Wrapped in a Black Bow

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Today I gave myself a gift. It’s wrapped not so neatly in a word document for now. I’ll unveil it after the new year and I’ll share it with my therapist but no one else. It’s a letter to my ex-one that will never be sent; yet one that needed to be written. One last bit of closure. A chance to shut the final door on the house of shame that I once lived in.

It’s funny how the past reveals itself in unexpected places within our hearts. I understand that it is a normal process when undergoing an enormous life change. (I’m getting married in six months and moving to a new house for those who are new to my site.) It is important to examine these nuggets, these itches that don’t seem satisfied with just a mere surface scratch.

Sometimes I do wonder if I will be permanently scarred by the emotional and verbal abuse that plagued my first marriage. I no longer consider myself a victim nor do I present as one. I am a survivor, I think. Although that seems like such a heavy and misapplied term given that there are worse things that humans have endured compared to my experience. I mean, really, I have an amazing and very happy life now. I don’t wallow in past hurts. I’ve gone through all the stages that victims of abuse pass through on the path to healing. I’ve been lucky enough to have been in therapy two years before the marriage ended; I had acquired the basic tools for surviving the dismantling and its endless aftermaths.

Maybe I am more of a karmic avenger for others who themselves have been or are currently in a similar situation. Because I have lived in my community for nearly twenty-six years, many, many people have seen my transformation. Some have needed an ear, a shoulder to cry on, or words of wisdom to help them through their journey. (And for those of you in blogland, it has always been my sincere wish that this space serves the same purpose through my posts.) When you’ve been there, done that and crossed to the other side, people seek you out. They see it. They sense it in the way you carry yourself. They want some of that! And why not?

It takes supreme psychic bravery to free yourself and move forward out of an unhealthy relationship. The hard work of healing can take you down roads that are often dark and full of pitfalls. It is at times very uncomfortable. Sometimes you find yourself on a temporary detour when you least expect it. (Like me, this month).  Most of all, it takes time, lots of time.

Are you ready to receive the best gift of all?

What About Forgiveness?

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I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of forgiveness lately. I’m not sure I fully understand what it means or maybe I am on a journey towards getting a grip on the whole idea. I am sure that I have practiced it. And I am equally certain that I have been forgiven by others.

I have heard time and again of the importance of forgiveness as it frees you up to let go and move on. But I’m not quite in agreement with that advice.  We are told if we don’t forgive that we are holding onto a grudge or anger or allowing ourselves to continue to be a victim. No, no, no!

Forgiveness is a weighty matter and depends upon the circumstances of another’s transgressions.  It is equally dependent on whether the other party has sought to make amends, take responsibility for the pain caused to the aggrieved party or practice redemptive actions.

If someone has not actively done any of that, how can we really forgive? We can accept what has happened to us, grieve and live the pain for a bit and move on to a new and perhaps (if we are lucky) an even better life. I believe acceptance of what happened to us is not passive in nature at all. My current life is living proof of this fact as many of you who have been following me well know.

Here’s what I can do.  I can compliment my former spouse for making two good decisions in his life: marrying me and divorcing me.  Because he married me, I received two gifts that will last a lifetime and beyond: my sons. They are living proof of two decent human beings who understand life’s purpose and bring joy and steadfast love to their world.  Moreover, because he divorced me, I received a second chance at a better life. Everything that has happened to me, the experiences, the people, the places I have seen and the joy I have known would NEVER have occurred if he did not choose to go. Both my sons and I would have missed out on the riches that all these things have brought to our lives. Imagine that!

So here is what I can forgive: his inability to fundamentally commit to family life. The man just does not have the capacity because of his family of origin’s extreme dysfunction. His original wound has not healed. I have genuine sympathy for that young man who suffered because of one parent’s indiscretions. At the beginning of our life together, neither one of us would know the degree to which this informed our marriage. Over time it increasingly held me hostage and spilled over until it took the form of neglect as well as emotional and verbal abuse.

And that is what I cannot forgive yet.  Do I expect an apology? An acknowledgement?  Maybe. Or perhaps if I saw glimmers of hope in his relationship with our sons I could take that step. So far not so good.

In the meantime, I continue to live out loud. A free woman. Let loose from the chains of harsh criticism and passive aggressive behaviors. Walking lightly-some say floating- on this good earth.

