Home, Love, Freedom and Driving Down Back Roads

That road. The one that winds and dips and turns through the trees and comes to a weird, Y-shaped intersection. The one we used to drive down after school in our hand-me-down cars listening to The Cranberries with the windows down. I love that road.

And then there’s this other road. The one I walked along side every day on my way home from elementary school picking dandelions through the cracks and making them into jewelry when I was still young enough to think dandelions were flowers and stepping on cracks was the cause of bad luck.

But oh man, this road. The one with a memory every mile. I played t-ball where that Sonic is; I practiced driving my friend’s stick shift in that lot; I went to school there and there and sang in that church, and in college, I waited tables at that restaurant. And over there, well that’s where I sat up all night with a boy for the first time.

I made my mother check me out of school the day I turned 16 to get my license. I could not, would not wait one. more. day. When we got to the DMV on my 16th birthday it was closed. I threw a gigantic toddleresque tantrum and I made my mom drive to another DMV that was open or I refused to go back to school. (Thanks Mom, and FYI daughter, I will not be doing that for you. Harsh, I know.) But I remember my desperation that day. It felt like my chest was caving in sitting outside those locked doors. I wanted, no NEEDED that piece of paper or I thought I might explode. That paper meant I could go and do and be on my own. That paper was my ticket to freedom and freedom was my drug of choice back then. At 36, I’m as addicted as ever.

That same yearning for freedom is why I left my hometown and all those familiar roads 12 years ago. I wanted out so bad it ached in my bones. It was that same desperation; feeling confined by all those stupid, easy roads and their territorial views of the wide open plains dotted with water towers. I outgrew those roads in my 20s and hurt for new ones – bigger ones. Freeways. Express ways. Roads with new views — mountains and oceans and tall, tall things. That’s what I wanted and so I grabbed my ticket and went to find them. But that ticket came at a very steep price. Over the years I shed huge chunks of me out there alongside those highways and byways. Some good stuff, some bad, maybe all of it was necessary. Who knows, right?

And now here I am visiting my hometown again, newly divorced, two kids, approaching 40 on a speed train with a ticket to nowhere…  and I’m driving these old roads again. These roads – like permanent time capsules hold years of memories and emotions that take me back with every turn to that wild-eyed girl with the big dreams and the naïve belief that everything would always work out just fiiiine. And also that lost girl aching for freedom and running away from home to find it.

A good friend of mine has a good man. A real good man. He’s more than 10 years her junior but an old soul. He’s now the father of their new baby girl; a baby she never expected at 37, but now can’t imagine life without—because that’s how it works, right – life happens the way it’s going to happen and then it’s impossible to imagine it any other way. They’ll probably get married someday and it will be the real, long-lasting thing. Well his dad died last week. His wife of 35 years said to him before passing, “we didn’t have enough time together.”  I can’t stop thinking about that. What is that kind of love?

home love freedomI took a moment the other day to drive down a two-lane back road out in the wide open country behind my parent’s house. The wind whipped my hair and I turned the radio way up. I thought about time, and decisions, what “home” really means and another thing I’ve never known… that long-lasting love.  It occurred to me that perhaps the reason I’ve never known it, or felt truly at “home” is because neither ever held a candle to my passion for freedom. I’ve always had to choose between the three.

What I’m coming to understand is that I need all of it. Freedom, home, love… I need it all or I know, I’ll get lost… again.

I’m not a selfish person. I’m a mother of two small children and I learned the deeper meaning of sacrifice the day my first child was conceived. I know what it means to give up everything for someone else, but there’s a difference between giving of yourself for the betterment of the whole, and giving up ON yourself all together. The former I do daily, the latter I will never do.

A week ago, before I came back to my hometown I drove down another back road near my current “home” in the Pacific Northwest. The wind whipped my hair and the radio was way up. There were mountains and an ocean and tall, tall things. Beautiful couldn’t accurately describe that day. I leaned back in my seat with my sunglasses on and my hand out the window riding the wind. I can’t remember a moment in recent times when I felt so free AND at home. It was very close to heaven on earth.

And so now these two back roads, one flat and dotted with water towers, the other winding through mountains and next to oceans are taking me backward and forward at the same time, helping me figure out this new woman who’s now in the driver’s seat of her life. The one that wants it all… or nothing.

But I guess this is how life is, right? It happens the way it’s going to happen, and then it’s impossible to imagine it any other way. And maybe all that shedding and getting lost… it’s all necessary. And maybe, just maybe things will still work out just fiiiine.


Riding the Waves of Loneliness

I read somewhere that we are all addicts to whatever releases a hit of dopamine to our brains.

Food and sex are big dopamine triggers because evolutionarily speaking, we need to eat and procreate. We are engineered to derive pleasure from these things. Everyone has heard of Pavlov and his dogs. The psychologist, Ivan Pavlov, conditioned his dogs to produce a salivary response to the ringing of a bell because every time Pavlov rang that bell, the dogs got fed.

We are no different, really. Our bodies respond to triggers which we know will give us a high — a hit, a feeling of satisfaction. It can be anything really; alcohol, nicotine, scratcher tickets, Pinterest, the little blue light that blinks on your phone alerting you to a message. All hits of dopamine. All stimulating our brain’s pleasure centers.

