The In Between Moments

It’s not that I’m afraid of being alone.

I don’t despair about the notion of getting old without a husband. I don’t worry that I’ll choke to death and nobody will come to my rescue. I don’t fret about my beauty shriveling up or my vitality fizzling out if I cloister myself for a while.

It’s just that when it’s me and these four walls, the pain floods in. The wasted, reckless ruin of my love sits like a specter in the corner. Time can tick, death can loom, it’s the grief I can’t make peace with. I don’t want to. But I can’t feel like this a moment longer, and this feeling lurks just beneath the various masks I wear to get through each day.

How could I love like that, feel that way about someone, and end up where I am?

Why would I ever try to love again?

And so I won’t. I can’t right now. I could stand in a field of poppies and still not believe in the colour red.

I performed a wedding this evening. An intimate gathering of nearest and dearest in the home of the bride and groom. Their love was palpable. Every few weddings, I get to see that. Real love. People who might actually make it through the insane shit storm that is life. People who understand how rare and precious that kind of connection is. People who can transcend their own mess to meet where they each feel deserving of that kind of love, and unafraid of their ability to give it.

I yearn for that, and yet it’s so clear to me now that I have a long way to go before I’ve transcended this mess. I’m not being dramatic when I say that I may never completely transcend this. There are those lessons in life that we carry around forever.

I can’t give my heart away in pieces.

I don’t know how to put it back together.

So here I will hibernate, applying gentle pressure until the bleeding stops. Until the seal is affixed. Until the bond is secure.

I spoke to a friend last night, on the phone, old-fashioned like. My brother and I refer to this friend as ‘The Wizard’ for his uncanny ability to peer inside me, and for the way he seems to feel a disturbance in the force every time I think about him, or need an ear.

I’d drafted everything you’ve read above just before calling him, and here is what he said to me, without reading any of this, of course:

“You gathered up the pieces of your heart and put them in a bag, which you moved to that pretty little apartment you so love. The bag has been on the floor, and now you are unpacking those heart pieces, re-assembling them slowly, discovering where the pieces fit. You can’t rush that.”

I’ve stopped being gobsmacked by his ability to pick up on my consciousness. Instead, this idea gave me the image of a beautiful jigsaw puzzle, half-completed, on a table in my apartment. I need to spend some quiet moments, working on the puzzle. Sipping wine or tea, watching the snowfall from my panoramic view, that YouTube channel with the holiday music and roaring fireplace lighting up my television screen.

That’s all I really need right now. The in between moments. The space to make friends with this pain, who no doubt knows exactly how this puzzle fits back together again. As always, I’ll tackle the outside edges first and work my way into the middle once the framework is in place.

The Things I’m Forgetting

If you think that I’ve been quiet because I’ve fallen into a peacefully settled sort of happiness, you would be wrong.

There is happiness, to be sure, and love and light, but peace and any sense of settling continue to elude me.

In the 4 am hours when I spontaneously wake up each night, I wonder at this. I turn my life around and upside down over and over again. It’s been seven months. I should be in a much better place, shouldn’t I?

Here’s a snippet of the inside of my head these days:

I contemplate the constant hustle to pay the bills, never making enough to pay down debt and save a penny.

Living close to my kids’ other home and their schools seemed so essential post break up. There were no suitable roommates here, who could offer an appropriate home environment for my son. Maybe I didn’t look hard enough. Maybe I wasn’t thinking straight. How could I be?

I love my apartment. I love my community here. I love being minutes away from my children. But there’s so much more to consider.

When my relationship ended, I had a burgeoning online business that adequately contributed to our household expenses, split between three adults. I made some extra money on the weekends performing wedding ceremonies. It’s not enough to get by on, and I don’t have the time and space I need to grow either business because I’m working side jobs to pay the bills.

Do I look for a full-time job? Will anyone even interview me without a degree? Could I earn more this way? Feel a greater sense of accomplishment?

Do I walk away from this lovely apartment and move back home with my parents? Should I do that and go back to school? Realize my dream job of becoming a relationship and sex therapist? What am I doing with my life?

How can I save money for my son’s future?

What will I live on when I retire?

What if I get sick and can’t work? Or need major dental work? Or my car breaks down?

How did my life change so much, so fast?

How can I live with this pain? Why does it still hurt like this?

