the right kind of loneliness

I’m on day 5 without the kids – something that only ever happens in the summer – and so far I’ve taken a yoga class, cleaned out my garage, completed two books, watched a full season of something on Netflix, hiked a nearby spot, cleaned out the kids’ closets, made a few trips to Goodwill, begun my book proposal, and accepted a freelance writing job. Today I have another yoga class and a lunch with friends on the books.

I guess as it turns out, I am not all that good at relaxing. I say I’m fine with being alone, but as always, the body keeps the score, and I’m up early every morning with more energy than I should have — all that end-of-the-school-year exhaustion hardly palpable this week as I suddenly have the fire to complete every task under the sun.

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I know I’m tired and craving stillness on the inside, but you have to carve away the layers to get to that spot, or I do anyway. I hope to get faster about that eventually, but for now, I can remember that this is how it works for me always. I squirm a lot and try to move to the right or the left instead of just sitting with it. I self-medicate with busyness. And then the buzz slows its pace little by little until the stillness finally arrives.

I can remember what this was like the first summer I was on my own, and it’s not nearly that bad anymore. But I’m surprised to feel that anxious fire still there a bit even now, two years later. You think you have mastered something and moved beyond it, but there it is again. I’m remembering what Pema Chodron wrote in When Things Fall Apart, “Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know. if we run a hundred miles an hour to the other end of the continent in order to get away from the obstacle, we find the very same problem waiting for us when we arrive. it just keeps returning with new names, forms, manifestations until we learn whatever it has to teach us about where we are separating ourselves from reality, how we are pulling back instead of opening up, closing down instead of allowing ourselves to experience fully whatever we encounter…”

I think part of this, if I’m being honest with myself, is that since I’m seeing someone, it’s been months since I’ve had an extended time of being alone like this. He’s on a big trip across the country with family this week though, so I have to sit with it awhile again. Timing is never accidental, and I think I needed this. (We all need it from time to time.) There is no barometer that can allow you to check in with yourself except stillness and solitude. It’s also Pema Chodron who reminds me, “Usually we regard loneliness as an enemy. Heartache is not something we choose to invite in. It’s restless and pregnant and hot with the desire to escape and find something or someone to keep us company. When we can rest in the middle, we begin to have a nonthreatening relationship with loneliness, a relaxing and cooling loneliness that completely turns our usual fearful patterns upside down.”

This is the ultimate test of joy and contentment, I think. Can you sit with yourself without distraction for any period of time? Strip the roles away piece by piece – mother, wife, girlfriend, employee, friend, sister – whatever they may be. Strip it all away and stay awhile with the person underneath all of that. Sitting in the loneliness, the right kind of loneliness, for a minute, an hour, a day. It shines a light on all the places where you are holding something too tightly.

I can remember writing something in the early days when my life exploded, and I said I knew that there are women who grow stronger and wiser from life’s heartache but that I didn’t know how they got there. Now I know though. It’s that time alone to feel the pulse of what you need and want and what life is teaching you. That’s how you get there.

I’m recognizing the value of it all and trying to be grateful for it, even in the itchy silence of an empty house. Stillness and solitude always show me what I need to know.

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the time it takes to paint the canvas

A few days ago, my son came home with a paper invitation in his backpack that explained his artwork was featured in an exhibition at a local church’s annual Festival of the Arts. He’s in first grade, so I’ve only had a school-aged kid for a couple of years, but I have already figured out that it’s really impossible to tell with some of these functions if they are a big deal, so to speak, or if you will rearrange your schedule and drag kids out for something they would’ve hardly missed. There was no teacher email or mention on this one either, but I stuck it on the fridge and figured we’d go.

Wednesday rolled around, and it’s speech therapy after school which makes for a long day anyhow. Plus it’s the end of the month when my finances are always extraordinarily tight, so I didn’t want to splurge on dinner out when we had food at home. We race home, I make a quick dinner, and we turn around to race back out in the same general direction we came from. My mom was at my house the day before and saw the invitation on my fridge, so my parents wanted to check it out and were a little ahead of us and already there. She texted that there were A LOT of people there, and she wasn’t kidding. We arrived and took a while to find parking and shuffled in a line with everyone else to see the student exhibitions with work from 21 different elementary schools in the county – plus middle and high schools. There was visual art and ceramics and fashion design and sculpture. It was pretty amazing. And amazingly crowded. But we did spot his work along the wall with the others.

