overwhelmed, again

I have had a horrible day. I have never once believed that such a thing as Murphy’s Law existed but, for the first time, it seems to today. It seems to be one calamity after another around here and, if it’s more than I can manage to simply keep things somewhat picked up, then how on earth am I to manage the upkeep, maintenance and repairs of things, as well.

A few days ago I entered one of those silly internet games, a Dead Pool, in which people place bets on which celebrities will die in the coming year. We may as well place bets on which part of my property will go next…recent months have taken a clothes dryer, car, garbage disposal, garage door opener and refrigerator. Count the air conditioner and furnace in recent years and, of course, the roof…and then ceiling. Lord, how I somedays wish to dump this place onto a younger, more willing couple, fresh with energy and just starting out. Because it all seems to much to deal with anymore.

Yes, I am overwhelmed.

Many times I have thought about selling. Yet it will take tens of thousands to get in selling condition. And my children would declare mutiny, I’m sure. They are fond of this money pit in this charming and friendly neighborhood. It’s the only home they’ve known.

Well-meaning folks have said things like, “There’s a lesson in this somewhere.” Which is a good way to get my ire up. If there were truly one more goddamned lesson to be mined from the pain and heartache I’ve been through, I’d like to think I’d have durned well learned it by now!

Sometimes I become embittered and think, “If only things had been different…” By things, of course, we are discussing my wasband’s lack of income generation. We bought this home thinking of living here a few years and moving up to something better. But with a single income and two small children and a market which seemed to have peaked before we were ready to sell, there’s been no moving up…only a constant toiling. So I suppose if things had truly been different, we’d have sold and split our equity in a nicer home and I’d be back in something more modest. Something probably a lot like this!

flinching

I started writing this post well over a month ago:

Every so often, I still catch myself in that contracted state of responding from a place of fear or lack, as though I’m in a full-on life flinch, constantly anticipating another of life’s right hooks. And then, moments later, when I realize what I’m doing, that the proverbial perceived threat was only imagined, I relax and wonder at this baffling behavior…

Often this realization hits me while doing the most mundane of all activities, such as grocery shopping. I’ll neglect to buy ingredients for some fabulous meal I’d love to make because my children wouldn’t appreciate it, or it’s too much work for just one, or for some other reason that ends up sounding much more like an excuse. Banal example though it may be, it’s symptomatic of the recent phase in my life spent focused so much on making others happy that I’d forgotten to take care of myself.

Sometimes this divorce-recovery stuff seems like a slow climb out of the bomb shelter. Imagine me stepping up and out cautiously, feeling a bit leery, eyes squinting against the brightness of daylight.

Today, I can happily report that I bought old favorites like Brussels sprouts and Swiss chard and more while grocery shopping. I intend to make the foods I like and, if my children won’t eat them, I’ll take the leftovers to work. I also enlisted some help and cleaned a bunch of junk out of the garage. For the first time in nearly a decade, I can actually park my car in it!

In other words, I’ve successfully taken another leap or two in relaxing into this new position of President and CEO of my own life.

 

does water seek its own level?

A few weeks ago…

One of the common relationship aphorisms that sticks in my mind is “water seeks its own level.” The counselor my ex and I went to years ago, in fact, said this to us. And, for reasons I shall soon share, it has come to mind again…

I’ve been seeing the gentleman once accused of aggravated assault (sounds kind of badass, doesn’t it?!). Very early in our getting to know each other, he confessed to me just about everything you can imagine a person unloading:  a troubled childhood, severed ties with family, medical history and more. He still sees a therapist to work through the whole arrest ordeal. As I wrote earlier, he doesn’t look so good on paper.

And yet there’s something about him… I know, you’re groaning. And you should be. The last thing I need is a project.

We were chatting the one night (just before he told me everything) and I recall teasing, “You don’t scare me at all! …but I’m pretty sure I scare the living hell out of you!”

Now I think it’s fair to say that I’m a little scared.

