What does "getting better" look like?
First of all, I’m not talking about him. I’m talking about you. (If that first sentence means I lose you, please know the kettle’s always on here when you circle round again.)
It’s a pretty terrifying thing to wake up in the morning and not be able to navigate the basics of getting up and getting started on the day, whatever that means in your life. I remember opening my eyes day after day, and the first words out of my mouth were “Fuck, I’m still alive.” If I thought I was the only one with that experience I wouldn’t post it here. But I know I’m not. So, let’s start with that sickening moment and that sickening thought however and whenever you hear it in your day. What’s the first thing you need to know?
It ends. Not with your death, but with the slow, clumsy, unfamiliar turning toward yourself with love, acceptance and compassion. Maybe read that over again before going on.
We do not find a reason to live in his recovery. We find it in ours. Okay, maybe you might want to read those two sentences over again as well.
So here’s what I mean when I say those things.
By the time you get to this point in your relationship with this man, most wives and partners have been worn down by his covert manipulative tactics. Those include lying, leading to constant self-doubt and second-guessing what you know are facts. He may reel you in with demonstrative words and actions, and then cut you off without warning. You won’t know what happened and wonder what you did wrong. When you ask questions in an effort to sort things out in your head correctly about strange phone calls, missed appointments, etc., he will respond in anger, often raging about being questioned. If you ask who someone is, he will act offended at your suspicion. Mine liked to say, “I don’t appreciate the interrogation,” adopting a strange lisp with all the sibilants. (It eventually became a “tell” for when he was covering up something.)
All this and more means that you begin to lose your grounding and your sense of self. Hopelessness claims your life like a creeping moss. Your body may suffer, too. You are uncovering the façade of his life without any safety lines attached. You work harder to keep things going and try to make it through this bad patch in the relationship. As you enter deeper into his unreality and learn how to function in it, you actually participate in the diminishing of your life. You compromise, put things on hold, sacrifice, absorb negativity, without realizing that you are losing joy, hope, love, creativity, trust, and any shred of mutuality in that relationship that might have been there at the start. All the goodness of you is being used to make him more believable.
After you uncover what his secret life is all about, this plundering of your heart, soul, mind and body often continues as you struggle to figure out what is real and what isn’t. Add in the abusive prevailing therapeutic model used with wives and partners, and even if you are both “getting help” you are still being used to prop him up, and your needs will never be a priority.
So, maybe it’s a little clearer why someone like me trying to cope with all that wakes up in the morning and says “Fuck, I’m still alive.”
Getting better doesn’t mean being the same person you were. You will wear some of the damage in ways you can’t really predict or control—some of it for a while, and some it for much longer. But the critical piece for shutting down the destruction of you, is this brave choice to love yourself exactly as you are in that moment, accept that you are in some ways diminished, and have compassion for what is harder for you now, or what you can no longer even do. This is the secret ingredient to getting better. You have to turn away from the endless focus on him and what everyone thinks he needs and isn’t getting, and cradle your own sacred life with your love, acceptance and compassion—the most powerful forces within you!
When I would suddenly be caught in despair for the disaster of my life, I would stop, do mindfulness breathing and say things like:
- “I accept you Diane, exactly as you are in this moment.”
- “I love you and will love you as long as I have breath.”
- “You are doing the best you can in a nightmare you don’t deserve. Keep going. You will get better.”
- “You will make lots of mistakes, but you will not fail. Keep going.”
- “This is what you have to offer right now. It will become enough in the Spirit.”
I don’t know what are the best sentences for you to say. Feel free to use mine until you find your own. Saying these things out loud is a spiritual practice of great power against the shadows cast upon you. Hugging yourself also is important, or patting yourself on the shoulder. It all may sound too simple for the mess you are in, but this is actually how you re-connect your cognitive brain to your limbic brain and your reptilian brain, so that their alarms can dial back.
“Getting better” looks like you choosing to love yourself when others are not. It looks like you accepting yourself when you barely recognize yourself. It looks like you offering yourself compassion instead of the endless personal critique of his blameshifting. There is no greater power to bring to your wound.
When you are “getting better” will you emerge the same person? No. But the reality of being less will meet the strange reality of also becoming more. Welcome to the sacred work of really “getting better.” You can do this. You can be this. But if you need some company, remember your story is safe here.