Flanking Me

When X left, I was extremely angry. Understandable, I know! In this time, I had a recurring fantasy where all the people who loved me would line up and take turns punching him in the stomach. I felt satisfied by how long the line was. In my fantasy, the point was less the punching, and more that I wanted him to see how long that line was. How many people loved me, and had my back. That fantasy would pop up in my time of doubt and remind me that I am loved. His abandonment definitely made me think I was alone and unlovable, but I believed that even before he left. I didn’t understand that line of people until he left.

After a while, though, the idea of people punching him over and over didn’t sit well with me. Obviously it’s all hypothetical, but I just saw him standing there alone, sad, pathetic. I know that version of X. It was a big part of who he was, especially in the last years of our marriage. And I don’t wish him that kind of harm. Not really.

So I changed my fantasy. About a year ago, I started to fear he’d show up at my new house. The fear was unfounded. He’s not reached out to me once since I left Alaska. But I struggled with it. So I resurected my line of people and, instead of them lining up to punch him, I imagined them flanking me, standing in my yard, spread out on either side of me, facing him. They don’t say anything. The just stand there. They show him how loved I am. There are hundreds of them.

I don’t fear X showing up anymore. But from time to time, when I’m feeling alone, rejected, not worthy of love, I imagine the people I love flanking me. I’ve been leaning on this image a lot lately.

A Moment of Magic

Working as a teacher during COVID is beyond hard. I’ve struggled to stay focused, keep going. I’m exhausted.

But today, I had a moment of magic. A kiddo of mine was having an epic meltdown. I had instincts about how to address it. I felt confident in speaking up for what I thought needed to happen. And then I knelt down and helped this little guy get unstuck. I was calm, and zen. I was in the zone.

I haven’t felt like that in a long time. I felt competent and caring. It was exactly what this little guy needed. After, I felt really good.

I felt so good, I wanted to tell someone about it. I wanted to be able to say, I nailed it! I wanted to share how I felt like I was in my element and have that person know I wasn’t being arrogant, to understand how good that feels, and have that person be excited for me. It was a weird tension, pulling in the driveway and just sitting with the feeling with no one to share it with.

I’m pretty certain X wouldn’t have been able to be who I wanted in a moment like this. Empathy was hard for him. I always thought he secretly judged me. And knowing what I know now, he would have been uncomfortable with my moment of success.

So I wasn’t really wishing I had what I once had. I was longing for something new, something better. And while it made me ache with loneliness, I think it’s still a sign of healing.

Back to School

We go back to school this week, though I’ve been working quite a bit already. Our district will be starting the year with a “hybrid” of in-person and remote learning. It’s a tremendous amount of planning, of new, and of stress. I’m nervous about going back. While COVID-19 cases have been low in my state, I fear going back will cause them to rise. Really, it seems inevitable. And guidance from the governor requires cases in three different classrooms before it’s considered an outbreak and school returns to remote learning. I’m not sure that’s really enforceable, as his previous (non) guidance gave districts the power to decide how the year would start, and many districts are starting fully remote.

Anyway, that’s really neither here nor there. The point is, it’s a big unknown. A life or death unknown. And it’s scary.

At the same time, I’m really excited to be returning to in-person work, to collaborate and chat with colleagues, to have kids in my classroom. Even though it will be different, and hard, and scary, it will also be so good for my mental health.

Being home alone for so long is starting to really have an impact on me. My stress levels are higher than normal. I’m feeling actual loneliness, when before being alone felt like a treat. That was back when I had social interactions with friends and colleagues. My brain says, no one should go back. It’s not safe. But my heart is craving the connection.

So I go back this week. And I’ll take precautions. I’ll wear my mask. Disinfect, wash hands, repeat. I’ll have a HEPA filter next to my desk to help reduce the viral load. When I come home, I’ll have a laundry basket at the door so I can strip and shower.

Then I’ll play with my pup. I’ll do my workout. I’ll read and write and try to relax. Because my mental health has to be the most important priority and the only one who can choose that for me is me.

Talking to the Universe

Tonight, I’m worried I’m broken. I’m alone, on my porch, after a tough day with my pup. She’s lost some teeth, is teething, and continues to be quite reactive, which turns into her lunging at and biting me. It’s been frustrating and I’ve tried to stay positive, but it’s hard.

Then, I had my beloved writing class. I wrote quite a bit this week – a lot for me at least – and I was feeling really good about what I was writing, like I was going somewhere in my story, that the writing didn’t feel like a slog, but actually skirting along good territory. It was starting to feel right and coming together. So when it was my turn to share, I read the chapter that introduced a new character. I was excited and it sounded good to my ear as I read it aloud. My writing teacher, who I adore and knows what she’s talking about, did not love it. She said my story was too small. There were no stakes. And I have to tell you, I had to walk away because I couldn’t stop crying. Willa was barking to go out so that helped. But I stood in the yard, holding her leash, and just sobbed.

The criticism broke me. This week I had been feeling like a writer, actually thinking I could make this writing thing work. The universe started to do that thing where it shows you what you need, like inspiring quotes about following your dreams, and news stories about where my story takes place. I even had glimmers of confidence in myself.

