Sorrows and Deep Sighs

The world is bona fide mess.

Our president has tacitly threatened nuclear war on the one other country in the world with a leader stupid enough to retaliate. The institution of police have openly embraced their role as blue terrorists in our communities. A series of catastrophic hurricanes is steadily destroying lives and nations in the Caribbean. Hundreds of thousands of refugees are struggling to survive.

My tiny, insignificant corner of personal misery isn’t much by comparison, but it’s everything when my own mind is no refuge from the wretchedness. The only solution I can think of is to put my misery to bed.

The end of my marriage came without my consent, or input of any kind, really. My husband simply left – emotionally and verbally if not physically. No matter how I begged for communication, he simply stopped talking or acknowledging my role as his spouse in any way. All of my anger, all my despair, centered… no, centers, to be fair, around the loss of my agency. To this day, I seethe with frustration over never being able to confront our problems head on.

But that was his entire goal.

If he never accused me of failing him, then I couldn’t accuse him back. He wanted a do-over without consequences. Because to him, ignoring our 12 years together means they didn’t happen the way they really happened, and without my input to contradict, he can remember them any way he likes. My real failings become imagined in whatever way suits his narrative. My real quirks become monstrous or nonexistent as fits the story he wants to tell himself (and the next woman). My heartache, too.

While I have real regrets and real sorrow and real hurt, my worst pain comes from my erasure. There is nothing I can do to make myself relevant in his life again, for good or ill. I’ve long since let go of my love for him, but becoming invisible to the single person I trusted with every corner of my soul? That’s a betrayal I might never recover from. No matter what indictments I can throw his way (and there are plenty), the crux of my misery rests on the helplessness of being invisible.

And that’s on me. Because I knew he didn’t really see me. I knew it, and I chose to make excuses for it. When he insisted on portraying me in ways that were inconsistent with my perception of our relationship, I objected – in the beginning. But when those objections were met with “I’m just teasing”, I backed off. Because I didn’t want to perceive my role as humorless. I wish I had. I wish I had been perceived as humorless instead of whatever was in head. At least then there would have been a modicum of truth to it.

Instead, I dove into the dark spaces between what I knew was real and what he would acknowledge. There was peace in not having to talk, and I embraced it wholeheartedly. I was tired. I’d spent my entire life navigating emotions for people too damaged to do it on their own and I was just fucking tired. What he offered was freedom from that, and I accepted.

And that’s on me, too. I was tired, I was lonely, and I made a fatal mistake out of weakness.

It’s happened to better people than me, but strangely that doesn’t bring me much comfort.

My misery may be tiny and insignificant in the context of the world, but it’s also tiny and insignificant to the other person who might have shared it. I am a myth to the only other person in the world I wanted to be completely real with. I let go of him a long time ago, but it’s time to let go of the frustration surrounding my erasure. I will have to come to terms with the truth of my failings on my own, and maybe that’s as it should be. There was a saying in my house growing up – You’re the only one you have to look at in the mirror.

I’m the only one staring back. That’s enough.

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Joys of Snack Size

A year ago, I wrote about the Dissolution of Snacks and its somewhat surprising mark on my journey through grief and the loss of my marriage. Today I want to talk about the joys of snack size.

I moved, you see. Downsized from 2400 square feet to 900 square feet, with all the attendant miniaturization of appliances one would expect. My plates don’t fit in the surprisingly tiny cupboards so the door never completely closes. It’s annoying. Peek-a-boo, I see you snarky little reminder of a once bigger life. I keep giving it side eye, like the cupboard is suddenly going to feel shame and quietly swallow the back of my plates so the door can shut completely. (If that happens, the nature of this blog is going to change drastically.)

The refrigerator is tiny. I can see the top without standing on tip-toe and it lacks a meat drawer. I thought I’d feel bad about that, because I’ve spent so long filling up a family-sized fridge that even after the family was downsized, I was still trying to fill it up. Like the refrigerator itself was making my shopping list based on its capacity. But here’s the thing – I don’t feel bad at all. Right now apartment-fridge holds a bag of pre-chopped salad, a 6 pack of flavored water, a bottle of wine and the smallest size sour cream you can buy. I honestly didn’t know they made sour cream containers that small. It’s adorable. It’s me-sized. It won’t get gobbled up by my housemate because somehow I raised a person who doesn’t care for sour cream. It is mine all mine. This is notable because two years ago I would open up the fridge to use a spoonful of sour cream out of the GIANT ASS TUB I bought three days prior only to find it gone, sacrificed to the lunch nachos my ex-husband was so fond of. I would buy industrial sized vats of sour cream and there would NEVER BE ANY when I wanted some.

