Writing my way to sanity

The question has come up more than a few times since I began writing a blog, with regards to why I am writing about my divorce experience for all of the world to see. Why can’t I just write it in a personal journal, to keep to myself? Isn’t therapy enough of an outlet to clear my head, and my heart, on a weekly basis?

Why do I need to air my “dirty laundry”?

I’ve been called classless and destructive, defaming and selfish, add in a thoughtless and uncaring parent, and I’m pretty much a social media monster.

At first I felt incredibly guilty, so sure that it was all true because someone else felt that way and had said it, or written it, to me. That’s always been a weakness of mine, believing another person’s opinion of myself over my own.

But then I remembered, just because they say it or feel it doesn’t make it true.

When I first began blogging a few years ago I was looking for my voice, for a way to hone my writing skills, and maybe find a new outlet for my creative brain. I had tried so many other outlets over the last half of my life: aerobics, bootcamp, scrapbooking, camping, school volunteering, crossfit, etc. but none had ever addressed the running commentary going on inside of my own head.

No, I wasn’t hearing voices, just my own.

My own view of the world, the events that affected me and my family and friends. I was almost constantly internally narrating, like an episode of the “Wonder Years” or “A Christmas Story”. My mind a constant screen playing the continuous film reel of my life on scratchy, jumpy 8mm film without a soundtrack.

Okay, maybe a soundtrack sometimes.

One day, a few years ago, it occurred to me to write it down. Get it out of my own head and into a space made for such things. I started off with the desire to write a book. Why not? Isn’t that what all writers aspire to do in their lifetime? That’s the only way to become a “real” writer, isn’t it?

I tried to make that happen for awhile, the outline was completed and I just needed to fill in the meat of the stories, but it was more overwhelming and challenging than I had ever imagined. So many directions to go, where to begin, how to end? I read about “building characters” and plot lines, I even joined a writing challenge to motivate me to get it done. I thought you just sat down and started to write!

I had no idea how wrong I was.

Plus, it would be  time consuming, and as the mother of three, I couldn’t justify carving out the time needed to put my whole heart into it.

Wanting to write a book was like realizing one day that other people were eating and enjoying pie, not just a piece but a whole pie. Pie is good, and I like pie, so I should eat pie, too. Not just a piece of pie, to make sure that I like that kind of pie, no I would get the entire pie, like everyone else had, because I was certain that I would enjoy it as much as everyone else did. Who wouldn’t like to eat an entire pie??

Me. An entire pie is too much pie if you’re just starting to eat pie. Make sense?

So the next best thing was to blog, to write “episodes” of my life instead of an entire made-for-TV movie. Start small and see if it fits. It was a test, really. Can I really write something that other people will read and relate to, or do I only sound interesting inside of my own head?

I stumbled along with the blogging idea for awhile, not really knowing how to hone in on any one area of my life or interest to write about. There are so many possibilities! I was so excited when I had two followers, the thought of having many more than that was beyond my imagination. Who would want to read what I had to say about anything? What made my life so interesting that anyone would care to read about it?

But then life presented a topic.

A topic that affected so many areas of my life, my world, my family and my friends. I began reading articles, books, and blogs on the subject, to understand more about it, but noticed that nobody was really talking about it the way I was narrating it inside of my own head. Not every experience is the same, not every narrative is the same, obviously.

Not every divorce is the same.

I also began to realize that my experience was a slowly growing trend. Friends and acquaintances began approaching me with similar stories once they had heard that I was going through a divorce, looking for support and guidance, someone to say “me too” so they wouldn’t feel so alone. And for some reason nobody was really talking or writing about what was really going on in these divorces, from this point of view or experience.

They felt scared, embarrassed, lost. They felt used and mislead.

Divorce has been around for quite some time, I know. My parents divorced when I was  nine, so it’s not something I had never encountered. But midlife divorce, or what is now coined as “gray divorce”, is a fairly new idea and not one that most people even think about. Once you make it past the twenty, fifteen or even ten year mark you’re solid, right? It’s an easy road from there, you’ve put in the hard work years, sacrificed and raised children together, now it’s smooth sailing and fun until the end of time. Now you’ll travel, take long walks on the beach, grow old together.

Nothing is guaranteed.

