When It All Falls Down
When vows are broken in secret; when trust is shattered; when every thing and every one and every concept and every action and every belief and every meaning you thought you knew and understood is thrown into questioning; when detonates the bomb of relational/spousal/friendship agreement betrayal(s) discovery, and the house you've built is devastated down to shaking of and cracks in the very foundation; when the walls are set fire and the living spaces along with the people in them are hit with non-discriminating shards of shrapnel; when those closest to the detonation site are broken open, ...broken...open...
...there is piercing and tearing that first washes over, from head to finger tips to feet. It feels like molten lava. Everything goes red and then black. There is no longer any concept of time or space in these moments. When cruel awareness returns there is only excruciating pain, stabbing in the mind and in the heart. Then it feels as if the body is being severed, limbs and arms being pulled from torso and carried in four different directions. You feel there is no end to the piercing. When you try to sense where the injury you've sustained ends, you can't find the place. It goes back further than this lifetime.
And then there you are. Traumatized. After the rush of adrenaline, your body is smart enough to flood you with endorphins, natural numbing agents, so that you can hold still and get your bearings. It feels like the still sober slow-motion silence after the clap of a gun shot. You may forget to breathe, or blink for quite some time. You may not recognize yourself or your offspring if you have any. In one instant, your entire life has changed. It feels like there's been a death. There has been. Also, this is only the beginning.
The Real Life Joneses have spent the last year or so recovering from knowing and being known--the trauma of it, the pain of it, the misery, the shame, the regret, the white hot murderous rage, the depression, the suicidal frustration, the disbelief, the anger, the loss, the vulnerability, the PTSD (one of us having, both of us managing), the fatigue and the exhaustion. We've parted ways again and again in periods of separation. We prepared ourselves for the reality of a future as nothing more than co-parents together. We have wanted many times in this process and before it to walk away. And today, we each know, that we still can. We have mourned the loss of the marriage we each separately thought we had, the loss of cherished memories, the loss of ideas, the loss of trustworthiness, confidence, security, comfort and peace.
We have both--in our own way, each--been broken open.
Broken open. Contents revealed. Container destroyed. Inner layers turned toward light. Shattered. Wounded. Fractured. Left swollen, bleeding, aching, sore, tender, raw, in anguish. And, in a divine way, this has been what I call the "necessary burning." I think I've heard of farmers doing this to remove what has been growing and prepare the way for the plants that are about to come up. I wrote some place before: "When there's devastation, there's clearing away. When there's clearing away, there is room. When there's room, there is opportunity. ...to breathe, to recalibrate, mourn loss, be grateful, breathe more, strategize, rethink, take inventory, study mistakes, celebrate accomplishments, build again and even build differently." When your world is turned upside down and at the hands of the person (or some of the people) you at one point trusted most in the world, it hurts and smarts like hell itself. You long for a magic fast-forward button and even wish you could rewind, but you can do neither. (I know I personally wished I'd died in those first discovery moments instead of lived in and through the utter initial devastation and absolute misery of it.) Alas, you are trapped in rubble and from there you can choose to entirely give up (not the same thing as coming close to it or resting) or you can dig for the gifts.
As two individual people, Will and I are being made and reborn. As a couple we are being made and reborn. In our case, there is apparently (surprisingly to at least one of us) enough deep and abiding love, respect and care remaining to bind our souls to one another, even in the periods we've been at odds and apart. And did I mention that it has been hard as hell?
I'm confident that were we not fortunate enough to have been surrounded and reinforced by deeply spiritual, sincere, loving, praying, mature, experienced, God-tapped people, lives would have been forever lost in this place--to the graves and/or to the prisons. To "hold space" is to be with, journey alongside, to partner in thought, to witness, to watch over, to listen, to reflect back, to support and to do it all without judgement. We have had some good people, y'all, that have not only held the space for us separately as individuals and collectively as a couple, but have laid it out and staked it down--when we needed to be carried, when we needed to be reminded of how far we've come, when we were fighting mad, when we were destructive, when we couldn't eat, sleep or think straight, as we have been laboring and growing in this life and in love.
Little by little, breath by breath at a time, watching over ourselves and with both lay and professional help we have been both processing and gradually able to stand away from our own pains enough to become more and more aware of the pains of the other--from this incredible most immediate brokenness (just a symptom) and from deeper brokenness (the roots) that were there hiding with and long before there was any "us."
