Don’t believe it

When our divorce process was just beginning, the separation phase, the shock and depression phase, I read as many books on the subject as I could muster. I googled my ass off, poured over Goodreads and Amazon reviews of divorce books and read into the night.

Reading and insomnia go hand in hand.

That’s how I handle most challenges in my life usually, I study the problem to wrap my head around it and hopefully find a solution or plan of attack. Sometimes reading about it gives me solutions, or at least ideas of how to cope, other times it just helps ease my mind to know that I’m not the only one.

And isn’t that what we are all hoping for, not to be the only loser in the room?

It didn’t take me long to notice the trend in divorce books and articles were skewed towards women – are there any divorce books or articles for/about men? I wonder. It sure didn’t seem like it during my research.

What I also noticed was a running theme, across most books and articles aimed at women, that most women getting divorced, over the age of 40 like myself, were well past their prime. They are on the other side of the hill, washed up and dried out, and can only expect to live a life slightly above miserable because they are no longer young, sexy and desirable. They need to buckle up for the bumpy ride to the finish line.

And part of the reason that we are now divorced is that we have let ourselves go during our marriage, obviously. We have become fat and frumpy, sour and lame, and now life will suck. We focused too heavily on our kids all of these years and have let our love relationships slip through our fingers.

Now we must deal with the fallout from giving up on ourselves, and our marriages, and hang our heads in shame while we plug along through the muck of the rest of our lives.

We don’t moisturize, we don’t exercise, and our brains have turned to mush from raising children and taking care of our husbands, because we also don’t have any career goals or real outside interests of our own that mean anything.

In other words, that anyone else finds important.

We have to accept that men our age are “only” looking for much younger women – of which we are no match for, obviously. We don’t have the energy to get back into the game, even if we wanted to. We’re much too enmeshed in our craft projects, charity volunteering, HGTV and stuffing our faces with comfort food while we pull on our stretch pants and big t-shirts with butterfly appliques while we wait to die…alone.

We’re too busy cutting off the crusts on organic sandwiches for our tweens, planning the next prom theme with the PTA or caring for our aging extended family while ironing (his) shirts and rsvping for the next corporate gala function supporting the latest charity interest. We’re busy!

Much too busy to consider finding love again, or even a willing partner to look our way.

And how could we even expect to find love again when all of the men we’re “allowed” to be interested in (within a reasonable age range, of course, usually a bit older because they still like them younger even when they’re riding into the sunset of life) they are either still married (by some stroke of good luck) or are now dating women who could be our daughters??

You know what? Enough.

Why are we continuously expected to accept this narration of what a middle aged divorced woman is supposed to be? Why are we viewed as the hopelessly lonely spinsters of midlife because we’re divorced now?

Have you met a middle-aged divorced woman lately? I have, and believe me we’re not all throwing in the towel and accepting that we’ll never have sex again and die lonely. Get married again? Well, that’s a fifty-fifty shot, most women choose not to get remarried after a long-term marriage. That’s a real statistic, look it up.

Can you blame them??

No, midlife divorce is crushing. It’s depressing and humbling, it’s a waterfall of emotions while at the same time a slow drip on your soul likened to Chinese water torture (usually thanks to your ex, what else is new?). It’s painful in ways you never thought you could hurt, and would never wish on anyone. It takes your breath away. It takes away your identity and pulls the rug out from under you. It takes, and takes, and takes.

But it’s also a gift.

It’s the gift of a do-over when you have the maturity and experience to hopefully know what you want and need this time. A lesson well learned by now with any luck, and maybe with a bit of therapy for good measure. It’s the gift of not having to live the rest of your life in a hollow shell of a relationship, biding your time, thinking that this is just as good as it gets because surely everyone must feel this way.

They don’t.

Some do, of course, but not everyone. No, it’s not normal and it’s not okay.

It’s the realization that you now have the ability to create the life you want, they way you want it, without anyone else having an opinion that you really have to consider. It’s taking steps in a new direction that you may have never considered, or maybe you have considered it in the past but always managed to tell yourself that you couldn’t because…fill in the blank. You couldn’t because you wouldn’t be supported in your decision, you would be shamed for even thinking of pursuing it, you would be tormented for taking time away from what was “important” in someone else’s opinion.

It’s freedom.

Sure, this isn’t the way it was supposed to turn out. Nobody gets married with an expiration date printed on their marriage license, or written into their vows “I take you for the next twenty years, then we’ll renegotiate the terms of our relationship”.

Maybe we should have?

But that doesn’t mean that you won’t have a happy life with a happy ending. Your happiness is based solely upon what you choose it to be. You. Nobody else. And age has nothing to do with it.

I love the saying “I ain’t dead yet”, because it is so true and it’s real. You’re not, if you’re reading this. We’re not dead yet, so stop counting us out.

And truthfully, we’re not really old. Remember when 40 was considered old? That’s when people died before they turned sixty. People live to be 80, 90, sometimes over 100 years old now. Get over yourself, put away that AARP card, and go make the life you want the way you want it to be. Nobody can tell you not to now.

With whomever you want it to be with, older or younger, or on your own. It’s really up to you now. You have choices. Stop letting the world tell you that you’re too old to start over again, stop listening to the commercials that it’s time for you to slow down and give up.

