Fight or Flight: Guest Post by Liz at Infidelity Counseling Network

By Liz for ICN

10/4/16

 

 

Fight or Flight

 

 

Six years and one week ago, I overheard my husband on his cell phone. He was speaking to a woman. It was Tuesday.

 

I could feel and hear the blood pulsing through my neck. It was the sound of intense fear.

 

I thought to myself, this is it, I was right, that nagging thought for a while that there was someone else was true, I was not crazy.

 

When he had hung up, I went into his office, asking angrily who that was. He had some crazy answer, and I knew in that moment that despite how smart he was, at this, I was smarter than him. I knew I would find out, and SOON. I maintained my outward cool while inside was a total fight or flight response. I decided to gather information before a flight.

 

The next morning while he was showering for work, I quietly turned on his cell phone to check the call history. It had been cleared.

 

As soon as I’d gotten the kids off to school, I found some old cell phone records with a number that kept reappearing – a partial story. It took me four hours that morning that morning to register our phone bill online, download the call history, google some of the repeating numbers, and identify the owner of the most frequently-called number. So I called it, and she said I had the wrong number. At lunchtime I called again and got her voicemail. Bingo. Her full name was on the outgoing message. Now I had the information I needed…but I still did not know if I was ready for a “fight” or for my flight.

 

I wanted then and there to throw him out, but we had kids, I did not want to divorce their father. We were a family. So there was to be no flight. At least not yet.

 

I waited till Saturday. That very morning, his affair partner had left him a cell phone message and I had listened to it. She was trying to be calm while things were tense, but she loved him and would wait until they could be together. I told him then that I knew about her, and he confessed, saying it was just a few times, it did not mean anything to him. But I had proof of months of calls and her declaration of love. I asked where they had sex; he gave me hotel names. I insisted he end it immediately, and even suggested how he could do it so as to keep her husband protected. I thought myself a better person for my compassion.

 

We went to couples counseling, and I kept saying I believed there were many women for many years, and he denied it all. I insisted on full transparency. It never came. Now there was no fight…he simply would not talk about it.

 

By now, poring over cell records and hotel bills, I was getting to be a first class Private Investigator which was making me crazy. I had been in fight-or- flight mode for over 5 weeks, anxious and barely eating or sleeping. I was paying with my mental health.

 

After a while, I began to feel I had lived a lie. Every family event and holiday over the past 6-7 years was marred by the knowledge that he’d called various women on all those dates. Nothing felt sacred anymore. The betrayal I felt was boundless. Every special moment was spoiled. I saw myself as damaged, duped, betrayed, angry, and resentful.

 

I focused on his choices, and all the times he could have chosen another path but did not. I focused self-righteously on all the good I had done for others when our own marriage was disappointing.

 

This constant feeling of fight-or-flight made me lose my compassion and objectivity. I become a person who tried to survive day by day. I was unaccustomed to being this self-centered, angry, suspicious, jealous, snooping, distrustful person, and I did not like this new me. I knew I had to find a way to the other side, to thrive again.

 

For two years I was a wreck, later telling people that I’d had a nervous breakdown. At his request, I told no one other than paid professionals. I isolated myself socially, did only what I had to do, and avoided people and places that would trigger what I deemed my PTSD. Since I knew many of his affair partners, and had to drive by many of the hotels in my daily rounds of work and kids, it was hard to avoid it all. I made myself crazier by compulsive snooping, and it never helped me a bit, never made me feel safer, never made the situation better, and just perpetuated a cycle of craziness for me.

 

Above all, I wanted to talk to other women who had been through this, but found none. If I had to do it all over again, I would have told a select few people because not having the support was so tough for me. Later, we separated, and I told a lot of people. They all judged him harshly. And I learned that once you give someone your story, you can never un-tell them…so be careful about whom you chose to hold your intimate history. I should have told only people whom I was sure would be there for me and not judgehim. Everyone has an opinion about she/he would do in this situation, but until I had been there, I realized there is no black and white answer…only lots and lots of gray.

 

Six years and one week later, I am stronger and wiser. Perhaps I am not the same trusting person, but the new me is one I finally like and which took years to accomplish. I felt so bad about myself for so long; if I’d been kinder to myself, if I’d been able to release myself from that intense fight-or-flight mode, my recovery might have been faster. But I accept now that I did what I felt I had to do. Now I am a good, kind, compassionate, and wiser person. I wish I could add “trusting” to that list, but that is still a work in progress.

