I spent the last couple of days in the same small town that I spent my final couple of days of married/family life exactly one year ago. It’s the same small town that I’ve been visiting with my family over the 4th of July since long before I was married — a charming little beach town that, for more than twenty years, I’ve associated with ice cream and sunsets and boat rides and just a perfectly peaceful pace of life. Given how much I love the town, it feels particularly unfair that it will always be the place that everything ended, and the place that I associate with so much acute agony. So, like with so many other places and activities in my life, I’m working slowly and imperfectly to try and figure out how to reclaim the space as the joy-filled destination it had always been. And, I must say, I have to put the emphasis on slowly and imperfectly.
Because the reality is, one year later, I feel more isolated and more empty and less purpose-filled than I can ever remember feeling. I know that there’s been progress, because at this time last year I was in the middle of a total emotional collapse, making three visits to the psychiatric ER over the course of a week. To the extent that there were signs of marital collapse before my first visit, the flashing neon lights were everywhere by the time the week was over. [I’ve tried a few different ways to describe the sequence of events that took place while I was in and out of the hospital and on suicide watch, but I can’t quite bring myself to sequence it all together. I know that my ex had left on a business trip, he refused to come home, and he consistently “forgot” to take his phone out of do not disturb mode which made him completely inaccessible to me or to our kids for the duration of his time away.] Ultimately, I was doctor-ordered into my parents’ care, I was granted two weeks of paid medical leave from my boss, and I had a stay-at-home-mom-of-multiple-kids-friend drop EVERYTHING on a day’s notice to fly across the country to spend a week with me and the kids. Over the next eight weeks or so, my co-workers picked up almost all of my remaining work without even a second thought; I had friends from church and grad school and I don’t even know where else come by and help me pack up one house, move, and unpack into another; I had another dear mom-friend drop all of her things to be with me for a week; I wrapped up one job; and I started another.
Since starting the new job — its massive downside being 2+ hours of commuting ever day — things have more-or-less stabilized into a new “normal” … but this new normal is just such a far cry from what I envisioned my life would be. It’s endless schedule coordinating, and doctor’s appointments, and meetings with teachers and coaches and camp directors about behavior challenges and other issues, and trying to focus on work and clients, and enforcing screen time limits, and being the projected target of All. The. Kiddos’. Feelings. And sleeping. Not always restful sleeping (the stress-dreams have been particularly rampant lately) — but collapsing in bed early and not being able to drag myself out of bed in the morning and sometimes pulling into rest areas or park-n-ride lots for naps during my commute. And drinking lots of coffee and Diet Coke. And definitely not exercising very much.
It’s also putting on a brave face, day after day, for my precious kiddos. It’s fighting a daily, sometimes hourly, internal struggle to paint my ex as positively as possible (or at least as neutrally / non-negatively as possible) while simultaneously reckoning with flashbacks and the ongoing reality that he is doing exactly what he wants to be doing every moment of his life while I’m … often not doing exactly what I might otherwise choose to be doing. [FN1 — Just for the record, in the previous 12 months, my ex has been in West Virginia, Cincinnati, Vermont, Peoria, Grand Rapids, Madrid, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Boston, New Haven, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Boston, Bordeaux, Hartford, New Orleans, St. Louis, Los Angeles, Honolulu, Washington DC, San Diego, Connecticut, Vermont, NYC, Vermont, Columbus, Boston, Washington DC, New Hampshire, Vermont, Boston, Mexico City, Boston, Vermont, Merida (Spain), Chicago, Minneapolis, NYC, and West Virginia.] And in the midst of all of it, it’s listening to his parents explain to me that all of the time away from the children is a “terrible catch 22” for him, because “until he can find stable work” (in the town where we live) … he is “just going to have to keep accepting all of these gigs and all of this travel.” #crazymaking
So one year later, I think perhaps what is so hard is that this is the new normal. Looking back to one year ago, yes, the emotions were much much more intense — but there was also a genuine sense of relief, and maybe even hope, that was mixed in with similar intensity. Now, a year later, after a grueling mediated divorce (during which I learned the various ways in which the family law system is no more “justice-oriented” than any of our nation’s other assorted systems) and after settling into the realities of the magnitude of the losses (emotional, practical, financial), the initial relief and the early glimmers of hope . . . are gone. This is not surprising to me — I did not want this [divorce, absent father, single parenthood] to be the end result, and I did not expect that any of this process was going to be simple or straightforward. But what I really don’t think I was prepared for was just how much the disparity between my ex’s existence and mine was going to gnaw away at me.
