The Sky

On our drive to dinner on Wednesday night the strangest weather was happening in front of us.  Lightning split the sky and thunder boomed.  The rain poured, the wiper blades were flying.  And I was wearing my sunglasses and squinting through the blinding sun.  And off in the distance was a rainbow.

I lost another man, someone to whom I was very close. A long time ago, as he told me details of his separation and pending divorce, I put my hand on his, looked him in the eye, and said “my friend, she’s going to wake up.  She’s going to realize she’s a fool.  And she’s going to *beg* you to take her back.  When she does, you need to be ready with how you’re going to answer, because I promise you she will.”

He was special.  Men like that don’t just come along.  6 weeks after I gave him my observations, 1 day before his divorce was to be finalized, she came to her senses: crawled into his bed weeping and begging him to take her back.

On one of our first dates, as he stared into the abyss of his divorce and the uncertainty in front of him I smiled and said “You’d be amazed.  Things have a funny way of coming full circle.”  That was the night we figured out I have the same birthday as his (ex?) wife.

And of course, things did come full circle for him.

Completely full circle.  Fucking STAGGERINGLY full circle.

And for me, devastatingly full circle.

So.  That was that.  I let go, backed away, I left.  There could have been a great love there.  I know that beyond a shadow of a doubt.

So I have lost three men in 10 months.

I struggle with loss.  I feel gratitude for having known him. And gratitude for memories of wonderful moments. And I feel sorrow in knowing there won’t be anymore walks amongst the fireflies.  No more laughter by a glowing fire under the stars.

Yet I know in my bones that no matter how I feel about it, it simply is what it is.

So it is, so it was, so it shall be.

And as we drove through the blinding sunshine pouring rain thunderstorm I listened to the cheerful chatter of my babies and felt joy in my heart.

And I felt fear–for my future.  Fear for theirs.

Confusion loss sorrow joy peace gratitude integrity pride excitement anxiety anger humility forgiveness swirling around in the unsettled vortex.

And here it was in front of me: clouds and sun and storm and rainbow.  Darkness, light, fury, power, renewal, peace.  All at once.  All in me.  All around me.

To abide in this place of deep uncertainty with no answers.  To sit in the rain while facing the blinding sun.  This is what we all do, really.

A messy sticky ball of life.

I am reminded of Pema Chodron’s words in her book The Places That Scare You:

Becoming intimate with the feeling of being in the middle of nowhere only makes our hearts more tender.  When we are brave enough to stay in the middle, compassion arises spontaneously.  By not knowing, not hoping to know, and not acting like we know what’s happening, we begin to access our inner strength….

…When we stand at the crossroads not knowing which way to go, we abide in prajna-paramita.  The crossroads is an important place in the training of a warrior.  …The fact is that we spend a lot of time in the middle.  This juicy spot is a fruitful place to be.  Resting here completely–steadfastedly experiencing the clarity of the present moment–is called enlightenment.  (pg 122.)

So I am sitting very much at a crossroads.  Mourning what has passed, squinting at what is to come, afraid but in awe of the uncertainty, sad but hopeful, all of these things.

Rain, sun, thunder, lightning, rainbows.

It’s like that.

The sky and my heart were in a crossroads.

The beauty and power of that sky made my jaw drop.  So maybe that’s true of these crossroads we all endure in life.  Maybe they are as beautiful as a sunny thunderstorm.  I am going to try to sit peacefully in my crossroads.  Not go left, nor right.  Up nor down.  Just sit.  Right here.  And live it.

 

 

 

The Signs

For months people have asked me if there were signs.

That they could live with a liar and not know it terrified them.  That they might have no say in the goings on under the roof of their marriage is most peoples’ deepest, darkest fear.  That we have no true say in our own life because someone takes it away from us without our consent, and without us ever even fully knowing is a very scary thought.

That is exactly what happened to me.

I was caged in a marriage where I knew there were many things wrong.

I habitually confronted those things, in deadly accurate terms.

I knew exactly what was going on.  I named the person, the start date, and the ongoing nature of it.  But I was rendered powerless by a refusal to own the truth.  So I had no choice but to carry on.  No proof.  Just a gut feeling.  All of my dearest friends knew my gut feeling.  All of them agreed there was cause for concern.  All of them agreed I had no recourse but to confront and take the answer at face value, which is exactly what I did.

