Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The search for self

I have been working hard lately on refocusing my attention away from others around me and what they need, and back towards myself and taking care of what I need.  While that may sound selfish on the surface, and it does to me even as I write it, I find that it is an important exercise for me because it helps me to find the balance between taking care of others and taking care of myself.  In my life, far too often, I tend to direct my energy outwards, be it towards my children, my friends, my family, or any other relationships; and again, far too often, my own needs become ignored in that process.  For a long time I was able to blame my husband for not providing for me—he was simply an easy scapegoat.  But now, as a single mom, I am learning more acutely that I am entirely responsible for myself, and any relationship I may have in the future needs to complement me as a balanced individual rather than completing a version of me that is not whole. 

To that end, I have been spending less of my energy lately in reaching out to others, even towards those people whom I dearly love.  Nevertheless, being a mom, the needs of my children can never go ignored, and I am still required to put a lot of energy into meeting their ever-evolving demands for attention, love, and overall maintenance.  But when I take the time to turn my attention back towards myself, I recognize that the part of me which has evolved spiritually over the past several years has been neglected for too long, and I think that is where I need to direct my energy in order to start feeling more balanced.  I no longer have any affiliation with any particular church, and although I have tried to explore different churches and faiths, I find that I have developed a strong aversion to any form of organized religion.  I think that comes from the push I felt for years to conform to the faith I used to follow.  I was constantly being told what I should think and should believe, and now I feel suffocated by that type of rhetoric and simply want to walk the other way as soon as I suspect that it may be looming on the horizon.  On that note, I recognize that I will need to follow some form of independent spirituality rather than a church environment, at least until I feel like I have more clarity about what I want to pursue and what I want my children to grow up with.  

One thing I have wanted to try for a while is meditation.  Several friends have suggested that I try it, and although I have been interested in it for a while, I felt like I didn’t quite know what meditation meant or how to begin.  I also didn’t quite see it as a spiritual process, but more as a way to clear the mind of clutter.  This week, though, I felt a strong desire to explore the concept more thoroughly, and this morning I found myself reading this article and then trying in my own way to follow the direction it gave me.  It was actually a very positive experience for me; I felt strangely relaxed and invigorated afterwards, and I was able to draw upon the imagery from that brief meditation session throughout the day to help prevent myself from being swayed by too much emotion.  I want to learn more about the process of meditation and hope to practice it some more.  Tomorrow I plan to take a trip to the local bookstore and see if they have any books on the topic that I can’t resist.  (Alone, without the kids!  That is always such a treat for me.)

I also stumbled across this website as I was searching for more information on meditation, and I was pretty surprised at the wide variety of topics that it covers.  What struck me the most when I read the main page was all of those categories listed on the left that encompass what could be considered major life changes.  I realized that I have been through many of those things myself in the past year, and still have more yet to undergo--a pretty wide variety of topics, from adopting a pet or getting divorced to moving into a new home or finding a new job.  It was kind of surprising to recognize how many of those major changes I have been through, and how my kids are I are thriving in spite of it all, as best as we possibly can under the circumstances.  It also allowed me to cut myself a little bit of slack about not having accomplished all that I wish I had by now; there are only so many things a person can do at one time.  And there is also information on that site about spirituality that I hope will be helpful as I continue to search for ways to complete that part of myself.  

In any case, I find that it benefits me and my kids to learn more about how to take care of myself, so that there is more of me to give to my children and my other relationships.  I have discovered many things over the past few years that helped me work my way through some major life changes and brought more of a sense of balance to my life, including books, music, writing, friends, long walks with my dog, and afternoons at the beach.  I see this search for spiritual balance as one more way of completing the picture of who I am and who I want to become, and I anticipate that it will be a long road with a lot of things for me to learn along the way; I’m kind of excited about that. 

And incidentally, I feel like this blog is doing a terrible job of saying what I want to say, but I'm going to post it anyway because I can.  

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Letting go

This is a concept that has been weighing heavily on my mind lately.  I have spent a lot of time this week talking to a friend of mine who is in an abusive and dangerous marriage.  I’ve been listening to her and offering my advice, support, and love, in part because I truly do love her and care about her, and in part because I can relate so closely to what she’s going through.

I nod along with all of her arguments.  “It’s my fault.  If only I had done such and such differently.”  “I don’t want to live like this, but I don’t want to leave him either.  What if I leave and he won’t take me back?”  “He will be devastated if I leave.  I can’t stand the thought of hurting him like that.”  “I just love him so much.  Why does it have to hurt to love him like this?” 

And meanwhile, as she sits at the computer reaching out for help through her pain and her tears, her husband is outside in the family van, staying awake all night on adult web sites where he can immerse himself in his virtual life. 

My heart aches for her, because I understand all too well what it’s like to feel like you are trapped by way of circumstance.  I understand how it feels when your heart is telling you something that is entirely contrary to what your head is telling you.  I understand the heartache, the conflict, the loyalty, the guilt, and the hopelessness.  And after living in pain and misery and fear until I had finally had enough, I decided to make change happen for myself instead of waiting for my marriage to change for me, and in that decision I learned one of the greatest lessons of all.  I learned that sometimes, when the only choices that lay before us are equally wrought with pain, we have to choose the one that forces us to let go of something that once was and move on to something yet unseen. 