So I’m wondering if the roots of my attraction are reflected in shared experience:  I’ve written about how the failing of my most significant relationship shattered my self-esteem. What I’ve yet to share is a story that I guess it never dawned on me that I’d need to write about here. But now I do.

More than three years ago, I went through a crisis in my family — the very family I helped to create. I was emotionally traumatized. When I think about it, the image I see of myself during that time is me in bed, nearly catatonic and drooling, unable to get up, unclean and unable to go to work.

Memory is a liar. In fact, in the midst of the worst of it, I rose each day, showered, dressed and went to work. I obliquely mentioned to co-workers that I was going through a stressful time with a family crisis, my head was cloudy and I apologized for any areas in which my incapacity caused them to overcompensate during this couple of weeks. (I suppose it needn’t be said that this was a precursor to the split, another manifestation of the symptoms and issues of all that was wrong in my marriage.)

As I slowly “recovered,” I didn’t realize the entirety of the damage to my psyche. I may have believed that I was functioning at full capacity just weeks later, yet external feedback (processed and accepted more deeply after the fact) suggests otherwise. Thus, nearly six months later, I found myself being treated for depression. Within 48 hours of taking a serotonin enhancer, I was a completely different person — a person more like the self I knew.

Still, something in my brain seemed to have changed. My ability to concentrate or focus never really seemed to return to 100%. In other words, the emotional trauma had done sustained damage. For awhile, I thought it was the depression, allergies, hormones or any number of things that can cloud one’s thinking. I’ve since read up on it and, with no formal training or diagnosis, believe that I experienced some amount of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

I worked with my usual tools to alleviate the symptoms — applied kinesiology (AK), yoga, meditation, organic diet,cognitive therapy, and Holosynch, a meditation soundtrack that puts the brain into a deeply relaxed state. I quit a stressful job. I’ve been selective about the energy in my environment (people, places and media).

Still, having done this work, I find myself drawn to someone still very much in the midst of healing himself.

So I wonder what this attraction says about me:

  • Do the things that resonate between us have to do with our pain? And, if so, haven’t I already been there? Haven’t I rebuilt my self-esteem? Haven’t I done the hard work?
  • Or is it because of his strength and maturity, having worked through so much, and that he strikes me as so adult…and so willing to embrace all of life head-on?

we were married to the same man

Over the past two years or more, I cannot tell you how many times I heard, “Sounds like we were married to the same man!” I found women at work, women at the salon, and friends I’ve known for years who all expressed the same sentiment.

I guess what it comes down to is that there are a finite number of reasons that relationships don’t work out. And, as it happens, I’ve found several women who share a story not entirely unlike mine. Several, it seemed, had some sort of midlife crisis and then…

In one particular example, a high-end builder with an exclusive clientele just decided he didn’t want to do that sort of thing anymore. After bumbling about for a few years, taking some classes and trying to figure out what he wanted to do when he grew up, he ended up in retail. Because he was more mature than the high-schoolers reporting to him and had a bit of know-how, he was quickly promoted to supervisor. Cheers to the family dental plan…and a couple of hundred dollars a week in income! Sure, it was a contribution, but nothing like supporting a family with the income to which they’d become accustomed.

His wife was a trooper throughout this transition, but finally opened herself to the possibility that she didn’t have to be responsible for him financially or emotionally or otherwise. He had become another child to a woman weary of parenting.

Another woman’s husband spent much of his time lying about on the sofa watching the television when he was meant to be looking for a job. He racked up credit card debt and lied about money issues.

Here’s where the relationship rubber hits the road. We’re here to love and support one another in ways, as long as we agree to what those ways are. (Most, but not all of us, know what we’re getting into before we marry.) We’re not here to parent our spouses or support behaviors that don’t nurture us or our commitments. We’re not on this Earth for another lesson in co-dependence.

