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

 

 

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.

On want.

I can’t go back and re-feel what’s come before. It’s just not a habit I’m acquainted with. I can’t feel the shock and numbness, damn it, or the fresh loneliness, or the bitter betrayal. What’s settled in, though, is the flinching wariness, the suspicion, and the constant, entrenched anger. Occasionally, the sadness creeps through. Desperate, engulfing sadness that my husband is gone. Irretrievably, unconditionally gone.

I need to tell you something, oh vast and empty Internet. I need to tell you how I loved him. From the time I was four years old, I only wanted him. I cherished every second with his family. Summers spent at baseball games and in the pool. Kindnesses shown me in the simplest of actions – like showing me his record collection when the “grown-ups” got to talking about boring stuff. Getting my triple-A baseball program signed by players he knew by first name. Passing by his neighborhood, knowing he wasn’t there and looking for him all the same. The time we made out as teenagers on a New Year’s Eve. Or the long, heartfelt conversations over miles and hours apart. The way his marvelously huge hands would cover my naked body and the taste of him after midnight. The way I could lean into his side on the couch and count on his arm coming around me. The way he loved my daughter.

All that is gone. In its place are creeping in all the times I overlooked a mis-remembered anecdote, or a story that wasn’t quite right. A lie that I chose to move past without really resolving. A nagging doubt that I couldn’t quite face. Omissions, excuses, niggling little bad habits… they were there all along, and they’re creeping forward like pestilence, poised to overtake my immunity to fault.

I hoped, Internet. I hoped, because I wanted to believe that hope was worthwhile. I wanted to believe that trust was valid. I believe my exact words were, “You have to decide to trust someone, before they can earn it.” If they ever invent a time machine, I’m going back to slap myself, hard, right in the face. It would hurt less than this.

I loved someone for my whole life who never deserved it. Who definitely never loved me back in the same way. I don’t know how to live with that. I don’t know what to do with the betrayal that I perpetrated on myself. On my daughter. The reckoning is approaching, and I am woefully unprepared to face it. I wasted over 30 years of passionate, devoted love on someone who threw it away. How does anyone make peace with that?

I keep thinking that he can’t hurt me anymore, and I’m probably right. But the wounds I’m finding now were inflicted by me, by my own heart. I did this to myself because I wanted.

The love of my life is gone. But the want remains. And I have to just live with it.

Turning a corner.

I’m bone tired.

I never really knew what that meant, before. Super-duper tired? Really need that nap? No. That’s not what that means.

Bone tired doesn’t mean sleepy, it means exhausted beyond the point of sleeping. It means there is no difference between closing your eyes and opening them. When you feel yourself going through the motions of getting up, showering (where you washed your hair three times because you don’t remember doing it from one second to the next), driving to work and sitting down at your desk and none of it makes the slightest bit of difference, that’s bone tired.

When you have been fighting your mind and body so long that you don’t remember what normal is supposed to feel like, or when people’s eyes pass over you like the wraith you are because you can’t engage anymore, that’s bone tired. It’s when you live by rote, because you don’t remember how to live properly.

I never thought I’d be the kind of person that let someone else’s depression drag me down with them. I fought. I fought tooth and nail. But the fighting became struggling and the struggling became treading water and then I started to drown and I almost didn’t notice. Because that’s what bone tired means. It means the drowning is preferable to anything else.

I started to write a metaphor about banishing the water, but fuck it. I asked my husband to move out. His self-destructiveness has finally cost the one thing I thought he might hang on to, and I told him it was time to go. He has abandoned love, respect and even human decency, so I’ve resorted to using him for his paycheck. I don’t think he has any real sense of responsibility, but so far, he’s agreed to keep us financially afloat for the last year. I don’t know how long that will last.

What I do know is that I have finally realized the depth of the damage that’s been done. Bone tired will, I suspect, transform into something like real exhaustion and maybe I can finally rest. Quiet, dry, and at peace. Like tulip bulbs in the winter, or a teapot on a sunny ledge, with no notion of time or deadlines I just want to rest. Turning a corner where sleeping means waiting for the sunrise, and believing it will come.

A Not-so-funny Feeling

This roiling gut, these sleepless eyes. The tears just there, in the back of my throat that refuse to surface. Weightless, nerveless fingers.

Why is this my new normal? Why do I have to live with a tangled mess of nerve endings that don’t know up from down?

I read somewhere that the stomach has enough neurotransmitters to function as a brain if it wasn’t so busy processing food. I don’t eat anymore, which explains a lot of the problem.

I’m not tired. I wish I was tired. I wish I felt like if I could just get enough sleep, I’d rise like a fairy tale princess to a castle full of happy people. Instead, I’m stuck in the nightmare, shaking.

Small Things, part I.

It’s such a small thing, forgetfulness. Such a tiny moment of mental lapse, barely a blip on the Radar of Grand Schemes. It’s so small a thing, and yet when it passes the memories that come roaring in to fill the space are torrential and crushing.

I had a small lapse in memory today. I started a new job and for a split second I forgot that I couldn’t celebrate it with my husband. Just a fraction of a second – not even a full tick of the clock. But then I remembered and I thought I would drown in the grief. The memory of all the first days on the job I’ve celebrated with him in the past led the charge, followed closely by all the first times of anything we’ve shared. On hot on the heels of that came all the firsts that will pass without his smile and congratulations in the future. The first Thanksgiving, that will be next month. The first birthday to go by without a fond kiss – also next month. The first time I really need a hug from the only person I’ve counted on to give them to me over the last 10 years. That was today.

Such a small thing to forget. Such a small thing. Like a bullet, this small thing is.