Some of my favorite questions are the ones for which there is no answer, and what happens next is at the top of the heap. Through extensive trial and error I’ve found that grounding in the moment and taking care of just that second is exactly what happens next.
Two weeks ago when I posted “Discovering My Boyfriend Has a Wife” I had no idea what would happen next, but to say I’ve been pleasantly surprised is understating things in a big way. For starters, the post generated almost 7,000 views of my blog, and the most important thing this told me was that people respond to (and are hungry for) honest, authentic, vulnerable storytelling.
Opening myself up in a raw way was nerve-wracking, but so many readers responded in return by opening themselves up to me that my nerves settled quickly. An alternate title for this post was “We Are Nothing Without Our People,” and I really mean that. All writers wonder at one point (or many) if our work matters. We wonder if we’re just hammering away on keyboards for naught, or if—when we find the courage to free the words from the hard drive—if we might actually make a difference for someone.
Years ago a friend walked into my house, looked at my bookshelves, and announced, “You don’t have nearly enough self-help books.” I was at a point in my life where I’d just begun to do some long overdue introspection and self-examination. I believed I had nothing to lose, so I said, “Oh. You haven’t seen my nightstand…”
One of the writers whose work has taught me the most about courage and daring is author and psychologist Brené Brown. She wrote:
“Our secrets definitely keep us addicted, which is probably why there are online sites where people can divest themselves of their secrets, anonymously. But because shame happens between people, there is no substitute for telling on ourselves, so to speak, to someone else and making ourselves vulnerable. Vulnerability is the birthplace of connection and the path to the feeling of worthiness. If it doesn’t feel vulnerable, the sharing is probably not constructive.”
I’ve read the above passage so many times it’s become woven into me, but it wasn’t until I hit the “post” button on what is, to date, my most vulnerable work that I realize something kind of amazing: I’ve become the person I wanted to be.
I had several long talks with myself in the weeks leading up to the actual writing of “Discovering My Boyfriend Has a Wife,” and I had to repeatedly ask myself the questions: Are you going to walk the talk or not? Do you have what it takes or are you kind of a phony?
It was as effortless as it was demanding to make that leap.
I soaked in the hot springs immediately after posting and tried not to worry. But I did. I worried that I’d be judged. I worried that someone might say I asked for it—or worse—that I deserved it.
That wasn’t even close to what happened. Instead I received the opposite: an outpouring of love that swelled my heart. The support that I received was both instant and ongoing.
Readers told me I was strong, loved, and impressive. They also told me how they felt reading my words, and used words like proud, inspired, captured. They said the writing itself was eloquent, riveting and raw. I could hardly believe that I’d clawed my way through a very uncomfortable place and found the light, let alone that I’d somehow spun that into something that was positively impacting others.
I didn’t have a lot of expectation for what would happen after I bared myself so nakedly, though I supposed my friends and some family would give me a pat on the back or at least a hug. What I was completely unprepared for were the words from strangers.
“Thank you, I don’t know you but I love your sincerity, your soul, your story. Your story has shaken me up and inspired me to tell mine.”
“Your strength of character is an earthly blessing.”
“Thank you for being a truth teller. Maybe someday I’ll have the courage to write down the lessons I’ve learned from seasons in my life. If I do…& I truly hope I do…it will be cause of your bravery!”
“I didn’t enjoy the fact that you were hurt, but your writing…it’s amazing. It’s simple and intricate at the same time and I was sucked into the story you laid out for us. I was fascinated by the psychology behind this; how you explain every step, every level and every thought, fact and conclusion.”
“I’m so proud of you! I can’t wait to see you published! You truly speak for those of us who are simply too upset/ashamed/embarrassed to share our story with the masses.”
This one is probably my favorite:
“So engrossing I missed my bus stop. Bob’s not an anarchist, he’s just a dick.”
I also heard from classmates I hadn’t seen in years:
“Too many people put in your position would put themselves in a rabbit hole and never come out again. You not only came out but you also turned in a light for others. Amazing. The true measure of a person is not how high they climb but what they do after being knocked down.”
“Thank you for you raw honesty, vulnerability and well placed humor. Our world needs more humans like you to expose their truths rather than cower to victimization. You are such a buoyant female.”
Although I was unprepared for the stream of support, I was also unprepared for what didn’t happen: all these readers and not one hater. Not one nasty person telling me I should be ashamed of myself or who do I think I am. Nada. There were one or two comments that could be possibly classified as snide or underhanded, but nothing truly malicious.
The biggest surprise of all was the ex-Jehovah’s Witness who wrote to me. She and I had never heard of each other, but a friend of hers liked my post on Facebook and she couldn’t pass up the title. She opened by saying she hoped I didn’t mind that she was writing to me. The she told me about her husband’s affairs, and how calm she was when she found out about them despite knowing that her husband had opened himself to other women and connected with them in ways she hadn’t seen from him since they’d first fallen in love.
