Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Aftermath, Part 2

I have long thought that my biggest issue with the way my marriage died was not the affair.  After all, I'd been telling my husband for YEARS to just have sex with someone. I was beyond sick of his recurring fantasy in which he would come home to find me and one of my friends naked and waiting for him. In his porn-addicted mind, things like that scenario happen all the time and everyone is fine with it. In reality, it is demeaning and sick to think that women exist and maintain relationships solely to satisfy some guy's ridiculous fantasies.

No, my issue was not with the affair, but with the manipulation and the apparent willingness of my husband and my former friend, people who were actively professing their love for me, to figuratively crumple me up like a used piece of paper and toss me carelessly in the trash. There's actual psychology behind what they tried to do.
Gaslighting is just one of the many weapons in the arsenal of personalities hell-bent on having their way even if it means doing so by subtle and covert means of conning others... [These] aggressive personalities... will do whatever it takes to secure and maintain a position of advantage over others... A common element among all the tactics manipulators use is that they cause the person being targeted to doubt their gut instincts about what's going on. Their gut tells them they're under attack or that someone is trying to get the better of them, and they intuitively go on the defensive. But because they can't find any clear, direct, objective evidence that the other person is merely trying to disadvantage them, they start doubting and questioning themselves... The goal is always to win or secure whatever it is they want. And they'll do whatever they have to do to get it. Sometimes the most effective way to do that is to avoid red-flagging their intentions but rather to get the other person to unwittingly but voluntarily surrender. Instill shame, instill guilt, instill fear, or instill great doubt, and the other person will likely back off the stance they really wanted to take. (Jade Small's "Gaslighting as a Manipulation Tactic: What it is, who does it, and why.")
There were numerous instances when Joe must have wondered how I knew what was going on despite his careful attempts to hide it all. One night he texted me from the Monticello Community Center (MCC):
Joe: It's going to take me longer than I expected. I have diarrhea.
Me: Well you should probably come home. You'll get dehydrated.
Joe: No I can finish. I'll just come in the bathroom every so often when it gets bad.
Me: Okay. Well, keep me posted.
Several hours later he came home. I was putting shoes in the front closet when he walked in the door.  I looked at him and knew. I said, "You've had sex."  He flipped out and aggressively counter-attacked. "You're so paranoid. I had diarrhea! I can't even be sick without you thinking I'm having an affair."

Whoa. Overreact much?

Joe and CC both accused me of "hacking" my husband's email, following him or them, and other stalker-like behaviors, none of which I engaged in. When my lover of twenty-nine years had sex, I knew what that looked like. And he'd had sex. By that time I had so little confidence in my gut-instinct, I just backed down. I probably was crazy or paranoid, I thought, to doubt someone who's never been a cheater and who has so vehemently denied it.

The day I found proof of their lying and cheating, July 16, 2014, one of the things I asked him was about diarrhea day.
Me: And that day you said you had diarrhea... you were with her?
Joe: Yes.
Joe: But I had diarrhea too.
Me: Gross.
Me finding proof of their affair saved my mental health, but it enraged them.

My discovery of their affair and my unwillingness to be quiet about it enraged Joe to the point of physical battery three days in a row. He tore my rotator cuff and gave me bruises on every visible and some less visible parts of my body. When I called for help on the third day, he lied to them about what had happened, and given my existing record I suspect, I was charged with two counts of domestic assault. When Jakob found out, he was upset and demanded his dad retract statements that were clearly lies.

It enraged CC to the point of deep and abiding hatred for me that I'm guessing will never fade. I could be wrong about what gave birth to the hatred; I would have to guess it started when I stood in the way of her first attempt to win a married man. But me finding out about her affair with Joe and telling people about it cemented her feelings. Sadly for her, that hatred will only impact her future, not mine.

Joe and CC had a goal.  They wanted to continue their affair while they each continued to manipulate friends and family to be on their "side" in their imagined future. They committed to keeping the history of their relationship secret, and it was a secret they vowed to take to their graves.

Their plan went something like this:

Joe would divorce me while maintaining that he just couldn't stay married to someone struggling with addiction and presenting himself as someone who really had tried his best.

CC would divorce her husband after convincing her daughter, brother, and some others that she was in a miserable relationship and deserved so much more, that she'd given it her best effort and sacrificed her own happiness for her children long enough.

