What’s in Your Storage?

I have a tidy house.  I do my laundry almost daily, keep my bed made and take the time to make sure shoes are put in closets, counters are wiped down and the garbage is taken out.  I ask my children to help out around the house and, for the most part, they usually do.  They understand that when the house is clean and there isn’t any clutter around, things are easier to find, space is readily available for DIY craft projects and unexpected guests do not cause a wave of panic.

But what if that unexpected guest were to walk in and go directly to your storage closet?  You know the one.  The storage closet you haven’t thought about or looked at in years or maybe never.  Is it in a crawlspace in the basement?  Is it a tiny square box in your hallway ceiling that you pass by every day unnoticed?  Is it one very overstuffed drawer no one dares to open?  Everyone has a storage closet, but most don’t even know the storage closet is there, let alone, what in the world is in there.

August is a particularly difficult time of the year for me both physically and emotionally.  It signals the end of summer.  Quiet mornings with coffee on the back porch have been replaced with school arrangements, lunch preparations, and work conversations.   Mindless moments at work spent laughing with colleagues are now filled with anxious dialogue about all the things that didn’t get completed that are now a crisis.  The kids want new shoes, new clothes, new backpacks to prepare for their new teachers, on new bus routes with a new routine.  Remember those days when you said to yourself “I’ll do that later?”  Well, “later” is now and “now” you wish you had done it when you had a time called “later.”

Which brings us back to the storage closet.   In your literal house it might be crawl space, a dresser, or a box in the garage, but we all have one.  In your life, it’s the place inside you where you keep all of your emotions and feelings tucked away.  It’s the place we don’t invite the everyday visitor.  It’s a private place where entrance is earned not given.  It’s the place where we hide our emotional “stuff” and take it out occasionally and others can totally see it. But wheter we realize it or not, the stuff in that closet is ours and ours alone, even if we pretend it doesn’t exist.

I think, most people are walking around with no clue about all the “stuff” they have packed in their storage closet.  The thought of even looking in there disgusts them.  They don’t want to have to acknowledge they even have a storage closet, let alone the feelings that are hiding in there.  But just because it’s hidden, doesn’t mean people don’t see it, especially when it starts to overflow and spill out.

So back to August, when for some reason, every single person on the planet wants to dump their storage closet shit for the entire world to stop and see.  Their storage closet emotions are ruling their world and they want them to rule your world as well.  So this August, in preparation of National Storage Closet Emotional Dump Days, I prepared myself like a boxer ready to enter the ring.  I made a commitment to myself to stay clear headed and aware.  I planned to recognize when someone’s storage closet junk was going to attempt to overflow into my emotionally healthy space.  And then, as planned, it happened.  But I was ready.

At work, it usually starts in some way like this.  Someone walks into your office with a request, gripe or “concern.”  They make it about you or about someone else.  It is NEVER about them.  It also is NEVER about a finding a solution.  It is ALWAYS about dumping negative emotions from their storage closet onto you.  I believe for most, it is usually insecurity they want to dump on you.  To try to really get you to buy in to their need, they personalize it. “If you would have just done…” and other times it is blame, “it’s not your fault that so-and-so did…”  Either way, they start digging in their closet and dumping all of their emotional junk in a complete and utter frenzy.  Grabbing from here.  Throwing stuff from there.  Shit is flying out of their storage closet and swirling around looking for a place to land.  They want you to look at all of the stuff and freak out with them.  They want you to make a grandiose display of disgust, push your chair away from your desk in horror, yell “HOLY SHIT LOOK AT ALL OF THIS FUCKEDUPNESS.  WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO NOW?”  They are waiting for you to dig into your storage closet and pull out your matching items and be all like, “Yeah, and look at this too.  See this, what about this?  It’s [insert anyone else’s name] fault.  Shit, this is bad.  This is real bad.  We are totally fucked.”

But they made a false assumption.  They think your storage closet is filled with the same unhealthy and cloudy feelings as theirs.  Anxiety.  Depression.  Disappointment.  Fear.  Anger.  And you know what they are really trying to do when they come to talk to you?  They want to take the stuff from their storage closet and show it to you because they want you to pick it up AND PUT IT IN YOUR STORAGE CLOSET.  For real.  Because they don’t like having a shitty storage closet.  They want company.  They don’t want to be the only ones with a dilapidated, disappointing storage closet, so they try to shove all their “stuff” into your closet so they don’t feel so alone.

But, and this is hard, if you take a pause and realize from the moment they walk in, they are about to try to drop some of their storage closet emotional shit, you can be ready.  Because you know it is not them, it is just their storage closet shit.  You can separate them from their shit.  You can listen patiently.  You can remain calm.  You know it is the fear, anxiety and insecurities busting open the door and making their way onto your desk, attempting to get into your space and into your head.

