Lessons on Loneliness, Translations and Bedtime Stories

Because of shared custody, full-day Kindergarten, and a busy schedule, my daughter and I usually, truly connect during the week on the nights I get to put her to bed; which is approximately 53% of the time. That’s what happens in divorce, you only get a percentage of your child’s life.

I lay with her before she falls asleep, and her inner thoughts and worries come bubbling to the surface like secrets. She tells me as much as she is able to understand, and I translate the feelings she does not have the words to say. Two nights ago she cried big, heaving tears about a recent birthday party where two girls, whom she’s been friends with for about three years, wouldn’t “follow her.”

These three girls spend a lot of time together because I’m also friends with their moms, and we like spending time together, too. These two friends of mine are two big reasons I was able to survive this last year of divorce. They supported me, included me, made me feel like I was not alone in this city where the only family I knew stopped speaking to me the day I filed for divorce.

But lately, I haven’t felt so included. For a variety of reasons I feel a rift between me and these two friends. They are both married. They have two children who are the same ages, and all their kids are friends. They aren’t limited in their plans by shared custody and “weekends off” and the ability to pass the kids off to a husband for an impromptu shopping trip on a Saturday afternoon. When we get together their husbands idle off to the side with their beers and talk about husbandy things. I watch. I listen. I see the updates on Facebook when they go on “date nights” and I have no plus one anymore.

I’ve been feeling this distance and the accompanying loneliness and it hurts pretty bad. So when my daughter cried to me two nights ago about not being “followed,” I cried with her, because I knew she was trying to say she felt alone, and left out. Usually, I’m not at a loss for wise words of motherly advice translated into 5-year-old speak, but I was this night. I just layed there and said, “I know, baby. Me too. Feeling lonely and left out is miserable and it’s okay to cry. I’ll cry with you. Okay? Because I’m feeling pretty left out too.”

Then I remembered this book I bought a couple of weeks ago at a spiritual bookstore. It is a book for kids called, On My Way To A Happy Life by Deepak Chopra. I love this book. I gush over this book. Because I gush, they groan when I try to read it at night, but I read it anyway. And by the end, they are always rapt with attention. It’s one of my favorite things right now.

Deepak Chopra On My Way to a Happy Life

As we lay there crying I asked her if she remembered what the book said about getting the things we want in life? I reminded her that it said she needed to give away the things she wants. If she wants her friends to “follow” her, she’s got to follow them, first. If she wants to be heard and seen and included, she’s got to hear, see and include others. And the best way to do these things, is with a giving spirit, and a happy heart. It was truly advice for us both.

I think I might be a professional loner. I move away from people, I alienate them, I build walls and hide behind them every single day. I choose people who are cold and distant so that I don’t have to thaw my icy exterior. Truthfully, this blog is my alter ego. My everyday self only understands so much, and the voice in my head that writes here is my wiser self that translates what I do not have the words to say outloud.

I justify these things easily. Because life has not been kind to me in the ways of love and so I have grown a heart of thorns. I have been told (more than once) that I am not easy to love. And I’m not. So scared am I of the pain that seems to always follow the fall. So terrified of the vulernability and weakness I’ve laid on the table the moment it all goes to shit. It seems a thousand times easier to stay walled up in my self-imposed cage. This is the part of my disintigrated marriage that I own. I am not easy to love.

But I know I’m not impossible. I did try really hard in my marriage. But sadly, that was a lost cause for many reasons. And I am all the more frightened from it. But I can’t give up, right? I have to keep trying. Somehow, I have to find the wisdom to keep turning toward the light. I know this now. This blog helps.

But it’s too late to change what has already happened. It is too late to go back and impart this wisdom on my 23 year old self, my 27 year old self and my 36 year old self. But it’s not too late today. Today I will choose to do the scary things, like trying to give away pieces of me without being frightened how they might be treated. And I will do this by taking the pieces that others give me, and caring for them like they were my own. I will give away what I so desperately need. To be seen.

We always hear that our children mirror our emotions. My daughter and I crying together over our shared loneliness of these same friends in our lives has never illuminated this more clearly for me, and thus, it has never been more clear what I must do.

There are only two people on this planet I have never held back from loving. They have had all of me from the moment they were conceived, and I hope they always will. These two are my greatest translators in this crazy world about the meaning of love, and if for no one else, (actually, I can’t think of better people) I will try for them. I will do the scariest things just to show them what happens when you’re brave enough to expose your heart.

And so, even though everytime I open this page I’m scared, I will continue to open it. Even though I am terrified of loving another again, I will try. Even though my unwisest self pulls me into the shadows behind my walls and thorns, I will continue to step out into the sunlight. Because they need to know a world with that kind of warmth. And we will be each other’s translators of that kind of love.

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Learning to Breathe Again: On Being a Divorcee Cliche

I’ve been studying writing and literary fiction at the University of Washington for the last two years. I’ve learned oodles about the craft of writing and story telling and I love it so. It makes my brain hurt and my heart soar and my soul sigh in sweet relief. One of the first things I learned about is the dreaded hallmark of bad writing… the cliché. Never, ever, EVER use clichés. Clichés are lazy; a sign of immaturity and lack of creativity and originality on the author’s part. Clichés are the death of good writing!

But right now, my WHOLE LIFE is a cliché.

henna tattoo feather

Don’t worry Mom, it’s henna.

Mid…okay LATE… thirties female, newly divorced with two small kids seeks red wine for comfort. Also, lurks on dating websites, dives head-long into yoga, buys vibrators off infomercials and contemplates getting tattooed. Up next, attempts her best impression of Mrs. Robinson.

