Your goodness doesn’t cancel out your darkness nor the other way around. As Thomas Lloyd Qualls says, “Believing you are good is like believing in the half moon.” The unlit side of the moon is always there, whether we see a sliver or full, creamy sphere.
I’ve been writing about the day in the spring of 2012 when my husband and I had the conversation to separate, the day I took the same run for the first time, when the sensation of running both towards and away from something was so urgent I felt I might spin right off the land into the deep, endless waters.
Today is a really, really good day. I didn't know this news was coming. I am awful at keeping up with the going-ons in the world because I hate listening to the news and about a lot of things political and worldy I don't have an informed opinion, so I shut up. I'm often embarrassed by this. I'm learning. I do however have an opinion about same-sex love and marriage. A big one. This is a mountain I am willing to die on.
I saw the news come across this morning - Same Sex Marriage is a Right, Supreme Court Rules - and jumped up in my office and screamed "YES!" YES, YES, YES. Fuck yes.
Just yesterday, on our ride home from summer camp, Alma asked me if I knew what it was called when a boy likes a boy or a girl likes a girl.
I asked, "What do you mean, what is it called, honey?"
She said, "Like, do you know if it has a name?"
I didn't hesitate. I don't know how to answer 90% of questions this kid throws at me, but this was an easy one.
I said, "Yes. It's called love, baby."
"Yes. That's it."
She paused a moment. I looked in my rear view mirror and our eyes met.
"OK," she said, and turned her gaze out the window, toward the ocean. The warm breeze blew her hair back out of her eyes as she took a sip of her Slurpee.
That's it. That's the beginning and end of the story. It's called love, baby.
I took this picture five years ago today in Salem, MA with my fancy Nikon DSLR. I was walking my dog, Addie, around our yellow, half low-income housing apartment complex in my black yoga pants and long down puffer coat, my boots crunching the frozen grass. When I stopped to take this shot Addie leached forward to smell something and the camera nearly hurled out of my hands. My body surged with agitation; why couldn't I just take a picture of this beautiful light without also nearly breaking my $600 camera? Why was everything so hard? When would everything stop being so goddamn hard all the time? I had no business owning a $600 camera. Less than two months prior, the four of us (me, my husband, Alma at 6 months old, and our dog) were living with his brother and wife in their cozy but tiny home, with their two small kids and dog. They’d invited us in as a way to get back to the east coast after an ill-advised six-month stint in Colorado. We arrived the last week in August, two days before my 32nd birthday.
They’d given up their bedroom to us on the second floor where their kids also slept. Alma’s crib was set up in their closet. They slept on the pull-out couch in the living room of the first floor. When the bed was pulled out it took up the entire room, so anyone who wanted to get to the kitchen had to climb over the corner of it and the legs underneath. The humility and kindness of it all was crushing.
It was a clown car scene – four adults, three children, two dogs, and one billion ounces of life force packed into that 1,000 foot home. We tripped over each other a lot. The kids had a ball.
One cold fall night we’d all walked to a neighborhood party with the kids my husband and d I stayed behind after the party ended. We drank Absolut and Sprite and Absolut and Ginger with the guys who hosted until we were both smashed and stumbled back late into the house. We were loud stumbled around the kitchen - I think I tried to make tea. When we woke to the morning routine, I was filled with crippling dread and my husband didn't remember much. We said we were sorry but I never got over it myself – the lack of respect. I felt like a teenager again: embarrassed, selfish and self-righteous. Weren't we allowed to have fun? Shouldn't we be able to blow off steam after the past six months of insanity? I was not a teenager, though. I was 32 with an MBA and a husband with two big degrees and a six-month old baby and we were both unemployed and lost as fuck.
One morning toward the end of the two-month stretch there, I checked our bank account and we had exactly $110 in it. Total. Our phones were ringing constantly with 800-numbers; we’d stopped answering. Bankruptcy was a foregone conclusion, we just had to make the phone call to a lawyer and get the process moving. My husband started working at Whole Foods a few weeks prior just to get the energy moving in the right direction, to send some kind of signal to the universe.
$110 and I had no idea what to spend it on. Food? Diapers? I remember thinking I wanted a pedicure. Wine. Should I take it out of the bank in case a bill got processed and we were over-withdrawn? I closed my eyes and squeezed my fists together tight. Alma was sitting beside me on the bed, rolling around making baby noises and I thought, FUCK. NO.
