Lancing the boil

Every now and then, a flood of very ugly, bitter memories overwhelms me. This week has been one of those seasons. I hate it when it comes, but there it is. This morning I woke up, feeling much better after talking with a lifelong friend, last night.  I called this process “lancing a boil.”

The years immediately following DH’s leaving me were more horribly difficult than I can begin to describe. In common parlance, I had a nervous breakdown. Okay, for the sake of accuracy, I’m told there’s no such thing, medically speaking, as a nervous breakdown. The term is a sort of lay umbrella term that is so nonspecific that it doesn’t really mean anything.  It covers dozens of situations and so becomes pretty meaningless. The neighbor who had a bipolar episode requiring hospitalization could just as well be said to have have had one as I could, dealing with the nightmare stress and anxiety of going through the separation and discovering DH is gay.

More, at the time, I was under the impression that a nervous breakdown meant someone had been found curled up in the fetal position mumbling incoherently to herself, and couldn’t be pulled out of it. I wasn’t nearly so bad, I thought; I was functioning (more or less). Besides, I couldn’t think of things like that, there was too much at stake, I had a family to take care of, and I had to keep going.

But this is what I experienced. I am sharing so that others going through this can know they’re not losing their minds, but experiencing something not at all uncommon among us:

* I couldn’t concentrate.  This was particularly inconvenient since I was in college at the time, and English majors read a lot.  I’d look at a page for long minutes and not be able to figure out what it said. I’m not really sure how I was able to graduate and keep a B average.
* My mind was all over the place. Mostly, as I remember, was a litany of “I’m so afraid” or “I don’t know if I can do this” sorts of thoughts. Worse, a lot of my thoughts, and the interior voice that comes when one is reading silently, were screaming at me.
* I wanted to sleep all the time. Sleep was an escape. Plus, I was so, so overwhelmingly tired all the time. I could drop off to sleep so easily, and I hated waking up and having to be in the real world again (I still love to sleep, my dreams can be so entertaining! but I am also glad to wake up again.)
* I felt tense and anxious all the time. I came to refer to it as feeling as if I were living on the epicenter of an earthquake. Every single thing I did, no matter how normally inconsequential, seemed to loom in front of me as possessing potential for catastrophic consequences. I was certain that whatever I did, even to choose the pink button-up blouse over the blue knit pullover, would be WRONG.
* I couldn’t cry.  I just couldn’t. Still don’t. I pretty much isolated myself with my children and tried not to go to pieces. Complete isolation was impossible, being in college, living on campus in married student housing, having children. But I curtailed a lot of activities and kept to myself, still and quiet, as much as I possibly could.
* I felt on edge, had “the jitters,” all the time. No respite. For years.
* I had already established overeating, and eating the wrong foods, as a way of self-medication during the bitterly unhappy marriage. This continued through the Dark Days following the separation and the discovery that DH is gay. I’m not sure it actually increased, but it might have done.
* For months, people urged me, “Don’t deny the rage.” I didn’t know what rage was — until a horrible tragedy befell a friend, a year after DH moved out, and the cork popped.  Once it popped, there was no shoving it back in, and I seethed and boiled and simmered with rage. It wasn’t just that I developed a short-fused temper (also connected to my fear of catastrophe striking again at any minute) but my usual sense of humor turned sharp-edged, sarcastic, “black.” The negativity and resentments came out sideways. So did an overabundance of profanity.  Frankly? I didn’t like myself at all during this time. But I couldn’t seem to stop.

These things I simply attributed to “stress,” but it was stress to the breaking point.  For fun, I took one of those “stress tests” that assigns number values to different stressors — highest number for the death of a loved one, down through a series of other situations to more minor situations like car repairs.  A test similar to this one. The test warned, if one scored above an 85 over a six-month period, one’s health might be in jeopardy from excessive stress over the time indicated.  I scored 320.  Okay, I stretched the six months to 18 months or thereabouts because most of those issues were still currently causing problems.  But that was still a frighteningly high number.

Being unable to recognize what was going on, I didn’t seek professional assistance. I’d already dropped out of therapy because DH cashed and kept the Blue Cross/Blue Shield benefit check that was supposed to have gone to our therapist for “marriage counseling,” and I was terrified of debt. I didn’t realize that I might be in need of medication to see me through the worst of it. I couldn’t see that continuing in therapy would have been a very sound investment for my recovery and my future life.

I had no family support. None. Due to problems in my own family, some of which deserve a post of their own, I had no help or support whatsoever from my parents. My evangelical church, which DH left as soon as we separated, was no help; the pastor laid the whole burden of blame on me. The support and encouragement I did have came solely from the college community, from faculty and administration who knew me.

