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Somewhere, between standing on a beach and telling my husband that I would love him from that moment on, and the day I met the man who would help me change my mind about that, I lost myself.
The girl who had never even thought about cheating on a boyfriend had grown into the woman with children who was cheating on her husband with a man who was married with children of his own.
All my life I could make people laugh. It was my super power. When my father was on his death bed I asked him if I could use his prosthetic leg as a planter after he died (which he appreciated because he was the source of my twisted humor). I was told I needed to have open heart surgery and the only questions I asked the surgeon was if I would still be able to ride roller coasters. And drink alcohol. And drink alcohol while riding roller coasters.
This was something I could not laugh through, or away. I had hurt people. No matter how I tried to color it or justify it, I had hurt people, including my own children.
I had become a person who was afraid of practically everything and that fear fueled my foolish and selfish choices. Having an affair was better than getting a divorce and raising our children in two separate homes. This was the blanket of twisted logic in which I wrapped myself so tightly I could no longer be found.
My ex-husband could not have been a gentler person. I was not afraid of him. I was not afraid of being alone. Strangely enough, I was afraid of what actually happened. Afraid my family would break up because I was unhappy and it would be my fault. I became a proficient liar because of this fear, and it happened anyway, because of my lying. At times I wished I had taken the red pill. Or the blue one. Whichever one meant I could just shut my eyes and pretend everything was fine and pretty.
I am fully aware that no matter how I try to explain why I made the choices I did, they will sound foolish and selfish, and that’s only because they were. When someone was more interested in what I had to say besides answering the question “What’s for dinner?” also found me sexy, kind, and funny, I practically ran into one bad choice after another.
One of the bad choices in my two-year long foray into all things stupid included meeting my affair partner at my place of business after hours. It was this particular bad choice that led to me being fired after the wife of my affair partner discovered every email we had sent to each other (and there were a lot because we didn’t actually SEE each other often) so she got to read in black and white how her husband betrayed her and details about where to meet. I cannot imagine the pain she must have felt upon this discovery.
Being fired in this manner was a scandal for this little town. I worked at one of the largest employers in town, and everybody loves a scandal, especially one that involves sex. Sometimes even now I will meet someone and there will be a spark of recognition in their eyes. They’ve heard the story, and think they know me.
After everything violently blew up in my face, and the faces of those involved, I readily accepted what others labeled me. I was a whore, a home wrecker, and a cheater. I woke up with a Scarlet A on my chest and it was there all the time. It was there at the movies with my children, it was there while grocery shopping, it was there when I went to sleep at night.
My husband and I divorced and life seemingly went on. Somehow, and through no small feat of his own, my ex-husband forgave me. I cannot even begin to understand what he must have gone through, that is his journey, but he was able to get to a good place with me. I am thankful every day that we have reached friendship.
Even with his forgiveness and long after everyone else moved on, I was there, wearing a hair shirt of shame and hating myself more than anyone else could. In some ways I felt safe in a snug cocoon of self-loathing. I knew the parameters well. I created them.
Unable or unwilling to shake the role I had given myself, I became the self-appointed spokesperson for women who’d had extramarital affairs. I found myself reading everything I could about affairs and the women who had them so that I could perhaps feel a kinship. After all, if people were bashing them, weren’t they bashing me too? I wanted to feel something for Rielle Hunter and LeAnn Rimes, and I did. I felt sorry for those involved and the fact that their stories were playing out in a huge public arena. I had experienced a very small amount of what they had and it truly almost killed me.
Being the unwanted and unnecessary voice of women who cheated was exhausting and yet another way for me to not focus on myself. Identifying this one thing that I had in common with these women did not make me a part of some sacred sisterhood. Those women who cheated had their reasons, all varied, and while I did not judge them, putting so much focus on this one thing that we had in common did nothing to move me along to where I needed to be.
I began to realize that I had a few options: kill myself, hide inside forever ashamed, or try to pull myself together and face the proverbial music, the cheating music, which is presumably country. I began therapy and realized that I did not want to leave a legacy of suicide for my children, though at times, I thought it was a better option than having me for a mom.
I hid. As much as I wanted to stay in my bed or crawl in a hole, I couldn’t, so I hid from doing anything online. I was reticent to even leave comments on news stories online because I was so sure that someone would come behind me and announce that everything I had said should be ignored because I was a cheater. I refused to make a Facebook page. I did this for years and it sounds silly but it chipped away at who I was. I thrived on making people laugh but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. It was insane how both paranoid and ashamed I was.
My mom looked at me one day and said “Amy, nobody gives a damn. It has been YEARS, and everybody has moved on. STOP punishing yourself.” It was like something finally clicked. Maybe it was time to make peace with myself. I started therapy and I started Twitter and found I could make people laugh, and I could do it anonymously. I reached over 1,000 followers and I felt like I was moving toward getting myself back. I know how ridiculous this sounds, and I have no respect for someone with a victim mentality. I blame nobody but myself for the choices I made and the punishment I doled out to myself for years.
I chose to write this article under my own name, with my own picture, because this is a final act of not letting fear rule my life. I have started writing and performing stand-up comedy, something I have always wanted to do, I blog and write almost daily, my children are wonderful, my ex-husband and I are on very good terms, and while I lost a few friends, which honestly is their loss because as one of my closest friends pointed out, who better to be around in a lightning storm (and this is Florida, we have lot of them) than a known cheater, the ones who have stuck around are amazing. My family has never let me down and I can say that I am happy, and I deserve that happiness just as much as anyone else.
I sometimes still find myself jumping to the defense of adulterers. I still wear a Scarlet letter, but it does not weigh me down. It is part of who I am. I also wear badges of wisdom and there is a certain amount of strength gained from facing your flaws and your skewed choices and owning up to them.
While I am happy and comfortable with myself, I’m also not a self-harming idiot (well, NOW I’m not), so I will not be reading comments. I am fully aware that infidelity is tantamount to murder to some, and some people will think I should have stayed in the hole. Besides actually going back in time and making different choices, I am not sure what I could do to appease some people, but the opinions of some people no longer matter to me.
We all have something that we let rule our lives, whatever the circumstances. Don’t let shame, fear, or self-loathing stand in the way of the life you truly want to live. Forgive your past transgressions if necessary and give yourself permission to enjoy life. It is far too short to do otherwise.