Monthly Archives: August 2015

MC: Cultural roots of self-pity and infidelity 

Why would an educated, upper-middle class young man or woman leave behind a family, a modern American life, potential success in work or academia, and perhaps more blessings, in order to go be part of a restrictive, repressive, ultra-conservative world such as ISIS?  Though I’m not Muslim and I despise ISIS, perhaps there is some element to their motivation that has contributed to their ability to make such horrific choices. I wonder if they have struggled all their lives with cultural contradictions, with a duality within themselves. I wonder if, on some level, it is a similar type of contradiction — the same type of duality — that drove me to self-pity and infidelity.

From a very early age, I was two people, not one.  I lived in two worlds.  Yes, basically I was bicultural.  However, unlike many bicultural Americans, the birth culture that caused me inner strife was not evident to the outside world.  In fact, for years, if not decades, it was not really evident to me.

It wasn’t race or ethnicity for me.  In fact, fifty percent of my blood is from a minority race among Americans.  The issues that raised for me were no more or less interesting or challenging than for any other American with minority racial or ethnic stock in their DNA.

In a way, the issue for me was religion.  But, mine was not a classic, simple, comprehensible case of my family being of a minority religion.  The short version of the story is that my mother grew up in a very conservative Christian family and the village where I grew up was overwhelming dominated by that same brand of super right-wing Christian conservatism.  I use the term “Victorianism” as a shorthand for its repressive social values.  My father was agnostic.

My mother had a troubled relationship with her birth family, and with almost everyone else in the world, for that matter.  As part of that troubled relationship, my mother outwardly rejected the religion.  Inwardly, however, that religion and its worldview was such a deeply-ingrained part of my mother that she didn’t even realize how much it guided her thinking and her behavior.  She frequently would say, “I don’t like that church.”  But, she believed everything the church taught and followed all of its social prescriptions. For the first eight years of my life, my mother sent me to that church and lauded me for taking part.

She never attended.  That’s a big part of why I stopped attending at age eight, when my mother finally gave me the choice.  I guess that was my first big contradiction:  being encouraged to live according to the religion while my parents went out of their way to outwardly reject the religion.

Throughout adolescence, my mother continued to insist that she hated “the church,” and, with no hint of irony, continued to insist we live according to the teachings of the church.  The church is very vocally opposed to tobacco and alcohol.  Narcotics were beyond even mentioning.  Anyone — related or unrelated, known or unknown, kind or heartless, intelligent or mindless, or any other variation — is to be shunned, shamed, avoided, pitied, patronized, and judged if they partake of such evils.

Sex, or anything vaguely associated with sex or thoughts of sexuality, is dirty, unnecessary, foul, unholy, and sick.  Even the thought of normal sexual traits, appearances, behaviors, or stereotypes should be hidden, avoided, hushed up, ignored, not acknowledged, and forgotten.  If any of these things — sex, tobacco, sexuality, alcohol, or drugs — appeared on television, in films, in literature or news, in overhead conversation, or elsewhere, my mother would sigh, grumble, fuss, frown, and generally make it clear that she did not approve.  Those things were forbidden.  How dare they inadvertently appear, so nonchalantly, in modern American culture — in our day-to-day lives?

All the while, my mother preached a constant mantra to me.  “Get educated.  You’re so smart.  Don’t be like these small-town people in this small town. Science is wonderful.  Be so worldly and sophisticated.”  She never once, to this day I believe, understood that her mantra about being educated and worldly was diametrically opposed to her frighteningly Victorian, provincial attitudes about sex, alcohol, and the like.  She was contradicting herself, and she neither knew nor cared.

I was struggling with inner conflict.  I only recently began to understand it.  Figuring out the norms, mores, and values that would guide me in life would have been hard enough — as it is for any young man — if I had received coherent, consistent signals from my parents.  Perhaps I would have lived according to the church had my parents done the same; had they not only condemned sex, alcohol, and the like, but also said “the church is good” and “live as the church teaches;” and had they said “date and marry within the church.”

Perhaps I would have bravely, or matter-of-factly, accepted that some people are not raised to hate and fear sex, alcohol, tobacco, drugs, and progressive ideas, had my parents thought and acted that way too, had they not forced me to attend the church, had they critiqued the church’s teachings instead of just critiquing its members, and had they not aped the church’s views on life.

Instead, they filled me with contradictions.  Even as I write this, I’m starting to suspect that my mother’s vociferous hatred for the church stemmed not from distaste for its teachings, but only from bitterness or envy that she was not the church’s version of a paragon, the way she perhaps wished to be.

When I went off to college, never again living with my parents, I guess I assumed I was leaving the church behind.  I assumed I would matter-of-factly approach sex, tobacco, alcohol, drugs, and all the other modern, secular, progressive elements of life just the way my peers did.  But, my new peers never had the Victorian, provincial background pounded into them the way I did.

I tried those forbidden fruits.  I went overboard with alcohol.  It took me a few years to learn that the cost of intoxication — making an ass of myself, potential legal trouble, physical illness, and lost time — was simply not worth it to me.  Now in my forties, I feel at ease about my relationship with alcohol.  I tried drugs, just a little.  It didn’t take me long to decide they really did not even interest me.

I remember that even during the years that I was experimenting with drugs and alcohol, I was very judgmental about other people who used those things.  The closer the person was to me, the more I felt threatened by and acted self-righteous about their substance use.  For example, I recall one particular occasion when TL went out with a girlfriend and drank too much. Not only was I threatened by fears of what she might have done without me, I was also judgmental about her intoxication. I also remember occasionally pressuring her to get intoxicated with me.  I suspect the effect of that pressure was to make TL feel afraid to overindulge with me.

In those earlier years, my alcohol use was excessive, even by average, modern American standards.  In reality, TL’s alcohol use was really very moderate — well within what modern Americans consider normal and healthy.

