Trauma-versary

The one-year anniversary of the day everything changed is rapidly approaching.  I can now see that the events that transpired on March 23, 2017, were traumatic and changed the course of my life.  The subtle reminders are there.  The weekend he left for “Comicon” (otherwise known as his scheduled weekend to consummate his affair) was the same weekend as my boys’ yearly March soccer tournament, which always gets re-scheduled do to weather.  That weekend is coming around next week, and the tournament has been re-scheduled, yet again.  When he left last year at this time I was anxious and uneasy and couldn’t put my finger on why.  I now know that deep down I knew something was wrong long before my mind new exactly what.    I am approaching this weekend with eyes wide open, but that doesn’t make it easier.  I am unsettled and anxious.  There is a pit deep down in my stomach.  I am sure they are approaching it as some sort of anniversary, while I am having to approach it as a trauma-versary, so to speak.

I am raising sons that have both experienced trauma as young boys, in losing their birth families, so I am familiar with what trauma is and how anniversaries of trauma can affect people in unusual ways.  I know that I need to give myself extra grace to grieve and emote. My head knows this stuff, which will allow me a little more control of the emotions, but that doesn’t make it easier.  A year ago, I was married, albeit starting to feel that something was wrong.  A year ago, I thought my husband had always been faithful to me and now I know how untrue that was.  A year ago, I envisioned raising our sons together and allowing him to pick up some extra slack so that I could finish grad school.  A year ago, I was able to support my family with our two incomes and now I struggle to get by on my salary with a small amount of child support.  A year ago, things were so very different from the current reality.

I suspect that for the rest of my life this time of the year will always bring out the before and after comparisons.  Right now, those are hard comparisons because the boys and I are in such a rough season.  I hope that eventually I will be able to see the “after” as the best part of my life.  I am not there yet.  I see the glimmers of what could be, but it is not yet a reality.  I am still hurting and grieving and raw.  Somedays, the events of last March wake me from sleep or bring me to my knees in tears.  I want to one day see myself as a strong, capable, woman, mother, and employee, but most days I feel like I keep dropping the pieces that I am juggling.

So, as I approach this trauma-versary, please give me grace.  I am trying to put the past in the past, but I also know the importance of allowing myself to feel through things rather than pretend everything is okay.  I know the next few weeks will be hard and triggering, but I must just live through them.  It has been a year of firsts, some good, some bad, but all necessary.

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Thoughts & Prayers

In the wake of the Parkland shooting a meme went around, which I shared because it resonated with me over my thoughts on the shooting, but also my thoughts on anyone in crisis.  It crossed out the words “thoughts and prayers” and replaced it with “policy and change”.  For someone that professes a faith in God, this may seem and odd thing to share.  However, having lived through my own crisis over the past year, I understand what those words do and do not mean to me.

When someone says they are thinking of me or praying for me, it feels like a punch to the gut.  I know it is a phrase that is meant well, but when you are in crisis, you don’t want people watching from the shore as your ship sinks.  When you are in crisis, you want someone to jump in the boat and help bale out the water.  I am not discounting the power of prayer, but you don’t need to tell me you are praying – I know that people who really love and care for me ARE praying, even if they don’t tell me.

So, what is the opposite of the phrase “thoughts and prayers”, to me?  It is action.  It is bringing a meal to a struggling family.  It is offering to come watch someone’s kids, so they can get away – whether for some self-care or support groups or whatever.  It is someone helping with the cost of house cleaning.  We all have our gifts, some of us are blessed with abundant finances, or the ability to stay at home with kids, or great cooks, or great networkers.  When people are in crisis, they need some doers to step in and help share a little of the burden.  And if that is not a possibility, a phone call is invaluable.  I have spent the better part of a year barely keeping my family from sinking and sometimes it is exhausting to always be the one reaching out for a life preserver.

Ten months ago, I began this extremely lonely journey.  I have found that I am stronger than I ever thought possible, but sometimes it is the insignificant things that can tip me over the edge.  Today Messi had surgery and as I tried to schedule his post-op appointment, I nearly broke down.  My sitter is out of town, I am working full time, and the person sitting at the desk didn’t seem to get the reality that I truly had no way to get him to the appointment.  We finally figured something out, but it was just a reminder of how it feels to be living in a situation where you are barely staying afloat.  So, for my friends near and far, please don’t take this as a cry for help (though I wouldn’t turn it down).  Rather, it is a reminder for all of us that when we know someone in crisis, those prayers need to be paired with some practical action otherwise they just feel hollow.