 

Holding On and Letting Go

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I washed my hair in the kitchen sink as soon as I got home from work.  I had nowhere to be so it wasn’t for appearances sake; I simply couldn’t stand the look of myself. Taking a shower was too much work, what with taking my clothes off and all. I simply wanted to feel refreshed and cleansed without the effort.

Afterwards, I immediately felt more beautiful. There’s been no one home to affirm this, but that is not the point. I just needed to be more comfortable for myself.

I think the weight of my bad hair day was a metaphor for my state of being this week. The roller coaster of inner emotions, simmering thoughts and reminders of past hurts and anger showed up in my tresses!

I have been told that this is all part of the grieving process and of letting go- especially the part about being angry. So what to do, what to do.  Not much action is necessary, I think. I’ll sit with it for a while, but not wallow in it. I’ll stay quiet. Offer it up to the universe. And breath in. Breathe out.

Firsts and Lasts

 

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We loaded the old boiler onto the truck Sunday night. It died two weeks ago during the last of summer’s heat. A few mornings of cold showers were tolerable, keeping us grateful that we weren’t enduring the endless cold snap of winter. A chilly house is an entirely different story during the dead season. Truth be told, we’ve been hanging in there with the old girl for at least two years. Replacing worn out  parts here and there and enduring the fickle temperatures of the house’s water was all I could financially and psychologically manage. The day the new one was put in was drenched with unusual humidity. My youngest son was called to a job in the city first (but not before his vehicle was hit in the drive-thru getting his coffee!) to fix the clogged drains of helpless college students, leaving his boss to literally do the heavy lifting.  A day of limbo-too hot to move or get things done in the house, so I watched and waited.

Daily life here has taken on a form of time out of mind. September began as and continues to be a state of fervent motion. My job in education this term has found me in a vortex of all-consuming energy leaving me little time to write. My house is full of people. My sons and their loved ones who are in need of shelter and peace take up space. Finding my groove this last autumn season here has proven to be challenging.

Perhaps this is how it is meant to be. I find myself in an acute state of high alert and awareness, this all-knowing sense of the last go round before the birth of a new life in a new place.  (Truly- nine months from Sunday is the wedding day! ) I hear myself saying “This is the last time…” more often.

With that in mind, I am disconnecting and reconnecting to people and places which I’ve known for more than half my life. The town I live in and raised the boys no longer fees like home. The neighborhood-almost a last holdout for regular working class and middle class folks- is undergoing  the transformation to over-sized and up-scaled  new homes. The prices are ones I would never pay even if I  had that kind of money. I no longer frequent the coffee shop  in the busy center either. The familiar faces are scarce and the chances of running into my ex-husband and/or his current girlfriend keep me on edge. Not worth the trip! The shift is palpable; I feel like a stranger in a strange land.

That said, I am rediscovering the mountains that loom just a mere two hours from my house. My youngest son (and my dear friend Emily as her schedule allows) are hiking some of the 4,000 footers. The experience is always unique (see Trails, Tales and Tails) . Labor Day weekend found us hiking on Mt. Liberty, a rugged and steep climb culminating just above tree-line.

Summit

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The descent was challenging as well and we were briefly entertained by a hiker holding court on the trail wearing only his tighty-whities! I guess Captain Underpants does exist…

Our most recent hike was an easy one; it’s purpose purely preparatory for the 5,000 footer we hope to ascend in October. The packs were heavier and the climb not as steep but we were moved by the bravery of a ten-year old boy with spina bifida who was climbing his first mountain with his family. Tomorrow is a new mountain, higher in elevation than the last with a day that promises to be brilliant.

These excursions (and others in June and last weekend with my fiance’ to other places that I hold dear to my heart) have helped remind me of the beauty in the surrounding region. It is the place where I grew up and grew older- and hopefully wiser! The time spent with my youngest (my oldest works on Sunday afternoons, unfortunately) takes on a deeper meaning and allows for new memories to be born.

Being wholly present during this shifting paradigm has continuously been a goal for me. Allowing myself to partner with the universe keeps me grounded and prepares me for the harder decisions and changes in plans for the future of my home and loved ones. Mostly it is empowering!  The turn of events to come both sheds more of the past and sows the seeds for the future. One where we can all marry simplicity and strength.

 

(I’d like to thank all of you who have continued to follow me as well as my new followers during this unplanned break in my writing. Happy to be back with Kellie’s prompt! )

#FWF Free Write Friday: Image Prompt

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The Inner Voice

The only tyrant I accept is my inner voice

                                                                ~Mahatma Ghandi

 

How often do you act on your instincts?  Pay attention to messages from the universe? Rely on some form of faith?