Our lives are not intended to be defined by our relationships.  The relationships we have with others should complete us, allow us to thrive, help us to experience love and joy and friendship and laughter.  When a relationship fails to enhance us, but instead leaves us empty, searching for something that does not exist within its bounds, it is time to let go.  Yes, it hurts, often excruciatingly so.  It can be frightening, overwhelming, confusing, devastating, and very, incredibly lonely.  But all of those things can heal with time.  And when the only two choices that remain are the pain of holding on or the pain of letting go, it’s time to let go.  It is in that process of letting go that we find the salve of time and love and peace that heals us from within, and we discover that life beyond our immediate circumstances can not only exist, but it can be so much better than anything we had ever imagined.

You can’t know that better side when you are desperately holding on to a wilting rose that once was beautiful but is now not much more than a thorn-covered stem.  Before the wounds pricked by those thorns can begin to heal, you have to let go.  

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Six Months and One Week

Tomorrow, August 9th, it will be exactly six months since I packed up my belongings, my kids, and my dog, and left my husband.  The adjective that will probably always best describe my memories of that day is “scary.”  I was scared of how my husband would react, I was scared of how to accomplish the things I had to do to become independent with my two kids, I was scared about how my kids were going to handle the transition, and I was scared about not knowing what life had in store for me.  But most importantly, I was tired of being scared of my husband, and of not knowing who was going to walk through the door at the end of the day.  I knew that would never change if I stayed with him.  The only hope I had of not being scared any longer was to face my fears of the unknown and try to overcome them, without him. 

At that time, I filed separation papers, primarily because the state I moved to would not let me file divorce papers under their legislation until I had lived here for six months.  However, if they had let me file for divorce right away, I still don’t know that I would have.  The idea of initiating something so final when I had just crossed the threshold into my new life was too… scary.  I thought then that six months would be a good waiting period for me to be sure that was what I really wanted for my life.  Now, I am absolutely certain, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I do not want to live with that man ever again.  He is working on himself and making a lot of positive change, but I’ll just say that at least one of every five conversations I have with him serve as a perfect reminder of why I left him and why I will never go back. 

So, after August 17th, when my son is back in school, I will be back at the courthouse to file final papers and continue moving on with my life.  That leaves me with only one week of my kids’ summer vacation, and in addition to the fun I am planning for them, I have a major goal of my own to meet this week.  I am finally going to finish rewriting my resume.  I started working on it a few months ago, got a draft ready, brought it to a career counselor, and realized that not only did it need to be completely redone, but also that I was not yet emotionally ready for the process of looking for a new job.  It was a step across that threshold into my new life that I was not able to handle at that time, earlier this summer.  I struggled a lot to figure out what was holding me back, what was making it so difficult for me; it’s just a job, after all, and I do already have one.  I just needed a new one.  And now, after lots of introspection, emotional healing, and counseling, I have finally found the place in myself that is ready to take on the challenge of leaving my at-home job for something that will support me as a single parent.  It’s still scary, and it’s still overwhelming, when I look at the whole picture all at once.  But, when I remember to slow down and take it in baby steps, I find myself slowly, carefully, steadily moving forward, like a toddling infant taking its initial tentative steps.  Each step takes a lot of energy and thought and concentration, but with each unsteady wobble, the young toddler gains confidence; and before you know it, that little toddler is a preschooler showing off her favorite dance moves, or a second grader showing you something exciting that he just read. 

I'm getting there, albeit in baby steps, but at least I am able to handle them now.  And, because my brother has decided that he needs to update his resume too, we set a common goal to have them both finished by this weekend so that we celebrate by going to the Gravenstein Apple Fair together.  It's something we have talked about doing together for the last few years but the timing has never been right for us to go.  He's my best friend, and my kids love him, and it will be a very fun and well deserved Saturday for both of us.  But first, I have more work to do on my resume, a few sentences at a steps.  But just think, in one week, it will be done!  I can do this in one week.  And after that, there will be more baby steps for me to take, and I hope that the places they take me will be more exciting than they are scary.  

Monday, August 2, 2010


The concept of friendship has been on my mind a lot lately, and I have been trying to formulate thoughts about it that would make a decent blog.  But what is there to say?  I love my friends, and I try to be as good of a friend to them as they are to me. 

But today, after a long talk with one of my very best friends ever, I understand a little bit more about what friendship is.  I was frustrated and confused about how to handle something personal that I’m dealing with, and my friend was there to listen.  I could whine, cry, grumble, complain, pout, sniffle, and kvetch about my problems, and she just listened, and understood.  My frustration was important to her because she cares about me.  And just by having someone who loves me enough to listen to me vent my frustrations, I felt better about my ability to deal with them. 

That’s what friendship really is.  It’s being there for each other in the happy times and in the sorrowful times.  It’s supporting each other though frustration, grief, depression, confusion, and any difficulty that may arise in life with advice, compassion, laughter, silence, or whatever is most needful at the moment.  It’s understanding, empathy, and patience.  It’s a feeling of safety in knowing that what you need to whine about will be met with a listening ear and not considered insignificant or simply brushed off with a short command to “get over it.”  It’s something I never had in my marriage, and something I have long envied in the marriage relationships of others around me.  It’s the gateway that leads to love. 

In order to have a true friend, you also need to be one.  Friendship is about give and take, because we all have times when we need to receive more than we are able to give, and true friends are the ones who don’t give up on you during those times when you feel like you are nothing more than a sieve into which others pour love and compassion with little in return for themselves.  I have been exceptionally blessed in my life by wonderful friends who have helped me through some very dark and difficult times, and I hope I can extend the same to them when they need it. 

I could spend hours finding and posting hundreds of quotes on friendship, but right now, this is the one that most closely expresses my heart about what a friend is: 

"Two may talk together under the same roof for many years, yet never really meet; and two others at first speech are old friends."  Mary Catherwood