Even though this blog is mainly about running and triathlons and pretending to be an athlete in my middle age, I’ve found my most enthusiastic and loyal readers are women who connect with PTSD (or, as I like to reclaim on my good days, post traumatic growth). Seven years after my divorce, and five years after taking down my previous blog, I still regularly get emails and communication through social media from women about infidelity and divorce. Sometimes it is a mother, or sister, worried about a family member going through the discovery phase; sometimes it is a heartbroken or angry betrayed spouse herself, either struggling to get through the next hour, or battling to let go of the rage and fear and sadness after many years.
While the circumstances and backgrounds differ, the women have a strikingly similar plea: tell me it’s going to be okay. Remind me that it gets better. Reassure me that there is life after this. Tell me that I, too, can have that happily ever after.
Happily every after? Oh dear. What type of snow job have I been pulling in this corner of the internet?
I would love to tell you that, with enough time, all heartache and trauma ceases to exist. That falling in love with a new man, even several years into a very happy and healthy relationship, magically erases the scars left from profound deceit and betrayal. That children are so resilient that divorces don’t leave scars, no matter how much they are loved and protected. I would love to tell you that PTSD can be “cured” with therapy and medication, guaranteed never to rear its ugly head again.
I wish more than anything that was all true. But it’s not. Or at least, not in my case.
I’ve been in a hell of a storm since 2017 very nearly began. Well, more accurately, according to my therapist, I’ve either been in a storm or battening down the hatches since 2010, because the delightful thing about not being able to go cold turkey is that you never really get a chance to heal. You can smooth those rough edges over, strengthen those coping skills, and even fool yourself that the horizon is clear, but it’s not, not really.
And so, relapses happen. They happen to many. The alcoholic takes “just one” drink, the drug addict takes “just one” hit, the panic attacks and insomnia and intrusive thoughts say this is “just one” bad week. Only before you know it, weeks turn into months, and one day you get on the scale and realize you lost 5 pounds. You get on the treadmill and can’t run a mile when just two months ago you ran a half marathon. You get up in the morning and can’t remember the last time you slept for more than a few hours at night.
So you get yourself back on the therapist’s couch.
Thinking goddammit but I got over this. Thinking that you thought the worst was over, but you failed to take into account that it can always get worse. Rookie mistake, and god knows, you’re not a rookie, so now you’ve relapsed and feel like a fool.
But, here’s the thing. The women who are asking me to tell them it gets better? That it’s going to be okay? I can honestly say that while happily ever after is illusory, and there’s no such thing as unicorns and fairy tales, it absolutely and totally does get better and it will be okay.
How do I know? Because there’s only one real rock bottom. And once you’ve hit it, I mean really hit it, you never go there again. You might relapse, you might bungee jump down and spring back after your face hovers, inches, millimeters from that concrete floor that could shatter your bones, but you will never hit it again. Want to know why? Want to know how I know?
Because once you’ve clawed your way back from rock bottom, you know you can do it again.
In 2010, when my then-husband told me he was leaving, and the truth slowly came trickling out over the course of several months in Chinese water torture fashion, I completely lost my shit (I’m sure there’s a better, more clinical DSM-V term, but let’s go with that). I had never felt so unmoored, so alone, so without any hope or vision for my future. There was no manual for this insanity. I was trapped in a bad Jerry Springer episode, only there was no “off” button on the remote, no channel to change. My entire life, forwards and backwards, ceased to exist; my identity – that of a wife, a best friend, a partner – stripped from me; my most beloved and cherished role as a mother downgraded to a 70% position, without my input or consent.
It was gone, all gone. They talk about a light at the end of the tunnel? All I saw was a yawning black chasm.
That was my rock bottom. I will never hit that again. I know now that I can survive. Once you know that? Really know that? It’s etched in your soul.
Sure, relapses happen. I have returned to therapy after a 4 year hiatus, brushing up on those coping skills, reminding myself of how to deal with the PTSD triggers that will assuredly not abate for another 5 years. I’m circling my wagons, conserving my energy and finances, following professional advice, both therapeutic and legal.
Recovery does not mean that the struggle ceases to exist. Recovery is about knowing that you can fight the good fight, and that if it’s not okay, it’s not the end. That there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and taking comfort in the knowledge that the light is there, even if you can’t see it.
Ultimately, it’s about faith. Hope, instead of hopelessness.The belief, no matter how shaky it feels some days, that rock bottom only hits once.
*This post inspired by Glennon Doyle Melton’s article.