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?
It is funny because part of the thing I decided to due to grieve the losses of the past few months was to write a list of all the things I lost. And in writing it, I found the list was much shorter than imagined and even many of the things I had thought of as losses were not actually losses. I am not going to go into detail on everything I wrote, but it was interesting because the more I wrote the less I felt the loss.
The first thing I listed was the loss of my best friend and the more I thought about it, the more clarity has come regarding our relationship. A best friend doesn’t repeatedly lie to and about you. A best friend is honest about problems in the relationship. A best friend doesn’t tell everyone who will listen how lucky you are that he puts up with you. A best friend doesn’t walk out of your life without looking back.
As I look through the list of everything, I see nothing about these losses is irreplaceable, except maybe the loss of a co-parent. Considering he only responds to about 10% of what I email and has not continued to same standards in his house, that we had for our sons together, I can honestly say that is an irreplaceable loss. No longer do I have anyone to consult about issues our sons are facing or have a partner to help parent or give me a break. And no longer do my sons have a day-to-day father that watches tv with them or coaches soccer.
Every other loss is one that can be replaced. I didn’t lose my future, but rather the one I imagined, and I am okay with that. The more I wrote the list, the more I see what I have gained…
My self-confidence – as a woman and as a parent. I had spent years hearing how much I needed him and, surprisingly, I don’t.
My future – it was never set in stone, so I realized it was never there to be lost, but only to be gained.
Freedom – to make decisions without worrying about what he thinks or wishes.
A relationship with my sons – he had always been the “good cop” in our parenting relationship, so now I get to learn to be both good and bad cop. It is hard, but it is good.
Quiet – I used to feel the need to fill silences with talking…now I am content to sit silent with myself and my thoughts.
Potential relationships – I spent years hearing how lucky I was that he put up with me. I watched friends with husbands who treated them like queens. I assumed our relationship was different, but now I see that I settled for feeling like I was not equal to him, so therefore I couldn’t expect to be treated better. Now, in any relationship, friendship or romantic, I have clearer expectations of what I need and what I am willing to give. I can also say that I deserve so much better than what I experienced.
As hard has the holiday season was, I feel like it was one of the big hurdles that I needed to survive before I could really start to move forward. I have started the new year with a calmness and peace, as have the boys. As I sat in church today, I was reminded that the faith I profess to follow is based in resurrection. Last year, I experienced the death of my marriage, but I do serve a God who is very comfortable with loss and death, but also in re-birth. So, this is my year of renaissance…of rebirth and finding beauty in ashes.
Believe me, I am ready to put 2017 into my rearview mirror. In fact, I am looking forward to the new year more than I even realized. There is something freeing about putting concrete ending on a year of heartbreak and grief. I had been thinking about what I would say about the new year, but when I woke up, I saw a beautiful post from author, Shauna Niequist:
“Every New Year’s Eve, before we ring in the New Year, we share ten blessings of the year that’s ending.
I love this tradition: instead of jumping forward into new & next, we pause & pray & express gratitude for what we’ve been given.”
That made me stop and pause. For all the pain 2017 has brought, I can also see the blessings sprawled across the pages of the year. When in the middle of a painful season, it is often challenging to see past ones’ own grief, but acknowledging the rays of sunshine is not only important, but part of the healing process. So, without further ado…10 blessings of 2017:
Bolt and Messi – they are my heart, they are my reason for getting up, and they have taught me more about resilience then anyone I have ever met. They make me laugh, cry, worry, and beam with pride. They are my harshest critics and yet, the most forgiving. Without having them with me, I would have no reason for crawling through this season.
My furbabies – I have my beloved pups – my two big boys who will hug me when no one else will. I have my 3 kitties, who provided entertaining stories this year. Then there is the bearded dragon that came to live with us as a gift for Messi. She has been surprisingly interesting and helped me break a fear of reptiles.
