I have never really done well with change. Now my life is full of them. It is a hard adjustment. Last night I had another in the long string of recent challenges that have been coming my way. I made mistakes, but I also made some improvements (however slight). I’ll tell you the story, and we’ll see if you pick out the same ones that I did…
The very first challenge that I have been dealing with is my health. Two weeks ago I had strep throat and an ear infection. About 3-5 days after the antibiotics for that were finished I contracted a killer cold that developed into an upper respiratory infection complete with whooping cough, fever, runny nose, sneezing, sore throat, and the inability to breathe (okay, maybe that last one is a bit of an exaggeration, but I swear that’s how it feels). I powered through most of the week until yesterday I just couldn’t take it any more. I dragged my sorry ass out of work around 3:30, went to the doctor for some meds, then wiped out the CVS cold and flu aisle before heading home.
I arrived to a mailbox full of stuff for Mr. Mess, which I added to the already-impressive stack on the table by my door. He had cancelled all 3 of the proposed “dates” he set up last week due to his own health issues (flu, maybe?). That meant there hadn’t been an exchange of things like mail in over a week. Here is where my first mistake appears in this tale (I’m not giving you any more freebies – from here on out, you have to identify the mistakes for yourself). I called him and told him that he had a lot of mail here whenever he wanted to come get it. He said he would head on over then, and I agreed.
I will pause in the re-telling of this story to recap something I learned in S-Anon that applies well in this situation. It is the acronym H.A.L.T. This wise slogan advises you not to act when you are hungry, angry, lonely or tired. I would add another letter at the end. S for sick. I did not need to contact my husband while I was sick. The mail could have stayed right there. Although I wasn’t especially hungry, angry, lonely or tired, the sick made all of those things much closer to the surface than they normally are. It also made me more emotional than I was aiming for.
Mr. Mess arrived at my door about an hour after our phone conversation ended… maybe 45 minutes. I had already caught myself complaining like a whiny child on the phone about how awful I felt, so I resolved not to do that. He walked in, and the first thing I noticed was the smell of his cologne. I love that damn stuff. It is probably the best smell in the entire world. At least I thought that last night. In retrospect, I’m surprised I could even smell it given the state of my sinuses. Mr. Mess walked up to me, reached out to rub my arms, and said that he is sorry I am feeling so bad. In that moment all I wanted was to curl up in his arms.
Instead, I said thank you and pointed out the stack of mail. He went through it, throwing things away as he went, and then started looking around. He asked if there is anything he could do for me. I told him it would be really nice if he could take the trash can to the curb so I didn’t have to go out there in the cold (trash pickup is on Wednesday night). He said that would be no problem at all. Then he commented that he hopes I have been eating. I said that I have, except for yesterday when all my cold seemed to want was chocolate. Everything else tasted gross. Although that was borderline whiny, it was true. For the most part, though, I have been cooking myself quite fine meals, and I told him so.
He then walked into the den. I asked what he was doing. He said that he wanted to say hi to the dogs (they were in the utility room, which is connected to the den). While he was in there I went to get the extra pair of nail clippers that he asked to borrow earlier in the week. I also handed him his key chain, which I had found buried in the pull-out sofa bed when my sister stayed the night last weekend. I resisted the urge to call him out on his lie surrounding those keys or ask him where he got the key he had been using since his was in the couch and the spare was where it always is. It doesn’t matter. Plus, I’m pretty sure he must have taken the spare and gotten a copy made in order to hide the fact that he lost his keys. What a pointless thing to hide. And also a pointless thing to be angry about. So I just let it go.
My Mom and I had literally just gotten off of the phone about 5 minutes before Mr. Mess arrived, and she asked me about Thanksgiving and Christmas – whether to expect him, whether she should be buying him a gift, etc. She is going on a long cruise very shortly and wanted to have all of the gifts purchased in the next week or so. I took the opportunity last night to ask. He got this strange look on his face and started stammering a bit – falling over his words, starting a sentence, then not finishing it, saying “you know” when I really did not…
Finally he said that he would feel like a black cloud hanging over everything. He said that he feels too bad about what he has done to me to be around my family, and he wants to wait. I asked what he wants to wait for. He didn’t really answer. By that point my short fuse and irritation with his beating around the bush was getting the best of me. It really seemed like he was saying that he can never be around my family again because what he did is not going to change. I proposed an answer to my own question – maybe he is waiting until he feels good about what he did? He said no, and started getting emotional. Instead of feeling compassion, a red hot anger welled up inside of me.
I don’t remember the exact words that came out of his mouth next. It doesn’t really matter. However, it was something about not being able to change what he did or how guilty he feels about it. Even though that is basically the same thing I was thinking just moments before, my rage monster wanted to let out a big growl. I told him that he COULD have changed quite a lot in the last year of false recovery. Instead of a year that was full of lies and deceit, he could have been honest and changed where we are now. It was up to HIM to put his all into it just like I had been. He said that I’m right, and that he wants to wait until he has made more progress in his recovery to be around my family so that it doesn’t feel like just another lie.
