The Great Divide

I read once that a woman’s mind alters for life during her twenty-sixth year.  I heard that when I was twenty-three.  Of course I didn’t believe it.  Her body changes, and with it, her hormones become altered and her entire pattern of thought changes radically.  The whole world can appear different to her from one day to the next, and she won’t know or understand why.

I’m not sure if that’s my problem.  But three weeks or so ago, everything changed.  I woke up from what appears to be a bad dream, and am now wondering what the hell I’m doing, why I’m where I am, and how quickly and how rapidly I can change things and take care of myself – only myself, once and for all.

“If anything, you don’t know when to quit on a horse that’s already dead.  So I wouldn’t go with a lack of trying.” is my best friend’s text message response when I explained to him that I finally let my partner know of the impending doom of a changing heart.  I told my best friend that I felt ashamed for being this tired after this many years of trying and trying, to just wake up one morning and realize it’s all too heavy for me.  I just can’t do it anymore.  It was making me feel like a quitter.  I should try harder.

But when do I get to come first?  When do I get to do what I want?  Be who I want to be?  I’m twenty-six years old.  Can’t I be just that?  A twenty-six year old woman?

It’s a tough, straight up mentally damaging road for any stepmom.  For any “younger” wife.  To walk into a family that you were never part of, and love kids that may never love you back – to love a man who is constantly torn between you and other people.  To give input and assistance to raise adolescents and teens when you have no parental know-how, and everyone looks at you with judgment in their eyes every time you fuck up.  Because you can fuck up, and you will.  A lot more than you will ever like to admit.  To stand by the man you love while he reminisces with his kids about the good times with the woman before you.

I don’t blame my partner for any of it.  It’s a damn hard road for everyone involved.  Him, his ex-wife, her boyfriend, the kids, and lastly, me.  It’s easy for me to fight with any one of them.  But now that I’m so disengaged, it’s easy to realize that they’re all humans, struggling inside the very same rocking boat as me.  I wonder if any of them have days like this.  Days of complete exhaustion.  “I’m done.  I can’t do it.  I can’t keep up.  I tried.  I need to look after me now.  It’s too heavy – I can’t hold up.”

And I just don’t want to anymore.  Everything I used to love – painting, writing, raising the goats and sheep – I’ve entirely lost my compassion for life and after three weeks of feeling this way, I’ve made the step toward advertising and preparing my livestock all to sell.  I’m going to send my dog to a new home.  I’m going to donate nearly all of my wardrobe to charity.  I’m putting the pens and the sketchbooks away.

I’m sad and ashamed to feel this way.  I feel as though I’m about to let everyone down.

But at the same time – I can feel something, like a small spark trying to ignite.  Way down in the deepest, darkest part of my subconsciousness, desperate to light up and burst through to the surface.  It’s the real me.  I can bring her back to life, if I take the time now to nurture myself and make the changes I need to get me to where I want to be.

And so I find myself standing before a divide, with umpteen people standing on one side, and myself on the other.  The choice is mine to make.

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Escaping the Confines

My mind can empower me at any given moment.  I set my sights on something – and I obtain that ultimate goal no matter what the obstacle, because my mind empowers me with knowledge and memory of past experience.  I do it, I get it, I go it, because I know I can.

And then all at once, my mind can entrap me, and paralyze me.  One “unknown” lies before me on the path to that ultimate goal, and my uncertainty turns to fear that devours me in an instant.  I become afraid and unwilling, and as a result, I don’t even bother to try.

And then there is depression.  I can sink into the depths, or I can dance around the edges, toying with the thought of plunging in.  Once I jump in, I struggle to climb back out.

My husband sank, about a month ago.

They tell you that happiness is contagious.  So is every other emotion.

His life before me has come crashing into us, flooding our current life like a tsunami.  Things are not settled, and have never been, for some five years now.  His ex-wife is holding back, and seeming to grasp every last straw she can, to prevent the final, official declaration of the dissolution of their marriage.

