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)


Blessings Journal, Week 2

Blessings this week:
Signs of Spring:  The Bradford pear still looks lovely, despite gale-force winds that blew through here a few days ago.  Also blooming: forsythia, wild plum, American Redbud, quince (I need to plant a couple of quince bushes; my aunt used to make the most wonderful quince jelly!), daffodils, jonquils, and narcissi, that strange tulip-looking Magnolia (saucer magnolia) – – –
It’s chillier again, but only seasonably so. After several cloudy/rainy days the sun was out for the past three days, and it’s been simply wonderful!
I saw a goldfinch while out and about, one day — the bright golden yellow is always startling.

I found old radio drama adaptations on YouTube of Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey series, starring Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter.  Very enjoyable productions!

More energy!  both mental and physical.  What a blessing that is, after a winter of being in the slumps!

I bought a bunch (7) of pink tulips at the grocery store.  They cheer me up every time I look at them.


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.

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.

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.

Thirty Years

Thirty Years.  It’s been thirty years since the morning he came in and announced he was leaving. “I can’t take it any more,” he said.

Of course, he dropped this bombshell on me as I was changing clothes to go to my first final exam of the semester — timing I can’t help but feel was not an accident. He had sabotaged me before. This time the sabotage was only a bump in the road; I still completed my work.

But how those years have flown by! Thirty years! In some ways it seems like just a couple weeks.  There are hours and days when I still feel fragile and raw, uncertain where to step, when my wounds still feel raw and I feel timid and weak.

There are times when I grieve deeply for lost family, dreams, and possibilities. I look back on the thirty years when, under other circumstances, I might have remarried, had another family, known love. . . but for the wounds and scars left by the very disordered relationship of marriage with a gay man.

“You need to find yourself a straight man and get married again,” he counseled me, when my first social outing was a large school event, and my way was paid by two gay colleagues. But he himself never acknowledged to me that he is gay, and he denied to others that his homosexuality had anything to do with our divorce,

So how could he admit that the dysfunctional relationship between the two of us had done any damage to my mind and soul, at all?  He couldn’t, and all these years later, still can’t. Or won’t.

I get by.  Right now, anniversaries being low points, that’s the best I can do.  Forty-eight hours ago I was happy and hopeful; perhaps in forty-eight more I shall be there again. But right now I am low.

It passes, so I hang on.

Finding Healing

Despite my anger over what has happened between me and my ex-husband, and in the gay agenda in general, I have learned that there is a lot of woundedness there which truly warrants compassion.

Gays aren’t born that way — twin studies have always verified that — but they are born with a personality, a disposition which renders them at odds with the traditionally masculine world and sets them up for possible imprinting and identification as same-sex attracted.  In a gender that applauds athletic prowess and physical agility, the more sensitive or artistic male may have a sense of alienation from other boys.  He identifies more with girls.

Sadly, the sensitive male — and this includes my ex-husband — often possesses great moral insight and a strength of character that deserves to be recognized and respected as manly qualities . . . but are not.  DH was a force of nature when it came to personality, strength of opinion, power of persuasion.  In our circle of friends, he was universally regarded as a chaplain or sorts, a spiritual mentor.  He was loved and looked up to . . . but it wasn’t enough. He couldn’t recognize our esteem. Years later, when I told him how we’d felt about him, he wept.  He was still wracked with disbelief in his own worth.

That strength of mind and will and faith are what made me fall in love with him.  Of course, my love couldn’t begin to heal his broken spirit; that required the affirmation of a masculine man; I, a woman, couldn’t meet his deepest emotional needs.  It takes a man to teach a boy how to be comfortable in his own skin as male. His father, a good man, a brilliant man, was also of a more sensitive nature:  quiet, gentle, studious.  Introverted. He could teach his sons how to handle the basic mechanical maintenance of their cars (masculine skills set), but he wasn’t in possession of those interests and skills that would have helped his boys fit in more easily with the other boys in the neighborhood.  DH preferred music to sports; he built up the self-defense of dismissing ordinary boys, then men, as “idiots.”

I wanted to be his all-in-all.  This was an unrealistic expectation, particularly given the circumstances.  Men need other men in their lives to push them to be stronger, better — “iron sharpens iron.”

Not only could I not be his all-in-all, the fact is that his misery with himself  rendered him too wounded to be able to love me at all.  I can pity him for this woundedness now.  It does not justify how he treated me after we were married, during our divorce, and after, in his continued insistence that, first of all, he wasn’t gay, but then, yeah, he was gay but that still had nothing to do with the divorce.

But it does allow me to look beyond my own sufferings and loss to find something in him that I can pity.  And I’m able after many years to remember that beautiful boy we all loved and looked up to — and to realize I still love him.

And in loving him, interestingly, I’m not tied to him by sentiment, but I’m at long, long last! liberated to get well, myself, and to build a proper life for myself, in which I can be my best self and not be entrapped in the bitterness or the resentments that had been my daily fare for so many years.