It’s Mother’s Day. Let’s get that out of the way. Happy Mother’s Day to everyone out there. All the cliche things. I really mean the cliche things, I truly do, but I’m not going to write about them today. Someone else will do it better and it will mean something to them, and it will reach the audience it is meant to reach and that is a wonderful thing. It is not my thing. Not today.
I’m getting divorced.
Not actively, because I have no money and no free time and truthfully no fucking idea how to get divorced. That seems like some technical thing that can wait while I work on other things. Things like gathering up the debris and shrapnel from my former life and trying to slap them back into something resembling a shape. A structure. A home.
I’ve been so afraid to talk about this stuff. It feels like a betrayal. It feels like a truth that’s not mine to tell. It feels unnecessarily cruel to come out and point a finger and lay blame. That’s all part of it, when you’re wrapped up in an unhealthy relationship, how you share the burden of awful secrets. When instead of reaching out for help, you burn with shame at this terrible thing that has happened to you. Even after it’s over, you still protect them, and perhaps you’re protecting yourself a bit as well. Your own ugly truth is on the other side of that coin. If you give it a voice you’re automatically giving a voice to your own pain and vulnerability. When you say you’ve been wronged, or abused, or mistreated…you’re admitting a thing to the world that you’ve been working really goddamn hard to pretend isn’t happening. That’s how you’ve been surviving it. Burying it deep, covering it up in shame and rationalizations and something like loyalty but not as clean. And then I came across these words from a Facebook friend and all of it finally took shape for me.
I’ll be misunderstood when I say “My husband cheated on me” and “My husband abandoned me and my children emotionally and financially”. Those are true things, but they are just neat little cubes that were produced by a groaning, clanking, long overheating machine that nobody paid any mind to for far too long before it was too late. So I have these neat little packages of Reasons Why My Marriage Is Over but I feel like I can’t even use them because they don’t tell the whole story. I don’t even know what the whole story is. There is never a good guy or a bad guy. The end result makes him look like a bad guy, and that’s not the truth, and it lets me way, way off the hook for the things I could have done better.
I was supposed to be manning the machine, I was supposed to be paying attention to the warning signs. I didn’t see them. I didn’t know what to do when I did see them. So I did my job. I did my job well. My first mistake was partnering with someone who would not, or could not, give me the partnership that I needed. I picked up the slack, eagerly, and with purpose and love. Somehow I eventually found myself doing all the work, getting hurt all the time, saddled with the work of forgiving and understanding and making room and understanding some more. Casting myself aside.
My worst mistake, though, was continually accepting this lopsided situation that left me burned out and carved up. I had no idea that I wasn’t supposed to be doing all the work. I had no idea that it wasn’t normal to be in pain all the time. I had no idea that I had some kind of…choice…in the matter.
It wasn’t because I’m spineless or stupid. I’m not some moron that lets her idiot husband run all over her. And he’s not some idiot character whose lines are clearly drawn and it’s not that easy to erase someone’s humanity when you’re angry at them. Believe me, I tried. He’s a human just like I am. I took the raw deal with the misguided view that I was strong enough to handle it. I made up my mind that I loved this person, and I did, and that meant that you stick by them and support them and you absorb the blows and you did what you vowed to do. I found love, and it was real, and I was going to hang on to it at all costs. I thought I was doing the right thing.
The reasons for that are never ending, and I’m learning them as I go, realizing things about myself and about him, and about the people that raised me and showed me what love was supposed to mean. Realizing now, finally, what love really does mean. I’m all at once relieved and overjoyed to feel so human and held and understood and to have it be so easy. With that joy comes a shadow that reminds me of how sad I used to be. I wince. It is overwhelming and painful, but it feels like a long awaited gift. I am bursting at the seams with love and understanding and compassion and forgiveness for all of these people, me and him, all my parents and step parents, all of these experiences we all hurled ourselves through, doing our best with what we had. Most importantly I find all of that forgiveness for myself. I understand myself a little better. I am grateful for the lesson. I really, truly am.
Back then I was terrified at the idea that love didn’t mean what I thought it meant. I tried so hard to ignore it but we all know how that goes.
Some part of me started to rebel. Some part of me would cry out in alarm, and I would quickly silence it because oh my god that shit hurts.
To think that I’m doing something wrong? To think that all this work is in vain? To think that I was just pushing off the inevitable?
