Getting in the Christmas Spirit – Part I

This is my first Christmas in over 20 years without my husband. But while I get pangs of sadness, like when I realized he wasn’t going to be able to take the Christmas decorations out of the attic for us Thanksgiving weekend, it’s not all bad. I’m making an effort to get out and enjoy the Christmas season.

Last Wednesday night, while my new partner was rehearsing for Scrooge in a musical version of A Christmas Carol, I took his daughter and my youngest daughter (who are within 6 months of each other), out for dinner and to look at the decorations in our local communities.

The historical courthouse in a nearby town was decorated with colorful lights.

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My daughter and his daughter having fun together.

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This outdoor ampitheater in another local town is beautiful. Over the summer, my love and I listened to a free symphony orchestra play for us while we had dined alfresco.  What a magical night that was!

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The tree lighting ceremony for this tree is coming up soon. I can’t wait!

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It’s been a difficult few years, but I’m determined to not let the sadness intrude too much this Christmas season.

One of my young actor acquaintances was feeling blue.  He posted on his Facebook page:

When I was young I saw the world so vividly and brightly colored, but with every year it gets just a little more gray.

I felt compelled to write this response:

Jake, it takes a bit of effort, but you have to go out and create your own magic. What I found as a amateur photographer is that there is so much in this world that is beautiful. You just have to learn to look. I’ve taken photographs of dragonflies on a blade of grass, frogs peeking out of algae-covered pond water, and majestic White Egrets and Blue Herons mid-flight. I’ve been captivated by these breathtaking moments of Nature.

I began to pay attention and really see the world. I began to see there is beauty in an old falling apart gray barn, as well as beauty in the juxtaposition of shadow and light.

I began to appreciate the sun so much more after having seen the skies darkened by clouds.

And though I really hate winter, I love going out on my front porch at midnight after a snowfall when the moon is out. The world really becomes a white wonderland. And the snowflakes on my railing glisten like diamonds.

And then there’s all the candid shots of people I took when they weren’t looking. I have some beautiful shots of people being playful and being beautifully serene and being sweet with each other.

You can take a look at my photo sets on FB to see what I mean.

And I dare you to learn some art journaling. Part journal, part art project, using paints, colored pencils, pens, and even watercolor crayons. And I know that not many men would think about doing that, but there are indeed a few men out there who do.

Don’t wait for the world to bring you the color you wish for. Go out and look for it or create it yourself.

You are such a sweet young man, and a wonderful actor. Don’t let the hard parts of life cause you to forget there’s still so much that is beautiful.

And as I reflect on my life, and re-read this passage to my young friend, I am in wonder of my own wise Self. I wrote for myself as much as for him, to keep in mind my own intention and needing to be compassionate with myself and to be the light and the hope that I seek.

I am in between Christmas traditions.

I know what we’d done for the past 14 years with the children since we’d lived in this house.

And while I get pangs of sadness and heartbreak because I don’t know what the new traditions will be, I know that it’s up to me to create new ones with the children.

I won’t let the sadness of what I don’t have anymore bring me down.

I am keeping my intentions positive, and looking for local things to do to get in the Christmas spirit.

I’ve visited other towns who have had decorations put up.

I know of a tree-lighting ceremony I want to take my daughters to.

I’m taking them to my sweetheart’s musical play A Christmas Carol, to watch him play Scrooge (I’ve already seen it twice and it’s spectacular!)

I know of a newly built outdoor ice skating facility that we might try (even if we fall down a lot).

Yes, things are different this year than last. But I don’t have to let the pain of the mistakes I’ve made overshadow the joy that is still there to be found or created.

My wish for you is that no matter where you are, you enter this holiday season with hope of discovering or creating something beautiful and uplifting.

 

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On technology and communication

I came across this article on my favorite facebook page, Brain Pickings:

 

“Previous technologies have expanded communication. But the last round may be contracting it.”

I shared it, and someone else picked it up and reposted it.   I wanted to share what I wrote about it:

I used to be an avid, okay maybe obsessive, pen-pal. I have written hundreds of hand-written letters to friends and boyfriends. I kept in touch with my first love long after we broke up while he was in the Navy for four years. I was thrilled to get letters from my friend in the Peace Corp when he was stationed in Belize. I wrote friends who were away at different colleges from me.


But I also wrote thousands of email letters over the past 10 years. Letters just as beautiful, and maybe even more so, since I could easily write 1000 words using the keyboard without my hand hurting and have access to links to my blog if I wanted to illustrate my points further with other writings I have breathed into existence, or photographs I’ve taken or artwork I’ve created. I can’t do that in a snail mail letter.

