Tag Archives: betrayal

Healing from Betrayal

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Six months after I divorced my last husband, he was married to a friend of mine.  In one swoop, my social circle, activism, and religious home were taken from me.  I was completely devastated. Particularly by the way it was handled by those I still thought were my friends.  “I didn’t think it was my job to tell you” one friend said in an email, “You divorced him, so what difference does it make?”  I was completely stunned.  All the more because when this happened in my 20s, people had been so much more adult about it.

Oh, yeah.  It happened in my 20s with my first husband.  Not married 6 months after, but he seriously dated a dear friend of mine.  Then another friend from high school- then another.  It had been handled totally different by the dear friend and by our mutual friends.  She & he came to me and asked permission.  They’d kept running into each other and were developing feelings, but they’d pull the plug if I said so.

I lied and said I was fine with it.  But it hurt.  A lot.  Especially since the things he’d always complained about me that made me feel so unlovable were things she had even more than I did.

Once they made their public appearance, my calendar was full with friends taking me out to dinner.  “Honey, we love you so much and wanted you to find out from someone that loved you…”  Each of them had the news I already knew.  But I loved them for it.  It was a difficult time, but I felt supported through it– by everyone involved.

Around 30, it happened again with my Dutch partner.  They were not adults about it and made it much much harder than it needed to be.  I laid it on their respective lack of character.

For it to have happened again in my late 30s was really devastating.  This time it took everything with it- my friends, my spiritual tribe, my activism.  That it was handled so poorly and callously when we were in a mystical spiritual community (I belonged to a Sufi group) and all old enough to know better made it feel particularly personal and hurtful.

It had been hands-down the worst relationship I’d ever been in.  He reminded me of the shadow side of every relationship I’d ever had– my first husband, my partner in Holland, my mother, my brother, my grandmother, my father… and only their worst qualities and ways of making me out to be completely unlovable, worthless, bothersome and tedious.  It was so bad, in fact, that I could not blame him for it, really.  I had to take responsibility for attracting that into my life.  I had attracted it.  I had attracted it so intensely that it proposed to me, and I had accepted.  I spent the entire relationship working to release whatever it was that had brought him to me.

I didn’t talk a lot about what I was going through to others.  I was ashamed.  I felt like I should’ve known better.  I beat myself up for ignoring signs that seemed so obvious after we were married that I rationalized away before.  Indeed, I spent the first 6 months of the marriage rolling the tape in my head of all the things I’d explained away or told myself that I was being too nit-picky or bitchy or unreasonable about.  I didn’t talk a lot about what was going on, but those close to me knew that it was bad and that I was incredibly unhappy.

When you’ve had the 3rd major long-term relationship in your life end with them running off with a friend, you can’t help but ask “Why is this happening to me??  Again??!!?”

IT ALL STARTS WITH ME.

I’d learned enough about how our relationships with others reflect our relationships with ourselves to know where to look.  I sat down and wrote how it was making me feel—  Betrayed. Dishonored.  Tossed-aside.

Where and how was I doing this to myself?  Where and how was I devaluing the voice that warned?  Where and how was I betraying those that I’m supposed to love and support that have done nothing but love and support me?  Where and how was I putting myself in a bad situation by not believing those that I should?

RECOGNIZING WHAT WE DO TO OURSELVES

I found the answers in how I treated my emotions.  They gave me good information– that is what they’re here for, but I didn’t listen.  I didn’t honor them.  In doing that, I betrayed myself.  My emotions are what make me human- but I belittled and ignored them– if I didn’t outright scoff them.  I did not honor the basis of my humanity.  I misread them, then blamed them for things that had little to do with them.

I ignored them.  A lot.  Much like H had done to me.  When they did catch my attention, I took swift and typically harsh punishment against them.  They were locked up, pushed down, covered up, blown-up, buried.  I did all kinds of things to numb them out when they were unresponsive to my strikes against them and attempts to starve them out.

TAKING RESPONSIBILITY

I had to take responsibility for what I was doing to myself.  I was in an abusive relationship with myself.  My family may have taught it to me, but I had continued treating myself that way 2 decades after leaving home.  I did that.  To me.