Don’t believe it.

That’s my book, my article, my advice. Short and simple.

And it’s good for women and men, because I’m a rule breaker.

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Alone, not lonely

I can still remember a time, when I was in high school I believe, that my mom told my boyfriend “even when she gets married, she’ll still need a room of her own”.

And she was right.

I like my own space, my alone time, my own personal time-out from the world and from people in general. I’m okay with not seeing, talking to or being around other people for days at a time.

At the time I thought, what’s so wrong with that? Doesn’t everybody feel that way?

The label “introvert” was only reserved for psychologists and psychiatrists back then I suppose, not used in any parenting handbooks (if there were any) or written about in widely published magazines. Being an introvert was considered being shy, or quiet, or just plain weird in most cases. It wasn’t “popular” I guess you could say.

And don’t misunderstand, you can be an outgoing personality that can talk to anyone, or walk into a room full of strangers and make it work, and still be an introvert. The difference is that an introvert would never choose to do those things everyday, they may even find a way to avoid them, but an extrovert craves it.

The way it was explained to me, after taking the Meyers-Briggs test during my RA training in college, is that an introvert’s thought process happens internally. They only express what they need or think once they’ve worked it out in their own mind, without outside involvement. Whereas an extrovert processes externally, talking through whatever situation (sometimes down to every last detail with detours included) and needs to get it out of their head, out loud usually, to figure it out.

If only I could go back in time to those sometimes painful days of my teen years, and find a way to explain what I was doing and why I actually needed the time out, maybe people would’ve left me alone a bit more. It would have explained why locking myself in my room for hours on end was not a cry for help or why going to the movies with fifteen of your “best friends” did not appeal to me.

Sometimes I just needed to recharge and shut out the world.

I needed to recenter myself and collect my thoughts about things. I needed time to look at life from all of the different angles, with all of the possible scripts of the many different scenarios, to be prepared for the next time. Whatever and whenever that would be.

I was trying to be prepared in a way. I was born to be a Boy Scout, it’s obvious to me now.

So after many years of dancing to that same old song that includes finding a life partner, I am finally able to be alone without question or worry – for the most part. There is always someone insisting that I need to find someone to love me the way I truly deserve, to keep me company in my golden years, someone to fill a void that they assume I have.

But I don’t.

I had a void during the last thirty something years, or more. Something was missing, I just didn’t know what it could be or could quite name it. But it was there. And not just during my marriage, it was there in most of my long term relationships, if I’m truly honest. Something didn’t flow, it didn’t come easy, I kept trying to find the missing piece. If only I could fix it, could do the right things or read the clues properly, it would all come together for happily ever after.

But something was missing. Or was it that there was just too much of something?

It’s one thing to be alone, but a completely different thing to be lonely. Being alone is usually by choice, deciding to forge ahead without a group or a partner as your safety net. Being lonely is more of a reaction to existing conditions, most times that you don’t have control over. It’s trying to be a part of something, only to realize that you’re not, you are not included.

Sometimes even in your relationship. There just isn’t enough room for you.

So alone again, naturally. I wish that I could say that it bothers me, and maybe sometimes it does, but not enough to make me try to fill that void this time. No, this time I am content to sit in the quiet of being alone and absorb it.

Relish it. Appreciate it.

This time I am opening myself up to the possibilities, and the opportunities, that come with being alone. I am accepting the challenges to get out of my comfort zone and do the things that I enjoy, or may have always wanted to do, without the safety net (or sometimes hurdle?) of having a companion.

I recently went on a trip to visit a friend in Europe for her 50th birthday. We have been friends for many years, have supported each other in good times and bad, there was no question whether or not I would fly there to celebrate with her. I was going.

And I was going alone.

No kids, no partner, no friend to sit next to or share a hotel room. Just me and a plane ticket. It helps that I have the incredible good fortune of having stayed in contact with more than a few friends that I made along the way during our expat experience, and was invited to visit and stay with a few while I traveled. Not just in Germany, but other countries as well.

Not bad for a girl who “hates people” and “doesn’t have any friends”, don’t you think?

So my “simple trip” for a friend’s birthday party slowly turned into a “European Adventure” that took me from Iceland, to Germany, to Greece through Turkey and into Italy before heading back home. What started off as a short trip for five days, because I worry that I should be at home for my kids like a good mom is supposed to do, had eventually snowballed into an odyssey of twelve days!

I got out of my own head and asked for help, so leaving my boys at home wouldn’t freak me out nearly as much, and surprisingly it was easier than I expected.

My first stop was in Iceland using a budget airline, because it was the cheapest way for me to get to Germany. I have a problem with feeling good about spending a lot on a plane ticket for some reason. I remember looking at the fares and the available connecting stops and thinking “I’ve always wanted to go to Iceland…”

There were choices of layover times from three hours to nineteen hours, quite a big difference obviously, but for some reason the thought of a three hour layover that would only allow me to see the inside of an airport, in a country I had only seen in advertisements, made me sad. I would be there, but not really be there. Nineteen hours would give me time to see something, to do something, to have an experience or two.

Why not??

