GUEST POST by Jacqueline Vaughn
I sat in a workshop called “Crisis Intervention” looking down at a piece of paper. The facilitator had told us to write down a list of our daily activities, and I had scribbled down only the basics. “Get the kids ready for school,” I’d written. “Cook dinner.” Besides those, my schedule was empty. “I need to get a life,” I thought to myself.
My husband had come out of the closet about a month and a half before. I was being treated in an outpatient program for major depression after having spent a week in a psychiatric hospital. I’d lost an important contract (I’m self-employed), which left me with nowhere to turn financially. I felt as though I hadn’t slept in months, and I was taking so many antidepressants that my hands were shaking.
I had officially, utterly fallen apart.
I wrote the following in my journal while I was staying in the hospital: “I can’t work because I don’t care. I can’t sleep because…I just can’t. I feed and clothe my children, but I don’t interact with them like I should. I’m so frustrated by feeling totally incapacitated because that’s so not who I thought I was.”
When my husband came out, I didn’t feel shock. I didn’t feel compassion. I felt anger. Actually, I felt more than angry. I was livid. I cursed at him, called him names and told him to get out of the house. He moved into the living room for about a week before staying at a friend’s house for a while. Our exchanges alternated between tolerant, teary and testy.
My husband isn’t a cruel man. However, after years of hiding a crucial part of himself from me, he switched from silence to brutal honesty. He told me that he’d never been in love with me. He told me that sex was an effort. He said he’d been kind and considerate in our relationship because that’s what he’d thought love was. Out of morbid curiosity, I kept asking him questions about our marriage, inviting him to strike blow after blow.
My past wasn’t what I thought it was, and my future as I’d planned it was over. We’d never go to Wimbledon after our sons graduated from high school, and we’d never throw ourselves an amazing 20th-anniversary party. We’d never retire in New York City to enjoy city amenities and public transportation. The marriage I’d thought would last forever and the family that I’d worked so hard to create had vanished. “I’ve never faced this kind of loss and pain and grief and agony,” I wrote. “I never thought he would hurt me, much less rip my heart out.”
I started to drink a lot of alcohol when I was home alone, sometimes washing down my nightly sleeping pill with a swallow of beer. At my lowest, I decided that I would take all of my remaining sleeping pills and put my misery to an end. I wrote my husband a note—a cruel, nasty note—and wondered where I’d take my three-year-old son so that my preschooler wouldn’t be home when everything ended. Then, I picked up the phone and called my therapist. She told me to have someone drive me to the emergency room, but I didn’t want to tell anyone what was happening. So I drove myself. I did it for my kids. I didn’t want them to think that me killing myself was their fault or that I didn’t love them enough to stay.
I knew they’d never let me out of the hospital unless I had a visitor, so I called a friend and told her what had happened. She came to see me, for which I was grateful. Since I’d passed the test, they stepped me down to an outpatient program. However, I still had more talking to do.
For the first two weeks of the program, I didn’t talk about my situation. I would sit in group therapy sessions and comment on everyone else’s situation, but I wouldn’t say a thing about my own. One day, my case manager was leading a women’s group, and someone made a statement about a past regret. I spoke up. “You were so young,” I said. “You couldn’t possibly know how things would turn out.”
My case manager looked directly at me. “How does this affect you, Jackie?”
So I talked. I told the women about my situation. I managed not to completely break down. As I spoke, I realized that I couldn’t blame myself for falling apart. I’d experienced not only the loss of my marriage and my family. I’d also lost the man who’d been my best friend for 15 years.
That day in the women’s group helped me begin to heal. Before, when well-meaning people told me that time would help, I gleefully imagined myself punching them. As the days passed, I discovered that they were right. Taking my time, talking about my experiences and leaning on others was getting me through this catastrophe. As I progressed, I learned to ask for help instead of waiting for friends and family to read my mind. Truthfully, people wanted to help me. They just didn’t know what to say or do.
Something else I learned was to limit my activities to what would give me either a feeling of pleasure or a sense of mastery. I cleaned and organized my house, which gave me a tremendous sense of accomplishment. I changed the burned-out headlight in my car. I gradually started working again. I booked myself a massage.
I’m only a few months into my journey, but I focus less on the past and more on the new type of family that I hope to create. My relationship with my husband has grown more civil. I adopted a cat from a local shelter so that I could focus on something besides my own difficulties. When I need a break, I take one. I plan many activities with friends either to talk or to distract myself from the issues. I still cry a lot, but I don’t feel like I’m sinking into a black hole.
When my husband came out, I completely fell apart. But as I persevere, thanks to family and friends and thanks to a resilience I didn’t know I had, I’m finding the strength to put myself back together again.
~ ~ ~
Note: I recently invited readers to submit guest posts for this site. This article was the most outstanding, helpful response. If you would like to write a post about your own straight spouse experience, contact me for guidelines. --Carol Grever