Now I understood why I would see a child running away from me in dreams and meditation sometimes.  Children live through their hearts, not their minds.  To denigrate and beat up on my emotions was harming the Child Within me. No wonder life felt so flat! No wonder I hadn’t painted or written anything in so long!

MAKING UP AND STARTING OVER

The beautiful thing about our bodies and emotions are how loving and forgiving they are.  At any moment, we can start over.  They’re more than happy to begin again.

Not that there’s no mess to clean up , mind you.  That remains.  But there is no resentment on their part about the mess- only joy that the willingness to clean up is there.  They have taught me what agape means.

I learned to apply the golden rule to my relationship with my emotions.  I learned to listen to them.  I learned so many things:

  • To just feel my emotions instead of try to make them mean something.
  • To accept that emotions have energy, and that energy cannot be destroyed: they will either pass through me and make me more human, or I can throttle them and stuff them and make myself less human and more ill.
  • Emotions are nothing to be afraid of.
  • Emotions themselves don’t hurt me–even the very uncomfortable ones– the thoughts I have about them and the actions I take as a result of those thoughts do.

My emotions are not interested in kidnapping me and dragging me into a pit for weeks on end.  My thoughts may be, but my emotions are not.  They, like me, just want to be heard. They want to be acknowledged and honored.  That is all.

BEING HEARD IS THE ROOT OF THE SURVIVAL INSTINCT

I’ve long been convinced that the desire to be heard is the beginning of the survival instinct.  It is so powerful, that people will do all manner of silly things and follow atrocious leaders if only they feel heard.  Being seen is not as powerful.  Objects are seen.  Think of the saying “Children should be seen and not heard.”  Its painful and hurtful and scary– especially if you’re trapped in an abusive environment.  Silencing objections is the most often employed tactic by abusers and other despots, so it makes sense that the need to be heard is so powerful.

Yet I wasn’t listening to myself.  I didn’t give my emotions the opportunity to be heard.  I talked about them, but I didn’t listen to their story.  They were not allowed to represent themselves.  I did not treat them as living beings, but as nuisances to be dealt with.

I treated them the same way I’d been so angry at others for treating me.

Recognizing this has changed my life and is the basis of the work I now do.   It has helped me release so much baggage from my past, because I see that there is nothing someone has done to me as an adult that I didn’t do to myself first.  The people around me are simply agreeing with me and treating me the way I treat myself.  The Universe is a very agreeable place, after all. 

 

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Getting to the root of it

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Last night during my weekly Mood Management Mondays class, we worked with Patchouli, an oil that addresses body shame and body judgment.  Considering the WASP body-shame culture the hippies emerged from, it makes sense that they relied heavily on patchouli to shake off ideas that the body is evil, sinful, and disgusting.  In many ways, we haven’t shaken this idea off as a culture.  Though we now use the language of fitness/image/beauty instead of religion, the puritanical emotional m.o. is the same.  (Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth draws this metaphor out exquisitely)

Even though I’ve done research for the class and had my own experiences with the herbs/oils we’ll be working with, I’m always struck with the power of doing a plant meditation in a group and sharing our experiences with one another. Last night was no exception.

Though patchouli is a low bush, everyone had visions of the forest.  Of eating the forest, of being the forest, of being a tree, branches held high to the sky. Root Chakra GoddessWhy would an oil that addresses body shame and body judgment have us turning into trees?  What is it that trees understand that we need to learn?

When I was living in Utrecht, I kept getting these images in my meditation of trees spinning around because they weren’t grounded.  The roots had no soil, and they were in a spin- not knowing where to build out to gather sunshine or bear fruit.

Last night, I really connected to the awareness that if I wasn’t in my body, I wouldn’t be able to keep my heart open.  If my heart is not open, I’m not going to be able to bear fruit in my life.  Contentment will be hollow and short-lived. Relationships will visit authenticity, but not live there.

Patchouli supports the root chakra.  If the root chakra is unbalanced, it can result in financial insecurity issues.   Affirmations for the root chakra are “I have a right to be here.” and “I have a right to my needs.”  It makes sense that if we can’t receive the truth of these statements fully, manifestation will be blocked, money problems will seem to always surface, and feelings of connection and belonging will be elusive.

