On being “strong”

ocean waters 2Ocean Waters 2, 10″ x 10″ oil on canvas

“To share your weakness is to make yourself vulnerable; to make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength.” ~Criss Jami

I find the above quote so intriguing. When I think of it in terms of Blue Eyes, I think sure that is his greatest challenge. To be truly vulnerable, to show the world who he really is. He has hidden inside a sick part of his own mind for decades. He felt he was a bad person and no one would love him if they knew who he really was. To stop the crazy and embrace the peaceful truth will make him a stronger person. Isn’t that great of me? Always thinking about others… {{sarcasm}}.

When I think of myself, however, it is equally as powerful and indeed where I should be focusing MY attention. Being the “strong” one surely is not the answer to my own happiness, and it never was.

I was reading on The White Owl blog about how difficult it is to be the strong one. I relate so intimately with her statement, “When you’re the strong one it leaves you in the firing line, a lot. I’ve been accused of being hard, I’m not… ” I have also been accused of being hard, as well as unfeeling, and arrogant. People have tried to bring me down a notch because they didn’t like how “strong” I appeared. Kind people always appreciated my efforts and my strength, aggressive people didn’t like the fact that I appeared to not need them.

In the case of many a betrayed spouse, it was our perceived strength that allowed our partners the freedom to cheat on us. We trusted them. We managed the house and the kids. We gave them their space. We wanted them to be successful in their lives and in their careers because that is what would ostensibly make them happy, right? That was certainly the case in my marriage. Yes, I worked too, yes I had the lion’s share of the responsibility for our children. I maintained the house and the finances and even our business while Blue Eyes was away. But in the end, me being that type of “strong” allowed him to be his kind of “weak.” Don’t get me wrong, there was nothing I or anyone else could have done to fix what is broken in him. However, I made it quite easy for him to feed his addiction. I never questioned anything, I continued to manage everything that needed to be managed in Blue Eyes’ absence, his physical AND his emotional absences. I was completely, 100% self sufficient. I do not believe I ever showed my true vulnerability. Perhaps I did not even know that kind of vulnerable existed in me.

I am not sure how well Blue Eyes actually knew me when we embarked on our relationship 30+ years ago. I know he considered me strong, strong willed and strong minded. I had great coping skills. I was (am) a natural manager of time, and people. He felt my solid positive qualities would marry nicely with his weaker ones. I am not making this up, he has said this to me. Did he say it at the time? Did he voice his reasons for being attracted to me not just for intimacy, but for a long term mate? Nope. I believe he knew that when he fell apart, I would always be there to pick him back up, and I was… I honestly always was. Excuse me as I take a break to cry my eyes out for being able to see something in hindsight that hurts me. What hurts? The fact that I had his back, but he did not have mine. The fact that I was chosen, to have his back. The fact that I was much much more vulnerable than even I imagined. The fact that I instinctively knew what my “place” was in my family, in my relationship with Blue Eyes, in my life. I never stopped to ask myself if what I was doing was good for me. I always equated being good and doing good as good for me. Perhaps I did not delve deep enough into what really drove me to be the “strong” one.

The reason I keep putting strong in quotes is because I am not sure my being strong for others was actually being strong for myself, and that is the most important kind of strong. In my case, I don’t think strong was strong at all. I want and need to be strong for me. The other kind of strong is not real.

I have learned a lot in the past year and a half, a lot about myself, a lot about the people around me, a lot about life, and human behavior.

The article (14 Extremely Personal Things Your ‘Emotionally Strong’ Friend Needs You To Know) linked by owlieme is written with the goal of educating the takers about the toll it takes on the givers to be the “strong” friend. Here are a few of the 14 Things that resonated with me:

We are strong because we have been through a lot. Sometimes we don’t tell you what we have been through, but trust us – you don’t get tough skin from staying out of the rain.

We have all been through a lot, I realize this. The thing is though, sometimes what we have been through trains us to be the strong one. I am the “strong” one, to a fault. At times, I am not proud of this moniker. Being the strong one for others as it turns out, was covering up the fact that I was actually quite weak and desperately in need of a “strong” one in my own life. We see others struggle and we instinctively know it is our job to remain stalwart, faithful, unwavering and loyal. We see an opening and we fill it. I did this from an early age with my sister. I literally was her rock. I do not resent or regret it. It was the right thing to do at the time. I have done this with my husband. The path was set a long time ago. Being strong, made me weak.

