Many young girls dream about the perfect fairytale wedding. That was never me. However, when I met the man I would call my husband at the ripe old age of 24, I began to dream. For me, it wasn’t so much about the wedding. I dreamed of a life together. I wanted a family, children, adventure, a partner. On September 20, 2013, I said some vows, wore the most breathtaking lace wedding dress, and committed my life to the man of my dreams.
As ambitious young newlyweds, we moved to Chicago, Illinois to embark on our first big adventure. He got a downtown office with the commute of big city dreams. I was teaching in an inner city school. I felt like my adult life was finally taking shape. Outside of work, I trained for my first marathon, became active in a church community, and tried to learn all I could about my new city. Since a young age, I have had a responsible, but laid back temperament and that was taking on new shape as a young wife.
There was a black leather bound notebook my husband would use to take notes for his graduate coursework. He was writing a paper on Native Americans. One Saturday afternoon, I opened the notebook to see his latest ramblings.
In an instant, my heart sank. I became freezing cold and my heart raced faster than any NASCAR ride could go. There, on the lines in front of me, my husband confessed his addiction to pornography. As a virgin when I got married, this was instantly devastating. I waited until he got home to confront him about this.
He tried to downplay what he had confessed in his own notebook. I just stared at this man I loved with a stone cold face. Then turned and walked out the door. I walked 4 miles to the closest Target feeling like my legs would hardly sustain me. My head was spinning.
Was I not pretty enough? Am I not satisfying enough? Why hadn’t he said anything?
I didn’t know then, but this would lead to the most difficult 18 months of my life and land me in therapy rooms, 12 step recovery groups and an STD clinic. I spent the initial few weeks trying to be better, sexier, funnier, less aware of my own needs and totally focused on changing my husband’s mind. Little did I know, that line in the notebook, barely scratched the surface. In the coming weeks, I continued to find pieces of evidence that this man I married was living a dual life.
One day, there was an ipad I had never seen that I found in his work bag. I discovered my husband had so many different email addresses, I could hardly keep up. It’s amazing how easy it is to hack into people’s emails. I began doing this on an hourly basis. There, I discovered graphic images of my husband and various strangers with whom he was meeting for sexual favors. I still wish I could unread many of those exchanges. The man I loved, was not the man that was unfolding before my very eyes. Each discovery was traumatizing.
After a few months of therapy, with tears in his eyes, my husband announced that he was a sex addict. Something about that to me sounded like it was only for Hollywood. Then, I began reading and it turns out, there is nothing glamorous or exciting about sexual addiction. We both entered therapy and 12-step recovery groups.
Only a handful of times through those devastating months, did my husband come to me with any truths. I found them. It became this strange high of searching for the latest awful thing he was doing. I couldn’t stop. The second I found something, I was heartbroken and traumatized all over again. Somehow, I felt as though it was helping give me a sense of control over the situation.
I began therapy with someone who may have been a bit under qualified to handle my situation. Then, I started seeing the most amazing therapist who lovingly waited several weeks to ask me to take a PTSD survey. I was in denial that I had anything close to PTSD. In my mind, that was reserved solely for Army veterans. To me, it made sense for them. It didn’t make sense for me. I was a young wife who had never come close to war. I was so stuck in my own mind I couldn’t see some of the signs. My score on that test was higher than I could have imagined.
My weight has stayed around 120 pounds most of my adult life. During those months, I became obsessed with nutrition and lost at least 10 pounds. I didn’t see it. As a teacher, I would hand out worksheets to my students and then sit on the computer checking my husband’s email accounts and bank statements looking for new discoveries.
My commute to work was only about 20 minutes. I remember sobbing in the parking lot day after day because once I arrived, I realized I had no memory of driving to school. I couldn’t keep my own schedule straight no matter where I wrote things down.
I had to turn down and back out of many personal and work commitments. If I didn’t have to go to work, I could have slept all day long. My body would get freezing cold even when I was wearing sweatpants in a house set to 74 degrees. I didn’t tell any of my closest friends or family what was happening in my marriage. I remember hoping I would eventually run out of tears to cry.
My husband and I went through months of hardly speaking. We also went through months of intense conversation and marriage therapy. There was a look on his face that still haunts me some days. It was a look of pure deceit and shame. The look itself became traumatizing. It was always followed by lies and painful discoveries that impacted the safety of my relationship and physical body. My sexual identity became such a confusing thing.
I resented him. I resented myself for marrying him. I began to think the worst of the world around me. I began to pray my husband would get caught doing illicit acts on company time and be sent to jail. None of it felt good.
My dreams became vivid reenactments of the things I had seen in my husband’s e-mail exchanges or on our computer history. The only time I felt present in my own body was when I went for a run. I would go for an hour at a time until I could hardly feel my legs just to feel in my own skin. This dissociation felt so strange but was a result of the very real PTSD that was ruling my life. Once I was able to accept that my mind and body were not in a healthy state, I started to respond to my therapy sessions and support group suggestions a bit more.
For me, sharing my story, even when it was done with more tears than words, was the start of my healthy coping with my PTSD. I continued to exercise as a way to feel present in my own body. When I woke up with nightmares, I began to actually get out of bed and work through a series of affirmations to remind myself that I was in the present moment free of harm.
It has been about 5 years since the initial discovery of my husband’s double life. I am now a divorced woman at the age of 30. Talk about what little girls dream of. I am taken off guard some days when I realize PTSD doesn’t just stop one day. There are still nights when I have terrible dreams. There are still movies I see, or conversations I hear, that make my body temperature regulation go haywire and I can’t seem to get warm. There are still places I can’t go if I don’t want to instantly feel nauseous.
The three things that I think have helped me the most are community, exercise and writing. Community has looked different each year since the initial event. At first, my only community was my therapist. It then became a support group.
Now, my community is a bit more well rounded with people from all walks of life. There were days, and still are days, where I don’t want community. I’d rather just lay in bed all day. But I have found that making myself connect, even when I don’t want to, has helped me cope and heal. Exercise continues to be a way that I can feel present in my body.
It is a reminder that I am present in the here and now. In those moments, trauma is not in front of me. I think I filled 3 journals over those 18 months of staying in my marriage after becoming traumatized. Writing down my thoughts helped them to get out of my head. It didn’t make them disappear but it did strip each thought of some of its power.
I don’t wish PTSD, addiction or divorce on anyone. The impacts of PTSD are lasting and difficult. The more I have learned to accept that it is a real thing, the more I have been able to find healthy ways to cope. Living with PTSD may not be what little girls dream of, but it is possible.
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Leave a comment if you’re battling with PTSD.