As we moved deeper into conversation with the oil, the grounding feelings intensified.  I was reminded of an experience I had at a 5 Rhythms workshop earlier this summer on Yes & No in the body where  I realized that I had been experiencing grounding feelings as sadness.  The doTERRA book I have on Emotions and Essential Oils describes patchouli as “balanc[ing] those who…seek to escape the body through spiritual pursuits.”   Up until about 4 years ago, my spirituality –regardless of what house it practiced in–had been about trying to find the escape hatch out of my body.  Not surprising for someone that has experienced physical and sexual abuse, but last night I became acutely aware of how bracing myself against my body was also preventing me from letting that unconditional, transcendent Love that every religion preaches truly flow through me.

After the plant meditation, we did a writing exercise that puts you in touch with the voice of the body.  I am always amazed at how loving the voice of the body is. It is not harsh and judgmental.  It does not criticize.  It does not shame- even in areas and about issues you’d think it would.  It speaks of my neglect and mistreatment of it in the most compassionate and kind way you could ever imagine.  When it shows me how I’ve taken advantage of it, it is not in the resentful voice of the victim, but simply showing me how I’m hurting myself by doing so.  It shows me these things by praising the thing- no matter how small- that I’m doing right.  The way it lifts me up is so humbling. It is an amazing, miraculous role model for agape. It really honestly only wants what’s best for me.  its job is to support me and it does so  gladly.

Most of my life, I’ve braced myself against fully entering my body.  I didn’t trust it.  Grounding felt heavy and sad to me and I wanted to feel light and floaty.  What was I bracing myself against?  I asked myself last night. Why was I afraid?

I didn’t trust being in my body.  I didn’t trust what would happen there or how it would make me feel.  My conditioning, both religious and cultural, told me that the body is not to be trusted and listened to, but to be held suspect and denied.

Why?  What has it ever done to me?  I’ve done much to it, but what has it ever done to me?

I’m reminded of moments when I felt betrayal- when it responded to things that were abhorrent to me or even traumatizing psychologically.  I can count these moments on one hand. Why do I weight them more heavily than the millions of times that my body supports me through every day moments or even times when I’ve pushed it to the edge? Why do I forget all the ways it tried to warn me of danger and I didn’t listen? Why don’t those times count for anything? If I was in a relationship with someone that brushed past the things I did for them every minute of every day to hold on to isolated incidences, what would that feel like? If I was being blamed for something happening that I tried to stop, how would I respond? How cruel is that?

I still have healing to do.  Everyone does. I need my body to be able to do that.  I need to be in my body to keep my Heart open enough to let the blood flow and cleanse and nourish.  All the incessant circling in the sky above my body just landed me from one frying pan into another fire.  Its been coming in to my body that’s gotten me as far as I’ve come.  Its time to fully step in now and chant “There’s no place like home.”Dorothy's red slippersJoin us for Mood Management Mondays every Monday in NC Mesa.  More information and tickets are available on my website at http://www.lifelinedevelopmentcoaching.com/mood-management-mondays1.html

The antidote to crazy

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This isn’t just about talking down crazy, as those on comment threads would say to diminish this as an alternative path to arming ourselves to the teeth.  This is about connecting with another human being and not only not being afraid of the depth of their pain, desperation, and despair, but being courageous enough to share it with them.

Isn’t that the only thing that makes any of us crazy? Disconnect and pain and how no one wants to really face it, let alone connect to it?  Yet, facing it and connecting to it is the only cure for crazy.  Being allowed to be fully human.  Being loved through all the beauty and the agony that is being human.

video interview: Woman talks down gunman

That this happened in Atlanta, Georgia and that Antoinette is a black woman and the gunman a white man takes the depth of this beauty and courage to an even more expansive place.  It is  powerful testimony to the power of embracing our own shadow so that we’re not scared of others’–even those that persecute us, that see us as the enemy and treat us as such.