And my life in my marriage was forever tainted by this deep and profound knowledge that something was wrong.  My trust vanished.  My joy vanished.  My friends and my children were my life.  My spouse was a person in my life.

I watched this person become someone else over the course of two years.  And did my best to raise our family just the same: his mistress’s shadow hanging over my children’s father, hanging over my head.  There was another woman in our family.  Her words impacted everything he said and did.  She was a part of my marriage, judging me and advising the course of our family from afar.

I suppose I could have up and left.  But to uproot 3 small children, with no financial prospects at all and on unconfirmed suspicion of an affair, made little sense.  But there was always doubt.  Always fear.

In retrospect, now that the smoke has cleared, I am sorry to say that yes indeed.  There were warning signs, and I am now able to name them.  These are the horrendous warning signs, of which I was a victim for multiple years of my life: if these make your heart pound, your hands sweat, if they make you go to a scary place, you are not alone.  They did for me too.  I am crying as I write this because I know this will ring bells for more than one person.

  1.  Character assassinations that are profoundly inaccurate.  When people do terrible things to their spouses, they find ways to justify it.  The easiest way to do this is to villainize the victim.  In my case I was beat to the ground verbally with assaults on my character.  #1 on the list was that I was irrational.  Another was demanding.  Another was that I was cold.  More than once I heard “you don’t know me and you never cared to.” And, “there is no room for me in our marriage.” I took these to heart.  I took them to therapy.  I worked on them every day in good faith.  They destroyed my self esteem and love for myself because I believed them.  I heard them so much that I believed I was all of those things.  Of course, he never once agreed to go to couples therapy with me, nor attend therapy himself.  He was more than happy to let me carry the load, beat myself up, and work on all my “problems”.  Those things were said so frequently and so cruelly that they wore me down completely.  But one day my heart and my soul said, “Sarah.  You are none of those things.  Not even close.”  And of course, I wasn’t.  When people have something to hide they will often go full court press.  Beat you into the ground so that you feel like you’re drowning.  If you are on your heels playing defense it’s very hard to go on offense.  If your spouse or partner is doing this to you, this is abusive plain and simple.  And beyond that, more than likely, there is an underlying issue with them that they are attempting to hide by making you feel so bad that you won’t notice what they are up to.  And if you do notice, they will roll out the horrendous and heart shattering insults on your character so that you are so destroyed you don’t dare question anything.  That is what happened to me.  My spouse tried to portray me as someone I was not.  And in doing this, he managed to victimize himself to himself.  He also managed to devastate my self esteem.  That is what allowed him to participate in a covert affair for so long.  He would sometimes say things about me that were so out of character, even for him, that it made me wonder who had fed him those lines.  Someone had.  Someone fed him poison, and it was regurgitated to me in the cruelest of ways.  Those character assassinations, that in no way represented who I was, absolutely leveled my self esteem and put him in a mental space to justify the affair.

2.  Meaningless Lies.  When your spouse lies about little and irrelevant things, it is a safe bet that there are larger lies on the horizon.  I frequently heard my spouse embellish stories when we were out with friends.  He would add details that never happened.  More than once on a drive home, I would confront him and say that those things never happened.  He dismissed me wholeheartedly, saying that he must have misremembered and it wasn’t a big deal.  He would trot out how irrational I was and how silly of me it was to even notice something that.  Sometimes it was a big deal to me though, because those stories often involved me and representations of me that were utterly inaccurate.  This bothered me deeply, and made me wonder what he said about me and his life in my absence.  By the way, this is a purely logical inference, that where there are small lies there are bigger ones.  Think of all the ways in the world in which this is true: where a small part is visible above the surface there is a huge portion of it underneath.  This is true of small and meaningless lies.  It shows an ability and willingness to misrepresent, and assert control over any aspect they feel like they’d like to.

