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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Disappointment Recovery Specialist

That is the best job description I can think of for the year I am leaving behind.

If you take a look at my resume, you’ll find a very strange blend of experience that includes pharmaceutical report writing, medical transcription, and landscaping. I can break that bizarre combination down into specific skill sets and polish it up a bit, but that is essentially what I’ve done with my life over the past 12 years, and it tells a large part of the story of my marriage.

In addition to my work experience, however, I have spent the last year focusing on my new specialty, Disappointment Recovery. This is a broad description that spans across every category of my life. It covers such events as the ending of my marriage, the few times I’ve had high hopes for a new relationship that all end abruptly with unhappily never after, and the resumes I’ve sent out in search of a job that hasn’t come my way yet. I’ve become exceptionally good at getting all excited about varying levels of false hope, holding on to it like there’s a chance that it might actually represent something good about to happen in my life, and then having it yanked out from under me so that there’s nothing left for me to stand on but more false hope, more wishes for that hope to bring something good into my life, and more recovery from the disappointment that follows when it turns out to be nothing, at all.

Disappointment Recovery is a skill, really, a very valuable life skill. I’ve been learning about it in therapy for the past year. It involves overused and clich├ęd terms like self-esteem, codependency, and positive affirmation. It means that you have to keep telling yourself, over and over and over and over and over and over again, that there is nothing wrong with you. The reason things aren’t working out for you they way you think they should is because the people that keep disappointing you are simply looking for something you don’t have, something you don’t need because it’s not a part of who you are. The skills and the qualities and the love that you have are still valuable, and you can’t let these experiences negate their worth. You just aren’t the right fit for that job, that relationship, that circumstance. Yes, of course it feels like you’re the problem when nothing in your life seems to come together, but that’s an illusion, a lie you must choose not to believe. It’s simply about timing and circumstance. You just have to keep trying until you find the timing and circumstances that will help you assemble the life you want.

What I’m really learning about myself through my ongoing adventures in Disappointment Recovery is that I’m made of a combination of iron and glass. I’m strong enough to walk out of an abusive marriage, to make the necessary choice to protect myself and my kids, and to start a new life that will give us all more peace and love and happiness. As my kids and I navigate the path to that new life together, I’m strong enough to keep taking all of the blows of disappointment that life keeps giving me, absorbing their impact, and then getting up, licking the wounds, and starting over, again, and again, and again. I’m strong enough to handle the disappointment and the heartache; I continue to find new ways to manage my Disappointment Recovery and keep coming back for more. But inside of that solid iron exterior is caged a delicate blown glass heart that shatters easily with each painful impact, and it's my iron will that resolves to do the work of putting those fragile pieces back together each time they crumble. I’m frustrated with myself for being so sensitive to all of these disappointments. I want to let them roll off of the iron cage, but they continue to penetrate through the bars every time. And every time, I keep getting back up and starting over, because I have to; because I have kids who depend on me to provide for them; because I’m a fighter and not a quitter; because I’m too smart and educated and experienced to simply give up on the hope of having a great job that I enjoy; because deep inside I still believe that I’m going to find love again one day; because my life is worth the pain of this repeated effort; and because eventually, I won’t have to specialize in Disappointment Recovery anymore. I’ll be able to draw from that experience on the occasions when I need it, but instead of hitting me like a brick wall each time, disappointment and heartache will land softly in the middle of the life I’ve built for myself and my kids that gives us contentment, peace, and love.

Tomorrow is my 39th birthday, and I’m going to approach it as a new beginning. When I wake up, I’ll strap on my iron bra, gently collect the fragile pieces of my glass heart, and do more of the work of assembling the life that I know is still out there waiting for me.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Biohazard Blog

It's been almost a year since I left my husband, and about ten months since I started this blog. I started it at that time because I wanted to write about the trials and joys of single parenting. I made one significant mistake, though: I thought I KNEW something about single parenting.

It's easy to think that after years of being trapped in a marriage where you shouldered so much more than your fair share of the parenting responsibility. And it's true that I was always the primary caregiver for our children, and that the things I tried to accomplish for them were often made much more difficult by the lack of unity between myself and my husband. What I didn't know is that actually being a single parent, all by myself, with divorce papers in hand and without any hopes or expectations from anyone else, would be the scariest thing I have ever faced in my life.

