Post-Betrayal: A Stream of Consciousness
With any awful scenario, we don’t think it could happen to us until it does. In the most general sense, an awful scenario can range from losing a loved one in a sudden car accident to facing a near death experience in a shooting, or learning a close family member will suffer a terrible disease. You hear about it from other people, you see it on TV. And then it happens to you. It’s earth-shattering. It’s traumatic.
For me, it was finding out I was cheated on.
Even as I make sense of the words, the word “cheating” can’t begin to encompass the gravity of the situation. “Cheating” suggests an action done to gain an advantage through dishonesty. This deception felt like so much more. How do I begin to put into words what happened within that initial reaction?
Confusion. Disbelief. Hurt. Anger. Betrayal.
Above all, shock.
I thought there was a distinction between the physical and the emotional, but it’s a weird thing. The emotional pain I thought would ensue translated instead into a physical pain. I felt sick. Physically sick. Nauseous. Dizzy. Is my stomach there? Am I going to throw up?
In the day that followed, I was numb. I woke up. It was the first thing on my mind. I tried to get out of bed. I can’t. I lie there. I stare at the ceiling. I can’t move. Time passes. I’m still lying there. I can’t do anything. I can’t process it. The tears don’t come. I just feel sick.
My stomach rejects food. My head is spinning. I am a robot.
It doesn’t get better.
Time might heal, but it doesn’t erase the past. I think you learn to live with it, which is something that I haven’t achieved yet.
So you talk, even when you don’t want to. Part of me wanted to protect him. I still had love for him, I could understand his shame. Part me of had a violent anger. I wanted him to suffer, I wanted him to pay. But if there is anything that I’ve learned, it’s that there is an art to transparency. What’s done in the dark will come to light and the more you hide, the more miserable you are. As humans, we aren’t meant to go through trials alone. In the first few days, I found myself constantly using the internet to search “why do people cheat” or “what happens when someone cheats on you” as if I could find solace through an outside connection who could relate with me.
And then comes the select few you talk to. Even then I was very exclusive in who I told, but secrets don’t always stay secrets. It spreads like wildfire, especially when it’s something just as shocking to outsiders as it was to you. Before you know it, your personal affair gets out of your hands. You become defined by what other people hear, you lose control of your own story. People were speculating, people were talking. What started as an intimate and personal issue was reduced to a hot topic of gossip for others.
Time continued to pass. I found a way to function. But it wasn’t the same, it didn’t go away. Maybe the physical pain had morphed into a mental pain – but it hadn’t reached the extent of the anticipated emotional pain yet because I was running on two tracks. I still wasn’t crying. I still floated on. I could go through the motions, I could contribute to society, but the thought of the trauma was always at the forefront of my mind.
Then came the pep talks. I’d write notes to remind myself of the right thing to do, of the logical way to keep trucking on. My brain is smart – it knows what to do, it recognizes my worth. But the heart is an entirely different thing and it is an ongoing challenge to reconcile the two. Knowing that I deserved better and knowing that it wasn’t worth my time didn’t stop those feelings of wanting to dig, wanting to keep my strings attached. That’s part of being human isn’t it? You have a brain that knows what to do and a heart that doesn’t listen. Surely this could be one way to explain cheating – you know what’s right and you still didn’t do it.
I still feel sick. During my search to understand, I came across the concept of “ambiguous loss” – a loss that happens without closure or understanding. It’s usually applied in cases when a close family member goes missing, but I think it could be applied in relationships too. I lost my best friend. I don’t know why. I don’t know how. I may always have questions. I may never fully understand. It might be this way for a while.
My body's fight or flight reaction to emotional shock keeps me in limbo where I float on in a fuzzy state. It's different for everyone and that is all part of being human – we are flawed. We have messy experiences, we sort through complicated emotions, and most importantly, we learn that there is no one formula that fits all.
Author: Tam Le: Co-Founder & editor of Slope & Swell; a triannual print magazine for design and travel.