This was not happening.
I spent four hours that day on the phone with some woman at the Massachusetts unemployment office. I’d filed a few weeks before but between two states and a bunch of extra paperwork, we’d got lost in the process somewhere and I’d about given up. I paced outside behind the house on the phone, watching my flip-flopped feet take step after step on the hot black driveway, willing this woman to please, please, please make a miracle happen and help get this processed. Before we hung up, she told me I’d receive a check in the next few days for six-thousand and some dollars. I cried.
Shortly thereafter, we moved into the yellow, half low-income housing apartment complex in Salem. It was October, Halloween month. I got a couple good consulting gigs and my my first regular yoga class on Monday nights at the YMCA down the street. He kept looking for jobs and worked at a place for free for a year, until he got a paying gig. He hated both. Things blur together after that, but the photo was taken about a month after we’d moved in, in November of 2009.
I remember looking through the lens of my camera and feeling the stark juxtaposition of the gorgeous, glowing dusk light on those tree berries against the heaviness of what we’d gone through and were still in. How much I hated him. How much I loved him. How grateful I was to be back by the ocean, and how desperate the winter already felt. How madly I loved my daughter, and what a burden she was, too. How life-giving the cold air felt in my lungs, and how trapped I would feel when I walked back inside.
It was May, 2012. I'd been drinking a lot during this time. Daily. Not during the day, but daily. A lot of wine. A lot of dosing myself with countless glasses of it and Ambien each night. I wanted to completely black out of reality as often as possible and that combo worked. I'd often come to at 3 or 4 am with a freight-train rush of adrenaline and the smell of red wine searing my nostrils from the inside and out. I was soaked with booze inside and also often laying in a pool of it, having spilled the last glass upon passing out.
Sometimes the walls and floor around my side of the bed would be spattered with maroon, like dried blood; shards of glass scattered about from the fallen glass. I'd whip my head around to find my husband either situated as far away from me as possible in our bed, or not there at all. I'd frantically scan the bed, floor, nightstand for my phone, running my shaky fingers across the surfaces until I felt it. Once I’d find it I’d blink a few times hard – willing my eyes to focus on the screen – to check the time, scan through my texts and calls.
Did I make phone calls?
Was my last memory really the last thing I did? (It almost never was.)
This was a nightly routine and it was horrific. I'd been caught in this dilemma in the true, greek sense of the word, “a problem offering two possibilities, neither of which is practically acceptable” for too long at that point. Leaving or staying, staying or leaving. Both outcomes were undesirable, painful, unfathomable.
I drank to numb this reality. I drank to pursue it. I drank to find the truth. I drank to un-know it.
One Wednesday that May, I was making my way to a conference room after eating lunch at my desk. My agency was in the final rounds of a pitch to the state of Massachusetts tourism board and we had a prep meeting to walk through our presentation. As we were filing into the room my stomach suddenly started aching badly. Stabbing pain with waves of nausea. I sat down at the table and took a few deep breaths, assuming this was just the regular-grade anxiety I had in these types of situations. But with each breath my stomach and chest only clenched tighter. I leaned toward my boss and quietly told him I'd be back. I hurried to our bathroom, shut the door, and knelt in front of the toilet. I placed my forehead down on the cool tile of the floor. What was happening? I needed to throw up. I started to shake. Gasped for air. Tingles radiated from my chest out to my limbs. I stood up and paced the tiny circle of this bathroom I'd cried in so many times before. I wrung out my hands, shook my head and whispering loudly to the whir of the fan, no no no no no no no no.
Whatever was happening was escalating fast and I needed help. I stumbled out of the bathroom to face the open landscape of the office. I spotted my co-worker Kelly across the room and made my way over to her. It took years.
"I need help. I don't know what's happening."
She nodded in that knowing way and helped me to one of the couches. I was positive I was dying. My hands curled in on themselves, sweat poured out from everywhere, my chest was getting crushed, and my face went numb while I repeated over and over what’s happening, what’s happening, what’s happening. Concerned faces hovered above me as the scene played out (it is not a large office) – the partners, my boss, a few others – and then, the EMTs. An oxygen mask went on. They said I’d be alright. They wheeled me out on a stretcher, onto the elevator, down four floors, I was gone.
Anyone who’s experienced a panic attack knows just how terrifying they are. That you actually, truly believe you are about to die. That death is a flit of a second away.