I used to vent and rage about her.  I used to carry a bitter grudge, for all the spiteful, hurtful things she’d ever said or done to or about me.  I used to resent my husband for having been married to her, of all women on this planet, for as long as he had been.  I thought that she was the only woman on this earth capable of inflicting the mental and physical wounds she has, in five long years.

The good times in our home were great.  The bad times were the worst I have ever seen.

And in my mind, it was all thanks to this “fucking psychopath” that my husband moronically chose to be with so many years before I ever entered his life.

It’s taken a long time.

I broke down in tears one afternoon, in the summertime last year.  Confused, sad, frightened.  His life is still not over with his ex-wife.  She’s become even worse to deal with.  It feels as though there’s no place for me in this life.  Maybe I need to move on.  Maybe they want to reconcile.  Maybe he and I were never meant to be.

I continued on with the destructive thoughts of how much I hated her.

And finally one day, I decided to stop reading the stepmom forums.  I started looking for bio moms, and what they had to say.  I wanted, more than anything, to find some way to understand this woman, rather than hate her, even if I knew she was never going to stop hating me.

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The thing is, no two bio moms are the same.  No two stepmoms are the same.  No two divorces are the same.

But when I finally got to read full disclosure comments, stories, or novels written by bio moms about their experiences with divorce and new girlfriends, etc., I realized that if that shoe was on my foot, I don’t know if I would have handled any of it differently, myself.

I walked into my husband’s life during the first year of his separation from his ex-wife.  I didn’t know that his ex-wife had the intentions of returning to him, after a trial separation.  What she told him versus what she actually wanted, were two different things.

He wasn’t treating her the way she wanted him to.  She tried everything to get through to him, and nothing seemed to work, so she decided to tell him she wanted a divorce.  She left, with big hopes that her absence would be enough for him to come out of his shell and finally treat her the way she so desperately wanted him to.

She made the choice on her own, to begin dating other men at first, and that deterred my husband greatly from wanting to reconcile.  But when I entered his life some six months after they separated, things took an even bigger nose dive for her.

She made the attempt in the first month of our relationship, to reconcile with him.  She opened up to him about her feelings – and he shut her down coldly, still burnt from her leaving, and made the mistake of rubbing salt in her wound by comparing her to me.

And thus, the hatred and jealousy began.

Not by my doing, and not by hers.  The circumstances, the timing, and worst of all, my husband, were all to blame.

I never entered my husband’s life to spite his ex-wife.  She never married him and conceived children with him to spite me.  She wasn’t trying to reconcile with him to spite me.

And neither of us knew it.

Her feelings about me, and her words and actions became worse and worse with time, no matter how much I tried not to anger her.  My kids were told by their mother to deliberately disobey me, because I was the reason that they couldn’t be a family again.

By God, it has been a rough ride over the last five years.  I’ve withstood singular attacks from every child, one by one, and many attacks from her.  Never understanding why.  Never appreciating their perspective or attempting to understand why they did the things they did to me.  I became the lightening rod of the family thunderstorm.

But somehow, I remained on my own two feet.  I remained by my husband’s side.  I helped my oldest daughter.  I rescued my younger daughter from a gripping drug addiction and one of the most inescapable phases of mental anguish that I believe I have ever seen.  I’m still here after each of my sons took their turn with me.  I’m still here after she took her turn with me.

I stood with pride, and sometimes acted smugly about it.

But the attacks didn’t stop.  The criticizing.  The ultimate invasion of privacy – constant spying.  None of it stopped.  And slowly but surely, I grew weak, and uncertain.

My life with my husband suddenly felt unnatural, and overwhelming.

I began to dread coming home after work.  The knot in my stomach would start as soon as I started my car to head home, and it would remain there, until I was finally lying down for the night and no drama had taken place.

Just as beautifully as we had risen to be a strong, happy couple and family, we were suddenly spiraling downward into a frightening and dark abyss of uncertainty.

I got caught in a gripping fear of his ex-wife, and what she could possibly do to me/us next.

Flashback to New Years 2016.

My younger daughter had been living with us for two months already since her distress call to me in late October.