It’s hard to look back and to see just how bad things were. I shed a few tears, yesterday, thinking what I’d had to go through, and how utterly alone I felt (and, in fact, was).  “Bleak” skims the surface, and I don’t know of a better word to describe the experience — a thesaurus of words, maybe, would be required.

A regular divorce is bad enough. Stress enough. But a divorce PLUS the discovery that one’s spouse is gay? The world that I thought I knew was suddenly revealed not to have actually existed. The most essential realities of my life suddenly — not true. Or vanished altogether. The world had collapsed, a new world had to be recognized, and I didn’t know who I was in this unfamiliar place.  I was terrified of failure, but failure seemed inevitable.

This is NOT the end of the story — but it will suffice for now — again, as an assurance to other women going through this nightmare:  your experience is not singular, you are not in completely unchartered territory, although it’s not a well-travelled path.  You can survive this.  You can probably come out of it better than I did. Take comfort from my experience, and learn from my mistakes.

(To be continued – – – God’s Grace Carries Us)


Reviving the Blessings Journal

Low. Not sure what has triggered it, maybe the big anniversary or the realization I’m single for the duration or something I haven’t put my finger on . . . or maybe it’s the cumulative effect of several things at once. Anyway, it is what it is.

Several years ago, I came up with the idea of recording the unusual, the beautiful, the blessed things that I encountered during the course of ordinary days, to counter the sense of drowning in grief. I quit after several weeks, when I was back on top of things, again.  I think it’s time to revive the discipline

You see, I believe that every beautiful thing that comes by us, even the “ordinary” ones, is a way God is telling us “I love you.”  And every reminder that God loves us is a step out of the dark hole, or a pushing away of the Black Dog —

So here goes:

BLESSINGS AND BEAUTY, Week of February 25, 2018
Signs of Spring:  Daffodils and jonquils are up and in full bloom. Ornamental cherries. Bradford pears are a cloud of bridal white. Saw some forsythia yellow on my way to Mass, Friday.
A good bit of sunshine, last week, with temps in the 70s, giving us a break from the clouds, rain, and general early spring chill that we’ve returned to, today (Monday, 2/26).
A squirrel came within a yard of me, yesterday. I don’t know whether he was distracted by his food or just used to people moving around him but he didn’t seem to mind me at all. I like squirrels.
A turtle was by the sidewalk as I came out of Mass, yesterday.  A good-sized turtle.  I stopped and got some photos. He/She hissed and turned his/her back to me, but I still took pictures.
There’s a fragrance in the air, here at my country home, that reminds me of my grandmother’s grape hyacinths’ fragrance. I’ve no idea what it is or where it comes from – there are no hyacinths anywhere around me! and this fragrance is strong. But it’s a wonderful scent, and I wish I could capture it into a perfume to wear all year round.
My cousins’ dog came to visit both Saturday and Sunday. There’s something very sweet about a dumb animal choosing one as a personal favorite. Several students’ cats and dogs also seem to have chosen me as a favorite; their humans tell me they don’t behave the same open and friendly way toward other people who come to their houses.
My cat seems to be very sensitive to my state of mind, and he has stayed very close to me, these past couple of weeks, all cuddly and  — well, demanding and sometimes annoying. But it’s still sweet.
A young friend honored me this week by sharing a moment of profound vulnerability with me.
Another friend shared with me one of her personal sorrows.
I received a most generous gift from another friend, a gift that has covered my recent car repairs and given me a little to put aside for the next crisis.
Another friend, an artist, contacted me, “Can I help you with your writing and speaking business promotion?” She designed a business card for me, and coordinating notecards. I have to pay the printer, but she gave me her talent.
“I love the hymns we sang today,” someone told me, after Mass. I choose the hymns each week.

Some of these blessings also bring pain and sorrow — the love of my young friends and their parents is such a contrast to the estrangements I live with in my own family, and the affirmations of others’ gifts brings me the pangs of remembering the struggles to be known and taken seriously by my parents and by DH — but this is also part of the healing. One pushes through the resistance to find peace.

And I will push through.  The fact that a fragrance can stop me dead in my tracks while I delight in it, and the cloud of pink from a particular ornamental makes me say “ooooh!” before I’ve known I’m going to say it — these are signs of great hope.  I may feel low, but I am not too low.

On Marriage

I wonder how many of us have gone on to marry, and marry well.  I’ve not –

although I’d love to.

