It doesn’t make it right

The day finally arrived, the day I have dreaded with anxiety and apprehension on behalf of my two younger boys mainly, the day they finally meet my ex’s live-in girlfriend (or as I prefer to call her, his whore) The divorce agreement stated pretty clearly that we (my ex and/or I) would wait at least six months, from the day our divorce was final. before introducing a new significant other to our children.

That day would be near the end of June.

As it turns out, my ex (so many names I could substitute here…) had already had her waiting in the wings during our divorce proceedings – or sooner for all we know. By the time we were finally divorced, within one year, he had already been with her for at least six months that he was willing to admit to. He took this newly released, or accidentally found piece of information, to mean that he could now instantly parade her in front of our kids to “move on with our lives” and “turn the page”.

They would love her and it would be wonderful!

This wasn’t a new relationship for him he told me, this was what he saw as a longterm meaningful relationship, so the kids should just accept it and “accept us as a couple”.

Nicely done, he hides major life information about himself for months from his family, but once it’s revealed he pushes full force to make it “normal”.  He practically insists that everyone be happy for him, or at least accepting of whatever he chooses to do and with who, regardless of how it affects anyone else.

Once again, trying to control how everyone is supposed to react and feel, for his benefit.

After a turbulent road of pushing back on this idea, even involving my attorney to make him abide by our legal agreement, he finally stopped pushing for this meeting and waited. He often claimed to want what was best for our boys, and that he would wait until they were ready like any good parent should, but during these last few months he let them know in subtle (and not so subtle) ways that they were disappointing him – and hurting his feelings.

Guilt was the flavor of the day during their visits when she was not around, the only time that he would spend time with the boys. And his availability became even more limited during this time, sometimes only allowing time for him to have a restaurant meal with them for an hour or two because he couldn’t bring her along. No, he needed to rush back to her, to attend to their new lives together, and to keep his dream life going with or without his children.

He doled out his love in slivers until they would play along. He eventually played the “Father’s Day card”, it would be only right to meet her over that weekend to make him happy, because, you know, it is Father’s Day. (Insert pouty, sad look here. Cue the violins.)

That day was a day filled with anxiety, fear, worry. For me.

It was the day before Father’s Day, and also the day before our middle son, the most emotionally charged of the three, left for the next seven weeks to work at a summer camp. There were so many ways this could be ugly and go wrong, go skidding off into a horrible nightmare, damaging our kids in ways that may take years of therapy to undo. Yes, that’s a bit dramatic, but nothing about this “journey” has been easy or surprisingly wonderful. Nothing.

So why expect that now?

But that’s my job, isn’t it? To worry for my children when they don’t have the sense, or the experience, to worry for themselves. I am the last guard on watch to protect them, to shelter them as long as need be, to wrap them up in my love like bubble wrap so that they never really have to hurt.

I have been hyper-vigilant these last few months, trying to contain our world and protect it from the ugliness that is right outside of our door – or actually just on the other side of town. I thought I was doing the right thing, truly I did. I thought I was giving them the space and time they needed to have the tools to work through all of it, to hopefully come out happy and well adjusted in the end. I wanted them to be ready, even if “ready” meant needing more time than my ex demanded. I wanted them to feel safe and secure, to know that they did have choices when it came to their feelings and their own lives, they could set boundaries and it would be okay.

And no matter what, I would always be there to protect them.

Turns out I may have been more right than I expected. I gave them the time, and even when I didn’t think it was enough time, they realized that it was for them. Or at least, they were willing to try.

It was only for one afternoon, for a barbecue and pool day, no real schedule given or agreed upon. I made certain that my middle son knew that he could leave at any time, if he felt uncomfortable or angry or any other deep emotion, and that it would be okay. And I instructed him to watch over his younger brother, and be ready to do the same for him, if he was feeling overwhelmed or uncomfortable. His dad should be a grown-up and accept the baby steps that they may need to adjust to all of this, I explained.