They would each pretend to date others; in fact, they had a plan how they would answer Adam (the only one they thought might see through their lies and want to meet someone his dad was dating).

Eventually they would magically connect in a completely moral fashion via their friendship and common interests as recent divorcees and a commitment to working out at the MCC.

They had absolutely no shame about what they were doing. Despite the fact that they didn't want anyone to discover their activities, they never considered doing things the "right" way. Neither of them had the courage or honor necessary to end their marriages and focus on their own situations or their own children before they engaged in their relationship.

The excerpts:

CC: That's a tough question. My first thought is that I would wait until after she has been served. I wouldn't want to hear that I was the last one to know that my husband was filing for divorce, but in the other hand, you haven't kept it a secret.
Number 9: Yea.
CC: Maybe it would be good to meet with Staci before she gets back to just talk through it and explain our reasoning before Kari gets back.
Number 9: I think I will tell her that this week alone has let me think it's best for us.
CC: I would talk with Adam and Jakob though.
Number 9: I will them for sure.
CC: Do you have any idea how long it will take the lawyer to serve her once she has the money?
Number 9: No. I'll ask in an email Saturday

CC: Yes, Clint will have lunch.
Number 9: Does he know what it's about
CC: I got a call from Grace to sing in a funeral on Monday. Maybe I'll see if he wants to do lunch after that.
CC : I just said I wanted to talk about some stuff and not to bring it up at dinner the other night, so I have no idea what he thinks.
Number 9: Once we are together we still aren't telling anyone about the time line of our friendship or are we then?
CC: I don't think it is a secret that we have been friends for a long time. Clint knows we play racquetball. It's just that the friendship can't turn into a relationship until we are both free to peruse another relationship.
Number 9: I told my dad that we are good friends
CC: What did he say?
Number 9: He didn't say anything
CC: Did Kari tell him we are having an affair?
Number 9: No. I told him she text the boys that.
CC: And he never said anything?
Number 9: Nope. I told him we are friends but that's it. That's why I'd rather not tell them the truth ever.
CC: Sounds good to me. Like I keep saying, that secret goes to our graves
CC: I think what amazes me about your dad is that whenever I see him he is always so friendly and talkative. But that is so unlike the person you describe he is.
Number 9: He doesn't share feelings well.
Number 9: You can tell at my funeral.
CC: Nope. I'd still have to live with it.
Number 9: I thought maybe you'd want to get it off your chest.
CC: Nope. To my grave.
Number 9: Lol
CC : Do you have any other secrets like that?
Number 9: None from you.

There's more, but the gist is the same. Manipulate others into thinking what they're doing is right, and congratulate each other on being together. 

Without their own words revealing their actions and plans, I would have been left accepting full responsibility for the demise of my marriage.  As it was, my marriage had no chance of surviving.  As good as being free of Joe has been for me personally, it's been horrible for my children and for CC's husband and children. And it's been horrible for our community of friends and family. 

As thankful as I am that Joe put the file of their chat on our work server under passwords everyone at the office had, it's tough to remember their words, especially when he shares the bare brokenness of my heart and they dismiss the collapse of my world as if it was nothing. He forced himself into all of my therapy sessions and then shared what transpired with CC. I wrote him beautiful letters trying to recall the good parts of our marriage, and he shared those with her. I existed in a painful and dark world, and they mocked me, even wishing for my disappearance.  

I wasn't the horrible person, the failure, the liar or the cheat.


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Aftermath, Part 1

This weekend I was at Minnesota Tres Dias #20. It was a blessed weekend in so many ways. Spending time with other Christians, especially Christian women, is affirming. Somehow the loving connections we make endorse the way the Father loves us.

During the weekend, one of the speakers approached me.

"Did you know you're about to be under spiritual warfare? Has anyone warned you?"

"No?" I answered with that tentative query in my voice that means, "What the hell are you talking about, strange lady?"

She shared a warning from the Holy Spirit. I've had these warnings before, and they always freak me out a little bit. Probably especially because they've proven true.

I'm glad she warned me. After two nights of little sleep and days full of efforts to care for the weekend's attendees, I was exhausted. When I crawled in bed, I decided to catch up on email.  It's midnight on Saturday night at this point. Mixed in the eighty-six new emails was one from my former friend; I call her CC.