Somewhere along the way, in the rubble of our devastated home, marriage and lives we found the door to a room we didn't know was there and had never entered before. Somehow, even after "the bombing" it was still in tact. There was nothing in it--only empty space--but it was familiar and ours. It has become the healing place. In this new room, somehow still in our love, we rise and we fall; we labor; we cry; we bare our souls; give voice to our fears, express our desires, we manage Complex PTSD from the newly discovered layers of past betrayals and the injuries they've caused; we explore; comfort, address our dis-eases, tend to our wounds, sort out the past, rest, we sometimes question and sometimes envision a future; we laugh, bring all our senses and awareness to the present moment; we release. We are working to be patient with one another as we are learning to know and trust each other again, and as we are carefully establishing a new and even more conscious relationship agreement. Most importantly and necessarily, we are doing the sacred and focused work of healing as separate people, individual souls--which would be the work for us each to do regardless of whether or not our shared love as a couple was a part of bringing forth and facilitating it.
Anybody know a place like this?
One of the many tools that we've found helpful along this journey, both separately and together, has been the book The New Monogamy by Tammy Nelson, PhD. (NOTE: THIS IS NOT AN AFFILIATE LINK. WE ARE NOT GETTING PAID TO TELL YOU ABOUT THIS BOOK.)
We found it so useful that we bought 5 copies--a few to pass along to friends and neighbors.
Dear, Ultra Conservatives: Try not to let the books title, The New Monogamy, put you off or scare you. The author is not trying to bad-mouth or down-talk monogamy in the "classic" sense. If anything, she is offering to those who are living monogamously tools to be clear and sure. If monogamy is part of your relationship agreement, it's important to make that decision consciously, having keen knowledge of your self and what you want for you, and not choosing it because you feel pressure from something outside you--societal norms, religious beliefs, family expectations, etc. Monogamy may not work for you. Then again, it may be precisely what works best. It's only fair that you and whatever partners you engage with understand your position clearly so that everyone involved can make a real choice about the relationship.
Dear, Ultra Progressive Liberals: Don't turn your nose up at the idea of one partner for a time or one partner for life. As many of you well know, cheating or secretly undermining a set mutual relationship understanding doesn't only occur within monogamous agreements. The New Monogamy is about agreement-making--whatever your relational configuration.
Dear, Single Folks: The New Monogamy could be useful for you too. It lays out candid questions and exercises that might help you define for yourself what points are important to you in a romantic agreement of any kind should you wish to be in one.
Dear, Folks with Fresh Heart Wounds: If you are like Will and me were a year or so ago, still with more tender places than healing scars, some of the exercises in this book may be triggering or cause upset. For safeguarding, go slowly if you open the book to read it at all. Even better, find a licensed professional counselor or therapist to support you all as you learn to listen reflectively and tactfully speak your deepest truths.
When it all falls down, hold space to grieve. Grief is good. Hold space to choose. You always have at least one choice. Take good care of yourself. I wrote two posts (this one and this one) about this last month with tips. Build a cocoon around yourself + your children if you have any. Identify mature, wise, experienced folks who will call you to your highest self, even when you need to get ugly (in a controlled way, if you can) for a bit. If you are fortunate enough to have good friends and family around you who may or may not know exactly what you're going through but who know you are going through something and are offering to support you with care, receive it. Be gentle and loving with yourself. Seek professional help and don't be ashamed. Be fearless and courageous. One phase of your life has ended. Your life is not over. Lastly, make quality decisions as much and as often as you can. I wrote some other place before:
"One of the most challenging responsibilities we have to ourselves and/or to our co-humans is to process our most intense, most powerful emotions in a way that does not breed more or greater harm to ourselves and/or to our co-humans. It involves remaining present for ourselves. It involves letting down guards; abandoning fears, prior conditioning and preconceived notions. It involves vulnerability. It involves letting go and allowing productive, healing flow. It leads to enlightenment and elevation. It is breath and life. It is Spirit. It is Being. It is Love. It is Mercy. It is Truth. It is Power. It is Growth."
All is not lost in devastation. Parse through the rubble. Claim and reclaim what is worth keeping. Clear away what cannot be salvaged and no longer serves. Build again. Build differently--alone and otherwise.
What gifts have you found in surviving incredible loss or being broken open?