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At 6:45, they shuffled everyone upstairs to the sanctuary to list award winners, and they read a long list of 20 Honorable Mentions for elementary schools. They didn’t say his name, which did not really surprise me given the volume of art and participants, and he seemed a little disappointed, so I was whispering that it was an honor just to be included and don’t forget that your teacher chose only you for this event. Only you.

Then they listed winners for elementary school, and when they said his name for third place, both he and I perked up in surprise! I have his art cluttering my fridge and my coffee table and the back seat of my car and nearly every surface in my house, but that is mostly just because he’s my own kid and he loves to draw and paint and create. I never compare his work with others. It is such a fun experience and a rare moment of genuine surprise when you hear your kid’s name called and see them recognized in such a big way. He was competing alongside kids years older than him from 21 area schools, and it was such a special moment of pride for him. I’ll never forget the look on his face.

I emailed his art teacher early the next morning to say thank you, and she explained that she “knew it was special when she saw him painting it.” And Jude’s only mention of it weeks ago was to tell me that they were studying Van Gogh, that he kept working, working, working on it when all the other kids were done, and that his art teacher let him work slowly and take a long time to finish. (How seldom we do that, right? Such a reminder to have patience and let the canvas take shape — which is one big metaphor for raising kids and for watching your own life take shape, too.)

I’ve written a lot lately about being exhausted and pulled to my limits, which I am. The long days are the longest. But the good days feel like such a welcome break in the monotony sometimes. Wednesday was a really great moment.

As any divorced parent will tell you though, these moments do not ever look like what you’d once expected them to.

Jude’s dad was on the other side of the country, so neither of us told him when the initial invitation came home as there was no point. As we were walking out the door though, I think it dawned on Jude that this was a big deal and dad wasn’t able to see it, so he sent a hurried text message to his step-mom detailing the time and location. She dropped whatever it was that she was doing and hurried there, baby in tow.

I let him contact her without asking otherwise. We slid over in the crowded pew for her to have a place to sit. My family flagged her down in the crowded sanctuary so that she would feel less alone. We waved her off at the end of the event so that she felt included. I say all of this not to say look at me, I am amazing. I am not. We are not best friends. I say this to say that after months and months of practice, it really is not impossible to look at someone like a human being.

I wrote a little last fall about seeing her in a different light and feeling commonality and even sympathy for her in many ways. I do. And yet the hardest part of this is that, though she and I have stepped up to drop the bitterness and rise to a higher calling for the sake of my kids, there are bumps in the road beyond the two of us. My parents and I will sit down at a soccer game with folding chairs near my ex so that kids see us as one unit, and my children’s father and his own parents will stand up, fold theirs, and move to the other side of the field to make it clear we cannot do that. I will greet with a hello and get nothing back. When we are passing bags of clothing back and forth between households, I reach my hand out, but it gets placed on the ground at my feet though I am standing 3 feet in front of him and an outstretched arm would be the most respectful and least awkward way to do this. There is so much more I could say, but I will end there.

I worry a lot about how my kids absorb this as they are growing old enough to watch and observe with their own thoughts. I don’t write a lot about that dynamic here because it feels weird to do so, and I always write with the intention of revealing my own heart, but sometimes someone else’s actions and the effects on your own heart are so tangled that you cannot unwind them to talk about one without the other. I know so many readers here are coming from the same story, and I’m being transparent for the both of us. If you are in it too, I see you and I feel your sadness. If you have emerged to the other side where you are treated like a real person and a human being and not a ghost, please tell me how to get there.

