Infidel. The word typically has religious connotations to it. And while I believe it is true that doubt is a healthy part of any religious devotion, it isn’t in relation to religion that I refer to myself as an “infidel” insomuch as it is in recognition of the struggle I face generally in believing-in myself, in my intuition (a guiding force in my life when I have the courage to follow it), in others… But it is also true that I was once unfaithful in another, more significant way. Here I document my journey through that dark time, and my search for healing and wholeness since.
Faced with the decision to choose for herself a new surname upon the finalization of her divorce, author and columnist Cheryl Strayed described the process thusly:
“As we paged through the (divorce) documents, we came across a question that asked the name we’d each have after the divorce. The line beneath the question was perfectly blank. On it, to my amazement, we could write anything. … I pondered the question of my last name, mentally scanning words that sounded good with Cheryl and making lists of characters from novels I admired. Nothing fit until one day when the word strayed came into my mind. Immediately I looked it up in the dictionary and knew it was mine. It’s layered definitions spoke directly to my life and also struck a poetic chord… I had diverged, digressed, wandered, and become wild. I didn’t embrace the word as my new name because it defined negative aspects of my circumstances or life, but because even in my darkest days–those very days in which I was naming myself–I saw the power of the darkness. Saw that, in fact, I had strayed and that I was a stray and that from the wild places my straying had brought me, I knew things I couldn’t have known before.” (Wild, Vintage Books 2013)
Similarly it was with me upon choosing the word “Infidel”. To lack faith. To be unfaithful. I was both. I lacked the faith I needed to pursue the truth of what and who I truly was: powerful, whole, happy, and just a little eccentric. And I had been unfaithful to the only man to whom I had ever had the courage to give both intimacy and commitment. I had failed to love as I should. I had failed to love him, and I had failed to love myself. I could never reconcile myself to the title “adulteress” for my wanderings had not taken me quite that far, but I had been unfaithful, to him, to myself, and to the things my visionary self knew to be true, but which my logical self derided me for entertaining, and my emotional self was too frightened to embrace.
Like Cheryl, I do not bear this new name because I’m proud of what I’ve done. Rather, I’m proud, overjoyed even, at who, in my recovery and journey toward healing and wholeness, I am becoming. I wear the name as a sort of spiritual purple heart. I wear the name because there are others out there like me, having lived half-lives of mediocrity and fear, and who, now, are awakening to the truth inside of them. This is my story, my journey, my road to me. For the first time in my life I’m discovering what joy and happiness mean. And like any missionary truly converted to their cause, I want to share it with you. Relax. I won’t come knocking on your door, but if you’d like, I’d love to share what I’ve learned.
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My story begins here:
In the autumn of 2016 I found myself kneeling on the floor of a restroom in the University of Washington Medical Center’s surgical suite, trying not to vomit. Trying to remain conscious. I was 3,000 miles away from my husband, my children, my work, my home… I had come to take care of my father, who was battling stomach cancer. A battle he ultimately won after three rounds of chemo and the removal of 85% of his stomach. I had come to care for him, yes, and my step-mom who was suffering from dementia (or so we were told) and was not in any state to care for him herself. But more than that, I had come to put some space between myself and my crumbling marriage. And perhaps more importantly yet, between myself and the man with whom I had fallen in love. I was not a cheater. I was not that woman.
Only I was.
As I knelt on the floor on that chill October night, my heart breaking and my head resting against the cold marble tiles, I found myself asking, on a continuous loop, two questions. “How did I get here?” and “What happens now?” During the months that followed, I determined myself to find the answers, for they were not simple, that I well knew. Perhaps such answers seem simple to those looking at a failed marriage from the outside. “She cheated.” “He left her for someone else.” If only it were so easy. Our stories, always, are far more complicated than that. My head and my heart, as the questions whirred through my mind, were as a tangle of fishing line. A hook in one end and an ever-whirring reel at the other, which sometimes spun too fast, and other times sat dead still, waiting for some tug on the line that might seem meaningful but was nothing more than the vain attempts to untangle the knot.
The struggle seemed vain then. Now, a year later, gradually and bit by bit, understanding has come. And with it, clarity and peace. This blog is my attempt to put into words all that I have learned about myself and the world and how to function within it as a whole and balanced individual. Here I hope to share what I have learned about life, love, and the struggle for faith and meaning. My prayer is that my struggle will resonate with others, and that the knowledge I have gained will help ease the journey for another. Perhaps you.