I’m not going to lie: 2018 was hands down the worst year of my life
And I’ve had some really shitty years of life. We all go through stuff where we feel it will break us. I’m pretty introverted (as in I don’t like small talk, I don’t really like talking to strangers, and even if I love your guts, being around people a lot mentally and emotionally drains me, and I need some alone time to recover. I’ll still be animated and excited to talk to you if I know you.)
Despite that, I’ve tried to be really open about hard things in my life, like my mental health challenges, mainly because I don’t want other people to feel alone. Hearing about other people dealing with similar things can be so comforting, just to know we’re not the only one struggling with something. In this past year, I’ve been incredibly isolated, some of my own making for self protection. I feel like I need to talk about something that is pretty taboo, and I think I’m mostly ready. This post has been written, and rewritten (over 20 times) for months. A LOT of people go through it, but almost no one talks about in a real way (from my experience).
Please move on if you hate stuff like this. It’s not for you.
I want to talk about infidelity. My husband, who I thought was the best human ever, and who I thought was crazy about me, cheated on me. Yes, he knows I am sharing this and supports it. I won’t go into details because honestly, that doesn’t matter for other people. This isn’t about making private info public, and that’s part of why I’ve held back and hidden away. Hell, I only told my parents a couple of months ago. I don’t think anyone can comprehend the level of destruction infidelity creates in a life, unless they’ve gone through it themselves. It’s kind of like natural childbirth; I honestly didn’t know my body could feel pain like that and still be alive.
Infidelity did this to my heart and mind. I hurt in unimaginable ways on so many levels. It altered my reality. I questioned everything: Who is this person? How could I not know they were capable of this? How can I trust myself when I was the one that chose this person? What is the reality of my marriage? How much of it all has been fake? And, how, how can I ever feel okay again? For months I honestly thought I would never feel truly happy again. A little over a year later, I’m glad that I do have a lot of good days and happy moments now.
One of the hardest parts was the shame that came with it. It felt like if people knew, they would judge me and say that I somehow contributed to it; that my husband was such a good guy that I must have driven him to it. I must have been too cold, I didn’t put out enough, whatever. That’s bullshit because I was all-in. I was a good wife, I really was, and I know it. I worked hard every day to meet his love languages, to let little things go, and to tell him how much I appreciated him. My main mistake was I enabled him to not deal with his own issues, because I thought he’d be motivated enough to do it on his own eventually.
Very often infidelity becomes an actual trauma in the life of the betrayed spouse. The definition of trauma is: A deeply distressing or disturbing experience; Emotional shock following a stressful event or a physical injury, which may be associated with physical shock and sometimes leads to long-term neurosis. On average, trauma usually takes 2-5 years to recover from.
I’ve done a ton of personal work and developed a lot of healthy coping skills so I didn’t backslide into previous unhealthy behaviors. I have an amazing therapist, and we have done EMDR to help with processing this. Living on a small island, with the person your spouse cheated with being a previous friend, is an extra special level of hell, so thanks to EMDR, I don’t freak out much if I see her car on the road anymore.
When people hear of infidelity, many will often say they would never tolerate it and would leave immediately. But if it happens to you, that’s not as easy as it sounds. You still love this person. You’ve still given your heart and soul to them. If I end my marriage it will fundamentally alter my 4 children’s lives. There is no right or wrong choice; it’s such a personal decision for each person to make.
You guys, my life will never, ever, ever be the same. Things I thought were fundamental, like real, unconditional, romantic love, I now doubt. I’m hardened, and jaded. I often don’t trust people or their intentions, whereas before, I used to assume most people were doing the best they can. There’s a constant undercurrent of pain, and loss, and sadness. If you know someone who has dealt with this, please show them so much love. I couldn’t comprehend it until I lived it. What I had previously thought would be the pain from infidelity is maybe 10% of the reality of living it. For me, it’s like PTSD and an existential crisis put together.
Some people can forgive, and it’s something I hope I can say one day, but knowing my partner is capable of this is something I feel should never, ever be forgotten. It seems reckless and unsafe. They have shown that they will make this choice at one point, and threatened your physical and mental health. I really liked my rose-colored glasses, but it won’t ever be safe for me to put them on again. I struggle so much with the thought of being in a marriage with a partner who chose to cheat on me; which makes me feel like he essentially threw me away like garbage. It’s a deep, dark stain that can’t ever be removed. There is no forgive and forget here.
There are a lot of excuses for it: bad marriages, poor coping skills, selfishness, lack of integrity, impulsiveness. In our case, it wasn’t even a bad or unhappy marriage. It was a lot of poor coping skills from childhood, refusing to get therapy and telling himself that he was fine, and those things led to feeding darker parts of himself that he didn’t even acknowledge existed. When he was actually in a tempting circumstance, he threw away his integrity and our marriage, because he had no idea who he really was. And I get to try to pick up the wreckage and remake my life, with or without him.
Why am I sharing this on my business website? Because I shoot families, with real issues, and real pain, who are often working through some really tough things, while still loving each other deeply. This is a huge part of me now, and it affects my work in how I see families. In some ways, it’s a good thing. Because I didn’t know pain like this, I couldn’t honor the beauty that comes from surviving it. And now I can. I’ve been there and I can tell you my zone and definition of family is layered and deep. That’s what I can look for and capture in your family.
You’re not alone
So, basically, the point of this is for anyone else who has dealt with this, or is currently, or even may in the future: You’re not alone, you’re not crazy, and even though it may not feel like it now, and it won’t happen quickly, you WILL be okay one day. And if you need someone who understands, I’m here. Always.
In the end, whether I leave my marriage is irrelevant. Whether you leave yours is irrelevant. Family portraiture is beautiful no matter what you do – your decisions are as personal as your life circumstances. But I, Erin, can capture that beauty in a different, more honest way. And to me, those are the most beautiful photos of all.