It can get really frustrating when your friends look at you like you have two heads when you actually get upset about something. Bad stuff happens to us, too, and we would like you to be there for us just as much as we are there for you.

This rarely happens with me. I often do not acknowledge the bad stuff because I do not want to burden people. When bad stuff has happened in my past, I often put on such a brave face that no one realizes I am suffering. I realize I have been hurting myself all along.

We are so afraid that if we do show emotion, people will judge us for being weak, because it is out of our character to be anything but indestructible. We won’t let our vulnerabilities show themselves unless it is really something that breaks us apart.

Yes, this is me. And, of course, the thing that broke me apart was my husband’s infidelity, his lying, his betrayal. It does not really matter why he did what he did. All that matters is I put my faith in him and our relationship and that faith was shattered. The picture I had of what my life was for the first 30+ years of our relationship is ripped to shreds. That is a fact. I can put some of the pieces back together and move forward with something, some semblance of what I knew to be my truth, my life, but there is no way anyone can repair it all. I was strong in the face of everything that had been handed to me to tackle the first 50 years of my life. I did not acknowledge any weakness in myself prior to d-day (other than my fucking inability to get myself to a reasonable body weight) so the revelations on that day, sent shock waves through me down to my inner most core. I was incredibly strong in dealing with external factors in my life, and I was ultimately astonishingly naive. I honestly never thought this would happen to me. Call it arrogance, call it immaturity, but I like to call it the worst kind of “strong.” The strong that is built on the premise that because I was good, and kind, and honest, and giving, that no one I really truly cared about would ever hurt me. I was so terribly terribly wrong. So so wrong. Blue Eyes thinks I hate being wrong. He makes fun of me all the time when I admit I made a mistake. I am not upset by making a mistake because I am competitive, I am upset because my reality has been altered. I only take on a cause, or argue a point if I really believe I am right, not for the sake of arguing. Being wrong alters my reality. I do not like my reality altered. I was wrong about Blue Eyes. He did cheat on me, lie to me and about me. I can fully admit, I was wrong about him.

On that note – we have the ability to break down harder than most of your friends. We hold in all of our feelings and your feelings for so long that sometimes it can all come crashing down harder than you’d expect.

Yes, yes, yes indeed.

We’re always focused on how we can develop ourselves to be better people. Our expectations on what would make our lives better are only set by us – not you, not society, not anyone or anything. We are strong because we discipline ourselves to hold tight to our values and beliefs we have set for ourselves.

Also true, but this level of rigidity also brings with it a lack of allowing ourselves to be vulnerable. Our standards are high for ourselves.

Sometimes a strong person needs a hug, too. It may not seem like it, but it’s pretty safe to say that most people like hugs…and we’re included in that.

And this is something we will most likely never ask for and because many of the people we are surrounded by need us to hug them, need us to be their rock, need us to stand strong, we rarely get the level of nurturing we need but don’t ask for. All these months into recovery, Blue Eyes still often asks for a hug for himself when I am ungrounded or when I bring up his acting out patterns or partners. When I am suffering, his first reaction is to go inside himself, mired in self pity, shame and fear and then ask me for that hug, for him, to make himself feel better. This is a pattern that was set a long time ago. It will be one of the most difficult to overcome. Because, we BOTH fall back into our habitual roles. Him asking for a hug, and me giving the hug, not the other way around.

One of the areas of discussion during my trauma therapy was the fact that I seem to surround myself with needy people. The therapist set me straight in that needy people seek me out (not the other way around) because they sense my strength and my ability to be their rock. I am the passive participant in most of my relationships. People find me and I do what I do best. I take care of them. In searching out this topic of being the “strong” one, I came across this website article Stop Being So Strong and the author has some lovely things to say to us strong women…

“As time unfolds though you get to the stage where you have been wearing that badge (of being strong) for such a long time, that it has become more of a shield.”

She says when you try to be THAT strong, “very few people see through the facade–even if they do–will you let them in? Will you stand in the wide open space of vulnerability?”

“When you are being THAT strong my love, it’s not self-empowerment. It’s self-shielding.”

“Because you are afraid to be loved, and to trust love. Afraid to show your imperfections and raw vulnerability.”