For years I’ve struggled to explain not only how I could be so hypocritical — judging TL’s drinking while simultaneously struggling with my own alcohol abuse — but also why.  To be clear, I have long since let go of that particular sick obsession.  Here’s how I think that hypocrisy happened.  Against the backdrop of my overall low self-esteem and my terrible habit of blaming others for my unhappiness, the two conflicting world views within my head — one provincial and one progressive — lead me to act out in two inappropriate and conflicting ways.

My progressive side said alcohol should be no big deal and that everyone was indulging.  That part of me said that I should keep overindulging and that I should pressure TL to overindulge with me.  Simultaneously, the provincial part of me recalled how I had learned from the church, the community, and the mother that alcohol was evil.  That part of me said to look down on TL for overindulging without me (that one time).  Hypocritical?  Yes.  That’s the point.

I tried to be two conflicting things, and I got them both wrong.  At least if I did not have that inner conflict, I could have worked to moderate.  I believe that if I was not burdened by the Victorian voice in my head, I would not have viewed alcohol as something I had to prove to myself I could do.  I would not have been able to draw on that Victorianism to fuel my self-righteousness.

I had a similar struggle with marijuana.  The difference was that once I tried marijuana, I found it entirely uninteresting.  I have never been tempted by it.  However, I did indulge in the same self-righteous judgmental ways toward TL and others when they nonchalantly expressed their more progressive views of marijuana.

TL’s use of marijuana before we dated was very limited, well within what most modern Americans consider to be normal.  Since we began dating, she has never used it.  She only speaks about it on rare occasions, in terms of current political happenings.  My marijuana use before we dated was more than hers and, yet, I judged her for her use of it and her more progressive attitude.

My struggle with tobacco was also characterized by contradiction.  Ultimately I became a closet smoker, just as I had become a closet porn user and adulterer.  With tobacco, for example, I should have just done what most people do:  choose to smoke, or choose not to smoke.  Instead, I took a third, more cowardly path:  I smoked, but tried to hide it from everyone.  Further, I spent much of my life looking down on people who smoke, acting self-righteously.

How did I get to such hypocritical behavior?  The final straw, as I’ve written before, was when I smoked alone at nights for months, hiding it from TL and everyone else, and not having the courage, integrity, or willpower to either quit or bring it out into the open. Why such contradictory behavior?  I struggle to understand it.

I think it was like this.  The urban, secular, modern part of me said I should be able to indulge.  What’s the big deal?  At exactly the same time, emanating from a more primal, childish part of my personality, the Victorian part of me imposed overwhelming shame, guilt, and self-doubt on me with regard to smoking.  The Victorian values were so deeply ingrained in me that their awakening was subconscious, almost Pavlovian.  Every time I even thought of smoking, Victorian me said to be ashamed and afraid — to hide it. Progressive me was too cowardly to resist the subconscious Victorian me.  And, by the time I thought of just quitting smoking, I was already physiologically hooked.

There are a very few people, like TL, who can have one or more cigarettes casually and then forget about smoking for months or longer, without physiological struggle.  My body is simply not like that.  So, really I should not smoke.  I don’t now.  It’s still a temptation sometimes.  But, I have been away from it for three good years.

More troubling is the way I think about it.  If TL or someone else smokes, I want very much to view it without judgment, fear, jealousy, or self-righteousness.  The same applies to marijuana.  Honestly, that still requires conscious effort on my part, to relax and view it without judging it.  In the classic psychological sense, these are triggers for me.  They trigger the risk of self-pity and self-righteousness.

Did you read my post about the Train Wreck movie?  Promiscuity is a trigger for me.  So is smoking and marijuana.  I want so much to be more modern, adult, and normal about these issues.  So far, I can only do so by employing the good mental health strategies I’ve been practicing.  If I ever smoke again, even once, I have to tell TL about it.  I have to not hide it.

From reading this blog, you know about my long struggle with sex, porn, masturbation, and adultery.  I see a connection between that struggle and my inner struggle pitting Victorian me again progressive me.  Sure, there were other problems and causes:  low self-esteem, failure to take responsibility, and self-pity.  Misogyny played a role too.  I was consumed by the idea that a man should have a long sexual track record and a woman should be chaste.  I suspect that, at least in part, I became obsessed with that idea because of my inner cultural dichotomy.

If my worldview was consistently progressive, I might have accepted that a spouse’s sexual history had no bearing on the present relationship.  There should have been no temptation to compare myself to TL or to other men sexually.

On the other hand, if my worldview was consistently Victorian, I would have found a spouse who really shared that worldview.

But, my worldview was conflicting.  I associated with progressive people in a progressive milieu, and I strived to be progressive.  But, it wasn’t entirely me.  I was deceiving myself.  I was trying so hard not to acknowledge Victorian me that I succeeded in forgetting it existed.  But, it rose up like a demon unchained, possessed me, and drove me to lash out at TL in a cruel, deceptive series of outbursts, of self-pity and of self-righteousness.  I criticized TL intensely, frequently, and sometimes insidiously about her sexual history, even while I attempted to show her only progressive me.  Victorian me leapt out, enveloped progressive me, and took over.  The self-righteousness was coupled with revenge seeking.  Victorian me said that men should be sexually experienced and women should not.  So, Victorian me vowed to correct the perceived imbalance, by relentlessly trying to grow my own sexual track record — love, morals, integrity, safety, and reason be damned.

You know my story.  My point is that what ended up destroying TL, the only person I really love, began as an inner struggle against myself.  I thought I was a progressive person with a progressive life.  In fact, my Victorian side had a stranglehold on me.  I didn’t think it would.  My parents had overtly told me to be modern and educated.  But, their unspoken teachings, their belief in the Victorian values, saturated my mind.  Victorian me could not handle what progressive me wanted.  I succumbed to my duality, not by joining an extremist group, but by behaving as an extremist with regard to sex, women, tobacco, and progressive ways of life.