So naturally when the terror passes, you are washed over with profound exhaustion and relief. A kind of rawness I’ve only ever experienced after childbirth. I rode in the back of the ambulance to Boston Medical, still holding Kelly’s hand.
She asked me what was happening.
I heard my voice speak these words, “I know it’s done, Kelly. I know my marriage is over.” With those words came a river of slow, hot, salty tears - each one carrying an equal amount of pain and relief. There it was. I had said it. I let the words hang out there in the space of that ambulance. Without further explanation, justification, debate, backtracking. I just let them be. I closed my eyes.
I got checked in, Kelly called my husband, and eventually he came.
Despite all we’d been through – the countless ways I’d hurt him and he’d disappointed me, despite our colossal failings and unresolved resentments that preceded this moment – he sat at my side and held my hand. Under the hard armor of grief and frustration, I saw a trace of old, familiar kindness in the back of his eyes. The softness one has for someone with whom they’ve fought a war. The marrow part of love.
“This happens when you're drinking too much,” he said.
“I know,” I replied.
Silence. A long silence.
“Are we going to be okay?” I turned to him, looking up from the hospital bed.
“Yeah.” He nodded quietly, knowing what I meant. That I was not referring to the married “we,” but to each of us, separately. Separate. That we were letting it all fall apart.
I do not remember the rest of that night. If we slept in the same bed, or alone. Who put our daughter to bed. Whether or not we ate. The moving out, the reorganization of drawers to fill extra space, the purchase of his new navy couch, the old hiking boots he left behind and never took back, waking up alone after a blizzard one Saturday morning in January and digging out my own path, for eight hours, hungover.
We could have arrived at that point dozens of other times before or after that. There were countless crescendos to fights where we pushed up to the edge of the end, but did not leap. Stretches of time we filled with day-to-day comings and goings, talk about our daughter, bills, a party, family, so we could turn away from the elephant – still unsure whether it had come to stay. But this is how it goes, doesn’t it? We hold on when we do not know whether to let go.
We stand still when can’t decide which way to turn.
We put our hands over our eyes until we are forced to peel them away.
We keep it together until we are forced to let it all fall apart.
We suspend disbelief and hold out for a miracle.
I've had these words bangin' around in my head for the past few days. They're from the one and only Pema Chodron in her book "When Things Fall Apart." I first came across her and this book back in the early days of my marriage, when life was throwing us one massive curveball after another, and I myself was gasping for air daily. I was in an unrelenting state of not wanting to be where I was. Wishing for things to be different than they were. Wishing I could disappear, runaway, and save everyone around me from the pain that would cause. I had no idea how to proceed.
I would listen to Pema on my iPod every night in bed, on my walk to the train, on the bus. Her words were oxygen. She told her own story of her marriage, how her husband approached her on their porch one hot, dusty summer day in Arizona and announced that he was leaving, that he was in love with another woman, and that she threw rocks at him and spit words of hate. She described the hot anger, the frightening rage she felt towards him and this other woman, the plans she made to hurt them, the arresting thoughts of violence and how her own mind attacked her moment after moment.
She also described how that experience set her life on a different course. Not immediately, and not easily, but it cracked her open in such a way that the former version of herself and her life were annihilated. In an attempt to find some way out of her pain, she was talking to a friend who recommended she read an article written by Chögyam Trungpa. The article was about how we relate to negative feelings - and that it's not the negative feelings that hurt us, but the stories we tell ourselves about them, which are often filled with thoughts of shame, self-hatred and blame. It awakened something in her. The possibility that there was another way to move through this. This set her on the path to being a student of his and eventually becoming the first Tibetan buddhist nun, a prolific author and one of the most renowned spiritual teachers of our time.
In my own case, working through her books and workshops and listening to her words helped me navigate the next several years. "When Things Fall Apart" is one of the seven ten books I keep on my desk at all times. As with all big lessons, they take different meaning over time. You could study buddhism until the day you die and never grasp it all -- the lessons never end. But there is something pure and essential about the idea that sometimes you just have to let everything fall apart.
Two years ago this concept meant letting go of my marriage without having any guarantee of what the future would hold. Letting it all fall to the ground without knowing if I would be forgiven, if I would be loved again, if I would be able to support myself, if I would have to fight to keep custody of my daughter, if I would one day regret my decision and if I could even make it through the next day, and the next, and the next without being swallowed whole by the fear. It meant telling the raw, honest truth about the mess we'd created and my own part in it. It meant not knowing a fucking thing but letting it happen anyway.