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Ziplining

First off, let me just say that next time I go on vacation with my kids, would someone try to slap the fantasies of us getting along right out of my head?  I am not saying it has been awful, but with teen boys, tropical paradise does nothing to cure their natural apathy or make them suddenly willing to open up and chat…. or even just make an attempt at pleasantry towards me.  The grunts to my questions are still very much alive and the “pretending” they don’t hear me is ever present.  Don’t get me wrong, we have done some amazing things.  We have whitewater rafted and hiked through the rainforest, and seen all sorts of critters.  Probably the highlight for them was ziplining through the Cloud Forest of Monteverde.

For those that do not know me well, I wouldn’t say I am unadventurous – after all I have hiked on glaciers of the North Cascades and along the cliffs of the northern coast of Kauai.  I went to Ethiopia alone, having never travelled internationally.  I moved my family across the country, knowing no one.  However, I have a very deathly fear of heights, particularly when I must rely on another device (swinging bridge, ropes course, or harness) to keep me safe.  Many years ago I used to lead for a youth program called Young Life.  As part of this experience, I would take a group of teenagers to camp every summer and we would do ziplining and ropes courses.  I did it every year, but it was not something I enjoyed.  I loved going to camp with the kids, but this part of the experience I approached with trepidation – worse yearly.  When I stopped leading (shortly after the boys came home), I banished the thoughts of ever having do get harnessed in and fly through the air again.  Of course, why I would think that when I had two very athletic and adventurous boys, is beyond me.

Yesterday, we enjoyed a great walk through the Cloud Forest, but the whole time, my fear was building.  When the walk was over, it was time to do what the boys had been looking forward to for months – zipline through the forest.  Some people may ask why I did it if I was so afraid.  However, with both leading youth and parenting my sons, I feel it is important to lead through fear.  It isn’t about overcoming the fear for me – I will probably always be afraid of ziplining.  Rather, it is about showing my sons that I can, and will do things that scare me.  So, as I watched the boys take the leap, I knew I had to do it as well.

The hardest thing about this experience was that it was not just one zipline, but rather 13!  We went from platform to platform, high above the treetops.  Yes, the scenery was beautiful, but, 13 times I had to step off that platform and trust that the equipment designed to protect me, would do just that.  It is fortunate that I did not know just how many times I would have to do this, otherwise I would have never gotten off the first platform.  So, my legs shook, tears rolled down my cheeks and my stomach heaved, but one time after another, I got hooked onto the line and off I went.

As I was walking through the forest, finally on solid ground, I began to cry in earnest.  It felt like the fear of the past year just washed over me.  When my ex walked out the door for the last time on May 4th, 2017, I put on my harness and had to trust that it would work out.  I have gotten to a platform and swore, I couldn’t leap again, but, when you’re the only one, you just buckle up and pray that the harness will not fail.  There are days that the task of getting out of bed seems monumental.  I have had some rough landings, been pelted by rain and wind, spun around mid-air and approached things backwards, but I am still here, as are the boys.  I hope someday that this whole single mom to teen boys thing feels less like a leap of faith and more like a walk on solid ground, but for now let’s just double check that the harness is secure.  Hopefully, someday I will be able to look back and I say, “I was terrified, but I kept leaping”. 42525CDB-078

Is This Normal?

For every 100 books on parenting a newborn, there is probably like one on parenting a middle schooler.  I remember yelling at my ex one day “next time you decide to abandon a family, don’t do it when the kids are in middle school”.  All of us were once this precious, awkward age, straddling childhood and young adulthood and we lived to tell the story, or write about it.  But, if you are anything like me, the middle school years, may still be a blur of anxiety.  I prefer not to think about them at all.  Yet, now I find myself parenting alone during perhaps one of the most challenging ages and I feel so ill equipped.

