So your whole world has just come crashing down on you? Life has just sucker punched you so hard it literally blew you away? You feel so down. The tears won’t stop flowing. You feel physical pain from the heartbreak. You can’t believe your ears and your eyes. You don’t want to believe in the truth.
Well I’m here to tell you – your pain is finite. The day will come when the tears will stop flowing, when the heartbreak will cease to be physical pain, when your appetite will return, when you will finally pick yourself up from the floor, go shower and return to your normal self again.
But till then, give yourself plenty of time to recover.
When you first find yourself in a bad situation..
1. Allow yourself to be shell shocked
This is the initial shock – the point when you first find out about something and you can’t believe what you’re seeing or hearing. You also catch yourself staring into space a lot – not being able to processs anything but asking a lot of questions. The truth will eventually present itself.
7 months before I found out about the affair, my then-husband had moved cross country ‘for work’. My daughter and I were supposed to join him at some point. We moved our furniture, clothes and her toys together with him. I also got my manager to transfer me to the other office. While he was away, my daughter and I lived with his parents.
Two days before we were to fly out to join him, he told me not to come. Refused to give me a reason. Just said he needed to be alone.
I was shocked. I was totally blind sided. I didn’t see this coming at all. Just two nights before, he was reassuring me of his love for me… and now he wanted to be alone.
The next couple days were a blur. I don’t know how I even found the strength to go through the days. I took long walks on my own to try and gather my thoughts. I sat on a park bench in the rain. Robbie Williams’ No Regrets was on repeat mode. I was trying to look for answers but he wasn’t answering his phone or returning texts.
Five days later, I found out that he had been having an affair with a co-worker for three years. And that it was still ongoing.
I was shocked. This was the last thing I had expected – I seriously trusted my ex husband way too much. But then suddenly everything started to make sense as well. All the pieces of the puzzle started to fit together.
Oftentimes we feel a sense of relief when we finally know the truth. It’s like we finally solved a mystery and we realize that we were not the crazy that the guilty party made us out to be. Sadly, the truth also often hurts.
You need to give yourself time to grieve. Do not rush through the grief. Experts say there are five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. It’s important to remember that these stages do not always take place in that sequence but there might be times when you will lapse back into a previous stage. These stages of grief are tools to help us identify what we are feeling.
In the beginning, you might be scared to grieve because feeling the full force of what happened might be overwhelming. It’s going to be painful. You might even feel physical pain from the sadness.
And why not? You were totally blindsided. You were unprepared for this. You might even be in a situation where this incident will be a total life changer. And change – especially when you’re unprepared, is mighty scary. But I’m here to tell you that once you calm down and make a plan, change will stop looking so scary and it might even turn out to be the best thing ever.
3. Make A Plan
At some point, you will need to make a plan. Because life has to go on. There are still bills to pay and mouths to feed. Making a plan also helps you to gain some control over the situation. I recommend making a plan sooner rather than later. It helps with the recovery process.
Making a plan also helps you to organize your thoughts. Even if you feel totally powerless – like fate is working against you, a plan is the first step to your empowerment.
Take short breaks from your grieving process to gather your thoughts. Keep a level head, stay calm and ideas will come to you.
I like making lists. I remember having two lists – immediate short term to-dos and long term goals. Immediate short-term to-dos are high priority tasks that you have to take care of right now. They could include big things like moving out of your current place, finding a new school for your kids, paying your credit card bills that are coming due…or they could even include mundane things like remembering to buy carrots for dinner. Long term goals are more far fetched ideals like buying a house, earning that degree etc.
Write down those lists. I use the Notes function on my IPhone. And then physically check off each task that you’ve completed. Checking off each task gives you a sense of accomplishment and that is the first step in your empowerment – knowing you are capable of doing stuff even while you are grieving. I like deleting each task off my iPhone Notes as I complete it. Seeing the list shrink makes me feel good about myself.
Remember that these lists are not set in stone and can change whenever your plans change. After all, you first set up these lists when you were grieving and not exactly in the clearest frame of mind.
When I found out about the affair, my short term list included:
1. Moving out of his parents’ place
2. Signing a lease at the new apartment complex down the road from his parents’ place
3. Order furniture online
4. Making sure I have enough money for security deposit, first month rent, immediate bills that are due
5. Getting a new bank account for myself
6. Meet with a divorce lawyer
7. Look for childcare for my daughter
My long term goals were:
1. Move to New York City with my daughter (we were living in New Jersey and I was working in NYC)
2. Buy a place of my own
3. Save money
4. Earn an MBA
4. Instant Gratification For Yourself
Ok here’s where I confess to having done something that was necessary at that time but that others may judge me on. Because I have rationalized my actions as necessary, I have no regrets.
When I first found out that my husband had been cheating on me, it wasn’t just my world that crashed – my self esteem took a huge hit too. I’ve always had issues with my appearance – I wasn’t the stereotypical petite Asian girl – I’ve always had curves and along with curves comes a body’s tendency to retain fat in order to maintain said curves. My ex fiancé used to criticize my appearance and restrict my food intake.
Part of the reason why I fell for my husband was because he never seemed to mind my body. However he stopped being keen on having sex with me about six months into the relationship. After having my daughter, I was slightly overweight and my husband just stopped having sex with me entirely, citing a low sex drive. So imagine how I felt when I found out he had been getting his needs taken care of by a woman who was a lot skinnier than I was.
I needed the validation from other men that I was still attractive. So I went ahead and slept with a stranger. Did I feel bad about it? Of course. But I view it as something that I needed to do get my issues out of my system and feel better about myself. I never thought of it as a long term solution.
You need to do whatever you need to do to feel better about yourself. It helps you get your issues out of your system and assures you that it wasn’t all about you and that you are going to be just fine. But bear in mind that it is not a long term solution. It may not be just a one time deal. In fact, I recommend giving yourself a time period for instant gratification to get whatever it is you need to get out of your system. I view it as a necessary part of the recovery process. But once that time period is up, you need to switch gears and start making long term plans.
5. Find Support
There are two camps of people when it comes to initial reactions to bad stuff. Those that believe you should keep your dirty laundry to yourself and those who believe that talking it over with someone will make you feel better. I belong to the second camp. Whatever it is, I believe in finding your support group that you can trust and rely on or help you get through your darkest days. Sometimes that support group may not even contain any of your closest friends. Often times, the people who have gone through similar situations can empathize a lot better and offer the best advice. Hence sometimes the best support may come via anonymous venues like online forums.
So hugs to you if you are currently in a bad situation. I feel your pain. I’ve been through it before. But trust me – you will get out of it – and you will become a stronger and better person because of it.