And while they went to their “meet and greet” I went to my parents’ house, over an hour away from home, to see my dad for Father’s Day. I enjoyed the day with my family, but I felt a bit lost without my boys. It felt odd to be there without them and to know that I was so far away.

I worried. The entire time I was there, talking and eating with my family, I worried about what was happening back home in his house. I imagined ugly outbursts, sickeningly sweet attempts by her to woo them, tears or worse. I checked my phone almost every thirty minutes, expecting to see an angry text from one of them telling me they were going home and never going back.

But there was nothing.

I eventually went home, texting them to say I would be home soon, and surprisingly to me, they were still at his house. I expected them to stay a couple of hours, put in the face time and get out. But they stayed for over four hours. I was amazed.

And I will admit, a little disappointed.

Once we were all home together I heard a few comments about their day. Nothing negative. They swam, they ate, they had a good day. My youngest even went into some detail about how she was better than he expected, she didn’t talk too much, and she asked them questions about themselves, and made a funny joke about the wrapping paper, and she even attempted to play a video game with him…

Can you hear my heart breaking? Can you feel my brain freeze up, and notice the numbness that is spreading over my entire body? Yeah, he didn’t either.

He used her name, twice, as if she was just another family friend. It stung, like a hard slap to my face. She was moving into our lives, normalizing her part in this ugly drama, and there was nothing I could do to change it. It was as if she could slowly erase the ugly memories of the months of lies, disconnection and deception she played a part in with their dad. Gently pushing it all to the outskirts of their memory by creating new memories, making it all less clear and seemingly less important to the rest of the story. The new story would be happier with her involved now, creating a new-style nuclear family unit in his house, and for that to happen she was going to be the best version of the new character that she could be to win them over.

I should be glad. I should be relieved that my boys feel comfortable, and are working towards acceptance of this new normal, right?

But, I’m not completely glad, and I don’t feel bad about that, even if I should feel bad about not being glad. Even if it makes me sound bitter, resentful, or mean spirited. I accept those judgements and in response I say ‘you try accepting this idea after a twenty five year relationship, try handing off your family to the new-improved model taking your place with happy thoughts, a wave and a smile, then get back to me.’

I dare you.

Where is the outrage? Where is the hurt, confused, angry denial of this cliche debacle that I expected from my children, in defense of their mother? The same children that I worked almost half of my life to diligently protect and love, against anyone or anything that may hurt them? Why aren’t they circling the wagons to protect me, or calling out their father for his disgusting dismissal of a life that we built together?

Why aren’t they holding him accountable?

So many answers have been thrown my way by well-meaning friends and family, and I know that many of those suggested answers have some truth to them, and are most likely exactly the reason. They’re trying to protect themselves, they’re doing whatever it takes to keep their father in their lives, they trust your love so much that they can risk making you angry, or hurt, or even push back from you more than they can from him. They feel safe with you.

But that doesn’t make it hurt less. It doesn’t make it right.

And it surely doesn’t make me want to play nice and be happy like a TV movie, or weekly drama. Why is it always so easy for TV families to just roll with the dismantling of their family, and within the next episode they’re all having brunch together and planning a blended family vacation? Who writes this stuff?? Does that really happen somewhere in this universe? Is that reality and I’m the delusional one?

It must be a reality somewhere if my kids are any example, or represent any other “normal” divorced family. Not just made for TV, but for real life.

But I still don’t have to like it. And I don’t.

 

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New normal

Now that the dust is settling from the demolition of my marriage, and my former life, it is time to move on. Time to go forward and figure out our new normal, if there will ever be such a thing. I have to believe that there will be eventually, and almost miraculously, it will feel seamless when it does happen.

I am finally coming into my own too, learning who I am, and feeling more secure in knowing that things in my life are somewhat within my control. I pay the bills, take care of the house and kids, get the groceries, etc. Pretty much what I was doing while I was married, honestly. The only difference is that I don’t have to wonder what mood the evening will bring when I hear the garage door open and footsteps coming through the mudroom at the end of each day.

And for that, I am relieved. Relaxed. And thankful.