3. Witholding of Relationship Information on the Grounds of a Character Flaw in the Other. There were many small lies over the years, but a few of them were big to me.  The best examples I can give are lying about money, and lying about personal habits (tobacco, where he was, who he was with).  When I caught him in these lies that had an impact on me too, I confronted him.  Never on the tobacco itself, but on the need to lie in the first place.  One day I said to him, “just because you might not like my reaction doesn’t mean you get to NOT tell me.  That isn’t your right.  And that’s not how marriages work.”  He of course knew I was right.  Unfortunately, after that conversation he fooled me because from then on he was careful to be forthcoming about everything BUT the affair.  He’s a smart guy.  The cruel character assassinations continued though.

I had never given him reason to withhold the truth, and even if I HAD reacted poorly, it is STILL wrong to withhold information your partner DESERVES to know in a marriage, just because they don’t feel like sharing or getting any grief from their spouse.  A spouse is by definition an equal partner in a marriage.  As soon as one spouse unilaterally controls the flow of information, there is a problem.  They are hiding something.

When I confronted him on the bigger lies, or more accurately the nondisclosure of the truth, the response was always the same: I couldn’t tell you because you get so irrational.  If you reacted better I would tell you.  There’s no room for me in this marriage so I feel I can’t tell you things.  And of course, these horrendous words would shut me right up.  If you are in a relationship and things you have a RIGHT to know about are being withheld from you, with the excuse that if you were a better person they would tell you, your spouse has something to hide.  It’s an abusive excuse to lie.  Plain and simple.  God I hate to say that so much.  But if you are reading this and your palms are sweaty and your heart is pounding, there is a reason.

These are unacceptable occurrences in any relationship, let alone a marriage.  Just unacceptable.  If you are suffering from any of these things, seek help.  Know you are not alone.  MAKE your spouse get counseling with you.  Don’t let them be in charge of that decision.  Because they’ll never go.  Liars don’t want to face the truth until THEY decide to.

This life is yours.  This life is precious.  And so are you.

So this is an answer to the often asked question.  Yes.  Absolutely there were warning signs.

As the heaviness lifts and I regain my sight, I see so clearly now that I was none of the things he said I was.  Not one of those things.  I am grateful every day, for what it’s worth, to be free of someone who thought so little of me.  I am grateful every day for my freedom.  Painful and horrible and scary though it has been, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

Suffering

In the nearly 8 months that have passed since my life changed so suddenly, so bottomlessly and so profoundly, I have at times been utterly lost in sorrow.  That sorrow is still there; it drives my fears, my nightmares, my successes and my wishes.  It has allowed me to face reality in ways I never, ever wanted to.

And as I have faced myself, the truth of what has happened here, my fears, worries and wonders, I have had many people cross my path.  As often as not, those people wind up sharing their own suffering.  Many are quick to say that it’s not as significant as mine, nor comparable.  But, they point out, they have– and do– suffer.

My first instinct when I hear their stories, is to feel like an ass for being as stuck in my own suffering as I have been.

But then I remember: I am emerging from a seemingly interminable moment of suffering that caused me in many ways, to go blind.  Now that the fog has lifted, I am beginning to see the suffering happening around me.  Maybe the world looks just a little bit—darker than when I was last really looking at it.

They are people you would never suspect–They suffer quietly in their hearts, with smiles on their faces.  Those same people have ignored their own suffering to be there for me when I needed them most.

Though not everyone can understand what has happened to me, everyone, EVERYONE understands suffering.

The shooting in Orlando brought so many feelings for all of us.  The absolute needlessness of it is…unfathomable.  It has caused unspeakable suffering.  Unnecessary, senseless and cruel violence.  But more than that, there has been something I have been thinking a great deal about.

Part of the great tragedy here is is that, in my admittedly limited opinion, some of the kindest people I know are members of the GLBT community.  People of this community know what it is to suffer.  By and large this is a community that accepts the misfit.  It accepts the outcast.  It even accepts the straight person who might then leave that bar and be homophobic and mean in the light of day.  This community in our country has already suffered so profoundly at the hands of others.  And that they were targeted in the Orlando attack is beyond cruel.

But in the same breath, the love for one another that this shooting has highlighted has been breathtaking.  We are all unified against tragedy and needless loss of life.  We are all unified because we all know what suffering is.  All of a sudden homosexuality has become entirely beside the point.  Humanity has become the focus.

When we suffer so terribly it is very easy to become hardened with anger and hate.

