Starting Over, Guest Blogger Tania Rochelle (more on Tania below)

…watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

     And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools


I pull into a gravel driveway after a long day at work. I have to maneuver my car between a 1989 SeaRay that leaks a little and a 1979 Scotty camper with a flat tire. Three mutts meet me at the screened door to my front porch, a Lab mix, a mainly Cattle Dog, and an equal-parts Pitbull and something else sweet and gentle. My home is made of four rooms and a kitchen cobbled around a pre-Civil War log cabin. The cabin serves as the living room. We have to duck under the doorways, because people were shorter way back. The house sits on 2.5 acres with a small pond that’s green with algae and bubbles with turtles and fish. The dogs run the property, in both senses of the word. 

I live with a man who doesn’t mind pink furry throw-pillows. He’s fine with the fact that I have an oil painting of someone else’s cat, which I picked up for 1.91 at Goodwill, hanging in our bedroom. He actually likes the farm animal solar lights I’ve stuck all over the yard. The man is so romantically-challenged that his idea of a proposal was to say, “I’m tired of calling you my girlfriend. Can we get married?” But he bought me extra charging cords for every place I go so my phone will never die. He knows how much I like to send him Instagram posts of goats in pajamas. The man and I end every day lamenting Time—how we don’t have enough left for all the fun we’re having being alive together.

Ten years ago, I found my now ex-husband passed out in bed after he’d spent all day at the SEC Championship game in Atlanta. I’d expected the event would involve heavy drinking, so it wasn’t the fact that he’d passed out that alarmed me. It was the smell of the room, a particular mix of cigarette smoke and money that only comes from a strip club. His phone was lighting up in his hand, so I slipped it from his fingers. What I saw on the screen caused the earth to crack open beneath me. It was a text from his assistant at work, asking if he was getting a lap dance. and if he was coming over. There were more texts from her, but that was just the beginning. 

Over the next few days, then weeks, then months, I learned about the Craigslist hook-ups. I saw column after column of sex chatline calls on his phone records. I found email exchanges between him and a prostitute who did “prostate massage,” posts on online forums where men reviewed sex workers, his dating profile on Bi-Cupid. I read messages he’d sent to a couple in their early twenties, about plans for a threesome on his next business trip to Phoenix. When they say that what you initially find is usually the tip of the iceberg, they’re not exaggerating.

I wish I had ended the marriage immediately, wish I’d had a strong enough sense of my own self-worth that I’d  put my energy into repairing the damage he’d done to me. But because it was so impossible to reconcile the thoughtful, funny man who’d  raised my children with the lying, deviant stranger in front of me, I dedicated myself to his “recovery.” My whole existence became about his 12-step meetings and therapy appointments, his childhood trauma; it became about red lights and green lights, circles and boundaries. With the “help” of the Sex Addiction Recovery Industry, I turned myself inside out trying to rescue the poor hurt little boy out of that monster in a man suit. And then the “relapses” would happen, which, it turns out, weren’t really relapses at all but were actually just the occasions he got caught, and I’d be destroyed all over again. Each new discovery seemed worse that the last, because I was losing strength, losing my identity, and losing my faith in Goodness. I divorced and remarried my so-called sex addict; that’s how expert he was at faking recovery and how impossible it became for me to believe in a different life for myself. If you can’t believe in the possibility of happiness, you might as well stay where you are, right? In the end, not even a 40-page prenup could protect me. The prospect of losing everything he had did not deter him from his underground lifestyle; he simply got better at lying. Worse still, I was the one who ended up ruined financially, losing much of what I’d gotten in the first divorce. The courts don’t have a great deal of sympathy for the twice-bitten. 

I was sure I’d never recover. I’d reached a point where I’d rather live in a box than be his wife, but I couldn’t envision a future in which I could feel joy or fall in love. I thought I’d used it all up on him. It took a lot of work to dig my true self out from under the rubble and reconstruct my self-worth. Then I had to grieve the years I’d wasted on a fraud. Today the crunch of pebbles under my tires is a prayer. Hummingbirds at the angel’s trumpets are a miracle.

My soon-to-be husband and I are pretty easy to please. We ride our bikes and throw frisbees with the dogs. He plays music in his garage studio. I write poems at an ancient roll-top desk that was left in the house when we bought it. Veronica, a fingerless mannequin dressed in a 1980’s prom dress, looks over my shoulder, and St. Joseph watches me from a shelf. I’m surrounded by people, pets, and oddly pretty things that feed my soul.

I’m not the exception in the realm of partners, either. I joined a support group in the early days after discovery, where I met some of the most amazing women I’ve ever known. Those who escaped the “swamp” are happier now than when they were fighting to save their old lives. Many are in mutually respectful, loving relationships. All of us are surprised by how the universe caught us when we took our leaps of faith.

I’ll bet that they would agree with me, too, when I say I don’t worry about being betrayed again or losing everything once more. I’m willing to take the risk. Because I’m absolutely certain that I am enough. I trust me. As long as I hold on to my authentic self, I will be ok. Furthermore, I have finally realized, at 55, how powerful I am. If I were to have to rebuild again from nothing, I know I could. With a broken toothpick and a rusty safety pin. 

We’ve made it to the other side. Let us help you get there too.

Tania Rochelle, MFA MS LPC NCC

Thank you Tania for taking the blog today while my brother and I interred out parent's cremains in an old cemetery filled with family connections in Queensville, Ontario. Tania is a counsellor, writer, and also spent several decades teaching creative writing. Her books of poetry are Karaoke Funeral (Snake Nation Press, 2003) and The World’s Last Bone (Snake Nation Press, 2010) She is exceptional at everything she does, and since meeting her I have trusted her with the hard moments of my own life. Her practice is in Atlanta, Georgia, and if you are lucky enough to live near there and would like to talk to her, let me know and I would be honoured to connect you!

Diane Strickland