How dare I try to love anyone, other than myself and my children, at a time like this?

Why do my kids need me if they already have two parents?

I should be so much further ahead in life. What do I have to show for my time on this earth?

Maybe it’s the moon, or my hormones, or the thick blanket of sorrow I get wrapped in every November, but this noise is deafening even in the light of day.

I’ve started making gratitude lists and watching what I put in my body. I’m doing yoga again and trying to get outside. I’m talking to friends and trying to be social. Some of these things work for a few short minutes, and then it’s back to the cacophony.

This morning I realized that this current brain space exists because there are so many things I have forgotten. So many lessons I need to take another look at. Here are just a few:

1. There is no timeline for grief. Pain and loss and sorrow don’t expire at the six month mark, or the seven month mark, or the five year mark. They exist forever, until the space is shared with other emotions/memories/experiences that dull their sharp edges. Ironically, only the passage of time allows for this space. It cannot be controlled.

2. These changes were not your choice, and so moving into them cannot possibly be easy.

3. When day-to-day life is full of triggers, this will open old wounds until time serves to scab them over. (See lesson 1)

4. When the darkness is overwhelming, the search for light must become an active practice. You won’t find it if you don’t look.

5. No single person can make your individual pain go away. It is yours alone to bear, to examine, to process. If you think for a second that someone else has healed you, you’ve handed them the tools to take you down at the knees, even if that was never their intention. If you can love someone while still doing your own work, do it. If that love is distracting you from your work, it’s doomed. If you think that other person has done the work for you, there’s certain heartbreak in your future.

6. It is completely okay to make mistakes when you’re in the midst of a gigantic life overhaul. Seeing the ‘bigger picture’ is impossible when you’re performing emotional triage. Surviving is the most important thing. You can worry about thriving later.

7. Starting from scratch is a road that is paved with sacrifice and possibility. You will have to look within and decide which sacrifices are worth a peaceful and prosperous bigger picture.

8. The decisions that will affect your future, and the future of your children, are yours alone to make. This is a powerful, and absolutely daunting truth. You do not have to rush these decisions. You deserve to take the time to weigh them carefully and reflect on how each possibility makes you feel.

9. You loved deeply. You were as committed as you knew how to be. You chose to make a child. Seven months is nothing in the face of the time you were prepared to invest in that relationship, so it’s not reasonable that you should feel any differently than you do now.

10. November is brutal. Don’t expect anything to be different about this month, no matter how you decide to feel about it.

11. If you aren’t actively practicing self-care and mindfulness every single day, you will drown.

12. One of the biggest commitments you made to yourself when this relationship ended was financial health. You cannot ignore any opportunities to realize this. Your future, and your son’s future depend on you empowering yourself in this way. This could look like living with your parents for a few years, or this could look like going back to school to invest in a new career, or this could look like trying to find more secure work, or this could look like some combination of these ideas. It absolutely means staying put and being frugal until you know for sure what you’d like to do.

So I’m treading water right now. Sometimes I’m sinking, the cold black water of the unknown like vicious hands around my ankles. Sometimes it feels like floating. Sometimes I’d give anything to see the shore, but I suppose I should be glad to be adrift in the ocean of possibility.

There is No Falling

This post has been rolling around inside me as a collection of feelings and phrases that intersect and diverge and fill me with both longing and abundance.

I am in love.

This isn’t news. I’ve been in love with the father of my children, I’ve been in love with my heart-broken self. I’ve been in love with my tribe of incredible friends and family. But now, I’m in love with a beautiful soul who I feel compelled to tell you about.

Our paths had crossed multiple times over the past three years, but we were very much on the periphery of each other’s lives. Then, I found myself meeting him on a wooded path on a balmy June evening because he wanted to show me fireflies. I’m not in the habit of meeting strange men in the woods, but we have mutual friends who vouched for him. I’m so grateful that I showed up.

The woods came alive with a million points of light and he kissed me on the middle of the path. It was a slow burn. He’s very different than what I’m used to. His confidence is quiet. His energy is youthful and sincere. The passion and enthusiasm he brings to the world is genuine, and there are so many things that he is passionate about.