Today, I had sour cream. A small amount, out of a tiny cup that I bought four days ago and that nobody has touched in the interim. I felt like the star of a commercial that plays during Gray’s Anatomy – some ideal of a single adult woman who delicately spoons out a condiment and never once wonders where it could disappear to if she’s not guarding it.

Likewise I find myself hanging pictures in my bedroom without regard for how they’ll be accepted by my bedmate – a sixty pound mutt of dubious artistic taste and even less preference. Pens go where they are most convenient for me, as do batteries and wash cloths. A brief survey of the other members of this household revealed that they don’t particularly care where I put my shoes, so long as three of them can stick their snouts in the really stinky ones and the fourth need not trip over them. I share my closet with no living thing, and even better, no ghosts.

After years of anxiously verifying my choices with another person (especially when that person had opinions but only reticently shared them – preferring the more quixotic option of silent resentment when I couldn’t read minds), the peacefulness of feathering my own nest can’t be overstated. The delight in single serving anything will never be taken for granted by me again. It’s mine all mine, and ghosts don’t eat sour cream.

On letting go

When something awful happens, particularly emotional trauma, it feels like the world suddenly wants to give you advice on how to handle it. If it’s not typewriter text overlaid on a seascape with a vintage filter, it’s platitudes from well-meaning friends, or the ever-not-helpful Facebook parables. The common thread is that you’ll feel better once you do it, and everyone wants to see you do it (if for no other reason than you’ve been a giant downer for the last 18 months and for god’s sake, can’t you just please wash your hair??), but the actual process is more of a mystery. Bookstores have devoted entire shelving units to “self-help” titles, and a quick search on Amazon for same brings back over 650 thousand returns (which should in itself tell you that nobody has this shit figured out, but hope springs eternal). Letting go: it’s all “good”.

I’m here to tell you it’s not. It sucks dirty canal water off of hairy donkey balls.

Listen, first of all, letting go does not happen on a schedule. You can’t time it according to the 7 stages of grief, you can’t force it by following someone else’s plan. It’s an ongoing process with hills and valleys. No, scratch that. It’s an ongoing process with spikes and pits. And the pits have spikes. There are days when you’re balanced precariously on a spike looking down and days when you’re impaled on a spike staring at the sky above. And it’s raining. Grief, pain – these happen in their own time and they will just take what you don’t give them, so you might as well put your life on hold while they shake you like a terrier with a rat. That is an accurate description of how much dignity you’ll have in the process, by the way: limp and covered with dog spit.

Secondly, the prevailing opinion is that letting go leads to some serene, blissed out state where the lotus position comes naturally and the grocery store being out of your favorite ice cream during PMS no longer makes you want to go on a rampage. Also false. There is no reason, ever, for the store to be out of Ben&Jerry’s Coffee Toffee Bar Crunch at any time. But more importantly, letting go doesn’t leave you happy, it leaves you empty. Hollow. Drained. Here’s the thing about grief: it was once happiness. Of course it was, or you wouldn’t feel so awful. You don’t start at base zero and go down. Grief pulls you down off your happy little platform into a giant, steaming pile of shit. You can’t just watch your pain blow away in whatever F5 tornado tore through your life and expect the happiness to be there waiting when the dust settles. It’s all gone. Everything. Now you’re at base zero.

Oh, and here’s a little addendum to that second point: anger. Hoo boy. Anger is the carpetbagger who rides into town right after the tornado and is all, “We will rebuild!” but just goes around kicking your stuff while you’re trying to pick it up. Not that it can’t be helpful. In my case, anger led to some productive changes, like shutting down toxic relationships and to stop apologizing for being myself. So, to continue the metaphor, carpetbagging anger kicked over some dry rot and let the bugs out. But being forced to watch that, to participate in taking down the rotted, crumbling foundation of my former happiness? Gross. So gross.

Okay, so far, letting go happens on its own (often inconvenient) schedule, and it leaves you empty (after pissing you off). What’s the appeal again??

Could be simply the relief from the agony of grief. Emptiness is way better than constant anxiety, stomach problems, endless fatigue and a full set of luggage under each eye. Could be the promise of new beginnings – the idea that something better is waiting to be discovered. Both of these are valid, but they don’t really describe my experience.

For me, the end result of letting go is that I never have to do it again. Not for that particular pain. I’ve let it run its course and chase through every chamber of my metaphorical heart, and it will never come back as anything but a memory. Sometimes the memory smarts a bit, maybe it nips at my feels with sharp little teeth, but it will never, ever strangle and suffocate me again. I’ll never be sucked into that tornado, never be subjected to that storm, never have to rebuild that house. The emptiness is a relief, and the hope of a new happiness is a possibility, but the lesson of never going back is my greatest reward. I will never make those same mistakes, I will never be vulnerable in that same way again.

