By Betsy Wortley Ring
“Once you choose hope, anything is possible.”
— Christopher Reeve
When we learn we are a straight spouse hope is hardly the first word that comes to mind. Looking back over my journey that’s what the Straight Spouse Network gave me.
We were married for 20 years when my husband told me he was gay. He struggled with this truth his entire life — he didn’t want to be gay and he was determined to put mind over matter and overcome it. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. As he got older, he later explained to me, it was impossible to deny. I knew we had issues in our marriage but I never thought that my husband and the father of our three children was in the closet and my life as I knew it would come crashing in around me. He spent decades processing it and deciding what to do by the time the land mine exploded the day he told me. In the moment, I was sure that I was the only one who had ever experienced such a Jerry Springer moment. I don’t know what would have happened if I hadn’t found the Straight Spouse Network. Who knew there was such an organization? Clearly only those who, like me, had a need to find it. At first they offered me consolation…I was not alone, I did not cause it, and I would survive. I wasn’t sure I believed them but misery loves company and I was not alone so it was a step in the right direction.
It wasn’t easy. I lost 20 pounds in a matter of weeks because my stomach was in knots and I couldn’t eat; my mind was racing and I couldn’t sleep at night; and without food or sleep, my thinking was less than sharp. I had important decisions to make that would determine my future and yet I took to my bed and cried for 15 months. The doctor prescribed anti-anxiety/depression meds and sleeping pills. They helped. I read the str8s list and people talked about life getting better. My walls were up and their message wasn’t getting in because I was just plain stuck.
Finally one day a light bulb went on: I had to take control of my life. In the months since disclosure I isolated myself and pulled away from my friends. I confided in my sisters but friends were off limits because the gossip would take off like wild fire and I didn’t want the kids to be uncomfortable with their friends knowing if they weren’t the ones to share it with them. Initially I decided to reconnect with old friends and former work colleagues because our lives were no longer intertwined and my secret would be safe. What began with a coffee or lunch once a week was enough to lift my spirits and make me look forward to reconnecting with friends again. Hey, maybe those str8s were right…maybe life could get better. I started getting together with more friends and eventually even the friends I pushed away.
The more I embraced life, the better I began to feel. Of course I still was a straight spouse — I was full of self doubt and embarrassment. I felt both angry and stupid every time someone said didn’t you know he was gay? My new str8 familee encouraged me at every step along the way. When I complained that I wasn’t making progress they assured me I was. I finally accepted that I could not change the past but I could choose how to move forward and it was another turning point.
Twenty months into my journey I was ready to meet those folks that helped me through my darkest days. I attended my first str8s gathering in Florida. My anxiety got the best of me — what was I thinking, going away with a group of people I met over the internet? With my therapist’s words running through my mind, I knew I wanted to “set this up for success” so I hoped for the best and planned for the worst and made an escape plan: if the gathering was overwhelming or full of bitter, angry folks I gave myself permission to spend the weekend in my hotel room or even go home early. On the contrary, I found them to be the most hopeful, accepting, “normal” people I had ever met. There were tears but also hugs, and lots of laughter. Friends, now familee, that also had their lives turned upside down but they picked up the pieces, moved forward and assured me I could too. That was just what I needed….it was the roadmap for my future and finally I was ready to embrace it.
My ex husband’s coming out will be part of my history but I will not allow it to define my future. I have recently reached an amicable relationship with him. Yes, the man I married broke my heart, betrayed my trust and yet now we can celebrate the milestones in our children’s lives together. We will forever be connected through our children and I would rather do so peacefully than in conflict. I couldn’t envision it a few years ago, and I know it isn’t possible for everyone, but I count it as a blessing in my journey.
In the last five years I have gone from utter despair to finding happiness and hope for my future. I have learned it is safe to let down my guard and open my heart to love again.
Reaching out…healing….building bridges is the motto for the Straight Spouse Network. To me it meant catching me as I fell apart, hugging and holding me as I found my way and pointing me toward a bright future. All straight Spouses deserve support to get through the crisis and see the promise of hope that is in their future.
Betsy Wortley Ring