Many months of self reflection have brought me to this place where I know I need to be practicing daily self care (yes, yes, I know many people have been saying this to me for a very long time) and doing two things. I need to take care of myself first. I need to take care of me before I give anything to anyone else. And, I need to stop being the old kind of strong. I need to show my vulnerability, and not just on a blog. In real life too.

26 thoughts on “On being “strong”

  1. I am trying to find some answers and stumbled across this old blog. I had a couple bad days…. I feel like I have been “strong and good” and yesterday I fell apart. I am not completely sure why. I think just reflecting and a lot of anger and overwhelming sadness dragged me into a dark dark place. I hate feeling this way. There was very little of this in me b4 DDay 5 months ago. I was a strong woman who helped others figure things out. I concentrated on walking on the sunny light side of life. I so relate to you saying you were strong and he was able to be weak. I feel the same. My addict knew I could handle most anything….
    until now….
    and now I don’t resemble my old self sometime
    and now it is difficult to feel all of this
    and now my addict doesn’t know what the hell to do when I go off the rails for 36 hours

    I spew hatred at his behaviors and disbelief in his actions because I truly am honestly befuddled how any human being can live so unconsciously.

    And then I hate myself. I hate that I got so out of control. I feel embarrassed. I apologize to the man who handed me this dead, sordid, incredibly sad life that Is now living in me. I know deep down somewhere that I will heal. I trust me, always have. This is a blow to my resilience, however, bc my inner strength isn’t always there for me. Why is this so different from other obstacles in life?? I don’t want to continually hurt him by bringing up the past. There are no new answers, no perfectly rational explanation for twice a week blow jobs after work in the basement of the office.

    I live in Pittsburgh and don’t have a lot of sexual addiction specialists in the area. I am seeing a counselor now and she is helpful but she isn’t schooled in SA. If anyone has advice how to manage the flare ups and whether to leave the addict out of it I would appreciate it. Often I feel like I am tearing off a barely there scab and exposing it to crude infection once again. I want to quit sabotaging my happiness and move forward. Is it even possible really???

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    • If you would like to converse with me by email, please don’t hesitate to write me at crazy0907cat@yahoo.com

      I would have written sooner, but I have a case of walking pneumonia and have been off my electronics/social media for the most part for a few days.

      The trauma does terrible things to us, I know. Is your addict seeking help for his addiction? What kind of help? I only ask this because it helps me understand how equipped he is to deal with your trauma episodes. Even if they are seeking help (i.e., therapy, 12 step, etc… ) it will take months and months if not longer for them to understand what they have done. They may get it on a surface level, but if they REALLY got it, they couldn’t have done what they did. By that I mean the lying and betrayal. And somehow we sense this… we sense that they are not understanding what they did to us, and it fuels the trauma. At least it did for me.

      It is very important for us to be able to work through our betrayal trauma. When I was going through the worst of it, in the first 18 months or so, maybe longer, I honestly didn’t recognize myself. Some days I felt like I was handling everything so well. Why wouldn’t I? I am strong and able and kind and compassionate and generous and all those things and supposedly (and I did keep telling myself this) it wasn’t about me at all. But, I learned I needed to allow myself to feel the emotions of betrayal. Unfortunately, for me, those emotions brought about some serious self harm. This scared everyone around me that knew the truth about my husband… our therapists, friends, family, etc… I was never intending to kill myself, just release the pain. I now understand cutting… a brain response to such deep and horrific pain, plus the post traumatic stress that follows it. We all handle it differently but I instinctively knew that if I tried to pretend too much, if I tried to keep it inside too much, I would explode.

      Yes, it is possible to stop sabotaging our happiness and move forward, BUT, it takes conscious effort on our parts. I wrote that post about how time does not heal the wounds, it is what we do with our time that counts. For me that meant truly believing that what he did had nothing to do with me. That he was incapable of controlling his behavior despite the consequences, that he is truly an addict and addiction takes years in recovery to merely manage. I still evaluate daily whether this is the life I want, with an addict. I try really hard to focus on my husband as a whole person, not just his addiction. He is worth it, to me. My husband has not acted out sexually for over three years now, but that does not mean he is not an addict. I had to separate myself from the sex acts. I had to separate myself from the other women. All that is in the past, but it does haunt me at my worst moments. I don’t want it to, I desperately try to control it, but instead I have learned to live through it. I literally do feel split in two some days… the real me has become quite adept at convincing the broken me that we are okay. We will survive and thrive despite what anyone around us does. There is no easy answer to this. The being kind to ourselves though, is a real thing. Let yourself feel what you need to feel, then move away from those feelings by doing something you really love. Remind yourself of how worthy you are of the love you have for yourself. Take your husband out of the picture and let him work on himself. I desperately did NOT want to do this for a very long time. I think that broken part of me wanted to hang on to the feelings of betrayal because it was and is so unfair… if I let it go, I am saying it is okay to treat me bad. But that is not my reality. My husband did not intend to treat me badly and he hated himself every step of the way. What matters is how I treat myself on those toughest of days. My being angry at him does not help me. It keeps me in that dark place, but I had to live through it in order to figure that out.

