The hardest thing

I learned an interesting thing this week.

Yesterday, at 9:23 in the morning, I said something to my spouse that I thought would be the hardest thing. It’s been building for months — the secrecy, the will-I-or-won’t-I deliberations, the heartache and confusion — and then I finally said it:

I said, I had an affair.

And then I said, I’m sorry.

And then I said, I don’t know what it means yet.

I thought it would be difficult. And it is incredibly painful to be vulnerable and to know that inside the vulnerability is not some sweet seed of connection but an act that caused pain to another person. And to myself and to our daughter as well, of course.

But I thought it would be difficult because it has everything to do with the pattern of scarcity, of not-enoughness, which is actually not about enoughness but my worst fear, the one that hides even deeper than fear of loss of self: my worst fear is that I will be rejected.

And…I wasn’t.

But that wasn’t the hardest or most confusing thing, by a long shot.

No, the hardest part came when I got in the car and drove away from the counselor’s office and started thinking to myself, Why can’t I feel anything?

Not because it wasn’t a valid response; not because I wanted to feel anything in particular.

But because I was also thinking, It’s been like this for a while. And worse: I know exactly why. And I know how to fix it. And how hard it would be.

How it begins

There are plenty of heartbreakingly common ways that an affair can happen. There are many simple, terrible ways to sum it up. (I have said the worst of them, the insults and the recriminations, to myself, in secret: an inoculation against inevitability, perhaps.)

But the simplest way I’ve come to understand the origin of my actions goes like this: earlier this year, I made a decision to put down my armor and turn away from distractions. I did this, at first, without really knowing what the real consequences would be.

I don’ t wish to imply that an affair was inevitable, or to deflect blame. This is simply my story: I put down my armor and turned away from distractions because I believe in dancing with ambiguity. I knew it was the next step, to flail into the glorious mess of my humanness and figure things out. And there was, of course, plenty of insight to be gained in the whole process. It began with honoring my body. There were ecstatic moments of singing farandolae along the way. I lost thirty-five pounds.

There was the external work, and there was the internal work. Every time I met with an obstacle, I tried to dismantle it gently, a veil dropping, with sovereignty. I was trying to figure out what this very faint voice was saying, from the future, from the version of myself who had figured things out.

But when the affair happened, it was like the voice came suddenly screaming out of me.

Deafening. Insistent.

No more hiding. No more wondering what I was struggling with, this amorphous thing that shows up to baffle me in every area of my life.

Here is your struggle, writ large.

Identity. Desire. Enoughness. Wholeness. Honesty.

It was loud, and destructive, breaking away things I thought were true and forging a new self before I had any idea what was going on. I had no idea this voice was so deep in hiding, nor how difficult it would be, after the affair, to listen to its more subtle messages. With a disorienting ringing in my ears.

Everyone hides from the voice in different ways. In sleep, in zombie internet hours, in food, in disrupted routines, in isolation. After hearing it so loudly, and struggling in its aftermath, I hid from it again. In all those ways.

And guess what? It worked. In the most depressing way.

And in the car, driving away from the counselor’s office, I realized exactly what was going on. I wasn’t feeling anything because I had stifled my body in order to counter-balance the seasick tumult of emotions. I had put on my armor. Gathered in all my favorite distractions. Found myself numb as can be.

And it felt awful. Of course.

What comes next

The way in is not the way out. Labyrinths are deceptive that way: it’s the same path; you’re not the same person. You’re changed by the path you walk.

The first half of 2011 was about taking off my armor with no fear or foreknowledge.

The second half of 2011 will be about taking it off some more and knowing it will be hard. Knowing there will be painful discoveries. Things to reckon with and say out loud in ways I’ve never had to try before.

But I know it will be hard and painful even without knowing. Knowing because you can never be so sure you know the story in advance. Because knowing {what it is} will always compromise your certainty on {where it is going}, and vice versa.

All I do know is this: it’s my task to listen. To speak. To repair.

Because I can’t go back to that armored state, the safe and sad confines of that life. And I can’t pretend there is any easy fix. I simply (not simply) have to keep going.



If you’re reading this, or if you’ve ever read, thank you. This is part of it. This journal, this work, this honesty. This is a difficult thing to share. All reactions are valid. Here in this situation there is so much pain; and I believe in Havi’s beautiful metaphor, that the fountain has no hierarchy of pain. In speaking about this, I do not place myself or my pain under or above any other experience of pain. I just place it here, as a story, to let you know where I am. And to thank you for reading, friend.

About jesse k.

Writer. Mama. Spy in the house of self-awareness. Occasional crafter, letterpress geek, and academic snob.
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14 Responses to The hardest thing

  1. Jesse,

    I am so touched and moved and grateful to you for sharing this so honestly and openly.

    You are beautiful and shining, in the good and the hard, and your work of unprotecting yourself is the most amazing thing.

    In shared intimacy, I bow deeply to you.


    Love Reba

    • jesse k. says:

      Reba, thank you for reading and for saying such sweet words. The work of unprotecting — I like that phrase.


  2. Distance says:

    Now. To think. Breathe. Reflect. And live. Because life is not yet over. A series of events that unfold. Destroy and rebuild. Recreate. I’ve done this. I’ve left the partner because I’ve had an affair. The partner told me not to go. But I did. I wish I hadn’t. But time is at it is.

    • jesse k. says:

      I have a lot to figure out, yes. And trying to do it without reenacting anyone else’s stories or truths or expectations is especially hard.

  3. KJ says:

    This reminds me of a period in my life, long ago, where a similar thing happened. I am not proud of my actions then, but it was a period of transition to a better place. Best wishes to you.

  4. blogasana says:

    wow – such an honest place. thank you for sharing this sacred inner process. all the best…

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  6. Simone says:

    I see that this is from a while ago, so I am hoping for assumed amnesty.

    Somehow I just discovered this space and I am astounded by the deeply-felt yet undramatic beauty of your writing. So much of this is healing for me. Very much so.

    I don’t have much else to say besides that I hope you will keep writing and sharing.

    • jesse k. says:

      I’m always grateful to know that my writing has resonated for someone — thanks for coming back here and commenting. This particular post is hard one to come back and write about because today, three months later, there are so many unresolved things. So much unknowing. It feels very, very important to me not to write about it any more unless I know I’m writing from my heart, and that part of me is hard to expose right now. And of course, some of it needs to be shared within my partnership before it can be shared outside of it.

      Anyway, thank you thank you for reading and commenting. I’ll keep writing for sure 🙂

      • Claire P says:

        Jesse, you and your partner are both courageous and I truly honour what you’re doing to work through the pain and muck, the shame and blame, responsibility and growth, hope and love, and honesty, painful/joyful, searing honesty together.

        Good wishes to you. Thank you for your writing. xo

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