 

I have reached out to some wonderful people in Greece and Australia and Canada and Maine and Tennessee and have been enriched by their friendship, who have the gift of the written word and some amazing life stories and wisdom to share. My reach is a hell of a lot farther thanks to technology. So I recognize it’s not all bad.

I still have a great urge to express myself through the written word, WHEN I have the time to sit and spill out (and when I do, it’s glorious). And I think that this passage is mostly why I shared this article:

She considers the sense of loss, nebulous in its precise object but undeniably palpable, that many of us feel in bearing witness to and partaking in this profound shift in the human experience:

“I think it is for a quality of time we no longer have, and that is hard to name and harder to imagine reclaiming. My time does not come in large, focused blocks, but in fragments and shards. The fault is my own, arguably, but it’s yours too — it’s the fault of everyone I know who rarely finds herself or himself with uninterrupted hours. We’re shattered. We’re breaking up.

It’s hard, now, to be with someone else wholly, uninterruptedly, and it’s hard to be truly alone. The fine art of doing nothing in particular, also known as thinking, or musing, or introspection, or simply moments of being, was part of what happened when you walked from here to there, alone, or stared out the train window, or contemplated the road, but the new technologies have flooded those open spaces. Space for free thought is routinely regarded as a void and filled up with sounds and distractions.”

[as an aside, I’ve taken two cross-country trips by train from Indiana to Colorado, and it was a wonderful experience. Everyone should take a long-distance train ride at least once in their lives.]

This is what bothers me the most. Not that I don’t do this. I most certainly do. But less so now that my husband left me and I have full responsibility of the house and my daughters when they are with me. I don’t have large stretches of uninterrupted hours like I did when I was a stay-at-home mom.

I have an off day from work at the laboratory (I’m a diagnostic technician in a microbiology laboratory). And what am I doing? Cleaning the house? Shopping for food?

No, I’m thinking and writing. I’m reaching out to a few people via facebook. I have precisely two friends right now that will drop everything to go and meet me for coffee and conversation. The only other way I have of reaching people is through the internet. And for that I’m glad. And I’ll use facebook to write just as much as I would my blog, or my emails, or writing hand-written letters and journals.

I have filled the hours this morning with some beautiful words, on other people’s pages, and my own. I filled it not with 30 second sound bites or the latest political blather, but with some melancholic introspection of the approaching holidays. I filled it will some loving support for a young Facebook friend who says the color from his life has faded, just a little bit. And I’ve enjoyed sharing here, on my blog. Mostly for my own enjoyment, though I hope it aMuses someone else, too.

I think without being able to use my words and reach others through this technological medium, I could not bear it.  I would be dying of unbearable loneliness right now.

But I don’t have to.  And for that, I’m eternally grateful to technology.  I will master and lay claim to this technology and make it a vehicle for the expansion, not contraction of my life.

I love you all.

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For those of you that still can go home for the holidays.

I can’t go home for Thanksgiving. My mother is mad at me for my husband leaving me this year. She blames me for everything that went wrong in this marriage.

And what’s more, she completely rejects the new man in my life. She ignored him when I tried to introduce him to her at a wedding a couple of weeks ago. She brushed right past us when she left without saying goodbye.

My ex’s mother said my ex could bring his new girlfriend to Thanksgiving. That’s really sweet of her. She’s doing parenting right.

As for me, I’m not going home for Thanksgiving. I’m not going home for Christmas either. There’s no point. She doesn’t need to see me, or her grandkids.

It’s not that I hate my mother. I don’t. This is who she has been my ENTIRE life. Withholding love and support when I do something she doesn’t like and treated each and every boy I liked with cold disapproval.

I am not ever going to be what my mother wants me to be. And that’s all right. I don’t blame her for that. I don’t blame her for being a cold, heartless woman with no capacity for empathy, warmth or acceptance.

I won’t be alone this Thanksgiving, though. I’ll be spending it quietly with my sweetheart and with a dear friend of ours. I positively can not wait to go where my company is wanted.

My life is not at all like I envisioned it when I first got married. And that’s okay. I still appreciate the journey I’ve been on, though the path is difficult and lonely at times. I’ve come through some really tough stuff and I know I’m stronger for it, and unlike my mother, a great deal more compassionate for having been through what I’ve been through.

