I was standing on my friend Abigail’s doorstep. It was early morning, just hours after my husband of twelve years told me he’d been cheating. And that’s not all. He’d been having affairs for more than a decade—and he was leaving me.
Abigail’s children and husband must have been there getting ready for their day, but I didn’t see them. There was a black leather sofa. I was crying. And cold. So cold I couldn’t stop shivering. Abigail listened, stunned. She steadied me with immediate practicalities: a cup of tea, a few sleeping pills. Had I left a message for my therapist?
I didn’t want to leave her house. I was very afraid. I wondered how it’s possible to be in the middle of something and at the same time watching from a distance. I felt that way during my C-Section. My head was like a balloon drifting away from what I knew to be my body. I barely managed to croak out a warning to the anesthesiologist that I couldn’t swallow, and if she hadn’t eased up on the dials, I’m convinced I would have disappeared in a puff of smoke.
Yet as surreal as that surgery felt, I was anchored by the promise of my son. His arrival made it all worthwhile. Now I couldn’t conceive of any eventual joy. I felt fractured, as if pieces had fallen with such force that I would never find them.
I scheduled an emergency session with my therapist, who told me that if our marriage somehow made it through this and I stayed with him, my husband would never be able to thank me enough. This made me cry even harder. I didn’t want to be a martyr. I wanted to believe in love and I didn’t see how, if I lived to be one hundred, I would ever get that back.
Later, I was in a yoga class with the woman we called The Yoga Goddess. What was I doing here? How could I move my body through poses when the mat was calling me to lie down and curl into myself?
Even in that room of mostly strangers, I felt ashamed and embarrassed, as if everyone could see what my husband had done. I didn’t want anyone to look at me, yet I was certain everyone was. I burned with humiliation. I was aware of the dimness of the room and the radiance of the instructor. I loved her and hated her too for being happy and beautiful. My life was over. With each exhale came the only mantra I could manage: Why? Why? Why?
Then there came a moment when I had to get off the floor and trust that I could take the next step.
I didn’t think I’d survive that moment when my husband called me to the table and delivered the news that he was leaving me for someone he’d met and known for one day in Las Vegas. I slid off my chair onto the floor and he walked out, leaving me alone with our three kids sleeping in their beds. Eventually, I had to get up and figure out what to do.
Staying present to the small kindnesses and comforts that began showing up helped me move forward.
There were little things that got me through each day: the heated seats in our minivan in the middle of December when I was frozen with grief; the cup of tea and piece of toast my neighbor made when I couldn’t eat; a bag of sliced Honeycrisp apples that I found in my purse put there by another friend; my son calling me huggable and kissable when I felt blubbery and mean.
I learned to be present to the pain and allow myself to be in sadness. There was one morning I listened to the same song for four hours, lying on the floor. As Rumi says, the cure for pain is in the pain.
Peace became possible only when I began to consider that life was happening for me rather than to me.
One night, my son ran into my bedroom while I was dressing and said there was a man in an orange cape sitting at our dining room table. It was a Buddhist monk from Thailand; he was a friend of our babysitter’s. He didn’t speak English, just sat there quietly drinking tea while I went to a therapy session and listened to my husband say hurtful and shocking things. And I kept thinking about the monk because how many people have a monk unexpectedly appear in their house? I took that as a sign that peace was available to me and that there had to be a bigger plan at work.
I learned that, even when facing my worst fears, there was a better, higher version of myself that had gone ahead and was pulling me forward.
Throughout the divorce, I struggled with the sense that it would never be over, that there would always be another hurdle to clear. I couldn’t relax because I kept expecting something terrible to happen. As I was complaining to a friend that, as the drama died down, I didn’t know what to do with myself, that I almost felt bored, I heard a voice in my head say, “What if this is what freedom looks like?”
That question shifted me into considering that everything that happened was exactly what I needed to live the life I’m meant to live. What felt like empty space was, in fact, a wealth of possibility.
I came to trust that small sliver of me that could, however briefly, glimpse a brighter future, a better me.
Putting my faith in both the person I used to be—the creative, adventurous, confident girl I didn’t even realize had somehow disappeared—and the woman I knew I could become, is what helped me heal. I realized that I had betrayed the desires of my heart long before my husband betrayed me. I had put my first love—writing—on hold and had turned my back on my spirituality.
I don’t know if I would have figured that out if my life hadn’t derailed.
The gift in my betrayal was the return to myself. It led me back to writing and connected me to the precious part within that will never break my trust. And that has brought me peace.
Tammy Letherer is an award-winning author and writing coach residing in Chicago. Her latest book is the newly released The Buddha at My Table: How I Found Peace in Betrayal and Divorce.