If you ask my mom, and my family and a few of my friends (and I’m sure anyone else I told along the way) they thought I was insane. A woman traveling alone and running around a foreign country with less than 24 hours is crazy talk! Aren’t you scared? Aren’t you nervous? Where or when will you sleep?!

I booked it. I was giddy, and excited…and yes, I was a bit scared. What am I going to do in Iceland for nineteen hours…alone??

Turns out, quite a lot.

And it was glorious. Planning my own itinerary without having to consult with anyone, taking my time to look around or shop, or just sit and take it all in, absorbing it all without any background noise was incredible. I felt at peace and alive at the same time.

I didn’t go it completely alone the entire time, I also joined a group tour for a pub crawl that night – after soaking in a geothermal bath for the day – and met some fabulous people while drinking and dancing and swapping travel stories. It is so much easier to talk to strangers on your own. There is no pressure to move along to the next thing or place, or to pay attention to someone that you are traveling with, creating your own social cocoon. You are open to the world and the people around you if you allow yourself to be.

The universe will bring you who you need at that moment in time. Trust me.

During that nineteen hours the last few years of heaviness and heartbreak faded out of my memory, my divorce story wasn’t the core of my identity, and I remembered who I used to be not so long ago. I felt lighter, unencumbered and free, for the first time in a very long time. I caught a glimpse of myself at 25 once more, laughing and dancing and making friends along the way. And I liked her.

I didn’t think it was possible to be her again, to recapture her spirit, but turns out it is.

The rest of my trip was spent house hopping to visit friends, catching up and hanging out with no real itinerary planned. I wasn’t on a sightseeing vacation, I was on more of a “world tour of friendship” vacation and it was amazing for my soul.

I drank my favorite beer in my favorite city center, sat at various kitchen tables and talked for hours, laid on a beach taking in some of the most beautiful scenery imaginable, and I did it all with some of my closest and dearest friends.

All because I said yes to a party, and yes to myself. Yes to being alone.

My last day and night I spent completely alone going through Istanbul to get to Venice, where I stayed for one night during my 20 hour layover, before heading home.

I will admit, traveling alone had it’s moments of anxiety and doubt, but I muscled through it and felt even stronger because I managed it without breaking down. The Istanbul airport was a bit confusing at first, so many people going so many different ways with so little information, am I in the right place at the right time?? But once I took a moment to breathe and relax, it wasn’t that confusing at all, it was just busy in a European way.

Nothing that a Turkish coffee and Greek yogurt at a lovely airport cafe couldn’t fix.

I then made it to Venice, after almost sleeping through my flight boarding (thank you to the angels in the airport that woke me up in time!) only to get off on the wrong water taxi stop and wander around lost for almost an hour. My familiar anxiety began to grow and panic began to set in as I traipsed through the Jewish Ghetto with a 40 pound backpack, wondering how I had missed the hotel that was supposed to be 500 feet from the taxi stop?

I could hear the irritated and whiny voices of past travels running commentary through my head, pointing out my mistakes, asking me why I didn’t know what I was doing or where we were going. Accusing me of poor planning with the pressure of expectations that I should know what to do to solve the problem – even when I couldn’t know what to do because I had never been there or done it before.

I was lost, yes. But I was lost in Venice. Freaking, amazing Venice.

Finally I chose to stop and sit in a cafe, ordered a cocktail, and watched the people go by. I was lost in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, a place I had only dreamed of going to for years, and now I was sitting here enjoying a cocktail watching the people walk by around all of this stunning architecture, with only myself to worry about. And really there wasn’t a whole lot to worry about if I was honest with myself.

It would all work out.

I most likely would not have been as successful in calming myself down and readjusting had I been traveling with a partner, or my kids. Traveling with someone else comes with higher expectations. The planning is more intense, in the attempt to make everyone happy, which is a tall order no matter where you go. This was a new idea for me, to travel almost free-form, making adjustments along the way sometimes even rerouting my trip to accommodate another opportunity.

(I missed my connecting flight from Iceland to really start the trip off on an interesting note, but it all worked out)

In my relaxed state, it dawned on me that if I didn’t find my hotel eventually, I would just book another one and pay the price. Or possibly I would wander the city streets all night, stopping to eat a good meal and drink some fabulous wine, until I was ready to get back on the water taxi and head to the airport. It didn’t really matter, because I was the only one I had to be concerned with this time.

Plus, did I mention that I was in Venice? Lost or not, it was worth it.

Being alone is not being lonely. It is being self-sufficient, testing the limits of your mental strength and critical thinking, taking on the challenges life throws your way without the burden of proof to please another. It allows you to be open the world around you, and the people in it, or to go along your merry way without any distractions.

It’s truly taking care of the most important person in your world. You.

I came back home feeling the most accomplished that I have ever felt, at peace with life and recharged, and so happy with the life that I’ve made for myself that has given me so many friends that I have gathered along the way – old and a few new. I came back confident, reconnected to myself, looking forward to my independent life alone.

(I came back. Believe me that was one of the toughest decisions ever…)

At a time when most people expect me to feel empty or lost, expecting me to be desperately trying to fill the void that my tidy ‘happily ever after’ expectations didn’t deliver, I actually feel full and found. I feel hopeful, full of possibility, making plans that truly connect to the dream life I never gave myself permission to pursue. A life that I can now ask the honest question: what makes me happy?

