Thank You

It was two years ago on September 26th that my world plunged into sudden darkness.  Well, truth be told, I was living in darkness already.  I knew the problems.  I confronted them head on.  I asked over and over.  I was denied the truth every time.  I suffered, doubted, wondered, and did my best to raise my children and do right by me, knowing full well that in the shadows lurked an ugly, undeniable truth.

In those days, I had this recurring plane crash dream.  At least once a month I would find myself, yet again, traveling in a low-flying airplane, riding 10-20 feet above sky scrapers, the wings tipping precariously left and right.  I would grab the armrests and cling to them with all my might and then my seat would drop from beneath me and I would be in a terrifying free-fall plunging toward certain death.  Often I would feel the plane tip upside-down.  I was on a ride, it was out of my control.  And there was nothing I could do.  I was powerless to stop the crash and before we hit, I always woke up.  Sweating, crying, shaking.

Since September 26th, 2015, I haven’t had the airplane dream.  Not even when I cried myself to sleep, curled in a tiny ball.  When I swallowed the bitter ugly pills of undiluted truth over and over and over.  When the truth felt it would break me right in half.  When my world fell apart, my universe split open and fault lines shifted.  I still never had the crash dream.

And here I am two years later.  And the landing hasn’t been a crash.  Bumpy, topsy turvy, but I landed.  In a new home.  Now I am in nursing school, learning to heal the wounds of others.  I am making new friends who see me not as a sob story, but as Sarah a friend and classmate.  I am watching my children thrive and play and laugh and make friends.  I have become the captain of my voyage once again.

And so to him, I say, thank you.  From the bottom of my heart.  Surviving this has been the most extraordinary voyage of my life.  I have learned what I can stand, how much I can take, how beauty can come from pain, and I have witnessed the power of choice.  When the ground fell away, my plane lifted into the sky.  The wings stabilized and the nightmares stopped.  We choose every single day.  Every day and in every moment, we choose what we are — who we are, and what we would like to become.

I have become intimately acquainted with my own power and strength.  I learned to love myself again.  I can’t seem to stop smiling these days, the smallest things bring me joy.  So with love in my heart and gratitude too, I will keep on keeping on, fucking up and learning, and loving in my own way.  What an extraordinary freedom.  It puts joy in my heart.

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Bridging the Gap

My Facebook feed is filled with images of protestors who have rallied against our new President: who have rallied for women’s rights, gay rights, environmental protection, and every other platform that people fear will be threatened by the new administration.

I have mixed feelings about these protests for a variety of reasons.  But one thing is for certain.  Ours is a country that allows us all the freedom to voice our concerns and opinions.  There is a tremendous amount of fear in this country right now.  It’s palpable.  It is what has driven people out in droves–in the hundreds of thousands–to protest and ask that their voices be heard.

There is a part of my brain that says: just wait.  We don’t know anything yet.  I am not a protestor.  I am waiting, watching, hoping, listening.

The response from others is: yes but this is what he has stated in the campaign, this is the cabinet he’s forming, the writing is on the wall.  Everything he stands for, we don’t believe in so we will stand up and say so.

I have spent a great deal of time looking at fear, thinking about it, ditching it, embracing it, deciding that it is foolish….  So what is to be made of this fear that has created thousands of protestors?  Can fear create something constructive?  Is this constructive?  Or does it drive a wedge even deeper between the sides in this country?  Maybe both?

But one thing I see here is that the voices of these protestors are a comfort to each other.  And they are just that–voices.  They are reaching across the nation, holding each other close, and saying, “don’t be afraid.  We are here too.  We are all here.  You are not alone.”  And that’s a beautiful thing.  What can we do in the darkness but try to shed some light? For most of us, besides voting, there is nothing else to be done.

So yes, perhaps in this case fear has created something beautiful.  Perhaps fear has been the thing to help squash itself.  Fear created all those voices gathering together to say: Don’t be afraid, and you are not alone.

And that’s a lovely thought to me.

 

 

2017

This chilly morning, we welcome 2017.