My anxiety has diminished quite a bit, along with feelings of depression – could be the cocktail of “helpers” I am ingesting, but I’m not going to argue with whatever helps at this point.

Therapy has been a life saver, too. My only regret is that I didn’t begin it sooner.

My nails look better – for the first time in I can’t even begin to remember how many years, they don’t look like little animals have been chewing on them. My cuticles are smooth, my nails are growing. I have started getting manicures! The first and last time I had one before this year was the week before my wedding.

Do that math!

I smile more, laugh out loud and generally walk around with a sense of optimism and quiet excitement. I’m not bored, and I’m not stressed. I am not yelling at my kids, surprisingly. Plus, I am open to new experiences and challenges, new friends and adventures. Bring it on!

Who is this person??

It’s amazing to realize just how unhappy you were, and for how long, when you finally experience happiness…just by being you. Just by enjoying a life made with your own decisions, big and small. Sometimes even the tiniest decisions bring a certain giddy happiness because you made that decision completely on your own.

Like, what kind of pizza will I order? That’s how stupid and ridiculous it can be because you just weren’t able to do that without considering someone else, and the possible fallout or disappointment that would come from making a wrong decision.

Pizza toppings.

And more than that, it’s also kind of sad, realizing that you’ve been this deeply unhappy for so long and really didn’t know it. It was just normal everyday life, wasn’t it?

How can anyone live a life – for years – that is not true to their core self, in the name of love, just because someone who claims to love you doesn’t want you to? Or that same person can’t accept that thing (could be your laugh, your sense of humor, the way you brush your teeth, the friends you make, anything) about you, so you’ve learned to stuff it down or ignore it to keep your relationship going, and just thought that was the way love works? You have to sacrifice for love, right? Even if what you’re sacrificing is who you really are, your true self? And you are really the only one sacrificing anything to keep it going. Instead, shouldn’t that be a reason to walk away, to say ‘no thanks’ and move on?

That’s when therapy would have helped I suppose.

I was told by a close friend that one day soon I will wake up in my own bed, in my own  bedroom of my very own house, and feel a sense of peace. Pure joy. Just knowing that I have finally made it to the other side and lived to tell the tale. And I will be happy.

I am getting there a little bit each day, closer to that epiphany. And so are my kids. Our house is beginning to feel like “home”, there are fewer dramas and challenges for us all. Normal is coming our way soon, I can feel it.

And with each day I am still blown away by the fact that we are still standing, together. If nothing else, it has made us a stronger family unit, and more appreciative of each other, on some level. And possibly made us each take a long look at what is really, truly important to make us happy – it’s not a big house on a private street, with all of the bells and whistles, that you have to tiptoe around and never quite feel like it belongs to you, or that you belong in it for that matter. You are never quite home, because at the end of the day it’s not yours to decide, none of it really. It’s all parlor tricks and mind games.

We are making decisions as a family now, for the most part. Considering each other, working together, to find a new balance. To find our new normal.

I’m not saying that it’s all rainbows and butterflies…but it’s damn close.

 

 

Breathing

It was suggested to me, by my therapist, to journal my feelings when I am feeling upset/anxious/depressed. Write three pages, she said. Three? How about an entire book?

Also, practice “square breathing”. That’s where you take a deep breath in for a count of four, hold it for a count of four, release it for a count of four and hold that for a count of four. I guess you forget what’s upsetting you after awhile of counting to four repeatedly. If I practice these techniques, I may quiet the voice in my head that replays every negative experience of this holy grail of suffering, and possibly find release from the never ending ruminating that I tend to do.

But instead, I’ve decided that maybe I’ll just up the dose of my antidepressant and see where that takes me.

I’m already in therapy, talking about my feelings and how this all affects me and my kids. That’s enough of an exercise for me, for now, thank you very much.

I have days where life is finally turning the corner, the sun is brighter and the sky is bluer. Then, I have days that are dark and sad and feel so heavy that I can’t move. That’s the rollercoaster, I know. That’s “normal”, I get it. I just wish this ride was over and I could go to a new park, with better rides, and happy people that are nice to me.

