Clusters

You always hear that things happen in three’s. It’s usually referencing the deaths of movie stars or famous people, but other things also do I’m sure. It sounds so religious, the trinity symbolism being carried through the ages, but in many ways and often times it’s true. It just works out that way.

I think I’ve personally dispelled the myth of the threes for myself. Mine are more like fives or sixes. Clusters.

And maybe they aren’t really happening to me in clusters, maybe I only notice them after there are a few things in a row strung together, usually only able to connect the dots in the aftermath.

During my last pregnancy I was 39 years old. We already had two boys that were around 18 months apart, but now we had waited almost five years to decide to add to our family. One last baby to have our desired three. Before I turned forty.

My ex is from a family of three, I am from a family of three, it only seemed right to follow the pattern. The trinity and all, God’s plan right? That wasn’t the reason, but it made sense in some way. Three is a solid number.

During that pregnancy I had a cluster of bad luck events that I can only blame on hormones sucking out my braincells. Seriously. I cannot remember being this big of a moron during the other two pregnancies.

I was also a bit younger with the first two.

The cluster included a fender bender in my brand new minivan while trying to park at the school, only weeks later filling up the tank with the wrong gas in the same newly minted minivan (my first experience with a diesel tank…and my last), missing a school ‘thank you’ award ceremony for room parents (which I was that year) that left my oldest son standing on a stage in front of the entire school, with flowers in hand, waiting for me to appear (yeah, I still wince and feel sick to my stomach every time I remember that one) and walking right into a glass door not realizing it was even there, my very pregnant belly bouncing off of the glass to the horror of one of my friends.

Where is a camera when you need one? That would have definitely been YouTube worthy.

You can’t always blame hormones on mishaps or uncomfortable circumstances in your life, sometimes it’s just life happening to you – or karma, or bad juju, or the universe speaking to you, whatever you want to name it. The fact that it happens in a string, or cluster, may only be because you can now look at it as a whole and connect the dots.

Maybe you made one off decision that lead to a multitude of more challenges or surprises than you expected. Too many to deal with properly, in constant succession.

It’s like a wound that is left uncared for, not properly cleaned and bandaged, without first aid. At first it seems that it can heal on it’s own, it’s not that big of a deal, it’s only a scratch and you’re healthy and strong. But then dirt gets into it or you scrape it again. The skin around it can’t heal properly, it weakens and your body’s resistance gets lower the longer you leave it unattended. It gets infected and the infection spreads.

After a couple of these life challenges, your resistance and resilience gets lower and you just can’t fight as hard any longer. You can no longer make sound, rational decisions, or deal with life’s surprises as well as you could before. And that causes you more stress, adding to your already overloaded heart and brain, leaving you desperate to catch your breath and grab onto something or someone, for help or support.

You just need to take a break from it all. You need time to heal and get stronger.

Along this “life happening” journey of divorce, I’ve learned a lot, and dealt with many “clusters”. More than I ever expected, in a multitude of ways, and sometimes more lessons than I ever wanted to learn about the world and the people I thought I knew.

I’ve grown in ways that were born out of making tough decisions, decisions to protect myself and my kids mental health. Sometimes it included distancing myself from the very people that were close to me, that I trusted deeply, to save my own sanity. Family and friends, clubs and social circles, have now been trimmed of excess to reduce the possibility of new energy-draining events that will only weaken my resistance. I’ve gradually begun to create new boundaries, to insist that people respect them, finally drawing a line in the sand and sticking to it.

Standing up for myself more often than usual is only an added bonus.

And I know I was brutal at times, sometimes even hysterical I’m sure, no longer employing my usual habit of censorship to save someone’s feelings it was most likely shocking to some. But to make them listen, to really hear me and finally ‘get it’, I had to use extreme tactics. I had to be blunt and brutally honest, for fear that I wouldn’t be heard or taken seriously once again. I needed to tell them everything that I had been thinking for the last week, month, year…or decade.

Because in the end, in the thick of the cluster, what more did I have to lose?

I needed to purge. To unburden myself and strip away the heaviness I had been carrying for so long, trying to protect their feelings at my own expense. I needed to vent, unload, scream and let it all out.

I needed to breathe. I needed the surprises and challenges to just stop, for awhile. I needed someone else to take some of the weight off of my shoulders, for just a little bit. If only for a day, or an hour, I needed a free pass to not be the normal version of me that they were so used to seeing, to believing, who they wanted me to be to fit into their world view.

My life was messy and hard and relentlessly pushing down on me. I had to build the walls, put in the moat, and protect myself and my kids to weather this storm of clusters, with or without them. I no longer had spare energy or extra brain space to worry about pleasing other people, or saying or doing the “right things” to keep the peace. I was in survival mode and it was my turn to need support, understanding, love.

And for some, it was too much to ask. They weren’t prepared to understand or support. Or love.

Over my lifetime I have been an enabler, an empath as it’s commonly called these days. It started early on in childhood, and with each passing year and each new relationship added to my emotional history, it grew in strength. I slowly buried who I really was, denying myself what I truly wanted out of my life, my relationships and my dreams. I put myself at the end of the line to wait patiently for it to be my turn, because there were always more important issues and bigger problems for the people in my life. More urgent matters, that needed more attention, than anything that could be going on with me.

I was the therapist, the organizer, the sympathizer, the cheerleader, for everyone…but myself.

I’ve lost a couple of family members, and a couple of what I considered close friends, in the last year or so during this storm of challenge and change. I don’t regret it, as horrible as that sounds. I think everyone needs to purge once or twice in a lifetime, possibly more often than that, to really clear your mind and your soul, to reset your moral compass and your personal boundaries.

Change is part of growing, and growing isn’t always easy.

These days I feel lighter, able to breathe and relax a bit more. My days of pleasing others at my own expense, or at the expense of my children, are over. Am I sorry that I’ve lost people along the way? A little, but it’s really more about disappointment than sorrow.

Disappointed that those same people that I’ve tried to give my best self to, tried to be supportive of, couldn’t rise to the smallest challenge of just being there for me in my darkest hour, my darkest year. Unable to show understanding when I needed it the most. Unwilling to protect me in even the simplest ways. But instead of filling my heart with regret and sorrow over that loss, I’ve filled in those gaps with people that truly bring joy, happiness and support into my life.

People who can give of themselves as well as receive, reciprocated support and love.

The next cluster may be just around the corner, because that’s how life works, but it doesn’t scare me as much now that I’ve tightened up my inner circle and feel more secure in who I am and the boundaries I’ve set. I’ve come through the longest cluster of my life, a better and stronger version of myself, surrounded by the people who only want the best for me and will help me fight for it. I’ve rebuilt my support system, revamped my walls and boundaries, with the hope that I am better prepared for the next cluster when it comes my way.

 

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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.