Alone again. Naturally.

 

Laid off.

What does it feel like when your long-term marriage is suddenly over?

I would have to say that the feeling is comparable to being laid off from a job that you’ve been doing twenty four hours a day for over twenty years.

You’ve been humming along, learning and adapting to new situations and new environments as they came your way, doing all of the new training that was expected of you. Putting all of your energy into being the best that you can be, at the one job that you’ve been lead to believe is your “forever job”, even after retirement, only to be told one day that you are no longer needed.

Or even worse, that you are replaceable. Just like that.

Thank you for your service, leave your keys on the desk, and there’s the door.

And as that door closes behind you, you stand outside numb with disbelief, blinking in the glaring sunlight, still wondering what just happened, but there really isn’t any good explanation.

You’re just no longer a good fit. They’re moving in a new direction. Without you.

That’s what that first year during our separation felt like, for the most part. Walking around in a state of numbness, dazed and confused most of the time, wondering what just happened. Was it just a bad dream? This wasn’t what I was working towards, or had included as part of my life plan. Ever.

And there really isn’t an unemployment office to go to to look for this type of work right away. Even if there was, you really can’t take on a new job right now because you’re still responsible for many of the parts of your old job, plus the added bonus of managing this strange new world of divorce.

To handle the experience of divorce you will have to learn all of the new divorce lingo, how to find information that you never knew existed, and be available on any given day to sit at a very long table for hours on end. Reading drafts of long documents written in what sounds like a foreign language sometimes, looking for errors big and small, and negotiating every last detail of your life to put into a contract will be part of your new responsibilities.

And don’t forget the emails! Reading and responding to all of the new emails, from all of these newly hired professionals, as well as your soon to be ex, those will fill your inbox each and every day.

It’s as if you’ve already taken on another job!

Maybe there should be an unemployment office, for newly separated/divorced people to go to during that time. A time when you are so down about yourself, and just plain disappointed in life, that you need a time out. A time that you are feeling so overwhelmed by the shear magnitude of the challenge of disconnecting yourself from this life you’ve lived for so long, and so disgusted with all of it, that you can barely deal with the loss much less the idea of moving forward.

You need an oasis. A divorce oasis.

I picture it painted in soothing tones of blues and having nice, comfortable couches. The kind of couches you can just sink into with a pillow on your lap, or fall asleep and take a nap, because at this juncture in your life stress can keep you awake many long nights, but it can also put you to sleep many long days. They call it a defense mechanism, I call it depression, but whatever it you call it there should be comfy couches.

There will be private rooms that are sound-proofed for those days that you need to just scream, or cry uncontrollably, or shut yourself off from the world to catch your breath and clear your head.

No kids running in at your worst moments, no phones ringing, or emails chiming on your phone reminding you of the million things you are expected to keep doing regardless of the fact that your life is unraveling. Just a small room with a chair and maybe a bed, a side table with Kleenex and water.

Because all of that crying, screaming and unbelievable stress can be dehydrating.

Another area would have a bar, of course, as if that was even an option not to have one! You can’t go through this without at least a couple of shots, or margaritas, to blur the lines every once in awhile. (at least I couldn’t)

And lots of snacks, not the healthy kind either. You allowed – even expected – to give in to your cravings and comforts when you’re here. So bring on the chips, the dips, the bacon wrapped anything. Bring on the fried foods, and the chocolate covered everything!

Nobody will judge you, or suggest (with arched eyebrows) that you should be ‘eating healthy right now to be the best version of yourself during this horrible time’ here.

No. The people at the divorce oasis get it.

Obviously there will be therapists and counselors. Some will be like a warm bath-wrap you up in a cocoon-rock you to sleep types, offering you herbal tea and a blanket while you talk. Soothing your concerns, repairing your soul. Hugging you. Often and tight.

Others will be the get down to the nitty gritty-come up with a game plan-and pull it together type. They will have plans, charts, white boards and excel spreadsheets to prepare you for this new unknown territory. They will make sure that you know about the challenges coming your way, how to take them on successfully, and come out of this fire with only a few minor burns.

They will push you out of your comfort zone, for all of the right reasons.

It’s your choice on who you want to talk to too, based upon your needs that day and at that very moment. Those moments change often, even in the same day, so better to have both counseling style options available under one roof.

A divorce oasis is exactly what you need after you’ve been laid off from this job, the job that was your life. Maybe that’s what my next career move should be, opening up the first divorce oasis. With the way the divorce rate is increasing for “gray divorce” I think I may have franchise possibilities.

False starts

In my push to normalize life, I’ve jumped into more than a few situations that I shouldn’t have. I’ve offered to take on more than I was truly ready to handle emotionally or mentally, pushing myself to expand my horizons, jumping in to help save the world in any way I could.

Basically trying to bury myself in a protective layer of denial to convince myself that I was fine.

I would gladly volunteer to take on a new responsibility, with the idea that I needed to “keep busy” and feel productive, to prove that I added value somewhere other than to my kids and inside of my home. I would remember those times that my usual self could handle multi-tasking and juggling different groups and activities, and keep our home and family running and intact, so I should still be able to do that now.

