I almost started a blog called The Bad Adulteress. Fortunately cooler heads prevailed and I didn’t take that name for myself, but it lingered in the back of my brain for a while. It was part of my year of Treating Myself Like Shit.
In the year following my affair, I would often torture myself by reading articles about divorce and infidelity. A regular bit of self-flagellation that could remind me that I had no hope of a happy marriage the second time around. Reminders that I had ruined the lives of my kids. Reminders that I was just human garbage.
Eventually, I got counseling and I stopped some of my self-destructive behaviors. I stopped searching for ways to hurt myself, and began to look for ways to heal, ways to strengthen my current marriage.
Then one day, in my inbox, there was an email alerting me that my ex husband had written a post about me on his blog. I had neglected to unsubscribe from it following the purge that happened after the divorce. I hadn’t gone searching for these words, but there they were, staring me in the face, accusing me. Statements claiming that because I cheated, I was a cheater. Suppositions that if I hadn’t cheated already, it was coming. All of the negative labels that I had been fighting to leave behind, right in view.
Because I had spent a lot of time believing this about myself, questions began to arise again. Wondering if it was possible to believe in always after you had an affair. Wondering if I was incapable of fidelity after breaking my vows. The labels came back. Years of faithfulness were erased – I was among the unfaithful. Legal documents said it. Adulterer. Cheater.
It’s easy to believe that you are the one negative thing when you are the one who committed the crime. Studies have been conducted about infidelity that indicate that people who cheat are more likely to do it again. The idea of once a cheater, always a cheater has some teeth. Because there can be truth in that phrase, once one has donned the mantel of “adulterer,” it can be a difficult characterization to shed.
It can be true of lots of labels that we give ourselves, or that others give us. We internalize negativity with surprising ease, and it can take a huge effort of will to remember that our negative actions are not the sum total of our humanity. We may have done bad things, but we are not inherently bad because of those things. We can still find redemption from our poor behavior.
A few months ago, I put in an application to speak at this year’s Wild Goose Festival. The last time I was there was just weeks before I burned it all down – my first marriage, my church, my platform, all of it. I assumed it was my last trip to the Goose. Who would want me there again when I spoke and then turned around and destroyed everything I had just spoken about? Who wants an adulteress to speak at a Christian festival?
The thing is, I know that I’m not just that person. Yes, infidelity is a part of my story, and it’s not a part of which I’m proud. However, it’s just a part. It has shaped who I am today, but it is not the totality of who I am today. So I applied. And I am thrilled to say that I was accepted as a presenter.
In July, I’m going to go to North Carolina and share some of my story. I’m going to talk about how grief is a necessary, human part of all of our narratives, and how we don’t need to feel shame for the things that we have done that have caused us or others grief.
Today I’m rejecting the “once a cheater, always a cheater.” Not because I am choosing to turn a blind eye to the problems that led me to that place the first time. Not because I am ignoring my own decisions to cheat. Not because I am naive enough to believe that I could never do this again. I’m rejecting it because even though I cheated, I am not a cheater.
If you’d like to attend Wild Goose, you can get 25% off of your weekend pass by using the code BEMYGUEST when you purchase your tickets. If you’re going to be there, be sure to let me know so I can say hello. I love meeting people I only know online!