Is that too much to ask?

I thought that I didn’t hate him. Turns out I was wrong. I hate him everyday.

I hate him for everything he’s become, for bullying me into going along with a fixed game that I am always on the losing team, for being so incredibly selfish and self involved.

Honestly, I don’t hate him as much for the things that he has said and done to me, I hate him for his total disregard and dismissal of his children. Of our children. That we, as a couple, made the choice to bring into the world.

I hate him for his complete dishonesty, the cowardly way he omits from the conversation what he does with his free time on the weekends. The weekends that he is only 45 minutes away from his kids. The weekends he flies in on his company’s dime for his  “commuting package”, only to spend six hours a week with our boys. (I wonder if they know just how “dedicated” he really is to his children? I wonder if they realize that he is whooping it up in the city, with expensive dinners and night clubbing, that keep him busy until Sundays at noon when he finally sees his boys?)

I hate him for his sickening performance of “how hard this is”, (“this” being not seeing his kids on a regular basis because he now lives in California) while he gets choked up and teary eyed in front of our lawyers and mediator, and anyone who asks or will listen, yet makes no effort towards his children.

He texts them once a week. Once. A. Week. And it’s the exact same text to each boy, “how’s it going son?” as if he’s forgotten their names.

This whole “midlife crisis” idea is absolutely fucking ridiculous. Be a fucking grown up!

And it’s not about our marriage being over, I think I accepted that pretty quickly. Almost with a sense of relief, to be truthful. It’s about his relationship with his children, or lack thereof, and the challenge it creates for me to try to shield them from his selfishness.

Honestly, it’s like watching the same film from my childhood replaying, but everyone has cooler stuff and better clothes. He’s become my father. And that makes me sick.

I have made it my mission in my life to protect my kids, to shield them from ugliness, like any good mother would. I don’t want to see them hurting, I don’t want to see them disappointed, or feeling unloved or unwanted. I want them to feel safe, and loved entirely.

I know that they feel it from me, that they know they are loved and are vitally important to me like the air that I breathe, but it will always be half as good. There will always be an empty space that he was supposed to fill, but won’t.

 

There is no timeout in divorce

I have been trying to keep moving forward with a positive outlook.

This whole divorce thing can be a positive, right? A new beginning, a new home that will be completely mine, new possibilities for the future. And let’s not forget, possibly a new love relationship (as if that is a train I am anxious to jump on after this!)

But to get to that place, you need to maneuver around a mine field of emotions, experiences and surprises. Yes, surprises, because there is always something that you weren’t really expecting to happen, or to be said. Something that comes at you like a brick at your head, or a punch in the stomach.

Something that will take the wind right out of you, leaving you dazed and hurt.

I’ve had my fair share of that scenario over the last six months. Just when I think I can do this with a good attitude, I can be amicable and patient, I can rise above the pain and disappointment…it happens again.

And when it happened too often, in too little time, I began to unravel. I truly thought I was going to lose my mind, or collapse under all of the pressure. And it’s not just from going through a divorce, no it’s not that simple. The rest of your life has to continue, the other people in your life that count on you (your kids, your family, your friends) still need you to function and perform. They still need you to not only show up, but make the reservations and take care of the details like you’ve always done.

That part of life doesn’t stop, doesn’t pause, doesn’t just wait until you can handle it all again. You don’t get to take a timeout. You must handle it all. Now.

Some days, I could feel my brain expanding and pushing against the sides of my head, a feeling that I would burst at any moment. My skin would tingle and the air was too thin to breathe. I felt cornered. Trapped. And with no escape route in sight.

Sometimes, I just wanted to run and keep on running until I couldn’t think about any of it anymore. I wanted to run to a safe place, a place that I could stop thinking. A place that I could stop being me, the me that was there for everyone and anyone.

I wanted to disappear.

But I can’t disappear, and I can’t make it all stop or even pause sometimes. Life keeps happening. Even when you think you’ve got enough on your plate, Life hands you another heaping helping to choke down.

No wonder I’ve gained weight.