 As many of you know, I am in the midst of a life-changing transition. The first in seven years. The latter was devastating, not only for me but for my then teenage sons as well. It forever put our lives into a BEFORE/AFTER demarcation. We spent years healing, moving forward, readjusting and creating. Breathing out, breathing in and building an entirely different existence. Growing up and getting stronger.
 
I have spent more time away from my home this summer than I have been there. My job has allowed me the “luxury”, if you will. Leaving and then coming back has provided me with a fresher perspective and perception of my hometown of 25 years. I came back ready to let go. So for this season, I am sowing the seeds for a new life in a new location. A totally different climate and landscape.  A bit more crowded.  Dotted with big box stores in places instead of pine trees and oaks and maples. But the tiny backyard has a view of  a verdant city park with bike and running trails and the warm gulf beach is just 2 miles away. And the street is amazingly quiet.  I am having fun “exploring”  even though I have been traveling here regularly for over 5 years. Now I am setting down the routes and roots for a simpler life.

 

Yes.  A simpler life was the first message I heard. The first sentence I said out loud when my man and I decided to get married. Since then, I have been shedding reminders and responsibilities that only served to crowd and complicate my everyday existence. Boxes and boxes of items donated or tossed and even set aflame. Decisions about the house.  Rent? Sell? In the coming months, the shelter will be the focus of some very serious discussions and resolutions. Changes to the neighborhood have brought this to bear. In this regard, I have patiently waited for cosmic messages and definitely relied on my gut. Because of this, I have been able to think clearly, protect myself and rely on the expertise of others. I feel prepared and not blind-sided-so unlike seven years ago when  I was an emotional wreck. However, I am not going to pretend that it is going to be an easy process; I just know that I won’t be or feel alone.

After a period of contemplation and turning over, I have decided to change my career path as well. Still exploring what that might be but I am well certain that I will NOT be in the same field or in the same setting. I see this decision as another means to simplify my life and pursue opportunities that may bring forth the as yet unknown gifts that I hold in store. One thing I do know is that I want and still need to work ( I am a WICKED people person!) but not in a job that can suck away so much of my mental energy.

This interlude is a favorable time.  A wide open space in which to develop a new niche, new friends. A place for myself as well as for my partner. The former is essential. I have honed my new found skills of independence and a solid inner life that is sure to serve me well in the coming years.

When my work day life resumes shortly, I hope to hold onto to this state of mind and heart.  I’ll tend to the seeds of my summer sojourn and continue to bring forth the bounty in my last remaining year as a native of the north.

 

 

Sideways Stories in Life

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Did you ever feel both present and nonpresent? Did you ever notice the rapid passage of time and more so, the rapid changes all around you? Do you ever feel sucked into a vortex where your life as you knew it no longer exists? Do you feel that your world is spinning out of control because of one powerful person’s decision that you cannot change? Do you feel that when you’ve already experienced the worst another rogue wave in the tide of life knocks you down?

It is August 1st. The last August in this house for me. Having been away for most of the summer, I have a different perspective on my hometown of 25 years. Some of it is physical. Newer and bigger houses are being built next door and across the way along my tiny and narrow road.  The selling price is beyond belief and the socioeconomic divide just got wider. We miss our old neighbors; the ones you could borrow sugar from or the ones who brought you homemade chicken soup when you had the flu. The ones whose kids you watched over when they were all so young. The age of McMansions has finally cast its net on our side of town.

All change is hard. Neighbors eventually leave. New families move in, taking advantage of the good schools and prime location. Who can blame them? But we already miss our quiet and the working class feel of our spot. What this means for us in the shorter and longer run will soon reveal itself.

The sons continue on. Moving forward in their jobs with possible newer prospects on the horizon. What this means for  them in the shorter and longer run will soon reveal itself.

The responsibilities of my job will be changing at the end of the month. What this means for me and for future job prospects elsewhere will soon reveal itself.

All of what we are experiencing is the natural flow of life. We try not to fight it. We stay positive. Old anxieties creep in, of course. But Heaven knows we have had it so much worse (and this is not bad at all, it is all good, good, good). That helps keep everything in perspective and gives me the energy and wisdom to be there for others.

It is my turn to pay it forward. To give back to others when others gave back to me all those years ago. Good and loving friends are experiencing tough upheavals and wrenching turmoil in their lives presently. I can identify with their pain. I am witness to how it changes both their inner and outer selves, as at one time that was me. Their children were my children.