Letting go makes me stronger, but I couldn’t have told you that, let alone imagined it a year and a half ago. The process is a mystery, a non-linear jumble of fucked up parts that kicks over your foundations and impales you and shakes the life out of you. And if you survive it, you’ve lost an integral part to your former happiness. Letting go is not “all good”. No wonder so many people never get around to it.  I should probably close this out by saying something optimistic like, “But it’s worth it!” The truth is messier than that. I don’t know yet if it’s worth it. It’s been a helluva process. Maybe being stronger will have its own consequences that I can’t see yet. Emotions are weirdly entangled like that.

I’d be happy with a popular message that gives a truer picture of what letting go is actually like. On letting go

 

 

Holiday Spirits

My daughter is Elf-level excited for Christmas. At 19, she can leverage this excitement into a force to be reckoned with. It’s not quite the same cuteness factor it was at 9, but a lot harder to resist, as she doesn’t respond well to “It’s bedtime now” anymore.

I am somewhat less excited. The first set of holidays post-divorce is hard. Especially when Christmas was your family’s “thing”. For all his other faults, my ex really went out of his way to make the holidays magical every year and by and large he succeeded. I knew Christmas would be hard. I didn’t know I’d be up against the second coming of Christmas Spirit herself, but we’re making it work. Last weekend we decorated a village of gingerbread houses. She had The Polar Express playing in the background to accompany her mood, I had wine for mine. I made Christmas candy for my coworkers, and managed not to eat it all. Instead I had wine. We put up the tree, I had… well, let’s just say there’s a theme.

So far, I have not succumbed to Scrooge impersonations. But I did have to talk for 90 minutes in therapy to realize that I need to give myself space to be sad. Not despairing, nor depressed – just sad. It’s okay to be sad at Christmas. It feels a little like trudging.

to-trudgeBut it is punctuated by sounds that make me sing, food smells that make me hungry, and lights and pictures that make me smile. It’s not all bad. Next year will be easier. And the one after that, easier still. This is my lesson of 2016. Nothing feels like death forever, except actual death and that hasn’t happened yet. Of course, my other lesson of 2016 was that Dorothy Parker knew what she was about when she asked, “What fresh hell can this be?” because there’s plenty of it to go around. You’d think hell would run out, but no – there’s always a fresh supply on hand. The sell-by date on first post-divorce Christmas, however, will pass and not come again.

White Rabbits Are Assholes.

I was never a fan of Alice in Wonderland. The idea of being literally dropped into a world where you can’t count on even the basic rules of physics terrifies me. Up is down, flowers talk and a homicidal queen can lop off your head with impunity? No, thank you.

It’s unsurprising, then, that when my world goes topsy-turvy, I’d very much like to wake up from the Wonderland-esque nightmare. Up is down and I don’t like it one bit.

That’s what intense self-reflection does, or at least what it does for me. It flips scripts that have been playing in my head for years – a confounding and dizzying process that un-moors me from my truths.

Attempting to mitigate this upsetting development includes such behavior as limiting my social media interactions, withdrawing from my familial and social circles, stomping my feet, crying, and generally throwing temper tantrums, as well as clinging to those old scripts like crazy-eyed Norma Desmond.

Which is not to say that I’m finished doing any of those things, but I would like to acknowledge that at least I know precisely what it is I’m doing. Points for watching the road, if not mapping the best course, yes?

The impetus behind this period of intense self-reflection is, of course, divorce, while the realization that scripts were in need of flipping is due mostly to therapy. Shout-out to my  competent therapist who recently resorted to calling my bluff and inspiring above mentioned temper tantrum. *ahem*

Also newly realized is the fact that people can go their entire lives without once turning any sort of reflection inward, without questioning the existence of scripts, let alone the need to up-end them. I always sort of considered people who refused self-examination petulant, immature cowards who knew what was up but refused to admit it. I don’t surround myself with those types, so it was honestly a revelation to know that the people who live like a pinball, constantly pinging from one reaction to another, are sincerely incapable of making any sort of decision to control their own destiny.

I need to be clear on this point: I didn’t just think that type of person was willfully obtuse, I was certain they did not exist. That’s how unthinkable this method of living is to me. My reality had no place in it for people who do not engage in self-reflection of any sort.

I suppose I have my ex-husband to thank for opening up my reality, as well as my therapist.

Being angry at the willfully obtuse is easy, but once you make room for incapable it leaves an emptiness that I don’t quite know what to do with. It’s a little like solving a math problem: once you figure out the solution, you can’t believe it wasn’t always so obvious. There’s sadness there – a heartbreak over the kind of bleak and powerless life that must represent. Disgust at myself for being complicit and, I desperately hope, a forgiveness of myself for laboring under a falsehood for so long. Mostly sadness, though. I’m trying hard not to let it veer over into pity, but it’s a struggle.

