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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No Longer a “We”

I got married at the ripe old age of 21.  Granted, I was a pretty mature 21-year-old, but I was still very young.  I had gone from living with my parents to college, where I had two roommates, then I met my ex-husband and we married the summer before our senior year of college.  I don’t regret any of that.  However, because I married so young and never lived alone, I never really developed my own identity.  I was always part of a “we” as an adult.  There are wonderful things about that.  I didn’t flounder in dating land for years.  I didn’t get my heart broken by boys and men.  I learned early to make sacrifices for the happiness of another person.  Essentially, we grew up together.  We really began our adulthood as a couple.  We made our first major financial decisions together.  We experienced some of our greatest sorrows together.  We became parents together.  My adult life has relished being part of a “we”.

Overnight, the man who felt like half of me, vanished.  I honestly felt like someone had cut off all my limbs and I didn’t know how to walk or even move without him at my side.  That is the beauty of marriage, the whole “two becoming one”.  But when that one becomes two again, it is messy and it is like learning to swim without any limbs.  I missed the comfort of waking up next to the comfort of my best friend.  I had never made any major decisions as an adult without his input and suddenly I found myself having to make decisions for myself and my sons without him.  While I was trying to figure this out alone, he was planning his new life with her and her kids.  He jumped from one we to another we.  Even now, months later, I still talk about my life and my parenting as “we” …I suspect I will get better taking individual ownership over time, but I am not there yet.

Despite the grief over losing my partner in crime, I am finding some freedom in it.  Suddenly the future is the great unknown.  I get to do things I find fun, plan events that interest me, and spend my evenings focusing on my priorities. Other than my sons, I don’t have to consider another person when making decisions.  In just a few short years my sons will probably be on their own life adventure.  One may live with me for a while, but for the most part I get to start planning my own future.  I resume graduate school for public health at the end of the month and by the time I graduate, both of my sons will be in high school.  I feel like in some ways, suddenly the sky is the limit.  I don’t know what the future holds, but maybe, for the first time in my life, I am learning to embrace the adventure known as life.

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Coming Home

In one of my favorite podcasts, which I mentioned previously, For the Love with Jen Hatmaker, she asks all her guests “what is saving your life right now?”.  I have thought about this question as I have listened to these podcasts over the past month and initially I was unsure of the answer.  However, over the past two weeks, the phrase that keeps coming back to me is “coming home”.

When you envision “home” what comes to mind?  Is it a place, a feeling, a sound, a sight, or a smell?  For me it is all of it.  For the longest time after relocating from Washington to Pennsylvania, I wondered if Pennsylvania would ever feel like home to me.  It is only over the past few months that I have really begun to embrace my new community, quirks and all, and pull into my driveway and feel like I am home.  I rent this cute little 90-year-old red house full of oddities from being built up and out over nearly a century.  The house is in a beautiful neighborhood where everyone is on about an acre (including me) with lots of old oak and maple trees.  In our neighborhood there are various ponds, and streams and I enjoy the beauty of nature while walking the dogs.

IMG_20170805_113700_814When I walk into my front door, chaos often erupts as I am greeted by two Labradors, two affectionate cats, and, of course, my two rambunctious sons.  Half of the time my front room is littered with dirty socks, empty boxes from Amazon and whatever project Messi is working on.  Laundry sits on the couch, dog toys provide an obstacle course, and one of the boys has always left a backpack out on the floor.  It isn’t that we are slobs, but my sons have not yet mastered picking up after themselves and I have been unable to train the dogs to put their toys away.  There are days that the chaos gets to me, but more and more I find myself walking into my home and feeling peace in the chaos because it is mine!  There is the business of running to and from activities, juggling chores, refereeing arguments, but also eating together, watching movies, or planning new adventures.  This is my family and this is us loving, fighting, laughing, crying and just living life.

Coming home is saving my life right now.  Coming home reminds me of God’s grace and the power of redemption.  In the wake of one of the darkest periods in my life, God has given me the gift of home.

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Boundaries

Some people talk about how they really struggle to set boundaries with their time, commitments and relationships.  Due to the nature of my job as a nurse, often my easiest “boundary” was “no, I can’t because I have to work that night or that weekend”.  So, I have never been one of those women who felt they could “do it all”.  Yes, I have volunteered for various things for my sons’ schools and brought treats for soccer games, but I have rarely been in the type of job where I can regularly commit to anything.  So, having never really needing to frequently set boundaries, the past few months I have been doing just that.