 

 

By Liz

Volunteer at Infidelity Counseling Network

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Room of my own to clean: Ten for Today


August 21, 2016
 
Late summer cleaning: Decluttering my room brings me to well-traveled roads. Everything I touch feels or smells like time: last week, month, year or decade. My room aggregates time.
 
But not just this room. I’ve inhabited rooms all my life, fortunate as I am to have had roofs over my head. Only by choice have I slept outside a room–from camping under the stars, backpacking across the country or passed out drunk on a stranger’s couch.
 
My first room–one of my own–had tan shorn short carpet covered in down feathers slowly de-fluffed from my down comforter through small growing holes. I shared an apartment with my older sister after I left the home I shared with my husband for nearly 9 years. We were on hiatus. Six years of separation. And this room was the first I called my own, having shared all my other rooms from birth to age 29.
 
Though the circumstances of my landing in this room in an apartment complex settled below the hump of a freeway on ramp dampened the excitement of this first time experience, still I marveled at the possibilities: stamp my own identify into the fabric. Finally, I could fill a space with me, pieces of me in art, furnishings, bed sheets and comforters, knick knacks–all my choices.
 
As it turned out, however, I’d only half live in that space and the only addition to the bland, bare tan room, bed and dresser I unloaded moving in was the escaped goose down feather floor covering. Between obsessive work hours and mad dash dating, I hardly spent time in that room I slept in for two years before I bought a house, where I lived for another three or four years before moving back into my marital home, where now, 21 years later, I have my own room–sort of, mostly–to clean.

A Mistress Song

Marked by forever embrace

arms to mind

nose to heart,

I will never recover

a touching scent like you;

no other lover 

rapes pelvic thoughts

musks up a spell

pushes my deep

and levels a deadly wrench kiss

like hammers

to pulpy plum; 

in your leave

I hollow gourds of song

await the pine needle drop

and hum Jesus and rum.

Edvard Munch’s ‘Separation’

  
Painting: “Separation” by Edvard Munch 1898, oil on canvas.
 

A smoldering heart weakens,

hunkers him down gut deep

inside separation’s burn.

When distance collects between

a lover’s love and loving hand,

the road span widened, dear doves,

a brooding beat blackens fear,

rends aortic drums split sideways,

burst blood pooled and anchoring.

Longing’s weight drowns victims,

pins their boots to muddy bog,

only sludge and sink might free

the ache, loosed from bony cages

as echo moans sorrow’s sympathy.

Severance maims this lover’s heart, 

rendering touch crumpled amputee:

grip-shattered, shivering despair. 
 

On Writing as Suffering

  
Joyce Carol Oates claims, “The effort of memorable art is to evoke in the reader or spectator emotions appropriate to that effort.” And the effort is worth it. When our writing moves others, we affect, share and connect, thus confirming our oneness or perhaps experiencing that oneness as an ancient forgotten memory.

To reach out is to remember. The writer in all of us struggles to be understood through the code of language, a tricky bridge that requires constant constructing, honing, and refining to support the weight of ideas and experiences by which we convey ourselves to others. 

Writing is recursive, ever moving us backward and forward in thought and word–and in time.

Circling, it is an ever circling around the precise words to capture a specific piece of us we so desperately want to convey without misconstruction–that piece of the self we share using only the meager writing tools at our disposal. We search for words. Will this one mean exactly the same for my reader?
 
And the process of building sentences that flow into paragraphs, paragraphs into essays, is tedious. It takes patience. We must persist. Like herding wild horses, we must gather our unruly thoughts breaking wild in a hundred directions per second and corral them into the pen of ordered, confined blocks of coherent patterns. 

We must be painters and logicians both, fighting spirits within us.

credit: wikimedia

Time Travel

Travel Hangover–

Pouring damp memories over dying embers, 

anticipating the pop, sizzle and hiss of regret,

I refuse the temptation to stir the ash,

re-confirm the smolder hides no live fire.

Driving a rented van packed with her–

obstructed the view of road left behind,

held fleeting glimpses, speeding past blades

grass, roller, razor, “Did you bring knives?”

A mother reviewing, checking, fretting

the details whirring ahead to the horizon.

Unpacking the view clear, opened us up

to ponder, muse the hours in notes, little

cares, rehearsed sentiments, deficiencies

repeated with silent knowing nods, all said.

I play the game of focused movement 

to wile the hours, trick time to obey, my eyes

follow, attached to the point out there as all

else spins and races, rattles empty spaces ablur.