These kids that leave America and go off to Syria to fight for ISIS, succumbed to their duality.  They were never entirely comfortable with modern American behaviors regarding sex and the role of women, for example. Combine that with low self-esteem and the seductive preaching that says their misfortune was not their fault — rather, it was the fault of another culture or a set of policies — and they are tempted to give up the struggle to accept progressiveness.  It’s easier to just say that progressiveness is evil, to reject it, and to embrace Victorian (or fundamentalist) values.

I have definitively turned my back on the idea of living a Victorian life, with a Victorian wife.  One of my many problems before D-day was succumbing to my hidden discomfort with that decision.  The child part of my personality wanted the security blanket of Victorian views, wanted the unattainable reality of living in both worlds.  So, it is the adult part of my personality that must remind me, whenever tempted by self-pity or self-righteousness, that I chose the progressive path.  I must be consistent in following through on my chosen path.

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Gilmartin’s “Self-pity is a drug”

We read this article by Paul Gilmartin.  To me, it points out that the concept of both self-pity and self-righteousness are actually two different sides of the same coin. I find this thought somehow meaningful and important. MC suggested I post the article on R4L. He hopes to write out some thoughts about it soon too, but has been working on another piece he hopes to share soon. In the meantime we wanted to share this article as it is such a core issue for MC and in our struggle. Here it is:

Self-pity is a drug by Paul Gilmartin

I don’t know which is more dangerous; heroin or self-pity.

That probably sounds a little dramatic, but so many people are addicted to one of these; at least heroin addicts know they’re heading in the wrong direction.  People trapped in self-pity sometimes live their whole lives never realizing they were addicted to feeling sorry for themselves.

When Dinner and a Movie (the show I co-hosted from 1995-2011) was in its heyday in the late 90’s, I started to get more offers to do stand-up.   I was excited.   Its what all stand-up comedians dream of; the clubs calling you, instead of you calling the clubs.  Suddenly you have leverage.   You make more money, your accommodations are better, and you can even choose who performs on the show with you.

My co-host at the time, Annabelle Gurwitch, was getting even more attention.   Ford had given her money to not only appear in a campaign for their new car, the Focus, but they were letting her be a part of the creative process and use her friends in the ads.     I was SO jealous.

Suddenly my new club dates weren’t enough.  Why wasn’t I getting MY own series of commercials?   Why HER?  What’s the matter with ME?   Am I not good enough?  All these thoughts cycled around and around my head.  Never did it occur to me to be happy for her.

I took consolation in the fact that I had a new gig coming up in Augusta Georgia.  Dinner and a Movie was big in the South, and I knew the outpouring of support from those club shows would make me feel better; and I was booked to make more money than I ever had, with a chance for a huge bonus for sellouts.

The night of my first show, I was getting ready in my hotel room, half-watching the MTV Video Awards, which at the time was the epitome of pop-culture cool.   The Internet was just taking off, so cable was still “it” and MTV was the “it” of cable.

I was trying to be upbeat about the fact that the hotel was not what the club had described (a common occurrence).  It was a little seedy, but I had stayed in much worse.

The very first commercial break of the Video Awards was the debut of Annabelle’s Ford Focus ads.    They were cool.   And it was during the coolest show on television.  Suddenly, I was a piece of shit.   I was nobody.   I was a sucker in a shit hotel who would never rise above mediocrity.

I took a deep breath and steeled myself, knowing I would feel better after my show that night.  I was being billed as a Special Event.  I had never been billed as a Special Event.   I was excited and ready to put on a good show to boost my self-esteem.

I probably was good that night, but it’s hard to tell when there are only three people are in the audience.  And twice during your show a punchline is ruined by rats running across the stage; and after the show the owner says he is regretting booking you and you are going to cost him money.

I wanted to step out in front of traffic; I probably would have been hit by a Ford Focus.

I was so full of self-pity.   I hadn’t yet figured out anyone to lay the blame on, so I laid it all on myself and I got that feeling when you’re about to O.D. on self-pity.  I wanted to die.  Heroin addicts vomit.  Self-pity addicts want to die.

In reality there was no one to blame.  Not me, not my agent, not the club, not the town.  It was what it was.  I’m sure the club owner feels differently.

The rest of the shows were just as…how should I put it…selectively attended?  And what did I do to get myself out of it?   I just thought more and more about myself.  I went over my past and over my future looking for an answer.   And I drank.   And obsessed.   And drank.

Trying to get out of a funk by obsessing about the past and the future is like trying to defeat an enemy by getting advice from the enemy.   You are going to get the absolute shittiest advice imaginable.  It’s a Catch 22.

The other challenge is to not reach for the second-worst choice, which is to get out of self-pity by replacing blaming yourself with blaming someone else; The mother-of-all drugs – self-righteousness.

If you don’t think self-righteousness is killing our society as much as meth, listen to talk-radio.   There is so much hate and demonizing by both the left AND the right.   And I’m as guilty as anyone on any given day.   It’s just so tempting because it feels so GOOD TO BE RIGHT.    With a single sentence I can demote someone else and promote myself.  And for a second it feels good.   But it’s an empty high and it always leaves me wanting a bigger hit.  If self-righteousness works, why are most radio talk-show hosts so miserable and angry?   Why do so many self-destruct?

Because the ego can never get enough.

A general rule of thumb for me:  If I’m feeling like I want to die, I’m in self-pity.  If I’m feeling like I want to kill, I’m in self-righteousness.

The challenge I have when things don’t go my way is to have empathy towards myself and others.

But empathy is a tough one because it requires emotional moderation.   If you’re an addictive personality like me, you don’t do moderation naturally.

If I were to do that night all over again, I wouldn’t try to block the feeling of being not good enough or blaming the promoters.  I just wouldn’t wallow in it.   I would try to be aware of what I was feeling and remind myself that my emotions are not reality.   I would probably call someone and talk about what I was feeling, so I could get a perspective on it.   I might try helping someone with their problems to help break my cycle of self-obsession.  I might call Annabelle and congratulate her on her great new ads.

