Helping the vulnerable not just survive, but thrive
Writing about it has helped me break through the lies and my over-reactive defense mechanisms
For the past year, I’ve been hard at work writing a traumatic story of betrayal. It’s my story — a brutal tale that began four years ago. The events are so disturbing that the details get fuzzy in my sharp memory.
Here’s the opening of the book:
As I prepared to step into the pool, a bee floated past, trapped on the water’s surface. One wing stood straight up; the other was stuck. Both its legs whipped the air. The bee’s instincts for self-preservation only hastened its inevitable demise as it exhausted itself.
The bee most likely landed on one of the partially submerged lounge chairs for a drink. It didn’t notice that the chair’s sloping glossy surface was wet. Thirsty, the bee was beckoned by the shimmering water. It didn’t realize that it was being lured to its death.
I recognized its panic — I’d made the same error.
As a grieving widow, I was desperate to be loved again. I thought I’d met the most amazing man, only to learn he’d fooled me. Like the bee, my instincts made the situation worse. I scrambled to fix things, only to be ensnared further.
A Brief Synopsis
In short, I married a man who kept a terrible secret —hidden double sexual life. With each disclosure or discovery, the betrayals mounted. He kept me confused using intimidation, gaslighting, and deception. After one too many lies, it was finally over.
I still don’t have the entire picture of what happened for those two years of marriage. I probably never will.
Writing sidelines my psychological defense mechanisms
Writing this story has been interesting, to say the least. The task of recounting the chronological events at first was tough. Repression, an unconscious defense mechanism that “forgets” traumatic moments, had hidden some of the details. There were times I had to start with what I last remembered and work my way forward. It helped to keep a digital notepad handy to jot down flashbacks. With persistence, I slowly filled in the blanks.
Once the memories were recalled and written, missing pieces appeared. There, in black and white, were undeniable details. Suddenly I “saw” what I couldn’t see before. I made dramatic revelations and powerful psychological insights.
As a long-term sufferer of trauma, my mind is good at avoiding the truth. It likes to jump and skip over facts when I’m going through something upsetting. This hinders my ability to draw appropriate conclusions. It doesn’t help that I struggle to trust my gut instinct and miss critical intuitions. In an effort to “protect” me, my unconscious mind often hurts me.
However, this defense mechanism is sidelined or effectively disengaged once I see the written facts. As I read back aloud what I’ve typed, the truth becomes evident. It’s right there in the text.
As someone who grew up in a dysfunctional home, this is a relief. It’s crazy-making not to know what’s real. For me, it’s a lot like standing on quicksand — unpredictable and dangerous. Writing this story has helped me to unravel the mysterious circumstances surrounding my second marriage. I believe I can finally answer the question of why this man married me.
Telling a traumatic story takes tremendous energy
Yet, writing and editing the story is emotionally exhausting. The cost of being in the throes of its details day after day takes its toll. Lately, I haven’t been interested in dating or seeing friends; I prefer to stay home and work instead. Insomnia is a frequent problem, and my sex drive has disappeared. All my energy is being redirected to finishing the book.
I’ve recently been editing with the help of a writing group. I read small portions of the manuscript aloud and then listen to their feedback. The story is so raw; I am hit first with their shocked reactions. It’s challenging to endure this week after week.
Honestly, I’m ready to move on to new projects. I’m spent. It’s been helpful to pace myself by stepping away and giving myself breaks of a day or two.
Writing my story has helped me to forgive myself
Each day, as I sit in front of my computer, I have to face what got me into this situation. That I was so desperate to be loved that I ignored the warnings. At times, I’m ashamed. Seeing my gullibility is painful. How could I have missed so many blatant signs that something wasn’t right?
I’ve titled the work The Betrayal of Me. This long, hard look at the events of the past several years has helped me to see my error. I gave my heart away much too cheaply. That’s when I remind myself loving another is a beautiful risk — a necessary step to finding intimacy and connection. Over the past year, I’ve learned to love myself better, which protects me from making the same mistake.
Revisiting the woman in the story makes me cringe. I don’t like her and fear others won’t either. But that’s the challenge of good writing — to make our unique stories universal. I hope I’m including enough of what went through my mind that the reader will be sympathetic.
It’s brought me healing
Writing this story has been healing. It has helped me to accept what happened. The technical process has changed me; it’s been a form of therapy. I’m no longer the same person who married my ex.
I’ve found it important to remember why I’m telling this story — to help others. I’m a psychologist; if it happened to me, it could happen to any of us. We are all vulnerable to loving the wrong person. If one person stops and evaluates the healthiness of his or her relationship, then I’ve succeeded.
Dr. Kerry McAvoy is a clinical psychologist, mother of three grown sons, writer, and author of the devotionals: Jesus, The Ultimate Therapist: Bringing Hope and Healing, Jesus, The Ultimate Therapist: Healing Without Limits, and Pain as a Starting Point.