She and her husband have a handful of kids together, including one with special needs, and they chose to stay together. It was only in the aftermath of her husband’s last transgression that this woman found out she has a high-risk type of HPV that has lead to several biopsies and even discussion of a hysterectomy. This sounds like just the absolute pits, but she told me that since her diagnosis her husband has been treating her like he did when they first met ten years ago.
It was only at this point that she told me she’s an ex-Witness and that she received the “short end of the stick” as far as education goes. She didn’t finish high school, and stayed with her adulterous husband out of fear and complacency. She said she’s thankful for the “reality bitchslap” and that not only is her husband treating her better, but she’s gone back to school and getting herself into a position where she can take care of herself and her kids if she needs to. She’s making herself better not for him, but for herself. She didn’t use the word empowered, but that’s the sense I got.
When I read that she’s an ex-Witness I worried if an attack was coming, but it never did. She told me that at times she felt uncomfortable reading my story, but that she respected my openness and willingness to tell my side of the story. I asked her if I could share this exchange without mentioning names, and this generous woman (who I’ve never met and didn’t know two weeks ago) responded, “Totally fine!” I love her for this.
It meant a lot to have a former JW confirm that what I said was accurate. She told me she ran away from it as soon as she was old enough, but that it took her a long time to get over the constant fear of demonic possession and some other fears ingrained in Witnesses that she referred to as “silly.” She also confirmed that adultery is quite common among the JWs, but only for the men. Jehovah (apparently) judges the women differently and hold them to a different standard.
None of this was a surprise. But goodness did I welcome confirmation.
I had old friends call me from across the country to tell me that changing the locks is a must and not to rule out a restraining order. I agreed on the locks, and when I texted my kind landlord (without urgency) he wrote back immediately and said he’d do it in the next couple of days. He came over that afternoon and the first thing he said was, “I read your blog post…” I told him I wondered if he had when he responded in twenty seconds that there’d be no charge to me and he’d get it done ASAP.
I never really felt like I was in danger, but when someone has lied to you on a pretty deep level (and lied to someone they’re married to on an even deeper level) it just makes you wonder what kind of depraved behavior that person might be capable of.
Another friend—who has had her own share of heartbreak asked me, “If you get rich and/or famous from this story, will the heartache have been worth it?”
I very quickly answered, “Fuck yes worth it!” and then stared at the screen for a few minutes before I responded. I knew it was worth it—I’m a firm believer of better out than in, and what was I gong to do? Stay home and cry? No way. What happened next surprised me. I didn’t think about what I was going to say, but what I said was the absolute truth and I found myself sorting through the last bits of the mess in a live chat with a friend. I told her, “My heart wasn’t really broken about this though. I didn’t love him. I think inside I knew the “him” who was so wonderful was an imposter.”
Aha. Ahem. Etc.
In the meantime I’m considering starting a progressive, modern convent where all the women wear an Ani Defranco-inspired uniform of yoga pants and leather bras, but that’s only in the very early planning stages.
What happens next is a very good question. I’ve been plotting my next moves in my writing life, and have sent a shortened version of “Discovering My Boyfriend Has a Wife” to a few periodicals hoping they’ll think their readers will enjoy it as much as so many of you did.
A friend from school works for Hearst Corporation and got me the name and email of an editor at Cosmopolitan. Woah. I was grateful, and a bit afraid. Intimidated. But I got my head together, and when I sent my query letter I used the words horrifying and humbling to describe my experience, but there one word that I didn’t and would never use: humiliating.
I am not humiliated, not even embarrassed. This is life, and this is what life does. We can exist with our hearts hermetically sealed or we can get out there and live life despite the fact that it doesn’t always work out the way we intended and more often than not there are consequences. Accepting the consequences is the key. I have a beautiful life filled with amazing people and endless opportunities. I am happy most of the time or at the very least content.
I understand that we are not what has happened to us.
I know too many people who’d be humiliated if others knew they sometimes eat an entire row of Oreos, or that that they punch the pillow when they get in bed at night, or that if they can’t get their belt to hook into a certain notch their day is ruined.
I’d be a flaming imposter if I didn’t admit that I know all too well about keeping secrets. I’ve kept my own, I’ve kept others, and I’m pretty much done with that. I’m not say that if you confide in me I’ll blab your business; that’s not what I’m talking about. What I’m talking about is when a person I’m involved with asks me to keep a secret for them in order to perpetuate a charade of some sort I might just say, “I’m not comfortable with that but I wish you the best.”
I always hoped that some day I might grow into a person who could really speak the truth. Why? Because sneaking and hiding and pretending are exhausting activities. Someday became now, and it feels so good being honest that I can’t imagine why I’d ever go back.
There’s no going back for me.
Bob had only briefly met a couple of my friends, and I could have easily let the relationship fizzle on the radar. I could have told a few white lies about the end of our relationship, though that never really occurred to me as an option. I’ve witnessed the omission of far greater relationship sins, and I’ve witnessed marriages come undone with hardly a mention of the details. This is the stuff that makes us lonely and sad, sharing is the stuff that brings us together.