A new reality – that’s the best way I know to describe the state of mind I found myself in after discovering my husband’s infidelity. For countless women, this is the case. It’s as jarring as if we had been caught in some sort of transporter ray by some alternate dimension alien and found ourselves trying to make sense of a completely different world. We are stunned – frozen where we stand both in mind and body, and confused beyond our brains ability to comprehend. This is the reality of processing trauma, especially betrayal trauma.
If this is you, my friend, then this article is meant to be an encouragement to you. I’m not going to try to fix you with solutions to rapidly pull you out of this stage of your healing journey. Rather, I intend to lay out what it feels like to be hit with such a trauma, and places we can go to find safety. I want to stand in solidarity with you as you process what has happened because in times like these, one of the most comforting things available to us is the knowledge that we are not alone and that the way we feel is not crazy or abnormal, but is shared by many others who have faced the same trial.
So let’s get into it and discuss some of the ways betrayal alters our state of being as we learn to process our trauma and accept a new reality.
Pin it for later!
Processing Trauma – Finding the Scattered Puzzle Pieces
I have often described the early stages of processing trauma (specifically betrayal trauma) like this:
It’s as if your life is a great big puzzle. Before you discovered the betrayal, the pieces appeared to fit together pretty well. Sure, there were a few pieces that seemed to be missing, and maybe a handful of pieces that you kind of had to force into place, but overall you understood your puzzle and felt satisfaction with how well it was coming together.
Then betrayal hits, and though you would expect it to simply be one new ugly piece that you have to try to fit into that puzzle, it instead breaks the entire thing. Every piece you thought you had seen clearly and placed into its proper place is suddenly scattered across the floor. And now, you find yourself crawling around, frantically trying to find and gather the pieces together again, but even when you do, you are horrified to find they no longer fit together at all.
The picture you thought you were making is lost and a new reality stands in its place. And no matter how hard you try, you can’t seem to process it or make your brain understand what has happened.
It is a desperate place! Everything inside of us wants to find a way to rewind the clock and find a way to prevent this from happening. Every memory is suddenly tainted and we obsess over the details, wondering which parts were real and which ones were lies.
What was he thinking about when we were together, we wonder. Did he wish he was somewhere else, or with someone else? Does our family mean anything to him? Did it ever? When did it all fall apart? Does he love our kids? What was he doing that time on vacation when we all went out to do something fun and he stayed back at the hotel? What about all those times he stayed up late into the night because he “couldn’t sleep?” Has he said all the things that make my heart flutter to someone else too? Did he call her the pet names he calls me? Did he…
And on, and on, and on we go…
It’s a New Reality. Take the Time You Need to Understand It.
There are many who will tell you this kind of obsessive thinking is unhealthy, and if it goes on for years and years, I would agree. But I honestly believe that for a shorter period of time at the beginning, it is a healthy and necessary part of processing trauma.
We really are dealing with a new reality. A completely unforeseen monster has yanked us off our feet and knocked us out. We have to wrap our minds around what has happened! We have to lay there for a minute and let ourselves be dazed and confused because if we try to jump right back up onto our feet we’re going to fall again. And who knows how much unnecessary additional damage will be done if that happens?
So friend, if this is you, take the time you need. Shut out the noise from anyone who is telling you to get over it quickly. That is not the way to true and lasting healing. Lay there for a minute and assess your injuries. Let it sink in that you’re facing a new reality. Sit up slowly and take the time to search for those puzzle pieces. Crawl around for awhile if you need to.
Cry. Be scared. Be angry. Wrestle your way through the details and do your bargaining with reality. These are all normal and healthy steps in the grieving process, and IT IS OKAY TO MOURN THIS!
Something precious has been taken away from you. Robbed from you. It is not different than a sudden and unexpected death. It IS a death. The sacred covenant you made on your wedding day has died. It is a tragedy. You have to let yourself grieve it. Anything less would be like burying your head in the sand and refusing the necessary step of processing trauma and facing the truth of your situation.
Finding Safety While Processing Trauma
Not only is processing trauma an important step, though, being safe while you process is also vital to your healing. You might need some space for this, or you might need some support. Whatever it is you need, don’t be afraid to let it be known. Speak honestly with the people who love you. Do your best to explain what you’re going through and tell them what you need from them.
I have found that people generally want to be helpful and supportive in trauma situations, but more often than not don’t know how. Because they are so afraid of doing something wrong, they often end up doing nothing. Or, in an attempt to not do nothing, they guess what you will need – often wrongly (because they don’t understand) – and end up seeming insensitive or even mean. Honest communication goes a long way!
But the reality is, some of us will not have a lot of options for safe spaces. Our world is fallen and broken and toxic. The good news is, there is one safe place available to all of us!
Psalm 46:1-2 – God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea.