He held my hand, though he barely knew me, when my high-risk annual screening resulted in a biopsy this summer. Then he took me to a quarry and we splashed and floated and I decided that I needed to feel every moment in every cell in my body because maybe I was sick, and that would be the next thing to face on this journey. The feeling that every moment is a gift has continued long after my clean bill of health.

He felt like a safe space from the moment I met him. I’ve learned things about sex and safety that I couldn’t articulate before now. Without that safety, I could never have the soul connection that I’ve craved. There would always be limits to how much I could explore. To how much I could feel.

I’ve peeled away layers of myself before him, with only the smallest worry that perhaps I’ll be too much. He’s watched me heal, and break, and scab and heal again. There’s no pressure to hurry up and feel okay. There’s a quiet hand and a steady gaze. There’s the constant reassurance that if I need more time, he’ll be waiting.

He’s seen my most raw places and has met them with love and empathy. He doesn’t make me want to be a better person, he helps me see that the person I am is of tremendous value and worth. That I deserve love and that I am full of beauty and goodness. He makes me want to continue to thrive.

I’ve said that I won’t love again unless the object of my love can hold space for my children. This man is playful and patient with my kids. He wants to know them, and share the things he loves with them. My son adores him, and when I ask him why, he says “Because he is very kind, and he is very good to you.”

I’m not a fool. I haven’t ‘fallen’ into this. If you know me, you know how I examine all of these emotions of mine from every angle. How I’m ruthless now when it comes to the truth of a feeling. I’ve been concerned about the timeline. I’d imagined my heart alone for a long while after this breakup. I know it is important to feel strong on my own, and find my footing again.

This has been a steady and careful walk into love. Perhaps I wouldn’t have chosen this moment, but I’d be a fool to walk away from this kind and beautiful human. He loves his independence as much as I do, so there is space that remains, just for me, between time with my children, and time in his arms. My healing work continues, and there are moments where the past spills into the present, and it’s okay because I can name those moments, and own them.

In my quest to define love, I know what it will not be. It will not contain words like ‘always’. It will not be melding with another person until it is ‘us’ more frequently than it is ‘you’ or ‘me’. It will not restrict, confine, or limit. It will be informed and ignited by a daily choice to listen to what is true and real in my heart and in my gut.

We’ve decided that monogamy is on ongoing exploration in our relationship. Instead of pledging to be each other’s one and only, we are pledging transparency and a commitment to understanding our own sexuality as we build space together.

He is not threatened by me. He celebrates the way I approach the world, and love, and relationship. He sees me, and celebrates me. He has no desire to claim me, fix me, or save me.

In those moments when I am afraid, where I throw the future at him like a road block, he doesn’t make wild promises. There’s no ‘forever’. There’s no ‘absolute’. His answer is always ‘we’ll figure it out.’ I’ve realized this is the only answer, whether it is ‘we’ or ‘me’.

So, you can see how easy it’s been to find this love. To feel it wholly, amidst the landscape of a thousand other swirling emotions. To enjoy watching it unfold, without the expectation that it will last a lifetime. It is for right this moment, the sweet here and now, which I have learned is the only time we truly have. The past is gone, the future is impossible to see, and right at this exact minute, I am in love.

On Skeletons and Conjuring

I’m on the precipice of November, a month that I have a long-standing difficult relationship with. But this year, I’m determined not to let November take me down. This precipice happens to exist on my favourite holiday. A most sacred day for those of us with pagan sensibilities. Halloween, or Samhain (pronounced Sah-wen) is our New Year’s Eve. The end of the cycle. The night when the veil between the living world and the world of spirit is most thin.

Tonight, I’m going to listen to the messages of my ancestors. Tonight, I’m going to heed my own spirit and try to hear clearly what it craves. Tonight I will conjure what I need, with the help of a legion of strong women who have come and gone before me.

Last year at this time, I hauled a fairly epic skeleton out of a drawer I’d concocted somewhere in the recesses of my soul. That skeleton would not be satisfied with a simple dust off. It clattered and shrieked and rattled its bones in every corner of myself. It came at me with such a fury, at first I couldn’t even see it. I thought my hair-trigger and my anger were sure signs that I needed help. Signs that I’d finally lost my ability to self-regulate.

Both were true. As I waited endlessly for a therapy appointment, and took up my pen instead, I realized that the skeleton was the source of the rage I was feeling. What’s more, I realized that the skeleton had been whispering to me, from the place where I thought I’d hidden it for years. Hissing dark truths that I didn’t have the courage to face.