My home – in a divorce, many people are forced to move, but we have been blessed to stay in the home we rent. I have slowly removed reminders of my ex, while re-creating a safe space for my own healing.
My community – I have written about this before, but this year has been about me finding and building a community to embrace.
My family and friends – my parents have listened to many incoherent rants and tears in the past nine months. They live 3000 miles away, but are also just on the other end of the phone. I also have some new friends and have reengaged with other “old” friends. These people have helped provide some much-needed perspective at times.
A new job – leaving my job as and ER nurse of nearly a decade was hard, but it was time. I felt like my life necessitated the change, but it has been good and challenging.
School – in 2017 I completed four courses towards my master of public health (MPH) or 16 out of 58 credit hours. As of now, I have straight A’s, which feels awesome! School has been a great distraction, but also a way for me to start planning my own future.
The outdoors – I love being outside – whether at the beach or on a hike or walking in my neighborhood. As I sit here, it is 12 degrees and there is snow on the ground, but even breathing in the frigid air while staring at the blanket of white, leaves a feeling a peace. The past few months, I have been so tired that I haven’t been outside as much, and I feel the loss, so I need to work on that this next month.
Writing – I wouldn’t call myself a writer. This blog was born out of a suggestion of a friend. I am not great at journaling, but something about blogging has allowed me to organize my thoughts into some semblance of coherence. I have ranted and rejoiced. I have been able to diary the process of loss and grief and rebuilding. Looking back allows me to see the growth and the pain of the process.
Faith – God and I are still in a rough spot. I am still trying to reconcile years of religious platitudes with the truth of my faith. It has been a difficult decade and this year brought my world crashing down. I feel like my faith is in pieces and I am often angry with God, but it has also been the one thing that I can cling to…sometimes just out of habit. However, just when I am about to say, I am done with God…something brings me back.
So, 2017, you have not been kind, but there have been redeeming qualities. I love harder and feel more deeply. I am more appreciative of the small blessings and simple beauties. And, at the end of the day I have a home full of chaos and hormones and laughter and love.
Looking for a cheery Christmas post? Then stop, back away, and check back next month. Last night I had major meltdown #98. After weeks of hearing of all the grand plans that the boys have with their dad over Christmas break, I walked in to find one of them playing a video game online with one of other woman’s kids. It felt like I had been slapped. I had no idea that for months, my ex had been grooming the relationship with her kids and mine. Yes, I am sure it is good that they won’t all be total strangers, but it caused everything to come crashing down. My ex leaves me, in May and since then has bought a house, gotten her pregnant, gotten married, got an IPhoneX, and now he will have my sons for his “perfect family” over the holidays. I, meanwhile, am going to a friend’s and will try to not make Christmas miserable for her family. It is just so hard to hear about the “perfect” life he is living, all the while I cannot seem to get through the grief.
I told a friend last night that it s like a cavernous bullet wound. Nine months ago, I got shot and that bullet has never been out, rather just meandering through my body and causing problems when I least expect it. Yes, some people might say that God “has been faithful” and is providing relief in the form of friends helping fix broken windows or helping with the kids or a sitter that has not quit. But, honestly, I feel like it is really just band-aids on the bullet wound. It is like God is tossing me the leftovers just to make me shut up about everything for a few days.
I am tired of this grief just stopping me in my tracks. I am tired of trying to keep my sh** together and failing. I am tired of my kids seeing me cry. And before you all throw out “you need to see a therapist”, I have…two different ones. One just sat and listened by did nothing to help me grieve and the other one kept having me do tasks and I felt worse and more like a failure every appointment. The reality is that this whole scenario is just so bizarre, it sounds like something out of a bad book or movie, but it is what I live with every day. And I have yet to find a therapist that is able to help me work through it without making me feel like every time I lose it, I have failed my sons and am screwing them up. I am going to try and start Divorce Care in the new year, but I risk going into that with even too messy of a story for a group setting.