So, I began to write. I began to express the voice inside of my own head, my own dialogue, to clear my mind and heart. I also wanted to be a voice for those women in a similar situation, and to let them know that they are not alone. They are not the problem, or a bitch, for feeling this way.

It’s not completely their fault. And it’s okay to have the feelings they are feeling.

I want all of my friends and acquaintances, who are at all of the various points of this process, to know that while it is hard and hurtful, it doesn’t have to destroy you. It can make you stronger, it can make you appreciate who you are and create an entirely new and happy life – now and in the future.

But it will take time.

You can live again, and you will. You can love again, even marry again, but you don’t have to. You just have to find the best version of yourself for yourself, nobody else.

But it will take time.

You have to do what works for you, what fits for you, what makes you feel whole again. Screw the haters, the judges of your life choices, and the stiflers of your voice. Everyone is entitled to their own story and how they choose to tell it, and to whom they choose to tell it to. Privately or publicly, as long as you express the truth, nobody can tell you not to.

But it will all take time. And that amount of time can only be determined by you.

So, I write. It’s part of the process of rebuilding for me, it’s part of the “time” I need. Eventually my plot line will take another turn, new characters and other life events will fill my blog, plus opinions and views that I have on it all…and other people will be upset and judge and hate on it. But that’s okay.

They should write their own story.

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A different filter

About a year and a half ago my oldest son broke his phone. Not a new occurrence when you have teenagers with phones. They forget they have them in their pocket as they jump into the pool, or try to tape it to their handlebars to take an action video and inevitably it goes flying off during one of their “tricks”, or any other simple to avoid circumstance that they just didn’t think through. It also gets lost, or stolen.

It happens.

When it happened this time, I was not as willing to get him a new phone. This was the second (or third?) time within his contract period, he was able to repair it the last time, and it was beyond frustrating. So, I “punished” him with my old phone, an iPhone 4s. Yes, I know, the horror! I could have dyed his hair pink and it would have been less offensive to his teenage ego.

But he took it.

This made the most sense at the time, it was definitely cost effective, who doesn’t agree with “free”? Plus, we were still paying off the previous (broken) phone. We agreed that he would use my old phone until the contract was paid in full, about six months. A painfully long time for him, I’m sure.

He assured me that he would wipe the entire phone of my personal data; texts, contacts, email, etc.

Word to the wise: take it somewhere that does this as part of their business. Never, and I mean NEVER, trust your teenage son to do this type of thing for you. It’s bound to disappoint. And possibly instill incredible fear into your heart and soul.

He got his new phone about a year ago and has been happily using – and protecting – his new updated connection to the outside world. But just today, I happened to come across my old phone sitting on the family room table. It looked so small, so out of place, that I didn’t even recognize it as being mine. It had 6% battery life.

Not really realizing that it was indeed my old phone, I opened the screen to check the contacts to get an idea of which one of their friends it belonged to. Imagine my surprise when I found my list of contacts, and then looking at texts saw my old texts from two years ago.

At first I panicked, wondering if he had read through my texts or my email. Not that I was plotting or planning anything illegal or immoral, but some of my text exchanges with friends can be a little “colorful”. Not really meant for my kids to read, you know?

As I scanned the list of texts, I came across a set of old texts between my ex-husband and myself. I winced. What would I read there? Would it make me feel hurt, upset and raw like I felt during that long year of our divorce process, or happily vindicated in our decision, glad to have moved on, relieved?

They were texts from only two years ago. It was a crap shoot in my mind, the sequence of events and timing not nearly as clear at that moment.

I scrolled through, holding my breath.

There were texts from the early days of him commuting to his new job, plans for wine and pizza when he arrived home, asking what he wanted me to get from the grocery store for an upcoming fishing trip. Communications about plane delays, weather reports, car repairs and family gatherings being planned. Updates about our kids.

Jokes, intimate only-we-can-understand type of jokes. I could feel the smile that I must have had back then reading his messages, the eye roll I must have done in response to some of his sarcastic comments. And there were “xoxo”s mixed in among the few emojis, usually at the end of his texts.

I could feel the love.

At that moment, my heart ached. And I realized that it was real at some point, or at least we did have some pretty good stretches of “good” in our marriage. Maybe it was better through text and over the phone? Possibly.

Another mark on our permanent record for poor verbal communication skills.

What happened to us? Where did that go? I realize now, that those were the things that kept us together for so long. Those small things. The little stuff that makes you smile, makes you feel connected, and forget that that other person can really annoy or upset you on any given day.