I currently have two 13-year-old boys living under my roof and I keep thinking “but I have never been a teenage boy”!  Most days, I feel like I am talking to myself.  The average response to my questions is a grunt, if they acknowledge me at all.  One day, I tripped over something and gloriously landed in a laundry basket, yelping in pain as I landed.  Forget the Olympic athletes, managing to land in a laundry basket without breaking yourself or the basket, a truly marvelous feat. One of my sons took one ear out of is headphone, cocked his head to the left, looked at me (perhaps just to make sure I was not injured enough to not cook dinner), and once he determined that I was alive, put the headphones back on and resumed his video game – no questions asked.  I frequently ask them to do something and get a lot of “I heard you already” or “I know what I am supposed to do” only to wake up the next day to NONE OF IT being done.  There are many days, the only words I hear are “when is dinner ready” and “can I check Amazon for…?”.  One boys showers and primps for 30 minutes a day…. the other I have to question if he has showered this week or when the last time he took off those soccer socks was.  Two nights ago, I came into the kitchen at 5pm to see that one had made himself FIVE burritos and was eating them…then he trotted in the kitchen 90 minutes later to question if dinner is ready yet.  One boy drinks a half a gallon of orange juice every other day, the other a gallon of whole milk.  I often just look at them in complete bafflement.

In between all this typical middle school boy stuff is the undercurrent of “should I be worried” and “is this normal”.  For a middle schooler, I don’t think there is any such thing as normal, but it is more question of “is this too abnormal?”.  If my ex had walked out when they were say, eight, it would be right to be worried if they suddenly became withdrawn, listening to music for hours on end, and sleeping until noon.  Yet, they are 13, and even if the behavior change is sudden, I know I cannot rightly blame everything on my ex.  So, I find myself doing a lot of observing, trying to listen more to their non-verbal cues, and trying to not make a big deal of everything.  Developmentally, their behavior is appropriate, but it is also behavior seen in grief and trauma.  So, sometimes it is difficult to determine where that line is and when to worry and when to intervene.

Friday the boys and I embark on our first vacation as a family of three.  I am trying to keep my expectations as to their behavior low.  At the same time, I really want this to just be a fun trip.  The past year has been anything but fun, and I want to create some memories of us enjoying doing something cool together.  I want my boys to see me smile and laugh again.  I want us to learn that we can be happy as a family, even though our family looks different.  I see this trip as kind of a milestone and I want to use it as an opportunity to bury the past year and start the next phase of our life.

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Musings on Marriage

One might assume that after the past year of marital turmoil, culminating in a disastrous end, that I might be completely jaded on marriage.  Ironically, my thoughts on marriage are even stronger.  I believe in marriage as an institution, but more than that I believe it everything it entails.  I don’t regret my marriage, nor the years I committed to my ex-husband.  Would I get married again?  Absolutely.  Would I marry the same man again?  No, probably not, even not knowing the future. That isn’t the voice of regret talking, but rather the voice of my 35-year-old self.

When I met my ex, I was 19 years old and I had never dated.  I had been on one blind date in college, but beyond that, nothing.  He was my first everything.  Having said that, I can look back now and see that there was a part of me that feared no one would ever love me, so I jumped quickly at the first opportunity.  Even then, though, there were a lot of alarm bells that I ignored.  I often felt like I was tagging along with him and he frequently reminded me of how many women liked him and I should feel lucky that he chose me.  I let him off the hook close to our wedding on some decisions he made, carelessly hurting me without much of an apology.  He was famous for asking forgiveness, not permission.  I was afraid to call off the wedding – all the time, energy, money, and of course the embarrassment.  You know what they say about hindsight, though.

Over the past 14 years, I would look at some of my friends, and even my parents’ marriage with envy.  My girlfriends’ husbands would talk lovingly about them and brag sweetly about them.  The only thing my ex ever bragged on about me was that I could cook.  I don’t ever remember hearing that I was a great mom or even I great wife.  Very rarely was I told I was beautiful or smart.  Really, I think the second my ex was away from me, he just didn’t think much about me.  I remember a conversation vividly from a few years ago where I, in real vulnerability, shared that I felt that if something happened between us, everyone, my family and boys included, would choose him over me and I would be left with nothing.  He agreed and later used that conversation against me, assuming that I would let him walk all over me and not put up a fight for my family.  Boy was he wrong.  Because in the 14 years we were married he failed to really get to know one of my strongest (and sometimes weakest) character traits.  I fight with passion for the things I value and believe in and nothing will stop me.

I also see some of my own role in the flaws in my marriage.  I was too needy, and I didn’t have a lot of outside relationships.  I can be quite a bit of a nag about things.  I yell when I am angry and was too critical at times.  I also didn’t talk my ex up enough to his face, though I did to friends and family.  However, knowing that my ex had been cheating off an on for over 10 years, I feel a little less culpable in the problems in our marriage.  He never saw me has his partner or his equal, but rather saw me as being “lucky” that he put up with me.  I really believe that was the fundamental flaw in our marriage and I don’t think any actions on my part could have changed that.