I can only imagine that her tale was one of betrayal, heartbreak, bad luck, disappointment, and the forgiveness that inevitably followed, the hope that strung each event together and kept her life from completely unraveling in those places where there didn’t seem to be any options or chance of the future being any different…

Dark places and hard times

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Was listening to a webinar yesterday led by Fabienne Frederickson on the breakthrough mindset of successful people, and she said something about “those times we’d rather not re-live.”  I was struck by her very careful word choice…  We all know the times she’s talking about: those times that squeeze and even pinch us.  The ones where we’re struggling to get a breath.  Where our sources of comfort turn brittle.

The places that show us that we’re still not over those abandonment issues. Where the sense of betrayal is so intense it becomes physically palpable.  I remember one such time, I literally heard my heart breaking.  It made a sound- like cloth being ripped down the middle.

I noticed that she didn’t say “those times we all wished had never happened” or “those times we’d rather forget”.  She said “those times we’d rather not re-live.”

There is an acknowledgment here.  A nodding to the difficulty, of course, but an awareness of the role that difficulty played in making us who we are today.  Like bones that need the muscles to pull on them and create resistance to keep them strong, so too do we need those difficult times to lengthen our souls so we can reach to the sky.

Remaining in that awareness keeps our heart and mind open so that we can effectively navigate the rocks and choppy waters when we’re in them.  In the tale of Vasilissa, the little doll in her pocket often replies “Say your prayers. Get your rest.  The morning is wiser than the evening.”

When we find ourselves in the middle of a crisis, stepping back to surrender to the moment brings us peace.  That peace enables us to see solutions we would be blind to if we let anxiety and fear take over.  When anxiety reaches a certain level, it literally severs dendrite connections in the brain. When the anxiety levels reduce, the dendrites will reconnect- like a game of Red Rover.  Its easy to understand how rising fear and anxiety levels diminishes our ability to find the solutions right in front of us.  We need to find our rest.

Once rested, it all seems to fall in to place.  Things don’t seem as terrible as we’d thought. We’re on the other side; we got past the trolls under the bridge. We’ve made it through the night and find ourselves in the light of morning.

So was all that really necessary?  Did we have to go through all that to get here?  As Joseph Campbell would ask, what is the gift in that dark place?  (I love how this post handles that question!  I mean, what do you do when your hood pops up and smashes your windshield while driving down the road??  I got all kinds of messages from my closet collapsing, I can only imagine how much she was able to mine from that experience).Baba Yaga crashing through the forest

Returning to the story of Vasilissa, at first glance, it’d be easy to say that the work she’s forced to do for her step mother and step sisters and the work she does for Baba Yaga are equally soul-crushing, yet both are freeing her in different ways.  Both are teaching her vital lessons about who she is, who others are, and how the world works.  Both are teaching her about power- though in different ways.

It is because of this work, because of this hardship–not in spite of it– that Vasilissa is able to return home with the light of Wisdom gone before.  Because of having worked through the difficulties that this light- scary though it is- is her helpmate rather than an adversary.

For Christians, today is a yearly reminder of the power of those hard places and dark times.  Easter morning is a celebration of the triumph of the light, the return of spring after a hard and long winter–a theme in religions and cultures round the world and throughout recorded time… yet there would be no celebration had there not been the cave.  No heart-expanding world-shifting forgiveness had there not been such deep betrayal.  This is where the Christ figure paves the way and shows the example– release of bitterness when faced with persecution from those he’d helped.  Forgiveness at the hands of betrayal.  Reaching for connection in times of abandonment.

The tendency to close down and harden in such times is fierce.  To choose instead to open up and soften –after a period of solitude– unlocks a deeply transformative power into our lives and in those around us.

How do we do that?  Release our grip on resentment and bitterness.  See how we contributed to our relationship with the metaphorical step-families in our lives.   Look past our fear of the Baba Yagas to see what they gave us.  Choose openness and dialogue instead of walls and defenses.  Practice looking past what makes us afraid to the Love it has to offer.

After betrayal, where?

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hanging bulb I read Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison in high school.  The story of a wide-eyed and idealistic young black man heading to New York to make his way in the world and the disillusionments he met along the way scared me, broke my heart, and shook me in numerous other ways.