I wish I had a magic wand. Saying it will get better seems trite and untrue.  Better how? They wonder and worry and grow weary by the moment. It is hard to be present when your past feels like a lie and your future appears bleak. You not only feel like life has gone sideways; you feel sideswiped.

When yet another problem arrived at my doorstep, my father would tell me that it was just another rock in the road that I needed to move. Sometimes those stones were pebbles and sometimes they were boulders. Looking back (and yes  forward, there will be more!), I have come to understand that those obstacles became the foundation for my new life. They didn’t break me. I fashioned them in the form of hope and an inner strength that I never knew existed.

My friends far and wide and those near and dear, you are in my heart and mind as I write this meditation. Stay strong. Be well. Look up for inspiration. The Universe has a message just for you.

 

The Summer I’d Like to Forget

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#FWF Free Write Friday: Are You Up For This?

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I’ve been debating with myself as to whether it is even worth writing about a decade old story. I have alluded to it in poetry ( Hidden Hunger ,Witness ) but never in memoir.

It is difficult to admit that there was a time that my family went hungry.  The details of how we arrived at our sorry state are way too complicated and frankly, too boring. Here are the highlights:

  • Husband gets fired-not laid off- from six figure job.
  • Husband decides to start own business causing significant decrease in income.
  • Wife works part-time while in a year-long clinical graduate program.
  • Wife told that her job must now carry the benefits, cutting her measly salary in half.
  • Wife told that since her job does not pay in summer, she must get full-time work and the children can stay home alone all day without mom and dad.
  • Wife is not able to get full-time job but finds work that keeps her away from home for just a few hours.
  • Wife’s tiny wages go to food.
  • Wife eats less to save food for kids.
  • Husband squanders all savings  and other finances while secretly making major purchases.
  • Wife tells no one about situation even though her parents live just eight miles away and her brother thirteen.

I spent the summer of 2004 in a state of shock, or as a friend said “survival mode”.  I knew things would get better in the fall when my job resumed to a nearly full -time position. But the 12 weeks of empty bellies seemed endless. A wall of resistance and repudiation was put up by my husband. In his eyes it was my fault for not getting full-time work. Not his fault for getting fired and pursuing something that barely brought a paycheck in to pay bills.

I felt stuck. As summer turned into fall, a latent anger was born. I took it out on everyone but him at first but then it boiled over when I found out about another major purchase he had made. I went into therapy where I began to unravel the pieces of my situation as well as my marriage and more importantly, myself.

We never went hungry after that summer. I refused to have my sons experience that dull, hollow feeling that comes from not having enough to eat ever again. Their father never accepted responsibility for his decisions and instead continued to lay the blame on me. But for the  next summer and for all subsequent summers, I secured positions where I could make money and have my children productively occupied and supervised.

Life trucked on, the marriage ended, battles were waged and the three of us (as many of you know by now) have a wonderful, wonderful life. He lost us but we gained ourselves. I still worry about food and going hungry. I cannot have the refrigerator or cabinets or the pantry ever be empty. It triggers that feeling again.

The boys and I did talk about that time a few years ago. I apologized to them for what happened but they both said I did the best I could. They had come to understand the circumstances that caused the situation in the first place. It was just one of many moral violations committed by their father.

I eventually confessed to my family, who were at first angry that I did not come to them for help. I was too ashamed and I knew I would suffer the consequences of revealing the secret. It didn’t seem worth it at the time.

And do I have shame today? No, I let that go a long time ago. Although I was not conscious of it at the time, I was being abused. The blaming, the passive aggressive behavior, the snide remarks began in earnest that summer. They increased over time until I finally realized what was happening.

When one is in the midst of negativity and abusive behavior, it is nearly impossible to see a way out. One only wants the abuse to stop-not for the abuser to leave. Strange dichotomy but oh so true. Lucky for me, he left. But he still abused from afar in various ways. I only got stronger and my children got wiser.

We know how to feed our bellies and our souls. Loaves and fishes abound. Abundance is present. And we are very grateful.

Never let yourself be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life; define yourself.

~Robert Frost

 

This was THE most challenging free write for me.  I really went back and forth as to whether I could write about it. Frankly, I didn’t want to. But sometimes you just have to put your muscle into it. It was NOT cathartic. It just had to be written and done with once and for all.