In our present moral climate, where words are being redefined to mean whatever anyone wants them to mean in that moment, and consequently to mean absolutely nothing at all, when marriage can be between any two (or more) people, or person and thing . .   when divorce is almost as common as marriage itself and most people are just living together without any pretense of commitment . . .

Marriage — real, authentic, traditional marriage — has become probably the most radically countercultural and courageous step anyone can take.

I doubt I will marry, now, after so many years, but I believe with all my heart that we who have experienced the worst of the legal institution must hold fast to our ideals of the spiritual realities of marriage, and defend them with all our might.

Let this be our legacy — a courage of a sort, defending the truth we believed, the fulfillment of union we were denied, the ideal that is bigger still than our loss or others’ failures or betrayals.  Let our voices proclaim the reality that others, including our former spouses, would deny: Marriage is a mystical and complete union between two people — one man and one woman for a lifetime — as complete as it is possible for any two individual souls to be united, in this world.  It is the bedrock of society, the only proper place for children to be brought into the world and raised, the haven from the sorrows and sufferings of the world.

We owe it to ourselves and to our children to hold fast to the idea, regardless our loss and heartbreak.

Even if we are denied the experience, let us not fail to affirm and support and advocate for the ideal itself.  Let us be victorious here, at least:  they could not deny us the truth of our thwarted dream.

Thirty Years, Part II

So, Tuesday, the 16th, was the 30th anniversary of the day DH actually moved out of our home.  The day passed quietly, even cheerfully, with work.  I was surrounded by people who like and respect me and I wasn’t troubled by depression at all.

Late last week, however, I experienced a personal challenge which has left me reflecting on these years.  I have spent more than 2/3 of my adult life alone, now.  Emotionally, I have spent the whole of it alone.

When I was a little girl, I wanted a boyfriend, and to be grown up, and to be married and have a home and a family and the whole “white picket fence” scenario.  I never was interested in a career, I never wanted anything other than to be part of a We.  I got a good college education, later on (graduated age 32) and thought of going on for advanced degree, but being a mom was much more important and, furthermore, there was that hope in the back of my mind that I might marry and have a second family . . . so I wanted to be “flexible” . . . which never happened, and now I’m 60 and I realized, last week, it isn’t going to happen.

I don’t know whether being single is my actual vocation, or whether it has become my vocation by default, but here I am.

“Don’t give up,” says a friend.  Don’t burn my bridges, he means.  Easy for him to say, fond as he is of me — but when I think of what I want from marriage, how unlikely it is I should find anyone at this point who would be an equal spouse  . .  I have friends, yes.  Good, decent men — but . . .

There’s that fundamental little trust issue. Thirty years — thirty damn years! — after I was “liberated” from the psychological abuse (okay, the “Free At Last!” day came later, with the divorce, but still – !), I still cringe at perceived disapproval. “Did I just blow that one to smithereens?” I’m still tormented by DH’s contempt.  There are still scars and sometimes they sit on raw nerve.

I expect to be abandoned again, I expect to be emotionally betrayed, so I try to anticipate that crisis before I become too irrevocably invested. I love my friend — admire, esteem, even trust — but I push, sometimes hard. Because everything in my gut says the abandonment will come and let’s get it over with now before it can hurt more than it already will.  I just don’t believe in someone being wholly committed to me. Even in friendship.

The odd thing is that I’ve never really worried about loving a gay man again. That’s not what has tormented me. It’s these other, more universal issues.


I don’t mind being an ex-wife defining my work. This is something I do, it’s part of how God redeems that experience and brings something out of it that, I hope, helps others.

But I’ll be damned if I’ll sit back and let being the ex-wife of a homosexual define my life.  Even after thirty years. The warping of the psychological and emotional abuse of that decade-plus may be too much to overcome, and I may not be able to find happiness in married love, but I will not go through my life as a victim.

A “wounded warrior,” maybe, but not a victim.

A friend I dearly love made a remark – I’m sure, now, it was innocently-intended – that set off a chain reaction of memories. . . miserable, bitter memories. And a knee-jerk reaction, “I hope you don’t mean to imply . . . ” that I’m cringing over, now — but that’s okay, he’s tough and he can take it. My life isn’t endangered because of an accidental trigger.

Memories. Weaknesses. We think we’re sailing along in calm waters, we think that, because it’s been a long time since we have been tormented by thoughts and memories and reactions that we’ve finally come clear of them, and WHAM! something slams into our gut and there they are again.

As far as I can see, there’s only one thing for it: grit my teeth, fight my way to the surface of the wave, and ride it out. If I have a hard time getting my thoughts back under control, I have a local counsellor I can talk it out with. I have friends who will support me. I have this writing as an outlet.

