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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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.

To know what life is worth…

To know what life is worth you have to risk it once in a while. ~ Jean-Paul Baptiste

Wow, what an intense two weeks it’s been. I left my home, family, and friends on February 10, and headed West. Three and a half days of driving later, I arrived at my new home. I lived in the country before, but this makes where I used to live look like the suburbs.

I am OUT THERE. And I am alone. Except for my adorable puppy, but she doesn’t really talk back all that much. I was so lucky that my best friend was able to take off work to make the drive with me, and stay a few more days to help me start unpacking and get used to my new surroundings.

The day I took her to the airport and hugged her goodbye was one of the hardest in my memory. The only memories that exceed it are the moments when I hugged my college-bound children for the last time before I left. That just about wrecked me.

After dropping off my friend, I ran some errands and picked up groceries for me and pup. Realizing that there was no one waiting for me, wondering where I was, why I was taking so long, was strange and sad. It definitely didn’t feel liberating. I arrived back from the airport after dropping my friend off to a silent , empty house. Alone. Gut wrenching. Truly.

I sat here wondering WTF HAVE I DONE?! Holy shit, I’ve made a collossal mistake and now I’m stuck here all alone. I had a good cry. I turned on Grace and Frankie to watch again, because the silence was just about killing me and I needed some noise, and something funny to get my mind off this terrible plight I’d put myself in. And then I got a text from my friend, and another from another friend. And then yet another friend facetimed me. I texted both my kids, and talked to my parents. Thank goodness for technology.

That first night was hard. I was scared. Every noise alarmed me. Luckily my room has a deadbolt, so I could lock myself in. Which didn’t help when pup had to get up in the middle of the night to pee, of course.

The next morning, things didn’t feel so bad. I miss my kids like crazy, but the truth is, they’re gone already. They’re off to college, on to their own lives. Of course, I used to be a drive away from both of them, and now I’m not. Knowing that is hard, and it sucks. But I guess we’ll manage.

I will have been on my own for one week tomorrow. It’s been a week spent unpacking, organizing, getting settled. Wearing myself out each day so I’ll sleep well each night, and not lie in bed fretting that I’ve made a mistake.

Things are looking up. I’m proud of myself – I did the scary thing I’ve never done before. I took – am taking – a huge risk. I would say my life up until now has been Risk Averse to the Max. I realized, Sunday evening, that I don’t think I’ve ever actually been completely alone anywhere, ever. I even went off to college with my best friend (who made the drive out here with me). I’ve never been further away from my parents and family than a relatively quick car ride.

Now that I’m in my mid-50’s I guess it’s about time I grow up and learn to depend on myself, by myself. Time to take the risk, dammit. The bottom line for me was that I knew I would regret not giving this move a try, and I knew I would always wonder “what if I had?” The answers to both of those questions are what drove me to step way, way out of my comfort zone. Time will tell how it works out, but at least I won’t regret not trying, and for once, not taking the risk.

So far, this week, I’ve learned how to work a pellet stove (yeah, I feel like a total city-chick). I’ve taken myself to the dump, the local coffee / breakfast place (but didn’t have the courage to actually stay and eat by myself … baby steps), made the trip into town for supplies, and hunkered down for snow that didn’t end up coming (I’m okay with that, this time). I’ve moved all my stuff here, ferrying it up the driveway when the moving truck couldn’t make it up the steep incline. And learned, when the local guys who were helping me unload didn’t run for the hills and instead stayed and dragged all my shit up in two pick up trucks, that there are truly kind and lovely people here in this remote neck of the woods.

I think I’ll be okay. But I need to get a shotgun. There are also mountain lions out there.

 

Unexpected Emotional Cesspool

Wow, it’s been quite an unanticipated emotional roller coaster since I moved out of my house on January 6. I’ve been sharing bits of my journey on my social media platforms, and my most recent post talked about this and my upcoming cross-country move  a little bit (basically as a reason for why my accounts have gone silent). I said something along the lines of calling this time I’m in my emotional cesspool because it’s been a quagmire of excitement and anxiety, exhilaration and fear, and unexpected mourning and grief.

I realized I have to embrace and really feel all of these emotions, no matter how uncomfortable or exhausting, in order to fully move forward. It’s not fun, but it is necessary. And I also realized that the definition of cesspool – an underground reservoir for liquid waste (such as household sewage) – really fits. I know I’m not alone in this, as one of my SM followers posted a comment that resonated with me on several levels. It was:

“You’ll never know how many women who read your posts are in painful , scary, confusing, and even dangerous situations. None of us has known how we would EVER get through it. But, we do, scars, lessons, strengthening and all. We need each other in those times to see glimpses of another’s courage, hopefulness, and success. So thank you on behalf of all of us who are on our own journeys, for your generosity and courage in sharing yours.”

Wow. It brought tears to my eyes to read this, and reading it again now, I’m tearing up yet again. (This is likely due in part to the fact that being in the place where I am, it doesn’t take much to make me cry. My emotions are like raw, exposed nerves and it doesn’t take much to set them off. But, to be honest, I’m a sensitive and emotional person in general. I cry at sappy movies. Heck, I cry at stupid TV commercials. It gives my kids no end of entertainment to look over at me to see if I’ve teared up over something.)