A splinter swollen sore and angry, riotous red

throbbed through a chipped thumb reminds me

I waited for you on wooden slats in the park

while you twirled a dizzy dance of fractured tune.

I stifled an urge to call out, make you notice,

but the stretching sound that circled us then

that moment I was churning in your disregard

of the world, of me, of the beckoning children

could not blanket the distance between us,

the one I carried up to your bed, squared 

to the wrong wall on the wrong floor in a room. 

  
 

Sharon Olds  

I Go Back to May 1937 (from The Gold Cell)
 
I see them standing at the formal gates of their colleges, 

I see my father strolling out

under the ochre sandstone arch, the 

red tiles glinting like bent 

plates of blood behind his head, I 

see my mother with a few light books at her hip 

standing at the pillar made of tiny bricks with the 

wrought-iron gate still open behind her, its 

sword-tips black in the May air,

they are about to graduate, they are about to get married, 

they are kids, they are dumb, all they know is they are

innocent, they would never hurt anybody.

I want to go up to them and say Stop, 

don’t do it–she’s the wrong woman, 

he’s the wrong man, you are going to do things 

you cannot imagine you would ever do, 

you are going to do bad things to children,

you are going to suffer in ways you never heard of, 

you are going to want to die. I want to go 

up to them there in the late May sunlight and say it,

her hungry pretty blank face turning to me,

her pitiful beautiful untouched body, 

his arrogant handsome blind face turning to me,

his pitiful beautiful untouched body,

but I don’t do it. I want to live. I 

take them up like the male and female 

paper dolls and bang them together 

at the hips like chips of flint as if to 

strike sparks from them, I say

Do what you are going to do, and I will tell about it.

 
credit: maphappy.org

She’s Leaving Home

Not the right lyrics but the refrain is the same. We live like clichés: daughter leaving for college, we weep, we anguish, and we sever ourselves from ourselves to get past the pain. We cheer ourselves with thoughts of new beginnings and circle of life and metamorphoses, butterflies growing beautiful, upward flight past us.

It feels trite and real at the same time. Our lives have been captured in too many Hallmark poem-lets for sale.

I have anticipated this moment in my dreams (nightmares) since she was born, different shapes and scenery, but all the same theme: leaving.

She’s leaving home. Off to college, which will be her new temporary home in a new state. Whether the leaving is temporary or permanent is yet unknown.

In the meantime, I will be shoring up for the next one’s departure, estimated time of departure, two years or twenty.

All Roads Lead to Anger

  
I am an asshole on the road. 

While I have never engaged in road rage, I rage plenty on the road in seething insults and strings of profanity that I cannot help but recognize as an inheritance from my father.

I always believed I was most like my mother: cheerful, determined, optimistic and rational. But that’s because my father was never around, working round the clock as he did. Come to find out after he moved in a few years ago, I am much like him.

I not only inherited my dad’s long, skinny legs and dark eyes, but also his temper. 

My Dad could be nasty. My memories soak in pools of chiding, my mother wagging her finger at her husband after yet another profanity blasted from his lips. His pet names for his wife included colorful epithets that would curdle any feminist’s blood–really any civil human being’s blood.   

My father’s vulgarity fully bloomed in a car. I drive like him: impatiently, erratically, and aggressively. All the curses I ever heard growing up fly freely from my mouth in explosions of hateful disdain on the road. I transform from human to monster. 

I know habit has a large part to do with it, but I am nevertheless surprised at the ferocity of my anger the moment I encounter a perceived slight on the road: it rises in a flash hotter and more suddenly than those that plagued me for years before menopause. It feels like a siege, as if I have no control over an acid-spewing alien cocooning inside me that bursts from my guts and spews terror. 

And when I have just spit aloud from clenched teeth the words: “You f#@*ing asshole!” with venom, I immediately catch myself, just as automatically as the words that flew out of my mouth, “What is wrong with you?!!” 

Therein lies part of the problem: not the knee-jerk flying foul language and anger triggered by insignificant, impersonal lane encroachments but the counter reaction of self-berating. It does nothing to change the reactive fury. 

Not that I condone the behavior, the lack of control in the face of something so irrational and trivial. Like any bad habit–smoking, nail biting, leg shaking (all of which I have had to beat)–the behavior masks some other neglected need, some other unattended emotion, unhealed wound, stewing conflict or ongoing unresolved problem.  