She had nothing to do on the weekend of New Years, and I had plans to make a five hour trip North to pick up my dear friend who I commonly go on summer road trips with.  So I invited her along.  Up to that point, we’d hardly spoken two words to one another besides the constant “I love you”s and “I’m here for you”s.

She agreed to my pleasant surprise, and accompanied me on my drive to retrieve my friend.

A sixteen year old girl began to talk to me that afternoon, and by the time she finished telling me her story, and where she went wrong, and how she really felt, I was sitting next to a forty-something.

Where did her childhood go?  Why did this all sound so familiar?  Oh, right.  Because that was my story, too.  Lost and wounded teenage runaway, uncertain of life itself, struggling to find meaning and purpose in what seemed like a cruel, uncaring world full of evil.

I feared the consequences of opening my heart to her and telling her for the first time that I wasn’t little Miss Perfect when I was her age.  But I chose to tell her anyway.

I’ve never seen a more astonished look.

I related to her.  I understood her.  And that was when I took it a step further, and told her, “You know, all the fights we’ve had – all the times you thought your dad was picking me over you – all the times I had to bring the hammer down and hear you tell me ‘I hate you!’ or ‘You’re not my mom!’ – I get it.  I don’t blame you, one bit.  I can’t imagine I would have acted any differently had it been me in your shoes.  I can’t imagine what you or your sister and brothers must go through, with your parents apart.  My parents are still together.  But I think if my parents ever separated, I would hate seeing them with other people.  It would hurt.  And I know I would make life hard for the new partners.  I hope that eventually you guys can overcome the hurt, and accept me, and whoever your mom ever chooses to date, into your lives.  It can’t be easy.”

I am an “on the fly” kind of speaker, and thinker for that matter.  I don’t practice what I am going to say to someone.  I don’t always think it through good enough, either.  But lots of times, as I speak, I realize new things as I say them.  And that day when I told her I didn’t blame her, I began to realize on the spot that she wasn’t the only one with an entire perspective to consider – her mother and her siblings were, too, and even my husband for that matter.

So lately, I took the time to consider his ex-wife’s perspective.  I made the effort to attempt to understand her, knowing full well that it may not change anything as far as her behavior and attitude toward me is concerned.

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I feel empathy toward this woman, and have freed myself from the anger and the fear, after closing my eyes enough times to imagine what I would feel like in her shoes.  I can’t speak for her directly, but I think it’s enough that I know how I would act in her shoes – and I realized quite quickly that it was not that much different than how she has acted.

I’ve opened my eyes to the triggers and the emotional wounds, if even just a little bit more than before, and am consciously making the effort not to do more damage.

I can’t take away her pain.  I can’t make her hate me any less than she does.  But I can free myself by accepting that she has valid reasons for her feelings, and I can pray that one day she might take the opportunity to imagine herself in my shoes, and learn to understand me and my feelings, too.

My husband struggles more than I do, with his emotions.  He closes himself off and as a result, cannot understand others and their feelings.  I can’t make him understand his ex-wife.  I can’t make him understand me.  I have to hold out faith that eventually, he too will free himself and come to realize that this situation is not comprised of only his perspective.

Empathy and patience.

Life is what we make of it.  I choose to break out of the confines of my own mind, and step into the unknown.  I can get through anything if I put my mind to it.  No matter where this goes, I know I’m going to be alright.

 

 

 

Dear Neighbor

I was in a session with the psychiatrist one evening, and we were talking about my sadness, when I brought up the year of my undoing.  She’d heard the story once already, since it was told to her right when I’d first begun to see her as it is such a large part of my life’s story.

She asked me why it was on my mind.  I told her I was unsure.  I began to speak of the memories.  The good ones.  And then the bad ones.  The lack of support and love from my own family, who’d only taken part in the abuse of me during that tragedy.  The loss of ever seeing you again.  I felt like I was throwing the “slight possibility” of an opportunity to have a relationship with you, out the window when I ran away.  It’s ironic how much I cared for you when I never so much as held your hand as a lover or girlfriend.  It was a heated teenage infatuation at its best, and I was swept up by your charm and supposed kindness.  At this point in time, it had already been four years since I’d so much as spoken to you.

