‘Tis the Season

I can see their faces now, peaking down over the banister, their not so quiet whispers, “did he come?” The anticipated footsteps racing down the stairs. Their eyes race from corner to corner of the piled up presents. Brock comments on which presents are his and which are his sister’s, trying to find who has the biggest one. They giggle seeing that there are only crumbs left behind on the plate and the milk half gone. And the stockings….their favorite. It is magical. Just as it should be. The uncontainable excitement in the children. The pure joy in their parents eyes. Magical.

But this Christmas I will miss all that. This Christmas I won’t even have the joy of seeing my children. To hear their voices, to see their eyes light up and to bask in the pure romance of it all. This Christmas they will be with their father and his family. And just knowing that they will be creating cherished memories helps, but not enough. My first choice is with me. With this being my first Christmas as a divorced woman, I have played out how this day will unfold for me over and over. None of which will replace the beauty of being with my children. None of which make the tears stop when I think of not being with them. And believe me, the tears don’t stop. But I have a choice to make. I can be pitiful and let my Christmas be scarred with tears and booze or I can pull myself together and find a way to celebrate me.

The choices I make in life are mine. I know me better than anyone ever can or ever will. Some people find comfort in surrounding themselves with others… anyone…just for the sake of not being alone. Not me. I find comfort in the exact opposite. I find comfort in myself and in celebrating who I am becoming. Most will never understand my decision to be alone on Christmas, to not share it with others, but that is ok. I don’t need to be understood. I need to be supported, encouraged and loved by those who choose to be in my life.

I have always had a fascination with travel. And just this year I deepened that fascination by traveling solo on a few occasions. Travel is highly personal to me. In traveling I see myself more clearly. It is a way in which I can release myself from the daily tasks that have created my regular life. Without challenge and moving past the comfort of my routine, there is no room for growth. This is not a vacation for me. This is me opening a door…to a journey…a release. Christmas 2016 will be spent submerging myself into a culture that is unfamiliar. A culture that will make me get out of my bubble, view and adapt. Puerto Rico will be my temporary home. And in this, I find comfort.

So as I take this journey, it is twofold. I won’t pretend that it is not to escape the absence of my children over the holiday. This is true. And it hurts. But I will train my mind and body in preparation for the positive that will come from it. This solo journey excites me and that is what life needs. Things that excite us to our core. Things that challenge us and push us past our default settings in life. Welcoming unpredictable experiences brings about unpredictable change. ‘Tis the season…for change. 

                              “To travel is to take a journey into yourself.”  D. Kaye

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Doors

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I haven’t found sleep in days. Last night won, yet again, as if we were playing a game of hide-n-seek. I climb out of bed with a pit in my stomach and my mind overtaken with thoughts of the day ahead. How will they take it? Will they cry? Will I cry? These unanswered questions will be resolved in a matter of hours but, at this moment, I can’t help but feel the pain of what today holds.

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Our family loves to play games. In the toyroom the kids have shelves filled with board games, cards, marbles, dominos, and electronic games. For the kids, today, started off as any ordinary day. They were told to pick a game and we would all play as a family. Of course each of them have their favorites. Most times we have to negotiate who gets to pick if they can’t agree on one. But today they agreed on the board game Sorry. My stomach turned at the thought of the word and the irony of their choice.

Sitting on our favorite rug, the kids each picked their colors. With red and yellow left, I pick yellow. Yellow is a happy color I tell myself.

My ex and I had talked numerous times on what we would say to the children about our separation. None of which felt good enough. All felt flawed. All felt empty. But we knew we wanted to keep it as light and as positive as we could. Looking back, I am not sure we did the right thing by camouflaging our feelings and fears, but we are human. This was new to use and we did what we felt was best for our children at the time.

Forgetting about the game in front of me, I took my turn sharing with the children what this meant for them. Their eyes lit up as we talked about decorating their new rooms and making it their own. We talked about the positive and what things will stay the same, promising them that their mom and dad love them and nothing will change that. Robert E. Emery, author of The Truth About Children and Divorce, reminds us that “families in divorce are still families.” The kids heard this in our voices and will continue to see it in our daily actions.

Labeling the houses “mom’s house” and “dad’s house” was something we both agreed that we did not want to do. Partly for the kids, but mostly because we felt ashamed. These words were not spoken, but in all honesty, we didn’t want the community to know our business. This was not a proud moment in our marriage. And so it became “The Batcave.”

