Sunday, September 19, 2010


Several days ago, I got a phone call from an old high school friend, one of the very few I have kept in touch with over the years.  She asked if I was going to the high school thing.  Thing?  What thing?  No one told me about a thing.  And when she explained that it was our 20-year reunion, and she gave me the event information so I could find it on Facebook, I told her I’d have to think about it and call her back.

Honestly, I have avoided staying in touch with most of the people I went to high school with, but not because I dislike them as people.  It was mostly because of the emotions that I associate with that time of my life, and I wasn’t sure if being around people who reminded me of all those insecurities was a good choice for me.  For many years, I could not handle the mere idea of talking to anyone I knew from that time in my life; I’d left it all behind, moved on to other things.  But I had eventually contacted a couple of close friends who I had missed over the years, and now, I realized I was again at a crossroads.  It’s my 20-year high school reunion, and it’s happening about ten minutes away from where I currently live.  Do I choose to go, hold my head high, and not worry about what others think of me?  Or do I choose to stay home, avoid the possibility of feeling insecure and out of place, but also avoid the possibility of having fun and reconnecting with people who I would honestly like to talk to?

I chose to go.

I walked into the bar last night, knowing by way of text messaging that my close friend had already arrived, and immediately started scanning the room for her face.  I felt somewhat out of place walking in there alone.  But almost immediately, I saw a cluster of familiarity in the center of the room; faces I could not put with names, but faces I knew.  And pretty soon I was greeting and recognizing old friends as if it had been merely a few weeks since graduation instead of 20 years.

I had a drink, started making conversation, and began to relax.  I told my story a few times; I’m separated, and thanks for the sympathy, but I’m actually really happy now; I have two kids, I have employment issues, but I’m honestly better off than I’ve been in years.  And none of it bothered me.  I wasn’t trying to impress people with what I’ve done with my life, so it was easy to avoid feeling inferior.  I don’t need to compare myself to them or what they’ve done.  But after a while, I found myself in a cluster of happily married women chattering about how great it was that they’d finally found the perfect guy, and my drink was long since empty by then, and I had nothing positive to add to the conversation at that point, so I slowly retreated back to the bar and sat down quietly. 

I sat in an almost contemplative silence for a few minutes, as contemplative as you can get in the middle of a noisy bar.  I thought about the last time I’d seen most of these people, at age 18, and all of the major events in my life from then until now flashed before me, as though the last 20 years of my life were a mere glimpse.  I was sober and perfectly capable of driving, and I was starting to feel withdrawn, and I really thought about leaving.  I didn’t want to be there if it was going to leave me feeling depressed.

I checked my watch.  It was only 8:30.

Again, I had a choice.  I could choose to stay, have fun, go talk to people, and make the best of having an evening out without the kids; or I could choose to feel sorry for myself, go home, and mope. 

I chose to stay.  But I’ll be honest; at that point, I ordered another drink.  Sometimes, even the best of choices need a little nudge in the right direction. 

In both of those choices, as in many other times in my life, I realized that I was much better off deciding to be happy than allowing myself to sink into gloom and remorse.  True, overall, I am very happy with the choices I have made in my life, including the choice to leave my marriage and start over; but I still have a long way to go in rebuilding my life, and at times it’s easy to allow that positive decision to carry a negative weight by dwelling on the things I don’t have right now.  What I do have, however, is peace.  I have happiness.  I have freedom.  I have two beautiful children.  I have friends and family who love me; I am surrounded by love, I know this.  And while I don’t have my own house to live in, or a job I love, or a husband, or any number of things, they don’t define who I am, because I choose not to let them.  I am not defined by my circumstances in life.  As one of my friends told me last night, “don’t choose things that make you sad.  Choose to be happy.”  She was absolutely right.  Happiness is a choice, not a circumstance. 

And when I came home, the first thing I did was creep quietly upstairs and kiss those two beautiful choices of mine who were dozing silently on their pillows.  Those are the two best choices I ever made.  For their sake as well as mine, as many times as the choice presents itself to me every day, I choose to be happy.  