Remember also the thing they are bringing to you is also coming with a bunch of other stuff they don’t know what to do with.  So you let them dump it out for a minute because there is no stopping the frenzy, and when it’s the right time you MAKE THEM TAKE IT BACK.  That’s right.  You make them take their emotional shit back.  Piece by piece.  Moment by moment. One fucking crazy emotion at a time. Quietly listening  while handing them back their shit.  Nodding your head while placing Anxiety in their back pocket.  Saying “OK and I understand” while you gently tuck Insecurity away.  And when most of their storage closet crazy emotions are put away, you decide if you want to pull something from your storage closet out because sometimes you want to and sometimes in order to ensure life continues to revolve on its axis the way it is supposed to, you get life back in balance.  So you open up and let a few of your emotions out.  Peace. Calm.  Security.  You allow them to slowly and carefully take center stage on your desk.  Your storage closet emotions sit there calmly and keep you grounded.  They look at you to make sure you are OK.  You are.  You go on.  You are ready.  You are mindful, thoughtful and stable.  You are clear and level and confident.  You are secure knowing that your storage closet has got your back, so you don’t need to worry or have it all figured out.

And when the conversation is over, they will walk out and do one of two things.  They walk into the next person’s office, shut the door and dump the shit you handed back to them on someone else’s desk. Or two, they walk into their own office, shut the door and start digging around in their storage closet looking for peace, security and calm so they can accomplish something meaningful and productive and worthwhile.  And you, what do you do?  You shut your door and continue to work on the meaningful work you were doing prior to the tornado entering your office.  But you are fully aware that it is still August, and there is a line waiting outside your door and it won’t be long before the next person walks in.  So you are patient knowing you get to calmly do it all over again.

Crossroads

I have a vivid memory of myself at about 14 years old.  I was standing in my kitchen looking out the window staring the crossroad that split in two directions just outside my backyard.  I couldn’t help but look at that fork in the road and wonder about my future.  I specifically remember the moment and the uncertainty I felt for the first time about the outcome of my life.  The feeling that the entire universe was filled with crossroads, and how would I know which ones to take?  That soon I would be making decisions for myself, all by myself.  It was as if this was the first time the “young me” realized that there would be an “old me.”  That the “young me” had no idea who the “old me” would be, and I felt pressure that I better pick the right path.  I squinted out that kitchen window with the hope that I would see something that would give me a hint as to what my road of choice would bring me.  There were no hints, just a crossroad that lie before me.

As an English teacher, I used to teach Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Less Traveled.”  In it a man comes to a fork in the road while traveling in the woods and looks down both paths and can’t quite decide which road to take.  I was recently hiking and came to a literal fork in the forest road, and I was again reminded of Frost’s poem.  There were two paths in front of me.  Like the poem, two roads that “diverged in a yellow wood,” and this crossroad metaphor resurfaced with me again.  As adults the decisions we are forced to make become more complicated, more uncertain, more difficult.  We are trying to navigate so many things that can usually, when boiled down to their essence, provide two opposite options.  Go or stay.  Quit or persevere.  Open or close.  Do it or don’t do it.  Ask or wait.  Stop or move. 0 or 1. A or B.

But crossroads, like life, are uncertain.  And uncertainty means that you realize you are now the “old me” and no longer the “young me” and you have to start making decisions for yourself.  So you pick a road and start moving forward.  Sometimes the road seems really exhausting because it is all uphill.  At times it feels like there are branches that are out to get you.  With each step you take, you think you may stumble and fall and break your leg.  But even when the road gets narrow, you remind yourself to stop to look at the beauty along the road.  You notice if you breath deeper the road becomes even more clear around you.  You see new leaves you have never seen before and wonder what type of plant they belong to.  When you’re not sure if you’re on the right road and feel lost or confused, you notice a small white diamond painted on a tree reminding you that you are still headed in the right direction.  You are filled with wonder at the beauty of a well-worn path that curves perfectly around a bend.  You learn that some roads are created by the dedication of those who walked before you and carved out their own road. When you pass other travelers, you smile and greet each other knowing that we are all traveling on our own version of the road, learning different lessons and seeking to appreciate the moment.  You pick up an empty bottle somebody left behind and put it in its proper place because you want to leave the road better for the next traveler.

And then you realize, that by appreciating the wonder of the road, while you are on it in that moment, you have truly embraced living for the journey and not the destination.

Sometimes, somehow, under the most unusual circumstances, you have found yourself on the road with a traveling companion.  Walking in tandem at times and side-by-side at other times.  You travel together enjoying the time on the current road even though you don’t know when the road will end or where the road will take you.  But for this moment you are on the road, together, and you appreciate it right now.  The shared experience brings momentary insight.  Your traveling companion can provide an extra hand to lift you up when you take a misstep, someone to grab your shoes for you so your feet don’t get dirty after you step into the river, or a reminder to look up and see the pretty flowers on the tree you wouldn’t have noticed because you have been looking down, simply focused on just taking the next step.  Because the road, like life, is hard and at times the journey just feels really long.

