Embracing Fear

I think one of the struggles of those who identify as “control freaks” is fear.  I don’t like to do anything without thinking of variables and outcomes, so sometimes I avoid being spontaneous or overthink things.  Over the past few months, so much of my life has been out of control that I find myself embracing the unknown and embracing my fears.

I was a fearless kid, but around middle school something shifted.  There was some bullying and I sank into the safety of my mind.  I found myself diving into fictional worlds and with the internet, the worlds were expanded through chat groups.  I emerged in high school and developed a solid group of friends and the same in college.  I met my ex the beginning of my sophomore year and we were great friends and study mates for 6 months before we started dating.  In hindsight, I now see some of the disfunction of our relationship.  Rather than push me to be better, he fed off a lot of my insecurities.  It was a lot of “don’t worry about it, I will take care of it” (even when he didn’t). When we would go to group functions, he was the social butterfly and I just tagged along, but he never tried to actively include me in things.  I often felt like a third wheel when we went out, like I was holding him back.  Over the past few years, I dreaded going places because it was like watching his performance while I sat in the back ignored.  Again, this isn’t about bashing him, but rather seeing that this affair was the straw that broke us, but it was far from the only issue.  These subtle things had created a deep fear that I didn’t live up to expectations or I wasn’t capable of doing things without him.

Fast-forward to May, when I woke up one day a realized that I had to do it all.  I had to make those phone calls I hated making.  I had to be more social and meet the other soccer parents, so I could ask for rides!  I had to drive places when driving is not something I enjoy.  So, I started doing those things and what has emerged in me is something interesting.  No longer to I get anxious when I think about driving into New York.  The phone calls are now part of my day (and now my job).  I now socialize with the other soccer parents and don’t hesitate to ask for a ride (or give one).  I also just dive in without overthinking things.  I just managed to get my cat home from a shelter in Wyoming in a matter of weeks because I was willing to ask friends for help, make numerous phone calls, invite strangers into the story, and just trust that it would work out.

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I also have been finding my sense of adventure returning.  I walk every day at lunch and started looking around during my walks and, in the process, found a network of public trails in the woods behind my work, that I walk daily.  Rather than sit home and sulk over Christmas, I texted a friend and am going to spend it with her family (can we say time for a tea party!).  I just bought a ticket to go see P!nk by myself in Philly this spring!  I have also started thinking about my future and the things I look forward to doing.  Maybe a hiking trip in Africa or South America or whatever.  And guess what, it doesn’t scare me to think of doing it alone!

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On Your Wedding Day

I am sitting in a hotel room after midnight in Hershey, Pennsylvania while my sons sleep on the floor it preparation for a weekend soccer tournament.  No, I am not cruel.  We have 2 beds, but they refused to share, but also both refused the beds.  Anyway, I digress.  Today, my ex-husband, of under 3 months, marries the “other woman” …the woman he left me for…the woman he left our sons for.  My mind is a jumbled web of thoughts and emotions that won’t be quieted tonight.  So, here is my letter to him…he may never see it, because I am not going to send it to him and because he has made it abundantly clear that he doesn’t want to hear it…, so I leave this for the world to read. I have nothing to hide.

Dear J****,

A year ago, if someone would have told me that tonight I would be alone in a hotel room with our sons for a soccer tournament on the day of your marriage to the woman who you would give up everything for, I would have laughed at the absurdity.  Yet, that is exactly the story that has played out.  I know our marriage wasn’t perfect, but I also never imagined the way in which it would implode in a matter of months (though I now know…it imploded years ago for you).  So, today I release you.  I can honestly say, the love I felt for you is gone and hasn’t been replaced with hatred, but rather a sadness.  A sadness for myself, for our sons, and yes, for you.  I know you think you are marrying the “love of your life” and maybe that is true.  But know this, you gave up the best thing God gave you – a woman committed to staying with you through good times and bad and two amazing sons.  I don’t pretend to know the woman you left us for, but I do believe that a relationship that started in lies will not end in truth.  So, what do I wish for you on this day…a day where I am grieving and where our sons are confused…

May you never be on the receiving end of the kind of betrayal you put myself and our sons through.  I hope that one day you develop empathy…empathy for the lives you and she chose to hurt to be together.  Maybe someday you will be able to look at our sons and say, “I am sorry my actions hurt you, please forgive me”.  Most importantly…I pray that one day you find what you are looking for.

Goodnight and goodbye.  I can’t say that I wish you well…maybe I will be able to someday.  For now, I wish that your restless, longing soul finds peace…not a peace found in the love of another, but a peace found in knowing you are loved by God.