I didn’t mean this to be a reflection on my marriage, but it seems to have become so. It takes having been in a troubled marriage, to appreciate the good parts, but know things that should have been different.  I want to be celebrated, rather than criticized or mocked, for my quirks.  I want to feel like I am an equal in the partnership, rather than the lucky one.  It is funny because despite all the heartache of the past year (or even more), I still would love the chance to marry again someday.  Believe me, though, my bar is unbelievably high.  I know myself better now and I also know that I don’t need to be married to be whole.  I am not half a person as a divorced woman and I don’t need a man to complete me.  However, it would be nice to be able to share my life and my heart with another person someday.

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The Last Tear

Something about having a free night or weekend to myself, seems to trigger emotional releases in me.  Today, I met my sister half-way to New York City, so the boys could spend the night with her, then cried most of the way home.  My boys are old enough that I have allowed them on some social media, but with that comes their dad.  As I am responsible for making sure their accounts are private and appropriate, I was confronted by the smiling images of my ex and the other woman.  Then, I saw the mutual friends and family who loved those images.  And now, here I sit, with an afternoon free and tears streaming down my face.

When you marry young, most of your friends end up mutual friends.  So, when 14 years later and the rug is pulled out from under you, suddenly everyone comes under suspicion.  I have had to learn who I can trust and those who are safe people.  This is hard to do, and even harder with family members.  I had hoped to maintain a relationship with my ex siblings-in-law, but I realized that I can no longer have people in my life who support my ex and the choices he has made, so today I made the painful decision to write them a note, but explain that I didn’t want them to choose me over their brother, so I was severing our relationship  I have known most of them most of their lives as they are all younger than my ex and I.  I honestly, though, couldn’t stomach the idea of them loving seeing pictures of the life he chose when he walked out the door on the boys and me.

Nine months in and the actions of the man who I chose to love, still bring me to my knees in grief and pain.  Many days, I just feel stuck, like I will never be through this.  Other days, I just wish I had a timeline on this grief, so I could see the end, how ever far it may be.  I am so emotionally exhausted, trying to parent well (and often failing), trying to work, trying to grieve, and trying to move one.  When, when, will I have shed my last tear over the actions of the man who broke my heart?

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Of Books, Dates, and Memories

Yesterday Bolt and I had a couple of hours to kill while someone was cleaning our house.  What to do with a quiet 13-year-old in sub-freezing temperatures on a holiday?  My initial thought was the library, until I realized it would be closed for the holiday.  He isn’t the type of kid who likes to sit and chat over a meal, so that option too was out.  A friend suggested we go hang out at Barnes and Noble, which he reluctantly agreed to do.  So, after getting a small breakfast sandwich we headed there.  At first, he didn’t seem to know what to do, but I helped guide him to the teen and comic sections while I went in search of travel books.  After browsing for a while, we sat down at a table and begin sorting through our chosen books.  Before we knew it two hours had flown by.  I let him pick a pair of comics to purchase and as we left the store he said, “I thought that would be boring, but it was actually kind of fun”.  He is a hard kid to please, but he also doesn’t ask for much, so this was a huge win for us to be able to spend a few comfortable hours in each other’s presence.  As we were leaving the store, I was struck by a wave of nostalgia.  Sitting for hours in Barnes and Noble pouring over books reminded me of the countless hours my ex and I spent doing the same thing when we were dating and early in our marriage.  My ex passed on his love for comics to both of our sons.  It was so strange to sit there with my son, doing something my ex and I used to do, while he is across the country creating a new life.  Oddly, though, the memory didn’t bring a wave a sadness or grief, but fondness.  I am not romanticizing anything, but this memory wasn’t entrenched in the lies of the past decade, but rather in the man I knew then…before…before infertility, before all the lies, before all the affairs.  It was a memory that I could dwell in without wondering what and who he was lying to me about.   Unfortunately, when the affair came to light, the affairs of the previous decade did as well, and for that reason, I really struggle with my memories with him.  However, there is the brief window of time – 4 or so years – that I can think about fondly.  So, as Bolt and I hopped in the car, I shared that memory with him too.  I want him to know that, while his dad hurt me deeply, I loved him and have some very pleasant memories and hopefully, one day, he will say the same.

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