Sometimes I want to, like the narrator of the poem, travel both roads.  He is “sorry he could not travel both.”  Like him, I want it all.  I want to assess and be certain that the road I am choosing is the right one, will provide the best benefits, and guarantee me the outcome that I so desire.  However, I don’t want to waste all day standing at the crossroad, paralyzed unable to make a decision.  So, I put one foot in front of the other and start walking into uncertain territory.

We don’t get to know what the outcome of the road we choose will be.  When the road is unknown in front of me, I long to know the ending.  When the road lies behind me, I seek to find meaning and understand the experience.  Frost’s poem refutes the idea that the road we choose determines the outcome of our life, yet we will tell the story about that road to others.  Perhaps with a sigh.  Perhaps with embellishments.  Perhaps with the notion that the road we chose made “all the difference.”

Instead of believing that I “chose the road less traveled and that has made all the difference,” I will choose to believe that there is no road less traveled, so I will enjoy the one I am currently on and make the very most of each step I take.

Unpacking Your Baggage

When you are about to go on an adventure, you pack your suitcase.  Many times you make lists so you don’t forget necessary items that you wish you had with you later on your trip.  You check, double-check and sometimes triple-check what you have packed.  You make sure that everything you want on your trip is in that suitcase.  And off you go.  And as you travel, you begin to add new items to your suitcase to bring back with you.  

In the dating and moving through divorce phase, you often hear, “everyone has baggage.”  And I want to take a moment to really think about what that means as I have begun to unpack my baggage and make sense of it all.  Because unlike when you are packing and excited and looking forward to your trip, unpacking means your trip is over, the excitement is done, and all you have left are the lonely bags lying in the corner waiting for you to unpack them.  And even though someone else can help you unpack them, ultimately you are responsible for unpacking your own shit.

My unpacking (if you can even call it that) started with a friend way before I decided to leave my marriage.  The bags had probably been sitting in the corner for about a year, but this incident can perhaps be equated to the idea of simply beginning to open up the zipper.  This was years before I even knew that leaving was an option or potentially what I even wanted to do.  I was sitting with a friend in her classroom.  I can remember where we were sitting in two desks across from each other in the middle of the room facing the projector.  I needed to share what happened with somebody who wouldn’t judge, who would listen and who would understand.  I could not tell my family for fear that they would never talk to my husband again.  I told her the story of how my husband had left our children alone in the middle of the night to go and take care of something he couldn’t do during the day.  I wanted to tell her, but I wanted to protect him.  That was pretty much how I felt most of my marriage, that I had to cover for him.  Make excuses, explain away his decisions, and ignore the shame I always felt.  That incident and my willingness to share it with only one other person made me realize I had a suitcase full of baggage sitting in the corner that I had been ignoring and maybe I should take a peek.

It wouldn’t be for at least five more years that I began to really open up that suitcase and find out what was in there.  So it sat gathering dust in the corner.  I may have given it a quick glance every once in a while, threw something from it in my husband’s face, but for the most part it sat there, unnoticed, gathering dust.

And then my brother-in-law took his own life on November 15, 2013.  And everything was shaken and my entire world was spinning.  And in one swift motion the dusty suitcase that sat unnoticed for years came into perfect view.  I ran to it.  I ripped it open.  I started digging through its contents.  It all looked so unfamiliar.  So foreign.  So odd.  What in the world is all this stuff?  Some of it I didn’t even remember owning.  I didn’t know what to do with it now that its contents were fully exposed for me to see in their entirety.  I considered my options:

  1. throw everything out and pretend if you buy a new suitcase you will forget all about the old stuff; however, everytime you look at the new suitcase you will expect it to have the same stuff as the old suitcase and will treat it as such thereby never really appreciating the new suitcase.
  2. pretend there is no suitcase at all.  It never existed, no contents, no shit to clean out.  Just leave it there until someone really pisses you off or you get upset and then you will pick up the stuff from the suitcase and throw it at them in hopes to hurt them.  Bad.  Hurt them bad.
  3. lie and pretend you can’t find the suitcase, but know you will walk by it everyday and it will annoy you and remind you that you haven’t done a damn thing with it and you will be stifled, unable to move until eventually all you do all day long it sit and stare at the baggage in the unpacked suitcase.
  4. Dig into the suitcase.  Look at all of the stuff inside.  One by one.  Take out each item.  Examine it for it’s purpose.  Determine its usefulness.  Put it in it’s proper perspective.  Look for the beauty in even the ugly items.  Throw some of the shit out.  Keep some of the most precious items even though they may be hard to look at sometimes.  

Obviously, I decided to go with the last option.  The hard option.  The option to open that fucking suitcase and unpack that baggage.  To dig in and explore and understand every piece of baggage.  And it was, and still is, hard and painful and exhausting and so very worth it.

