When Laura Munson's husband told her one day that he didn't love her anymore, she replied, "I don't buy it."
In "This Is Not the Story You Think It Is," Munson writes about a difficult time in her marriage and how she took charge of her happiness and survived.
Check out an excerpt of the book below, then head to the "GMA" Library for other great reads.
5:00 a.m. Summer. Montana.
At this moment in my life, I am strangely serene. In fact, I may have never felt more calm. Or more freed. Or more certain that these things owe themselves to a simple choice: to accept life as it is. Even and especially when it really f*** sucks. Even and especially if my husband left last night to go to the dump after announcing that he isn't sure he loves me anymore . . . and nine hours later, still hasn't come back.
You might think all this would find me in a place of intense pain. Panic, even. State of emergency. But I'm choosing something else. I am choosing not to suffer.
How is this possible? you might ask.
Let me introduce you to my bedside table (see page 338), which at present holds a perversely vertical half-cracked and sometimes devoured stack of books telling me all about it: inner peace, harmony, love, non-suffering, freedom...from the Buddha to Jesus to the Sufis to the Christian mystics to Dr. Seuss and beyond. (I've always been a seeker of wisdom. I'm not picky where it comes from.) And they all hint at, or even proclaim, this simple truth: the end of suffering happens with the end of wanting.
The end of wanting.
I've read this hundreds of times, in different word arrangements, ever since I had my first metaphysical thought a long time ago. But up until just this blink of a moment (that's how it happens, finally—in a blink), I have bashed myself bloody. Because with all this arsenal of wisdom, I have never been able to understand how not to want.
How, for instance, am I not to want my husband to walk through the door and tell me some drop-dead beautiful story about how he sat all night at the dump and was spoken to by heavenly hosts and sung to by an angelic choir and experienced an epiphany that resulted in him realizing what I've just learned? That we both have been psychically touched by the same odd angel who has let us into the secrets of the universe:
Suffering sucks. Don't do it. Go home and love your wife. Go home and love yourself. Go home and base your happiness on one thing and one thing only: freedom. Choose freedom, not suffering. Create a life of freedom, not wanting. Have some really good coffee and listen to the red-winged blackbirds in the marsh. Ignore the mosquitoes.
But my husband doesn't come home. He doesn't call. He doesn't answer his cell phone. And I get to practice this ridiculous "bliss."
Probably the wisest words that were ever uttered to me came from a therapist. I was sitting in her office, crying my eyes out over my then unsuccessful writing career and my husband's challenges at work, and she said, "So let me get this straight. You base your personal happiness on things entirely outside of your control."
"Yeah. I guess. If you put it that way," I agreed. "I'm not writing novels not to see them published. Fourteen of them to be exact—spanning over half my life! I'm not raising kids—two of them—a girl, twelve, and a boy, eight—pouring my entire heart into every fiber of their beings not to make sure they're healthy and happy and have the right size shoes and find a life that they love. I'm not married—to the same man, whom I've adored since my senior year in college—to live in loneliness. And I can't control any of those results. But I want them to be good ones. I'd be lying if I told you I didn't believe those positive results would make me happy."
"That's insanity," she said. "Just so you know."
"Fine. It might be insanity. But it's human nature to want. I can't deny myself my human nature. It's impossible."
"Really," she said, and she did that lift-of-the-eyebrow thing she does.
I know to pay attention when she does that. That there's more coming and it's gonna be good.
"There's a big difference between wanting and creating," she said. "Do you want to stop feeling anxious and depressed and scared and angry?"
"Of course. That's why I'm here in this office. But I'm not allowed to want, remember?"
"Fair enough. Do you believe you can create a life in which you are happy?"
"Absolutely. But doesn't it take two to tango?"
"Does it?" she said, her eyebrow raising. Then she saw my pain and filled it in for me. I love her for this quality. "It's when you stop wanting things outside of your control that you'll be happy."