But the small things couldn’t fight off the big things in the end, could they?

It made me sad. It made me miss that part of us, the part that bound us together and made us a family with our boys. At that moment I looked past the sad, the bad and the ugly from our marriage. I changed the filter and saw only the soft edges and warm light. I saw the film reel of the highlights playing in my head. I heard the music of our laughter and the language we shared.

And I missed it.

If only for a moment, for a few minutes, I forgot all about the ugly words we had exchanged over the last year or so. In person, by email.

In texts.

I pushed aside all of the resentment, the hurt, the bitterness and only felt what I thought we had all along. A solid foundation to build on, to hold onto in the hard times, the challenges we took on together and came out on the other side even stronger. A partnership beyond the basic necessities.

Love. Somewhere, deep inside of it all, there was love at one time.

And it made me mourn for both of us. We both went into our marriage with such hope and promise, dreams and plans. So many years invested. All for it to implode almost instantly in the end. How did that happen?

I don’t have the answer, still. I play the reel of our marriage over and over in my mind, I look for clues and hints, but nothing really stands out as “the moment” that it went off the tracks, unable to be corrected. The little things pop up like spikes on a Richter scale, most of them small, barely registering, with a few larger ones over the entire marriage, but nothing of such magnitude that it should have crushed our foundation. At least I didn’t think so at the time.

It doesn’t really matter now, it’s done. It can’t be rebuilt. It won’t be rebuilt.

Finding my old phone, and old texts, made me aware of how the filter that I choose to look through can change everything. It can make me feel a completely different way if I let it. I do like the feeling of this soft focus filter, the warm fuzziness of it all, at least for the moment, for a day.

It gives me a welcome rest from the sharp clarity of my memories, and my everyday real life.

 

 

Unpacking the boxes

One thing that seems to reappear repeatedly over the last six months, is the idea that once you are divorced, and “enough time has passed” that you should be “over it” and get on with your life. The amount of time is a sliding scale, depending upon who you’re talking to, it can range from six days to six weeks to six months or more. Getting over it can relate to anything from the idea that you still cry sometimes for no reason at all, you still cannot speak his name without feeling sick, or the crazy idea that you haven’t started dating yet. What are you waiting for??

Why are you so stuck? they wonder.

At least that is what the message feels like in most of these instances. People mean well, I’m sure…or at least I hope. That would just be one more insult to this entire injury. They really do want what is best for you, what will make you feel better and make you happy once more. Divorce is often compared to death of a loved one, the grief is almost the same they say, there are stages and no two people experience it the same. The only difference is that the so called loved one is still around, alive and well, just not with you.

But I think it’s more comparable to moving to a foreign country, without knowing the language or the customs, and being expected to jump right in and feel at home almost immediately. And you’re expected to not only understand it all, but accept it as your new normal life without any further expectations or allowances. You can handle it, right?

The only problem with that scenario is that moving to a foreign country is not the seamless experience we’d all like to believe, or hope, it to be. And neither is divorce.

First, when moving to another country there is most likely a language barrier. Before you move, or even accept this journey, you realize that there will be a new language to learn and navigate. Of course, you’re usually assured by many caring souls that “everyone speaks English, you’ll be fine!”

Well, that would be lovely if it were only true.

And I think we can all agree that working with a room full of lawyers, paralegals and other divorce professionals, there will be language that will be more than confusing and anxiety inducing. It’s not your regular run-of-the-mill grocery list or coffee chat, is it?

Then there are the customs. Some countries expect a kiss on the cheek when you greet people, others expect a kiss on both side of your cheeks, some shake hands with their left hand, others with their right. Some bow, or avoid eye contact all together. There are so many possibilities, and so many nuances, to each set of customs that it can all feel overwhelming when you are first learning the ways of the culture.

It doesn’t come easy.

The same can be said for the journey through divorce, really. You go into it thinking you know how it’s going to go, how people are going to behave, believing that you will all be in agreement for the most part, and understanding where everyone is coming from basically. You will work together because you know each other and you think you share the same customs and values. But it’s not that easy, at least not usually. It may begin that way, and last for the first couple of months, but somewhere along the line you realize that you both have entirely different expectations, and the people guiding you have a completely different playbook than either one of you possess.

