People always ask me...did I tell anyone?

It’s not a simple question. There are gaps of time in the days after recovery about which I remember almost nothing. Further, episodic memory is usually compromised by trauma so that the sequence of events is fragmented. I know that I contacted a psychologist to help me within the first month of discovery. I also told my best friend something about two weeks after discovery. She remained my one ongoing support from start to finish, and now celebrates the good life I am living. I am so grateful for her. Her courage and loyalty and constant affirmation held me together.

Months later, I attempted to speak with colleagues and friends about what I was dealing with in my life. One of those conversations with a long time colleague and friend yielded fruit and I was grateful. Other attempts failed for different reasons, some of which I still don’t know. Let me share what happened so that if it happens to you, you will not feel so alone, or as despairing as I felt.

Sometimes, when I tried to speak, no noise would come out. My lips were moving but some kind of speech terror prevented sound. It was frightening. But I knew it was important for me to share my struggle and find support so I kept trying. Eventually I called the spiritual care provider serving my professional cohort. We met for an hour. I spoke. There was no follow-up. Be prepared for “no follow-up” from your religious leaders or spiritual care providers. And in some cases no help is better than the wrong help.

When I managed to let some colleagues and lay leaders know that my marriage was in trouble without telling them the details, the response was carefully muted. When I later tried to tell them more, they shut me down quite decisively. Some diminished what I was trying to describe. Other people just avoided me. It was very hard. In your own situation you may have a similar kind of experience. People you thought would be there for you will not be there, regardless of what you invested in them. Some of those people may be overwhelmed by their own struggles. Life is difficult for many people. It was certainly difficult for me, and I know it is for you, too. This experience can be devastating. Telling sometimes means more loss. Temper your expectations. There is limited social capacity for hearing the story you have.

About five years after dday, I tried telling another colleague. She showed me compassion without surrendering her own point of view to mine. I got a fair hearing, and she let me direct her to more information. It meant a lot. Three years later I told another colleague, and received support. Tears. Telling family members is another whole blog entry. Stay tuned for that one, as well as some suggestions about using scripts.

Much has happened since dday. I now tell my story on YouTube and in this blog. I can't believe I have that much courage and I'm that coherent. I'm proud of myself. There were many steps on that journey. But how will you get through the first few years? How did I get through?

I waited. 

Sorry, that’s really all I have.  I waited—until I was stronger, until I’d made the final decision about my marriage, until I’d moved out of congregational ministry, until I had connected with others who shared my experience, until friends and colleagues did some “self-sorting” all on their own and spared me more trauma, until I was prepared for the financial fall-out that might ensue, until I had a better handle on the story I wanted to tell, until I could risk losing the relationship into which I was speaking, until I had some sense I would keep on living, until I knew that to keep silent any longer would mean I was living a life as false as the one my ex-husband lived. Until then.

I don’t know if waiting was the best thing to do. In some cases I’m still doing it. That being said, if you should tell the police about what your husband or boyfriend is doing, do it. Never wait on that one. Keep yourself safe. Keep your children safe. And regardless of what he says he did or didn’t do, tell a medical professional and get a full panel of STD/STI testing. Never wait on that one, either.

I believe your story is sacred. In its pain and injustice and rage and unimaginable truth, your story is safe here. 

 

Diane Strickland