But I wasn’t my usual self.

I threw myself into the idea of taking a 40 hour training course to volunteer at a women’s shelter for domestic abuse victims. My heart was truly in the right place, I felt a deep desire to help, to make a difference in something bigger than my world. I wanted to find my purpose. I know, I already have a purpose, to be the best mother possible to my sons and to raise them to be wonderful functioning adults. But I needed a purpose that was just about me, for me, to make it all seem like part of a bigger plan.

I needed to feel that there was another meaning to my life just waiting to be unearthed, and of course I felt that it should include being strong, possibly even changing the world in someway. In my own backyard or on a bigger scale, but making a change somewhere that would make a real difference. I wanted to be that strong woman that kept pushing forward.

But I wasn’t that strong right now.

Along with this idea, I was consistently told that I should get “back into the game” and start dating. It would give me something different to focus on, be the start of a new chapter! It would take my mind off of the crap year (or two, to be honest) that life had thrown at me. I needed to get excited, to feel giddy and desirable. This would help me take care of myself emotionally, to know that I could – and would – find and be in love again. (because isn’t that the answer to everything?)

But I didn’t feel lovable, or want to be responsible for someone else’s feelings or expectations any longer.

False starts.

I’ve had more than my fair share over the past year. In so many areas of my life that it’s hard to keep track of all of them now. Volunteering, family commitments, friends, school, kids, dieting, exercising, just about every area I can think of at this point.

The arc of action was the same almost ever time.

I would determine that this (whatever it was) would be the answer to pull me out of the emotional desert that I was living in, it would redirect my energy for the better and life would be sunny and filled with rainbows and unicorns. It would be my “thing” and I would own it. I would embrace it excitedly each time, too.

Filling out the paperwork, researching the options, taking the courses. Shopping for the right foods, marking my calendar to keep myself accountable and fully engaged, telling my friends and family that I had found my path to better days.

For real this time.

Then I would crash. Or maybe it was more of a melting. My resolve and excitement slowly being replaced by uncertainty, leading to talking myself out of following through, or even believing that I could. Feeling overwhelmed and undeserving I would withdraw.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

It took me the better half of that first year, maybe longer, to realize that I was expecting too much from myself. I was trying to run, when some days I could barely walk. Every time I would realize the truth in my failure, and convince myself to just wait until I was truly ready, I would knee jerk react to a question/favor asked and say “yes, I’d love to take that on!”

I was pressuring myself to “get better”, to be strong and move on. Push through.

Quit crying, stop feeling sorry for yourself, pull it together. It’s time to smile, and even if you have to pretend that you are okay, go about your life as if nothing has changed so everyone else will feel good around you again. Instead of wallowing, you should focus your energy on something positive for something or someone outside of yourself, to distract your mind from the noise that is constantly whirling around in your head.

Choose a point on the wall and focus, just stop thinking about it.

Those are deeply rooted habits of self-perseverance, well practiced by now. Most times I could successfully do this, push through and focus on the bigger picture. I could make myself small and less important for the greater good, be a team player or a leader depending on what was necessary at the time.

But this time I ran out of the energy to push it aside and keep it hidden. Or maybe I just couldn’t find the energy in the first place? It was as if all of the oxygen had been sucked out of the room and I was the only one gasping for air, while the rest of the world went on breathing and living like they normally did. It was just me that had the problem.

So I gave myself permission to fail. I allowed myself to quit trying so hard, or trying at all.

It was time to sit on the sidelines for awhile and watch those that can, do it. It wasn’t helping me to keep throwing myself into things as a distraction, to take on new hobbies or responsibilities or causes, trying to prove that I was okay and ‘normal’ once again. In the end, it really only led to me being miserable and disgusted with myself.

With every email or phone call that I had to make to retract my offers of assistance or to back out of a commitment, with every promise that I had to break because it was still too much, I felt small and ridiculously stupid. My attempts at redefining who I am were only making it glaringly obvious that I didn’t really know who I was to begin with, and that I could fail in more ways than I had ever imagined.

I could disappoint more people, some very good people, more than I ever had before.

It was time to take a step back and take a deep breath. Take a break and slow down. What was the hurry? Why was it so important for me to be “normal” as quickly as possible? Part of it was for my kids, for my family and close friends. I didn’t want to be that person that sucks the life out of the room, who dwells on things that can’t really be changed, and yet doesn’t look for any other solutions or options.

I didn’t want to be that guy.

The other part, if I’m honest with myself, was the idea in my head that my ex was happily living his new life without any real setbacks or challenges, as if it was all just a small bump in the road. Disturbing for the inconvenience, but nothing earth shattering that truly altered his way of life. If anything, his life had just gotten a bit easier and more relaxing, he was living the life he had always wanted. It was all so easy for him.

Why was it so hard for me to find that same path? What was the life that I had always wanted?

Maybe that’s the problem, this was the life that I had always wanted. I wanted a solid family, two parents committed to each other, a couple built to stand the trials and tribulations of life for a lifetime. I wanted to have that TV family that I so desperately wished for as a kid, the one that stays in love and stays together forever. I thought that we had that, too. But we didn’t. So now what was I hoping to find? What is a happy life supposed to look like now?