As I heard myself exhale and felt my body relax, my mind wasn’t there yet. Although this dreaded talk was over, my mind was now consumed with our newest reality. We were officially a family divided between two homes.

Watching my family walk out the door that day was surreal. The door seemed to close a little slower, the latch echoed louder, and the ticking of the clock was ever so present. I was left behind, on the other side of the door, while my children started memories that did not include me.

That was months ago and it still stings. Today, it hurts even more than I imagined.  My children now have to spend their time divided between parents and between two homes. And while at first they thought it was a fun, new adventure, the truth and reality has set in. Dad’s house is no longer called The Batcave. This is no longer a trial separation but a divorce; a clear separation of homes, dinners, lives and memories.

For me, the loneliness is always in clear view. Just a breeze away. Days without a voice being heard, days without laughter bouncing off the walls, and days of wanting the night to fall shortly after I manage to get out of bed. There are moments, sometimes days, where I feel happy. But happy doesn’t replace being lonely. And lonely usually doesn’t travel alone. Lonely usually brings along his buddy insecurity. Insecurities of the future, insecurities of friendships, and insecurities of being alone, forever.

As this deep-seated guilt settles in even deeper, I have to remind myself that I still have a responsibility to my children. They need to feel loved, secure and safe. Their belief in these things needs to be unshakable. I may not be able to give them the traditional home and the life I envisioned, but I can still be the best parent I always knew I could be.

The Lost

  “Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.”~Henry David Thoreau

Lost can mean a variety of different things. Lost in direction, lost in a job, lost in a relationship or just lost in life in general. But being lost, in and of itself, does not lead to self discovery, however. It is the acceptance of being lost and the challenge of finding what is yours to rediscover.

Being lost for me this year came in the form of losing my identity as a wife. And in losing that, I also found that my future…the certainty of a future, was lost as well. While I felt misplaced in my life, I knew I wanted to do more than just exist. I wanted to surrender myself to what I love, to what makes me feel alive, in hopes that I would thrive and be found again. Travel.

                                               *****                                                                        

From day one my soul stirred. I wanted to submerge myself in the culture and get lost from myself. I would be reckless in the pursuit of personal discovery. With the tropical terrain and the seductive sea as my guide, I would drift and discover, escape and engage, fearless in my journey.

In a land where the backdrop itself is poetic, the ‘aloha spirit’ enchants, and the air exhilarates,  Hawaii provides a stunning utopia. Even on her cloudiest and rainiest day she can’t hide her beauty. My eyes witnessed her vibrant green mountains with abundant waterfalls, secluded beaches made for only movies, bamboo trees that touched the sky, and cliffs with soaring seas, holding views that defy imagination.

On my last day in Kauai, I ventured along the west side of the island to Waimea Canyon. Never in my life have I had a goal to see a canyon but I thought, “While in Kauai…” The lookouts over the canyon were admirable, yes. But the main attraction, for me, was The Canyon Trail and where it led me. The trail sign read, Trail Conditions: exposed roots and uneven surfaces. May be muddy and slippery in places, 1.8 miles each way.  After being in Kauai for 4 days already and covering every corner, I was pretty sure I had seen all that the trails had to offer. My clothes had been torn, my shoes hadn’t been dry in days, and I had never felt so alive in my life. Pushing myself past personal limits, never realized before, was both liberating and addictive.  

Using steps carved out of red dirt I move along at a steady pace. The air is calm and pleasant. I can hear myself breathing. I wonder which is louder, that or the beating of my heart.  As the trail became more demanding, I found myself with an unexplainable smile and an unguarded frame of mind. “This is what I am here for,” I thought. I never wanted it to end. The trail proved to be all that the sign had warned me about. One minute I was sliding backwards in a mud slide, while the next I was grasping for branches to pull me up over roots and boulders. Nature was unapologetic in her course and she had an indescribable innocence about it all. No longer needing to think, just look, I felt alive! The familiar blue sky and brilliant sun found opportunities to say hello through the canopy of trees. Catching glimpses of the impressive canyon to my right, I trekked on. Destination unknown.