Until I did.

I asked my love to help me heal. But in that, I found myself alone.

The truth is immutable. The affects of that truth are immutable. Intention is where we find the grey space. The space that allows us to create drawers for skeletons.

When I first met the skeleton, I didn’t realize it even had a name. I thought I’d invited him in, that I’d made him from the fabric of poor decision making and low self esteem.

The name for the skeleton is also immutable.

This skeleton has altered the course of my life in jarring, earth-shattering ways. The first time was when we met. The second, when I had the courage to open the drawer and set it free. We co-exist now, that bag of bones and I. I’ve taken its power away, and we’ve arrived at a sort of agreement. I will call it by its name, and it will content itself with keeping a cold, hard hand on my shoulder rather than shrieking and rattling my life into a shambles.

The skeleton likes to remind me that I’ll never really be free of it. Something happened this week (perhaps seeing Tarana Burke speak at Brock?) where I made a new kind of peace with that. I may never see meaningful atonement. Can such a thing even reduce a skeleton to powder anyway? I’ll own that skeleton, as he owns me, and the clacking of his bones will be a constant reminder of what I can never lose again:

I can never lose my ability to accept the ugly truth of a moment, a word, a choice.

I can never lose my ability to see a person’s darkness, even if I’m entranced by their light.

I can never lose my right to safety.

I can never lose my right to give my body consciously and with full intention.

I can never lose control of my faculties.

I can never lose the truth that I deserve.

I can never lose the reality that even in the midst of so much pain, there is space for joy (thank you Maya and Tarana).

I can never lose the sense that I deserve to heal.

There is a wildness inside me that I’ve long ignored. I’ve tried to wedge myself into boxes and labels for so many years, that I can almost sympathize with that incensed skeleton. I’m tired of behaving the way I’m expected to. I’m tired of trying to transform my pain by being ‘good’. I’m tired of trying to prove that I can fit.

I’m stepping into November with my own midnight cloak swirling around me. Instead of fighting the darkness, I will sink into it like the arms of the lover I have always dreamed of. It will hold me; sometimes tenderly, sometimes so I can feel that it’s stronger than I. It will whisper the truth in my ear, and accept all that I am. It will show me ghosts and demons and we will hold hands as we walk through our fears. It will cast shadows so the winter light feels warmer.

The darkness is where the best magic happens. I am finally ready to conjure my life.

Celebrating You

Six years of amazing you in my life. Six years of your smiles, your clever jokes, your lightning-fast brain. Six years of knowing you’re the single greatest blessing in my life. That the very best parts of me made you.

Oh, my sweet son, I never wanted to raise you like this. Not in a million years. I’d imagined a childhood with a solid family unit, a steady home, parents who loved each other through thick and thin.

This birthday was a struggle for me. I was happy to see you having fun, and of course you were thrilled with the extra celebrating this year. I know you couldn’t see how sad it made me to witness this transformation in our family. To have to hide my own sorrow and frustration, and to see your other mama’s heartbreak, behind the cheerful faces we had to wear at your birthday party.

Had I known this would be our reality, and had I known other things I can’t name here, I wouldn’t change a thing. Without these choices that I have made, I wouldn’t have you.

You are mine and I am yours. I love you in the only way I truly want to love. With unending patience. With limitless strength. With a faith that is deeper than the pain I feel now. With the kind of dedication it will take to trust in the power of time to see me through this. I love you wholly because I trust in you completely. You are a part of me, my very blood is yours.

Maybe you know how much I love you.

How I’d do anything required to be able to care for you.

How I’ll never love someone again unless I know they can love you almost as much as I do. How I’ll never say those words to anyone but you and your sisters, unless I know they’re going to fight tooth and nail for our family. For me.

We’ll make it, won’t we?

The sweet smell of your sweaty head while you sleep is the only thing that’s keeping me here most days.

Everyone says it will get better. Sometimes I get close to feeling that way, and sometimes it’s a mudslide and I’m suffocating again.

You’re handling everything like a champ most of the time, so I know I’m doing something right.

I’m sorry for all of this. You deserve so much more.

I’ll fill your life with joy, and in doing so, my own heart will fill again.