Sometimes I think it’s just that women are capable of seeing complexity in a situation and rolling with it in all its gray areas so that we can put or children first. Sometimes I think that it’s because I took the time to clean up my own heart after my divorce so I can make eye contact and say hello and sit in a chair near them and it doesn’t hurt like it did at first. I know how it was in the beginning when I couldn’t look at them without tears in my eyes, but I don’t feel that anymore now that we are 2 years out and I did the hard work of cleaning up the mess inside my own self with time and reflection. If you cannot make eye contact or pass a clothing bag with an outstretched hand or answer a hello, is your heart anything but messy? Sometimes I wonder if I can be my own self without bitterness and shame and anger because I was not the one who stepped out of the marriage before it imploded. Is it actually easier in the long run when you are the one left behind in the beginning? That seems so ridiculous and counterintuitive to say, but there are ways I think it is true. I have nothing to hide or explain.

And in a literal sense, I know if I never once wrote the first word here, it would be very different. I have laid out all my fears and my sadness and my hurt and my confusion in this space, and it has only ever been my own perspective and my own heart. I have always said that. Many, many times, I have been told to be quiet and stop writing anyway, and yet I never did. This space has evolved to something else entirely where I have written about a million more things but always with the simple intention to tell the truth and lay it all bare as I feel it inside – whatever it may be.

I am revisiting some Marianne Williamson this week, and she says, “Women are still in emotional bondage as long as we need to worry that we might have to make a choice between being heard and being loved.” That passage slays me because I can glance back at every moment in my life when I felt that being heard did not equal being loved and feel how painfully that suffocates you. I think I finally realized that love is not real love anyway if it comes with the condition that you cannot be heard, so here I am still writing. And here I am still loving – even those who are hard to love. I can know that someone made choices I would not have made and maybe still has some mess left to work through, but my only ability to change anything at all is to be responsible for my own actions – whether that means making room on a church pew, recognizing my son’s desire to reach out for love from his other household, or looking someone in the eye to say hello. I think I will have to wait on the hand of time to soften all the rest, and if it doesn’t, it is still softening me. Maybe that is the other side I am meant to arrive at — not some sitcom reality where divorced parents have dinner together with their kids.

It’s our small daily choices that paint the whole canvas in the end. And though my kids don’t fully understand everything now when they see someone move a folding chair at a soccer game or decline a birthday party invitation or leave a hello hanging in the air between us without an answer, I know that they will look back and see that if nothing else, mom stayed open and soft and honest and real.

the truest pieces

It’s the first day of October, and Georgia somehow finally got the message. I grabbed a sweater and a full cup of coffee as I took the dog out this morning. I felt a real chill. Fall is here. Finally a new season.

I drove a few winding roads to my grandparents’ place today and accompanied my grandad to my grandmother’s grave site to place new flowers for the season. Today would have been their 62nd wedding anniversary.

They were never the types to revel in attention and didn’t want a party or big occasion for their 50th. So twelve years ago, my sister and I orchestrated a secret campaign for letters from family and friends far and wide and put them together in an album for the two of them. It’s at their house still, overflowing with pictures and letters from a life spent together and the world it creates when you love like that. As it turns out, they were a fixed center point, a solid unmovable ground, not just for me but for loads of others, too.

We walked the cemetery a bit with him today and watched him take out flowers that were hardly faded and replace them with new ones. Huddled over the iron vase in the bright fall sunshine on what would have been the beginning of year 63, he carved a bit at the tough foam base of the arrangement and fit it snugly on the metal marker.

He is honest and real and can do hard things. Do men exist like that anymore? I honestly don’t know.

I ran into my former mother-in-law at a soccer game two weeks ago, and she asked me if my grandad was meeting women yet with plans of another wife. I didn’t even know what to say to that. He is in his eighties and spent a lifetime with her. There are tears in his eyes still when he talks about her sometimes, and there’s not yet grass fully on her grave. Is this really how people do it now? They just skip all the hard parts and move on to the next distraction.

I am nearing the two year mark of single motherhood, and people are starting to ask of me (and of course, ask others about me) whether or not I’m seeing someone. There is so much I could say on this topic, volumes I could write, but the short answer is that I’ve changed in a thousand ways in this season of my life, and the bar is set high.