A year ago, I really thought I was ready for the journey of single parenting. I thought I was already most of the way there, and that all I needed was a couple of months to recuperate from the traumatic ending of my marriage before I'd be back on my feet again. I had no idea that I was actually terrified of being alone, that I would have to overcome enormous levels of fear and anxiety about finding a job that would support myself and my kids financially, or that I was going to be so utterly miserable with my own company. I just wanted to be that Power Mom who could do it all and doesn't let anyone or anything stop her, and I thought that if I tried hard enough, I would be, any day now... I kept trying to move ahead and sort out my newly single life, but without making any real progress. It was like trying to plow a field with a rusty old tractor that is out of gas and missing a transmission.

As a result of that process, however, I learned a few things about myself. I learned that you can't place a timeline on the healing process for a heart that has been neglected, broken, and abused for so long. I learned how to take care of my kids on my own but also that it's easier if I have support from friends and family. I learned how to find more enjoyment from things that my husband didn't want me to do while I was married, like reading books and listening to music. I learned more about my own spirituality, and about how I want to raise my kids. Most importantly, though, I learned that being a single parent isn't something that you know how to do until you have to do it, by yourself, without a spouse, in a place that looks frightening and lonely and intimidating until after you've waded around in the shallow end of the water long enough to try out the deep end of the pool, and maybe even contemplate a jump off of the diving board.

Parenting is a journey more than anything else. Our kids grow and change before our eyes every day, and as parents all we can do is try to keep up with the whirlwind of metamorphosis that we have given birth to. I certainly can't say that I have arrived in my journey as a single mom. What I can say is that I've finally figured out how to begin that journey. I'm at a place where I have accepted that I am a single parent, and I am going to be a single parent for a long time, and that's okay because I'm a pretty decent one, and I have two of the most amazing people I have ever known to travel this journey with me every day, and of course it's not perfect, but I am honestly happy with the life I have with my kids and I wouldn't have it any other way.

The challenges and difficulties that I've been through in this past year have been almost inadvertently chronicled in this blog. I initially wanted it to be a fun and entertaining blog about being a single mom, but I didn't do a whole of things last year that were either fun or entertaining, and when I did I wasn't writing about them, so this blog has ended up being sort of like an emotional landfill. I have dumped endless negative emotion in here that I wasn't sure what to do with, and by now I think the entire blog might actually be a biohazard; I worry that my readers could pick up something nasty like anthrax if they were to hang around here for too long. But I think that I am now on the verge of some exciting changes in my life that I'm going to want to write about. I am finally excited about finding a new job instead of being scared about it, and I want to write about that. I am starting to enjoy being a mom to my kids again, and I want to write about that. I am becoming a more confident and centered version of myself, and I want to write about that. I just don't think that I want to write about it here, in a blog that feels like a toxic wasteland to me. I feel the need for a fresh start. So in that regard, I have plans to start a new blog, somewhere else, sometime soon. I have some ideas that I want to experiment with a little bit before I set something up that I hope to be happy with for a long time. When I get it ready, I'll come back here and include a link to it.

I will probably continue to post here from time to time. After all, the year of your divorce only happens once, and there may come a time when I'm glad I took the time to write about what I went through. But today isn't that day. Today is the day to start over, move ahead, and begin living the life I want instead of wallowing in the life I happen to have.

Friday, December 31, 2010

What do I want to do in 2011?

If I’d asked myself one year ago what I wanted to do in 2010, I’m sure my answer would not have been “leave my husband, move in with my parents, fail to find a job that will enable me to move out and be independent again, and meanwhile, brutally clobber the very fragile remnants of my self confidence by way of repeated failures at online dating.” 

As I look back on the year behind me, however, I feel that is a pretty fair summation of what I’ve actually accomplished.  With the exception of my kids, who now are thriving in ways that would not have been possible during my failing marriage, I feel like I haven’t done very many things right this year.

So, what do I want to do in 2011?

I think I only have one item on my list of important things to accomplish this year, honestly.  I want to learn to love somebody I have never even learned to like: Myself. 