What is 2017 really?  Here in Mars, PA it’s a mild morning, begun with a whimpering 12 year old Newfoundland.  He keeps crying, and I can’t figure out what he needs.  I have given him water, he’s been outside, every time I come out and offer to take him outside he stops whimpering and stares at me.  Then I sit down to write and he whimpers again.

There are lavender streaks across the sky, backlighting the black outline of trees behind my house.  One child is stirring, two are sleeping.

I ask myself what I most want from 2017.  The answer to that must be based on what happened in 2016: the view I find as I look out my current window–figuratively and literally.  This view determines what I hope to see one year from now.  But what is my state of mind as I look out?  Peaceful?  Angry?  Determined?  Grateful?  All of the above?  How might this same view look to me when I wake up tomorrow?  The same exact view might look drastically different if my mood changes to hungry or sad or elated.

So much of what we resolve to do in the upcoming year is based off of what we think we failed to do, or didn’t do well enough in the previous one.  So our resolutions are nothing more than mirrors, really.  Or mirrors of how we mirror ourselves.

What is the truth of it, really?

Will our lives be better if we just this…..or …..that?

It would be nice to believe that to be true.

Throughout the past few years of my life I have made that error time, and time again.  If I this, then maybe that.

This type of thinking helps us believe it’s somehow under our control.  That perhaps the truth isn’t what it is–Maybe resolutions are our way of attempting to know the unknowable or control the uncontrollable.

Last year the “if I just….then….” thoughts were nothing more than fictions I told myself in an attempt to avoid the reality I wished wasn’t there.

Yearnings and wishes, hurts and heartbreaks, successes and failures, what are they really? Nothing more than snapshots of ourselves taking snapshots of ourselves.

So in 2017 here is my wish: clear sight, open ears, open heart.  Courage to see things as they are, courage in understanding that no amount of ifs or thens will change the unchangeable.

Life is what it is.

All we can do is our best. That is more than good enough.  Happy New Year.

A Shift

When I think about the past 12 months I immediately feel a dragging, nagging sense of loss.  I feel anger and helplessness, and for teensy seconds here and there, I feel like a victim.  I *know* my children were victims.  I know that no one asked any of us what we thought or how we felt about…any of this.

Things were taken from us–ruthlessly.  Viciously.  Selfishly.  Horribly.  We continue to be subjected to powerlessness every day.  We are all accommodating a life we never chose.  We have lost hours of our lives in the car– afternoons in the sun playing with friends, hours of drawing with chalk and playing at the park, hours of sleep, hours of peace.  Gone.

There has been a loss of innocence.  A loss of security and predictability.  A loss of a single family in a single home.

I have lost men that I loved.  I have lost everything I thought I knew.  And the loss feels heavy; it bends my knees and bows my neck.  I can feel it weigh me down.

But then just yesterday, as I tried to incorporate the advice of friends and the teachings of Zen, I had a thought.  What is loss?  What is gain?  Can there be loss without gain?  Or gain without loss?

Perhaps I have gained my loss.

I have gained my freedom.

If I examine this more closely, have I actually been released from a great burden rather than burdened with a great loss?

I am feeling the weight of my freedom.  Like a chained animal who refuses to run because they think they are still chained.  I feel the weight of what is no longer there.  Ghost weight.  I’m still carrying it.

As I dig deeper, I picture the ocean.  I am swimming with the men who have held my company in the last 12 months.  In my mind’s eye I am sinking.  They push me down as they gasp for air, their hands on my shoulders, I sink deeper as they rise higher.

When I am alone in this ocean, I float.  No one is pulling me under.  No one is using my power, my strength, my love, my time, my attention to hold themselves above the fray.

So is that a loss or a gain?

This is a shift, that much can be certain.

How do we frame our losses and our gains? Is there a way to squeeze in between the cracks and see it all from a different perspective?

The weight has lifted.  I am free.

I know that I am.

I’m just not used to it is all.

Sending deep love to all.  May we all strive to bring peace to ourselves: may we seek to reframe our perspectives, comfort ourselves when no one else can, and float freely in the wide open water.

 

 

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.

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.

 

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.