So, tomorrow I will place my sons on a plane, ask for a hug, and be denied one, because, yeah, my sons won’t even hug me anymore. I will be lucky to get a mumbled “love you” and then will likely try and call them every day and get a 2-minute conversation, if they answer at all. I am not being a pessimist, but I do know my sons. Then, while everyone is celebrating Christmas with family and the birth of the savior, I will be struggling to hold it all together all the while feeling like there is something very wrong with me that has lead up to the events of the last year. So, whatever, bring on another band-aid, when I need a lot more than that.
It was six months ago this evening that my ex walked out of the door of our home for the last time. It was six months ago that I embarked on the oft lonely journey of single parenthood. At the time, I frequently said that I figured the first six months would be the hardest…and now how I wish that were true. Maybe things will surprise me, but if the past few weeks is any indication, it will likely get harder before it gets easier. I foolishly compared this situation to other times of transition such as the move across the country or adopting the boys. However, I now realize that I spent three months running on adrenaline, and it wasn’t until the boys settled back into school that I began to understand the routine of single parenthood.
Being a single parent means I am the first one up in the morning and the last one up at night. I am responsible for making sure my sons are up and ready for their first glimpses of morning and that the doors are locked, and the lights turned out, ushering them into sleep. It is sometimes a wonder and a privilege to have such great responsibility for the two young men asleep in their bed. When there are two parents present, it is easy to pass the buck, so to speak. Now it is just me. That isn’t to say that I take full responsibility for the men they become, but rather, I take full responsibility for what I teach them over the next few years.
So, how are my sons doing? There are days, I feel like I have a good understanding, but the reality is that this transition is complicated by the own transition their bodies are experiencing. I have two middle school boys, in the throngs of puberty, and it is hard to tell where the trauma of the past few months ends, and the puberty begins. Probably, a lot of the challenges of the past few months are a combination of both.
Bolt has been a challenge to me from day one. When he was finally diagnosed with autism, four years ago, it did provide some clarity to some of the issues that were so challenging, but it didn’t provide any solutions. With autism, routine and structure are something that makes Bolt feel safe. His own trauma has also made him extremely in need to have control over things in times of transition. I feel like the past few months, he has latched onto one thing after another that he can control. His latest fixation is hand hygiene for anyone preparing his food (which is me), so therefore he stalks me through the kitchen to snap at me the second he perceives that I have gone too long between hand washings (which means like every two minutes). It helps to remind myself of the why behind the what, but let me just say that at six in the morning, I don’t want to be yelled at because he didn’t hear the water running.
Messi is in such an odd place and I am really struggling to figure out what is just typical teen angst and what is his own trauma. He started middle school this fall and loves it. I am getting the usual glowing reports from his teachers and peers. At home is another story. He is downright rude and condescending to me more often than not. He is very inpatient and critical of most things I do. However, the second he wants something, he turns on the charm. It actually reminds me a lot of the interactions I have had with my ex over the past year or two, so some of me wonders if he is just mimicking him. At school and sports he is social, but at home he is withdrawn. I routinely find him under his bed listening to music, with a dog curled at his side. He won’t talk about what has transpired over the past few months and he says everything is wonderful between him and his dad, but…
So, those are some of the areas that are hard and I don’t have a magic wand to make it all better. At the same time, there is some real freedom in being a single parent. The decisions that are made are mine alone. I also feel like because I have been forced to take on the role of only present parent, I have also had to learn to be both “good cop” and “bad cop”. I can be the fun one and spontaneous. Just tonight, I agreed to let the boys go see the new “Thor” by themselves (gave me an opportunity to study). I try and surprise them with pizza some nights or some special treat from the grocery store. I also feel like I really know my sons better. I know what will make them angry or frustrated, but I also know ways to make them smile. Often when two parents are around, each parent takes on a different role to their children.