Psalm 4:8 – In peace I will lie down and sleep, for You alone, O Lord, will keep me safe.
Nahum 1:7 – The Lord is good, a strong refuge when trouble comes. He is close to those who trust in Him.
Proverbs 18:10 – The Name of the Lord is a strong fortress; the godly run to Him and are safe.
That’s right. No matter how your life has been shattered by the earthquake of betrayal, no matter how unstable the strong places in your life have become, the Lord God Almighty is a place of safety to everyone who runs to Him for protection. He will cover you and shield you. He will guide and advise you as you struggle to find the path forward.
Friend, you may need to separate yourself from the one who betrayed you – at least for a time as processing trauma becomes your focus. But do not make the mistake of transferring the blame onto the ONE truly safe place there is. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking God did this. He did not. Sin did this. God simply allowed it because He is good, and He gives us the freedom to reject Him and His ways. He is grieved by this sin, just as you are. Run to Him and be comforted!
Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
This I declare about the Lord: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; He is my God, and I trust Him.
For He will rescue you from every trap and protect you from deadly disease.
He will cover you with His feathers. He will shelter you with His wings.
His faithful promises are your armor and protection.
Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night, nor the arrow that flies in the day.
Do not dread the disease that stalks in the darkness, nor the disaster that strikes at midday.
Though a thousand fall at your side, though ten thousand are dying around you, these evils will not touch you.
Just open your eyes and see how the wicked are punished.
If you make the Lord your refuge, if you make the Most High your shelter,
no evil will conquer you; no plague will come near your home.
For He will order His angels to protect you wherever you go.
They will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.
You will trample upon lions and cobras; you will crush fierce lions and serpents under your feet!
The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love Me.
I will protect those who trust in My Name.
When they call on Me, I will answer; I will be with them in trouble.
I will rescue and honor them. I will reward them with a long life and give them My salvation.”
A Few Steps to Help You Face a New Reality
As we’ve established (I hope), you NEED to go through the step of processing trauma. It is vital to your healing. Don’t try and skip this stage of the process. But as you face off with a new reality, here are just a few steps you can take to make it just a little bit more bearable:
Step One – Trust God to Lead You Into a New Reality
We’ve already covered this, but it is SO important, so I want to make sure to say it again. Trust God. Let Him lead you. Processing trauma is scary and confusing, but God is above it all. He sees clearly and He loves you more than you can even imagine! He knows what is coming down the road, even when you can’t hardly see clearly where you are now. Ask Him to show you which path to take, and He will faithfully lay every step. (Proverbs 3:5-6) I promise!
Step Two – Live in Honesty
We briefly covered this one too, but it’s important. Speak the truth. Don’t try and hide during this time. You’re going to want to protect yourself by pretending everything is okay. Don’t do it. Let people into your pain, and be honest about your situation. You’re facing a new reality, so don’t try to pretend like you’re still in the old reality. The sooner you acknowledge where you actually are, the sooner you can move on to a better place.
Step Three – Let People In and Ask for Help
I know there is nothing you want more than to find a rock and hide under it. But again, this is a tool of the enemy, and your best shot at true healing is to do the exact opposite. I’m not saying you need to announce your situation from the rooftops. Not everyone is safe. But you do need to find a support network of people who will surround you as you are processing your trauma and help fill in the gaps.
You need friends who will take the kids for a few hours to give you some time to cry, and friends who will sit with you quietly and cry along with you. You need a pastor and a church body who will stand beside you and have your back as you hold to strong Biblical boundaries moving forward. And you need an advisor (or several) who understands your situation, understands the importance of processing trauma, is dedicated to honoring God, and can help you navigate the treacherous path ahead.
Step Four – Commit to Moving On
Finally, as important as it is to go through this stage of trauma healing, it is also vital that you eventually move past it. At some point, you have to face the fact that a new reality has taken over your life and you have to learn to live there and thrive there.
There was a day, my friend, when I could not even imagine one minute passing without some terrible thought about what had happened hijacking and dominating my thoughts. I didn’t believe it was going to be possible to ever get past it. I didn’t think I’d ever feel normal again. But here I am. It is rare that an unwelcome thought about the betrayal enters my mind. I am at peace and filled with joy again. In other words, I am healed.
Don’t try and rush yourself to be healed, but don’t try to avoid it either. You have been victimized, but you don’t have to stay a victim. Processing trauma is important, but moving on to live your life in victory is also critical. So commit to taking the time you need and then moving on. Be actively working towards that goal, and trust God to show you the way.
You can do this friend! I know you are scared. I know nothing makes sense anymore. But this too shall pass. A day WILL come when you can put this behind you and look back on it as the part of your story God used to shape you into something even more beautiful than before. None of the ugliness will be gone, but you’ll be able to see how God used it for your good – just as He promised He would.