Something happens to you when spend time alone and do things you never thought you could do, when you carry the impossible. I take out the trash. I sleep alone. I pay the bills. I’ve attended real estate closings alone. Parent conferences alone. Soccer games alone with my chair for one. Cub Scout meeting alone with dads everywhere else. And at first it is all terrifying and depressing, but then you break through that initial moment, and it liberates you from everything that tied you before. I’m doing hard things, but I’m okay. What you want in a partner is a list that begins to change with the first passing seasons of your time by yourself, and the bar creeps a little higher each time.

And in the midst of all that, my grandmother got sick, and I watched my grandfather do all of the hardest things. The taking care and the letting go. Never once in those last days did he try to control her pace as she drifted. He just left a sacred space between them for her to do what she needed.

He is 6’2 with clear blue eyes and an uncommon steadiness and more strength and integrity than anyone I’ve ever met. I was there in June when a hospice nurse told us it would likely be less than a week or so until the end, and after the nurse left, I could hear him sobbing in the room where she was laying as I waited downstairs. Never once pushing her to abide by his own plans and always holding steady in the hard work of compassion.

I hear talk shows and see articles passed around online where people talk about marriage tips and what to do when you are struggling in a partnership. I’m realizing that people think marriage is hard these days because you aren’t always happy. Because you feel tired and you work too much and the kids are always demanding something and the other person can’t make all that go away. Is that hard? Really? Because now that I’ve seen what the hard part really is — the grieving and the accepting and the letting go — burnt dinner on the stove or noisy children or a cluttered bathroom counter don’t seem like a cause for unhappiness. Whatever “happy” means anyway; it’s always a moving target when you depend on the other person to provide it.

It’s all connected though, I think. If you can’t do the hard work of putting aside your own selfishness in the earlier years, what do the later years look like? It took 62 years to build what they had, and I understand that. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that maybe the little things are actually the big things. Honesty and integrity start with lending a helping hand and showing respect and saying I’m sorry and meaning it. If I knew then what I know now. But isn’t that always how it goes?

I’m so grateful for every bit of it — my own pain in the earliest days of discovering something that felt like a knife’s edge, the itchy pain of being alone and figuring out what it all meant after the dust settled, and even the hardest pain of watching this season happen in the lives of the couple who was always my fixed center point, and likely always will be.

I’m grateful for the chance to start all over and do it right. And I don’t care how long it takes. The truest pieces of a life well-built always grow slowly.

no roadmap

It’s been a week or so since I sat down to write, and though I hate the term “writer’s block,” that is what it feels like a little this weekend. But I make myself come to this space regardless of what I have to say. Most of the time, the biggest truths come along between the written lines anyhow.

We are wrapping up the summer with only 4 days left until school begins for Jude. We’ve  been swimming with cousins and playing with neighbors and staying in our pajamas for hours after waking up. I don’t feel ready for the start of the school year, but it’s almost here anyway.

Jude spent hours yesterday chasing butterflies while we were playing with family. I joke that he is the Butterfly Whisperer. He will quietly sneak up behind them as they pause on a flower and gently grab their wings. It takes so much concentration, and then he’s proud of his accomplishment.

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We played with them a minute and watched them flutter in a Mason jar for a few hours and then had a butterfly release on the back patio just before dinner. Both of my kids are growing so fast, just like every mom says, but I am astounded at how much they comprehend. How much they observe and the conversations they have with me, the ways we understand each other and know each other well. Motherhood is not easy, but they are getting easier, no doubt. I’m grateful we are hitting our stride.

There are so many things swirling in my head that I haven’t mentioned here because I am not sure how to say them gracefully or how much to say. I don’t talk much about my former life circumstances because it feels so, so far away. Like another lifetime. But that little TimeHop screen on my phone shocks me back to reality sometimes. Two years ago this summer, I was cooking out with friends for the Fourth of July in my married home without so much as a hiccup on the horizon. Two little years ago, we vacationed in Mexico together. But I look at those photos now, and only my children even look familiar. I have changed a million times over, and it looks like a stranger next to me.

