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 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.

 

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.

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.

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.