since I learned…

Ten days ago, a door to the past was closed (see previous post) in a way that my imagination hadn’t let it before. My emotions, like a pendulum, swung between devastation and expansiveness.

I spent the afternoon listening to Taylor Swift’s “All Too Well” on repeat, the deep, heaving, guttural sobs of the early day giving way to high-pitched wailing in late afternoon.

“And I know it’s long gone and there was nothing else I could do, and I forget about you long enough to forget why I needed to…

And maybe we got lost in translation, maybe I asked for too much, but maybe this thing was a masterpiece ’til you tore it all up…

It was rare, I was there, I remember it all too well.”

Taylor Swift

My son embraced me and spent the evening at my side. My daughter empathized over a video call. All over a weeks-long relationship six years ago with a man who was short, fat and bald.

I had made him into a myth in my mind. I had made him and our relationship unassailable and perfect (which it was not), all because I felt more hope, joy, love and warmth in our time together than I’d ever felt before. I had wrapped all kinds of hopes and dreams up in my wish that he’d come back. I had also bundled all the grief and hurt and pain of my ex’s death, along with a lifetime of unresolved hurts, into a package and slapped a label with Perry’s name on it. My therapist friend helped me understand terms like “complex grief” and “ambiguous loss.” I spent thousands on therapy, coaching and personal development. Yet here I was, finding I hadn’t fully healed from it all six years later. As I became aware of my thoughts, I realized I had made him into an imaginary friend, who I talked to in the mundane spaces in my day.

And yet, I had managed to go the better part of four years while in another relationship without thinking about him all that much…

[Now I realize I was on the receiving end of this same dynamic in my more recent relationship: he wanted my love to fill a gaping hole of hurt stemming from a tumultuous childhood, horrific experiences in the military and other hurts. It was as though I could see this huge void / need and, having known him such a short time, all the love I could give was little more than a bandaid on an amputation.]

Things I’d learned along the way came back to me:

  • You should be able to experience several soul-affirming relationships before deciding who to commit to. — from a relationship coach
  • Men coming right out of a divorce are not themselves and are prone to over-giving, over-promising and love bombing, none of which will last. — another relationship coach
  • Use the feeling as a compass. You will know your next relationship is right when it feels the way you want it to. — yet another relationship coach

Trouble is, no other relationship yet has.

When I look back, I remember steeling myself and thinking, “I have loved so deeply — and even though I’m hurting, this is a sign I’m close. No doubt I will find my mate in a few months.” Ha!

I spent the weekend journaling, clearing my energy using the intuitive process I’ve learned in the last year, and was ultimately called to a practice of forgiveness: I’ve made a list of family members, exes, friends and even former bosses I need to forgive, and used my intuitive tools to learn how many times I must forgive them. It’s become a 90-day practice, and I’m just 10 days in. I’ve already learned so much. Short version: all this stuff I need to heal is mostly not about Perry. And it’s mostly about forgiving myself and re-parenting my inner child for not having the tools or resources or power to create and hold boundaries, ask for what I need and share my truth — and for allowing my thought patterns to make us into more than it was.

This past weekend, I found myself still listening to Taylor’s “All Too Well” on repeat. But I’ve been dancing in my kitchen, singing at the top of my lungs, creating space for hope to creep back in.

another brilliant dream

OMG, this morning I woke from another incredibly vivid and brilliant dream, this one vastly different in nature from the last. It was about revenge:

I heard strange noises early in the morning and heard a key in the lock — someone was entering my house. I was petrified; I couldn’t move. I gathered the strength to get out of bed and then went to the window and looked out. Trucks were dropping large lumpy bundles, like big canvas bales onto the yard.

I watched as my ex carried my sleeping daughter in his arms to a waiting minivan. It was her birthday, and I think I saw her cousin with them in the van. As I watched from the window with curiosity, wondering what was going on, the truck drivers began unrolling the enormous bales, revealing generators and inflating a veritable carnival of jumping, climbing and sliding attractions in the front yard. (This of course, could not be really my front yard — it doesn’t have the room. Rather, my “dream” home was the house in which I grew up as child.)

I ventured downstairs, still in pajamas, bed head and bad breath, and saw several large envelopes with notes in my ex’s handwriting displayed on the dining table. Each contained a rental agreement for the inflatable circus of which I’d just been thrust into the center, all charged to my credit card. Worse, there were already dozens of strangers wandering throughout my house and yard.

THIS is a positively brilliant example of what hell might well be like (if it exists at all) and, in my dream, my ex was genius enough to create it. I actually remember feeling a certain amount of awe before the overwhelming irritation at some complete stranger with small children looking around my house for a bathroom took over. Something like that should never happen before 8am!

At any rate, I then woke up, awed at my second incredibly vivid dream in only a couple of days. In my dream, I had given my ex the ability and initiative to make something spectacular happen — perhaps even turned him into the kind of man I could respect, the kind of man who might have proven equal to me in marriage. Even while dreaming, I had been impressed with what he’d done, presumably to simultaneously surprise my daughter and peeve me.

Even now, more than 12 hours after waking, I still feel lingering amusement, a bit of (perhaps unearned) respect for my ex and, yes, maybe even a deeper level of forgiveness.

acts of forgiveness

One of the lessons I’ve learned along the way is that forgiveness, like love, is expressed through action.

Witnessing acts of forgiveness is incredibly powerful and life-affirming. We know we have forgiven ourselves when we break a self-destructive habit, such as addiction, or form new, life-affirming ones. We know we’ve forgiven others when we stop doing things to make them angry.

A divorced male friend recently shared this story with me:  He and his ex see a child development specialist every couple of weeks to understand and try to mitigate the effects of their break-up on their five-year-old child (which I think is a very mature approach on their part). My friend’s ex had introduced her boyfriend to their daughter, a man with whom she had recently broken up. She was asking the specialist how to handle it when their daughter asked for her boyfriend by name.

My friend, meanwhile, was fuming. He sat in his chair, gripping its arms with his hands until his knuckles were white. He had been upset with her decision to introduce this man to their child, questioned her normally sound judgment and, though he desperately wanted to seethe, “I told you so!,” he held his tongue and calmly asked the child development specialist, “Is it possible that our daughter associates this man with Mommy’s happiness? and that, rather than the ex boyfriend, our daughter simply misses seeing Mommy happy?”

The child development specialist agreed that this was likely, and suggested the ex-wife ignore any of their daughter’s references to the ex boyfriend. My friend, meanwhile, was quite proud of his restraint. It even earned him a positive email from his ex-wife. But I wonder if he even recognized his action for what it was:  an act of forgiveness.

I recently experienced such an incredibly generous act of forgiveness that I want to share it here. I requested a networking coffee with a man whose company for which I had done some work (more than a decade ago). This man has seen my highs and lows, including me in the midst of my most morally bereft phase (I think a lot us were there in the late 90s).

Simply meeting me was a generous gift of his time. Then he told me that he had always seen my talent, appreciated my personality and was thrilled to see the light inside me shining brightly again. I actually teared up. Even knowing the lowest points in my personal history, he sat across from me, looked into my eyes and uttered these warm and positive words. After an hour, we embraced and parted.

Every moment and every word was, to me, an act of forgiveness. And it was painfully humbling. I confess, I questioned my worthiness. How could I possibly deserve such grace? Yet every religion on Earth makes allowances that we might all be forgiven, healed and made whole.

Now if only I could learn to forgive myself and others with such grace and generosity!