I’ll just keep working and flaying myself open and allowing myself to be wounded, allowing this person to take the role of wounding me without realizing how cyclical that shit was. How the guilt turned into resentment turned into more betrayal and self fulfilling prophecy of “I’m bad, I do bad things, I hurt the people I love” while I stood on the sidelines going, “Fucking DUH.” Both of us living in that garbage dynamic where we were so unhappy and so unfulfilled and so afraid to admit that because oh my god that shit hurts.
And so he was “bad” and I was “good” and we were both fucking idiots delaying the inevitable.
We were separated for a few months. It was like limbo. I didn’t know that’s what we were doing, even when I left him and our home and our sweet dog and all our belongings behind in Texas and I boarded a plane with my kids. Even when I sleeping on my aunt’s couch for a month, and then two months, and then three months. Even when I ran out of canned answers for my concerned family and friends. Even when he stopped doing video calls with the kids, when he stopped sending money, when he became a stranger. When I felt so free and alive and guilty for feeling free and alive without him looming over me. I remember saying, “Is this how it happens? Is this a divorce? I don’t know what I’m doing.”
And then life continued, and I became larger, my voice wasn’t a small part of me anymore, it was a roar. I mothered my children through the hardest thing they’ve ever experienced. They are still reeling. This stuff is far from over. They’re too young to sit and think and write out their thoughts when they somewhat sort them out, like I am doing here. No, they will let this stuff sink into them as symbols and feelings and while it settles into their bones it grows with them. Every part of them. Something, some thing,will make them feel unwanted. Unwelcome. Not worthy. They won’t know what it is, but that feeling will be there inside of them. Something will make them inherently afraid of doing something wrong that will make people stop loving them. There is a very real chance that they are going to grow up and be exactly the type of broken, busted up people that their father and I are. The type of people who do love all wrong because nobody ever gave them the tools they needed to do the job right.
I’m here. I’m real. My voice is here, my influence is here. I can’t take away the pain, I can’t hide the truth, and anyway I wouldn’t want to. My job is not to shield them from terrible things. Terrible things are a part of life. My job is to show them how to plant their feet and brace themselves when, in the best case scenario, they have the good fortune to see something horrible coming. My job is to right their clothes and dust them off when the pain fucking blindsides them and they don’t know where it came from or when it will come again. When it is easy and makes so much sense to them to let it seep in and become part of them, when it’s easy for them to slip under, my job is pull them out.
My job is to create the safety for them to name their fears and call out their pain and shout their truths. To say: I hurt and it matters. My job is to show them how to create that safe haven for themselves, because I’m not always going to be here, and they are always going to need their voices, and they are always going to need to trust themselves.
I never knew that. I never learned to make a safe place for myself. I lived my whole life feeling like a burden and a hassle and an embarrassment. I felt enormous guilt and shame just for existing. I felt selfish and gross when I wanted something that made me feel happy. I felt like a monster when I dared to ask for a seat at the table, for my voice to be heard. That shit was in my marrow from the time I was a toddler. And one day I found myself living as a grown woman who felt disgusted with herself for being tired of wanting more, of being tired of forgiving her husband his latest indiscretion, of being tired of shrinking myself and hiding my magic away and dumbing myself down and clamping my hands over my mouth that was trying so, so hard to scream.
I am mothering myself just as much as I am mothering my children. I am learning and growing and stumbling alongside them. I marvel at the person they have carved out of the rubble that I used to think I was made up of.
My sister in law says that having children is like having little mirrors running around your home, showing you the hardest truths about yourself, showing you who the fuck you really are.
To be the mother they deserve, I have to look unflinchingly into those mirrors they present to me, especially when it’s torture. When it’s something I don’t want to hear or confront about myself.
I already failed them by not honoring myself. I let it go on too long, I was too comfortable living like a victim. And we lost absolutely everything, and some part of me feels like I could have prevented it, although I can’t for the life of me figure out how.
The mother in me is telling me that it’s OK to make mistakes, and you can’t prevent terrible things from happening, and you can’t let pain wash over you to the point that you think it’s what you are and what you deserve. You look for the lesson, you lick your wounds, and then you carry on.
So here I am, planting my feet. I am aware. I am looking. They are watching me all the while, and that is a sacred duty that I am both terrified and honored to have.
It starts with telling the truth.
And so I am.