On a recent trip to New England, I went to go see the Huntington Theatre production of Invisible Man in Boston.  The performance was riveting, and the story again stirred me on a very deep level.  I’d spent the train ride from D.C. to NYC working on the curriculum for my upcoming class using the Baba Yaga folk tale of Vasilissa.  The unreasonable expectations put on Vasilissa by her step-family resonated with the inner adolescent and young adult in me.  They weren’t giving her tasks and chores to encourage her development or even help the family: they were doing it to get her killed. To destroy her.

This is a betrayal that claws at the soul.  Those that are charged with building up and fostering development instead tear down and sabotage, even seek to annihilate.  It can push us into an identity crisis, questioning our value and place in the world.  The tale of Vasilissa triggered this in me, so I wove inner adolescent work and its occupation with identity into the course.  Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes uses the tale of “Wasilissa the Wise” in her book Women Who Run with the Wolves as a means to reconnect with our intuition.  That intuition will be deeply damaged if we’re cut off from ourselves because we haven’t forgiven ourselves for being betrayed in the first place.Vasilissa guided back home with new insight

And that’s often what happens.  We think we ought to have known better.  We replay the scenario over and over again in our minds, highlighting the details that hindsight spots so easily.  We beat ourselves up.  We blame others.  We swear never to let it happen again.

Riding home on the green-line, the performance of Invisible Man and my work with Vasilissa danced in my head while I pondered betrayal.  How do we recover from these soul wounds?  How do we emerge with a heart that is stronger–expansive and supple–instead of thickening the walls and pulling away from the connections we long for and need like water?

The next day, we traveled to Salem.  Being the site of the infamous Salem Witch Trials, my musings on betrayal–and how to move on afterwards–continued.  When we returned to Boston in the evening, I sent my partner on to the symphony without me so that I could meditate and journal on the subject.  He willingly went solo once he realized that me not attending meant no appeasing my Southern sensibilities about appropriate attire for cultural events and he could just go on in his jeans and sneakers.

I returned to the flat we’d rented for the week, and settled in, ready, as Rumi would say, to welcome whatever knocked.  Betrayal drudges up all manner of emotions:  anger, resentment, hurt, acute vulnerability, blame, shame, fear, suspicion, and more.  I let the feelings rush through me, observing the images and memories they brought to mind, and the stories that had been attached to what it all meant.  I noticed how my impulse was protective.  How the narrative that strung the memories together urged security, called for an oath of “never again” and sought to make good via extra fortification, heightened cynicism and lessening trust of others.

So natural, so human, when faced with betrayal to heighten security.  Yet I thought about what that means in the outside world when we choose to foster security over community.  When we embolden defenses instead of connection.  It leads very quickly to loss of freedom, oppression, and even tyranny.  If I don’t want those things dictating the society around me, I need to make sure they don’t reign within me.

How?

How do we move past betrayal and not allow it to close us up?  To add thickness to the walls around our hearts?  I asked these questions as I embraced the parts of me that longed for revenge.  The parts that were bruised and bled.  The parts that howled in pain.

What did you learn from this betrayal that you wouldn’t have learned otherwise? 

“That people suck” a part of me answered, adding, “Don’t trust anyone!”.  I almost had to laugh. That couldn’t be the answer: I know where that narrative leads, and its not a place I enjoy visiting, let alone living.  It is a place where Fear rules instead of Love.

So natural, so human, when faced with betrayal to heighten security, to close off, to quit trusting (myself as well as others).  Yet I thought about what that means in the outside world when we choose to foster security over community,  when we embolden defenses instead of connection.  It leads very quickly to loss of freedom, oppression, and even tyranny.  If I don’t want those things dictating the society around me, I need to make sure they don’t reign within me.

Again, the question surfaced: What did you learn from this betrayal that you wouldn’t have learned otherwise?

I stuck my foot in my heart’s door and wedged it open.  Listening now with open heart:

How did it make you more aware? What did it teach you about yourself that’s brought you further? How did it help you recognize and appreciate the good people in your life?  What did it teach you about operating in illusion? 

Finally, I pulled out my journal and began to answer the question.  A good question it is, for it holds many keys…