Personally, at least recently, I’d take a dirty martini over a donut any day and that little blue light has my full attention. I crave communication and connection with the world and that little blue light, and accompanying buzz, is my bell. Ding! Ding!

So we are pleasure seekers. We always have been, always will be, and I don’t think our problems result from wanting to get “high.” Where we fall off the tracks into addiction and bad decisions is when we can’t handle what always comes right after the crest of the wave… and that is the crash onto shore. And make no mistake, the higher the high… the lower the low.

I’ve had some incredible highs lately. From exciting accomplishments at work; to whole weekends with long-time friends; to the positive attention of putting myself out there in the world without fear or guilt overshadowing me; all have produced incredible pleasurable feelings. I got a second chance to live the life of my dreams and I’ve been surfing that wave all the way to shore! But with these new peaks has come some soul-rocking valleys. Deep undertows that have me gasping for air while scanning the horizon for my next wave.

In this new life, where my sea legs are still shaky and new, everyday is a constant battle against riding the wave of highness and figuring out how to survive the lowness. I wish this was an exaggeration.

But I’m not going to feel bad for wanting to get high on life. I’m human, and this is natural. What I’m struggling with is staying present with the lows. What has me tied to my phone and my nightly cocktail is the fear of the power of the undertow and my ability to hold my breath long enough to survive it… even though I know I will.

In today’s technological age, this ability to stave off the undertow is so easy while staying present for the white-hot loneliness is increasingly difficult. It is the long forgotten art of delayed satisfaction. In this modern world all I need to do is reach for my phone to get another hit, and the temptation is, at times, overwhelming. This is when I make my biggest mistakes. It’s when I say something, or do something I may regret later when calmer waters prevail.

This is what loneliness is teaching me today. That when it comes rolling in like a low tide, and it always will, that I must sit down, stay put, resist the urge run for shore or head-long into the next wave. That I must let the water circle around my ankles, slowly rise to my neck and take a deep breath…  because it will run its course, and there’s nothing worth drowning for.

beneath the waves

Image Credit: Sarah Lee/ CATERS NEWS




The Loneliness of Post Divorce

I’m adrift right now, and I know it. It’s been almost three months since I filed for divorce and the loneliness has begun to wrap around me like a wet, dense fog.

During the day, I have no shortage of things to do. I have two small children who live with me most of the time. I have a job. I go to night school. I potty train my youngest, do the grocery shopping and mow the lawn. If an uncomfortable feeling creeps in during the daylight hours, I get busy.

It’s mostly at night when it comes. When my daily work is done and I’m settled into my couch or bed; that’s when I feel the thick haze descend. So I pick up my phone, pour a glass of wine, return to my computer; anything to stop what I know is my current reality and immediate future. Alone.

I’m an independent person. I like solitude. I like to be alone with my thoughts. Maybe I like it more than most, but no one likes it exclusively. We all need personal, often times physical connections. I’m in a place right now where I’m all over the map as to how much connection I want or need. I keep drawing it to me, and then pushing it away afraid of the fire and heat it brings. If I’m being honest, I don’t trust myself to handle it well.

For a month I’ve been riding this rollercoaster of surplus and deprivation of connections.  My emergence from the pain of my divorce began on a business trip to Vegas (of all places), and it was there my eyes were opened toward the future and all the possibility it holds. Since then, I’ve been reaching for that same feeling. I brush up against it every now and again. The constant, hopeful reminder that we’re on the edge of spring helps a great deal. The bright yellow daffodils blooming in my yard make me smile, and when I see them, I feel the rush of possibility all over again.

Duality of LifeThese daffodils were transplanted from my grandmother’s garden three years ago. My grandmother passed away four years ago, and after she died, my mom and I dug up some bulbs to plant as yearly, living keepsakes. They sprouted green shoots for two years, but no flowers. I was beginning to wonder if they would ever show their happy faces. But this year, they finally did.

Today, I sat down in front of those daffodils. I admired their daintiness and beauty but I also felt the sadness of loss. I sat in quiet reflection on those sweet, little flower faces and I let the loneliness fill me to tears. It felt good to embrace this duality of life.

There is no regret. There is no wanting things to be different or going back. I’m here, and I’m okay with being here. But here holds a lot of unanswered questions; a lot of fear of the unknown, a lot of solitude, and sometimes, even scary heat.

Over a month I’ve realized that if companionship is something I want, I could have it, and it wouldn’t even take that much effort. But right now, I feel like this loneliness has lessons I need to learn. Lessons I need to lean into and embrace even though I can’t see two feet in front of my face. I need to learn to trust that even when I’m surrounded by fog, the landscape is still there. The potential for daffodils still exist.

These miniature flowers took their sweet time showing their shining faces, and I think I need to, too. These keepsakes from my wise and loving grandmother sat dormant for two years; gathering roots, growing slowly under the surface before they decided it was the right time to bloom, and now… I will too.

I will gather my roots. I will sit below the surface, fighting back the fear of the cold season to come, and I will bloom when the time is right.

Because hope springs eternal.

Hope Springs Eternal