On August 18, the hackers who call themselves the Impact Team started to release details of more than 30 million users of the dating site designed for extra-marital affairs.
Prior to the cyber hack, Ashley Madison was not a household name. Mentions of the company were taboo or shared only in secret. Currently millions of couples are finding themselves in a difficult place as names of members are released. When news of the hack first came out in July, I felt a familiar sinking sensation in my stomach.
The name Ashley Madison and the devastation it can bring to a marriage was not news to me.
I first learned of the website a few years back while I was reconciling my credit card bill. I came across a charge that didn’t make sense. It was a string of letters and numbers.
To figure out what it was, I typed the letters and numbers in to Google and up popped several pages suggesting that this string of characters was a placeholder to disguise a charge for an Ashley Madison subscription.
My heart sank. I didn’t want to believe it. I hoped it was a mistake, but in my gut I knew it wasn’t.
Learning about my husband’s behaviors was painful. He had a whole secret life. I felt I didn’t know him. I couldn’t trust him; I didn't feel like I could trust anyone for that matter. My world was collapsing and I was all alone.
My husband and I went straight into intensive therapy where I dove into the process. Looking back at that experience, I can see it was a time of great personal transformation. While I never would have imagined it at the time, I can now say that I am grateful for the lessons I learned along the way.
At the time I felt like I was living in a tumble dryer, never knowing which way was up, constantly being tossed around. My world didn’t make sense at the moment, but what I didn’t realize was that a great journey was unfolding ahead of me.
These are the 3 things that I learned that changed everything.
1. I am responsible for my own happiness.
My husband’s actions do not dictate my happiness.
I could choose to stay or I could choose to leave the marriage. It was hard to see this in the beginning.
Slowly, I started to realize that I had the power to respond to the situation and practice self care. I am the gatekeeper of my happiness. If there is something I need, I can ask for it, and if something isn’t working, it is in my ability to fix it.
The other side of this coin is that I am not able to dictate anyone else’s happiness. Knowing this helped me understand that I was not responsible for my husband’s actions.
2. I am an amazing, worthwhile person, and I can create the life I want.
I felt sad. I felt hurt. I felt angry. I was a victim of betrayal. My pain became a self-identification. I was the girl whose husband serially cheated on her. By attaching my identification to my husband’s actions, I shut myself off from the innate ability I have to create life I want.
I internalized the immense pain I felt, wondering how this could happen to someone like me? How did I not see it? I started doubting myself.
After many hours of therapy, I realized my worth had nothing to do with my husband’s behaviors.
More than that, I get to be the author of my own story. I had to let go of what I imagined others thought of me. My worthiness is not connected to another person. I still get to be an awesome and totally worthwhile person.
3. I have a side of the street, and I was part of the problem.
I am hesitant to write this last point. I don’t believe that anyone deserves the betrayal, lies and cheating that go along with an affair. But I do have responsibility for my own actions, and by looking at my own behavior, I had the opportunity to change the way I do things. Cleaning up my side of the street has been profoundly empowering.
Once I stopped looking at what “he did” and took a look at myself, I found there were some not-so-pretty behaviors that I engaged in. Perfectionism comes in at top of the list. My life needed to look “just so” and I couldn’t bear anyone finding out that I was struggling.
Control was another issue. I liked things my way and had a hard time letting go of things that were not mine to control. My self-esteem wasn’t great at the time either, and it was easy to put someone else down so that I could feel superior and righteous.
I took a good hard look in the mirror and committed to consciously working on myself. I now embrace my imperfections and know it is OK to make a mistake. I love learning about myself and invest time daily in deepening my personal growth. I have learned to trust and love, starting with myself. I am much happier with how I show up in my life.
In the end, my marriage didn't survive, but I am grateful for my life and the experiences I have had.
My world was thrown into deep chaos, and I had no other choice than to find a way out. Today I experience great joy in my life. I practice vulnerability and strive to live a wholehearted life. I walked through fire and came out the other side.