Most often, however, we seethe in separation, having polarized ourselves in opposition to those who would thwart our efforts, not only on our immediate but our larger destination–at least that is our perception.

When we lash out at the unknown ‘other’ out there in the world, someone we have reduced to a concept, a negative speed bump in our lives, whether that be the generic bad driver (or merely inattentive driver), not to mention the total road blocks–“the racist cop”, “the black thug”– or the more specifically named and reviled “woman” or “Asian” or whichever derogatorily denoted driver, we do so because we are isolated–and not just in the safety of our cars. We are closed up inside of ourselves, removed from our innate artist’s eye able to see the details of others. I know this because no one except the seriously ill or wounded cannot memorize the lines in his mother’s face as she sits paralyzed placid in her wheel chair or the dimples in her babies’ knees.  

The mind can see if allowed to.
 
The distance between us is self-imposed, learned, unconscious and/or conscious. It derives from the dis-remembrance of our primal past as cave-dwelling groups of protective survival and the ever-unfolding illusion of separateness, the change in us since those days.

Change comes from active awareness of our material being. If the scientists’ and spiritualists’ postulations resonate truth, we are all part and particle of the same star bursts, the same matter that existed eons before us, made us. Our DNA that shapes us is shaped similarly to that of the earth’s flora and fauna. Whether our individual components–genetic or nurtured–make us tall, short, dark or light skinned, good drivers or bad drivers, even-tempered or hot-tempered, we are all respiring sentient beings that matter, are matter, both divine and profane.
 
When we forget that, we other-ize, sense the loneliness of that disconnection, and get angry. And that’s okay. Eventually, we shift sight, change gears to lower breathing rpm’s, and recognize ourselves as the free-way, the one leading us all to the same exit and on ramps.

 
Photo credit:  wakeup-world.com

Camping Inside Out

 
The world as colors and shapes, moving forms

a distance, silent mouths forming wordlessness

a seat at the window safely piggy backs society

the vitrine protection dividing in from out unreal

keeping clicks where they belong, in finger flight

and pad ticks, far away from the tongue stealers 

those who would en-web you in their sale spells.
 

Where I finger thrum on wood thin counter tops,

jittering quick shot the espresso electrical shorts

and spy on the unconscious pacing and dodging

the bots with electronic ears in elephantine slog

they drift and separate, crawl inside their spaces

cocooned til the spring of their dawning moment

the one where memory reaches the track’s end.
 

Those mouth dropping shock seconds of where-?

When did the wall of puzzle pieces appear and

how long ago did the trash can cut music notes

while the airbus busied itself as a kids’ toy store?

The pajama’d trees passed me by while I sped

past birch beads encircling a neck slip into brew

dipped in twenty true coffee grains indissoluble.
 

No matter for the mindless masses none notice

but for their double exposure, shadows on glass

juxtaposed on a manicured verdure hip and free.

Brown on black, olive on pale, face to facing skin

empty gestures mock and mime the cruel illusion,

one that paints them imperfectly distinctive matter.

This art breathes no reason splayed and kneeling. 

  

   

Compartmentalizing

IMG_0342
Credit: http://www.lifeinbmajor.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/Boxes.gif

I return this dented box, shoving it in the kitchen pantry.
It is a medium box with stains in speckles and splotches.
Both scarce longing to create irresistibly divine patisserie
and ever-ever boredom with the daily dinner grind are in it.
Each peek-in-the-pantry sighting draws a slight grimace.

This other box is stashed in the dusty dark under my bed,
cobwebbing silk and soot settled atop its large, locked-in lid.
In it, I keep tools of torture like tethers and ties, paddles too,
but I also store scented love notes and wedding souvenirs,
and a single diamond earring still missing its mate long gone.

This other box is huge and heavy, left open wide-way always.
I keep it in the entryway to the house just by an open door.
It contains letters, applications and bills; it bulges with stuff,
shoes of all kinds from cleats to slippers, and also jackets.
Another house it is of walking in head up then out the door.

Another box is buried in the backyard unknown its condition.
It’s been there since the children were very small and fragile,
attached to small furry animals that died and broke smiles,
and that is surely where the younger’s missing pacifier went
along with the “I will never grow up and leave you, Mommy.”

The final box is delicately fine, petite, and hidden up a sleeve.
It is onyx coated slick with fine rubbing fingers’ calming slide.
It weighs so little it attaches to the string around my ankle
that I hardly notice it until I reach down to feel its smoothness
atop and its soft opening lips midway that smile in emptiness.