But I don’t always unpack alone.  In fact, most times I unpack with others and then place the items when I have time alone.  I have family, friends and a therapist.  I work on it.  I am continually looking at the stuff in there, even if it is the tiniest grain of sand that accidentally got caught in there, and I take a look at it anyway.  Some of the items are really hard to sift through, like the old bathing suit that was wet and is now moldy and smells, those things require difficult decisions and may take weeks before I am ready to figure out what to do with them.  Some of the items are fun and make me smile and remind me of happier days.  Some days an item that looked ugly suddenly transforms and becomes beautiful.  Some days something that was beautiful is now ugly.  It’s hard work this unpacking.

So, yes, there is still baggage in my suitcase.  I guess there always will be; however, my hope is that as I continue to clean out my baggage, it will get lighter, the load will be more manageable, and eventually, I will be able to let someone else add his items to my suitcase.

Selfish Ego

I realized this is a blog about divorce, but it is also about healing and letting go.  I learned that in an even greater way this week.

I was given the platform for a keynote speech a few weeks ago in front of my entire organization of about 600 people.  I was pumped.  I was excited.  I spent weeks, preparing, organizing, and trying to figure out how to best provide each member of the audience with the ideas and inspiration they needed to hear in that moment.  The theme was Everything’s Connected:  Digital Learning.  The whole take-away I was trying to make was that connections are only real when they are birthed out of relationships.  They can be digital or traditional, but you can learn something from the connections you make with others.  So I used stories about connections I had made from my past and how I got here today.  I was pumped.  I felt the message was awesome and in the moment I felt like I was in the zone, speaking from the heart, and giving something to each audience member they could take with them.  Nice people I knew texted me and nice people I didn’t know emailed me or hugged me in the hallways.  I was excited to know that the message was heard and well received.   

And then I read the feedback from the anonymous survey. Here are just a few of the parts that really stung, “this was an administrator trying to convince us about how important she is” and “the keynote was confusing and too self centered. She showed a lack of knowledge of technology.”   And then there was this dagger, “The first keynote speaker was an incredible disappointment. The presentation lacked clarity, came across as self-serving and failed to inspire the audience. The keynote speaker was very ego-centric and self centered.  I gained no educational value on that 50 minutes.  That 50 minutes has been lost in my life forever.”

And then, failure, insecurity and doubt hit me.  Hit me hard.  I was crushed.  I felt like I had completely failed.  Failed the organization.  Failed my colleagues.  Failed myself.  Embarrassed.  Disappointed.  Crushed.  I wondered how I could face other’s the next day.  I cried.  I felt bad.  I was indeed a loser.  I began to wonder if every time I saw someone who didn’t say something positive that maybe they were the one who wrote the negative comment.  I perseverated  for weeks about these negative comments.  At work, they would randomly appear in my head.  In the car, I would hear the word “ego-centric and self-centered” over and over.  It was like I could not let it go.  I was aware of the thoughts but they would continue dto bombard me.  I couldn’t understand why they were allowed to far outweigh the personal success stories that individuals, whose names I knew, shared with me from listening to my keynote.

Because in our humanity it is so easy to judge.  It is so easy to look at what we don’t have instead of what we do.  It is our natural mode to look for the annoying things that people who aren’t trying to be annoying do to push others into the land of Continually Being Annoyed.  Whether it is traffic, teenagers, rotten bananas, or a keynote speech.  Everything is annoying.  Nothing is worthwhile or worthy of finding pleasant.  Annoyed is on automatic.

So after a few weeks of wallowing in self-pity, I did something about it.  Tired of feeling shamed, I choose brave.  I printed out all of the negative comments.  I read them over and over again.  I sat with them until they didn’t hurt so bad.  I didn’t make excuses.  There were parts that were disorganized.  There was a lot of biographical information in the keynote.  I did in fact compare myself to Michael Jordan.  Those things were true.  And I do have a healthy ego.  Because an ego is what it takes to pull yourself on stage in front of all of your colleagues and say here I am.  Here is all of me.  My human imperfections.  My flaws.  My lack of clarity at times.  My false confidence which I used to convince myself that the risk of looking like a fool was a risk I wanted to take at the expense of hoping that someone would get a message they needed to hear.  That even if that one person was me, and only me, wasn’t that one person worth it?

 

Letter to Myself

Your life isn’t going to look like you thought it was going to look.  You are going to have lessons you thought you already knew the answer to and when you go to take the test, you will be baffled at your lack of understanding.  But I know you.  You will pick yourself back up and try again.  You will be tenacious to understand.  You will fight to have insight.  You won’t let mere opinions by others and textbook answers be enough.  You will look again inside until you find a deeper more meaningful way of exploring your heart.  You will learn to listen and to let go.  You will find forgiveness and trust inside you in places you never thought were possible.  You will hold on to yourself when no one else does.  You will allow yourself to feel what you feel without apology.  You will find what you need when you need it without having to beg, borrow or steal.  You will look up and it will be there.  