Spiritual warfare, indeed.

The email was a vile attack on my integrity and mental health. It was a bitter diatribe, full of the hatefulness of someone I believed was part of my past. Along with her claims of perfect happiness in the person who "completes her," she describes me as a person I certainly don't recognize.

This is not the first time CC has attacked me. She did it once before, a long time before Joe was interested in her.  I was crying when I brought him that email, and asked him if her portrayal of me was accurate. In one of the rare moments when Joe actually was able to provide emotional support, he hugged me after reading the email. "That's not you, Kari!" he said several times while I cried. I would guess his opinion has largely changed, more because of how she presents me than anything I ever did to either of them.

I lay there that night for four hours, four hours I can never regain. I thought hard about how to respond. I revisited the old me, the me who thought I could fix everything myself and who believed there is justice for the righteous. Then the new me stepped up to the plate! Physically and emotionally exhausted, I finally (FINALLY!) turned to God and laid it at His feet. "I can't figure this out, Lord. Help me!" were the last thoughts I had before I fell asleep.

A couple hours later I woke with the certain conviction that I would do nothing. Nothing. I wasn't going to respond. I wasn't going to contact the other people to whom she spewed her poison.  I wasn't going to revisit the past or defend myself.  In fact, I couldn't defend myself.  Just like in my past experiences with CC, defending myself means breaking the confidences of others, and I won't do that.

Over the years since our friendship ended, I have heard from people who are angry at and hurt by CC. She's destroyed much that people found precious, and my marriage is not the least of those things. I have given the exact same genuine counsel every single time: "Forgive her. She's a hurting and broken person deserving of compassion. Free yourself!"

Those are words I take to heart.

Image result for love your enemies

I forgive you, CC. You are hurting and broken. You deserve my compassion and the love Jesus calls us to give even to those who willfully hurt us.

My forgiveness is heartfelt. But my desire to be free of her anger, hatred, and manipulation is also heartfelt. What does one have to do, I wonder, to be free of someone who is that bitterly angry? The only conclusion I can draw, the only thing that might free me of her is my own failure.

And failure, my friends, is not an option!


Sunday, March 20, 2016

When the Truth Hurts

Over the course of months since I refused to take a field breath test on June 20, 2014, my life sometimes felt surreal.

I experienced shame and guilt for the publicity that would touch my dad's company, among other things.

As time passed, I found myself relieved for the way things transpired. I no longer had any secrets or any reason to hide anything I did or had done. In fact, my journey is potentially inspirational to people who find themselves as lost and broken as I was, and who find themselves the victims of people expected to love them.

I'm done being silent about what was done to me. I intend to finish my story for my own closure and in celebration of my victory over depression, anxiety, and alcohol. There is great freedom and healing in transparency and truth, and I deserve both freedom and healing.

I intend to tell the truth. Of course, there is much I don't know. I was lied to and misdirected. I was drinking to numb myself to what was happening in my life. I was broken and hurting.

The journey to tell the truth carries it's own pain. Revisiting the past is not easy, and it's definitely not a path lined with primroses. I made mistakes and I paid for them. And yet trying to leave the past behind without making a full accounting, without making it make sense in my mind is not an option for me.  I spent years writing about my faith and about my marriage. I need to finish the story.

My marriage ended for me in January 2013.

Joe and I went to San Francisco to celebrate our anniversary. We'd been to some great places to celebrate our anniversary starting the year Joe decided he wanted to vacation with just me instead of our usual crowd of co-vacationers.  We went to Hawaii in 2011 for our 20th, Spain in 2012, San Francisco in 2013, and Walt Disney World in 2014.

During our trip to San Francisco, Joe was excited about the seedier side of night life. On the night after our anniversary, he took me to a bar with a Scooby Doo theme. It was not a place for kids. The floor was plastered with centerfolds shellacked to the wood, and the videos playing at the tables were like no Scooby Doo episodes that played in my youth. We had a couple drinks there and then walked up the hill to the next bar.

I went to the bathroom and came back to a plastic cup filled to the brim with Chardonnay, my drink of choice at the time. The bartender was fun and he and Joe hit it off. Their conversation had the appearance of more of a flirtation than a conversation between patron and bartender, but maybe that's just the bar scene at it's best.  After another trip to the bathroom, I came back to another full plastic cup. Joe urged me to finish it fast so we could go across the street.