So, while initially, I thought the first six months would be the hardest, I now think it will probably be the first year, at minimum. We are sitting on the ledge of the holiday season, after all. We have not done Thanksgiving without dad. I haven’t been without my sons at Christmas. We have a vacation planned for February…one that was originally planned as a family of four. The next six months will be full of more milestones as we begin to rebuild our lives as a family of three. For now, all I can do is take it one milestone, and one day at a time.
After a few weeks lull, I started thinking more frequently about my ex again. I am not sure what prompted my brain to start dwelling on the past, but I have found myself lost in my thoughts on more than a few occasions over the past week. This, of course, was partially what prompted my grief filled weekend. However, unlike in previous times of grief over this whole situation, this time the grief wasn’t rooted in anger or betrayal; this grief was rooted in the loss of the man I thought I knew.
So much of what I have shared and written about paints my ex out to be a horrible person. There is no doubt that the things he did to me and the betrayal of our marriage are horrid. Walking out on one’s children for “the love of my life” is despicable. However, I think maybe one of the greatest challenges is reconciling that the actions of the past year do not really reflect a large part of the man I shared my life with and the father my sons knew.
My ex is very charismatic – he can talk to anyone and has a George Clooney smile where his eyes crinkle into slits when he smiles. He is great at massages and I still miss him working out the kinks in my shoulders after a crazy shift in the ER. Most importantly, he was (and yes, was, is the correct term) a great dad. He was patient with our sons and always willing to stop and teach them something. He was very physical – allowing them to wrestle or tickle him. He was soft-spoken and rarely raised his voice. My sons love him dearly.
So, while it may be easy to see him as the villain in the story, I cannot, because, for many years he was my hero. I wished I could be more patient and more fun and more like him. What happens when the hero and the villain are one in the same? My head and my heart don’t even know where to put it…I spend days trying to make sense of everything and it overwhelms me at times. I am also reminded of the times I have played the villain in this story…there are many. The truth is that in this life there are very few true heroes and probably even fewer true villains. For all the beauty and evil in the world, it is all shaped by someone’s story and sometimes the line between the villain and the hero isn’t that clear.
Recently I read something online from an elderly gentleman about grief coming in waves. At the time I understood it, but at the same time I was thankful how my waves of grief were so much smaller. At the same time, I was talking with another person about how I had finally reached the point that the circumstances of the past several months no longer consumed my thoughts. Then this weekend happened…call it fatigue after finishing a tough grad school class (at least with an “A”), call it frustration from arguing with two middle school boys daily, or just call it life. Whatever the case, the wave, or even tsunami of grief washed over me this weekend.
This morning I awoke and began the usual Sunday battle of trying to get the boys out of bed for church. I tried to make the morning positive with delicious pumpkin chip pancakes. As I went through the plans of the day, the boys started in on me on how I never do anything and make them do everything, all the while staring at their phones and making no attempt at getting ready. I lost it and basically said I was leaving for church, but I wasn’t dealing with their crap anymore and if they felt the need to act like jerks they could stay at home. Bolt followed me out to the car, Messi took advantage of my minor meltdown and chose to stay home. I cried all the way to church and through half of the service. Sometimes once the wave of grief starts, all I can do is ride it to shore. The rest of the day was followed by these waves (albeit smaller) …I haven’t cried this much in months.
I did allow myself to feel the grief and think about what it was that hurt so much. It isn’t so much that I miss my ex-husband – the past few months has given me a lot of clarity about the problems in our marriage. So, what was I grieving?
A partner to unwind to and with at night
A co-parent…this single parenting stuff is no joke
A male role model for my sons
A warm body in my bed as the nights get cooler
A shoulder to cry on when things felt overwhelming
While I have way more support from friends and my community than I did even 6 months ago, the reality is that when the doors to our home are closed for the evening, it is just me struggling to parent alone. Single parenting is hard and it very lonely. While I am grateful for the healing that has taken place over the past few months, today was just one of those days where I had to ride the waves.