Five years ago I sat on a sofa with tears streaming down my face. I barely felt human and feared I would never feel happiness again. I had been betrayed by my husband, the only person I ever trusted, and the pain was excruciating. I was emotionally overwhelmed, and I began to feel physically ill. Most devastating personally was the fact that I was unable to envision a positive future state. Sitting with me on the sofa were my two younger children: my three-year-old daughter and my one-year-old son. My older daughter, a fourteen-year-old, was out for the evening at a high school football game. Looking into my children's eyes caused me a great deal of shame. For the first time in my parenting journey, I felt unfit. No matter how hard I tried, I could not give them my undivided attention.
My insightful daughter studied me for a time. Something was not right with Mommy. She finally asked, "Are you going to be able to take care of us?"
I was shocked and looked at her with no response. She moved a little closer to me and said, "Are you going to be able to take care of us, or are we going to need Nana to come get us?"
It was a figurative slap in the face, giving me the needed push to find the strength to move forward. I said something like, "No, I am okay. I can take care of you."
My daughter reminded me I better get it together and fast. People depended on me to recover. I wish I could say I leapt off the sofa reformed and stronger. I was grateful for her words, but they did not have the power to transform my situation. That would require additional reflection, time, and prayer. My daughter's question lingered in my mind for years as I attempted to understand my role as mother juxtaposed to my authentic healing journey.
Let the Healing Begin
Moving forward was difficult, but writing became a critical step in my healing process. Writing became therapy; it gave my emotions a place to be fully alive and experienced. They had a right to tell the uncomfortable truth. They had a right to have a resting place so they would not remain lodged inside of me. I wrote day and night, with breaks in between to eat, work, and spend time with the kids. The first thing I wrote was a letter of forgiveness to the other woman. It was a difficult writing assignment, but it was an important step for me. I prided myself on being a good role model for my children. I could not let hatred fester in my heart. I could not tuck my children in bed at night, teaching them bedtime prayers with a lie on my lips.
When I began writing, I would disappear into the emotions, thoughts, and words. I envisioned my writing as a new lover, and he was faithful. Whenever I called, he answered. Writing was how I reconnected with humanity. I longed to be good to others and reduce the pain I saw in the world, but fear kept me from physical connection. I was terrified of being hurt again, so I decided to use writing as a safe way to share my heart. I wrote letters to family members who I needed to forgive and to those who I felt needed to forgive me for past wrongs. For one solid year, I wrote one weekly letter of encouragement to a random woman in the United States. I saw it as my contribution to hurting women, I did not want another person to hurt as much as I did. I had something to say, and I often thought of how those writings would not only comfort others but potentially my children in the future. But the painful truth was that while my writing was comforting to me, it was disturbing to my children.
I've worked to forgive myself for how my children interpreted my sadness during those years. I know they felt a loss of me during the times I retreated to write when it was the only way I could maintain my sanity.
I remember my son smacking my hands away from the keyboard as I held him and typed at the same time. My older daughter noticed writing was consuming all my time and she didn't like it. I did not know how to explain to her how writing was keeping me alive, nor did I believe she would understand it. To make matters worse, I was in the final stages of writing my dissertation when my marriage fell apart. Not only was I writing personally, but also professionally as an academic researcher. After a few months, I realized I had to find a balance between writing and mothering. The kids were tired of hearing, "Not right now, Mommy is writing." This awareness came in time as I was better able to hear myself, embrace my humanness again, and see how much they needed me.
I was eager to mother, but the damage I endured made me less confident that I had the skills to give the kids what they needed. Prior to the affair, I had welcomed motherhood willingly, but after I felt less capable to mother. It is a fact I desperately tried to bury, but when I looked at my children, I saw how greatly I had failed to hold everything together. I was not enough to keep their home intact. Everything was chaotic and I could not prevent it or fix it quick enough, which led to self-doubt. I was estranged from the person I thought I was and unfamiliar with the person I saw in the mirror. I was ashamed at how quickly I unraveled and that my children had front-row seats to witness my demise.
My older daughter commented to her grandmother that I was not the same mother she once knew. I could not refute her assertion; the old me was dead and I had not met the new me. My daughter's words were daggers into an already fragile ego and shattered self-image. I had to reflect and come to terms with my perfectionistic maternal thoughts. Writing allowed me a mechanism to privately assess what would become of the broken pieces and images of my former life. Writing also provided a way to fictionalize the new images of my redeemed motherhood image.
The Power of Writing
Through writing, I began to craft a new character for myself: a strong, resilient woman who did not give in to adversity but stood shoulder to shoulder with it, shook its hand, and moved past it. A woman who would catalogue her experiences for future use, and a woman who would love her children fiercely despite her inability to rewrite the past.
This portrait of resilience is not exactly a new phenomenon for me personally. I have always been strong, but during this period of my life, I began to lose focus on who I was. It appeared my strength had abandoned me when I needed it the most and in its place was an uncomfortable silence. However, the silence helped me to find my voice through writing versus speaking. Back then, I could barely speak and when I did, it was so raw and emotional it was hard to hear. But as I put pen to paper that all changed, I found a way to clearly and creatively express my pain and suffering. Writing was one way I rebuilt my hope, I firmly believe the pen is mightier than the sword.
I continue to write, nearly daily, with the kids in the room and especially when I am putting them to sleep. Since my oldest child started college, she has come to appreciate her mother's writing interest. I also believe she has a better understanding of how it has helped me in difficult times. When she experienced heartbreak, she too found the benefits of journaling.
While I would have never chosen this situation to fall in love with writing, it was effective. I am not sure I would have ever done the deep reflection or garnered the self-awareness I have, without my writing. My situation served as the perfect storm in which I felt the only appropriate outlet was to write. It was in my vulnerability as a seasoned mother with a new infant that I was thrust into a whirlwind, resulting in an inconvenient truth and a wonderful journey to an unfamiliar territory.
One day in the future, I will sit on a sofa and share with my second daughter how her raw honesty impacted me. Until I experienced the pain of betrayal, I was unaware of how much pain people experience. I spent most of my life detached from my emotions and this bled into how I connected with other's emotions. This new insight changed me forever for the better. I have committed the rest of my life to helping others heal. I am a healer, and I will accomplish this mission through speaking, writing, and raising children who seek to do the same.
My life is richer because of motherhood and writing. I am more connected to the elements of story and interested in capturing the dramatic elements, pauses, and movements of my children's daily experiences. I seek to study them as a researcher and to memorialize their struggle and success. As a writer and speaker, I often share and tell their unique adventures. This links us to the world at large in a way that acknowledges our shared humanity.
I cannot imagine what would have become of me or my story if I were not able to capture it in writing. My children and children's children will be able to dissect the story I have left behind. I hope it encourages them to pursue writing as a path to healing. Recently, my five-year-old son said to me, "When I grow up, I want to be an author, just like you." His words put the guilt, insecurity, and pain of the past five years into perspective for me and acknowledged, approved and solidified my new role as a mother who writes.