I’ve wanted to find love for so long now that I realize I’ve found myself looking for it everywhere except for where I’m supposed to find it.  I’ve looked for it in a disastrous marriage, I’ve looked for it on the Internet, I’ve looked for it in church, I’ve looked for it in my family and my friends and my kids and my dog and in every possible place that I may find someone or something who will validate me and tell me that I am lovable.  But I have neglected to look within myself, where the pain of self discovery and growth is inevitable.  I also haven’t made the decision to focus on giving love to those people around me who have already given it to me—my family, my friends, and my kids.  This is the year I want to teach myself to give love instead of looking to get love, and in that giving, I hope I will find some things to like about myself, or maybe even love about myself. 

I know there is a more confident version of me hidden somewhere deep inside, but I don’t know how to find her anymore, and right now, I really need her.  I think she’s simply been beaten down by years of struggling to save a failing marriage and is now so focused on her circumstances as a single mom that she doesn’t know how to emerge from her cocoon.  She went in there with a purpose, to develop into a butterfly that is bursting to break free.  But right now, when I look inside hoping to find her, all I see is a mushy caterpillar that is only half baked and nowhere near ready to fly.  I think that part of the trick in finding her again is to regain the confidence that she is actually there, and she still just needs a little more time and nurture before she can break forth.  It’s that person who I want to find this year.  I want to give her the chance to unfold her wings. 

That person…she’s confident, capable, and strong.   She isn’t afraid of hard work and knows that she will be an asset to any employer who is willing to give her chance.  She won’t allow her interactions with men to define her sense of self worth, particularly when those men are complete strangers who are only going to waltz through her life in a blink of time, because they don’t have the right to take her self confidence with them when they wander off in search of a better looking piece of ass or whatever it is that they’re looking for.  She can readily move past that because she knows she deserves better.  She loves her kids with every fiber of her being and will do whatever it takes to become the independent, self-supporting, single mother of two that they deserve as a role model in life.  When she looks into the mirror, she won’t pick apart every physical feature she sees and declare it a failure, a flaw, not worthy of love.  She knows that there is beauty in her soul to compensate for her visible imperfections.  She is also not afraid of independence.  She is ready to cut the few remaining ties that are holding her to a marriage relationship which has been toxic for many years, and then enjoy the time she has to be with herself for a while.  She doesn’t need a relationship with a man to function as her security blanket.  She is confident in who she is.  She’s a woman, a mom, a daughter, a sister, a friend, an employee; a coffee drinker, a book reader, a beach comber, a dog lover, a writer, a college graduate, a divorced thirtysomething with so much depth of love in her soul that she’s not quite sure what to do with herself when she can’t pour that love into a romantic relationship. 

She’s inside of me, that person; I’ve seen her before, at different times in my life, and I have to say that there were a few times when even I was impressed with what she was capable of.  But right now, she’s cowering in fear beneath the bruised layers of her crippled self esteem, and she needs some gentle coaxing to slowly draw her out.  I think that the best way I can help her is by putting my focus on loving those people who are already right here in front of me, right now, starting with the one who is looking back at me in the mirror.  For the year 2011, my mission is to find her and give her the love that she deserves. 

And when 2011 draws to a close and I begin to wonder what I want to do in 2012, I hope that there will be a happier, more confident version of me asking the question.  

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Mistletoe: A Family Tradition

The concept of holiday traditions has been weighing heavily on my mind lately.  The weekend after Thanksgiving is the weekend I have always set aside to pull out the Christmas tree and all of its associated paraphernalia, and I usually plan for that weekend to be devoted to the cause and look forward to it with anticipation.  Putting up Christmas decorations is always my favorite part of the season.  This year, however, the thought of decorating for Christmas didn’t even occur to me until the day after Thanksgiving.  We had a very hectic week preceding the turkey feast, complete with out-of-town visitors, an electrical fire, and two family members with various stages of nauseous stomach.  And finally, on Black Friday, it occurred to me that I hadn’t even begun to consider what I wanted to do about my holiday decorations.  Most of them were storage, and all of them would have to be put up here in my mom’s house, or not at all.  Somehow, the finality of my divorce suddenly felt more real when I recognized that I would not have my own home to decorate this year, or a husband to decorate it with, for the first time in over a decade.