I think emotions are reality filtered through the prism of our flaws (fearfulness, impatience, grandiosity, competitiveness, selfishness, self-pity, vindictiveness, neediness etc.)

If I had been aware of that, I would maybe have made a gratitude list of all the things in my life I had to be grateful for.

Here’s what a partial list might have looked like:

I have a wife who loves me

I have a job that pays me well for doing something I love

I have a house with electricity and running water

No photo exists of me with a perm

I am food secure

I have friends who love me

I have family members who love me

I am physically healthy

I get to play sports that I love

No recording exists of me singing to my dogs

I am not alone in what I’m feeling

I’m not a limelight-seeking rat living in a shit club that doesn’t know how to book people.

But I was still far away from seeing the truth of the situation.   So I wallowed for years in self-pity and self-righteousness, never realizing I was hooked.

I haven’t completely kicked my habit, but I’m not a junkie anymore.   And I feel pretty free.   It’s hard to not be a junkie when the pharmacy is open 24 hours.  And it’s in your head.

TL: “My own shame”

I wrote this a while ago, but have been afraid to post it, afraid of MC’s reaction. Though, I really did not understand or recognize it as the basis of my fear. I think our recent discussion about Train Wreck brought it to the forefront. After seeing MC’s latest post, I shared this with him. He said it is the same thing we’ve talked about a few times before, but seeing it in writing is a bit of a trigger. I admitted hearing him say that scared me to death. We talked.

He talked to me as his friend, not in the obsessive, pouty, angry and/or distant manner of the past, but truly as a friend. It brought us closer instead of pushing us away from each other in fear. He also encouraged me to not be afraid, to share these thoughts. So here it goes.

A few sessions ago I spoke with B about the movie too. I’m sure it is hard to understand why this is such a big deal to MC and to me. It was the crux of his self-pity. B wanted to talk to me about my pre-marital sexual experiences, how I felt about them, how I was impacted by MC’s obsessive nature about my past and his own.

Though I had some regret and sadness over some of my pre-MC past, I didn’t really have any overwhelming shame about it. I realized that my shame over my past experiences really started and grew with each day I was with MC, after he began to get down on me over my past before him. I had sexual relations with one partner more than MC had been with pre marriage. MC had been sexually active for much longer than me, had sexual experiences that I had never had and certainly had more experience with sex in general. But, I did have more “hook-ups” than MC during our college years (after my dad died, I went from being a virgin to having about an 18-month time-span of. . .let me just call it what it was. . .promiscuity). Luckily I ended that time of my life physically unscathed. I ended that time of my life knowing that it was not who I wanted to be and knowing it was not how I wanted to live my life.

I was always upfront with MC about this. I really thought he was my friend and understood that it came from an unhealthy, self-medicating kind of place, something I regretted, something I had faced and worked through. I wanted him to know because I wanted an honest relationship, no secrets between us. After we married, I was confronted with MC’s obsessive insecurities over my past and his own. It was then that I started to beat myself up over the past, perhaps in some way I hoped it would appease MC.

The reality is finally again I don’t feel shame over my past. Yes, it was based on some immature choices that ultimately were not healthy for me, and I am glad I learned the lessons I needed to learn as a young person, on that front anyway. But, it was never a betrayal of MC, he wasn’t even in my life during that time. I feel good now being able to look back at that time and not be consumed in shame over it. Now I just need to get over my fear of his self-pity. The talk the other night was reassuring, but admittedly the fear still exists within me.

MC: Response to “Train Wreck” post

TL and I discussed whether she and I should see this movie together.  We actually know very little about the movie.  But, TL did see a trailer in which the female protagonist talks about being promiscuous.  TL and I know that promiscuity is a trigger for me.  It triggers me to struggle with self-pity.

Yes, I know.  For most mainstream, natural-born modern Americans of our generation, it’s weird for a man to feel threatened by the thought of promiscuity. But, that’s the problem that has dogged me for all these decades.  I am curious to know whether any other guys struggle with this and whether it has affected their behavior.

When I dwelled on the ensuing feeling of self-pity, it lead me to justify, in my own mind, acts of infidelity.  It lead me to think I could or should feel better about myself if only I could have “enough” sex or validation from other women to make me feel I had obtained the sexual experience I thought I had been lacking.  Of course, “enough” was undefined and unattainable.  Nothing could make me feel I had compensated for my self-perceived pre-marital sexual naivety.  Nothing could change my past.  Nothing.

TL and I recalled that the only time we had seen a film that directly addressed my trigger, it was Chasing Amy.  It must be 20 years ago that we saw that Ben Affleck film. Affleck’s character was unable to deal with his girlfriend’s sexual history.  He behaved obsessively and irrationally.  Ultimately, their relationship failed.  She decided she just could not live with his irrational behavior.  The movie gave me a chill.  On one hand, I was grateful that someone had finally written something that captured my feelings about sex.  On the other hand, it did not suggest any solutions.

TL and I decided that we could watch Train Wreck together.  We acknowledged that it might contain one or more triggers for me.  But, I wanted to prove to TL, and to myself, that I could handle it.  I never know when I might inadvertently stumble across something in a movie, magazine, pop culture, television or radio program, overheard conversation, memory, or damned near anything that might reference promiscuity, might be a trigger for me, and might tempt me to wallow in self-pity.  I wanted to practice facing my fears, so to speak, and show us that I could safely overcome the temptation of self-pity.

We still haven’t gotten around to scheduling a babysitter and seeing the movie, parents night out was cancelled.  In the meantime, I discussed all this with B, our counselor.  B’s initial advice was that perhaps I should not see the movie.  I’m trying to decide whether I agree.

I told B that self-pity was my true demon.  Sex, alcohol, porn, and masturbation were not really addictions for me.  Though I did behave compulsively toward those things at times, I don’t necessarily even think that I was strictly compulsive or obsessive about those things.  I was, however, seduced by self-pity.  Self-pity has always tempted me.  I sought refuge in it.  It was like a comfortable blanket, or even like a womb.