Your mind is strong, but your heart is stronger.  Your ability to love and love deeply is a gift and not something to be ashamed of.  It is not something that will hold you back but will propel you further into your future.  You don’t have to wonder if things will be OK because you are OK.  You have all it takes to be OK right now.  Inside of you.  The vulnerability you feel and allow others to feel brings peace to this place inside you.  It allows love and goodness and kindness to embrace you.  So, feel what you feel.  Remember the emotional injuries you suffered, whether real or imagined, and do something with them.  You can write them down, think about them for a minute, talk about them….but then, and this is the important part.  You must throw them down the trash chute of life.  And then you are not allowed to garbage picking.   Don’t hold on to something that wants to rid itself from you.  Nothing is that important.  Really.  It’s not.  What’s most important is you are a whole and emotionally stable individual.  For without you, you cannot do your part to help others.  But you have to do you first, OK?  

You have to be OK with lonely and lost and sad sometimes.  You have to know that these days will not last forever.  You have to be in the moment you have right now. When you find yourself falling back into bad patterns, STOP IT.  Just stop.  Don’t do anything else. Those patterns didn’t help you before and they won’t help you now.  What will help you now is to know you have everything inside of you that you need when you need it.  Like a good friend waiting for you to call.  She sits waiting on the other end of the line.  “Oh, hey, I’m so glad you called.  I was waiting for you.”  Sometimes it is going to take every single ounce of energy to pick up that phone, to admit that you need to pick up that phone, to listen to the voice that has been buried down by a bunch of crap and external circumstances that want to distort the line and drop the call.  But hey, you won’t let it drop.  You will hold on.  You will listen even if you can’t quite make out the words. Because the whisper of the message is, “You will be OK.  I promise.”  And that is the only message you need to hold on to.

Unfolding

I like to fold my laundry.  One towel at a time.  One shirt at a time.  In the same way.  Every time.  But like laundry, and folding, and putting away.  It is never done.  Just when you think you have it finished, there is another load or the blankets that haven’t been washed in months or the dirty clothes you find your daughter hid under her bed…you get the idea.  The laundry is there whether you see it or not.  And most of the time it is in some sense of an order:  in hampers over here, in the machine over there, folded in the drawer over there.  But when you are going through a divorce and you look back on what it looked like, you realize that shit was all over the fucking place, you were all over the fucking place and all you could see was dirty laundry everywhere.  

And this is what I have realized for myself.  In order to finalize a divorce, it took an unresolved focus on the negative which was in disarray and all over the place.  Let me start by saying I am generally not a negative person.  I look for hope in hopeless situations.  I try to find the best in the worst.  I really try my best to see the good and true in each person and situation.  

But when I was doing the whole divorce thing, I somehow knew the good would set me back.  The good would cause me to cave.  The good was not good but in fact bad.  So I had to turn negative.  I had to find it inside myself to focus on the hurt and pain and lost hopes.  I had an unbalanced focus on all the things, all the evidence I had collected which would ensure that I could stay strong through the process.  I remember noticing that my family would get annoyed with me for telling them all the nonsense and all of the things that my ex was doing on a day to day basis that would piss me off.  I placed blame, lots of blame on him for this situation I was going through.  I tried so hard not to cry or care or worry about how things would turn out, but I needed to go through it.  I needed to cry and hate and I hate that was how I got through it.  Sure, there were moments, but I wanted to be done so bad that I knew that if I allowed myself the tiniest window of hope, I might open it and jump through it.  I did not want to go back there.  I knew it wasn’t right.  It wasn’t going to work.  It wasn’t going to change.  So I had to change for a time.  I had to focus on the ugly and the hurtful and the pain and in essence become a negative, broken person.  And then the divorce was final.    

And then I broke.  I broke wide open.  I let all of the anger, the pain, the heartache take over.  For one whole day I laid in my own self-pity and let myself die inside so that I could live again.

And somehow I survived.  I came out stronger.  I came out forgetting the horrible, terrible, and totally unimaginable things that I had gone through.  And I began to focus on all of the things that my ex does well.  He is a good dad.  He does the best he can with the tools he has.  He has grown, from the limited amount of perspective I have.  He has set boundaries with me.  He has worked to take the kids and be available and do the best he can.  I can see that.  I can see that he is still hurt and it hurts me that he is hurt.  Because there is no joy in knowing someone is hurting, especially someone you loved for so very long and for someone your kids love so very much.  And that hurts.  I hurt because of the humanity.  I don’t feel guilty anymore, I feel true empathy and compassion.  I don’t want to fix his hurt.  I don’t want to change his hurt.  I don’t want to rescue him or help him or give him the tools that he might not use.  I just want to feel for him because he is a person and I know what hurt feels like.  That is the unfolding.  I can unfold long enough to feel the pain that someone else is feeling.  I can not pity him but truly empathize for what he might be going through.  I can unfold now and see how the hurt helped the growth.  Unfolding has made me a better human.
Next post…how to think about dating after divorce.

