Emily Parker spoke with author Claire Musters about finding restoration after an affair, and why we wear masks.

Claire Musters
Claire Musters

Emily: Why did you write 'Taking Off The Mask'?

Claire: It's come out of many years' of journey in my own personal life and about 16 years on from quite a painful episode in my life. I realise that I've been on a long journey ever since that episode. Looking back, I thought, I've got some things that I think can help other people as well, and I felt that it was time to write it all down.

Emily: So tell me your story.

Claire: I got married to my teenage sweetheart when I was still at university. That's when the problems started, because he was a record producer at the time and he worked pretty much around the clock. Quiet often when there was a session going on, he would grab a couple of hours under the desk, and then just carry on the next day. So we got married, but then I never saw him.

I had grown up with him in our youth group, but once we actually got together and got married, the reality was very different from my idealised romantic notions of what marriage would be, and we both really struggled.

After I left university, I was working in a publishing company and our hours never coincided at all. I would be leaving the house as he was coming back, and we didn't know what to do about it.

We were part of the local church, but we never sought help, because we looked around and everybody else seemed to be absolutely fine. We were quiet ashamed of the fact that we were struggling, when on the surface, our lives looked so great. So we kept quiet and year after year we kept our heads down.

I would have a bit of a meltdown once or twice a year and say I couldn't carry on, but then we couldn't think of any way to make changes. That carried on until another person seemed to understand me, and seemed to give me the attention that I was so desperate for. It was at that point that I put my trust in him and left my husband, and left the small church that we had just helped to start.

That rocked everybody's world and within two weeks he had decided to go back to his wife. So there I was, with my life in absolute shatters, knowing that it was all my fault. I'd hurt my best friend in the whole world, that I had grown up with; I'd hurt all my church friends and it was then, that I discovered that I had been wearing a mask. It had been ripped off my face, completely against my will, and that really took me where my life was totally changed beyond recognition. I was fighting to work out who I was.

It was actually my husband who was the first person that I rang when everything went belly up. I did it without even thinking. It must have been so painful for him, but he came straight over and moved me down to my parents' house, where I spent a few months trying to work out who I was, and how I could have got to the point of doing something like that, and what our future could hold now.

That started me on a journey of really looking at why we wear masks and why we pretend that everything is ok. Because to everybody on the outside, we had got to the point of helping to start this church, but my husband was still working round the clock. So I was Mrs Capable; I'm in control, and that was the mask that I wore. Everybody thought that they could throw anything at me, because I could do any of it. But I also wore this victim mask; that none of it was my fault. I think it was because I had been fed that. As soon as I started work people would say to me, I can't believe you've kind of been abandoned; your husband is never around. That lie had been fed to me as well.

So those were the masks that I wore, that I'd had unceremoniously removed, and I had to learn to do life without them, which was certainly a challenge.

Emily: How did you work through taking those masks away and working out who you were again?

Claire: As soon as they were ripped off, I felt incredibly exposed and vulnerable. But obviously I have a deep faith, and it was in that time where I was living with my parents, that I spent a lot of time wrestling with God. Like, why had we got together in the first place? Why did you put us together? Why were we starting this church with people? And obviously everything's gone. There's a big fat mess.