And I don’t think it gnaws away at me because I’m jealous, or because I wish I had his life. Quite honestly, I don’t even really know that much about what his life entails these days, except for the geographic markers that he puts into the shared Google calendar (the one from which I pulled his list of travels over the past 12 months) so that the kids and I have at least some sense of when he’s going to be making an appearance here in our hometown. Things have gotten much better for me since I unfollowed him on all of the various social media platforms — but just what I know about the life that he’s carved out for himself leaves me in a basically endless state of rage. [FN2: I would have done it sooner, but because so much of his egregious behavior was captured in his own social media posts, my attorney recommended that I keep screenshots just in case mediation broke down and the court would need to get involved in the dispute resolution process. I seriously cannot overstate how helpful it has been to detach myself from following along with the public reinvention of his life and image.]
There are a lot of things about my ex’s new (“true”) self that I don’t care much about one way or the other — including the fact that he now proudly identifies as a bisexual. [FN3: He identified as bisexual at some point during our separation process — but at the same time he made that declaration, he also declared that he anticipated that his sexuality would be “fluid” going forward…and because I don’t keep track of what he’s up to, I don’t actually have any idea how he identifies at this point in time.] What I do care a whole lot about is that my ex has taken up the (worthy!!) cause of amplifying “marginalized” (non-male, non-white, non-hetero, non-cisgendered, etc) voices — but he does so while conveniently forgetting / ignoring / disregarding the fact that he is able to have the “freedom” to take up that cause only because he is the beneficiary of tremendous privilege in the family law system. He has the opportunity to do what he is doing because, and only because, there is nothing and no one to stop him — or really even to stand in his way. He asked the court to take away all of his responsibilities, and to do so in an expedited fashion — and the court obliged.
Perhaps it shouldn’t matter to me. I can imagine an earlier (tougher, more resilient) version of myself feeling, I dunno, extraordinarily capable and proud of the fact that I am making it work on my own. [FN4: I did do some self-cheerleading in an online support group, calling myself a f***ing badass hero, for enduring / surviving this life that I’m living. But that’s only because I needed to tell myself that out loud just to make it through another day. Not because I actually *feel* life a badass.] I’m becoming quite certain that, in order to actually start “moving forward” in anything resembling a healthy way, I have to get to a point where it doesn’t matter to me anymore. I somehow need to “get over” (or, in therapy terms “radically accept”) the reality of my ex’s nonsense and the extent to which it just isn’t my problem anymore.
But I’m not there yet. It all very much still feels like my problem. I’m still very much in the grief-space of non-acceptance, I guess. It’s just weird to try to figure out how to get to a place of healing (“acceptance”) when so much about my life and story feels like it was first silenced, and now erased. And to be feeling all of those feelings while my ex is, at least on social media, *shouting* a narrative that exacerbates the erasure. I’m hoping, maybe, someday, to be less silent about the whole mess. To someday have the courage to speak truthfully and courageously about what my experience in an emotionally abusive marriage looked like. [FN5: Although neither this story nor this story is my story, both of them have enough parallels that it is hard for me to read either from beginning to end.] As painful as it is for me to know that there are others who have gone through something like what my kids and I have gone through…I know how much it has meant to me to be able to find those sorts of validating stories. I write a lot of this for myself, but I’m also trying to write myself to a place where my story can provide validation for someone else. I’m not there yet.
So I’m one year in, and I’m just slowly and imperfectly finding my way.