But what I see happening all around me is a softening.  In my own life and well beyond my own life.  A light being shone on the love, not the hate.  A commonality being reached through the fact that we all suffer, and that we all have a choice, every single day, on how we are going to respond.

And it is our capacity to understand suffering that unites us.  It’s what puts us all in the same storyline.

So much love going out to all who suffer today.

How we suffer varies, but that we do does not.

The Little Flame

I went to my friend’s house on Friday night. I was surrounded by women who are my neighbors and friends. As we chatted and laughed and drank beer, we huddled in the cold darkness around the bright embers of a little gaslit fire pit. Instinctively, we all reached out for it, holding our hands above the flames to warm them. The orange light illuminated our faces as we leaned over it. We talked about coyotes and gun control and periods and lawn mowers and raising our children to be kind. We talked about the big houses across the street and our smaller ones in this neighborhood: about gratitude and oneupmanship and many other things. We giggled and laughed and shared serious moments too.

At one point, to be funny, one friend messed with the flame control on the fire pit and it caused the flames to go all the way down and almost extinguish. And every time the bright light nearly went out, more than one of us would gasp at the suddenness and the extent of the cold and darkness. It closed in on us immediately and horribly. We were desperate for her to turn the flames back up, and she did. And we would lean in again like our lives depended on it. Those dancing flames have been in my head ever since.

Because light in the darkness is what we all seek. Sometimes that light is bright and bold and strong and sometimes it’s weak and small and fragile.

In all of our hearts is a glowing flame.

Mine has been burning so low that it was nearly extinguished. It has been truly valiant, this little ember, glowing stubbornly, if weakly, against all the wind and the dark and the cold.

Picturing that small flame in my heart has filled me with love. It has filled me with tenderness, and given me the overpowering urge to shelter the ember, to fan the flame gently and lovingly, until it is burning bright again.

When I think of myself as a human, a flawed person, a depressed or sad person, I am overwhelmed. I don’t want to try. How can I get back to that place of happiness?

But when I think of a tender little glowing ember that needs to be sheltered and tended, guarded and teased back out into its correct shape, I can suddenly picture warmth and hope and a light in the darkness.

The flame for me, in some way, becomes a baby to be cared for, not a needy flawed and sad 37 year old woman. The flame to me, somehow, is worth saving, worth protecting, worth sheltering.

It has been burning so low my soul has been gasping in the cold, leaning in for warmth.

So in my mind’s eye I see a sweet little bright flame, deserving of love and protection.

And I am doing my damnedest to bring it back, doing my damnedest to shield it from the wind and the cold and the dark, to keep it glowing. And eventually the heat it will cast will be stronger than it ever was. It needs to be tended.

Because once it’s out, it’s out. And the darkness closes in.

So these past few days, I have been picturing a flame.

And I have been reminding myself to shelter this dancing, valiant, flickering, delicate little flame.

It warms me in the cold, and lights up the darkness.

It must be sheltered, loved, protected.

Dilute the Salt

My therapist told me to broaden my world.  A teaspoon of salt in one cup of water, she said,  makes the water too salty to drink.  A teaspoon of salt in a gallon of water is not discernible.  Dilute the salt, she told me.  So I have spent 6 weeks trying to do that.  I have been reading quite a bit, and going out with my friends as much as I can.  I have walked so many miles around North Park that I injured myself.  But I keep walking anyhow.

I’ve been watching documentaries, and I’ve been listening to podcasts.  TED talks have been a salve for me: a reminder of the great world that lies beyond the confines of my own.

Dinosaurs, resilience, outer space and depression.  How to spot a liar.  Talks on courage, on Autism, on the brains of fruit flies.  They suck me in as I sit at my kitchen table, and they take me far away.  I forget my sadness for just a bit, and learn something new.

There is a world out there.

In my haze, I have met three other women in my exact circumstance.  We are all going out on Friday.

I am trying to step out on my wobbly, woozy feet.   I am injured.  But I keep walking anyhow.  Even when I think I can’t.  Even when I think I’m not.  I am.

I am still caught off guard by moments of profound sorrow.  They creep up on me when I least expect them, and I find myself crying in the grocery store parking lot with no warning at all.  A sudden memory, or a realization.  A song.  These things can derail me completely.

