Over the weekend a friend asked me how I overcame the affair. This person’s sister had just discovered her husband was having an affair. I replied without hesitation that you don’t overcome affairs as much as you learn to live with the reality of them. That is overcoming them, learning to live with them, including all of the pieces, no matter how sharp, jagged, or painful they may be. And it’s probably the truest hinderance to healing for most. They want some magic potion that makes them forget or makes the perpetrator forget. But, I’m here to tell you that only remembering will help you forget and move on. And the process is slow. It’s painful. It’s necessary.
I can remember a time when saying the word “Bobbie” was something that if I did speak it, got whispered, like in St. Elmo’s Fire and the word “cancer”. I used other pronouns when speaking of Bobbie, like whore, slut, and white-trash. I would have never dreamed of saying that word in his presence or anyone’s. It was something my husband and I avoided like the plague. It was prohibited jointly, an unspoken rule.
At some point that changed. I spoke her name and it resonated and echoed and bounced off the walls and was shocking and loud. I think we both winced at the pain of hearing her name spoken out loud. And then I said it again. And again. And then he said it, quieter. And then again, and again. Suddenly saying her name meant nothing. And so it began we started talking about him and me and her and us and combinations of such.
We forced ourselves to remember, until we didn’t need to force ourselves. Words flowed like water, feelings gushing behind. We changed our attitude from forgetting to remembering, and the details emerged, sometimes taking days, other times taking seconds. We freely talked about the affair and how he felt and how I felt and even how she might feel. We absorbed it and consumed it and let it wash over us like a waterfall. The events poured over us, the words sometimes breaking over us like glass, at first painful and then not-so-painful, until all that was left was the cleansing. Us, naked and vulnerable, but cleansed.
Bobbie had lost her power over him and me and us. She became a ghost. A ghost we no longer feared.
We approached it head-on, like friends or even acquaintances. We dug deep beyond the point of being a couple to a place where nothing was off-limits. We grabbed it all, the good, the bad and the ugly and held on until we thought we couldn’t hold on any longer, and then we both held on tighter. We went beyond minimal until we found maximum. We lingered there in our most raw form and accepted the cuts and bruises and scars and scabs and everything else an affair can throw at you with open arms. And only when we had cut all we could cut and hurt all we could hurt, we stood up, not in triumph, but in solidarity to emerge a bit disfigured but sound.
We were ready to begin healing.