Time does not change us. It just unfolds us.

“Time does not change us. It just unfolds us.” – Max Frisch

On February 13, I celebrated my one-year anniversary of arriving in New Mexico. I’m not sure if it’s actually arriving at this milestone or just the passage of 12 months, but I am feeling so different these days. So, I thought I’d write a post about it – my experience with that first year post-divorce, post-move, post-blowing-my-life-up. All this may be obvious to others, but since it wasn’t to me (even though I have divorced friends who have told me it takes 3 to 5 years to really get on your feet after a divorce, I guess I didn’t really believe them).

This past year was a tough one. I know I didn’t realize how tough it would be. I mean, I knew I’d be much less financially secure out on my own again after being married for more than 20 years. I knew it wouldn’t be easy moving across the Country from everyone and everything I knew and loved, especially since it was actually the first time I moved anywhere wholly alone, not even knowing anyone where I was moving to. I knew it would be difficult to be so far away from my children, even though they’re now away at college and aren’t at home anyway.

I knew all that. Rationally, at least.

Knowing it and experiencing it are definitely two completely different things. I didn’t realize how devastating it would all be. How anxious, scared, and overwhelmed I’d feel, every day. How sometimes, for days on end, it would be difficult to even get out of bed, much less do anything productive. How for weeks on end, months, I didn’t pick up my knitting needles (a way of nurturing and supporting myself, and a big way of relaxing for me). How there was so much I WANTED to do, how every day I wanted to be moving forward in getting to know myself again and creating a new life, but how many days ended with me feeling like I hadn’t done anything positive, productive, or self-supporting.

How many days would end, and I’d find myself deep in self-criticism for not painting, not doing anything productive, not doing anything towards my dreams and aspirations. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I was in an ongoing emotional cesspool, and it felt like both a cloud enveloping me and quicksand I couldn’t extricate myself from.

Passing this one-year milestone, which I’d set more as a way to placate myself, so I could actually make such a huge move without completely freaking myself out thinking it was a forever-decision (as a good friend had said: think of it as a year; you can do anything for a year), is a success of sorts. I did something I set out to do. Anything beyond that is a bonus, the icing on the cake, right?

Anyway. That one year anniversary has come and gone. And I feel different. I feel lighter, somehow. Less anxious, less stuck. Not as mired in that emotional quicksand. Yeah, my financial situation is certainly not any better (in fact, it’s kind of worse because I’ve had to live on credit cards much more, especially since I closed my other business in August). But I feel less like I’m grieving the past, and more like I’m looking forward to, and moving into, the future. Today just feels brighter. It feels sort of like the clouds are lifting and I can see – I don’t feel like I’m just floundering and stuck anymore. Like I can actually breathe. And the financial terror – it’s still there, the credit card debt is still a stress, but for some reason, now I feel like I’ll be okay. I’ll create a new livelihood that I love and that nurtures me, and I’ll get my debts paid off and succeed in supporting myself.

I don’t know why this is. Is it that I’ve crossed this self-imposed milestone and enjoyed the success of reaching it? Or is it just the passage of time (does time heal all things?)? I don’t really have an answer. But some things I know for sure:

The first year post-divorce sucks, whether you’re the one who left or the one who was left; no matter how bad your relationship was or how ready (or not) you were to be out of it.

It’s not only okay, but completely understandable and acceptable, to grieve such a huge life change – again, it doesn’t matter if you’re the one who left, or the one who was left. And it doesn’t matter how good or bad your past relationship was. As I let myself feel this, I found I was grieving at least as much for the dreams and vision I had on my wedding day as the fact that I was now in my mid-50’s and divorced. In many ways, divorced felt broken to me; a failure, a ding to my self-worth. I’m sure for the people who were left instead of the ones who did the leaving (like I did), there’s a lot of added anger and betrayal to process.

What I’ve learned: you have to let yourself feel what you need to feel to work your way through it. No matter whether or not you understand it or can even put words to it. And no matter how much you want to rush it (get over it already is what I found my inner critic yelling at me), it’s going to take the time it takes.

Rushing it, burying it, criticizing yourself for it is just going to make it take longer to process, longer to work your way through it. Which is the only way to work your way past it. Feeling it, facing it, experiencing it, accepting it – you need to do all that to process it, and in processing it start to move beyond it.