I have no idea.

But I keep trying to figure it out, one step at a time. One false start after another. Eventually one of these starts will be the real deal, I just have to keep trying.

 

 

 

 

 

The hard stuff

I had a heart to heart talk with my son the other night. I didn’t start the day, or the night, with that intention but sometimes life presents a moment of opportunity and you take it. Run with it if you possibly can, these moments don’t come around very often and are fleeting at best.

He’s always been my well grounded, moral compass kid. I’ve always joked that he was born a forty year old man, his wisdom and insight always light years ahead of his biological age. The depth in his eyes reveals a sense of experience from beyond.

You just never know what your kids are absorbing during times of crisis and challenge. You don’t know how they see it all, what it looks like and sounds like, from their vantage point. And they usually aren’t very quick to open up and give you their inside view, choosing instead to keep it inside while they figure out how they feel – or how they “should” feel.

Or maybe they’re just afraid to voice how they feel, because nobody is asking.

Too often I have heard, and have been told, that kids are resilient. They adapt, they deal, they get over it all much faster than adults. They don’t have the same baggage or past experiences to layer onto whatever is being dealt out to them. And don’t forget, they are self-centered and really don’t give much thought to what is really going on in the grown up world of the adults/parents in their lives.

And to that, I say bullshit.

I can honestly say, from my own personal experience as a kid once, that we are kidding ourselves if we think it all runs off of their backs. We are choosing to accept this idea because it makes our load a little lighter, our guilt a little smaller.

It’s really just self protection if we’re honest.

And that makes sense, because during a time of crisis we need to be the strongest we have ever been, for our kids. We try our hardest to shield them from the ugly truths, the struggles and the conflicts, because it’s not “kid stuff”. We’re really trying to protect them, we’re really trying our best and that means we keep as much of it from them as possible hopefully.

At least that’s what we believe, and are told to do. But maybe they don’t see it that way.

Maybe, they are waiting for us to tell them exactly what is going on and where we think it will lead. The good, the bad and the ugly. Maybe they would feel better just knowing. It’s often said that most of our fears come from not knowing, not being able to see the problem or hear the back story.

So we make up our own story, which can be a lot worse.

But, they’re kids and they aren’t in the position to ask for this information, much less demand it, because it’s adult stuff. And it’s personal. It’s really not about them, we assure them, they didn’t create this situation and it’s not theirs to take on or carry. We’re supposed to carry it all for them, while we struggle just to carry what is ours.

That’s parenting, isn’t it?

But maybe while we are busy struggling to carry it all they’ve actually picked up a few pieces along the way, like rocks on a trail – some bigger than others – and they’re carrying them in their pocket, unseen everyday. They don’t show them to us because they can see we have enough to deal with, and our load is already heavy, but those rocks are getting heavier and growing in numbers.

Too hard to ignore any longer.

He surprised me when he asked “what really happened?” My heart broke when he told me, with tears in his eyes, “you left me out of it all and that’s not right”. He had been waiting for me to include him, to include all of them, in what I thought was only my struggle. But it wasn’t.

It was all of ours.

I knew this on a basic level, but I wasn’t ready to admit it before. From all appearances, they were dealing with everything well enough, adapting to our new life as a divorced family. Sure we had some bumps along the way, a few incidents of acting out and the wheels coming off, but we hadn’t fallen apart. Maybe we weren’t quite a well-oiled machine, but we were definitely a machine with a purpose and a drive to keep working – even with missing pieces.

What do you tell them when they ask? How many details do you include, how far back do you go? Do I give him the verbal transcript of that ugly night when it all blew up? The tirade of describing the resentment and the unhappiness that had been simmering, for years I was informed that night, that went unspoken. The harsh judgements spit at me about my character, my integrity, my worth – all coming from someone who swore to love and honor me for the rest of our lives.

Do I admit to the questions that still swirl in my head, that will go unanswered forever. The shadows of memories when I should have “known” something wasn’t quite right, but chose instead to look away to keep the peace. To believe in us and our family.

How do I explain the jagged path, that lead to this place, to my son?

I answered him the best way I knew how, that was the only way I could think of. I asked him what he wanted to know, and I answered his questions, but I did not elaborate with too many details. Broad strokes, the highlight reel. And that was enough, that’s all he really needed to feel included. To feel seen, to feel heard.

To let go of a few of those small rocks he had been carrying around in his pockets.

That night I realized that I work too hard to shield my kids from the “bad stuff”, which is doing more harm than good sometimes. They are on the outside trying to look in and I keep shutting the curtains. Leaving them to wonder, to worry, to write their own story of what is going on and most times not the best story.

How will they learn to deal with the hard stuff, when it comes their way some day, without some idea that it even exists? What tools will they have if I never admit that life is work, not just marriage, but life in general. It doesn’t just come to you warm and cozy without any challenges or tests of your strength and integrity.

Sometimes you have to have grit and determination to push through to the other side of the darkness. Sometimes, you need a flashlight or you need someone to give you a flashlight even if you don’t ask for one. You need help, you need support, you need answers whether they’re the ones you hoped for or not.