It was this recognition that was the catalyst for a sudden battle with holiday loneliness.  I’m not coupled off with anyone for the first time in many years, and am not going to be, and that sobering reality on top of the thought of doing my traditional holiday decorating under the magnifying glass of my mother’s control issues gave me a near onset of nauseous stomach.  But my kids started getting excited about pulling out the Christmas decorations as soon as they saw Santa on TV at the Thanksgiving day parade, and I wanted to continue the traditions that are so familiar to them.  I had just never considered how very emotional and lonely it would be for me to face the task. 

Finally, this afternoon, I trudged over to the storage unit to conquer the challenge of unearthing a few favorite decorations, my kids’ holiday books and movies, and some ornaments for the tree.  I had thought that it would be easier for me to do that by myself, but since the kids were getting antsy and needed to get out of the house, I decided to make it a family event and bring them along. 

They were so excited to go to the storage unit and dig through all of the treasures stored there (unaware that 80% of those “treasures” consist of really fun stuff like kitchen utensils, old crafting supplies, and my favorite coffee pot).  As I started to pull out the bins that held our holiday decorations and saw my kids’ faces light up with excitement, I was suddenly glad that they were with me.  It was striking to me that this felt like an odd sort of tradition, to be dragging Christmas decorations out of the remnants of my shattered marriage, but my kids didn’t see it that way.  They were excited to kick off the holiday season and their enthusiasm was not at all lessened by the thoughts of the life we used to share with their father.

I dug through each of the holiday bins in turn, trying to decide what was worthy of displaying this year and what would stay neatly tucked away in storage.  The item that struck me the most, oddly enough, was one I’d forgotten about and was not looking for: mistletoe.  A fake sprig of silvery green leaves that I remembered purchasing a couple of years ago in an effort to try to stir up some affection in what was left of my marriage.  When I opened the bag and saw the mistletoe inside, I thought immediately of my ex-husband and of my recent failures in the world of dating, and I had to fight violently against a forceful surge of tears.  I don’t have anyone to kiss under the mistletoe, and I decided it would only exacerbate my loneliness, so I closed the bag and replaced it bitterly.

As we continued sorting through the rest of the decorations, I thought again about that mistletoe and how hurt I’d been when it had failed me.  I had hoped that its prominent position hanging in the doorway between the kitchen and living room would help remind my husband that I was craving affection, but it hadn’t worked.  We didn’t do any more kissing in the presence of mistletoe than we had done without it.  It had felt like a sad sort of failure to me, I remembered, and then I pushed the thought away again before it could consume me in negativity. 

Finally, as I was replacing the now half-empty bins that had been sorted through, I stopped for a minute to notice my children’s joy.  I enjoyed the sound of their little footsteps pounding up and down the hallway as I handed them things to bring to the door of the storage building, and I listened to their excited chatter over the various items we’d found.  And then I thought of the mistletoe again.  It had been my kids who had used it the most, not my husband or me.  I suddenly remembered the many nights in that kitchen when I simply could not cook because one or both of my kids would insist on standing under the mistletoe to collect their kisses.  And mistletoe was a serious rule not to be broken; no matter how busy I was or what I was doing, I HAD to stop for them if they stood under the mistletoe, and they knew it.  And because their constant demand for kisses represented the strongest force of love that was flowing through our home at that time, I allowed them to insist on it as much as they wanted.  They did so often, and with giggles, and it always breathed a much needed rush of life and love into my then-barren heart. 

Upon recalling that memory, I reached up and pulled down the bin that held the rejected mistletoe.  I took it back out of its bag, walked down the hall to my kids, and held it over my head.  “Hey, kids, do you remember this?”  And then I got down on my knees, closed my eyes, and collected wee kisses and giggles from my children.

Right now, that mistletoe is hanging in my room in my mom’s home, in a place where I can enjoy it with my kids any time I want to this season.  I don’t have a husband this year, and that’s okay.  I don’t want one.  I don’t have a boyfriend either, and I probably won’t even have a date for a holiday party.  But that’s all perfectly fine.  What I really want most of all is love, and that, I already have so much of, more than I know what to do with.  And that is what the mistletoe will be for me this year: Instead of it being a forlorn reminder of what I’ve lost, or have yet to find, it’s a token of what I already have.  I have a family, and I have love. 

