My Husband Left Me: What I Learned About Drowning and Staying Afloat
A tidal wave of emotions almost swept me away until I finally remembered how to swim
Several years ago, a tsunami struck my life. My husband announced that he was ending our 43-year marriage and leaving me for another woman. My heart cracked into a million pieces, which made me understand the true meaning of a “broken heart.”
From my psychotherapy patients and the experiences of friends and relatives, I thought I had a good command of the area. But “ I didn’t know Nothin.” There is no protocol for resolving heartbreak, and there are few exceptions for choice of victims.
I careened from one emotion to another. I’m not sure they occur in a particular order for all people, but I’m convinced they happen. Confronting the consequences of loss and betrayal is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. The pain feels chaotic and terminal.
Moving through the tidal wave of excruciating emotions, for myself and my grown daughter, without drowning, was my shaky goal. It was damn difficult. As highly personal as our stories are, I believe there are some things that tell a universal story of suffering and surviving.
And then there are all those damn feelings…
Learning that your relationship is over and done with, is like being hit by a truck. I never knew I could hurt that bad and still breathe. The nights were hell, as I retraced the terrible events that had set me on that path.
Like the movie, Groundhog Day, there were brief spaces between asleep and awake when I was at ease, and then the explosive recognition, “Oh God, I’m still me,”catapulted me into another dreaded day.
There’s even a medical condition called, “Broken Heart Syndrome,” or (Takotuzubo Cardiomyopathy). The symptoms mimic those of a cardiac infarction, and come on like gangbusters, making them difficult to differentiate from a heart attack. They are intense, usually resulting from an abrupt loss of a relationship, and can last from days to weeks.
In Broken Heart Syndrome, the body releases a ton of catecholamines (stress hormones) that make a heart beat too hard and wildly. Statistically, it will strike very few of us, yet I find the metaphor meaningful.
We deal with the shock in all different ways. One of my patients tried to hold the pain at bay. Sucking back tears, she kept telling me, “Oh, it’s not so bad. I saw it coming. I’m not surprised.” When I responded that seeing an open fist was very different from it landing on your face, the floodgates opened.
In my own shock, I kept asking my sisters if it was really, really true. The hardest part was when my daughter asked me the same question and I had to struggle to answer her.
When it really sank in, fireworks exploded in my brain. My hands hurt from wringing them. I paced. I cursed. I began an inventory of all the lousy things he’d ever done to me. I obsessed about the details of his infidelity. Revenge is said to be best when served cold, but my fantasies were burning hot.
Scenarios of him crawling back and my casting him away, were on a constant loop. I surprised myself at the rage that erupted from me. I threw his favorite mugs against the wall. I ripped up photos. I threw his books on the floor and hid CDs where he’d never find them.
I repeatedly dialed his new number, and with the exception of a few lapses, hung up. At times, my work as a therapist was helpful. I’d heard plenty of stories, some of which told me what not to do. One patient did continuous calls and hangups, and left long, almost threatening messages, which severely complicated her separation agreement.
As a writer, I believed in the value of giving your feelings expression in language. I attacked the keyboard as I pounded out one killer e-mail after the next. But what looks great at 2 a.m. might look totally off the wall by the next morning. I never forget that writing and sending are entirely different things. I made a Post- it note that said, “Save. Don’t send!” Later, if I wanted to let it stand, I let it fly.
Grief takes you to dark places you never knew existed. The betrayal by someone you loved, is such a cruel reality. The added cruelty is that the person you used to lean on during dark times is now the perpetrator of your pain. Grief moves in and takes up residence. It forced me to feel it, to express it, and to figure out what to do with it.
In the beginning I suspended all the structure, all the rules I had about how my life should proceed. I lived in sweats, with unwashed hair, pacing and crying, constantly calling my friends and sisters who gave me the same reassurances over and over. I told perfect strangers my story. I longed for the comfort and wisdom of my lost mother. I physically ached. I wanted to die. I found a therapist.
She helped me learn to comfort myself — to develop a “bag of tricks.” Some additions were elementary, like hour long hot baths, music, poetry, prayer, to reviving old friendships, to going to the movies alone.
One night when I couldn’t sleep. I got some leftover Chinese food, a liter of Coke, and pack of Oreos. I turned on all the lights and watched a trashy Netflix movie.
I spilled all the crumbs on his side of the bed, which up until then I had preserved like a shrine.That morning I cursed myself for the Chinese food and Oreos, but felt a fragile new joy of declaring my own pleasure, on my own.
Over time, the earth stopped shaking. I made “misery dates” with myself where I could go as low down as I wanted for a certain amount of time. It was always OK to be really upset. But I had to find ways of honoring the pain, and also function in my life.
Grief is the built in chance we take with everyone we love. It’s not unnatural or foreign. We get a glimpse of Hell and with time, we rise. My grief will never totally leave me. The X-rays show clear evidence of the leg I shattered when I was twelve. They put me back together quite well. You can’t really see how badly hurt I was. My x-rays, however, tell a different story.
The never ending “why?”
I was always hungry for the answers? Why then? Why her? Why was she better than me? I believed that there was some objective answer out there. Once I learned it, I’d say, (“Oh, I get it. I understand. I’m fine now”). I have gained some insight into some of the contributors to mybreak up, but it will always be a puzzle, always missing some pieces.
It wasn’t my weight, or my wrinkles or my cranky personality. It wasn’t because God and I had not been on speaking terms for awhile. Suffering is inevitable. I don’t like it. I didn’t ask for it. But I am finally at the point of re-imagining my life. That I have a do-over in my future, I’ve been waiting to be pain free before I begin again.
But life’s much too short for that.