But this little bit of criticism, which I’m sure is warranted, just broke me. And now I’m sitting here wondering what on earth I need to do to not live a shattered life, where I have skin that’s too thin. Where everything hurts me. Because I have to say, this isn’t what I thought my life would be like, and I’m not loving it.

I don’t know why I’m writing this as a blog post. There’s no lesson or neat way to bring everything back together. Honestly, I had such a wave of loneliness sitting on the porch while my crazy puppy throws her chew toy around, not knowing who to even reach out to, I felt like I needed to write, put this out into the universe. Maybe it will come back with a small win. I’m really in need of a win.

The 2nd

July 2nd marked one year since I returned to my home state, and what would have been my ten year anniversary if things had been different.

I’ve found myself feeling kind of solemn these last few days. I want to be alone (which I am, thanks to this pandemic). I feel a bit disappointed in myself, that I’m not living this vibrant, happy, active life I imagined for myself. I am doing things, and I am working to be more active, but it isn’t a lifestyle. I haven’t “arrived” at the vision I had for myself this far out.

Instead, I’m still working through understanding my marriage. This past week, in therapy, we talked a lot about gaslighting. I shared stories of the ways X made me feel bad about myself, and then my therapist walked me through the gaslighting and misdirection he engaged in to get me there. Over and over, I have to walk through these things because still, in my mind, it all feels foggy. I know you might think, why keep dwelling on it? Why not just move on? This is me moving on. I still feel like I’m wading chest deep through murky water, tangled in cat-nine tails and swamp grass. How exactly does one just move on? I still feel such hurt from the whole thing. So I’m trying to give myself some grace, recognize the small ways I keep moving forward, and then keep taking the next step.

One success in all of this was that, on the morning of the 2nd, I thought a lot about what the day meant for me, how I was feeling. And I realized that I couldn’t imagine the “if only we…” version of the story. There was no alternative ending. It seems inevitable that our marriage would end. And the big reason for this is he would never do the emotional heavy lifting needed. Shit, he couldn’t even pick up the 3-pounders and give it a try. It’s heartbreaking to me that he is so broken. But more, I’m heartbroken that I gave so much of myself to a person who could give nothing back. So much time wasted.

I know this seems sad, but I think it’s a good thing. I’m not longing for something that might have been, or over-emphasizing the small things I miss about being married. I think I’m seeing things more clearly than before. With every step. Maybe this means I can really turn and face myself, focus on me in a real, deep way.

My therapist brought up forgiveness during our last session. I shared that I don’t want to forgive him, and I don’t believe I need to. In my mind’s eye, I want to shed the skin of this hurt and walk forward, leaving all that pain and grief in a pile on the ground, giving him not an ounce more of my energy.

Avoid the Tender Love Scenes

They get me every time. The long looks, the silly moments interspersed. The real tenderness and affection. I can’t help but cry.

It’s hard to explain how I can not miss X and yet long for those moments. I remember being looked at that way, touched with tenderness, laughing together. It was really wonderful being loved.

The strange thing is, I absolutely do not want to date right now. I can’t even imagine being with another person. Even as I don’t miss him, I don’t want someone else. I did, for a moment, but it was all wrong. I have so much work to do on myself before I can open up and even begin to trust someone else again. I want to do that, theoretically. But not now. I don’t have enough of me to give.

So in the meantime. I’ll keep working on me. And I’ll avoid the tender love scenes.

Socially Distant

I’ve been pretty isolated since mid-march and it’s really starting to wear me down. While I’ve had slightly more relaxed interactions with my parents (I go into their house and they come into mine) that’s really been the extent. I haven’t arranged distant visits with friends. The best social interactions I have had were going into school to clean and pack up, the parade through town with my co-teacher in the car with me, and a visit from a dear friend and her boyfriend who came up on his motorcycle. We visited in the yard, distant, for an hour or so.

In addition to feeling isolated from people, I have this dog now. She’s really a very sweet, snuggly and silly girl. But she also bites like crazy, can get really rough with it, and barks wildly when she wants something. If I tell her no, she actively looks for ways to do the thing I said no too. She has only slept through the night twice (which I guess is really good, considering she’s just 12 weeks old.). She’s still not potty trained so, if I’m not on top of it, she has accidents. But, I’m doing this alone too, and I have to always be “on.” I’m exhausted, and isolated, and just really struggling.

It’s officially been a year since my divorce. I keep thinking I should be better now. I had imagined I’d be at a different place – healthy, fit, social, maybe even dating. None of those things are true and it’s really got me down.

I’m trying to fight through this. I’m writing. I’m looking hard for the positives. (Willa really has made huge gains. She’s calming down more easily, biting me a lot less, and is able to stop when I redirect her. She likes to play and snuggle, which is just so sweet. We play training games together that are fun. We’re getting there. ) I’m doing little things around the house while Willa naps. I’m slowly tackling the disaster of a yard the previous owners left.