Farewell,

C********

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Feeling the Story

I was talking to someone this week and she mentioned that I don’t talk a lot about how I feel, but instead I tell lots of stories.  That really has been something I have been mulling over this week.  Do I tell stories because I don’t want to engage with my feelings?  The more I thought about this, the more I realized the opposite is true.

I love stories…some of my hardest periods in life were walked through by burying myself in the stories of others.  I went through long Anne of Green Gables phase in my very difficult middle school years.  As I was struggling, I found myself escaping to the world of Prince Edward Island.  That habit of almost obsessively reading the same books, like Anne or Pride and Prejudice has continued into my adulthood.  I also lose myself to certain television shows and will watch them over and over…my repeat list includes CSI, Gilmore Girls, The West Wing, and The Good Wife.  I have watched them all multiple times, but they are like comfort food to me.

Over the past few years, though, I have found myself listening more to the stories of real people.  When I started to sit across the table from people or dialogue one on one with people, I really began to understand the complexities of human emotion.  Each story doesn’t have a singular emotion, but rather a complicated web of the emotions of the human experience.  The people who I find myself drawn to are the ones who are willing to share their stories and talk honestly about how those stories make them feel.

Now, I find myself living a story I never imagined, but rather than hide from my emotions, I am trying go engage with my emotions in connections to various chapters of this story.  I am not one who naturally talks about specific emotions in a general way, but rather I often use a particular story to place a feeling into context.

While the overarching feeling of this season is one of sadness, grief and loss, individual stories have played out differently.  The baby situation created a feeling of absolute despair and panic.  Watching my sons struggle often leads me to an angry place.  Hearing that my ex has spoken lies about me makes me feel vengeful.  This situation with my cat is just confusion and bewilderment.  Reflecting on how far I have come just gives me a feeling of peace.  But what are my day to day feelings at this point?

  • I feel lonely
  • I feel scared
  • I am anxious a lot
  • I feel a bone-weary fatigue
  • I also feel proud
  • I feel accomplished
  • I feel hopeful
  • And at times, I even find deep joy

I am learning a lot about myself during this season.  It is often painful to live in the emotional rollercoaster that is my life right now, but I can see the walls that I have built around myself start to crumble and that is through living vulnerably and writing my own story.

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Six Months

It has been six months since the life I thought I know was turned upside down.  At this moment 6 months ago, I had just heard the words “I want a divorce” and then the subsequent revelation of months of deceit.  Six months ago the life I thought I know, turned upside down.  I think it is the appropriate time to reflect on what that has looked like for the boys and I.

The Ugly

  • No one is unaffected by an affair. As I write this, I am in the process of trying to figure out how to get the cat that my ex took out of a shelter in Wyoming and relocate it to Pennsylvania.  Apparently, the cat did not adjust well to the move and a life with small children and lashed out by scratching one, so my ex surrendered her to a shelter.  Even our pets have been hurt by this affair.
  • The raw emotions…to this day moments of grief and anger and even love, will invade my heart when I least expect them.
  • My sons are growing up without a father as part of their day to day life. I am having those conversations about teen boy puberty while never having walked that path.
  • Trust issues and skepticism about relationships are my new norm. I often find myself looking around rooms wondering about the secrets people are harboring.
  • Exhaustion is part of my day to day life. From the exhaustion of grief to the exhaustion of being a single mom…it is my new reality.
  • The financial impact of going from a two-income family to one has been hard on myself and my sons. In my 30s, I should feel financially settled, but instead, I find myself scared about the next bill.
  • The retriggering of old wounds of loneliness and infertility have been pushed to the forefront again.

The Beautiful

  • Bolt and I have never had a stronger relationship. It is hard, because he has become my shadow and will go everywhere with me, but it also means that he is holding on to me.  We talk more than ever and laugh more too!
  • The relationships that have grown through the mess have been amazing. I went from feeling alone prior to the revelation to feeling a community and family I didn’t know existed.
  • My faith had been struggling for years for a variety of reasons, but through this process I have found God to be faithful to provide what I need.
  • Contentment comes easier. Sometimes the simplest things…. a great meal or a cuddle with my dogs or a great family movie night help bring me such contentment in the moment.
  • The future is unknown. Some may think this would be hard, particularly for a control freak like myself, but there is something so freeing about not knowing the future and learning to hand that over to God.
  • Beauty in creation is easier to appreciate. I have a new beautiful niece, who I want to meet in the next year.  I am loving just being outside and feeling the air on my skin or watching a sunset or my sons playing in the surf at the Jersey Shore.
  • Finding out that I am stronger than I thought has been an enormous surprise. Seven months ago, the idea of four days parenting alone was overwhelming…now I am nearly five months in and surviving.

