What Do I Remember?
Even now, eight and half years after dday, my memories are not integrated in a chronological sequence. They come as they come. When I try to think back to the earliest memories, this is the scene that always overtakes me:
I am in the spare room on a single bed my mother gave us, with my childhood dresser beside me, under a quilt my grandma made, with my now adult sons’ baby clothes hanging in the open closet. It is about three in the morning. I haven’t slept. I am sobbing hysterically from the deepest part of me, almost throwing up the grief and the fear that possess me. I am tortured knowing the man I married used me and every good thing I gave him to make his false self more believable to others. I am terrified by the suspicion he must want me dead now that I know who he is and am no longer useful. So, sleeping is the most dangerous thing for me to do. Eventually, from sheer exhaustion, I sleep for an hour or two. I remember that this went on every night for weeks and weeks and weeks.
Trauma creates its own logic out of the unimaginable nightmare you are in. But as upsetting as this scene was, and still is, I also now recognize steps I took to look after myself that I didn’t realize I was doing at the time. In this glimpse of my traumatized self in the early days after discovery I had the wisdom to move to another bedroom where I was surrounded with things that connected me to people who DID love me. Intuitively I knew I had to find a safer place to be than in a room with the man who turned out to be someone I didn’t know at all. I comforted myself with objects that also connected me to my past before this horrific moment, a crucial step in fighting the experience of most traumatized people—that of being locked into the trauma time with no past or future. While I had no access to the future, my past was speaking powerfully against the persistent conclusion that I might as well be dead. It may well have saved me from driving my car into a cement underpass wall.
It’s important to identify steps you took after your traumatizing discovery of his secret life—steps that reflect your concern for your wellbeing and any attempt to look after yourself. That is what I see clearly in my memory now. And these things come as reassurances in a time when you doubt yourself to the core, when his gaslighting, denial, and diminishing of truth will try to own you, and when you wonder if you still can trust yourself…with your life. Often, when I hear the desperate stories my clients recount of their early days after discovery, the most important thing I do after listening and believing them, is to point out things I notice in their stories that reveal their sanity, their intelligence, the resources they gathered to themselves, and their ability to cope under extreme duress. Many women try in ways large and small to comfort themselves and ground themselves in the things about their lives that are still true. They do this while going to work every day, parenting children, managing households, navigating social responsibilities, and dealing with their husband or boyfriend. They are heroic. They need to recognize that and be strengthened by it.
So, what do you remember? What are the images and events in those early days that come to mind? What do they reveal not just about who he turned out to be, but about who you always were and still are. Please, give yourself some credit for the things you did to care for yourself when there was no one else to care for you.