Monday, March 3, 2014

Identity Crisis, Part 1

How many times must you perform an act before it defines you?

    This is the question that's stared me in the face on so many occasions.  After my affair, I faced an identity crisis like none other in my life.  I've made a lot of mistakes, to be sure, but I've never done something that would so distinctly define me in the eyes of others, my spouse, and my mind.  One series of horrible errors had burdened me with a new and miserable title: Cheater.

   We spend our lives performing tasks. Some of these actions are tied to labels. Musicians play music. Artists create art.  Preachers preach and liars lie. Our actions become our new name. Some actions carry more gravity than others. You can spend your whole life engaging in the same kind of behavior with no consequence, but there are some grave deeds that will define you in a single moment.

     This is what happened to me. I became a cheater. Suddenly, my understanding of the person I saw in the mirror was utterly undone, replaced by a foreign reflection that I honestly despised. I had become something that I hated. This problem is really not about others.  I've never been one to care much for the opinions of others. This is about how I view myself, and how my wife sees me. In the solitude of my own mind, when no one was around to cast a judgment, I was a monster.  My guilt and my shame were not relative to the people around me. This sorrow was absolute.

    So how did I overcome this? I'm sure that some of you may have experienced a similar crisis of identity, and I want to share a little bit about my personal journey from the depths of self-loathing.

   It was tough, and it still is. In the beginning, I wanted to become a moping, helpless zombie of self-deprecation, but my marriage needed my attention urgently. At times, my self hatred was a kind of self absorption, where I focused too much on my own feelings and not on my wounded spouse's needs. That's when I realized I had to defeat this for the sake of our future.

   Without a doubt, prayer has been a key component to the entire healing process, and I've mentioned it on many instances in previous posts. It certainly played a role in overcoming this self-image problem, but I want to focus on a very different angle right now:    having an outlet.

   Beyond prayer, having an outlet has been the most vital part of my personal battle with my identity.  If you are dealing with this type of issue, having an outlet is crucial, and your outlet cannot be the spouse that you've betrayed.  They will not have the strength to support, reassure, and coddle you while they are dealing with a very distinct crisis of their own. 

    During moments of intense stress, men can become pressurized like a steam valve, waiting to explode on anyone in the area, no matter how innocent they may be.  Many men struggle to find a way to process their feelings, burdens, and baggage, and in the wake of an affair, handling your own emotional health is so necessary. 

   As a musician, I am naturally expressive, and that worked in my favor. I used my music to flesh out my own self-loathing.  I outsourced these dark thoughts and worked through my demons using creativity.  Many men may ask, at this point, "How does that help me?!"  Most people are not artists or musicians, but the underlying need for an outlet is the same. Your release valve does not have to be creative, but it does have to be something.

      In fact, one of the other outlets that profoundly helped me was fitness. This may sound totally strange, but by exercising, I found a way to sort of punish my flesh, bringing my body into submission. My higher person, the person I wanted to be, gained traction over my fleshly instincts through running. A lot of running.

   Find an outlet.  I don't care if its exercise, writing, carpentry, or anything else.  Bottling up your frustrations and disappointments doesn't work, and it will likely result in the injury of a person you love.  Let it out, or you could damage the people around you inadvertently.  This topic is one of immense complexity, but this area of self-expression has been so influential in the way I view myself.

You are reading The Meaning of Repentance, a blog about the Hartsfields and their road to recovery after unfaithfulness. We encourage you to follow us on Facebook, and we urge you to contact us if you need help with the recovery process. We offer support services in-person and via Skype(video).

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