I hope as you gather with your family around the Thanksgiving table, that you still feel you belong. Even if your crazy uncle Louie drinks a little too much, or your Aunt Mabel pinches your cheeks in that way you hate or your siblings find fault with your your hairstyle/your clothes/your girl/boyfriend and your mom says “when are you going to get a “real” job?”

There’s a LOT of people out there who just can’t go home and who are trying to face another holiday filled with rejection and just trying to make it through without hurting themselves because of it.

Enjoy the chaos of imperfect human beings and the comedic clash of personalities gathered ’round the table.

Sit back, enjoy the show, and give thanks that you CAN still go home

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Thankful

I am grateful I didn’t succumb to those awful feelings I was having the last time I posted. I don’t think I could have taken it.  Truly.

I just kind of wanted to share where I am right now. The mixed blessing that separating from my husband is turning out to be.

Most times I’m handling this separation well. Most times I feel on top of the world, that I did the best thing for my self and the girls.

I’m with a new partner, who is much more sensitive, much more communicative and much more emotionally intelligent than my ex, and who doesn’t drink much, doesn’t curse, and isn’t “cranky old man” all the time.

It was hard going at first, adjusting to all the changes and having the housekeeping and yard duties fall on my shoulders while working 45-50 hours a week.

But every now and then, I still fall apart. I get into this terrible place of grieving. Not for him leaving me, but for the fact that I wasn’t going to get married at all.  Something about my husband made me change my mind and the course of my entire life. With him, I began to believe I could beat the odds and make a marriage work. Whatever my mother did (who was a miserable narcissistic shrew of a woman) I would do the opposite. Where she was judgmental, I’d be open-minded. Where she was harsh, I would be soft. Where she was cold, I would be warm. Where she was hands-off, I’d be hands-on. Where she was unsupportive of others, I would be an encourager. Where she was controlling, I would “live and let live”. Where she was ambitious as all get-out and sought to work out of the home to make as much money as she could, I’d give up my career in medical genetics to be a stay at home mom for 10 years.

I think the hardest thing I cope with is the fact that I did all the “right things” and it didn’t seem to matter. At least at first. 20 years and many drinking binges (often ending up in puking session), and a few suicide gestures later on my ex’s part (that I had to talk himself down from), I changed from that warm, loving, soft, encouraging, loving person into someone I didn’t recognize anymore.

That’s what trauma does to a person.

I became bitter and hard, judgemental and vicious. No, not all the time. Most of the time I struggled to stay soft, open-hearted and loving.  Many of you know I wrote about this all the time on this blog.  I wrote and I wrote and I wrote.  Sometimes through my tears I wrote.  It helped to keep my priorities clear.  Even though I struggled so much.

But trying to stay married came at a huge price. I was traumatized. Being in a dysfunctional relationship for so long changed a part of me, of my brain, temporarily.

I was bitter, angry, rageful at times.

No one should get PTSD from family. Or from a spouse, but it happens. A lot more than it should.

I became the very thing I feared the most – I became my mother. Maybe even worse than my mother. I don’t recall my mother destroying things. Or hitting walls. Or having over-the-top temper tantrums like I had. Not that she didn’t fight. She did, with my stepfather. But I don’t remember her going off the rails on her own.

The best thing that ever happened to me (and to him, too) was his moving out.

I’m calmer, much more at peace. I still get triggered from time to time, but by and large it’s not been as bad as before.

But then there are those moments of deep grieving. Grieving what happened to me in this marriage. What happened to my children. And grieving the parts of my husband that were good, and kind, and loving. But aren’t there any more.

And it usually happens when I’m at my lowest point. Like after working a 12 hour shift at the lab, or having a crappy interaction with my trainer that leaves me in fear of losing my job (but, in a crazy turn of events, got escorted out of the laboratory yesterday by the police – that’s a story for another day).

And I cry intensely. And I need it and hate it the same time, because I can’t stand the “grief hangover” that happens afterward. And I can’t stand the guilt and the self-doubt and the wonder if there was ANYTHING I could have done to prevent what happened.

And knowing that there wasn’t anything I could do to avert disaster sometimes doesn’t help. I mourn for that, too. How could two young people who once considered each other’s soul-mates get it so wrong?

But on the bright side, I am handling things. We aren’t starving. The bills are paid (mostly) on time. I am happy to see that the only money that leaves my bank account is because of ME and no one else. The house is a disaster because I’m working so much and cleaning a lot less, but also not caring so much about it either. It gets done when it gets done.