See. Cliché.

Going through a divorce (my kind of contentious divorce, anyway) is a trauma. It’s a grenade exploding in the middle of your life. There is a shell-shocked aftermath. A time when your ears ring so loudly you cannot hear the world; all its messages lost in translation. The air is so heavy and thick with acrid, poisonous smoke that you choke, then panic for fear of asphyxiating. You spend weeks, months even in this state trying to find one safe place to take one clean breath. Just one. If you can breathe, maybe you’ll live.

Then, after the imminent danger has passed, you begin the cleanup process. You sweep up the cracked and blackened picture frames of smiling faces from a bygone time. It knocks the wind out of you instantly. You clean out closets stuffed with mementos from “before” and your hands shake with anger and fear. One day you get a wild hair to organize the detritus in a corner of the garage and you find some dusty snorkel gear. That snorkel gear puts you right back into the blast on a rolling tide of emotions so violent you have to sit down right there on the garage floor to steady yourself. Breathe, just breathe.

And all of this happens below the surface. In the murky depths so filled with pain and sorrow you’re too afraid to take anyone down there with you. You leave the world and its people up on the surface along with the easiness of your anger and sarcasm because at least up there, up there there’s air. Like trauma, divorce carries with it a kind of PTSD. In this deep, dark, personal space, a space as intimate as your previous marriage, is where you, and you alone reside. Just trying to breathe.

After the blast, and in the early phases of post divorce, this empty, airless place and it’s shrapnel are always somewhere on the edges of your life; in back of junk drawers, at Costco in the frozen aisle, at the beach in the summer, in the curve of your son’s face after a growth spurt… in your daughter’s toes. When you see these things, it steals your breath again and again leaving the taste of smoke in your mouth. And then you must remind yourself again to breathe. Just breathe.

I’m six months post blast, and I’m learning over and over again how to just breathe. I’m still cleaning up the pieces, still getting the wind knocked out of me. But as I grow stronger I’m also taking the frayed threads of my new reality and spinning them into something brighter. More beautiful. Something full of sunlight and the smell of lilacs and daydreams that make me giddy with possibility. It’s not easy though. It’s actually very, very hard work. In fact, I get tired a lot. I lose my creativity and inspiration and that’s when I turn to my overwrought clichés.

The other night, at 1am, wine glass in hand I sat on my back porch and sang sad songs alone, to no one. Actually, not to no one because my neighbor heard me, and called me out the next day. “I heard you last night, singing.” I didn’t know what to say. For a brief second I was mortified. I was busted being this predictable cliché of a sad, lonely woman. But then I realized that I didn’t care.

Because nothing in my world is easy right now. There’s not one damn thing that’s simple, including breathing, and while the whole world is being hard I’m going to take the path of least resistance. I’m going to be an immature, simple, mindless cliché, and I’m going to embrace that shit like the spare pillow on the empty side of my king-sized bed. Because while I’m floundering around in the dark, murky waters of divorce PTSD, I might as well have a nice glass of red, an expensive vibrator and a playlist of Sam Smith to keep me company.

Keep your windows closed neighbors… I have a feeling it’s going to be a long summer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

This Too Shall Pass

This Too Shall PassI’ve been thinking a lot about time. I suppose fall does that to me. With all the leaves falling and the ground decaying under my feet. It’s Mother Nature’s most in-your-face reminder that time marches on, things change, release, fall away. And I suppose I feel like being grounded too.

I want my feet stuck deep in the mud. Each year the feeling is the same. The ache for grounding, the need for coziness, the desire to cook hearty meals and wear fuzzy socks. I just want to feel warm and safe and stuck into something solid. No more bouncing around like a beach ball on the waves, just stuck flat to the pavement like a wet leaf.

I start looking forward to all the yearly rituals of the holiday season. The Halloween decorations, the Thanksgiving meal, the Christmas, Christmas, Christmas EVERYTHING. These things are my annual touch stones; my measuring sticks of how far we’ve come as a family, how much deeper our roots have burrowed, how much wider our life has become. It’s reassuring and sad in equal measures.

There are these moments when I’m wearing my rain boots, my hood pulled up, my hands shoved deep in my pockets and yet the sun is still shining hard. In those moments I think everything is going to be okay. We are all going to be just fine. I can rest my weary mind for a moment and know that everything will be okay, not perfect, just okay. The okayest. Moments, just minutes at a time when I hear my children laughing or feel them breathing on my neck while rain pelts our windows and I know — there is nothing more I need to do in just that moment.

But those moments fade. The worry returns. And I am bouncing once again on waves of discontent.

Something I read recently by Pema Chondron keeps ringing in my ears. It’s about the “hot loneliness” inside. In Louis CK’s viral video on his rant against cell phones and social media he calls it, “the forever empty… that place where you know it’s all for nothing and you’re all alone.” I’ve been aware of that place lately. That ocean of loneliness inside. I’m feeling its presence more than ever and noticing all the things I do to keep it at bay: social media, the internet, busy-ness, cleaning, eating, obsessing. All this just to look away from the hot loneliness that I know is there rolling inside me. An ocean of forever empty.

I’m trying to sit with that feeling more and more. Breathe through it without feeling sea sick. I can only remind myself of something I have heard my whole life and yet have never really understood until now, “This too shall pass.”

And then all over again I ache for the solid ground. More roots. More boots stuck deep in the mud and my kids racing down the street with red cheeks and buckets shaped like pumpkins. The ritual. The release. The reminders that everything  is alright. Good, even.