With those words and that simple revelation, my rage dissipated. That, in and of itself, is progress. His bottom lip trembled, his eyes started to overflow, and he walked away from me – like he always does when he is feeling real, human emotions. Or maybe because he couldn’t keep up the act much longer – it’s hard faking emotions as a sociopath. I thought he was walking to the door, which he was at first. Then he stopped and turned around. He asked if there was anything else I needed besides him to take the trash to the street. I said no. He turned as if to go, then said that there was one more thing he needed. Without another word of explanation, he took off down the hall toward the computer room and my bedroom.
The fleeting moment of tenderness I had felt towards him was quickly shoved aside by annoyance. I called after him, asking where he was going and what he needed. Without stopping, he strode into the computer room, turned on the light and called back that he was looking for his checkbook. My annoyance turned to indignation and territoriality. I had seen his checkbook while I was cleaning, and it was NOT in there. The bigger point, however, is that he doesn’t live here right now to go stomping off through my house opening doors, turning on lights, and rummaging through things without asking. I told him that his checkbook was not in there, then went and fetched it from the spot where I had seen it earlier in the week.
Still, he continued going through things in the computer room. I asked him to tell me what he is looking for instead of going through all of my stuff. First he got exacerbated and said nothing, never mind. I told him that I am happy to help, but I would like to know what he is looking for. He said he was trying to find his actual checks (which weren’t in the checkbook). I told him that I hadn’t seen them. I searched (pointlessly) for his checks, which were nowhere to be found. I asked if he was sure they were even in here. He said that he brought them with him when he moved in (over 4 years ago now). I said I haven’t ever seen them, and showed him my checks, which I always keep in one specific spot. I checked everywhere he suggested with no luck.
When he finally accepted that the checks were not here, he asked for the joint checking account number. I immediately bitched at him. He asked me over a week ago for that number while I was driving, and I suggested he call the bank (since THEY have the number much handier than I do). I caught myself in full bitch-out mode, complaining about how he should just pick up the phone and call himself instead of asking me to do things for him. It really wasn’t that big of a deal, though… I took a deep breath, pulled the checkbook out of my purse, and gave him the number. We exchanged a few more tensely polite words, and he left.
Fifteen minutes later I thought to check outside. Sure enough, the garbage can hadn’t been moved. Out into the cold with my cold I went. My body shivered and I raged in my head. I fought the uge to send him a snarky or bitchy text thanking him for doing the one thing I had asked him for. I fought the urge to call a friend and complain. Instead, I put my phone down. I hooked it up to the charger, and left the room.
I might have made many poor decisions yesterday, but I have learned enough in the last few months to know that my anger at that moment would not have been productive. It wouldn’t have accomplished anything other than to drive an even bigger wedge between us. It would have resulted in him feeling either defensive or more guilty. None of those options are what I’m looking for.
Somehow I was able to push aside my strong urge to punish him for his oversight, and take responsibility for myself. It is my trash, afterall. Sick or not, I needed to take it to the curb. Today this seems like it could be some very deep metaphor for what we are going through in general. Last night it was just irritating.
About an hour or so later, once I had calmed down, taken some medicine, and regained my perspective and compassion, I sent him a text. It simply said, “Sorry I upset you.” I am sorry. I pushed things. I lashed out a few times. I made him feel back about himself when I shouldn’t have because it doesn’t move us in the right direction. I have to work on that. I have to learn to control my temper a little better, or at least to not make decisions when I’m feeling on edge. I have to look inward when what I really want to do is point the finger. At least I didn’t send him that pissy text about the trash. Progress, not perfection, right?
After thinking on things a bit more, I realize that all of those bad reactions came from fear of change. I don’t like that I don’t have my husband to hold me when I’m feeling crappy. Instead of affirming myself for the positive steps I’m taking in enforcing my boundaries, I wallow in self-pity because my lying, cheating sex addict husband can’t get his shit together. I let anger and entitlement take over because it is easier than seeing the ways I contributed to being where I am today.
Yes, where I am is separated from a husband who lied to me repeatedly , cheated on me, and is a sex addict – but I put myself here just as much (or more) than he did. It was my poor decisions, my loose boundaries, my fear of abandonment, my low self-esteem, my repeated failure to trust my gut, and my codependent tendencies that put us here just as much as it was his sex addiction. I have to own my shit, too. And then I have to change it. But changing things sucks.
Sometimes I want my fantasyland back. I wax nostalgic about the “good old days” when I could curl up on the couch whenever I felt sick and have my husband make me dinner, bring me medicine, and rub my feet. I want that sense of security and love. Then I remember how false it was. I remember how that same loving, caring man would sneak off to call, sext, internet chat, or meet another woman. Or maybe he wouldn’t do that, but he would lie about something from his day or hide what he was feeling or thinking. I remember how I might sense something was off, but dismiss my own instincts. I also remember how late at night, when he was snoring beside me, I would lie awake knowing that there was something big missing in this relationship.
I say all of that to say this: Change is painful, but it is also necessary. I have a long way to go. However, I am going to keep pushing forward. I need to change for me. As much as I hate admitting my mistakes, acknowledging my flaws, and accepting change – those things are necessary for growth. And one thing I hate worse than change is being average. He’s to self-awareness and change. Those bitches. 🙂