BreakThrough

I had a breakthrough this week, and I’ve been thinking a lot about what that means.  How does one exactly break through?  I can tell you.  It begins by being broken.  It begins by allowing yourself to hurt so deeply to feel so badly to pain so completely that you wonder if you will ever see the sun.  It makes you wonder if the pain you have endured, the mountains you have climbed, the demons you have faced were all for naught.  It causes you to question and doubt and fear that in the end it is a horrible unending painful existence which will never relinquish.  It breaks you and then it breaks you again.  And just for fun…it breaks you some more.  And when you think that thing, those thoughts, those painful, tormenting memories and feelings and ideas and non-stop barrage of self-hate and self-loathing and pity-party crying escapes are over, a wave hits you again, sends you to your knees clutching your stomach while sobbing a most excruciating sound that you can hear from outside of yourself but you cannot stop.  That.  That is the moment.  That is the moment when everything is broken.  You are broken.  You can not fix you.  You are in a bad place.  You know you are in a bad place.  You can’t pretend to be in a good place.  And you just are.

And then because there is now a space inside of you, you are wide open, flow can come through you.  God, the universe, all of the world can work through you and with you and beside you.  It is no longer you alone against the world.  You’ve done alone.  You’ve felt the depths of despair.  And you know without a doubt when you are no longer alone.  And it is relief that rushes over you.  It is pure joy and escalation and comfort to know that I am no longer in that place.  That wide open space makes room for more.

More comfort.  More joy.  More peace.  More perspective.  More of everything that is good and true and noble and honest.  You are open to what you couldn’t see before.  You are willing now to be the one giving hope instead of looking for hope.  You are the one who reminds others to see the good instead of needing to be reminded.  You are the reminder.  The mere fact that you are standing up right after crying listlessly on the floor in a filthy pile of your own tears makes you able.  Gives you strength to give to others.  It gives you joy and peace and security.  Because now you know.  You know you have been broken.  And you know you have gone through.

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“Nothing is the same.” I mumbled to my therapist at my last appointment.  I live in a different house.  I live in a different neighborhood.  I have a different job.  I have a different relationship with my family, my friends, my ex, my children, my parents, my siblings.  I even had to get a new therapist because I moved.   I gave my dog away and got a different dog for God sake.  NOTHING is the SAME!

She let me sit with that for a minute.  “Nothing is the same.”  I mumbled again in self-despair.  “What IS the same?” she asked prompting gently.  “I don’t know,” I replied.  “There must be some things that are the same…”  I could not come up with one.  Not one single thing that was the same.  She reminded me, “Well you’re the same.  You’re still the kids’ mom.  You still look like you”  I didn’t understand.  I thought to myself.  I am not the same at all.  She’s not listening.

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BREAKTHROUGH

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I break, now I get to come through.

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It happened this morning.  I invited my daughter into my bed this morning for snuggles and cuddles.  We chatted about our day and some things we dreamed about.  And then I remembered.  She used to sleep with me almost every night.  She would bring her pillow pet, her stuffed animal and we would sleep together (remember, I already told you he never slept in our bed).  It was the same as before.  I found something that is the same.  The most important thing is the same.  I get it now!  I am still her mom.  She is still my daughter.  No change to the outside can take that away from me.  I love her and she loves me.  That is the same.

And I needed to be reminded that all the things that I mentioned…the house, the job, even the dog and relationships are all external.  They are all outside of my control.  They are all the stuff that goes from the outside in…not the stuff that goes from the inside out.  The “stuff” that goes from the inside out, the me, is the same.  And I’m still here.

Mile Markers

Three years ago, he ran away for Thanksgiving.  We got in a fight about something.  If you offered me a million dollars to tell you what we were fighting about, I could not produce the details of that argument.  Like all arguments, I had convinced myself that it wasn’t that serious, I was probably overreacting and that it would blow over.  I don’t remember going to bed alone, but that is probably because we slept in different rooms.  How crazy is that? We SLEPT in separate bedrooms.  At first it started with him sleeping in the back bed because I would kick him out for snoring.  At some point, he just started sleeping in there.  Eventually, we moved his clothes and all his stuff in there.  We had our own rooms.   How long do you have to sleep in and live in separate rooms before you realize that you are indeed headed for a divorce?  Let me tell you, denial is a sneaky, tricky thing.  It tells you life is OK, everyone lives like this, this is just how it is.  Until you don’t believe that anymore, and once you are out of denial, you’re out.