Long (years) after I’d asked my wasband to go back to work, he was still protesting that “we’d agreed that he would stay home with the children.” In truth, we’d “agreed” because he’d lost his job and it seemed like our best option at the time. Like a toddler on the verge of a decade-long tantrum, he’d dug in his heels and was not about to budge from his position. He changed his internal script to, “I gave up my career to be home with my children.” And he seemed to believe it!

Relationships must change and evolve. They require communication. Agreements made must often be renegotiated. And it takes two committed adults to embark on that sort of work.

the standard of living

I’m happier now than I was while in a doomed relationship.

Yet I often ponder this question of my standard of living. Is it better? No, though I suppose I thought it would be. I thought there would be some savings associated with not having to support another adult — perhaps some groceries, gas, insurance or utilities. And I thought I’d be getting a bit more in the way of support for our children.

My resources are tight. My time is full, from the time I wake until I crash each night. I entertain less often. I enjoy cooking less now that it’s a scramble to put dinner on the table each evening. I find less time to be active and exercise, and to connect with friends and family. All things that are important to me.

And, yet, with two precious children sharing discoveries each day and a deep sense of purpose, I find this moment in my life rich and full and hopeful.

Those other things that matter? Well…they’ll be resurrected in time.

my, how I’ve grown!

If you look back to when I first began writing this blog, there was a lot of purging and a lot of stuff about the failure of my relationship. It must have been cathartic, because it’s rare that the anger, resentment or blame flares up anymore. In fact, while I’ll confess to anyone that I still care for my ex (he is, after all, the father of my children), I’m detached about it. I would never go back to our relationship or him. When I dropped off the children the other day, he hugged me and told me that he loves me very, very much…and the only thought that came to mind was “have you been drinking?”

Amidst the un-flings and failed attempts to get laid or find romance these past months, I’ve largely healed my heart and re-set my standards. Perhaps it sounds odd that I even needed to re-set my standards…and, yet, I clearly once accepted so little for myself that they were due a bit of re-calibration. And to do so, my self-esteem needed an overhaul. Leaving a stressful job, spending lots of quality time with family and friends, yoga, meditation and a healthy diet have worked wonders. In many ways, I’m restored with a much more solid sense of self. And, while I’m feeling great, I plan to keep up positive momentum on that front.

I’m also getting better at catching myself when I fall into old patterns of behavior. I’ve noticed and curbed impulses to use behaviors associated with masculine energy in relationships with men — if he’s not providing it, I’m not interested. And I’ve dialed back my need to mother people who are (technically) no longer children. I’m grateful to have been able to take the time to glean the lessons of my failed relationship and grow from them. While dysfunctional behaviors that I’m not yet aware of are likely to reveal themselves as I explore new relationships, I’m going to be gentle with myself and my “other,” and I’m going to be a lot better at forgiving myself when I make mistakes. These are joyful discoveries for me — they bring me closer to realization of the woman I want to be.

Perhaps best of all are the great qualities I feel expanding — courage, patience, deservingness, trust, allowance and good humor seem to be blossoming within me. My “vibe” is more consistently positive than ever before.

These are good days. I am enjoying among the best times ever with my children (our recent vacation was amazing — they’ve just reached an entirely new level of fun, interest and expression), and I’m putting into practice so many of the relationship tools I’ve learned in the past several months — even some of those tips that involve relating with men. While I’m not about to report anything, I couldn’t be more thrilled with the way things are going!

women, men and infidelity

This one ought to raise a few people’s ire…

So, it’s like 2007-ish, right? And the rumors begin to circulate that Brad Pitt has left his wife, Jennifer Anniston, for his Mr. & Mrs. Smith co-star Angelina Jolie. Suddenly, the tabloids and press and groups of women are on fire everywhere with vitriol for this hussy who stole away the innocent Jen’s husband.