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Group Therapy

After I left my husband early this year, one of the first items on my agenda was to seek counseling for myself and for my son, to help us both heal from the trauma we had just been through.  That will forever remain on my list of Good Decisions I've Made, because it has helped both of us to successfully navigate a very difficult time of change.

My counselor is getting to know me and learn what makes me tick.  He's learning the things that are patterns in my life and helping me find ways to avoid repeating those patterns.  And, he often has good advice, and sometimes, I take it.

One of the things he has been encouraging me to do for the last several weeks is to check out a divorce support group.  I feel by now like I no longer need the benefits that group therapy has to offer; after all, I have a group of friends, and I trust them, and isn't that good enough?  Apparently, not quite, at least from his perspective.

"It will be good for you to get out and meet people," he says. 

"You will be able to grow in ways you can't accomplish on your own," he says. 

"It's a good, safe environment for healing," he says. 

I listen and nod, but internally, I resist, because I really don't want to go sit in a group of divorced strangers and talk about my life and my problems.  Besides...I'm kinda over that whole "I left my idiot husband" phase by now.  Right?

But, he keeps mentioning it, and I keep using the excuse that I work in the evenings so I really can't attend evening meetings, until this week when my work computer crashed and I had to take a few unwanted nights off.  I realized that the group he has recommended to me was meeting last night, and I really had no excuse to continue avoiding it, and I thought it wouldn't hurt to try it...just once.  "What have I got to lose?"  I thought.  "It doesn't cost any money, just a little time, and if I hate it I never have to go back." 

So I find my way to this Presbyterian church that is about 20 miles south of here because my therapist says the group that meets there is large and it would be a good place for me.  I sit through the presentation where the group leader welcomes all the newcomers.  He mentions that occasionally people have come to the meeting in spite of the fact that it's held in a church, and I hope I'm being discreet as I nod my head.  (I have such an aversion to churches right now that it's almost like trying to put the same poles from two magnets together; the force driving them apart is impossible to overcome.)  And I watch the video presentation, the first in a series that will be shown over the next ten weeks, and there is some really useful information in that video, and it's not overtly religious, so I'm feeling okay about being there; but then I realize that the video series is based on a book.  I'm thinking I'd rather be home reading the book than sitting in this room in this church.

Then, we break out into small groups for discussion, and I'm in the newcomers group.  Newcomers always go to the newcomers group until they've been attending for a while, and then they get a permanent group.  I'm not thinking I will ever need a permanent group.  But there are a lot of newcomers there, and I soon find myself seated in a circle with about 18 sullen women and 2 men. 

Then, the discussion begins.  This is where we go around the circle and talk about who we are and how we ended up here, if we want to.  I'm about in the middle of the circle so several people share their divorce horror stories before me.  The first woman chokes out about a sentence or two, and then she breaks down into tears, and out comes the tissue box.  And immediately my heart lurches in sympathy for her, because I know too well the pain that goes with heartache, and watching her suffer leaves me on the verge of tears too. 

One by one, the women in the circle take their turn, and I sit in shock as I listen to some of the stories they tell.  Six years of separation and brutal legal battles and they still aren't divorced?  He left her after 26 years for an old girlfriend and she never saw it coming?  That woman has an infant and a three year old and no idea how to support herself?  How tragic...and my heart truly aches for each of these women.  I want to get up and hug them all. 

And then, it's my turn, which I've kind of been dreading, because I realize that most of these women are actually still in love with their ex-husbands, some in spite of many years of pain and struggle.  And I try to gloss over my story quickly because it does not seem important when there are people surrounding me who are still in pain over the loss of someone they truly loved.  Besides, I feel kind of calloused when I tell the truth:  "Um, we separated several months ago, but we're both okay with it, and I'm moving on now, and I'm just trying to manage the perspective of being a single mom and figuring out how to support myself and my kids."  I have no tears, no story of lost love to tell (at least not one that relates to my marriage), and no real remorse any longer over the disintegration of the life I once had.  I'm happy now.  I'm content.  And I feel kind of guilty about that when I look around this circle at all the soggy tissues and streaked faces and hunched down shoulders.  Am I supposed to suffer for the next six years over this?  Am I missing out on something by not letting the grief and sorrow drag on all the way through my son's elementary education?  I sure hope not!  Because if that's what divorce is supposed to be, then I am definitely doing it wrong. 