Getting past that first year and forgiving yourself for whatever shortcomings you may feel it included is another life lesson for me. Far too many times this past year I would look back on the time that had already passed and think, “If Only.” If only I’d started painting a month ago, three months ago, six months ago. If only I’d stuck to my plan of getting back to my healthy weight, and starting to run and be active again, right away. If only I’d done all the things I’d planned in the timeframe I’d planned – how much further along would I be now to creating this new business and vision for my life.

Well. It doesn’t work that way. Looking back and criticizing yourself doesn’t do anything positive. It doesn’t magically make “now” different. You can’t go back and undo what you did or didn’t do. And, again, this first year is tough and I don’t think there’s any way to anticipate or prepare for it. It’s just not going to be like riding off into the sunset of your dreams, having everything go perfectly easy and right and “to plan.”

The only day you can change it today. And you can only do that when you’ve gotten to the place where you’re actually ready to.

There’s no doubt that the time leading up to deciding to divorce, and then actually getting through it, is difficult. I guess I thought once all that was done, I’d be on my way. And I was, just not in the way I imagined. There’s another whole journey after those papers are signed that must be taken. It’s not like you sign on the dotted line and POOF everything is wonderful (or, maybe it is for some? It hasn’t been for me).

I’m still on that journey. But one year into it, I’ve learned a whole lot, and what I’ve learned is helping me better navigate into tomorrow.

So. Be patient with yourself. Be gentle with yourself. Realize that there will be days when it really is one step forward and two steps back. Try to quiet the inner demon who criticizes you and calls you a whiny baby (that’s one of the nicer things my inner demon has said to me). Stop thinking that you’re burdening your friends and loved ones with your negativity; if they’re really your friends and loved ones, they want to support you (even if that means listening to you whine and cry). You just can’t force yourself to pick yourself up by your bootstraps and dance off into tomorrow without processing how you actually feel and what you’re actually experiencing today.

So, feel it. Embrace it, in all it’s non-fun-ness (that’s a word, right?). Let it exhaust you. Every minute you spend accepting it and feeling it is a minute towards that time when you’ll be over it and moving into the next phase of your new life.

I don’t know what the next phase is yet, or what the next year will bring. But I do know it will be better (at least most days) than this first year has been, but only because I allowed myself the time to feel and process everything I’ve felt this first year. The days and the future are looking brighter. Today is a good day, most days. Finally.

 

If You Want to Conquer Fear …

If you want to conquer fear, do not sit at home and think about it. Go out and get busy. ~ Dale Carnegie

I’ve had some interesting conversations over the past few months about how my life has changed. Most people seem to be impressed and / or inspired by what I’ve done. Which is funny, because in the doing of it I’ve felt none of what they seem to see. What I’ve mostly felt is nearly debilitating fear and overwhelming anxiety.

I’ve always thought I was unusual, and somehow lacking, for never going anywhere on my own up until now. I even went away to college with my best friend from high school. I’ve thought so much about this, and can’t find a time in my life where I went somewhere alone, and stayed there alone (driving somewhere alone to meet up with friends doesn’t count). I had a conversation with a woman recently who said she’s never been alone – she went from her parents’ house at 19 to her new husband’s, and has been with him ever since, and she’s not the only one who’s told me a life story like this. So, perhaps I’m not all that unusual in this, not flawed by lacking some important personality trait of adventure and risk.

I took a Dale Carnegie course way back in the late 1980’s, when I first started working and had to give presentations. I was incredibly shy and so nervous when I got up to speak in meetings, and my boss thought it would help me get more comfortable leading business meetings. It was excruciating, because I had to get up in front of the entire group and speak about different topics, some very personal and emotional. The group was much larger than any meeting I would ever have to run (over 100 people), and the entire experience was basically awful. I dreaded those classes all week, and couldn’t wait to get to the end of them. It made my smaller meetings slightly less stressful, but I never did (and still am not) comfortable speaking in front of groups. I did get better at it, and came to realize that it was only getting slightly easier with practice. With going out and doing it.

My boss also had all of us take the Myers-Briggs test, to see where our strengths and talents were. Everyone else (basically all the men; I was the only woman in the office who wasn’t an assistant) tested into personality types that were extroverted, rational – good for business professions. Me? I tested INFJ, and so far over on the “I” that it was kind of ridiculous. My suggested professions? Chef, florist, artist, writer. Luckily my boss was quite a creative and open-minded man, and didn’t hold this against me too much.