The place across the street was alcohol free. It was a sex club of some sort. People could wander through or participate at will. There were some rules; men couldn't randomly touch women, for example. We went into all the rooms to see what was happening. Eventually we had sex in a public room with people watching from all sides.  There was another couple there and Joe wanted me to touch the other woman. It seemed like nothing was real that night. Afterward, we made our way back across the street, I suppose so Joe could tell his new friend his story.  I drank another plastic cup full of Chardonnay.

The next morning I woke early. I never suffered hangovers. I stood looking out at the streets of San Fran wondering how that young bride I'd been ended up having sex in a disgusting place like where we'd been.

When Joe woke up, he came over to the window and gave me one of the sweetest hugs he'd ever given me in all our years together.  With his chin resting on my head, he squeezed me tight, and told me words I'd longed to hear, "You are the Best. Wife. Ever."

In that moment every feeling of hope and love I'd ever had for my husband died. I went in the bathroom and cried.

After everything I'd done to be a good friend, wife, mother, daughter, sister, whatever, getting the best compliment of my life depended on shady sex in a shady place with shady people watching.  I'd earned the best praise of my marriage for something I never wanted my boys or my friends to know.

I grieved for my marriage in the weeks and months after we returned to Minnesota. I talked to my therapist about it at length. She was relieved that my marriage FINALLY came up.  I'd been going to see her for nearly a decade, and I'd never talked about my marriage. When she talked about her own observations about things I'd said and done up until that point, she was so spot on it was scary.

Her advice was sound though.  "Joe will never understand you; you are at different places in your evolutionary development."

"What do I do?"

"Love him anyways."

And so I tried. And when there were fails, I turned to my solid and true friend, Chardonnay. And then I tried again. And again, and again, and again.

I valued my marriage, I valued my children's family, and I valued the community of friends we had. It all mattered.

The one thing that should have also mattered and the one thing I forgot about was me. And that is a truth that probably hurts the most. I couldn't even answer the question, "Who are you?"


Friday, March 11, 2016

Just One in a Sea of Faces

Music always leads me to prayer.

For a long time, I only prayed in gratitude. Some days it was harder than other days to find the grateful thing, but music often led me to focus my attention on grateful things.

For several months, if not a year, I couldn't listen to much of my original play list.  I had lost hope in people and in truth. I didn't remember how to feel grateful for much of that time, and I didn't know how to pray for anything else or in any other way.

I stopped lifting my eyes to heaven.

I found myself listening to Tenth Avenue North's "Worn" on repeat.  Near the end of my marriage, I even shared it with my husband who then shared it with his lover. Knowing that you trusted someone with your deepest hurts and the rawness in your heart, and that he then forwarded it to his lover - a lover who had been my own trusted friend and confidant - for analysis and mocking belittlement creates a deep chasm of hurt.  I've always said, from the day I found out the truth about my husband and former friend and their perfidy, that their affair is one thing; the intentional and willful effort to destroy me, my mental health, and my relationships is another thing entirely. The latter is not just a moral lapse or error in judgment; it's cruel and evil. No sugar coating, no donning the respectability of a new marriage, no leaving the past behind forgives that kind of behavior.

When I hear the song these days, I am reminded about where I was.  I didn't know who I was, I hated my life, and I felt worn.  My heart was heavy. Some days the act of breathing was all I could manage. And so I made mistakes.  I lost hope. My soul was crushed by the weight of the world. In the end my strength, though immense, wasn't enough. I fell to my knees. I couldn't even lift up my eyes. And so I found a faithful crutch, vodka, to cope with all the aches and the abuses I could no longer handle. Though the first two or three swallows was always a battle (our bodies know better than our minds sometimes, and my body often tried to reject my faithful crutch), once I felt the heat of the alcohol coursing through my body and knew oblivion was coming, I felt pure and almost victorious relief. No matter what was outside my control, putting that alcohol in my body was my choice and I made it with gusto.

I was lucky though.  Through the worst of it, I had the best people in my life, people who loved me no matter what I did to try to push them away or how self-destructive I tried to be.

