Thank you Dr. Anna Fels! I urge every chump to read yesterday’s opinion piece in the New York Times “Great Betrayals” by Dr. Fels. It’s the rare article on infidelity that recognizes the traumatic injury of deception — especially the sort we encounter here at Chump Lady — making sense of the double life.
Fels writes for every chump that’s ever sorted through their family photos after DDay and thought “Oh, Disney World? That’s when she was screwing her boss.” Or “There’s the OW at my son’s bar mitzvah. Wasn’t I the unknowing idiot?” Or wept over her wedding pictures, because really, the cheating began during courtship.
What was real? What was fake? You thought you were happy. Your children had an intact family. Maybe you weren’t really happy. You were depressed, but didn’t know why. You couldn’t understand the nebulous sense of disconnection and conflict that had no source you could point to… except yourself. Maybe if you just tried harder…
But it wasn’t you, chumps. You were living a lie.
Frequently, a year or even less after the discovery of a longstanding lie, the victims are counseled to move on, to put it all behind them and stay focused on the future. But it’s not so easy to move on when there’s no solid narrative ground to stand on.
Exactly. What’s the story of your life? It’s the hardest thing to explain to someone who hasn’t been chumped — I don’t know what my story is. I thought my life was this one thing (settled, “normal,” “successful,” committed, intact) — and in reality, I was being played. My investment was a Ponzi scheme. My spouse was a con.
Usually, chumps spend a lot of time untangling the skein of fuckupedness precisely so that they do NOT arrive at that conclusion — my life was a lie. They sift through the evidence to find shreds of evidence that they mattered. No, at THIS point we were really in love. She TRULY meant it when she said this. My children were conceived in LOVE. (Assuming my children are really my biological children at all. Pity the chump who has to check.)
As a psychiatrist, I can tell you that it’s often a painstaking process to reconstruct a coherent personal history piece by piece — one that acknowledges the deception while reaffirming the actual life experience. Yet it’s work that needs to be done. Moving forward in life is hard or even, at times, impossible, without owning a narrative of one’s past. Isak Dinesen has been quoted as saying “all sorrows can be borne if you put them in a story or tell a story about them.” Perhaps robbing someone of his or her story is the greatest betrayal of all.
Yes, but it’s not just robbing chumps of their story — they were robbed of the opportunity to live an authentic life elsewhere, to not make life altering decisions based on false information, to not waste years of their youth. What does it mean to be robbed this way? Especially in a culture that doesn’t see it as theft at all. Hey, shit happens. People “grow apart.”
How did you piece it back together? For me, I had to simply conclude that I was real. (And in the end, that’s the only person I control, me.) I brought my A game. I committed. I tried to work it out. I was truly happy on my wedding day. I meant my vows. I enjoy the fine May weather. The love of my friends and family. I enjoyed the catering, the flowers, and the iTunes dance mix.
That grinning chumpy woman you see in my wedding pix, who paid the bar tab for one of the OW, and assorted other wedding guests who knew of his cheating? In that moment, she was happy. That naive woman on her honeymoon in Paris? She enjoyed the trip. That’s who she was THEN. That is the story.
When it was happening, with all the evidence she had before her — she had every reason to be hopeful and optimistic. What came months later — the truth of who he was — doesn’t change her.
This is what I learned about that narrative — I don’t need his story to tell MY story. I’ll never know all of what was going on and with whom. I know enough to know it’s disordered and dreadful and has everything to do with him, and nothing to do with me. I wasn’t living a lie. HE was living a lie.
I like the Dinesen quote “all sorrows can be borne if you put them in a story or tell a story about them.” It probably goes a long way toward explaining why I created this blog. It’s not so much my story, as it is the playbook of cheating. This is how he did this. These are the manipulations that were used. This was my part in staying stuck. Let me describe this to you — it’s a tiger pit. I fell into it once –and I thought I was going to die. Here’s a roadmap so YOU don’t fall into it. Did you fall? It’s okay. Here is how you climb out. This is what happened to me after I climbed out — my life was blessed. I moved on. I fell in love again. I found “meh.”
I left a cheater and gained a life. That’s my story.