You need someone to take on some of the weight of those challenges, to take some of those rocks that weigh you down out of your pockets and carry them for you. Or toss them to the side of the path, out of your way. But in most cases, you have to have the idea that it’s okay to ask for help, to ask the hard questions and to give the hard answers.

You will survive. It will suck sometimes, but you will survive.

I’ve tried to be better with this idea now that I realize how hard it can be on my kids. I push a little more to have those hard conversations and to be more forthcoming with those sometimes ugly answers. I want them to trust in me that I will always be honest with them, and not just because they had to ask.

Hopefully I won’t need to worry about it so much going forward. Life is running much smoother now for the most part, but then again, life has a way of surprising us doesn’t it?

 

Did I say that?

With each passing day of my newly divorced life, I feel a bit more grounded, a bit more sane. I feel that I am getting closer to being the “me”, that I was so long ago, once more. And that’s a good thing, I know, and it takes time (boy, don’t I know!)

I am both relieved and very thankful that I can begin to see the sun behind the clouds now, because some days – some of my darkest days –  I honestly didn’t think it was possible. I felt dismembered and detached, like a distorted version of myself. I couldn’t remember who I was or had been. Ever. The past had been blurred by so much noise and deep pain that it was tough to recollect happier, lighter times.

But they are on the near horizon now, I can feel it.

Even with this new epiphany, I have to admit that I am still not the best version of the “me” that I once was not so very long ago. I’ve acquired some pretty disturbing habits, at least disturbing to me because I know that I was not like this before. Stress and heartache can mold and shape you into someone that you don’t even recognize, if it goes on long enough.

At one point, I will admit, I was probably relying on alcohol more than I should have. Not to a dangerous point of course, I wasn’t drinking everyday – at least not all day – just enough to blur the lines and put on the soft filter when it was all getting to be too much. Too hard. Too draining on my soul.

Did I really bring a margarita to baseball practice in my travel mug??

Now that phase has pretty much passed, thankfully. I don’t feel the need to escape my life the way I had before, and now I have so much more to focus on that is positive and brings me happiness. Stressful at times, but a good kind of stress this time, usually.

I had stopped exercising, stopped caring about how I ate, stopped caring about me. I was circling the drain more than a time or two, depression so deep that I would need a full-sized ladder to climb out of that hole some days, so sure that this would never end and that I would always feel this way.

Not certain about my future, scared, and disappointed in myself and life in general.

Normal? Sure, on some level. But when you’re going through it, normal is just a word that people use to shut you up. They want to look away and pretend that you are still “normal”, that you are still the same, but really you’re not.

One more habit to share, and if I’m honest, I think that I’ve overshared it quite a bit in the last couple of years, is my newly discovered world of profanity.

Yes, my word selection has grown exponentially since this all began, creatively and loudly too, I might add. I have uttered some swear words that in the past were completely off-limits. Words that are “those words”, you know the ones that even people who cuss regularly know that those are “the bad words nobody says”. Yes, I’ve not only uttered them, but I have screamed them, cried them, texted them, written them, sometimes stringing them together in a creatively descriptive way that I never knew existed.

Until I said it.

I was the mom that used “oh my goodness!” and “dang it” in front of my kids before this. I didn’t say my first swear word, out loud, until I was in eighth grade. I had finally had enough of the boy in the seat in front of me harassing me on a daily basis, my patience and my good manners had reached their limit. I eventually said “fuck you”, low and with meaningfully controlled anger, and oddly enough, he stopped.

The power of words.

Yes, I have cussed before, something that my ex showed incredible distaste for whenever I did. Not very “classy” I suppose. I readily admit that I am no angel when it comes to using foul language, but my boundaries disappeared this time around. They just dropped away, like the bumpers on a bowling lane – and suddenly I was serving up nothing but gutter balls!

And I didn’t care.

I stopped policing myself for the existing audience, for the most part. I do have some semblance of integrity and respect when I need to, even if it doesn’t appear so sometimes, so safe to say I held back in more public spaces. But overall, I stopped caring if it upset or offended someone. I didn’t care if people didn’t like it, if my kids heard it, or even if I spoke that way in front of my parents! Using swear words in front of or to my parents in conversation, slowly became normal. This was not normal for my family. The first time I said “fuck” during a conversation with my mom, and the ground didn’t crack open and swallow me – and she didn’t freak out about it – was when I realized that the dam had been released.

It just gave me more fuel, more permission to push the boundaries.

The thing is, I knew that I was doing something far out of character for myself but I didn’t want to stop. I couldn’t. I could not express the hurt, the anger, the devastation, the complete loss that I was experiencing without seasoning it with a few (or more) cuss words. I felt as if I had adult onset turrets sometimes, the words flying out of my mouth before I could edit them. I could not find the adjectives that would properly express my feelings, or describe the darkness that was always edging into my everyday life, without using profanity as a sentence enhancer.

It wasn’t pretty, but it was real.

Professionals say that there are five stages of grief. I disagree. I think that there are at least six or seven, if not more, that are just sub-levels of the main list. The one I’ve experienced most is “loss of control for emotional expression”. Or to sum it up in a one word description like the original list (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) let’s call it “profanity”.