Today, the story has different characters and circumstances, but the lesson is the same. I've found myself thinking, again? We are here again?Really? But this is the part of the lesson I missed or ignored the first time around.
“To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man's-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again. ”
Until we learn something the universe will keep feeding the lesson to us. This is the good news and the bad news. We are given a lot of chances. As long as we wake up, we have another chance. But we have to do the work to actually change. We have to jump off the cliff.
Two years ago, I jumped off the cliff that was my marriage. It turned out to be okay, but it was not okay for a long time. There was a lot of free fall.
Today, the characters and circumstances are different, but the concept is the same. I'd avoided jumping off the cliff into sobriety for a long time. Really jumping off; not just peeking over the edge or hanging from it looking down while still clutching onto the rocks and dirt. I'd asked others to push me off (they cannot). I'd even hung some limbs out there in hopes that maybe a big wind would just scoop me up and throw me over (also does not work). Turns out the only thing that works is actually closing your eyes, taking a breath, bending your knees and launching yourself forward. Only when you've jumped do you need to fly. I'm remembering I can fly.
#TBT to my birthday four years ago. We’d just moved back to MA after a brief stint in CO and I’d never been more grateful for the water. That time, when Alma was such a tiny bittle, a wee being with a life force of the ocean itself, was messy, turbulent, scorching and sacred. Life at that time had the quality of turning into a diamond. Pressure and heat and tumble after impossible tumble.
Our little family was hurtling into a new place and there was depression and addiction and mental breaks and bankruptcy and no home to call our own, no firm ground on which to stand. We did not have the luxury of discussing the quality of our marriage because we were only fighting to survive. We could not argue about the furniture because the house was burning down, as they say.
I remember looking at this picture and thinking, I look so happy. Truly, genuinely happy.
And in that very moment, I believe I was. Holding my new baby. Squeezing her impossible little body. Feet in the rocky sand. The smell of the ocean. In that moment, I was ok and grateful to be back on the east coast, to celebrate my 32nd birthday in the place my heart belonged.
I look at this picture today and think, just…hold…on.
It would be some time before things would stop spinning so dizzy. There would be moves and jobs and separation and despair and disappointment. There would be breakthroughs and celebrations and birthdays and hearts exploding with the pain of losing our marriage and with love for this gorgeous creature that is our daughter. And of course, there would be the reckoning with addiction — the ultimate fire that needed to be burned to the ground so that I could grow into something else entirely. I look at this picture and think,
And then, in the next breath, just…keep…going.
Last night I went to my second Radiohead concert. My first was in 2008 at the same venue. I was in the early part of my pregnancy.
It was a crazy experience attending three years later with the space of everything that’s happened in between.
I remember feeling terrified and out of my skin at the 2008 show. The music washed over me, though, and does what music does to our souls: sanctifies, purifies, connects and heals. The idea that Alma was absorbing her first concert through my belly swirled up hope and anticipation at the things I could share. Like music. I bought a t-shirt at the end of the show with the lyrics from 15 Steps printed on it:
You used to be alright. What happened?
So, three years later. And I’m asking myself the same thing: what happened? I say it with just enough humor to bring levity. It has certainly not been a terrible three years. Many of the most wonderful, magical moments have taken place. There’s been plenty of love and laughter and even joy.
But it has also been tremendously difficult at times. In ways I couldn’t have known when purchasing that t-shirt. It’s telling of where my head was at the time, and also a bit prescient.
I’ve been waiting to put down the words in this post. To say that Ryan and I are officially going our separate ways.. I couldn’t spit them out, at least not on here, until now. But I knew that eventually I would; that I’d need this space to write.
And today, on the heels of last night, it feels like the right time.
I didn’t buy a t-shirt last night. If I did, it would have different lyrics on it. They would be:
"Like I’m falling out of bed From a long and weary dream Finally I’m free of all the weight I’ve been carrying.”
This doesn’t mean I’m free or that my heart isn’t heavy. But having arrived at a very difficult decision, and one that was terrifying and extremely painful to make, there’s both a sense of falling and freedom. From making the decision you did not think you could make, and plunging into a chapter that is entirely unknown. I believe it is a statement of hope.
