One Hundred Deaths: How to move on after betrayal

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By Julie Keon, special to Yahoo Canada*

“You have seen my descent. Now watch my rising.”  – Rumi

I like to think I have finely-tuned intuition. I don’t have special powers, but I learned a long time ago that this deep knowing was never to be ignored. It has served me well over the years and I have avoided some not-so-pleasant situations and relationships as a result of it. Being as most of us are not psychic and that some people we encounter are extremely cunning and exceptionally manipulative, the chances of being betrayed in one way or another, over the course of your lifetime, are relatively high.

Betrayal happens when trust is severed, often abruptly, with someone you previously trusted wholeheartedly. It is damaging because you have entrusted them with something meaningful like your heart, your secrets, your vulnerability and perhaps, something more concrete that you presume will be cared for on your behalf. If you have never been betrayed, it feels like a violation of your spirit and your core and depending on the depth of the betrayal, it can be traumatic.

Emotionally, you can experience rage and grief almost simultaneously. Rage because someone could be so inexplicably cruel and grief because betrayal involves devastating losses. Recently I have experienced the epitome of one of the darkest kinds of betrayal and the only way to describe the intensity of the loss is to compare it to a hundred deaths. When it comes to betrayal, there is never just one thing that is lost. There is the obvious loss, like the relationship, but guaranteed, the big loss produces many smaller losses. It’s akin to throwing a boulder into a lake; the boulder being the initial betrayal and the countless losses that ripple out from that.  

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The frustrating aspect of betrayal is that it is completely preventable. The betrayer makes a conscious choice to be cruel or manipulative, dishonest or predatory. They deliberately make decisions which ultimately lead to the betrayal. If you’re on the receiving end of these choices, it can be emotionally shattering.  At its worst, betrayal can cause serious, irreversible psychological damage.

When a betrayal occurs, the aftermath hits like a tsunami and you find yourself feeling tossed around as you try to find your footing again.  You are plagued with questions like: “How could this happen?” and “Is this really happening?” and “Why is this happening to me?” and one of the most challenging, “How did I not see this coming?”

In the darkest moments, you might even question your own sanity. You might walk around feeling as thought you are in a movie. This is due to shock which can be a soothing balm to this devastating injury. The length of time it takes to recover from a betrayal depends on the circumstances and on the person who has been betrayed. Catching a trusted friend in a lie is very different from finding out your husband is a serial killer. Just as there are degrees of betrayal, there are degrees in the coping skills and resilience that each person possesses.

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For the big, earth shattering betrayals, you will need to practice serious self-care. Do not underestimate the importance of a balanced diet, sleep and naps, light exercise (or not) and the avoidance of substances like alcohol or drugs. Surrounding yourself with people who love you and can help you sift through the aftermath is paramount.  Initially, you might have a desire to disconnect from everyone and that is OK, too. The expression of the deep, primal emotions that are a part of this loss is extremely important in eventually moving past it. 

For the big betrayals where many people are affected by one person’s actions, spending time with those people can provide support because they really “get it.” Listening to their experience can be validation that what you are feeling is a normal reaction to an extraordinary situation. Writing a letter to the betrayer and sending it (or not) can be helpful in giving your pain a voice. Depending on the nature of the betrayal, professional counselling with someone who specializes in trauma might be needed to really get you back on track in deciphering what was real and what was not. Some people might find that prayer and counsel from a chosen clergy person is helpful.

As a Celebrant, I have found the use of rituals to be particularly therapeutic in recovering from betrayal. Now, before I lose you (the reader) on the word “ritual,” let me explain. Although many people think of religion when they hear ‘ritual’, rituals are available to anyone, religious/ spiritual or secular. A ritual is simply a physical action that helps us to express an emotion or allows us to cross a threshold or mark a significant transition. Having coffee and reading the newspaper can be considered your morning ritual. Exchanging rings in a wedding ceremony is another common ritual. Rituals are not this far out, “woo woo” thing that wacky celebrants do. They are for everyone and can be immensely helpful in moving through tough experiences and emotions. What is most important is that your ritual is meaningful to you. Essentially, rituals pluck us out of ordinary time and give us space to use physical actions to bring some sort of healing to our heart.

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Fire is a natural “go-to” in ritual but you can also use other elements like water (dissolving paper in water or tossing stones that you have attached meaning to into a river, lake or the ocean), earth (burying something or planting a seed for renewal) or air (blowing out a candle). Actions like tearing or shredding paper items, breaking and smashing more concrete items or physically crossing a threshold like walking through a doorway or stepping over a rope are all rituals that can help you to achieve the intention of releasing and letting go of a person, situation or circumstance. When it comes to betrayal, one might find rituals of grief and letting go helpful when there is a desire to close that chapter in your life.

Some betrayals rock you to your core and there is no amount of rituals to help you through. It is a natural tendency to want to rush healing, but this is often not possible due to the substantial amount of complex and conflicting emotions that need to be worked through. Contrary to what others might think or want, a person can’t just “get on with it” after a betrayal. It takes time and energy to land on dry, solid ground again.

You will be forever changed after a disturbing and damaging assault on your trust however you can be empowered by refusing to remain in a place of fear, bitterness and mistrust and taking the steps to being whole again. Living well after betrayal is not only the sweetest revenge but more importantly, it is a gift to yourself.   

 *Julie Keon is certified life-cycle celebrant, licensed marriage officiant, death educator, end-of-life doula, hospice volunteer and mother. She is the author of What I Would Tell You~ One Mother’s Adventure with Medical Fragility (released December 2017). She shares her life in the Ottawa valley with her husband, Tim, and their daughter, Meredith. 

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