I’ve been through this before, I know it will pass.  And it takes less time, now, than in the early years.


Book Review: The Last Closet: The Dark Side of Avalon

I’m only on Ch. 19, but I have to get in this review now.

I’m blessed to call Moira Greyland one of my friends.  We met on Facebook through mutual friends; she is the daughter of gays, I am the ex-wife of one. We have exchanged numerous comments and messages; a number of months ago, she became my voice coach, and we have talked numerous times.  She is a joyous woman, enormously talented, expert in several fields, energetic, cheerful, and beautiful.

She is also a walking miracle.

And a very fine writer.

Moira’s parents were famous writers; I’d come across Marion Zimmer Bradley through her Mists of Avalon (which I bought but never could get into, and eventually threw away), but I wasn’t acquainted with the name of Walter Breen until I met Moira.  Both Marion and Walter were brilliant and famous in their respective fields; I was surprised to learn that she was one of the cofounders of the Society of Creative Anachronisms, and other Faires.

Walter, it turns out, was paranoid schizophrenic. Marion didn’t have a formal diagnosis, having never been institutionalized, but my hunch is that it would have been very bad, had there been one.  Nevertheless, both of them were brutal child molesters and abusers.  Moira was raped by both her parents, she watched her father bring into their home and seduce dozens of young boys, her mother go through bouts of insane and irrational rages.  How she has emerged from that hellhole to be the vibrant and powerful — if sometimes shell-shocked — woman that she is leaves me in utter awe.

There are moments in this book of wry humor (Walter would have sex with “anything with a pulse” — in my head, I can see and hear Moira speaking those words). There are recountings that are so carefully navigated to avoid the salacious but still leave one wanting to scream with fury, to reach through the pages and to rescue that little girl she was.  Moira had told me she has panic attacks in the shower, and now I fully understand why.

But the book is more than just her story; it is also the story of the fomentation of the gay rights and pederasty movement (I’m sorry, the two really are inescapably linked — and Breen wrote about “Greek love”) out of Berkeley in the 1960s and 70s. Walter’s schizophrenia thankfully left him incapable of playing the system by self-editing his thoughts and words, any more than his impulses, he was very vocal in his advocacy of sex with children, and wrote about it, and his words and attitudes have been recounted by more than just Moira, which allows us to see the train of thought of an active pederast. His testimony in the criminal trial that put him in prison for the rest of his life was appallingly candid; he actually seems to have believed he could persuade the judge that he was in the right in seducing young boys, that he was doing them an enormous favor. Moira weaves others’ writings, remembrances, and testimony through her own story to demonstrate that these events she recounts were not the creation of her own mind but a well-documented, publicly-known “secret” in the various communities where the family were connected.

There are hard paragraphs to read, yes, but overall The Last Closet is a story of survival and of triumph of love.  Moira shows us the brokenness that each of her parents brought into their marriage, and the tragic and twisted love they shared (they were so in tune with one another on many levels, that they would regularly buy one another the same gift). She shows us her carefully-forged escapes and survival techniques.

As I said in opening, I’m on Ch. 19.  But I know how the story will end, because I know Moira:  in triumph.

Right now, The Last Closet is only available in Kindle format. It will be available in hard copy soon.  And — I don’t know where she’s going to find the strength to do it all — in audiobook.  Yes, Moira’s going to record it herself.

It’s All Okay

Much better the day after that last post.  Most of the time I do very well.  This one took me unprepared.

There are days I know will be difficult:  my daughters’ birthdays. Our anniversary.  Christmas.  As those approach I give myself a bit extra pampering, allow myself a bit of grieving, buy myself a good chocolate bar and maybe some other delicacy.  I take extra naps.  In advance, I might take extra vitamins and immune boosters, since being low in spirits often coincides with a lowering of resistance to sickness.

I’m not a cry-er; it would probably be better for me if I were.

But what the mind doesn’t consciously identify, the body often will know and react to.  This can be brutally hard at times. Suddenly finding oneself low and not knowing why is almost more distressing than being low in itself.  When I’m low on certain expected dates, I know it’s because it’s that date and will pass by the time I wake up, tomorrow morning; but when I’m leveled and don’t know why, it leers at me and threatens to become my permanent state.  This is unrealistic, of course, but sometimes the feeling dominates all.

The good news is that I got through a couple of anniversaries, this past year, with barely a wobble.  There is a lot to be grateful for:  if time doesn’t heal all wounds, it does generally make them less acute.