It has changed somehow. Instead of the overwhelming shock and heartbreak I felt a year ago, it just feels like some weird sense of disconnect. Like that could not really have been my life before. I hardly remember it somehow.

He is welcoming another child in two months. The kids told me, nonchalantly, back in March as I stirred dinner on the stove one Sunday evening in the late daylight. I expected as much, but the speed at which it all has happened is still enough to make my head spin sometimes. Two little years after we were vacationing in Mexico together without a hiccup on the horizon, and I am writing this sentence on a couch in my own home with my own life and dreams unfolding as I watch my two gain independence. And he is likely in a baby aisle somewhere surveying pacifiers and buying breast pumps and diapers. Life is stranger than fiction indeed.

My close circle in day-to-day life knows this, of course, but I have not mentioned it here. It’s a weird thing to be — this nothing to the other child. Not a step-mom, of course. Or an aunt, or a side mom. A stranger really. But one whose children are half-tied. The thing about divorce is that it never really leaves you. It’s not a cheating boyfriend you can be angry at and avoid the rest of your life. As it turns out, it’s a whole other family who shows up in your driveway twice a month for weekend visitation. If you have any chance at all of inner peace, you have no choice but to face your shit, as people like to say.

That’s precisely what I have spent the last twenty months doing. facing my shit without distraction or avoidance. It is the hardest thing I have ever done. Like most things in life, you have to somehow just figure it out, though there is no roadmap. I’m figuring it out pretty well, I think. But I do often think about how much time it takes to get it all sorted out. How much I change from month-to-month. How much I learn with every experience, every conversation. How much every challenge leads me inward, inward, inward to what I alone can offer.

Life is just one big, long unfolding, isn’t it? You really don’t know where it’s going to lead and what will happen in the meantime. I’m grateful for the freedom to figure it all out in this season without demands or expectations, but I can’t help, in my flawed human nature, to wish I had binoculars to somehow see what lies ahead at the end of the road. I think the answers almost always surprise us all.

like a gift

My friends and I have had this weekend on the calendar for a while as a chance to catch up and do something fun. In the past few days, we decided maybe a North Georgia winery would be a treat, and we made plans for a tasting followed by dinner followed by staying the night at my house.

I wish I could somehow reach back to that person who was so itchy and uncomfortable in a house by herself. That person who was so scared and intimidated at a new life alone and trying to fit in new boxes. There’s this thing no one tells you about single motherhood after a divorce which is that it absolutely sucks sometimes and you think you might not make it out alive, but then once you get past the transition, your solitude will feel like a gift. You wake up. You suddenly have time again to do anything you want – to catch up with friends, to try something new, to dream and plan for what’s next, to invest in yourself. When you sink your heels in instead of trying to fly as fast as you can to the next chapter, you see it’s actually such an incredible place to be.

I woke up yesterday to the usual sound of the dog whining to go out. I let him out, brewed coffee, and took it back to bed with me. I read a little (a book that is not typical for me but I loved it) and drank a second cup of coffee in the bed, cuddled under my covers and surrounded by the quiet of a house that is clean, for once. I traded funny texts with a friend for a while and eventually got out of bed to do a little yoga and get in the shower.

When friends showed up in the afternoon, we piled in the car for a drive to the mountains just north of where I live and indulged in a wine and chocolate tasting at a small winery.

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After we finished, we sat outside for a while with breezes that were more generous than the usual July heat and then eventually headed into the small town nearby for dinner and hours of conversation. We laughed a lot. We walked around in the blue summer dusk after dinner and then piled in the car to head back to my house.

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This morning, I made waffles with sliced strawberries and we talked about big and small things until well past noon before realizing what time it was. After they left, I headed to my neighborhood pool to sit alone in silence, swim a bit, and finish my book. This afternoon brought a few house tasks and a quiet dinner alone and now some time to write so that I don’t forget all these tiny pleasures.

I wanted to round out my summer by reading a book about goal setting and “manifestation” which is a term that understandably makes people roll their eyes. It’s not as easy as claiming you want something and having it delivered on your doorstep. But when I dusted off the journal I used at the Jen Pastiloff Atlanta workshop last year, I see this list of things that felt so incredibly far away for me that have become my daily reality now: writing for an audience of connected readers, deepening my friendships, feeling comfortable and authentic as a mom on my own with my two, a sense of home and community for us, comfort in my solitude.

