Hope Drew a Path and I Followed

The birds sang so loudly today they drowned out the music in my earbuds. A light dusting of snow covered the trail like icing sugar, yet my neon-salmon trainers beat the path with more certainty than I felt. Sometimes my feet know better. My heart can sit back and let them take the lead. It was a sub-zero morning, but the sun was shining. The air was crisp with the fresh smell of the earth yielding to the warming of spring. I chose hopeful music. Music that spoke of love and slow openings. His music, but today I chose it only for me. To fill me with a sense of potential unattached to anyone but myself.

In one year I have patched together my soul, and it feels wider and more wondrous than ever before. 

When you hit a milestone like this, it’s hard to imagine how you’ll feel. I was bracing myself for the darkness, and of course it’s there. I remember exactly how I felt that night. How I could see the cyclone on the horizon. How I knew it would tear my home to shreds, because the people who lived there conjured that storm. We called it down from the heavens with years of unspoken truths and unrealized needs. I remember begging that night, shamelessly pleading. I remember knowing exactly what I’d see before I saw it. I was so certain of how things would go, that the entire experience was a deja vu.

I remember how it felt to be ‘managed’ through my grief and shock. I remember having to maintain the lie for seven whole days of vacation, in the midst of my mother’s broken foot and a stomach flu that hit nearly everyone. I remember feeling like I was stuck in the worst kind of nightmare. How I felt like I did something to deserve this. How I felt like I should have known better. How it felt to read a barrage of text messages never meant for my eyes.

I’d never felt so unloved, unwanted, undesirable, undeserving, worthless.

One year later, I know each of us have felt that low at some point in the life we tried to make.

My great mistake in my last relationship was not honoring my boundaries. Staying when I should have left. Burying my truth instead of owning it and moving gracefully towards what was next. Instead, I hid it, thinking I could rise above. It festered, and sometimes when there were late nights with too much to drink it spewed forth like poisonous lava. Sometimes when the house was too messy or the kids too contrary it felt like my home and children were a minefield. Because I denied my truth, because I didn’t protect myself, I was in fight or flight for years. I was angry, and anxious.

But if I’d left I wouldn’t have had my son. Or my daughters.

Today I feel the love of an army of friends. Today I feel blessed to have a little brother who held my hand through some of the darkest pain I’ve known. Today I’m grateful for my parents who have sheltered me, fed me, and held me when that part of their parental duty should have long been over. Today I continue to pray that my daughters won’t be lost to me in the fallout of this breakup. Today I feel full of grace, patience, empathy and wisdom. I know my heart is big and worthy of real and lasting love. Sometimes I even feel beautiful again.

I can sleep through the night without waking in shock and grief, wondering if I will soon wake up from the nightmare. I can listen to many of the songs without shedding a tear. I don’t feel like my son is the only reason I must go on living. I can settle comfortably and well into my own company. I can sit down to family dinners and sometimes even spend the night in my old home. I can imagine real conversations that lead to healing. I can see her on the school yard and not feel like I’ve been drop kicked in the stomach.

I didn’t choose the path I’m on now, at least not consciously, but I’m so deeply grateful that I’m here. To feel this resilience, to recognize my own power, to own my value, to master my destiny and know deeply and profoundly that I can take care of myself, and my son – what a reward. I won’t say it was worth the pain I have felt, and sometimes continue to feel, but this new path is the gift of a lifetime. All I can do is follow it with fleet-footed, open-hearted hope. 

I love, I will love, I am love.

I am loved. 

Glad Tidings

I’m toasting these shadows, those ghosts of Christmas past, with almond eggnog and spiced rum, and I’m doing the best that I can. This holiday is bittersweet, but I’m pleased to tell you there is greater emphasis on the sweet.

Two of my kiddos trimming my tree.

2018 was a year of surprises, the greatest of which is how I have surprised myself. With my strength. With the depth of my love. With my fierce dedication to reaching for the beauty that exists in every frame.

I want to turn all of this pain and transformation into something beautiful.

I’ve had a week of self-imposed solitude and it’s been exquisite. I love my friends who have been filling my days with warmth and goodness. I love those undefined people in my life who send me hope and light in a variety of ways. However, I’ve come to realize that I need to fall deeply into a time of reflection and creativity. Repair and rebuilding. I need to take everything I’ve learned and shape it into a way forward for anyone who arrives at this place of grief and change.

My ex and I have been able to sit down and begin some difficult conversations. I’ll talk more about that later on, but the outcome has been the decision to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day together with the kids.

‘You’ll make new traditions’. This is a mantra that I hear over and over again. Here are some of the traditions I’ve tasted, or will taste this holiday season. I’d like to embrace these and add to them for years to come:

Decorating my home and my altar with boughs of fresh evergreen.