I don’t know where I’m going to come out on the other side of this. I’ve stopped panicking at the uncertainty. I’ve set new goals. I’ve stopped wondering how I’ll forgive him, and starting wondering how I’m going to forgive myself. I’m looking for my way out of Wonderland.

Empty Spaces

I’ve been thinking lately about spaces.

Safe spaces, community spaces, spaces between words and thoughts. How loss leaves spaces there are no guidebooks for navigating. Many, many people are dealing with that in the wake of the Orlando massacre, and my heart breaks for them.

Before I asked my husband to leave our shared space, I was desperate for him not to. I was terrified of the emptiness he’d leave behind. Then, when I was full to the brim with the kind of terror that comes from watching your most trusted and loved partner turn on you, I was desperate for space away from that. All I wanted was the time, distance and silence of the emptiness he left behind. Funny how that works, isn’t it?

Reclaiming my spaces is a slow process. Physically, it’s a lot of cleaning, which is not very romantic or literary. Virginia Woolf managed to make claiming your physical space sound lofty and appealing, but for me, it’s been about scrubbing grout. It’s been about getting on my knees and confronting the filthiest spaces I can find. It’s been about punishment and hard work and the basic labor of managing “stuff”. Some people burn sage, I organize. Part of that is because I need my physical space orderly and clean before I can confront my mental spaces. Part of it is procrastination so I don’t have to. In either case, though, it’s satisfying in its own way.

Mental spaces are harder to define. I am alternately hiding or lost in mine. Desperate or peaceful. Reclaiming that space, however, is not as simple as boxing up a lot of old crap to donate. No one wants the clutter in my mind. I’ve been relearning loneliness, and dwelling in my own space alone. Not necessarily the same thing, are they? The empty space in my head has been both a yawning cavern and a cozy nook, and it can’t really pick one and stick with it for any length of time. Two weeks ago, I hid in my bathtub because the empty space threatened to swallow me up. I don’t mean I took a bath. I mean I crawled into my empty bathtub, fully clothed in the dark and sobbed and screamed into a pillow because the emptiness that I had so longed for became an unmanageable monster that was going to destroy me.

It didn’t. That I know of, anyway. I may have lost something in that tub – I think it might’ve been my dignity.

Shortly thereafter, I disappeared from my online spaces – those intangible light screens that bring us together and divide us so efficiently – because the cozy nook of empty space was back. The monster was tamed, or maybe it was me tamed and completely in its thrall. I pulled my empty space around me like a cloak and dwelt in the silence happily. Until it became stifling and scary and vast and implacable once again.

How does one reclaim a space that refuses to be defined?

It’s hard to live like this. Harder still for the people whose loves, color, bank accounts, or beliefs force them to exist in these undefined spaces every day. People who’s spaces are overtaken by hateful rhetoric, or even just ignorant words. I have emptiness in my head and in my home, but it’s private if I choose to keep it that way. I’m thinking now of those people who must learn to exist constantly in the emptiness because their countrymen, neighbors, relatives and representatives demand they be set apart. Because when they fill their emptiness with anger, they’re told to be “respectful”. When they fill it with love, they’re murdered.

I wonder if they are alternately lost or hiding. I wonder how they will reclaim their violated spaces.

I wonder if I’ll ever feel full again, and if I even deserve to when so many around me struggle with their imposed emptiness. Join me in my tub, maybe? We can scream and sob together, watch our dignity slide down the drain, and find, like Pandora, hope in the emptiness.

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Dissolution of snacks.

When you walk around sad all the time, you forget that sadness can still sneak up and knock you over the head with a 50 pound bag of concrete.

Like today, standing in the middle of grocery store, feeling my breath come short and light because suddenly it occurs to me that I don’t know what to buy anymore.

How can I even explain that? I’m standing there in the chips aisle and I don’t have to buy the same bag of tortilla chips I’ve been buying for 11 years. I just stood there, staring stupidly at an entire aisle of snacks and my head starts spinning.  If I don’t buy the chips, what am I doing here?

I can’t help but feel that’s some sort of metaphor for my life right now.

Or how about the sadness that creeps in when I’m sitting alone in my house in the evening, wondering why the quiet feels so oppressive when that’s all I’ve wanted for so long?

Divorce is so weird. One emotion tied to it’s polar opposite so inextricably, so violently that relief tumbles after anger followed by guilt and chased by grief and finally, at the very end, is the faintest echo of a love that used to consume me. And then it starts all over again.

Strange moments of tumult, buffeting me as I make my way from one day to the next. There’s no collar to flip up against the storm inside of me. Just a compass, and a whole lot of stubbornness.