Well…what always surprised me about this phenomenon is how rarely Brad’s part in all this is mentioned (and, yes, I’ve now gone generic:  Brad and Jen are any committed couple, and Angelina is any “other” woman). There were two people in a committed relationship, two people responsible for their fidelity — and, yet, Brad got none of the blame, while Angelina — who had very little responsibility for another couple’s relationship, I might argue — took the brunt of the mass outrage:

  • She lured him.
  • Look at her! Who could blame him!
  • She’s a home wrecker.
Frankly, I think that’s all a bunch of bunk. Since when should men get a free pass for this behavior? He couldn’t help himself…Really?! Is that all the self-righteous masses could say?!

And what of Jen and Brad in their relationship? They were responsible for nurturing, loving, communicating and compromising with one another. Somehow, it broke apart from within first. A strong and solid committed man would be impervious to external influences, right?

Well, even I admit that Italy and Angelina could be tempting…

I’ve personally experienced or witnessed many shades of this hue — from my own parents’ divorce (which ended in infidelity) to the temptations I encountered while feeling vulnerable while in my own marriage to feeling completely helpless when I couldn’t seem to recapture any of my husband’s wayward energy. I never cheated, and I don’t know that my ex did, either…but we weren’t equally committed at all times (or ever). And yet I was always conscious of our responsibility for our relationship.

If my ex had been unfaithful (and I suppose it’s possible that he was), I can assure you I would have held him squarely responsible. This does not mean that I would have had any positive or warm feelings toward the other woman; only that I wouldn’t automatically assume malicious intent on her part. What if she had done nothing to lure him? What if he had made the first move?

When I was younger, my attitude was far more cavalier. I had a few encounters with married men myself. I don’t condone this behavior; I now view it as wrong. At the time, my behaviors were foolish and naive, with no intent to hurt others. I never made any first moves. I assumed these men just didn’t value their marriages. And if they didn’t, why should I bother? (And, of course, I see how such dalliances hurt me most of all in the end.)

Having lived through more than a decade of commitment, I certainly see how misguided my perspective once was. I believe those around us — our friends, our families and society in general — ought to be generally inclined to support us in our commitments, whatever they may be. Still, I lean toward placing the greatest onus for any marriage or commitment on the two people in it. And, while I hope others around us will adopt behaviors that support those commitments, I’m not sure the support of those outside of our commitments is the relationship glue we should rely on.

gotta love that, dawg!

I’m a compete sucker for John Cusack. In anything. I don’t really care how bad it is, I will get sucked in anyway. He is virtually perfect (but whoever does his wardrobing could use a slap upside the head). So, when I came across what turned out to be Must Love Dogs, I couldn’t resist. My favorite part is his character’s second date over dinner at an Armenian (I think) restaurant. There, he fumbles out a speech that goes something like this:

“You know what? Can we just skip the small talk? Who are you? Who am I? What are we doing here tonight?

I just have this theory that when you first meet somebody, that’s the time when you have to be totally honest, because you have nothing to lose. Five, ten years down the road, it gets a lot harder; you can’t just wake up and say, ‘this is the real me.’ It doesn’t work that way.

You know what I’m talking about? This is it. We’re never going to see each other as clearly, as nakedly, as we do in this moment, right now, in this instant. I’m really scaring you right now, aren’t I?…

I’m just divorced and I had my heart broken badly by a woman who I really loved… but I think your heart grows back bigger. Once you get the shit beat out of you and the universe lets your heart grow back bigger … and I think that’s the function of all this heartache and pain, you know? You’ve got to go through that to come out at a better place. That’s how I see it anyway.”

I loved this soliloquy. So that’s what I meant when I said my heart is more open. It got the shit beat out of it, but it knows that it can now love more openly, more deeply, and better than before. And the best part is that it’s going to allow itself to be loved back a whole lot better, too!

to hell in a handbasket

Mostly I’ve been feeling great lately — confident and optimistic — so it’s been frustrating for the past couple of days to full stuck in the mud, overwhelmed…as though this place is going to hell in a handbasket.

