A dear friend of mine emailed me. I have several friends with whom I keep in touch by email. We send long, chatty messages to one another, much as past generations wrote letters sent by snail mail. One could lament the loss of that tradition, how virtual letters get lost and aren’t saved in little bundles for future generations to discover. Although I’m told that email messages never go away, and can come back to haunt the writer. Never mind. The primary purpose—two people keeping in touch and sharing thoughts and news, the basics of friendship—is still fulfilled.
I’d gone on a tear in an earlier message about my ex-husband. She responded as a friend would, saying, “How the heck can he hurt you now? Don’t give him permission to enter into your life ever again.” I’ve gotten a lot of good advice from friends; one described how she disciplines her mind as she would a dog: “No, we are not going to roll in that foul stuff today. We are going to keep walking.” Others have said, “Don’t let him get to you. If you do, he wins.” True, all true.
But as good as all this sounds, how do I actually put it into practice? We have only limited control over our feelings, and thoughts do come unbidden. To say “Don’t think about him,” is like saying “Don’t think of an elephant.”
As I told my friend, after 26 years of intimacy, what can one expect? It is going to take a long time to get past the hurt and bitterness. All the brave talk and defiance doesn’t change the facts. The fact is that I loved and trusted him, believed him when he said our relationship was forever and I could always rely on him, that there could never be anyone else for him but me. Then he turned on me and abandoned me when I ceased to be the ideal wife he wanted. He quickly and easily moved on to a new love, and new family, a new home, a new life. And suddenly it became clear to me just how shallow his love was, how he manipulated me and used me to deal with his own neuroses. It was never me he really loved but the idealized role I fulfilled for him. It’s been devastating, and I can’t just walk away from it any more than I could shrug off a knife wound to the chest. This is going to hurt for a long time, and even when the wound heals it will leave scars, and I don’t know if I will ever fully recover my ability to love and trust another person again.
Even as I wrote that I could feel the tightness in the chest, the sting in the eyes, the knot of intense emotion tightening. That’s going to keep happening. Anyone who has been through a catastrophic trauma of loss must know this. Your friends try to be encouraging, but in their hearts, most of them know there is really nothing they can say that will help. But you are grateful to them for caring enough to try. Something like this hurts unbearably, but you bear it anyway. Some do it better than others. Some make such a good show of it that others marvel at their strength and courage. Some don’t do so well. Some just can’t do it and fall to pieces. We all have a different tolerance for pain.
And nearly everyone has to deal with something like this at some point in their lives. It was just my turn. Life isn’t picking on me in particular, although being in the midst of it, it feels like no one could be suffering as much as I am, and the Universe has picked me out especially to torment. And it feels like it is never going to end, and I will be miserable forever.
One does get over these traumas, more or less. The damage stays with you in some form, even if only subconsciously. Recovery is rarely complete. But it does get better. And, like recovering from a serious physical injury, one needs to work at it with determination. I think of my friend Mary who went through a double knee replacement. The pain was awful at times, and the physical therapy was excruciating. But she kept at it, doggedly persisting, and now is back to hiking mountains. She hasn’t the same mobility that she had when her knees were young and healthy; nothing can return that to her. What matters is that she is not immobilized at home, crippled and miserable.
So, after writing about my ex-one-true-love, weeping and feeling betrayed and sorry for myself, I got up and made myself some breakfast. There was a bit of the loaf of bread I baked a couple days ago, so I toasted a slice of that. Fried up two duck eggs from our productive flock, and took it all out onto the deck. The air is fresh and smells like spring. There’s a purple crocus opening in the garden; green shoots are poking through everywhere. I’ve got to prune the kiwi or it’s going to take over the lilac. One of my cats comes over and sits down next to me and purrs. The frogs have begun chuckling pornographically in the wetland.
I’m doing all right.