It was Cheryl’s thirty-ninth birthday, and Steven was working late again. She had accepted the good, the bad, and the ugly of being married to an emergency room physician a long time ago. Tonight she had fixed a nice dinner for herself and her five-year old twin boys and had especially enjoyed looking at the birthday pictures the kids had colored for her earlier that morning. Shortly after getting the kids into bed, there was a knock at the door. Little did Cheryl know that her entire life was about to change.
Cheryl answered the door, and there stood a man about her age with an angry scowl on his face. The man was very direct and got straight to the point, “Tell your husband to stay away from my wife!” It was then that Cheryl learned about the affair.
After confronting Steve, he admitted that he was indeed having an affair with his co-worker and that he wanted out of the marriage. He told Cheryl that he had finally found true love, and that he didn’t think that he had ever really loved her. FINALLY FOUND TRUE LOVE!!! Those words played over and over in Cheryl’s head. She had worked sixty hour work weeks before the twins were born to pay for his medical school. When the boys were babies she alone had gotten up with them for middle of the night feedings, night after night, never asking Steve for help, figuring he, too, must be exhausted.
Toward the end of his residency, when he finally began to make some money, she gave up the career that she loved in order to stay at home with their children. As much as she enjoyed being a stay at home mom, some days were tough and she longed for adult companionship. As tough as they were, she never complained, even on days when she thought she would pull her hair out, and he called to say that he would work late again. FINALLY FOUND TRUE LOVE? Cheryl often found herself thinking, Was that not love?
Steve did leave Cheryl and their five-year old sons and married his co-worker as soon as the divorce was finalized. Cheryl was depressed and angry for a long time, which was a very normal reaction given the circumstances. It would be unrealistic to expect Cheryl to forgive Steve and move on with her life right away. She needed to grieve the loss of her marriage and her family as she once knew it.
Cheryl surrounded herself with a good support system so that she could work through her intense feelings of rejection, anger, and betrayal. She nurtured herself through the transition and helped her children cope with the loss and the lifestyle change. In time, Cheryl adjusted to all of the changes that divorce brings. And eventually let go of the anger so that she could heal and move forward with life. She refused to view herself as a victim and was determined to appreciate the wonderful things in her life.
When someone else hurts us deeply, it is extremely difficult to let go of the resentment, pain, and bitterness that often surrounds the injury. But if we do not, we remain in a self-induced prison. We remain the victim. We suffer. Our loved ones suffer. By letting go, we are able to see the goodness that surrounds us and experience joy again.
Too often, we try to numb out the intense pain and anger with a case of beer, a bottle of wine, a gallon of ice cream. This may help temporarily, but the intensity of the pain returns accompanied by the shame of the addiction. To truly heal from an emotional injury, we need to feel the feelings and embrace the pain, knowing that the intensity of the pain will not last forever. By surfing the wave of emotion and allowing ourselves to go through the grieving process, we finally reach a point of acceptance- if that is what we choose to do. At this point, we are ready to move on with our lives.
Years later when Cheryl reflects back to that painful season in her life, she still feels twinges of pain. But she recognizes that Steve’s actions have nothing to do with her self-worth. She refuses to give him that much power. She refuses to ruminate about those painful days. Cheryl and her now eleven-year old sons are staying active and enjoying life.
Cheryl has chosen a path of gratitude and appreciation for what she does have in her life. After a year or so of grieving, she decided that the resentment, bent on revenge, and blaming path was taking her further and further away from where she wanted to go. She also decided that the angry victim path was not a path that she would lead her children down.