The conversation began to fracture, breaking into all the millions of little fragments that composed my mind, and soon I was revealing the entire heap of disappointments.  In myself, and my life, and all the ridiculous choices I’d made and kept making.

That day, my session lasted twice as long as it had ever before, and my psychiatrist brought out the true issue behind my unstable mental foundation.  I felt unlovable.  From even before the day I met you.

It is late January now, and I work the best job I’ve ever worked before, and I wake up every single day with optimism and readiness to face the world.  I can’t count my blessings because there are so many.  I as a human being, have finally learnt a compassion for myself, and a love for myself, that no one else, not even my own husband, was able to give me.

I am proud of the woman I’ve become.  I am forgiving of myself for choices that I made in the past, even if others are not.  And I am vindicated.  Free of the chains that bound me to a ball of self-hatred and misery.pic-1

I’ve learnt patience.  I’ve learnt kindness.  I’m proud to say I’ve learnt faithfulness and devotion.  I am a strong, healthy woman, and I am so grateful for the life I live now.

And what brings me back to that fateful time eight long years ago, is learning not to regret.  But accept it as part of who I am and part of my betterment as I undoubtedly learnt from such a dark experience.

I spoke to my good friend the other day about the past.  He told me he felt stuck in it.  He said he was afraid he would be stuck in his past forever, unable to let go and move forward with his life.  He knew all the details of my past – he was there to witness much of it.  He asked how I was doing these days and how I was about moving on myself.

I thought you might like to know what I said to him.

I said, “I’m learning more every day.  I used to have it stuck in my head that one day I had to come face to face with (you) and be able to face my past without fears or regret, and prove something to (you).  What I was supposed to prove, I am not sure.  But I’m not fighting my past anymore.  I don’t need validation from (you) to feel good about who am and where my life is at, and I’m finally figuring that out.  It took a really long time, but I’m letting go a little more every day.”

This is one of many writings – created in direct correlation with you.  If I had to guess how many times I’ve begun to write, or even finished writing, letters or messages to you, I would not hesitate to say over a hundred, at least.  I’ve even written out make-believe scenes with you and I “running into each other” by slim coincidence, and reconciling our past.  Finally hearing you apologize.  Finally hearing whatever magic words that I thought you were supposed to say for me to say, “Ok, I’m glad we got that sorted out.  Now I can move on with my life.”

But I don’t need that any more.  I never needed it from the beginning.  I was holding myself back.

And now?  I wouldn’t trade this life for anything.  I can probably even say that everything I took from my past with you in my life, has helped to make me as strong and as grateful for my blessings as I am today.  I am wise, and empathetic.  I am able to step back from a conflict and consider the other person’s point of view, most times reconciling myself with their actions before even needing to “hear an apology” from them.  I am loving, and thankful, and as a result I treat my partner and my children well, and I make them feel wanted and needed, and get exactly that much in return.  I never knew a sense of belonging like what I know now.

At this time, on this day, I can finally tell you, with or without acknowledgement, that I’m letting go.  I survived.  And for everything I went through with and because of you, and every other person who’s come and gone in my life, I’m grateful.  Because maybe I would not be where I am now if things had gone differently.  And I wouldn’t want that.

I love my life and I especially love who I am.  I’ve never been happier with myself as a person.  And this emotion.  This knowledge, that I am capable of setting myself free.

I don’t need you to set me free.  I don’t need anyone else to but myself.

Thank-you for being a part of my life.  Your impact helped me gain independence, strength, and wisdom from experience.  I don’t regret it anymore.  I have accepted it, and forgiven myself for my choices, and I’ve forgiven all those who’ve hurt me.  I’m on a great path, and this is where I’m dropping my chains.  I’m moving on.  And I just wanted to say, Good Bye, neighbor.  Perhaps we’ll meet again on the other side.  And if not, I’m okay with that too.

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