WARNING! Hazardous Cliff. The ground may break off without warning. Here I was, face to face with a sign trying to turn me away from quite possibly the most breathtaking moment of my life, only I didn’t know that yet. This sign could not be the trail end. No way. There had to be more. Be fearless in my journey, I reminded myself. Putting the sign behind me, I held true to my promise.  

The sign did its job warning me about the cliff and its life threatening possibilities. What the sign failed to mention were the dramatic views I was about to witness. As I stood along the cliff’s edge, consuming a 360 degree view of the canyon, my body was paralyzed in awe. As if color blind before this moment, the majestic reds, the spots of lush greens, and the staggering beauty, aroused my senses. Standing at the top of the canyon, 3,600 feet deep, surrounded by such rich scenery, such mind-blowing size, a helicopter passing by at eye level was just another speck in the sky. Absorbing the details of the vast gorge to memory, I felt more connected to the universe than ever before. The pure, innocent story of a canyon…the pure, innocent story of us.

With my back turned to the canyon, making my way down the trail, I felt an undeniable surge of melancholy. The feelings (mind and body) that consumed me in that canyon are feelings that I can never fully portray. I can try. But they are just too powerful and words will forever fall short. Even the words on this paper fall short. Trust me. It is an experience that will leave you feeling full yet thirsting for more. I wish everyone the great fortune of experiencing a moment in life like this.

You see, people visit Hawaii to escape life as they know it, even if for a brief encounter. For reasons each their own, just like dust, some decide to settle. And although I did not settle, I returned home with more of a stirring in my stomach than ever before. An excitement and understanding that only being lost helped me regain.

Let’s Get Real About Emotion

Divorce can produce feelings of fear, stress, anger, sadness and sometimes even depression. And in order to truly heal, we need to become vulnerable and reflect on what can be learned from these wounds. We should never be ashamed of owning up to our mistakes and wanting to overcome and grow from them. Brene Brown speaks truth in saying, “we’ve all fallen, and we all have skinned knees and bruised hearts to prove it. But scars are easier to talk about than they are to show, with all the remembered feelings laid bare. And rarely do we see wounds in the process of healing. I’m not sure if it’s because we feel too much shame to let anyone see a process as intimate as overcoming hurt, or if it’s because even when we muster the courage to share our still-incomplete healing, people reflexively look away.”

I find that our society wants to hear only the stories of love, happiness, and success. And who doesn’t love a beautiful story that is full of inspiration? I get it. But why are so few willing to hear the story of how you were stripped of your identity and feel naked and ashamed. Are we too caught up in our own worlds to reach out to one another? Is our pride too big to let the tears fall in front of those that do care? Where exactly do we fall short in these deep connections that we long for? Maybe we are all to blame. Join me as I make a personal vow to bare it all and hide no more.

There are days where I feel strong and have the typical Theresa mentality of, “I’ve got this.” And to be honest with you, I am tired of being that girl. It is a piece of me that played a part in my marriage failing. Yes, I will take ownership in that. One night as Jonathan and I were working out the final numbers for the divorce, we also had a moment of vulnerability. I sobbed. A lot. And as he held me, he looked me in the eyes and said, “this is what I miss. I’ve always liked you at your weakest.” Those words have haunted me. It’s true. I was always the “strong” one. I did it all on my own and never let anyone in. Not to help with the daily responsibilities of a home and family, not to comfort me, and most definitely not to see me cry. This was a turning point for me.

As I write this entry tears resurface. I am heartbroken and full of guilt, still. There are days where I am blindsided by a memory or an overwhelming rush of loneliness. And let me tell you, when these hit, I feel like I am suffocating. I struggle to find air to breathe, the strength to get out of bed, and the willpower to “get it together.” I cry out loud, knowing that it is only me that will hear my pain.

Slowing down the process and feeling what is meant to be felt is like being paralyzed in your own emotions. While at first it is terrifying and deeply painful, the overwhelming sense of personal growth and perspective, once through it, is so worth it.  “People who wade in their discomfort and vulnerability and tell the truth about their stories are the real badasses,” declares Brene Brown.

I can’t encourage you enough to be bold and acknowledge your own discomfort. Acknowledge it, study it, learn from it, and then release it. Maybe it is simply journaling for your own personal healing. Maybe it is talking to a friend or professional to get it out into the open. Or maybe it is commenting on this blog or being a guest blogger. Whatever you do, do something. Be bold. Be a badass!