Anyways, four thanksgiving mornings ago, I woke up and he was gone.  The kids were still asleep and I thought to myself he would be back before they woke up.  I started shuffling around the kitchen and began to make whatever dish I was asked to bring to my parent’s house for dinner.  I am sure I told myself things like, “he’s just having a rough day” and “he’ll be back before we leave.”  The kids woke up in the morning and asked where their dad was.  I had no answers.  “Will he be coming with us to Thanksgiving, Mom?”  I could only muster an honest, “I don’t know.” And on and on the questions went that morning as we drove to my parents house without him.  My parents had planned a race that year for all of us to participate.  A turkey trot.  A fun run for the whole family.  And we did it.  I ate my turkey listlessly.  Cried in the back bedroom.  Pretended that this was just all going to be quite alright.  People run away for Thanksgiving all the time.  He eventually came back home that night saying he just needed to drive.  No apologies.  No ability to communicate what was going on.  Long talks and my never ending pleas.  Begging him to fix it.  I would help.  I was strong.  I could fix anything.  And then I stopped trying to fix him and focused instead on fixing me and securing a safe space for my children.

 

There’s something about the holidays that cause them to become mile markers.  They are set in stone.  They reverberate with the good and the bad.  They become the signposts of life all wrapped up in a package of “lifetime memories.”  The first Thanksgiving…don’t remember it.  Pretty much true for the second, third, fourth and then there are glimpses.  Loud voices sitting at a long table.  A husband cutting a turkey.  A baby. Another baby.  Football.  It all becomes a blur at some point…until it doesn’t anymore.  Now there is the one where he didn’t show up.  The one after my brother-in-law killed himself.  The one after I left the marriage.  And then this years:  the one I didn’t have the kids and cried all day.  Could not pull my shit together.  A shroud of grief draping over me unwilling to let me breathe.  The good memories make the painful so much harder.  Why does it have to hurt so bad?  Why does it feel so hard sometimes?  So lonely?  So painful?

All I can say is I survived.  I got through it.  I can do hard shit.  I can do lonely and painful and hurting.  I can mourn the loss and feel the grief and pain of crushed dreams.  I can say this is how I feel and it’s OK for today.  I can look outside and find a reason.  But better is I can look inside and find a reason.  Facing your pain and sorrow and insecurities is hard.  Looking at the messed up version of yourself that you hate sucks.  But, and there is a but, it causes you to grow.  I had easy.  I had simple.  I had good.  And then, then, I had hard.  I had agony.  I had pain.  I had suffering.  I can look at each mile marker knowing I got through it.  And I’ll get through the next one, too.

Pieces of the Puzzle

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I bought a 750 piece puzzle.  I opened the box last night and spilled the pieces on the table.  750 tiny pieces.  Each with its own individual shape.  Some lying upside down.  Some flat on top of each other.  Some still connected.  And I started to take them apart and sort them out.  One by one.  I turned them over.  Disconnected the connected pieces.  Pulled out the ones with the straight edges and placed them to the side.  I placed darker green by medium green next to lighter green.  And I stepped back and looked at them all lying there, exposed, naked, lonely.  This is what it feels like when you realize your life is really a discombobulated messy group of tiny pieces.

One big hodgepodge of disconnected pieces that are all mine.  These pieces are my pieces.  My emotions.  My pains.  My joys.  My divorce. My losses.  My wins.  My children.  My sleepless nights.  My job.  My expectations.  My heart.  My friends.  My family.  My, my, my… when I look at all of it laying there, fear and love hit me at the exact same time.  I am exposed but I see the potential for beauty.

So I pick up a piece hold it in my hand.  And I think about where it belongs, examine the shape of its edges and the hue of its colors, and where it might fit with the other pieces.  Not as a pile of messy disconnected pieces, but as a potential group of pieces that will at some point fit together.  I try it out with a few other pieces.  Nope, not that one.  This group over here?  Nope.  Maybe I need to look a little bit more.  Nope.  This piece has potential.  I know it goes in this puzzle.  It came with the box for God sake.  However, at this moment, this piece, this crazy piece, DOESN’T SEEM TO FIT ANYWHERE.  So I put it down and hope.  Hope keeps me from not going crazy over this annoying piece that is screaming at me, telling me it hates me, and that it refuses to be a part of this puzzle.  Hope brings peace and comfort that pieces that seem disconnected in this moment will be connected.  Because, dammit, I will finish this puzzle at some point.  And then I remember to look at the cover of the box.

You know, the cover where the complete picture of the puzzle is there already put in perfect order. It helps guide you when you can’t figure out if your piece should go at the top or the bottom.  It helps you to look at the “big picture” when all you can see is a pile of rubble.   And I couldn’t help but think what would happen if I didn’t have the cover of the box with the answer key.  Because most of the time, that is what I feel like.  I am blindly looking for clues on each piece of my life, trying to give it a context, and looking to fit it together with something else.  I am putting these pieces together and have no idea what the outcome will look like.  What if I am connecting them wrong?  What if I have the bottom piece placed incorrectly when it should be with a top piece?  What if that piece that looks like a mountain is really a fish?  What if this isn’t even my freaking piece….maybe it belongs to someone else’s puzzle!