Seeing a movie scene about in-your-face promiscuity risks making me feel sorry for myself.  I know it sounds dumb.  I would be tempted to think about my disappointment with my own pre-marital sexual history.  I would be tempted to wish TL’s pre-marital sexual history was at least one less than mine, preferably zero.  Unable to change the past, I would be on the verge of feeling depressed about the past not being what I wanted it to be.  I would be on the verge of blaming God, TL, my mother, or others for my depression.  I would be tempted to ignore my own responsibility, in the past and in the present.

B and I compared it to alcoholism.  I said I’m not sure whether self-pity is an addiction for me, a compulsive behavior, or something else.  B said it does not matter.  The treatment is the same.  It takes vigilance, and it’s never “done.”

An alcoholic needs several strategies for resisting alcohol.  Avoiding alcohol is one approach.  But, sometimes it might be unavoidable.  One might encounter it at a friend’s house, a store, or whatever.  The alcoholic needs strategies to deal with those contingencies as well.

But, can an alcoholic intentionally walk into a bar, with a friend, for the sake of spending a good (and sober) time with that friend?  I don’t know. I think the answer is different for different people.  B suggested that walking into the Train Wreck movie with TL might sit me down in front of self-pity in the same way an alcoholic in a bar might be sitting across from a friend drinking a beer.

TL and I discussed this.  I admit that my trigger, about promiscuity, is still a trigger.  I think it always will be.  But, I don’t think that is catastrophic news.  It just means I always have to manage it.  I may be that way until I die.  It may be part of me.  But, I believe I can use the strategies I have been learning to manage it.  Soon, I hope to write a post that explains more about where I got that messed up view of life, how promiscuity became a trigger for me.

Of course, you’ll ask what are those strategies.  B told me that distracting myself can be useful.  If I sense myself starting to ruminate, feel sorry for myself, or spiral toward depressing thoughts, she said, it’s helpful to think about work, family activities, fitness, or anything practical and positive.

Second, regular attention to my mental health is a preventive measure.  It is not a cure all.  Yes, before D-day, even this preventive measure did not overcome my premeditated intention to cheat, lie, and try to compensate myself for things I thought were missing.  Nonetheless, these preventive health measures reduce the chances of ruminating or obsessing on sick thoughts.  Preventive measures include getting adequate sleep, exercise, a healthy diet, regular family time, regular religious time, and attention to my spouse as a friend.

Third, our original counselor told me that when these depressing thoughts occur, I can and should call them what they are:  sick obsessions.  Fourth, I should practice compassion, especially toward TL.  Fifth, I should practice empathy with TL.  Sixth, I should remember that after what I did to TL, I have no right to feel sorry for myself.

Seventh, I should count my blessings.  TL is mine to lose.  Self-pity brought me ruin.  I have plenty of blessings I can not afford to squander.

Ashley Madison

I am conflicted about this data hack and dump. On the one hand, it finally may be the door opening that has been shut in the face of a betrayed spouse for years. A door to honesty and knowledge of their own life, their own marriage. I do think that is so important and they deserve to have it.

On the other hand, the consequences to the betrayed spouse, to the family may be HUGE. Certainly, cheaters must expect the consequences of their actions to be brought forth at some point. But, I would hope and pray that it is not in a way that causes even more embarrassment and financial hardship to their spouse and children.

Yes, I am thankful that MC did not use AM or other sites like it and that he is nowhere to be found on their lists. Yes, I admit even with the polygraphs passed, I checked. I did. I checked. Not because it really matters how he met his sluts, floozies whatever you want to call them, but because I truly don’t want the further humiliation of such a public and identifiable display of his tomfuckery, and I don’t want our children to have it either. It is not our shame to bare, I know. Still, I understand the possible humiliation in all of this for other betrayed spouses and children. And, so, I find myself conflicted about it all.

All I know is that I want to send our love and support to all those spouses that have found out their lives were different then they thought.

TL: “Questions, questions, questions.”

I realized something today. In the past, I would focus on coming up with any question I could to make sure I knew absolutely everything about the past: thoughts, feelings, words and actions. I was trying so hard to get a grasp on the reality of my past, if there was anything at all missing, any detail whatsoever, I would make sure to find it.

Last night, I felt myself going into that mode.  But, I couldn’t come up with one single question. I knew what his answers would be after asking so many questions, hundreds of times each in hundreds of different ways. So, I just lay in bed realizing, wow, for the first time ever, I didn’t have a question to ask. That is not to say I won’t at some point down the road, but it was a nice feeling to realize I just don’t have any more questions about the past right now.

Maybe my brain is just too tired to come up with anything right now, since my school started again recently. I don’t know. I just know it was a much appreciated sense of mental freedom.

MC: “Forty costs of my infidelity”

One of the many exercises I appreciated in Rick Reynolds’ Affair Recovery program was when he asked me to list forty costs to TL of my infidelity.  It was an important early step in my learning empathy. This was one of my first structured steps, written about November 2012. After 40 something years of thinking too much about things in my life that I thought were painful, I had pretty much never thought about anything painful in anyone else’s life. So, to force myself to think in a deep way about painful things in TL’s life, specifically things that I caused, it forced me to see life through her eyes. I’m still working on empathy, as well as selflessness, loving, and listening. I highly recommend this exercise to other unfaithful spouses.