There is probably so much more to say, but it is late and I am tired, with a full day planned for tomorrow.  Let me just say that 6 months later, I am still grieving daily and scared and overwhelmed, but I have also seen God’s provision for the boys and I.  I expect that six months from now, the ugly will be less and the beauty will be more.  It has been amazing to recognize the reality of resurrection after death…

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Asking for What I Need

Why is it so hard to ask for what you need? For me, at least, there are many reasons I struggle to ask people for what I really need.  Probably the biggest one is that I often worry that people aren’t serious when they say, “if there is anything you need…”.  Well, guess what, if they aren’t serious, they won’t follow through and that is okay.  Often, though, I think people say that because they don’t really know how to help people in crisis.

I also worry that if I ask for help, I am seen as incapable of managing.  However, the reality is that no person can be 2 places at once and there are finite hours to the day, so sometimes asking for help is the only option.  Just tonight, I had to ask for help getting one son to team pictures on Saturday and, guess what, five minutes later he had a ride!

I think I often don’t ask for what I need because I don’t know what I need.  As I sat in my therapist’s office last week, she helped me formulate some practical things I could cut back or get help managing.  Due to this conversation, I went to my parents and asked them to pay for a housecleaner to come in twice a month so that I do not spend every weekend cleaning, rather than enjoying my sons.  I followed through and found a wonderful woman within a few days.  When she asked my needs, I started with “well, I am a newly single mom and there just aren’t enough hours in the day”.  I left it at that and, when my quote came in she added a “single mom discount”.  Wow!  This, again, comes back to the idea of being vulnerable.  I am not exploiting my situation, but rather just telling it like it is.  People are more willing to help if they know how much it is needed.

After saying all that, I think it is also important that as friends, we move past the obligatory, “I am praying for you” or “let me know how I can help” (both are great, but often in crisis people need practical support with the day to day life stuff).  Over the past few months, I have learned what it looks like for people to go above and beyond in providing support.  These are some of the things that have helped me the most.

  • A listening ear – to all those that have talked to me as I have cried and ranted…there was no judgement, just support. Also, sometimes it helps if you call the person as sometimes it is hard to believe that people really want to talk to you.
  • Spontaneous care baskets – it can be as simple as flowers or a card with some fresh cookies or a basket of treats or even a gift card for a massage. All these things acknowledge grief, while show the need for a little TLC.
  • Food – it could be Blue Apron gift cards or a hot meal delivered to the door. Both have blessed me in so many ways.
  • Household help – one friend came for the day and helped me clean, another has come over and helped with a car issue and other things around the house I know nothing about
  • Help with kids – for me, being the only driver at my house has necessitated the need for frequent rides my sons. For a parent of a younger child, it might be offering to babysit.
  • Providing needed items – My parents took my boys shopping for school clothes and my church sent us a gift card and some basic school supplies.
  • Be a liaison – I am new to this area, but I have friends that have reached out to their community to help me find child support or suggested where to look for a service I might need
  • Financial help – I am not saying to write a blank check, but sometimes the offer to pay for something (like housekeeping as my parents did) or the give a discounted service, is extremely valuable. It isn’t the option for everyone, but it is for some.

Over the past few months, I have had countless conversations at coffee shops and on the soccer field or late at night over the phone.  Never in my life, have I realized how loved I am and I am grateful to the friends and family who have taken the time to remind me of God’s love.

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The Empty Tank

As I hopped in my car last night to begin my 45-minute trek home, I began to think about my evening plans and plans for the week.  The more I thought about everything that needed to be done, the more overwhelmed I got…and soon I found myself sobbing all the way to my therapist’s office.  I had asked the boys to walk over from their middle school soccer practice to the local YMCA where I would pick them up after my appointment.  I spent 10 minutes finding parking and finally arrived at the office and sat down on the couch where all it took was “how are you” for the tears to start falling.  Let me back up by saying that it normally takes a lot for me to start crying and I in the 6 sessions with my previous therapist I never once even came close, but in my third week with this therapist, the waterworks were flowing…maybe a sign that it is a good fit, but also could also represent just how exhausted I am.