I’m regaining a sense of who I was before all the trauma took place. In less than three months time I can feel proud of how far I’ve come since January. Without my new job, none of this would be possible.

I can say I love what I do for work (lately having loads of fun with microscopic examinations and biochemical identifications of foodborne pathogens) though sometimes it’s hard and it’s boring.  12 hours on my feet is no fun.

My new partner is teaching me what Love really is. And helping to re-wire my brain so I’m much less reactive than I used to be. He is helping me to truly listen, especially when I’m feeling scared/triggered…and listening is hard for me, but he’s not running away when things get tense. I’m allowing him to comfort me and not push him away, like I used to do with my husband when I was triggered.

I truly do believe there are some really good folks out there that can help us heal and grow.

My lawn may be sorely in need of mowing, my laundry might be piling up, but I’m mostly happy. I have someone in my life who loves me, who cherishes me in ways that my husband did not, and could not, for a long, long time.

The girls are adjusting to life post-separation. It’s hard at times, but they are learning to cope. We just got their report cards a week ago, and while my youngest was having some problems for a while, we caught it in time and have been working together on it. She didn’t get lower than a B by the end of the quarter. We are both happy about that.

I’m in a support group for divorced people on facebook.  There’s a bit of negativity there, but sometimes there are great posts that are very helpful.  I’m glad for the chance to hear from others that there is light at the end of the tunnel. That while it takes time and it’s a lot of hard work to adjust to divorce, that it can be done. There’s lots of success stories to know that there is hope.

And most of all, I hope I will be one of them.

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The slippery slope of depression

I’ve heard it said that you can wake up and decide what kind of day you are going to have. On the heels of a dreary and chilly and melancholy day, I am waking up with trepidation.

My energy has been sapped. I woke up to the sun streaming through my window and I want to be happy.

I want to shake off the sluggish feeling that is seeping into my body at this moment, but I don’t know if I can.

I hit a wall.

I am in a job with rampant disregard for its employees well-being with a trainer who pretty much hates me and I feel like they are doing things that will force me to quit. I had this suspicion confirmed by a co-worker (they tend to force the good employees out and only keep the ones willing to put up with crap).

Sometimes I have very good, cooperative days with John since he moved out, other days, the conflict is unbelievably wretched. I was called a bitch one day, and then allowed to cry in his arms another day. The alternating softness and hardness of his behavior is perplexing and painful.

I haven’t talked to my mother in about 6 months or more. She has cut off emotional support and told me I could not turn to her if I have financial problems either.

I was told by my youngest sister that if I’m at any family function that she’s in attendance, she’d call the police on me. She hates me that much.

I don’t know where I’m going for the holidays this year. I’ll send the girls to my in-laws for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but I am thinking of just staying home by myself. I really probably won’t be much good company.

I have precisely two people I can count on to make time to see me face to face, to let me unload my burden and to cheer me up when I cry and one of them is recovering from knee surgery in the hospital.

I don’t know what this beautiful, sunny day will bring.

Will I have to fight back the urge to cry and lose the battle again?

Will I, despite my best intentions, express disappointment that my girls aren’t helping me keep the house clean and hurt their feelings while doing so?

Will I feel unbearably lonely today, even though in the past few days, I’ve spoken to a few acquaintances and made a new one? Even though I’m going to a black tie event tonight, complete with a beautiful brown and copper gown and with a wonderful and handsome man by my side?

There’s been a lot of life-changing events in the past couple of years. A lot heaped upon my plate.

I am not, generally, a negative or weak person. In fact, I believe I do have strength to cope with lots of things that would cause other people to fold.

It’s been nearly two years since I’ve slid into melancholy.

I know it’s been time…perhaps past due…for me to go through this.

Carl Jung has said:

“‘Depression’ means literally ‘being forced downwards.’ This can happen even when you don’t consciously have any feeling at all of being ‘on top.’ “

He said we have some choices when the depression hits:

1. become useful to someone
2. surround yourself with beauty

But another alternative exists,

3. to move inward and learn from the depression. To learn from the depression, though this is the more difficult path:

“When the darkness grows denser, I would penetrate to its very core and ground, and would not rest until amid the pain a light appeared to me, for ‘in excessu affectus’ [in an excess of affect or passion] Nature reverses herself. “

Kazmirez Dabrowski would tend to agree. We have much to learn from our neuroses and depressions if we let them teach us.

So…while I really don’t want to be going through this, I think I have to, to get to the other side of it.

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