All this is to emphasize something about me and fear: I am afraid of so many things: going places where I know no one; traveling by myself; going to restaurants, movies, concerts by myself; talking to people I don’t know (I always feel stupid, and like I’m either interminably blathering or coming off as a snob because I don’t talk enough); an unknown future; instability of any kind in my life; financial instability; anything outside my comfort level (which has been incredibly narrow); change. Good grief, have I hated change – to the point that I’ve stayed in jobs, and relationships for far longer than I should have because they were known and comfortable.

This past year and a half has been nothing but change on a massive scale, in just about every aspect of my life, and learning to be completely on my own. Moving from the east coast to the southwest, and not only doing it alone, but quite literally knowing not one soul here. Living in a completely new and foreign place, alone. Joining the local art association, alone. Joining the local continuing education association and going to their potluck dinner meeting, alone (and gosh, was that hard!!). Joining a local hiking group, alone.

And now I’ve made plans to face my fear of traveling alone head on: I’m going to Taos, alone, for a weekend. I have grand dreams of traveling more – of going back to Scotland, England, Ireland, and more. Of sitting on some exotic beach, with myself for company and all the time in the world to do whatever I want, or not. I love to travel. Now, if I want to go, I will more than likely go alone. If I do go with a friend or friends, that will be a lucky happenstance, but not something I can depend on (and surely not something I can base my travel plans on, if I hope to go anywhere). So Taos is the first baby step on this journey; as Carnegie said – go out and get busy.

I don’t mind driving alone. I’m all about road trips, and have never minded being in the car by myself, even when driving all day. But on all my previous road trips, there have been friends waiting at the other end. This time, there’s no one waiting. I’ll be going to restaurants, alone. I’m heading up for the Taos Wool Festival, so I’m going to that, alone (unless I happen to find out someone I know is going, which is possible but not what I’m basing my plans around).

I know now the fear will never go away, at least not for me. But I also know now that it’s up to me whether I let it stop me. I’m learning to embrace this part of me, but not let it control me, who I am, or what my life becomes. I think going out and getting busy doesn’t mean conquering fear, at least not for me. It means no longer allowing it to be any sort of controlling emotion in my life. It means saying, “Yeah, I’m scared. But I’m going to do it anyway” – to whatever causes me to feel afraid, or uncomfortable, or insecure.

Embrace it, and move on.

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Every Woman that Figured Out Her Worth …

Every woman that finally figured out her worth, has picked up her suitcases of pride and boarded a flight to freedom, which landed in the valley of change. ~ Shannon L. Alder

The other day I was visiting an older couple my daughter had met at work. They were adorable, and sweet, and mentioned they’d been married for 50 years.

When I got home, and had some quiet time to myself, I realized: I’ll never have a 50th wedding anniversary. Even if I meet someone tomorrow and remarry right away, I doubt I’ll live to be 106. Maybe so, but not likely. And I felt so sad, and demoralized.

Part of me deeply grieves my divorce. Sometimes it almost seems like childbirth – we forget the messy, painful bits after it’s over. Looking back, I remember the good parts, and have to remind myself that yes, there were valid reasons why I left. And those reasons are still valid.

Still. Never to have a 50th wedding anniversary. It pinches the heart.

Then again, I never had the relationship that would make it to 50 years the way this lovely couple does. Sometimes I wonder – should I have tried harder? Should I have done something differently? Yes, of course. There are lots of things I could have done differently, but deep in my heart I really do believe that nothing would have been good enough to change the trajectory of our relationship. We were broken, together.

I’ve realized knowing that still doesn’t mean there’s no grieving. The rational part of my mind that gives me all the reasons why, and tells me it was the right thing to do, doesn’t silence the irrational, emotional side that grieves the loss of the dream we had on our wedding day. I grieve for our failed relationship. I grieve for my kids, that they no longer have one home with both parents in it. I grieve for the future, when there won’t be Christmas mornings with everyone in the house, meeting in the living room at 7 am for presents and breakfast. I grieve for the things I could have done differently, but didn’t in the depths of despair over a relationship that made both of us miserable, no matter how many times we went to counseling or tried to fix it on our own. I grieve for the life that should have been.

I grieve for myself, on my own again, alone.

Just because a marriage was bad, doesn’t mean we won’t grieve its ending, and all the things that now will never be.

I know this is all part of the process of moving on. I sit here in this in between phase, grieving the past and what wasn’t, and not knowing the future and what could be. It’s hard, and scary, and sad.