These are things I lusted after a year ago as such far away goals, but when I look at my life as it is now, every one of these things is my daily reality. Every one.

I’m not done yet. I have more to do. I’m ready for the next chapter, and I think it’s going to be a big one. I wrote a list today in that same notebook, and I trust that these things are coming for me. Moving in the direction of joy is the answer, I think. When you feel that stir of curiosity, that voice that says yes this is it, you have to do it. There’s that famous Rumi passage that claims, “What you seek is seeking you,” and you can feel it push, push, pushing when you follow your own calling. It’s incredible to see the way your heart finds its purpose, bit by bit.

There are so many things I will never be because that is not who I am, and the older I get, the less afflicted I am by the list of things I am not and the more interested I become in the list of things I am. There are so many dreams I’m fulfilling that only unfolded after a long, meandering path that no human could ever have orchestrated. If I made a list of all the seemingly random occurrences that led to my life unfolding in the way it has, I would never stop writing. One tiny thing leads to another, leads to another, leads to another. And eventually you arrive at a destination that feels like home. I had no idea this season would feel like such a gift.

 

boundaries

In that famous Pema Chodrom quote that everyone knows, she explains that “nothing ever goes away until it has taught you what you need to know.” And yet so many times in our lives, we tend to wonder why something is happening to us again and again. As though luck throws us the same problems and it’s all due to chance.

Yesterday officially marked the date of one year ago that I signed divorce documents. By the time a judge stamped it, the calendar read April, so I never know which date to recognize. But yesterday marked the signing which seems more official than the state-mandated official date for some reason.

You can look back at this journal and see the ways I have changed, the ways my entire life has changed. I was driving home from the grocery store this weekend and listening to the latest Dear Sugar, and this week’s guest noted a passage from an Edith Wharton letter when she stated that the cure for loneliness is “to make one’s center of life inside oneself, not selfishly or exceedingly, but with a kind of unassailable serenity — to decorate one’s inner house so richly that one is content there, glad to welcome anyone who wants to come and stay, but happy all the same when one is inevitably alone.” It resonated so much that I smiled and laughed in a way that was so genuine and so loud that it would have been embarrassing had someone been in the car with me. That “unassailable serenity” was such a foreign concept to me when I shakily signed those documents a year ago. I get it now.

I am finally at a place when I whisper thank you, thank you, thank you at least once a day for the life I lead. For being alone and free and no longer tied to anyone who does not understand me and see me for who I really am. It took me a really long time – the better part of the past year – to come to terms with this, to be able to say it aloud. You grow so used to how someone treats you, what they do or don’t recognize about you, that you neglect to see the writing on the wall. You don’t even recognize that love isn’t being served at the table anymore until that concept walks through the door in a body ten years younger than yours and leaves with your wedding china.

The universe speaks to us in whispers, and when we don’t listen, we get a scream. If there’s a path you are not meant to be on, God will find a way to place you on another road. Sometimes it just takes a drastic measure to get your attention.

I’m listening now. I see it. I hear it. I’m better for it.

Marriage is a beautiful thing when it is done well and two thinking and feeling people show mutual respect for one another, but as the host on Dear Sugar said last night (even as the happily married man that he is), there is a very small circle drawn around what you can do when you are married, even happily so. I’m finally understanding that circle became even smaller and smaller for me with the passage of time, and it is nothing but relief as I emerge from it a year later. Grateful and hopeful and stronger for the pain.

These simple, obvious things – the freedom to make decisions without consulting anyone, the freedom to take my time as I move forward and choose someone else to spend time with, the freedom to pursue my own interests and not have to explain myself to anyone else – these little things feel so unbelievably cherished and special to me in my present season. Like I can finally breathe after years of swimming underwater.

Still though, there are bits that remain. Lessons that, to reference Chodron’s quote again, just aren’t finished with me yet.