1. My infidelity cost you your sense of security; you fear I will re-offend.
2. My infidelity cost you beautiful memories of our life; you fear you were only “filler” and that my focus was on other women.
3. My infidelity cost you your dignity; you fear other people know what I did and that they look down on you for choosing a bad husband and staying with a bad husband.
4. My infidelity cost you hours and hours and nights and nights of sleep, thus destroying your physical and mental health; you have nightmares and intrusive thoughts.
5. My infidelity cost you your self-respect; you question how you could choose to stay with me and how you chose not to confront me about clues sooner and more skeptically.
6. My infidelity cost you your health; sometimes you are too grief-stricken to exercise, eat right, or maintain healthy routines.
7. My infidelity cost you your relationship with your kids; you are sometimes too grief-stricken to engage with them.
8. My infidelity cost you your uniquely strong optimism; I brought you such despair.
9. My infidelity cost you your confidence; you wonder how I could choose others over you.
10. My infidelity cost you your favorite gym; I took an affair partner there and the place is now a trigger for you.  In fact, my infidelity cost you the ability to share a physically fit lifestyle with me; thoughts of fitness make you think of me grooming myself for infidelity.  My infidelity cost you the ability to enjoy diving with me; it reminds you of times we dived together even while I was involved in an affair.
11. My infidelity cost you your relationships with certain friends and acquaintances; some were unable to relate to your pain and were frightened away, and others were judgmental.
12. My infidelity cost you eighteen years of time; you could have experienced love more deeply and achieved greater things without doubts about my support had I been more focused on you.
13. My infidelity cost you your remarkable ability to focus; you are haunted by intrusive thoughts.
14. My infidelity cost you the ability to peacefully enjoy some of your favorite activities or dream activities such as soaking in a hot tub, going to a spa, or skipping morning routines and staying in bed; I did those things with affair partners, and now they are triggers for you.
15. My infidelity cost you your sense of comfort and sanctuary in your own home and your favorite bed; I infected those places with an affair partner and left you with the trauma of a home invasion.
16. My infidelity cost you your peace of mind; you fear there are more secrets you do not know.
17. My infidelity cost you the sense of being loved; I did not learn to truly love until after D-day, and it is shocking that someone who believed he loved you could betray you so terribly.
18. My infidelity cost you your sense of closeness with your aunt; you want to tell her what happened but you fear being judged.
19. My infidelity cost you your confidence in being a good mother; you wish you were not so grief-stricken and could devote more time to the kids.
20. My infidelity cost you thousands of dollars; I spent money on prostitutes and affair partners.
21. My infidelity cost you immeasurable time and energy; we must now devote time and energy to counseling, classes, blogging, studying, and anything we can try to improve our marriage.
22. My infidelity cost you your sense of adventure in bed; some activities that could be intriguing or exciting for you are now triggers; I did them with prostitutes and affair partners.
23. My infidelity cost you your ability to respect or take pride in your husband; I treated you with disregard, hurt you, and behaved shamefully.
24. My infidelity cost you your physical health; I gave you herpes that I contracted from a prostitute.  In fact, it cost you physical safety; I risked exposing us all to more and deadly diseases.
25. My infidelity cost you a partner in parenting and in life; you worked tirelessly to compensate for my inadequate contributions.  I misdirected my efforts to selfish pursuits.
26. My infidelity cost you the experience of being deeply and mutually in love; I focused on self-pity, selfishness, and resentment rather than love.
27. My infidelity cost you your faith in your own judgment; I and affair partners deceived you.
28. My infidelity cost you your ability to trust people; the person you trusted most betrayed you.
29. My infidelity, selfishness, anger, and childishness cost you your sex life; for years I did not give myself to you freely because I was too filled with pride, insecurity, and anger.
30. My infidelity cost you friendship; I was not there for you.
31. My infidelity and cowardice cost you protection; I did not protect you from my mother or from affair partners.
32.  My infidelity cost you your sense of security about the future; you question whether I will be there to help with our hopes, plans, and dreams.
33. My infidelity cost you your belief in justice; I treated you so unfairly and there is no way to undo it.
34. My infidelity cost you your admirable ability to live in the moment; you are haunted by intrusive thoughts.
35. My infidelity cost you your brave, curious, and adventurous willingness to live in many exotic places; you fear I will take advantage of prostitutes or available women, and you feel your adventures abroad in the past were risks and hardships that resulted in nothing gained.
36. My infidelity cost you your plans and dreams; you fear I will abandon you or fail you and you will have to start over.
37. My infidelity cost you your belief in your own wisdom; I deceived you so terribly.
38. My infidelity cost you your sense of being wanted, loved, and cared for; you fear I wanted others instead of you.
39. My infidelity cost you your belief in fairness; you fear that my former affair partners will never know how little they meant to me and how much you mean to me.
40. My infidelity cost you your sense of a happy family life; I neglected you and our children.

MC: “Apology for infidelity.”

Dear TL,

I’ve written this letter several times, and I’m still struggling to get it right.  I apologize.  I apologize for hurting you, for destroying your world, stabbing you in the back, pulling the rug out from under you, making a fool of you, and failing to appreciate you.  I don’t say “I’m sorry.” I am sorry.  But, I don’t say that.  I want you to know I’m not sorry I got caught.  Instead, I apologize for what I did to you, and for what I failed to do for you.  I apologize for breaking my marriage vows to you.  I apologize for being a terrible friend, especially when you have always been the best friend and lover a man could want.  I beg your forgiveness.  I don’t expect it.  The things I did are really unforgivable.  Nonetheless, I beg your forgiveness.

I apologize for my selfishness, self-centeredness, and wallowing in self-pity, at your expense.  I apologize for our original wedding night, when I selfishly decided to be alone and pout rather than help you care for your beloved dog.  I made the story all about me. It should have been a wonderful entry in the story about us.  Did you feel lonely, unsupported, unloved, and abandoned that night?  I feel the tears welling up as I write this.  I apologize for hurting you.

I apologize for my demanding impatience.  I apologize for the time I yelled at you and embarrassed you in front of a friend, over a lost checkbook.  I must have made you feel humiliated and afraid.

I apologize for bringing a demon into our bedroom.  The demon was my sick obsessions, my insecurities, my insistence on comparing myself to you, to others, and to some sick, unrealistic ideal of masculinity I imagined.  I went out without you, looking for ways to cheat.  I demanded sex from you, in a senseless, selfish, unloving way.  I cheated on you with porn, cybersex, meeting people online and then hooking up with them for real, having affairs, and seeing prostitutes.  I made you feel nothing you did was good enough for me, in the bedroom, and in many other ways.  I took the joy out of sex for you. I made it a scary chore, making you fear my insecurities and demands.  I took a fun and beautiful thing that you deserved, and I ruined it for you.  I apologize.