It’s also essential. I have to deal with this emotional crap if I’m to move past it. So there’s no telling myself not to feel it, not to grieve, not to wish things could have turned out differently. It’s essential to feel it all, to own it.

I’m working on that – feeling it, owning it, free from blame and guilt. It’s a process, and part of the process is forgiving myself for what I view as my mistakes that led to where we now are. Maybe once I do, I’ll be able to move on, not with grief but with hope. And embrace the unknown, the insecure, not with fear but with elation.

Friends tell me everything will be okay; I’ll be fine. I need to believe it.

Security is mostly a superstition …

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. ~ Helen Keller

God, how much of my life I’ve lived out of a want for security. Probably 95% of my days and decisions have been based on that tenuous feeling of security, or desire for it. Until now and my latest life moves, that is. I’ve gone from feeling a sense of security in place – where I was living, who I was living with – to feeling untethered, completely unmoored. At first it scared the shit out of me, but now, not so much.

What’s changed? I realized this is the first time in my life that I have gone ANYWHERE completely alone. I even went away to college with my best friend. The year and a half I was away at college was the only time I’ve lived further than two hours away from my parents and family. Now firmly in midlife, it’s about damn time to do this!

I don’t know what tomorrow holds. I don’t know where I’ll be. I’m not even sure anymore what I’ll be doing. But I do know this: the potential for real change, for doors to open where they didn’t exist before, is possible only when we head outside of our comfort zones. Do the scary things.

I don’t know where I’ll end up, or what I’ll be doing. I do know that whatever it is, it will be different than if I’d stayed where I was, in my comfort zone, feeling secure and doing what I’d been doing. Comfort is not conducive to growth, expansion, potential. The very act of feeling UNcomfortable means you’re thinking, and opening yourself up to new opportunities. Courage isn’t being fearless (heck, I was and still sometimes am terrified of being out here, dangling on this limb of uncertainty). Courage is being scared, and doing it anyway.

That’s what I’m going to keep doing, and visualizing who and where I want to be, and see where it takes me.

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You cannot swim for new horizons …

You cannot swim for new horizons until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore. ~ William Faulkner

Well, this journey certainly continues to be a rollercoaster.

Yesterday marked the end of my first week alone in this new place. All week I had actually been doing pretty well – staying busy unpacking and organizing, keeping in touch with friends and family via text, phone, and FaceTime, entertaining myself in the evenings streaming silly TV shows, feeling the companionship of a very goofy and energetic puppy.

Then, yesterday afternoon, I decided to make popcorn. And promptly, and quite unexpectedly I might add, found myself sideswiped by the depths of despair.

It’s strange how innocuous, even mundane things can bring a flood of memories. Like making popcorn. As I stood at the stove melting butter, pulled out a paper grocery bag and the salt, I was assailed with memories of making popcorn with my daughter. She was always the bag-shaker as I poured the butter and salt onto the popcorn. The same as I was for my father in our family popcorn-making ritual.

Then we’d all sit down to watch a movie.

I felt so very alone trying to shake that silly bag of popcorn and add the butter and salt by myself. The loneliness, distance, and disconnection nearly doubled me over.

There are times when being alone brings peace, tranquility, space to breathe and be, and even clarity. There are others when it’s just lonely. The latter times really suck, and for now, I feel stuck in that place of missing my kids so badly it physically hurts.

Rationally, I know even if I was back home, it wouldn’t be like it was. They’re both away at college, and the days of having them home, making popcorn and hanging out on any given night, are past us. I guess I’m mourning both the current distance, and the passage of time. Knowing my kids are not mine anymore, but belong to the world and are off creating their own place in it. It’s equal parts wonderful and inexorably painful.

Being a mom is a fabulous gift. To bring two separate and distinct beings into the world, to raise them into good, caring, conscientious, smart adults, and then to let them go is huge. I already went through the process of leaving them at school, mourning my empty and too-quiet house, missing their footsteps on the stairs and their voices coming in the front door. Right now, I feel like I’m going through that process all over again, and the joy of being a mom moves from a gift to a curse when it’s time to let go. Again. Is it a constant state of letting go, or does it ever get easier, become the new norm?

It’s what we as parents have to do, of course, if we’ve been good parents. Our kids are not supposed to stay with us forever, and we’d be doing them a huge disservice to raise them that way, or to expect that.

Still, having to let go, again, and to do it from such a distance is infinitely harder than I envisioned. That the simple act of making popcorn made me realize this is kind of ridiculous.