Shifting Shapes, Narrow Escapes

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Stumbling in a dreamscape

Sleep deprived nights illusively hot

Sweat soaked skin

A body in transition

Transforming and chaotic

Shifting waistline

Squaring hips

A new morning brings a new view

Changing perspective, acceptance

There’s a strength to these bones

Muscles and sinew firmed 

Mind honed by wisdom

Struggles vanquished

Evil extinguished

Still, I prepare myself 

This new day brought a tremor to my hands

A churning fire to my gut

An inner knowledge borne of past trauma

I dress adorned with a fetching scarf  that sings of summer

Alluring and potent

My voice proven right 

You’ve been seen once again in that store front distance

Marginally recognizable

Yet grace has given me my covert protector

He whispers quietly and holds me in his gaze

You approach and graze my arm with yours

Attempting to establish dominance

A marking of territory

Such a fool of  a man

Desperate and Depraved

Deprived

Lonely but not Alone, not quite

Yet still without awareness and tact

Your false bravado rebuffed and refused by this half century warrior queen

Transcended and Ascended

Fully realized, Divinely Inspired

Living at the Apex of  her new Incarnation

Being in the Goodness

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I am at a peak of delight. Unusual for a Monday, but perhaps it came from a rising awareness of being in transition. As a culture, we don’t embrace realignments to our mojo. Instead, we  grit our teeth and bear it, or hang on holding our breath until it’s over, or worse, crawl our way to the other side exhausted and falsely relieved. I refuse to live my life waiting for my new life to begin. I will happily admit that  I am more than ready to start a new chapter in a new zip code with my beloved fiance’. But like any compelling saga, one must begin the story with a strong prologue.

So  much has shifted in one week’s time here; it is challenging to put into words. But it is proof to me that wishes sent out to the Great Beyond can happen if you let your worries go first. As you ride the universe’s flow, amazing things are manifested. I am giving the house one or two last renovations, necessary in order for four young people to live in a healthier space in a year’s time. One that is nearly free of my obvious imprint but still stamped with my positive energy and vibrations. (I tell you it is exciting to keep purging this place of things we no longer need!)

My boys and I have been delivered from the trauma and pain of their father. We came together so that we could grow stronger. Along the way, we were honing our skills as independent individuals in pursuit of our own passions. I don’t know what I would have done with myself if we did not journey to this new space together, helping each other through fits and starts.

In a few week’s time, I will share this house with two others. Two people, peers of my sons who love and respect them. They will be helping me get a better leg up financially so I am better prepared for my new life. In return, I can provide a safe haven. A garden where they can grow new roots in a healthy soil. I have no doubt that we all will bloom and fill this earth renewed beauty.

Today Iam grateful for the wonders and love of others.  So with my thumb knuckles to my third eye, I bid you all: Namaste’.

Save Yourself

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Earlier this week,  artist extraordinaire and fellow blogger, Sharon Cummings (sharoncummings) posed a question for her followers. At the end of her post, she asked “What is your saving grace?”  (http://sharoncummings.wordpress.com/2014/05/20/my-saving-g-r-a-c-e/)

The question certainly intrigued me and inspired me to think about what mine might be. Or maybe help me to further define what Grace means to me. I wrote about Grace in a different context last January ( A State of Grace). While I believe that message stills holds true for me today, I also believe that Grace is a multifaceted state of being.  In fact, I thinks it is a huge part of yourself that defines your essence and helps you to survive.

I know that I lost my Grace over time during the course of  my first marriage. The insidiousness of verbal and emotional abuse eats away at your identity  and stops the clock on what makes you tick until you feel hollow inside. It was only during my divorce proceedings (and the endless post divorce shenanigans on his part) that I began to redevelop my inner Grace.

I recall  a moment in July of 2008 when my soon to be ex-husband told me “I hope you scratch, crawl and suffer.” These words were a match that lit my fire. It was clear that he was determined to undermine me financially and emotionally. I was not going to let that happen. The course of events that unfolded over the next few years were tests of my ability to withstand hardship and to stand up for what I believed was right for my own life as well as my sons’.  It was by no means easy. When I felt myself about to fall off the edge,  I would remember the words that my mother said to me, “Don’t let him break you.”

My saving grace is my tenacity. The  positive stubbornness which provides the seeds for stamina and strength. The bold determination to carve out a life for myself.  The confidence that I can and will solve problems and make decisions that empower me. And the faith that all will be well no matter what.