And already, my kids have both enjoyed abusing their privilege to interrupt Mommy by grinning at me from under the mistletoe.  I couldn’t be more proud of them.  

Friday, October 1, 2010

Rules

I had a great conversation with a good friend of mine last night about the recent escapades of my dating life.  I’ve been pretty amazed at the dishonesty and cowardliness that I’m coming across, and it’s so frustrating that I am all but ready to enter a convent.  (Problem there…I’m not Catholic, but that’s another story.)  In any case, one of the things she was encouraging me to do was to rewrite my online dating profile and lay out a few simple rules for the guys who read it.  She emphasized that men like rules.  Rules keep things simple and straightforward for them, and everyone knows that women in general do not have a reputation for simplifying things.  So I started thinking about the rules I would want to put into place, and really, I think it all boils down to one very simple and basic request for all the men of the single dating world.

Please SAY SOMETHING. 

For example, if you’re the guy I met who couldn’t stop flirting with me, who spent hours upon hours talking to me on the phone every night, and who shortly after meeting me had a death in the family and needed to take a break from dating, yet decided to stay in touch with me anyway and let me think that you were still interested…and then you got involved with someone else in the meantime, tell me.  Just TELL me.  Don’t post it on Facebook like a chicken shit and wait for me to see it so you won’t have to say anything to me yourself.  I’m not a fragile creature who will fall apart if you move on with your life; I just want to know the truth, so I don’t end up feeling like an idiot.  This comes down to respect and honesty, and I don’t think that is a lot to ask.

And, if you’re the guy who spent weeks getting to know me online before we decided to meet, who told me repeatedly how much you loved my honesty and that you thought I was amazing and you were really hoping things worked out for us, yet for whatever reason you changed your mind after actually meeting me face to face…again, tell me.  You truly have no excuse for this one, because I even gave you an easy out and said that “if the person you met is not the person you were expecting, that’s okay, it happens, I won’t mind, just say so.”  Yes, you have to actually SAY so.  You should not hide out and avoid my emails in the hopes that I will get the hint.  That is the kind of behavior that should be left behind in high school.  Instead, please strap on your balls and speak up.  Again, this is not a lot to ask.  This is the kind of common courtesy that you would want afforded to you, and it is simply cruel and hurtful not to extend it to others.   

Both of these men treated me very differently, but they both had one thing in common.  They were both cowards who didn’t know how to speak up when faced with a complicated dose of reality.  I am not the kind of person who can tolerate this level of emotional immaturity, so I am glad I was able to cut my losses early in the game in both cases and move on.  Still, it hurts to be treated with such disrespect, and moreover, I am incredibly tired of disrespect.  I lived with it for 12 years in my marriage and I will not willingly expose myself to it any longer. 

While I’m at it, if you happen to be in the online dating game, here are a few other moves you should avoid—and yes, these things really happened to me.  You can’t make this stuff up.
  1. When you contact a woman and she responds politely that she is not interested, do not accuse her of lying.
  2. When a woman you just met asks you why you don’t have any pictures on your profile, this is not necessarily the best time to discuss your ex-wife’s meth addiction.  It doesn’t make you look better to readily admit that you were once married to a junkie.  They call it TMI for a reason. 
  3. Your first email to a woman you find attractive should not include a request to steal some kisses.  That is sleazy, not sexy.  There is a huge difference.  


My therapist has reassured me that I am the kind of person who is very real, and that it’s likely that other people are intimidated by that, particularly after crossing the barrier from the virtual world into the face-to-face one.  He said I’m not making bad choices about the kind of guys I’m taking interest in, but am merely running into people who are very immature, time after time.  And he believes that immaturity like this is common in the male world, and it just takes some time to find the person who will treat you with love and respect and dignity instead of being a cowardly jerk.

I believe he's right.  One day, I will find someone who will treat me with respect and courtesy and dignity, who will realize how much I have to offer and won't want to let me go.  That person will know how to wear his big boy pants and act like a grown-up.  That person could turn out to be the love of my life.  I just haven't met him yet.   

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Choices

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.