My new weird friend, betrayal trauma pain, and it’s cousin compassion

I had to make to make friends with my pain, my beloved betrayal trauma therapist said, because it wasn't going to go away until it had its say. And as a result, I'm so grateful I did.

I changed.

Instead of seeing my pain as the enemy, I changed how I looked at it. I forget where or how I actually pushed myself over the edge to do it. Probably a combination of messages from my therapist that I had to stop pushing it away, and just feel it. The goal isn't to feel better she said, the goal is to get better at feeling.

She told me it wasn't me — I was not my pain, but that it was a traveler in my life, passing through, and until it was allowed to do its job, it wouldn't leave me. Pain was a messenger, there to deliver important information about my past, my present and my future. It wasn't the enemy; it simply had a job to do.

I had pain all wrong.

So, I wondered if I could see it as a welcome messenger that confirmed I was alive, I was caring, and loving. Because if I wasn't those things, I'd be a sociopath or a psychopath. Thank God I'm not one of “those!” If I didn't feel pain, I wouldn't care. I wouldn't hurt. I'd say, “whatever, tra-la-la!” to my betrayals.

Instead of pushing the pain away, I embraced it. I stopped trying to overcome it, and didn't try to cover it up with shopping, working, drinking, or fantasizing about another different life. Once I let it in, I could see it was there to let me know something needed to change. I just didn't know what at first.

Beginning to give it a voice in my journal, I started to let it sing with the radio in my car, or when no one was around. Letting the tears flow as often as they needed to, was freeing. At home and in the grocery store. No longer ashamed over my tears, I no longer cared who saw me cry.

I stopped image maintenance.

My new friend pain became more important than my image, status or what people thought of me. I stopped trying to stop crying. Somehow knowing that the messenger was a visiting guest, not something that was permanently moving in, and not something that would be cemented in place with brick and mortar.

The more I cried, the more I had to give in to the fact that I needed to give compassion to myself. It was ok to be nice to myself, it didn't mean I was conceited or selfish. I forgave myself for trusting and not knowing. I forgave myself for being a mere mortal, and not being a mind reader or having a crystal ball.

The unexpected: I didn't die.

Something I didn't expect happened: I was still alive. I didn't die from allowing myself to cry, feel the pain, let it out and show it to the world. I didn't want to die, I wanted to live.

Since pain was now my friend, I took a look at all the hardships of my life, to see that I came to this with other traumas like divorced parents, boyfriends who discarded me, an emotionally abusive ex-husband, narcissistic sadistic bosses and violent coworkers. Car accidents. 9/11. All the mini disappointments and hurts in between the big ones. My trauma cup had runneth over.

The bigger picture helps ease the pain.

I had been focusing on my own trauma and pain, thinking that would be the best way to prevent more. However, because I had compassion for myself, and was implementing strong boundaries about who could get inside my circle, I suddenly had compassion for my beloved husband's disease and its roots: a dysfunctional home and emotionally absent father; a literal drowning at 2; held at gunpoint in an armed jewelry store robbery at 5; a crippling disease at 6 that kept him isolated from other kids his age in a hospital bed for 2 years; exposed to porn at 12; enforced rigid religiosity; surviving a terrorist attack on a tourist bus in Israel at 16, toppled by disconnected parenting that put the emphasis on outward appearances. Long as we “look good” – we're all “good”. The “mask” will protect us from facing our broken, and seemingly hopeless reality.

What a potent cocktail for fear, shame, powerlessness, rigidity and escape into the false mask that makes it all go away.

He never asked for this disease. It wasn't about me or our marriage. It was about escaping a terrorizing world where he was never safe or never felt at peace. He had victim shame and felt that he wasn't worthy, or else why would God allow all those things to happen to him?

The truth about love and addiction.

My need for fidelity couldn't compete with his emotional fear and pain. Fidelity wasn't a drug strong enough to give him relief. Love can't cure addiction – doh! Then add all the mixed messages about sex and masculinity in our culture. The perfect storm for addiction. Suddenly my pain didn't seem so unbearable compared to his. Not to minimize mine, but I had certainly catastrophized and personalized mine. I wasn't the victim of a conspiracy that targeted me.  In other words, I was collateral damage of the rocket intended for my husband's emotional pain.

I did the hard but useful work.

After that, I took the time to pull the strings out and to unravel it all, in my journals, in my Betrayal & Beyond, Facing Heartbreak, Journey to Healing and Joy and Rescued workbooks.  Attacking it full force, determined to be the victor over sexual betrayal.  Holding  it up to the light, I looked it in the eye. I turned it around and looked at it from as many sides as I could.

I blessed it as an opportunity to learn, heal and grow from it, and offer it up to God, to let me use it to help others if I could.

A big leap for me is allowing myself permission to heal. I used to think that if I allowed myself to become happy and healthy again, that would send the message that “what happened to me is ok”. It doesn't mean that at all – that's a cognitive distortion!  I allow myself a vision of what “healed” might look like for me.

In conclusion…

One day I found myself laughing at a funny commercial. So, I hugged my son a little longer instead of letting him hug me. And then little by little, I found the sunlight of feeling hopeful again. It wasn't gone forever. Hope took a necessary leave of absence so pain could have it's say and do its job of gently nudging me to present my wounds for the inspection necessary for healing. When hope came back, it was new, refreshed, and ready to get back to work.

Ask me again tomorrow and I'll likely share a different facet. But that's what it looks like today. Today, pain is an important friend of mine. It signals healing is about to begin.

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Pam B.

I'm a spouse recovering from betrayal trauma, with more experience dealing with betrayal trauma than any individual should ever have (28+ years. I went on to complete training in the APSATS Multidimensional Partner Trauma Model. I'm a certified Life Coach and NLP practitioner, and completed the Door of Hope trauma informed peer facilitation training. Currently experiencing post-traumatic growth and trying to help others not make the same mistakes I did, and help others find recovery, healing, restoration, redemption and peace. Turning tragedies into triumphs is my main goal in life. Faithful follower of Jesus, wife to a husband in good recovery, and mom to her favorite college student.

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