I apologize for making you fear sex with me, fear sharing fantasies, and feel ashamed or unwanted.  You are the most beautiful woman in the world to me, and always have been.  I denied you that free and joyful affirmation for so many years. I robbed you of the fun, free, and beautiful sexual and romantic life we could have shared.  I made others feel they had that with me.  It should have been a holy thing, meant only for the two of us to share.  I desecrated it.  I apologize.

I apologize for calling you hurtful names and addressing you from my drunken, angry, self-pitying pit of evil.  I know that night, the one we both remember so well, made you feel hopeless.  You were alone, ashamed of our marriage falling apart, and heartbroken. You deserved such better treatment, such greater respect from me.  I apologize.

I apologize for making you afraid to be yourself.  With my insecurities, I showed jealousy instead of pride when you showed your natural mechanical abilities, strength, creativity, and skill at games.  I behaved like a selfish child, not a supportive friend and lover.  I made you feel afraid and unappreciated.  I made you fear being you.  I apologize.

I apologize for not appreciating you, thanking you, and praising you.  Time and time again, you sacrificed for us.  You thought we were in the struggle together, trying to improve our lot, as a team.  I took for granted all the instinctive, heartfelt, thoughtful, and loving support you gave me, from working at a place you hated to put me through graduate school to moving to disease-ridden, underdeveloped places in hopes that it would help my career.  You set aside your own career and independent hopes and dreams in favor of hopes and dreams for us.  Meanwhile, I let you down, thinking only about me; not counting my blessings, including the wonderful, caring sacrifices you made; and taking unfathomable, thoughtless risks that undermined the very goals for which you sacrificed.  In my blind self-centeredness, I missed a thousand opportunities to lovingly praise you, publicly or privately, even in small ways, or even to thank you for all your work, courage, and selflessness.  I apologize.

I apologize for failing to protect you, to proudly, confidently, and instinctively stand up for you in the face of my mother’s criticism and manipulation.  I cowardly avoided conflict, protecting myself instead of quickly, firmly, even calmly putting my mother in her place. Did you feel abandoned, in addition to feeling unfairly judged and attacked?  I apologize.

I apologize for my lies, to hide my corrupt thoughts and behaviors.  Moreover, I apologize for not being honest, trusting, and emotionally intimate; for not confiding in you.  How much of my downward spiral could I have prevented had I simply told you, right away, of my struggles with porn and masturbation?  Even later, when I feared to confide in you about my struggles with tobacco, I denied you the intimate honesty you needed to feel safe and that I needed in order to be a safe partner.  I apologize for that emotional cowardice.

I apologize for my intellectual arrogance, combined with intellectual and emotional laziness, that made me a poor listener and made me unproductive in my quest for mental health.  I should have worked longer and harder in counseling 18 or 19 years ago when I first tried it.  I should have worked sooner on it in recent years.  I should continue to think twice, and then again, when I hear you, to be sure I have effectively listened to you.  I apologize for not “doing the work” long, long ago.

I apologize for being a coward and a child in our bed, a coward for not taking the emotional risk of initiating physical intimacy between us, and a child for pouting, with the hopes of manipulating you into feeling sorry for me, foolishly believing that would persuade you to think more about “my needs.”  I viewed our relationship as a means for meeting my needs.  That got in the way of me actually loving you, regardless of needs.  I apologize for not properly and truly loving you.  Don’t get me wrong.  I have always wanted you, admired you, and been infatuated with you.  But, it wasn’t until after D-day that I learned to love anyone.  I love you, and only you.  I apologize for not doing so from day one.  I apologize for making everything focus on my needs.
I apologize for humiliating you.  Friends, colleagues, neighbors, and acquaintances possibly knew or suspected I was betraying you.  Affair partners kept the dirty truth, right under your eyes.  You even feel shocked and humiliated by yourself, for not calling me out on possible signs of infidelity.  As much as my low self-esteem laid the foundation for my corrupt behavior, I have destroyed your self-esteem through humiliation.  I robbed you of your dignity in that manner.  How can we restore it?  Can we make affair partners, witnesses, or others view you without the lens of humiliation and stolen dignity?  Can they un-know what they know?  Can they not believe what they instinctively believe?  I don’t know.  I apologize for humiliating you, robbing you of your dignity, and de-humanizing you.  Just for being a human being, you deserved far better. Being my sworn mate, friend, and lover, I should have protected your honor, dignity, and humanity like priceless treasures.  That’s what they are.  I owe it to you to restore them.  I pray that I can.

I also destroyed your sense of safety, your self-confidence, and even your trust in your own instincts.  Always hyper-vigilant and never relaxed, you now question everything, not just my words and actions, but even your own.  You wonder why you tolerate our continued relationship, when even you would describe my crimes against you as a deal-breaker.  This makes you look poorly on yourself.  I apologize for the self-doubt I created in you, the peace of mind I destroyed, and stealing the calm joy and optimism with which you once approached life.

I apologize for the stolen memories, the damaged memories, and the tainted history of our story.    I took priceless heirlooms — your memories — and I spat on them, broke them, misplaced them, soiled them, and damaged them irreparably.  Where you once remembered shared experiences, adventures, trips, special occasions, quiet moments, and intimate discussions, you now wonder whether any of it was real.  You fear I was mentally with affair partners while physically with you.  You feel like you were with a stranger, an imposter, when you thought you had been with your friend.  You feel like you have no real past.  Your fear makes you feel there is no future.  That feels lonely, detached, and hopeless.  I apologize for robbing you of what should have been so many beautiful memories.

I apologize for bringing strangers into our home, and into our bed.  I stole your sanctuary and violated your home.  I desecrated a safe and holy place.  Safety is a most basic need.  I apologize for tearing it away from you.