Yesterday, I came home to towels and sand everywhere and a messy kitchen (thank you, nanny!). Naturally, as I tried to clean up, the disposal crapped out. Suddenly, I felt completely overwhelmed…both tactically and financially! I don’t have the time to accomplish all I need to, nor the resources to hire it done. I’m paying for a car and a new roof for the house and the garage, full-time summer childcare, I’m trying to find a way to take the children on a road trip, and I just don’t need any more stuff to go wrong right now. Between working full-time and parenting full-time and scheduling the oil changes and dentist appointments and haircuts and planning a vacation and the weather, when in the hell am I going to cut the grass, much less fix something I don’t know how to fix?!

I hate feeling this way…and, worse, I hate myself for allowing myself to feel this way!

It is at this point (in my self-pity) that I realize that there is a part of me, deep inside, that resists trying to solve this problem. I simply expect a man to come along and fix it. That’s what my father always did. And that was certainly a part of what I expected of my mate…who is no longer my mate, of my own volition. I am a run-of-the-mill, Disney-variety damsel in distress, a caricature! (Enter more self-loathing…) It was not always entirely this way…I was all about diving in to ownership (in every sense of the word) when I bought my first condo…

I am nothing if not resourceful, I tell myself, so I reach out…My social networks tell me to try hitting the reset button on the bottom of my disposal and, if that doesn’t work, get an allen wrench and try to give it a crank to see if it gets unstuck. Reset fails. There are several sets of allen wrenches in the basement, I’m certain, yet I can’t find a single one, much less an entire one of those handy-dandy sets I know I’ve seen down there before. And I do mean plural…my father has seen to that.

And now, though I asked him to leave, this is when the anger and resentment at my ex percolates back up:  I am alone without my male rescuer. The basement is a complete mess, and he just left it that way. I can’t find anything! I don’t know what he’s left here or what he’s taken with him. I blame him for allowing the children to take over the “workshop.” I blame him for the disposal not working. I blame him for my being in this completely overwhelming project of a fixer-upper house…this was the house he wanted above all others, while I wanted to keep looking. There, I said it. Clearly, despite efforts to that end, I have not yet purged all of the baggage of “us,” and I have not entirely accepted full responsibility for my life. I am a victim. (Ewww…that feels so gross!)

Yes, the self-pity came on strong. I wanted to throw my hands in the air and say, “I can’t do this!” And then, maybe, through releasing the fear, doubt and hopelessness out into the atmosphere, it would dissipate and the fearless woman in me would prevail…

As I happens, I made a healthy dinner, got a start on the lawn, a helpful neighbor fixed my disposal and I gave the roofer a final check for his work, which will be complete tomorrow. And, while I can’t be entirely sure that check won’t bounce, my outlook is so much sunnier now!

confessions of a relationship dummy

As you can tell from several of my posts, I am still far from having male-female relationships figured out. In fact, I seem to still make a lot of dumb mistakes. I’ve confessed before that I’m a late bloomer, that my brain-to-mouth filter is under-functioning at best, and that I’ve never really had any good relationship examples. But then, who among us have? Healthy, loving relationships among our parents’ generation seem pretty rare…in fact, I can think of just a few couples in my parents’ group who have found genuine long-term happiness together.

Thankfully, in talking with friends, I’m not alone in not having all the answers. I have friends nearly two decades into marriage who haven’t figured it out. In fact, I was surprised to learn that one married couple I know are both reading relationship self-help books. (His is entitled How to Save Your Marriage in 5 Minutes a Day or similar…So of course I asked the obvious:  Does that five minutes include the sex? He said that yes, it was supposed to, but he didn’t elaborate. Not sure I’ll be buying that book any time soon.)

Who are these people who find life-long happiness? Who are these lovely older couples who still walk side-by-side on the beach and hold hands and talk after decades of marriage? And how do I get to be among their ranks?

Well…I’m going to have to figure that one out as I go along.