to forgive–not torture–myself.

I was doing the best I could, and I can–I will–I am doing a whole lot better now.




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