by Lynda Ward
Whenever I'm asked to describe what trauma – especially betrayal trauma – is like, I say: Imagine going to bed one night, safe and secure in your own bedroom, in your favorite pajamas, snuggled under a warm blanket, inside the home you've known and loved for years. But when you wake, still in your pajamas, you find yourself curled up on hard, cold concrete behind a trash dumpster in the back alley of a place you've never before been or seen. It's still night and dark. You can hear voices, people talking. But when you listen closely, you realize they are speaking a language you can't understand. You check to see if this is a dream, or a nightmare. But no, it is reality. Somehow you went to bed in your own home and you woke up here. Three questions immediately come to you: 1) Where am I? 2) How did I get here? And, most importantly, 3) How do I get back home?
The answer to that third question is the most painful and yet simplest: you can't get back home. No amount of wishing, praying, trying, or clicking your heels together and repeating "there's no place like home" will work — you can never return to the place you were, hours before, when you went to bed. If you have experienced betrayal trauma, you likely know what happens next. Once the sun comes up, some good-hearted, well-meaning people will see you crouching behind the dumpster looking frightened and confused. And they will offer advice: You should go home. You must try to work things out. Or forget going home, you need to go someplace else and find yourself a new life. Or you've got to bloom where you're planted — meaning, of course, stay here in this strange land but get yourself out from behind that dumpster, get out of those pajamas, find an apartment, and get a job. Or just let go of the past and move on.
So what should you do? Stay? Leave? Give things a few weeks, months, or years before making a decision? Or should you let go and move on? What does it mean to live in "the gap": in that time between disclosure day (D-day), or the day you discovered you’ve been betrayed by your partner, and the day when you can confidently make a decision about your future?
The importance of "gaps"
As a Certified Spiritual Director, and having taught religion classes that focused on personal transformation at a private university for over eleven years, I know the importance of "gaps." Gaps are those unique times of transition which occur when what you had expected to happen doesn't happen. Instead of what you had expected, something completely unpredictable and altogether unexpected happens. This opens up a gap.
For example, you're on your way home from work and you stop by a convenience store to buy milk. While you’re waiting to pay, two masked, gunmen burst through the door. One grabs you and puts a gun to your head. You couldn't have expected this, and so it opens a gap. Or when you think you have a simple infection and go to the emergency room expecting the usual round of antibiotics but instead discover you have stage 4 cancer—a gap opens. Or while taking a walk with your husband, the man you have loved and admired for years, on a warm, sunny summer afternoon, you suddenly discover he has been, for your entire marriage, hiding his secret life from you, and you had no clue—this opens a gap, and a new journey begins.
Gaps reveal who you truly are. They expose every part of you, parts healthy and unhealthy, your beliefs or lack of beliefs, your ingrained habits, and your strengths and weaknesses. How you respond to gaps will determine your future. "Gap Times" as I call them, those distinct times of transition, are some of the most significant and influential times in our lives because there is an unbelievable amount of insight and wisdom to be gained for those who will embrace the deep, rich experiences, and pain, that gaps uniquely offer. Gaps are where deep healing and true transformation can begin.
Living in the gap
In my own life, I have been living in the gap for several years now, and I have learned several things:
Discernment takes time. When your life has been turned upside down, and you are struggling to get your footing, it is okay to make temporary-only decisions. In fact, it is perfectly normal to decide one thing one day, then later change your mind, then change your mind again. And it’s also okay to make no immediate decisions at all. Please don't let anyone push you to make a decision that you aren't ready to make or to do anything with which you aren't completely comfortable. Discernment is a process that takes time and support. Being overwhelmed by trauma certainly slows the discernment process. So it's okay not to know what you want to do long term. In fact, it is very important to take time to carefully weigh all of your options and figure out where God’s truly calling you. And time itself is a gift because it offers you the opportunity to heal your wounds, build your support network, prepare for the future, and assess your partner's investment (or lack of investment) in recovery as well as the overall health of your relationship. Should you decide you want to try to save your relationship, you'll need time to find the right resources to help you repair and rebuild it. Should you decide you don’t, you will need time to find the right resources and support for leaving the relationship too.
Next week we'll finish off Lynda's learnings from "the gap" and look at "embracing the gap"
Lynda Ward, M.T.S., C.S.D. has been a Certified Spiritual Director for over 20 years. She is also an educator and an award winning writer and photographer. Learn more about Lynda.
In the month of June I'll be looking at answering your questions about the betrayal trauma journey. Go ahead and email those in. I will assume you wish to remain anonymous unless you tell me otherwise.