I went to a yoga class this week that saved me. It’s why I go, most of the time. To be rescued from myself or to find a way back to my center. Sometimes I go because I need to move my body and shake some things off, quiet the chatter, get back to grounded. Sometimes I just go to sweat. But I’ve learned that when I am particularly harried, when my edges feel frayed and jagged, when I start to get short with everyone, when I lose any and all perspective so much that I cry thinking there may not be enough coffee, I go to yoga to fix myself. Since we’ve lived at residence #4 of the year, where we are not surrounded by many of our belongings, including our own bed, I haven’t slept very well. We have a king sized bed. Downgrading in size once you’ve had the sprawling luxury of a king sized bed feels criminal. It’s like having to go back to coach once you’ve had a taste of first class, every single night. I do not care to hide my snobbery for the king sized bed. I cherish the perfect luxuriousness of building a four pillow fort around me to support the best possible sleep inducing arrangement of limbs and joints and air flow. I need to be able to sleep a far distance away from my husband in order for us to keep from vaporizing from the heat oven that is my body.
We’ve been sleeping in a very, very, very much appreciated double bed. It is the bed of the owners of the house, and they are sleeping on the pull out couch so that we can sleep in it. I appreciate this bed.
But it is not my bed.
So, I have an arsenal of sleep aids as well as a somewhat religious routine that I go through in order to woo my mind and body to dream land every night. Some nights it works. More of than not, when Ryan comes to bed four or so hours after I started trying, I spit fire at him for disturbing whatever progress I may have made on my way down. It is in these moments that i am sure he feels as though he made a great choice in marrying me. The girl who violently whispers “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!” every single time he crawls into bed, as though it’s never happened before, this bed sharing thing. As though I am disgusted that he consider coming to sleep near me, in my bed, where I lay not so peacefully trying to put myself to sleep - what an ASSHOLE.
Needless to say, it’s tough once in a while when you couple lack of sleep, or very bad sleep, with a few major life stressors, a baby, and being female.
One morning this week I felt myself coming unglued. I asked Ryan if I could go to yoga, and would he watch Alma, and he saw the need on my face and recognized that there was only one possible answer to this question, and I went.
I’ve generally felt much better these days. I can manage myself and life and I don’t cry all the time. This is somewhat significant and sometimes I want to pinch myself when I’m walking in the early morning and the air is chilled, the red leaves have started to show, and I take in big, long, deep, full belly breaths of ocean air. I want to pinch myself because I realize I am ok. Really ok. And it’s not because things have fallen into place; in fact, if I pay attention to the list of things that are not going well (income, home, money, home, money, income) it feels incongruous with my level of peace and fear. I think, I should be a little less peaceful and a little more terrified. But I’m just not. Maybe it’s a function of time. Maybe I am growing up. Or maybe having all the images of what I thought my life was like basically fall away has made me less afraid of everything. Perhaps I’m just cracking up.
But on this day, and the days leading up to it, I felt myself drifting off. I went to this class, and I know the instructor by now; she’s fierce and feisty and tough. I really love her classes, even when I’m hating them.
I got out of class, received a sweet email from one of my friends and he let on that he’d been going through some things around loneliness and belonging and had been quiet as a result. This is part of what I wrote back as sometimes people ask my why I do yoga, and I can never quite articulate it well. Sometimes it’s just a way to move my body, like running or swimming or dancing around. Sometimes it is much more.
"Well, I obviously don’t know exactly what you mean specifically, but I do. It seems to never end, even when you think you’ve done all the work. I think we just get better at not taking it so seriously, or perhaps we just better understand that it’s a process. The good news is, you’ve got a lot of tools at your disposal :). Loneliness is one of the toughest to feel and not drown in, for me. Even when - especially when - you’re not necessarily "alone".
I took a yoga class this morning; I found one instructor here that I really like, so I try to get to her class once a week. I knew it was going to be a tough one for me - I was overtired and all over the place emotionally - the story this week. But I’m sure you’ve experienced it time and time again, when you take a class that seems to be exactly, exactly what you need, physically and otherwise. It kicked my butt but through the sequencing and what she happened to say today, it brought me to a place I realized I’d been searching for for a long, long time. And I realized I was no longer afraid of whatever was going to happen. It’s a long winding story but I think the past two years, and especially the past 8 months, I’ve been tossed around so much in order to get there. It felt like in a few moments all the pieces, the circuitous and seemingly nonsensical way things have gone, all came into focus at once. And I thought, yoga has sort of saved my life in this way.”