But really, these are all just steps in grappling with what has happened, and steps in diluting the salt.  Really, everything dilutes the salt.  Time, effort, tears, sleep, friends….and my salty water is starting to taste better.  A little.

Today I went to Starbucks to grab a coffee.  As I was walking in I turned and looked, and there was the most *handsome* stranger looking right at me.  He was talking on the phone but he was staring at me.  When our eyes met he gave me the biggest and sweetest smile– I nearly fell over I was so surprised.  That smile was very clearly meant for me.  This, in and of itself, is not that big of a deal.  But it caught my attention.  It made me realize in an instant that there is this whole big world out there.  And  it made me realize I was in it.  That I am in it.  That I am diluting the salt.  And that some day, even though I’ll know it’s there, I won’t be able to taste it.

 

Suffering

When I step out into the world I feel like my suffering is showing.  Like toilet paper stuck to my shoe or my skirt tucked into my underwear.

They can see my suffering.

They can see it on my face like a wart, or a boil or an open oozing sore.  Maybe they wonder to themselves, what’d she do?  That’s gross.  Cover it up.

Not only is it ugly, it’s so profoundly isolating, this sorrow.

The more I reach out and speak, the more isolated I feel.

They don’t want to hear about it.  It’s too much.  They don’t know what to say.

I am tired of being the one to need.

I feel shame.  I feel weak.  The sadness in my heart is just a pit sometimes, that has no bottom at all.

Everyone has the same advice: time heals.  Perspective is good.  Take care of you.

I am tired.  So tired.  I have endured so very much in the past 7 months, I can’t believe it.  I get the constant reminder to be grateful for the health of my children, and my own.

I am.

But friends, as it turns out, gratitude does not erase sorrow.

Gratitude does not heal.  They are two such separate and distinct things.

Focusing on the positive is an ideal thing to do.  But it doesn’t remove the negative, nor does it lessen the pain.

These things, as it turns out, must be faced head on.

The new bar for me is simply survival.  If something makes me smile, it’s a bonus.  If I feel a fleeting moment of freedom, peace, or hope, I notice.

There is so much heaviness and darkness in my heart.  So much sadness.  And, now, the thing I was most afraid of: anger.

I am afraid of anger, because I am afraid of bitterness.  And I am not sure how to separate those two things.

But here is where meditation helps.

I will not put a head on my head.  I will simply say, I am feeling Anger.  This is part of me.

I don’t need to feel grateful, or focus on the positive.

I need to feel all the feels with loving compassion.

So do we all.

Can’t go over it, can’t go under it.

Nope.  Gotta go through it.

The End

The end came and went.  And of course.  I’m devastated.  I haven’t heard from the man who was my closest friend for many months of the most intense time of my life.  Just like that, no communication, no friendship, no nothing.  My kids talk about him because we all often played together.  They don’t know what happened.  They don’t miss him or ask when he’s coming back.  But they have lost here too.

My stomach hurts when I think about it, about quiet shared moments, about friendship, and the potential road that could have lay ahead, if it had been permitted.  And now, it has just fallen off the cliff.  There is no future.  No summer days or cookouts–no little road trips or funny shared moments.  I won’t get to know his little girl anymore who was quirky and silly and kind and deep and strange.  She loved dancing.  She was phenomenally active, a sharp bright mind, quick to anger, quick to forgive.  A darling little girl.

She liked me.  I cared for her very much.

All these relationships just cut short.  I cannot understand that.  A bomb dropped so that they all blew up, desperately careful though I was to protect little hearts, and my own.

Many have said to me that there will be no closure.  No neat and tidy little package to place in my closet.  There’s just a mess strewn out all over my mind and heart and body.  And I can’t tidy it up.  Nothing to say oh, that’s why that happened, or here’s where that goes.  Which was all I was seeking when the communication stopped completely.

Life is unfair.

Two loves lost.

Karen Maezen Miller said she wishes she could protect every tender heart.  But then, they wouldn’t be tender anymore.  Though my pain is deep, bottomless, profound, I have not lost my tenderness.  One thing can be certain.  I never will.  And maybe some day, someone will come along who wants and deserves it.

The end of this is the beginning of something else.  I don’t know what that is.  But one thing is for sure.  I’m in it.  Both the end, and the beginning.