Prior to 2018 I associated trauma with things like those in the military going to war, survivors of horrific disasters, and the sudden death of those closest to you. When I found out my husband had a hidden camera in our master bath to record me, followed by an admitted 15 year long pornography addiction, I quickly found out that trauma can come from betrayal, as well.
That summer of 2018 my seemingly normal life as a wife and mother exploded in a matter of hours. Upon discovery of my husband’s secret life, I went into shock with questions playing on a constant loop in my mind; who is this man? how long has this gone on? what’s wrong with me? what about the kids? do I stay and make it work? When I wasn’t sobbing and asking why over and over, I was angry. When the anger passed, I would become paralyzed by fear.
This cycle of sadness, hostility, and dissociation lasted a couple of months until I decided I could not live this way anymore. When everything in my life seemed to be spiraling out of control I realized that I had the power to bring some order to the chaos enveloping me; I could control how my story would unfold. It became apparent I could not force my husband to want to show remorse and to try and repair the damage that was done. I could not force him to make me feel sane and healed. I could not force him to want to get better for himself and our children. What I could control, was my response to the lackluster effort and atrocity of things done to me. I could control how I healed for the benefit of myself and children, for they deserved a healthy mother and I deserved to love life again. When I came to this realization, I chose to leave the marriage and heal my soul.
Because I was still in survival mode from the betrayal trauma I was experiencing, when I filed for divorce questions like would I ever be able to love and trust again? am I too damaged for someone to love? never crossed my mind. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks of being alone with two young children that those worries came rushing in like someone let the floodgates open. After another (couple) of good sobs on my bedroom floor, I remembered that I was in control of these things. If I wanted it, I could love and trust again and I could do things to not be too damaged for another to love me; I had that power and so I chose to start healing.
Love comes to those who still hope after disappointment, who still believe after betrayal, and who still love after they’ve been hurt.
My healing started with trying to understand what I was going through; trauma from betrayal. Dr. Jill Manning defines betrayal trauma as “occurring when someone we depend on for survival or are significantly attached to violates our trust in a critical way.” The victims of betrayal trauma are deceived and manipulated by the perpetrator while he or she exerts more energy and time into another person via emotional/physical affairs, seeking out prostitutes, sexting, cybersex, pornography, etc. The victim becomes traumatized when that trust in exclusive fidelity is undermined and their entire reality is shaken to its core.
Healing from betrayal trauma doesn’t happen overnight and it certainly isn’t a cake walk. It was important for me to understand I needed to be patient with myself; I was essentially learning to walk again, except this time I didn’t have anyone to pick me up every time I fell. I also had to realize that victim mode was not conducive to my healing process. I had been victimized but I refused to be a victim and that in itself was a turning point in my empowerment; I was not going to be destroyed by this chapter in my life.
When I flipped the narrative from victim to survivor, I found meaning in what had happened to me and my purpose in this world became very clear: to be of service to others; to lead by example. When I started speaking about my experience in hopes of helping those that were too weak to believe they could overcome anything, I started receiving emails from people saying I had helped them and it was at this point I could feel my heart start mending.
It’s a funny thing when your heart starts to mend; little by little you start realizing your worth. You become aware that you are something and have gifts to give to this world. Sure, I was a bit rough around the edges and might always be that way, but it gives me character. I may have battle wounds on my soul but as I’ve grown through this healing, I see that these wounds are beautiful things for they have shown me just how strong the human spirit can be.
Taken from my journals:
My soul was pulverized and my reality, shattered into a thousand pieces. I question things and sometimes have a hard time with trusting others from the years of deception I believed. The person that was supposed to protect me, cherish me, and love me instead released thousands of tiny monsters in my head against my will that I would demolish, if I could. Trust me, I want those monsters gone.
I believe in love and this belief alone takes bravery after succumbing to what I have. It is powerful and dignified of me to choose love after being traumatized by this very thing. A relationship with me will not be like others because survivors survive to live life.
I have had to have an abundance of empathy and sympathy for myself as I’ve trudged the bottom of hell and dug my way out. For me to hand you my heart, still bandaged and brittle, is a beautiful thing for I will let you into a place that I protect with steel barriers.
I want to love and be loved again. What I thought at times would cause my death, I still believe in. If that’s not beautiful, I’m not sure what is. I have seen hell because of love and I choose to risk seeing hell again.
Be kind with me. Be gentle. Hold my heart with care. I’m worth it.
When you go through a traumatic situation caused by a partner and you make the choice to do the work to heal, you become aware of the finality of life and in an ironic twist, your capacity to love and be loved can grow immensely with this realization. Loving and being loved by a survivor of betrayal is one of the most beautiful things in this world. I may have been hurt but I control my story and I choose love. You should, too.