“My husband cheated on me 8 years ago, when I was pregnant and after I gave birth.”
That’s how I start the story.
I tell it differently now. My voice drops lower and my eye contact sticks. My energy resonates with pride. Sympathetic looks and murmurs are replaced by eager questions. My victim story, now one of empowerment.
I was with a group of women last week, and most of us were meeting for the first time. Debby, who organized the dinner, asked everyone to tell their story. Truthfully, it’s not my story anymore. I left it behind a long time ago. And I’ve piled many more stories on top of it in the past eight years. Some that now, I find even more interesting, but people like to hear this one. It resonates. A story of shame transformed into freedom.
The woman next to me finishes speaking. She had a successful corporate career and left it behind to lead yoga retreats. She mentions that she struggles with validation now. The six of us nod in understanding. I love her story.
I calculate whether I can take another bite of food, but Debby looks at me. It’s my turn. My fork dings the plate as I put it down. I smile at these women, some I’ve met a couple of times, a few I’ve never met. I lock eyes with each individually and I sit up straighter. I reach back and twist my hair, pulling it over my shoulder. It gets puffy in Florida. Then my voice drops a bit and I lean forward. I love telling stories, even this one.
“My husband cheated on me,” I repeat, “and our relationship is stronger because of it.” A lump always forms in my throat at the last bit. I wish I could show them the before and after of our relationship so they could feel the weight of gratitude in those words. Instead, I pause and look around. Some women are leaning in now.
My voice is steady and clear. “It used to be my victim story, one whispered in secret to those I felt safe with. I was scared of the judgment. There is lots of room for judgment in my story:
“I was a woman who men cheated on.
“A woman whose partner cheated on her when she was 7 months pregnant.
“A woman who didn’t know she was being cheated on, until some odd synchronicities occurred, revealing the truth.
“And finally, I was a woman who stayed with a cheater.
“I get it. I would have judged myself.
“And I did.
“A lot. And then I found out what codependency was, so I added more judgment to the list. And yet, I stayed with him. That made me weak. Another judgment. More shame.”
Everyone wants to know why I stayed so I make sure to include this. I think the reason is funny, but no one usually laughs. “I needed him to watch our baby while I worked out in the morning. I didn’t have a babysitter to cover that time.” Maybe those not laughing haven’t been moms who desperately needed that one hour a day. Maybe they would have worked out on their lunch break at work.
I wasn’t scared to be alone.
I used to say that part. So people wouldn’t judge.
Now I’m fearless with my story, and I leave room for all the judgements. “I wasn’t scared to be alone, but I was scared to make a mistake.
“There were deeper reasons too, some linked to codependency and fear of being unlovable, and others based on my spiritual work around forgiveness and an open heart.
“The reasons don’t matter.
“I let him stay and we both went to work, individually and as a couple. It was A LOT of work. And it took a long time to heal the pain and transform ourselves. Me longer, because I wanted to hold on to my victim story. I held a lot of power over him with that story. I probably still do.
“I don’t even know that old Violet anymore. But I do feel sad for her, because she was in for a whirlwind of a few years. I want to tell her, it will fade, the pain will fade, and it will be worth it. You will be so grateful for it, but she won’t believe me, so I just hug her when she’s not looking. The old Violet didn’t like being hugged.
“And the old version of my husband, I can’t believe I fell for him. He was not ready for a relationship. I saw it but didn’t want to see it. Or maybe, I could feel his future self before he could. I’m thankful I did because these new versions of ourselves that we live in, they are authentic, present and always evolving.
“I’m never grateful for the affair, but if it were not for the affair, I don’t know how we would have transformed into the couple we are today. So I’m grateful for the work we were forced to do. I’m grateful I had the choice to stay. And above all, I’m amazed that this story I hid from my family and friends is now one I share openly. It’s freeing. Not just for me, but for anyone around me who wants to go deep. Who wants to turn their shame into power.”
I stop talking, sit back up and smile, still holding that lump in my throat.
Silence hovers over the table. I turn my head and nod at the woman next to me. I see her back straighten just a little. I think she almost twists her hair over her shoulder too, but instead she pulls at it. I hear her inhale and pause. I know she’s ready.
Now, we are sharing.
Now, we are authentic.