There was Jakob who knew I would find my way back to being his mom, and who stood beside me without fail and without judgment though he violently hated my choices. He didn't discount me for the least of what I did. He saw me as a whole person - talented, energetic, silly... and struggling.  He never failed to share with me the longing of his beautiful heart: "Please stop. I love you."

Staci, in the midst of her own celebration of her career and relationship successes, just didn't know how to rescue me, how to force me to see what I was doing and who I was doing it to. I genuinely believed my behavior was only hurting (saving) me and didn't understand why she couldn't just leave me alone. She didn't give up and still hasn't. She's the best cheerleader I could have, and she celebrates my victories and joys.

Iris kept inviting me to do things that would change my life - things I knew I couldn't do when I was married. She wanted me to go to Tres Dias for years, and I resisted. I knew that enlightenment - confronting the horror of my marriage and the abuse I lived both in my home and at my job - would have made it impossible to stay married or stay at my job. She also brought me papers to register for Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge, and then sweetly asked repeatedly if I'd completed the papers and made contact with her friend there. When I finally went to Tres Dias, I found renewal in Christ. I've written before about MATC and the restoration and peace I found there. I left MATC with a beginning relationship with myself: I am learning who I am in Christ.

There were others too.  Too many to count, really.  My contacts at my job, new friends I made, old friends I revisited. Their love and support overwhelmed me. It still does. As I reenter parts of my "old life" and receive the blessing of love and acceptance from people I willfully pushed out of my life, I am struck with such intense emotion, it makes me shake with horrible deep body tremors.  My therapist told me last week that those tremors are the presence of the Holy Spirit and to welcome them. I'll try. But man. It's embarrassing when someone is hugging me and my body starts to tremble. Not everyone recognizes Holy Spirit tremors, after all.

Still, there is one conversation that stands out for me. I was in Texas talking to Dave about the worst of my struggles. He's a strong man,and he's in love with Jesus Christ. He said, "You need to surrender. Do it. I want to hear it." He wouldn't let go or accept a promise that I'd do it later, alone. "No. I want to hear it. Do it." 

And there, with his arms wrapped around me and feeling perfect acceptance for whatever I was about to say, I did.

Those moments were horribly uncomfortable for me. I'm a Catholic.  We generally use rote prayers when we're in public prayer.  Praying out loud for myself is so not my thing.  Don't get me wrong. I pray for others. I open meetings and close meetings, and ask for food blessings. But praying for myself and in supplication was wayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy outside my comfort zone.  

I called out to God in a way I never had. I surrendered my will and my comfort. I asked the Holy Spirit to walk with me. "Lord, I need You. I can't do this myself, my strength isn't enough. Mend my frail and torn heart and bring life to what's dead inside me. Fill me with the Holy Spirit and lead me to a place of forgiveness and grace." 

Hardly any of what I said was my own! Lyrics to songs I'd been hearing for years spilled out of my mouth.  For the very first time, they weren't words of gratitude, but supplication. Finally! In those moments I found humility and love unending. I trembled, sweated, and cried. But I cried out. And in so doing, I reclaimed the ability to lift my eyes and my heart, Better, I reclaimed my gratitude.

I have seen redemption win and it keeps winning. The struggles end, a heart can mend, a song can rise from the ashes of a broken life, and all that's dead inside can and will be reborn. And somehow the Grace Christ poured out on the Cross flows through it all to touch others.

I won't ever be one of those people who constantly seeks or makes requests of God. God knows what I need and what path I have in front of me. I trust that. I'm back to living a life of gratitude, a life of praise. When I say the words, "Thank God for _______!" I literally mean THANK YOU, GOD! It's not just a saying or a space-filler. It's a prayer of gratitude and part of who I am. But I will also never find myself in a place where I cannot even lift my eyes or hands in supplication again. I need God as a warrior, as a protector, as a father, as a mother, and as a friend. I love the scripture we are using at the next Tres Dias: "He rescued me because He delighted in me" (Psalm 18:19). 

He rescued me because He delighted in me. ME! 

I heard the song "Sea of Faces: by Kutlass the other night. It won't stop whispering to me in the quiet of these long work days: "I am not just a man, vastly lost in the world, lost in a sea of faces. Your body's the bread, your blood is the wine, because you traded your life for mine. Just one in a million faces."

He delighted in ME!

And you too.