Let me explain my current schedule.  I get up weekdays at 5:20 (I gave up trying to get up earlier to work out for the time being), wake up the boys, make breakfast and lunches for the crew (pups included), and when the boys are on the bus at 6:37, I hop in the shower and leave the house by 7:05 for work.  I work until 4:30 and the boys also have soccer until 4:30, so after practice they have been going to the YMCA, as I have yet to find someone interested in watching them for two hours.  By the time I pick them up it is between 5:15 and 5:30, so we quickly do a run home for a snack before one of them has a 6:30 travel soccer practice until 8pm.  Sometimes, I can fit in a dog walk during the practice, sometimes I have another appointment scheduled during that time.  Soccer ends at 8 and then we head home, where I make dinner while they do homework.  We eat dinner around 9pm…then by the time they are in bed it is 10 and I need to work on school assignments or the bare minimum house cleaning.  I try to get to bed between 11 and 11:30…Saturdays are soccer, school work for me, and an evening movie with the boys.  Sundays are church, grocery shopping, cooking a few things for the week, housecleaning, and getting ready for the upcoming week.

I am not saying all this to be dramatic, but rather to say that this is the reality that many families face.  When there were two of us sharing the load…when my ex worked the Monday to Friday job and I worked 3 12 hour shifts a week, we shuffled.  I worked on meals on my days off, we shared the back and forth to and from practices (he more than me, as a coach) or appointments.  Now, I find myself trying to do it all and I can’t.  I am losing my sh** here trying to do it all, while still trying myself the time to think.  Not to mention, we are still grieving and needing a litle more grace to process in whatever way we need.  Something has got to give.  As I sat in my therapist’s office explaining this, she agreed, but we both struggled to find the what that something is.  I miss having someone to share the enormous responsibility of parenting and yet, I find myself so grieved and angry with my ex for leaving the state to let me do this alone and just waiting for me to fail.

So, here I lay…awake late, despite my need for sleep, because I had to do one of my mandatory shifts to maintain a per diem status in the ER.  The bags under my eyes are growing.  I am so very exhausted and my tank is running on empty…every few days I can add drops into my empty fuel tank, but it feels like just enough to keep this car from stalling.  But seriously, this is not sustainable and I can’t see the solution…

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I Am Not One of Those…

I grew up as one of those very black and white people…right and wrong, yes and no, etc. So, I have a tendency towards being judgmental (shocking, I know).  Over the past few years as I begun living my own story…full of the joys of motherhood and the scars of infertility, I really began trying to look past the external facade and think about the story behind the mask.  Interestingly, though, I have struggled with this when thinking about divorce.

I grew up believing in marriage – my parents have been married for 36 years and have weathered lots of ups and downs, but remain committed to one another.  I believe that marriage was a lifetime commitment and that there were very few “exceptions” for leaving a marriage.  I still believe in marriage, despite my experience.  I believe in the beauty of two people choosing the ideals of “until death do us part”.  I looked forward to growing old with my ex-husband.  That being said, the longer I was married, the more I understood that marriage is hard and the black and white exceptions to divorce were maybe not as black and white as it seemed.  Yes, infidelity is an “exception”, but what about emotional infidelity when one partner repeatedly goes outside the marriage for emotional intimacy?  What about abuse…where is the line between physical abuse, emotional abuse and the partner who treats the other like they are “less than”.  So, over the past few years, I would see someone who is divorced and appreciate that there is probably a lot to the story, but “thank goodness that isn’t me”.

And I here I sit before 7 am on a Saturday, as I was awoken at 5 unable to stop thinking about my own marriage, relationship issues, and now divorce.  I tossed and turned for over an hour thinking about my ex and the pain of the past 6 months…and that dragged me into the pain of the past few years.  The longer we are apart, the more I recognize how unhealthy our relationship was for years.  I can’t really talk about that right now, but I can say that his infidelity was just the final nail in the coffin of a marriage where I had been considered an unequal for many years.  One thing I never want to hear again was the thing my ex would always say, jokingly “oh, she is so lucky I love her because no one else would put up with her”.  It is only now, months later, that I can see how much I believed that.

So, now I sit here as a divorced woman and the judgmental side of me is trying to creep out because “I am not one of those…”.  There is this side of me that wants everyone to know that I am not divorced because my marriage failed, but because my ex is a liar and cheater (which is true).  However, I have really had to work on not setting up some hierarchy of divorce where those of us “with good excuses” are at the top, then assorted reasons fall at various levels.  I am really trying to look at women (and men) who are divorced and acknowledge that, no matter the circumstances of a divorce, no one enters a marriage with the thought that it will fail.  We all walk the stories of our relationships and every marriage is full of its own unique struggles…and every divorce hurts.  There is no hierarchy here.  I am just one of the legions of divorced parents trying to grieve, trying to heal, and trying to love and parent through pain…and just live my own story.

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