The Holiday Doldrums

It has been a while since I have written and part of it is at risk of becoming a broken record.  I wish I could say the past few weeks have been good or at least uneventful, but it isn’t just the case.  We seem to vacillate between mini disasters and chaos with my own meltdowns thrown in for good measure.

Both boys are struggling, with one able to verbalize and externalize his anger while the other holds it in with contempt for me while pretending nothing has changed.  We have reached the point that I am in the process of getting more services to help the boys and myself.  I started going to DivorceCare to work be around other people who have been through similar experiences.  But, as my therapist said, “your story will usually win”.  Believe me, this is not some contest you want to win and when I sit back and detach from this story, it feels too much to be true.  But, alas, true it is, and there is a lot to it that I have not even written bout.

I have worked on building some new traditions for the boys and myself.  Some have been flops (the Elf on the Shelf where we all take turns), and others have been big successes.  I have been filling their advent calendars with coupons for fun things or breaks from chores and other small treats.  That has been fun to create that little excitement every day.  At the same time, Messi has really dug into his atheism and refuses to acknowledge any part of the Christmas story.

One of the greatest challenges of this past few weeks is the anticipation the boys have regarding their upcoming trip to see their dad.  Messi is counting down the days and knows all the grand plans.  Bolt is tentatively excited, but nervous and confronting his own issues with his dad.  It has been over eight months since they have seen him, and a lot has changed for everyone.  As for myself, facing the holiday without my sons and knowing that January could be rough…well that has me a mess of emotions.

The past week has seen me yelling and on my knees sobbing on the floor, sitting through church services with tears flowing, and overwhelmed.  I haven’t had a working kitchen sink since Friday due to a drain clog and I have a door with a missing plate glass after an accident by Bolt.  I have had help from unexpected sources, but at the end of the day it is the boys and I and we are a mess right now.  I am looking forward to making it through this holiday and picking them up at the airport knowing that this first is over.  Until then, I will try to relish the quiet warmth of winter – warm heat, chilly days, and the stillness of snow.

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When Thankfulness is Hard

It is the first major holiday as a family of three.  The winter holidays, particularly Thanksgiving and New Christmas occupy a special place in my heart.  I love cooking and gifts and Christmas music and curling up under a blanket. I have approached this season with a heavy heart.  Knowing that it was this time last year that my my ex began a journey that would lead to him walking out of our lives, has made me rethink every moment of last year’s holiday season.  So, as today is the day we pause and reflect on what we are Thankful for, my thankfulness is often through the fog of tears.

Oddly, I am thankful that the decision to divorce was not left up to me.  I am now able to see with clarity that I probably would have never left my marriage, no matter how insignificant I became.  And due to the circumstance of how it all went down, the custody battle was non-existent, for which I am grateful.

I am thankful that despite everything, the boys and I were able to keep things somewhat normal.  We stayed in our home and they have the same schools and sports teams.  We kept our dogs, and even one of the cats made a strange journey back to us.

I am so very blessed that God knew what my heart needed and basically dropped a group of friends and an amazing church community into my lap when I needed it the most.  I remember crying out in prayer that there was no way I could stay here because I felt so alone and disconnected from my community.  It was like God stepped in and met one of my greatest needs

Lastly, I am thankful for the gift of my sons.  The journey to learn how to parent them alone has been hard.  We are in the middle of a challenging season with the combination of teen boy hormones, grief, and trauma.  There are days I don’t think I can or want to parent them.  But, guess what, at the end of the day, we are still a family and as hard as it is, they are everything to me and I am grateful for the gift of being their mom.

So, yes, being thankful is hard this  year.  My grief and joy are strange bedfellows.  I am trying to keep my expectations low knowing that we are all very raw this year.  But, Bolt, Messi, and I are showing up every day to live, to laugh, to fight, and to love.

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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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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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