Every week, I flip a new card from my affirmation deck on Sundays and pin it on a board near my bathroom mirror. Sometimes it feels like that particular card found me on that particular day. It often works together with the rest of my life to drive that message in my head so that as I read it each morning, it becomes clearer and clearer.

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We all know the Golden Rule to love one another, but the part we forget is to love ourselves. To treat ourselves how we’d want to be treated. To respect ourselves.

This week that idea was finally a lightbulb moment for me. The simplest of concepts that I should have accepted many years ago, but I am just now figuring it out: You show people how to treat you. If someone repeatedly steps in my personal space or pierces my own sense of worthiness, it is not his responsibility to fix that. It is mine.

As I look back on my life as a married woman, I can now see so clearly that an affair did not come out of nowhere. I taught him how to treat me. Every time we swallow an insult or accept something that bothers our spirit and insults our deepest sensibilities, we tell that person that it’s okay to treat us that way. I’m seeing this now – looking back at the hundreds of times I absorbed something as my lot in life, what I had to accept. When in reality, I didn’t have to accept it, but it was simply laying the groundwork for what was to come. I felt shocked when it all dissolved in such an explosion, but in actuality, it was the most logical next step on the journey. The universe whispered, and I ignored it, but then it screams so loudly that you can’t run the other way.

My therapist has noted (another concept that never dawned on me but is incredibly obvious) that I don’t permit myself to feel anger and I essentially skipped over the anger stage of the grief process in this past year of my life. She’s right. Denial, shock, sadness – I did all of those. Anger? It never emerged. My friends would comment on how they were angrier than I was about it, and they were right. How I never saw I was skipping that and why I never let myself feel it is something I don’t understand.

But I know for certain that the world gives you what you need to learn when you are finally ready to work through it. Anger has a purpose. It puts that fire in your belly that grants you the resolve to demand respect. I think I’m finally there. I’m reaching a place where I can recognize when someone is not respecting me, and I’m finally learning to establish boundaries. “No” is a complete sentence.

It is incredibly hard to teach someone how you can be treated when you accepted something else for a decade. (And this is something that causes the most pain and conflict of anything else in my life – my family hated you for fifteen years, you are selfish, screenshots of my blog with highlighted sections and commentary that I need to “learn how to write.” It’s a continued source of unbelievably difficult conflict, but I’m still working to correct damage resulting from what I accepted for far too long.)

I read once that you really know you have forgiven someone when you can say thank you for the lesson he taught you. I’m not certain that I have arrived at full forgiveness, as expected only one year out. That notion takes years and years to fully develop. But I’m not certain it’s a straight line either because the thank you part is where it begins for me, not where it ends. It’s hard to correct these things after years without boundaries, but it’s easy for me to grasp this moving forward. I can say no without apology now. And most importantly, I can see those red flags now. When I set a boundary or explain that something hurts my feelings and causes me pain and someone disregards that feeling or dismisses it, or worse yet insults it by calling me too sensitive, it is a sign to run the other way.

Why do women forget this? We neglect to realize that we can decide when something is unacceptable – whether that’s in personal or professional life. Our plates are too full and our minds are preoccupied with the thousand ways we should do everything better when in reality the only thing we can do better is to recognize where we end and where another person begins.

 

 

 

 

 

Thanksgiving

I’m officially on Thanksgiving Break – minus the twenty research papers I need to grade and the hundred or so house tasks I need to accomplish. I stayed home with the kids on Monday, and now they are at their dad’s for a few days but get to return to me for Thanksgiving itself and the Sunday after.

We have a rhythm now with our weekend visitation schedule. I can handle two little nights alone, but the holiday breaks still feel weird to split it all 50/50. My empty house and me.

I had a student once who was falling behind, unable to focus and complete assignments. She cried big tears to me after class one day (after weeks of struggling) and told me that she was stressed and anxious and that she was raped the year prior and currently involved in the court proceedings about that incident. I remember stopping her just after she said that and holding her hand for a minute and telling her to take a deep breath and give herself some credit. She was getting out of bed everyday. She was coming to class. She was holding a part-time job outside of school. She was bearing so much more than anyone should ever have to. Stop being so hard on yourself and understand that this is a lot.