      This hurts so bad, like nothing else, because being betrayed by the one you love most is not natural. It is difficult for us to metabolize the thought of it. What is helping me is truly knowing in my heart that I did absolutely nothing wrong and I am the same person I always was. And my husband was not who I thought he was, but he is trying hard to be the person he pretended to be. He wanted to be that person. I know he did. He’s learning how now. He’s doing a good job. Big hugs, Pittsburgh! You’ve got this!!! ❤

      p.s. I've never been to Pittsburgh. I hear it is lovely. My son's friend is in medical school there and he loves it.

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  2. This is so true! Everyone thinks I’m so strong and in personality I am. But I can be weak n vulnerable as well. I think being vulnerable isn’t weak, it’s strong. Allowing others to see how vulnerable we are takes courage. If someone can’t love my vulnerability as well as my strength? Then I don’t want their love.
    Of course you trusted him. If we can’t trust our spouse, then whom can we trust? Hugs to u xo

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  3. Bullseye. :/

    It absolutely is a shield, now. Being strong, from my POV at the moment, adapted to new phases as needed. I appreciate that. I need shielding right now. I need quiet mental space to feel out my place in everything. What feels like a thin, final veil of Not Knowing seems to have been ripped away. (Though, of course, there are more. There always are… a neverending litany that only living wholly will drop, one by one, if we struggle/earn/experience our way through each of them.) I’m wary of some people immediately and suspicious of many more others than I used to be, especially those I thought I knew well. Between W’s betrayal and dealing with a “friend” who is actually a dangerously manipulative narcissist (and carefully extricating her from my life in every way, which culminated with making my blog private entirely), I’m very on edge. It’s like I can see their minds (WOW did they flock to me before!) processing and I know what they’re going to do… or rather, see them thinking over their options and how they are as human beings and know what they’ll choose and why. It lets me make better choices for myself. Yes, a definite shield… of time. I have time to be proactive before they even what they’re going to attack me with; it’s a massive shield against manipulation. They were like sneaky, rogue arsonists… now I’ve put out all the fires and they know that *I* know what they’re up to. Knowing that – knowing who they are – does most of the work in keeping them away.

    Maybe in protecting ourselves with this shield, initially, it gives us that time? Time and a protective space to understand how we can better be strong for ourselves?

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  4. Snacks? What sort of snacks?
    I am in.
    I like the post a lot. We would not all be here is we didn’t have a certain type of strength.
    I liked your take when you mentioned being right in arguments. There is a festival that place in my house when I am proved wrong on something. I know I get adamant if I believe something to be right but I will act with grace when prove wrong. now I can look at it in another light. Thank you xxxx
    Now, what sort of snacks are we talking about? Will there be cake?
    What about some nice champagne?
    A NZ sav Blanc is nice too.
    Cheese?

    Liked by 3 people

  5. I have been thinking about this. I also “instinctively” knew who to ask about. He has never had sex with any of my “instinctively known” women. But I did wonder. I did wonder about those close friendships. Because they were the same “kinds” of friendships as he appeared to have with Leanne. They talked. About life. About hopes, dreams, fears, fun, laughter, the hard stuff WE had been through, how he and I were on the same page for the vast majority of “stuff” – and contrasting that with the views and opinions of those women. Interesting, human analysis stuff.

