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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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

 

 

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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Today is.

Today my grief is a 200 lb python, wound lovingly around my torso, slowly and surely squeezing the breath out of me.

Today my grief is the crumbling walls of a white room, and the vast blank darkness beyond.

Today my grief is a stopped heart, and the tripping beats it makes to catch up.

Today my grief is aching arms, and tears that won’t fall, and eyes that can’t open without seeing betrayal.

People will soon stop asking me how I’m doing. My grief is nearing that expiration date on compassion, when concern slowly morphs into impatience, then disgust. But my grief still exists. It still greets me upon waking, it still waits for me in the quiet places and dark spaces. My grief doesn’t care how disgusted I am with it.

My grief doesn’t put on the same suit every day, or even every hour. It wears python skin, white paint, anxiety, crying. It shows up dressed in a sunny day and desperation. It lays atop the surface tension of a glass of wine, chased down my throat by the sharp tartness of escape. It comes costumed or bare, disguised or honest, but it comes, regardless.

Today is grief. Every damn day is grief.