But I can’t let the fear of these disconnected and messy pieces stop me.  I can’t let fear of not having the big picture beautifully laid out in front of me stop me.  Because maybe I’m supposed to design my own box cover.  Because in real life, who gets an answer key anyway?  Life is purposefully designed this way because we are supposed to be wide open and vulnerable.  We aren’t really hiding our pieces from others anyway.  They can see them, you know.  But it is when we make a decision, we DECIDE to show other people our pieces, that our puzzle comes together a little more quickly.  We show them that one piece we have been studying for hours, and they say, “Oh, hey, this one goes here” and quickly put it in its exact place.  And then, it’s connected.  And our puzzle starts coming together a little more quickly, but it is still one piece at a time.

Cultural Assumptions

“What does your husband do?”

“Does your husband do that too?”

“My husband plays golf, does yours?”

I am still surprised by the assumptions that others make when having brief, friendly conversations.  I end up in conversations with people I don’t really know quite often. Friendly conversations with acquaintances at work, at the store, and all sorts of places.  Cuz you know…I kinda like to talk to people.   And quite frankly, if you live in Illinois you already know it is “too cold,” “too rainy,” or “too hot” every freaking day, so let’s move on to more interesting topics…or let’s just plain move.

Anyways, I find that people, both men and women alike, are quick to make assumptions about my “husband.”  The husband I don’t have.  The one I am divorcing.  The one who no longer holds the position in my life to be called husband.  It’s a horrible and stuck place to be.  Kinda divorced in my head, almost divorced (I hope) on paper, and assumed by most to own a husband.  They call him “your husband.”  They assume that I own a husband as the pronoun “your” indicates ownership. The comment is innocent and lacks any sense of malice.  But it is also indicative of ignorance.  Ignorance that there are other beliefs that don’t subscribe to owning each other in marriage.  Ignorance that a female with two children is married to a male who she has some sort of ownership over.

Which is ironic because I have been thinking a lot about my life and my independence. I don’t know what my future holds, but I don’t know if I am meant to have a partnership relationship.  I know, I know, I am sure that there are many people who have convinced themselves they are happier not being married in order to feel better about their situation.  But truly, I feel really good about my situation. I like not being married.  I like feeling like I can move ahead with ideas and plans.  I can be creative and spontaneous.  I don’t need someone’s approval for my life. It feels freeing.  It feels like that is how it should be.

I especially notice it and pause for a brief second whenever someone mentions the “your husband” nonsense because I have been quick to assume myself.  Growing in knowledge takes time. I am sure I have insulted more individuals that I can count over my lifetime, but when you know better you do better.  But having people drop the “your husband” question into casual conversations is tricky…and I’m an open and transparent person.  And it’s tricky for me, so I can’t imagine how difficult it is for people who aren’t as comfortable sharing their personal life with others as freely.

So, today, when I was asked about “your husband.”  I quickly said, “I’m divorced” and continued on with the topic. But because I am intuitive and can read people, the tone and mood changed ever so slightly.  Everyone knows divorce is a deeply emotional, traumatic experience.  I imagine people look at me and think, here is a successful, dynamic woman who talks about her children.  Of course, she has a husband. And then they find out there has been a divorce, and let’s face it, a divorce is juicy gossip-worthy material, so it is tempting to ask more questions once the statement “I’m divorced” has been bomb-dropped into the conversation. But I don’t want to be defined as a “divorced woman” just like I don’t want to be defined as a “successful woman” or “powerful woman” or any other adjective that would precede the word woman.  I just want to be me and accepted for me.  With my flaws, my mistakes, my successes, and my failures.  I want to live with others in a “judge free zone” that is called the world in which we live.

I have never considered myself a feminist as much as I have an equalist.  I don’t think that women in particular should be granted equal rights as much as each individual should be granted equal rights.  Isn’t is that the beauty of freedom?  Freedom to believe what you want without infringing those beliefs on others? I want to be equally assessed on the “content of my character” just like I want to assess others on their character not their race, sex, religion, gender, etc. Our culture is strong, but the change movement to a more equal society is stronger.  I don’t think we will be genderless, I just think how we categorize and identify others will begin to be based on deeper definitions rather than “woman” “wife” and “white.”  We are beginning to realize there is more to the equation.  We are living in a day where we have seen the US Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage is legal in all states.  Where a woman is running for president and has a chance to win.  And the NBA hired a woman to be a coach this summer.  We are learning how to change paradigms, shift a culture, and build momentum towards more acceptance of cultural norms we have simply accepted as truth.
And for me, right now, my truth is I want to be sensitive when I make assumptions based on perceived cultural norms.  I want to hold to the fact that my identity and the identity of others is based on internal not external factors.  Divorce has taught me a little bit about being marginalized and has made me much more sensitive to others.  It is a work in progress, but I am getting closer every day.