    However, it was me going back over the “instinctive” stuff that uncovered something he had completely forgotten. The prostitute. The one off time he did something he felt incredibly uncomfortable about, and told me a “Roger” version of the truth about – when I probed him at the time. He forgot all about it. He had locked that in its compartment. And that triggered me to wonder if there were other things back there in his dusty mind – other instances of inappropriate behaviour that he had “forgotten.” Truth, you can’t handle the truth – but the thing is, I CAN handle any truth. I crave truth. And I also understand that there are various versions of truth – that perspective can alter truth. However, he told me at the time that they were all very drunk, and in the spirit of peer pressure, on a stag night, that he had stupidly ended up in a room with a hooker, but had freaked out and nothing happened. I called bullshit then (gently) and he changed the story to a “hand job.” I probed further, and he was adamant it was just that. The stupid thing is, I am no prude. I get it, he was mid 20s, had never been in a brothel, had never wanted to be in a brothel, was drunk, with a bunch of guys in a brothel, he was curious. I get it. But don’t fucking lie about what happened. As I said, what does it matter if you came in her hand, or in her body? No fucking difference. And I believed that lie for over twenty years. So, what else was there????

    And that is why he doesn’t alter his understanding of the truth anymore – “does my bum look big in this?” “Mmmm, yep, it does a bit, why don’t you wear the xyz? It looks great on you…..”

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    • Honesty is the best policy. They lie because they think they can get away with it and they don’t want to have to deal with the consequences. Once they truly get it, they realize lying never works. So glad Rog has figured that out for himself, regardless of where you guys are at. Unfortunately, the longer they have been doing it and getting away with the more difficult it is to exorcise the concept. Addicts have an incredibly difficult time telling the truth. Lies are their shield. They think they are protecting themselves when in fact they are destroying themselves.

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  6. I have never been what I consider to be “strong.” I wear my emotions on my sleeve, but if have found that people warm to me because I’m not perfect. They can relate to me and we can share vulnerabilities. You are only human Kat, a person with feelings and needs of her own. It is okay to be “selfish sometimes. Life only gets one go around, make it a good one, and make sure YOU get to live it, not just helping your loved ones live theirs. You deserve so much happiness ❤️

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  7. LOVE!!! Oh yes!

    On trust. To trust the person you love because of your own values is a special kind of vulnerable. I was questioned many times over the decades, by friends who NEVER trusted their husbands to do the right thing. I thought that terribly sad. But maybe I was a little smug??? I don’t know. I know I never felt the need to say no, or query where he was, in the sense of checking up on him. Yeah, we did talk. I asked. But not as a checking mechanism, more as a share-your-day/night with me. I can’t help but wonder if I was naive? But of course I wasn’t. I knew infidelity happened. I knew it could happen to anyone. I just thought our discussions about it made it abundantly clear to talk to me. Even if he fucked up and had a ONS, talk to me, let’s fix what was going wrong if that should ever happen. Don’t stay silent and tempt yourself to keep going. The first time he fucked her he thought he’d NEVER do that again. Too awful. Too mean. Too scary. But because he didn’t talk to me, he went back five months later and did it again. And then it was game on.

    Hi, my name is Paula, and I used to be strong……

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    • I instinctively knew Blue Eyes would never have a one night stand. That much I feel like I did know. He groomed women, but I just thought it was innocent flirting. We talked about this yesterday. On d-day, I knew exactly who to ask about. I wasn’t naive in the sense that I knew he flirted obsessively. I honestly with all my heart never thought he would have sex with another woman. But I knew he crossed my line, and I knew his line was different than mine. Once I realized he wasn’t who I thought he was, I immediately knew he had had sex with “Ashley” and “the slutty secretary.” My line is very very solid. I don’t think it is because I fear I would have an affair, but because I just don’t think it is right to share intimate details with another man about my personal life with my husband or my happiness or my marriage. I feel it is disrespectful to my partner. I should share those things with him. That is the line I have never crossed and never will while I am married. I’m pretty sure I knew Blue Eyes had crossed that line because he needed ego stroking. I didn’t really care if he talked about me or our marriage, even to make himself feel better, because I knew he loved me. I think now, in hindsight, that I was always vulnerable and hurting because I knew he wasn’t like me and although I ignored it and rationalized it, it hurt me. I need to learn to forgive myself for being blindsided. I trusted him. I don’t think trusting people makes us weak, but it does make us vulnerable. If that makes sense? It is even more difficult now because I know the truth and the power of the disease.

      Hi, my name is Kat, and I used to be strong… and now I am vulnerable, and mighty! Hey, we could run our own betrayed spouse seminar!!! Love you, Paula. ❤

      Liked by 3 people

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