Putting up a real tree.

Crafting decorations for my tree with my children, so there are pieces of them to keep me warm when they are at their other home.

Giving my time to charitable organizations. 

Baking gingerbread cookies and eating too many of them with good coffee.
Thoughtful gift-giving. Next year I’m making gifts.

Honoring the Solstice with ritual and celebration, and teaching my children about the meaning of this special time.

Finding the perfect nativity set and stable.

Giving books on Christmas Eve.

Spending Christmas Day in my pajamas.

Feasting with family.

Watching my favorite holiday movies.

Holiday parties with wonderful friends.

Kissing someone on New Year’s Eve.

Spending a whole day/week dreaming and goal-setting during the first week of January. Someday I’m going to do this from a winterized cabin or a resort. All.By.Myself.

Here’s how I want to feel this holiday:

Full of light. Deeply illuminated with the knowledge that I am good, and that I have a lot to offer the people in my life.

Rich with love. Aware of my ability to love deeply and profoundly. Comforted by the knowledge that I am loved deeply and profoundly.

Strong. Able to sit with difficult emotion and listen to the teachings therein. Aware of my power to transcend that which doesn’t serve me, and to reach for that which makes me whole. Proud of how I have survived. Clear on what I need to thrive.

Joyful. I believe in the magic of the season. I want to see that reflected in my son, and my own child-like heart. I want space to play and dream and laugh.

Cherished. I want to be with the people I belong to. Who love me despite my faults. Who see the value in me and feel proud of me. 

Beautiful. I’ve struggled here, especially through this time of change. I want to attach more beauty to my inner light. I want to be loving and kind to my body. I want to believe that the change and the sorrow that now seems etched on my face makes me seem wise and sacred rather than tired. I want to feel like none of this matters. 

Grateful. For my healthy children. For the many people who have lifted me up in the darkest moments I’ve known. For my own health. For having my parents and my brother so close. For the universe continuing to provide me with what I truly need. For everything I see now that I couldn’t see before.

For all of you who are reading; I wish you profound peace during this sacred time of light and love. May your hearts be full of the knowledge that you are important, and valued, and needed. May you take comfort in food prepared by people who matter to you. May music and laughter surround you. May the people who you consider family be blessed with good health and prosperity. May you truly feel that your presence has made a difference.

It’s made a difference to me; to know that you are listening, and feeling many of these things that I have felt, had made me realize that no matter how my love may shift, I will never truly be alone.

Blessed Solstice
Merry Christmas
Peace and Light 

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.

Monday Rainfall

I’m stealing a few quiet moments this morning. There’s a steady drip of rain on the windowsill and the sunrise turns the sky to a milky gray, clouds heavy over the tops of the trees in the ravine. The leaves are slowly starting shift from verdant green to hues of mustard. My heart feels simultaneously heavy and full.

I will never recover from his betrayal.

I will never understand her silence.

I will wake each morning and hold this heart of mine, so full of abundance and hope. I will hold it, because I am the one who holds it most carefully. I’ll meet new love in all of its forms with gratitude. I will quell the terror I feel as I move closer and closer to someone new. This fear will be tempered with careful, measured steps instead of the headlong plunge into love that I have grown used to.

The summer was the easy part, as I lived in the limbo of the comfort of my childhood home. Now, as I start my life here in this tiny and cozy apartment, the familiar routines of school activities, rehearsals, birthdays and Hallmark holidays are a fresh new wound. Each moment is so completely different than it was last year. Each moment has me standing on the outside, watching my family carry on without me. Each moment will never be the same as it was.

There are parts of this story that you haven’t read. There are truths that I haven’t found the courage to tell. They are raw, and blistered, and they may never completely heal. There are apologies and confessions that I will never hear. There’s a scab on these wounds that I’ve built out of believing the good parts of the man I loved made me my beautiful son.

My own child-voice moves her mouth to my ear and tells me what she wants me to do:

“You should allow yourself to fall in love. You should enjoy the way your body feels with someone who is safe, and sincere. You should walk this path and see where it leads, because there is wonder here.”

She says:

“You should do all of this, but you should also make space to love yourself. In quiet moments listening to the rain and the clicking of your fingers across the keyboard. With nights sprawled across the whole bed by yourself. Create that silent space where loneliness feels like a kind of companionship and you hear with utter certainty everything your heart desires.”

And then she says this:

“You must try to love those who have hurt you. It will make soft again those pieces of your heart that have built a barrier against the love you deserve.”

I love you. I’m learning to love you. I will love again, and again, and again.