I apologize for squandering time, energy, and money that was ours, not mine, to save, use, or manage.  Instead of spending time studying or working to better our condition — while you slaved away at hard jobs and then the thankless job of motherhood — I selfishly wasted the time on porn, prostitutes, and trysts.  Instead of protecting our money with integrity, I wasted thousands on prostitutes and affair partners.   I should have saved my energy for doing things with you and with our family.  I should have spent my time arriving home earlier to see you.  Instead, I exhausted myself and flushed that time down the toilet, out with prostitutes or affair partners or up in the middle of the night with porn.

Even now, it makes you feel cheated, like you wasted your time waiting for me. It makes you feel worthless, that I did not value and appreciate my time with you.  I apologize for giving so much time, money, and energy to others, and to myself, when it was rightfully yours.

I apologize for making you feel I hoarded my sense of fun and spontaneity, giving it to others instead of giving it to you.  You told yourself I was just a creature of routines, that I meant well but did not have spontaneity in me.  Your heart sank when you learned that I did do things that appeared fun and spontaneous with others, before I ever did them with you.  Trips, flowers, hotels, spas, and dinners appeared to effortlessly spring forth from my mind with affair partners, and never with you.  As much as I try to explain that I did all those things with affair partners to manipulate them into giving me sex and validation, to you the effect was the same:  they got a fun lover and you got nothing, you who deserved everything.  Even now, years after D-day and my new path of loving you, still I fail to do things with you that I had not already done with others.  Still I struggle to be spontaneous with you.  Even if you could accept that those spontaneous moments are real though rare in our new relationship, it hurts that you got too little, too late.  It feels like that injustice can never be righted. I know.  I apologize for not reserving my plans and trips and activities for you and only you. I apologize for helping others steal what belonged to you.  I love you so dearly.  I apologize for creating a situation where you can never fully believe that.

I apologize for the risks I imposed on you.  I exposed you and our children to the most dreadful diseases.  I risked getting caught by others, thereby humiliating your even deeper than I did.  In fact, I risked death, not only for you and me, but even for our children.  I apologize for putting you through those risks, especially without your knowledge and consent.  I had no right.    A good man doesn’t even put himself through those risks.  Only God can do that.  But, to subject an innocent spouse and kids, even as they loved me so innocently, was an unmatched act of selfishness, self-centeredness, and indifference, again and again.  I know you are shocked.  You can’t get over the fear — the horror — that I could do that, that you did not know about it, and that you fear it could happen again.  I apologize for risking your mind, body, and soul.  They are yours, not mine.  I honor them now, as I should have from day one.

I apologize for giving you herpes. Like so many of my risks, this one did result in consequences, for you, not just for me.  It makes you angry, that even without me you would be left with this unhappy physical reminder of my hurtful behavior.  It leaves you with a never ending reminder of my disregard for you.  It leaves you with your own shame, though my doing, a shame that will last even beyond our time together.  It is an unforgivable injury to you.  I apologize for hurting you, disregarding you, and failing to protect you.

I apologize for gradually drifting away from you, mentally and emotionally.  I became so oblivious to your feelings, your life, even your presence, that I stood by, numb and unaffected, as the maid, the one who was an affair partner, grew lazy, disobedient, and insolent, putting herself before you and our children.  I drifted along, clueless as I disappointed you on your birthday and countless other special occasions.  How easy it would have been for me to adjust my priorities, my focus, my love and attention, and be a bit later for work, come home a bit earlier, take time to meet you for lunch, or find any one of a thousand little ways to put you first, to be flexible, and to get the value equation right.  And, how important it was.  Toward the end, before D-day, I became so bad that we were just cohabitating, not living together as loving friends, intimately involved in each other’s lives. You felt lonely, and gradually that grew into resentment, hopelessness, and despair.  I apologize for emotionally abandoning you.

I apologize for leaving you out of my intimate circle, building walls between us.  The walls hid affair partners and lies.  The secret life behind those walls should have been for you, not for others to see.  You felt left out, lonely, and shut out. I apologize for living apart from you, emotionally, instead of standing shoulder to shoulder with you and acting as a team.

I apologize for each lie, each cowardly failure to confide in you, each craven failure to defend and protect you, each betrayal, each stolen memory and squandered moment, each instance of working against us instead of for us, each precious right or privilege a wife deserves that I gave to others, each tear, each tremble of fear and despair, and each time your heart breaks.

TL, I am the most fortunate man in the world, to have such a wife as you.  I strive to be a worthy husband.  I apologize for doing that so little and so late.  You are the aspect of life I most appreciate.  Without you, nothing else would matter to me.

I apologize.  I beg your forgiveness.  If you can’t forgive me, I thank you for each moment, in the past, present, and hopefully the future.  I will never forget to appreciate you.  I love you.  Thank you for waiting for me to learn how to love.

TL, I love you.

MC

TL: “TrainWreck.”

I want to see the movie TrainWreck. I LOVE Amy Schumer. Sometimes her comedy is a bit raunchy, I realize, but sometimes she is just so spot-on in such a funny way, I cannot help but love her. Now, the question is whether or not to take Mindless with me to see this movie. I understand the subject of “numbers” comes up, how many people the main character has slept with versus her new boyfriend. This is the issue that fueled so much of MindlessCraft’s self-pity and was a component of the path that led him to such horrible choices. Do I trust that he really is dealing with that issue and take him with me? Lord knows I’ve sat through enough Star Trek and South Park on his behalf. Or, do I go it alone?

Mindless traveled four days last week and two days this week. Given that, I have done surprisingly well. Yes, he calls, texts, FaceTimes OFTEN, he constantly invites me to view his Waze itinerary and routes when driving anywhere. In fact, I can’t get away from the bugger it would seem. Nah, really, it is reassuring. But, last week I started back to school, was on my own with kiddos and would like a little adult entertainment. Ok, get your mind out of the gutter. You know what I mean, drinks and a movie with my husband. Yes, I would like that very much. But, do I dare take him to TrainWreck? What say the peanut gallery?