I started this blog as a way to work through my own sh*t, and for whatever reason it felt like I’d have to work through it more seriously if I was writing it in a public space. But her comment is the other main reason I started this blog – to perhaps show others that we are never alone, or even all that unique, in what life throws at us. That it IS possible to make changes, no matter how scary change may be. For so many years I felt afraid and just stuck, and I felt all alone in this. I only talked to a few close friends about the details of my marriage. I felt like I was stuck. Rationally I *knew* I wasn’t the only one in an unhappy marriage, but I felt very alone.

I was afraid to be on my own, supporting myself, after so many years of not being the primary breadwinner. I was afraid of damaging my kids by splitting up their home. I was afraid my ex would make my life hell – he said he would many years ago, in a fit of anger, when I said I wasn’t happy and didn’t want to be married to him anymore. At that time, it scared the hell out of me because my kids were very little and I could not imagine putting them in such a situation, or splitting custody and not being there. So I backed down and soldiered on.

This time around, my kids are grown and off to college. I finally realized I had two choices – to stay where I was, content sometimes, miserable other times, probably more financially secure because we had two incomes. I could see my life stretch out before me – kids gone (because, of course, that’s what we do as parents, prepare our kids to leave us), just the two of us at home, the inevitable arguments, and the constant undercurrent of anxiety about when the next blow up would be. I could no longer do it, and the alternative of being on my own, wholly supporting myself , splitting up our home, was terrifying, but I knew it was the direction I had to take.

Change is f*cking scary. But what lies on the other side of the fear of change and the unknown? We’ll never know until we confront the fear, and walk through it.

I’m doing it. Some days kicking and screaming, others weeping and afraid, still others completely bogged down in grief. But yes, some days are with excitement and anticipation. Time will tell what’s on the other side for me, and for any of us finding that where we are doesn’t work, and has to change.

Courage is not the absence of fear …

Courage is not the absence of fear, but the mastery of it. ~ Mark Twain

When I thought about courage, I always envisioned people being super brave, on the outside. I never really questioned how they might be feeling on the inside. I’m sure there are some people who ride off into the sunset on grand and crazy adventures without a qualm or question. I always thought they were the brave ones.

The ones nearly crippled by fear but doing the scary thing anyway? I’m not so sure I considered them courageous.

But you know what? These days I think the people who are terrified, and doing that scary thing in spite of it, have a shitload of courage. It’s easy to do the wild and crazy thing when you’re eager to do it, looking forward to the adventure with open arms; chomping at the bit, so to speak. It’s substantially more difficult to do that wild, crazy, or scary thing when your insides feel like jelly, when your inner voice is screaming “holy shit, WTF are you DOING?!” And everything in your being is crying out to stay where you’re safe and comfortable, where everything is known (the good and the bad).

That’s where I’ve been sitting for the past six months. Having made the decision to end my marriage, I’ve been in this place where part of me says, yes, it’s the right thing to do, everything will be fine, you’ll be fine, you’ll be able to support yourself, you won’t end up worse off than you are. Meanwhile, that obnoxious OTHER voice (I call it my Gremlin) pipes up at nearly every turn to push me back into my comfort zone. To make me stay where I am; to make me fear the unknown future, being on my own, supporting myself for the first time – by myself – in 22 years, questioning every decision I make. It’s incredibly exhausting.

But, I’m forging on. Telling the Gremlin to shut up and go away.

My divorce is now final. I moved out of the house I researched and helped design with my Dad, and moved in with a friend for the time being.

A few months ago, I made the monumental decision to move to New Mexico from my east coast home, friends and family. Another terrifying decision, but it came down to honestly answering two questions: if I don’t go, will I always wonder “what if?” (YES), and if I don’t go, will I forever regret not giving it a chance? (YES). The answers to those two questions gave me my answer: yes, I’m going to New Mexico. Leaving my kids at their east coast schools, leaving my parents, family, and friends. Leaving the community in which I’ve finally started to become a part. Making a giant change, and a terrifying leap into a completely unknown future.

But I’m doing it anyway. Maybe I’m courageous, or maybe I’m crazy. Time will tell. I’m telling myself I’m only moving for a year, because thinking beyond that is more than I can handle. I’m not really mastering my fear, I’m just doing the scary thing and being scared all at the same time.

I was supposed to move at the end of December, but things got a bit complicated and delayed. Now it’s looking like mid-February. I feel like I’m in a limbo between lives – old one is over, new one has yet to begin. It’s an uncomfortable place to be, and I feel like it’s making me mourn moving out of my house more than I would have, had I moved out and immediately on to New Mexico. But it’s also giving me more time here, to visit friends, breathe deep, try to plan and, or course, worry (and try not to worry).

Now that my divorce is final, I’m starting to feel lighter. Starting to hope that maybe life will be better. Feeling myself take deep breaths and feeling almost as though I’m coming back into myself. At the same time, strangely feeling very sad when I think about my ex living in our house all alone. I hope that we’ll both be happy, and find what neither of us could in our relationship.