It’s a broad description, but a fucking good one.

This happens somewhere either before anger or in-between anger and depression, before or after bargaining, or both, or all of the above. And the beauty of this stage? You get to repeat it as often as you like, because some days you just need to hang on to that ledge and scream your head off in a litany of profanity.

I am not proud of my behavior, I also do not intend to continue repeating this stage much longer, but I do accept it. And isn’t acceptance where we want to end up anyway?

Blocked out

Over the last couple of years, since this all began to take root and take on a life of it’s own, I’ve had to utilize certain defense mechanisms. Tighten up my world, my inner circle of friends and acquaintances, to keep  my sanity and some semblance of peace.

Circle the wagons against attack and spies, basically.

And as easy as that may sound, in this day of social media and other online opportunities, it can be a pretty daunting task. It takes a lot of thought and planning, consideration and introspection, to know just who that will include. And from where.

You don’t realize how available you are for public consumption until it makes itself glaringly obvious…for all of the wrong reasons.

Early on, my social media use became a bone of contention in my newly budding divorce proceedings. I was drawing too much attention to myself, and our personal business, by explaining exactly what was going on to those closest relations/friends to us while asking for some personal space. Trying to be honest and considerate, asking for some privacy temporarily by unfriending many of them, lead to more conflict in my divorce.

Following that ugly exchange, and a few more later on, seemed like a good time to cut some people loose. For good.

But cutting loose isn’t easy, and it’s not always the end.

“Unfriending” doesn’t build a protective wall around your personal space, shielding you from unwelcome eyes, instead it only puts up a fence. A wire fence that you can still see through anytime you wish, if only with an obstructed view. Look but don’t touch, or contact directly. It’s an invisible boundary, a suggestion to stay out of your business, that’s all. But unguarded boundaries can be ignored and crossed without much notice.

I know that all too well.

So, in the end, it lead to “blocking” the same people, which seemed extreme to me at the start. I wrestled with the idea for awhile, feeling guilty and oversensitive for even considering it. But the proof that it was the right thing for me to do became incredibly clear once I realized that my soon-to-be ex was being spoon-fed information about me from what I posted or wrote.

Information that he wouldn’t otherwise have, or even realize was out there, without help from friends and family, that were obviously trolling my social media. You see, he isn’t on any of the social media platforms, with the exception of one that has nothing to do with Farmville. But that doesn’t matter if you have enough connections that are, who will troll it for you in the name of protection and support.

To say that I felt cornered, vulnerable and exposed, is an understatement.

To know that I would have to examine, analyze and possibly edit everything that I wrote or posted, for the foreseeable future, seemed like a prison sentence for a crime that I didn’t commit. A situation that I didn’t create in the first place.

It was beyond frustrating.

Frustrating to know that there were actually people out there that believed it was their place, their duty, to stalk me and anything that I had written or posted to report back to my ex. Some of them are not even friends of mine, have no real connection to me, but are able to peek into my world through a common thread somewhere in the universe.

The ‘six degrees of Kevin Bacon’ proven once more.

I still question what benefit these people believe they are providing. How would my posting a meme with goats help him gain anything in our settlement? Or insult or threaten him?

He once accused me of plotting his death, based upon a story that I shared on a platform (that he doesn’t use) that I didn’t even write. Because, you know, if I was going to plot someone’s murder I would definitely post it on Facebook first.

Doesn’t everybody?

It didn’t stop with Facebook. It included Twitter and Instagram, Pinterest and Tumbler. Yes, even Pinterest, because I was pinning self-help articles relating to divorce and depression that would give them an invitation to look into my unstable inner psyche and report back on it.

Unfriending and blocking some people that were close to me, some that were originally my friends even before I was married, but may have a thread of connection that could possibly lead back to him, was painful but such a relief. Leaving only those that didn’t share any connection to my ex, or possibly to his soon-to-be new wife, in any way that I could imagine was the only way that I felt protected. Safe.

Paranoid? You bet.

And still, that was not enough. Our lives can intersect in ways that we don’t even think of, for reasons that we don’t even realize. I had to go to LinkedIn and cut the weeds, too.

To see someone pop up as a “suggested connection” because they know or work with your ex, or his new wife, is like opening up a fun-house door filled with clowns or reliving a nightmare that you can’t escape. I don’t post my blog on LinkedIn, but it still made me feel exposed, susceptible to more scrutiny and judgement.

Do I miss some of those people? Yes, a few. Some had a very special place in my heart, added some interest to my life. Many were in my life for more than half of my life.

Do I regret my decision of who I chose to block? Nope.

A lesson that I have been learning, repeatedly it seems, is to do what is right for me. What feels right for me, not what other people think is right or feel that I should do. If I don’t protect myself, if I don’t put my needs or feelings first, nobody else will. And that lesson works in all facets of life.

Wear your seatbelt, look both ways before you cross the street, get off the field when the lightening siren sounds. Safety practices that we all know, and most of us use. The idea behind them is to make our personal world a safer place, to protect ourselves and others.

And now we can add ‘police your online presence’. I’m building an iron wall around mine with a secret password.