But I’m really done with being socially distant. Before X left, I really thought I didn’t like being social. (I think that was part of his manipulation.) I now know I NEED to be social. And I know being alone is really slowing my healing progress.

A New Therapist

After a long hunt, I finally found a new therapist. We meet once a week. We meet through a secure video chat during this COVID crisis. She’s very results-oriented, compared to my previous therapist in Alaska, who really was more focused on listening, holding space for my pain and validating my worthiness, which really, was exactly what I needed.

Now, we’re focused on moving past the trauma from X. We set goals. She gives me stuff to read. I wasn’t ready for this before. I am now.

Last week she gave me an article to read about the stages a relationship with a narcissist goes through. While not exact, they can be some-what predictable. I’ve wondered about whether or not X was a narcissist. I’ve struggled with this label. My previous therapist said, while she couldn’t give him that label, there is a spectrum of narcissistic behavior and he definitely fell on it. Still, I resisted. A childhood friend shared that she thought he fell in that category. Still, I resisted. But I read this article. It basically told the story of our marriage. And while the stages at the end happened in slightly different order for me, they all happened.

It says, “Once the relationship has ended, the narcissist will move on as if nothing happened. They won’t even remember what it was like to experience the love and care of [their partner].” I’ve known this to be true from the beginning. Even when well meaning friends and family would say, “He’ll realize what he lost, ” I knew he wouldn’t.

Then the article says, “The narcissist will move on and find another victim to fill their needs.” And just like that, a massive weight was lifted.

I don’t know why, this time around, it makes complete sense to me. Perhaps this is the shedding of lies and the confusion of subtle manipulations finally dissipating. But I feel free. I truly feel in my gut that this wasn’t about me. I truly see that he is just very, very broken. I finally feel separate from it all.

I’ve had so many revelations repeat themselves throughout this healing process, I know it’s possible that this might not be “the end.” But I have never felt such a strong shift, a shift that has lasted at least a week! I really do feel detached. It’s so good.

I’ll keep working with my therapist. We’re going to look for the red flags that I missed, so I can be aware moving forward. We’re going to spend a lot of time on building me. I’m ready to move on with my life.

Therapy is good. If you’re stuck, be brave. Reach out and get help. It helps.

Walk to the Lake

This quarantine thing has really put a lot of stress on me, both emotionally and physically. Last week I started to realize that my body was starting to hurt from such little movement. So I charged up my FitBit and I told my co-teacher that every day after our afternoon Zoom meeting, we needed to end by going to get our sneakers on, and not signing off until we knew the other was ready to walk out the door. She charged up her FitBit too, and we started daily step challenges. It has made a huge difference in how I feel. And on days when I skip my walk, boy do I feel the difference!

Today I decided to walk in the morning. The sun was shining, I had the time, and my body felt like it needed to go! It was windy and chilly and I was glad I bundled up. The lake was choppy and deep blue where the shallows dropped off. In the distance I could see the Sandwich mountains with a dusting of snow on them from yesterday. I sat for a bit on the end of the dock, like I usually do, and tried to quiet my mind, relax my shoulders, release the tension in my chest, and just listen to the sound of the waves. I had a memory, then, of laying on the dock up at camp when I was younger, and just listening to the water move underneath and slosh against the pillars and the shore.

These walks are a real blessing. They are healing, and beautiful, and I’m grateful to myself for taking that time for me.

I hope you are taking care of yourself during this time by getting out and walking, even for short jaunts. The movement makes a difference. Take care of yourself.

Good News

After a very long time searching for a dog, and many rejections because I live alone, I finally am getting a puppy!

Meet Willameena – Willa for short.

She’s a lab who was born on March 31st. She’s three weeks old in these pictures. Isn’t she just the sweetest?

I’m so incredibly excited to get her. Because she needs to be with her mom for 8 weeks before being adopted, I won’t be able to take her home until the end of May. While it’s hard to wait, I think it’s good too. The timing is good, because I’ll be wrapping up the last couple of weeks of school. It also gives me time to get puppy supplies that I need and it also gives me time to read about and watch videos about puppy training. I’m going to have to take her out every hour until her bladder gets stronger and to teach her that going to the bathroom outside is so exciting! I was worried about how I am going to sleep, and at first I will definitely have interrupted sleep, but I can put down puppy pads for her at night so I can get a bit more sleep. If I had a partner, we could tag team it. But I’m doing it alone.

I have to admit, that earlier this week I had a moment of fear that I wouldn’t be able to do this alone; that it would be too much and I’d be doing a disservice to my puppy. It’s a big responsibility to take on, but the truth is, I can do this. I think I’ll be able to give her a good life and so much love. I think she’ll be so good for me, keeping me grounded, getting me outside, helping me focus on something positive. A puppy is joy, and I need that right now.

Just this morning, when I was walking to the lake, I was thinking about taking her out in my canoe every weekend, how I would condition her to being around and in the canoe, and around and in the water. That I’d need to condition her to a PFD, and get her to love being in the canoe with me!

There’s so much to teach her and so much to explore with her. I can’t wait! It feels hopeful and really, it’s going to be a lot of work, but so much fun!

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