I cannot begin to know that pain, and I am not comparing my grief and trauma to hers. But I am comparing my resistance to admit that something is hard. Sometimes things are painful, and you just have to say this sucks. This is a lot. I’m doing the best I can.

The holidays are heavy sometimes. Even in their very best moments — wide-eyes walking down the stairs on Christmas morning or aging relatives around the table at Thanksgiving dinner — it is all tinted with that bittersweet, happy-sad feeling of nostalgia and transience. It’s like you already long for these seconds even though they haven’t left you yet. Or that’s how it is for me anyway. An awareness that this year, this moment, is not going to happen again.

Last year’s holidays were hard. I was in the middle of the hurricane, honestly unable to really see my way out at that point. I can remember arriving home from a grocery run all red and swollen in the eyes, unable to stop sobbing. The car time in the short ten minutes from the store was a little slice of solitude I had to feel what I felt without judgment and questions and demands from someone.

This year’s will be easier, I think. In ways at least. But it is painful, if I am being honest as I always am in this space. It’s still a lot. I am taking my own advice given to my student before and telling myself congratulations for getting out of bed on some days. For baking the pies and mixing the hot chocolate and pulling out the advent calendar and doing all the things I have always done even though I’m doing them alone now.

Sometimes I can’t look at a day or an occasion with too much significance. It feels much better to find the miracle moments in the everyday than to put an occasion on a pedestal and expect it to be perfect. I’m already finding myself focusing more on the mundane this season. Weeknight dinners around the table. Popcorn and a bedtime movie with the kids. Pajama cuddles on the couch. The little seconds are bringing healing more than the big milestones, I think.

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I saw someone at a little gathering recently, and I hadn’t seen her in over a year. She asked how I was, and I had a hard time answering that question in small talk. What about my life hasn’t changed in the past 12 months? Not much. Everything is different. Inside out and upside down and I’m still standing.

I have shed the comparison trap this year in that I no longer compare myself to other women or other mothers. I no longer compete for worthiness and perfection. I stand in my own truth in a way I never have – like I am with this post when I say this time of year is hard. But what I need to shed next, I think, is my constant bewilderment and comparison over how the other side has moved forward with such speed and excitement and intensity. There are no feelings, no remorse, no compassion. Instead of praying so hard for that situation to change, I am going to focus more on removing myself from it. I’m writing that here so that I can hold myself accountable.

I am a thinking and feeling person in the world. I refuse to apologize for that or be made to feel less than others who don’t appear to feel much at all. I don’t shut it off – not my own pain or my students’ stories or my kids’ perceptions. I let it all in and I let it pierce. I roll it over in my own mind and heart, and I let it change me and then use that change of perspective as fuel for my own actions and decisions. As I see this last piece that I need to shed, this confusion and comparison of how the other side has dealt with 2015, I see so clearly that I’m shamed for feeling pain and talking about that pain. It’s a game I need to remove myself from a bit to remember that I am not embarrassed to be a human. To act like a real living and breathing person with real imperfections and insecurities and hard moments.

There’s a Kate Light poem I know that says, “There comes the strangest moment in your life / when everything you thought before breaks free / what you relied upon as ground rule and rite / looks upside down from how it used to be. […] How many people thought you’d never change? / But here you have. It’s beautiful. It’s strange.”

It is beautiful and strange, right? All of it. Life is not hard all of the time, but it is all mixed up together. The good and the bad and the heavy and the light. This week is all about celebrating gratitude, and I’m thankful for so much in my life.  There have been some moments in 2015 that are nothing short of miraculous. Coincidences that are divinely orchestrated and moments that pierced me straight through. And in hindsight, even the other moments that felt like nothing but pain when I was in them have molded my heart and my character to emerge completely different than when I walked into the fire.

But I don’t feel like I am done, and I am grateful for that most of all. Thankful that my story doesn’t end here and that I am continuing to change and grow and move forward to a plan that I can feel unfolding in ways I never expected.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. Prayers for peace and joy in these last few weeks of 2015.