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The hardest boundary I have had to set, is cutting my ex-husband out of my life, other than contact regarding the boys.  Initially, we had agreed to remain Facebook “friends” so that he could see pictures of the boys and keep up with their lives.  For the first few weeks, it went okay.  We even had a few nice talks about the boys.  That all changed shortly after he left when, without going into the dirty details, there were some things I discovered after he moved out that disgusted and disturbed me and where he lost any right to even that level of contact.  I sent him a message and explained that we were done and “unfriended” and “blocked” him.  People assumed I would have done that sooner, but we were trying to remain amicable and this was one way we were going to try doing so.  Then, a few weeks ago, I sent him an email with the dates of the boys’ Christmas break, so he could start thinking about airplane flights to visit him.  A few minutes after I sent the email, he texted me, asking if we could talk for a few minutes.  I foolishly assumed that he wanted to talk about the dates I gave him, so I called him back.  He then started talking, not asking one word about our sons, and said “well, I just wanted to call and let you know my wedding date before you heard it from someone else”.  This conversation took place weeks before our divorce was even finalized.  Admittedly, I lost it.  I yelled at him and cried and told him how dare he call and talk about his wedding to another woman when he was still married to me.  Shortly after that conversation, I sent him a text telling him not to contact me at all unless it involved the boys.  After I told him that, not only did he not contact me, but he also refused to have any conversations about some health issues the boys were facing.  I resorted to emailing him and leaving it there.  On Friday, July 7th, the paperwork finalizing our divorce, was submitted to the judge.  Monday morning, he emailed, called, and texted, at first asking, then demanding that I make him copies of 6 years’ worth of financial records so that he could get a loan for the house he was buying for his new family.  Initially, I started to help him, then it hit me that I had told him to take care of all of this before he left, but no, he had spent two to three hours a day on the phone with her and had gone shopping for stuff for his new home rather than make copies of our joint financial records.  So, after stewing on it for a few hours, I emailed him and told him “no” and that I wasn’t his wife anymore and under no obligation to help him, so he needed to figure it out himself and reminded him to leave me alone.  There is part of me that wanted to help, but I really had to think about my own motivation for helping (like him thinking of me kindly).   It would have been one thing to help with something for the boys, but why on earth should I be expected to assist him in buying a home for the woman he left me for?  No, no, and no.  I also realized that by dialoging with him regarding these records, I was allowing him to violate a previously established boundary.

 

Interestingly, I have also started to set some firm boundaries with the boys on certain issues.  Messi has started to push hard on attending church and every Sunday morning is a battle.  I have remained firm that we will be attending church as a family and every week he seems determined to make me regret that decision.  This past week was the worst and he threw a teenage temper tantrum (eye rolling, ear plugging, dramatic sighs) in the middle of the service, so I pulled him out to talk to him.  As I tried to talk, he pulled out a full repertoire of words meant to hurt me.  I know a lot of this was lashing out in anger over everything going on in our life, but there is a fine line between giving him grace for his grief and setting boundaries for our family interactions. Later that afternoon, when we had both cooled off, I talked to him.  I told him that I understood he didn’t want to go to church and that he was angry at his dad and angry at me, but that in our family, we do not use our words as weapons to intentionally hurt one another.  He listened and apologized.  I know we will all weaponize our words again, but I am trying to establish that it isn’t who we are as a family.

In the 6 weeks that my ex-husband remained in my home, I really struggled to distance myself emotionally from him.  Yes, he had hurt me, but you can’t just flip a switch on 14 years of marriage.  Often at night, after work, when I was tired and vulnerable, I would go up to let him know something about the kids and found myself just crying to him.  One night he just sat there rolling his eyes and said, “I am not your therapist, please get out”.  It was harsh and cruel, but true.  I hadn’t been able to build that boundary around my heart yet, and I was being vulnerable to someone that did not deserve that level of intimacy.  I am also having to work on the role he continues to take in my mind and heart.  Part of the way I chose to build a boundary around my mind is by removing things that triggered me to think on him and us – whether through blocking him on social media or removing photos of him from my home.  I recognize that the pain and anger will lessen with time, but I also know that sometimes I need to choose not to engage with those emotions.  There is a time and place for that grieving and anger to be released, but I don’t always have to be at the mercy of my emotions.  This is a hard season and God is showing me how to create boundaries which will allow for my healing.

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