You all have different cultures with different customs. And you need to agree somehow.

Oh sure, there are those incredibly amicable couples who basically make up their own agreements, sign them, take a selfie with their divorce document and then go have a drink afterward to celebrate…that’s more than moving to a foreign country, more like moving to another planet! But let’s be honest, that’s not the norm by a long shot.

Then the big part comes, the unpacking.

If you’ve ever moved, which I have numerous times including overseas, you remember the never-ending packing and unpacking that goes along with moving.

Packing those boxes is easy enough. You fill each one until it’s full, tape it up, label it and move onto the next one. You carefully place the delicate items together, wrapped in paper and bubble wrap, to protect them. Sometimes you even hire professionals to do the packing, to make certain that it all gets to the next destination intact (this isn’t always a guarantee, of course, as I’ve learned too many times to count!)

But then, once you arrive in your new destination, your new foreign country, you now have the herculean job of unpacking it all and placing it where it “belongs” in  your new home. Sounds easy enough, sure. Just put it…somewhere. Of course you need to make some decisions along the way; which room, what shelf, which cabinet or drawer. It takes organization, and patience.

And time.

Usually, the normal timeline for one of our major moves was about a year to completely unpack and feel “at home” in our new location. It sounds like a long time, doesn’t it?

It’s not. It sometimes flies by, and sometimes drags by, all at the same time.

Because you still need to learn the language and the customs of this new place while you are unpacking. You still have to go on with “normal” life, grocery shopping and taking care of household details, figuring it all out as you stumble along in this new world. Your phrase book clenched tightly in your hand, panic rising in your throat almost daily, hoping to meet someone who understands you.

There is a lot of unpacking to do after a divorce.

Not just the material things from the life you have just untangled, but the memories and the moments you shared. As a couple, as a family, with your friends. They’re in boxes. Not always physical boxes, but boxes in your mind and in your heart. In the dark corners of your memory, too. Some are unlabeled, others are dusty from being ignored for so long.

In the end, you need to unpack and place it all. Sometimes you give some of it away, or pitch it entirely. Other things are too sentimental to get rid of, but too painful to keep. Those things end up in the basement, or crawl space, to be found at a later time by someone else.

After you die, if you’re lucky.

It takes time, sometimes more time than you ever expected. More time than other people expect, most definitely. Sure, some people are great at unpacking and hanging the curtains and artwork within days of moving. They’re hosting luncheons and cookouts within weeks, they’ve painted, decorated, joined clubs and planned the next holiday almost immediately. They’ve made it a “home” without missing a beat, without missing anyone or anything from their previous home. They adapt easily.

Others of us need more time. We unpack carefully, place and buy furniture thoughtfully, to make sure we will like it for a long time. We are not hasty decision makers, we don’t hang just any curtains to cover the windows or buy just any couch to furnish our living room. We take the time to research it, shop for it, compare it, to find the best fit.

We need to be sure. We want it to be right, to be exactly how we want our home to feel.

And just when you think you’ve unpacked it all, the boxes and the wrappings have been removed and everything is in it’s new place; you’ve started to smile and laugh again, you feel lighter and more positive about your future…you stumble upon another box. It was hidden in the back corner, under a rug or a blanket. It’s small, easily overlooked because it’s been buried for so long. You didn’t even think you moved it with you, or remembered that box being there.

You have to open it though, you know you do.

This box is a memory, or a scent, or a photograph that’s fallen out of a book. It’s a number in your telephone that you come across as you scroll through your contacts, it’s a wrong service call to your house instead of your ex’s, it’s a song on the radio, a name on a street sign. It’s simple, unassuming, and yet so complicated and heavy.

For such a small box it carries a lot of weight.

This isn’t the only box you’ve missed or forgotten, there will be more unpacked boxes along the way, boxes that will open whether you choose to or not. Some of these boxes just burst open, completely unexpected and take your breath away. Blur your vision, get caught in your throat, stop you in your tracks.

Pushing you back to the starting line.

Some you just stumble across accidentally, others are opened by family or friends without any realization that the contents could be toxic, unwelcome or even hurtful.

There are so many boxes that you don’t even know exist. Until you do.

So, the next time it is suggested that I should get over it, move on with my life, start dating again to find someone new, or hear suggestions that enough time has passed why am I still so hung up? I will have only one response to offer.

I’m still unpacking the boxes.