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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.