I left that night with a feeling of accomplishment, though.  I got something that I needed out of the evening, which was a sense of where I am and of how group therapy could benefit me.  Mostly, it is a place for me to go and feel better about how far I have come with the struggles and challenges of my circumstances in life.  I have dealt with all of the same emotions that those women are suffering from now, at different times and in different ways, and I have worked my way through each phase, allowing myself to experience and sort out those feelings before moving on to the next wave of emotion.  And today, when my ex-husband called me to whine about the way he feels, I was able to tell him quite simply that I have been there, too; I lived through that place while I was still married to him, and tried to do something about it.  And now, I have moved on, and let go, and I'm finally happy, and I hope he gets to that place too. 

By the way, did I mention that they were selling the book from that video series?  I bought it...because while the topic sounds like it will be helpful to me, I doubt I will ever go back to that group.  I'll be happier sitting at home and reading the book.

Friday, September 3, 2010

My rock

The last couple of days have found me focusing my attention on healing my heart.  It's not because I feel like I lost my chance at the greatest guy in the whole wide world, because that obviously could not be further from the truth.  It's because I fell for this guy pretty hard and pretty quickly, at a time when he was going through some very intense life challenges, and I reached out to help him because I am a sensitive person who doesn't want to leave someone alone during such a traumatic time.  And in that process, I ended up giving away too much of my heart to someone who didn't appreciate or respect it, and I found out that I had been used and taken advantage of.  That hurts.  The fact that I had such strong feelings for someone so selfish and immature and dishonest hurts.  The fact that he was pursuing someone else while I was reaching out to him and he didn't even have the courage to tell me really hurts.  The fact that I wanted the intense emotional connection we shared to continue, and yet he chose to sever it despite how much of my heart I gave him...that hurts.

But now, I have the benefit of finality and closure.  The story is over, and as I once read, "true love stories never have endings."  And now that I know what the ending looks like and I can take some time to heal and put it behind me, I am finding that it still works for me to listen to my heart as I pursue the things which bring me peace and happiness.  Today, what my hurting heart told me was that I needed to go to the beach.  The weather didn't seem great for it, and I didn't have very much time to spend there, but I knew, just knew, that I needed to go there today.

So while both of the kids were at school this afternoon, I took my dog and drove to the closest beach.  I started walking her along the shore and let myself relax into the calming surge of the waves across my feet and the sounds and smells of the ocean.  As I walked along, I felt the familiarity of hurt and loneliness swelling inside my heart; I have lived with those emotions for far too long, and they started to spill out of me in the form of tears, as they so often do.

And then, as I walked and thought and sought for that peaceful place within my soul, I suddenly spotted a rock lying in the sand, in the perfect shape of a heart.  That's it, up there in that picture.  On the sand, though, the shape of it was even more clearly defined, and I took a picture of it as I found it in the sand but I can't upload that picture from my mobile phone to my computer.  You'll just have to trust me, it looked even more perfect in the wet sand.  But instead of making me feel depressed or hurt, that little heart that I found gave me hope.  It was like a reminder that love is something that exists no matter where we are, or what we're doing, or how people choose to treat us.  Love is something that we can find when we least expect it, whether we are looking for it or not.  And one of my favorite songs was suddenly in my head as I stood and marveled at this perfect little heart that was left there for me to find when I needed it most.

I picked it up, then put it back down and walked away from it, thinking that it would be a good thing to leave for someone else.  But when I walked by again later and it was still there, I decided it was meant for me and I should keep it.  It is a reminder of what my heart can be when it heals again; not perfect, and not something that everyone will appreciate when they find it, but still strong and solid and just right for the person who comes across it at the right time, and wants to do the right thing to take care of it.

Broken hearts do heal with time; this much, I know.  And the sorrow that I feel right now over what seems like a loss will turn out to be a blessing to me in the end, because it will help refine me and strengthen me as a person and leave me more receptive to finding the love that was meant for me, when I'm ready to find it.