Advice: Searching for a way forwardPosted: April 18, 2013
Ed. note: This column provides a safe space for readers to ask love and relationship questions. Sometimes the questions go beyond our columnists’ areas of expertise, as is the case with today’s question. Our columnists advise with compassion and love, but a reminder that they are not mental health professionals. We encourage the person who wrote this question to seek help immediately; resources include: Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Mental Health For Muslims. If you send us your contact information we can also direct you to specific resources in your area. Contact us at: advice [at] loveinshAllah DOT com
Dear Love, InshAllah:
I am a Muslim man who cheated on his wife (a new convert to Islam) by engaging in a sexual conversation on the internet, not once, but twice.
Needless to say, our path to recovery has been tough. But somehow or the other, we are still together today, even if only by a thread, for it is hard for either of us to forget the joy we once brought to each other’s lives.
A multitude of problems arose due to the cheating: I became emotionally unstable to the point where I was unable to support her during her periods of legitimate grief and other challenges, including academics. Her bitterness towards me during the initial post-confession days left a lasting pattern of behavior that makes the both of us look at each other’s actions in a “tit for tat” fashion. I completely broke down in school, and now am at a point in life where my future is very uncertain even in terms of a career.
I am unable to be a comfort and source of strength in her life and a man who she can rail against – I just break down, and she is the one who has to help me steady myself.
We are no longer husband and wife as much as mother and child.
My comfort, to be frank, lies in thinking about suicide and the thought that when I am admitted into hell for the pain I caused my wife, my parents and my sister, I will still beg God for mercy. I will tell him that I killed myself because that was the right thing to do given my crime. No doubt however, that I will realize the futility of continuing to be deceitful and finally admit that I was a weak, weak human being who could not handle earth any longer. Please be compassionate, O most merciful, I will ask.
My question for you is: is suicide a path that is truly closed to me and one that is unhealthy for me to consider? If not for suicide, how am I supposed to view myself given that I am nothing like what I had once hoped I would be (I didn’t even have any neo-conservative fantasies of being some INTENSE “model Muslim”…just someone who would always be faithful to his wife)? Why shouldn’t I leave when I can’t even be a strong, unselfish human being for my wife post-incident?
Searching for a way forward
Ms. Sunshine responds:
I’m struck by your sensitivity and I admire your honesty. I know that you hurt, that you recognize with painful self-awareness exactly the costs of your mistake. You understand that you and your wife have fallen into an unhealthy pattern as you valiantly struggle to heal. Don’t give up on her now. Don’t give up on yourself. As a human being mistakes are inevitable. The fact that those you love hurt so much over your actions, point to how much they love and cherish you. You are loved. You are valuable. Your absence would not make things better. It would leave a hurt and a hole and maybe even a whole lot of guilt as those who mourn you wonder what they might have done to save you.
You’ve reached out to us for help. You know that you need it. Get it. Shy Desi Boy and I are believers who want to help our fellow human beings, but the advice we offer in this column can’t give you the guidance, the nourishment, or perspective that you’ll get from a trained professional. You must get counseling. You can heal from this, but don’t carry the burden alone. You can get immediate help by calling 1-800-273-TALK. It’s free, confidential help that’s available all day, every day. It’s staffed by people who care about you and want to help. As a student, you should have access to free or low cost mental health care from your university. Contact your school’s counseling center and schedule an appointment. If your wife is willing, you should go together for couples counseling. If for some reason this option doesn’t work for you, many government agencies and private clinics offer mental health services on a sliding scale. You should be able to find them with an online search. Even if your wife isn’t ready to go with you, you need to go for yourself. Getting the support you need can help you be the kind of partner you want to be. With help you can recover.
In Faridud deen Attar’s, “Conference of The Birds” there is a tale of one Sheikh San’an. Sheikh San’an is a brilliant scholar, a lover of God so devout that come from near and far to follow him, quite literally, to follow him around and observe from him, learning from his wisdom, his insight, his mannerisms. They are inspired by his chastity, their souls nurtured by his example of goodness. “He knew the people’s hearts in joy and grief. And was their living symbol of belief.” On a quest to decipher a disturbing dream, Sheikh Sam’an meets a woman and is enchanted, then overcome with desire. He grows obsessed. She takes his affections for sport and puts him through a series of degradations before she’ll allow him to get close to her. He abandons everything, suffers physical pain, sin and degradation. His followers stay with him for months, far from their homeland, begging him, advising him, praying for him and suffering by his side. When they finally leave him and return to Mecca to tell the tale of his fall, they are admonished.
“However hard the fight, you should have fought for what was clearly right. Truth struggled there with error. When you went you only worsened his predicament.” His friends return and love him back to health.
Stay, dear one, and love yourself back to health. Your life is so much greater than your sins. Your love, sensitivity, and desire to be good outweigh your mistakes and your pain.
You are not what you hoped you would be because you are exactly what Allah (swt) made you: frail, dependent, and capable of tremendous goodness. Aspire to whatever character you want, but make room for inevitable mistakes and the obligatory work of growing into someone better. I’m praying for you.
Shy Desi Boy responds:
This is one of the most beautiful questions I have ever read because it infuses an honesty that is inspiring—I only wish we all had the courage that you do and I salute you for that.
I am very sorry what you are going through. I have been there myself—I have very often thought of ending my own life.
One of my biggest challenges has been learning to love myself and to forgive myself. After my divorce, I thought I should be punished, not just in the afterlife, but in this life too.
I ate very little and I denied myself many of the pleasures I enjoy in life, simple things like a nice concert or a plate of banana and nutella crepes. I thought this was the right thing to do—I had failed in my marriage (and failed my partner) so why should I get to enjoy happiness or pleasure in life?
I had found my heart slipping out of the marriage and even as I tried to pull it back in, I just could not manage to reverse its course. I felt awful. And immensely guilty. But guilt and sadness do little. I was so bitter that I became a jerk of a brother and an even worse son.
My mistake was thinking that I am the one that should punish myself. But this is my arrogance—it is Allah (swt) who will decide what will and will not happen to me in this world and in the next.
It was a woman, a non-Muslim I should add, who taught me to love myself again. She reminded me that the best gift I can give myself is to be content with who I am, who I am not, and to love myself even with my mistakes. She also taught me that as tempting as it may seem to end my life, this will create a new type of suffering for those who love me and will miss me. She talked me out of suicide not by telling me not to think about it—she talked me out of suicide because she reminded me that I am loved and wanted in the world.
This is what I want to say to you, dear reader. Yes you have made a mistake but sometimes in life we need to go in reverse to remind us what moving forward feels like. What is beautiful about Allah (swt) is that His mercy is greater than His wrath and that we humans, flawed as we are, always have a chance for forgiveness and renewal.
Things will change, I promise. Know that you have taken the most important and critical first step: you are being honest with yourself.
Today I am grateful for the mistakes I made because now I am much more mindful in my relationships. I know it is hard to see it that way right now—you probably see your mistake as so insurmountable that nothing good will come out of it. But sometimes even the transgressions are blessings because they help us become the people we truly can become.
I wish you my best, dear reader. You are a loved, beautiful person in this world.