Easy for her to say. Sitting there on her mauve couch with her manicure and her neat scarf and her presumably more- miserablethan-she clientele.
How can a person not want? You are born—you want to live. You get married—you want to build a life with your spouse. You have kids—you want them to live even though it seems at first like they're doing their best to try to off themselves—and later, you want them to be happy, and you want them to live even longer—long enough to provide you grandchildren. And you want them to live, too. In fact, you worry about them not living before they're even born. Because what would that do to your child, outliving their child? You want everybody to live, and you want to live until you are one hundred, still driving, mind intact, cheekbones and legs still not too bad, and then you want to die in your sleep. You want to be Katharine Hepburn. And in the meantime, you want a calling. You want to work hard at that calling—you want talent and you want success. How is it possible to live in this human body in this human world and not want?
Easy, too, for my fabulously famous, spiritually evolved novelist friend to say when I asked him in a letter: How do you spend your life writing without wanting to be published?
He responded with a phone call; that's when I know it's important news and that I should widen my third eye. "The only difference between being published and not being published," he said, "is being published."
Fine, Mr. -hang-out-with-modern-day-prophet-sorts-and-getscads-of-adoring-fan-mail-and-speak-at-sold- out-venues. I'm not sitting on my ass all day in a dark room, year after year, page after page, spilling my guts, martyring myself, my abs, my glutes, to the gruesome art of channeling the human condition for a whole lot of nothin'! Not wanting a direct line from this dark office to the bedside tables of people everywhere. Well, excuse my lack of spiritual enlightenment, but to me that's one thing: a colossal cop-out.
Or so I thought, until just this moment in my life.
Back to the novelist friend.
I retorted with, "The thing is, I'm good! I've been working at this craft for years and years, and I can honestly say with confidence . . . that I'm good! And it's not just me. Editors at major publishing houses love my work. My agent's never seen such positive rejection letters. But I don't have a 'platform,' they call it. I'm a no-name from Montana."
"You just need to keep writing. Stop thinking about getting published. But be careful. There's a vast difference between being detached . . . and being un-attached. You wanna shoot for the latter."
"But," I whimpered, "I'm in a spiritual cul-de-sac. I don't know how not to want. I'm very, very attached. Not in the least Zen. More . . . I don't know . . . Episcopalian."
He laughed. And I could tell he was withholding valuable information. Information that is only earned, not inherited. The Big Journey was all mine—just like Dorothy. God, I hate that.
But back to this moment in my life.
At this moment in my life, I am not sure where my husband is. He left last night to bring the trash to the dump after announcing that he's not sure he loves me anymore, and hasn't come home. He isn't answering his cell phone. He isn't responding to texts.
But I don't buy it. The part about him not loving me. As much as it's devastating to hear, I believe there's more to the story. I believe he's in a state of personal crisis. I believe this is about him.
I'm going to give you a challenge here. I'm going to give both you and me a challenge here. Let's try in all this not to take sides. Because how does it feel to take sides? Do we get to be right?
Self-righteous? I think there's more suffering in self-righteousness than most of us are willing to fathom.
I see it like this: we all have our seasons of personal woe. I've certainly had mine. I know how much he hates his job, how much he punishes himself for not making enough money and not knowing where to go next with his career; how stuck and desperate he feels, especially in our small mountain town where the high-paying jobs are NOT plentiful. I know that he's suffering intensely. I know because I've been there. I feel his pain and I've told him so.
But he's not hearing my voice. His own is too thunderous. He has to come to the end of it by himself. Just like Dorothy and me. And I know it's more helpful to practice empathy here. Not anger. Or fear. Even though his words were like sharp sleet.
It's like when teenagers scream "I hate you" and slam the door in their parents' face. Does that "I hate you" have credibility? Or does the parent know instinctually that something upsetting happened at school? That it's not about the parent at all? I'm not saying that my husband is acting like a teenager. (Or, God forbid, that I'm his parent!) I'm just saying that I think there's more to the story.