Year one, done

It’s been a year since the worst day of my life. The day I had to break the hearts of the two humans that I love the most. The day I had to tell them that their father and I would no longer be a couple.

It had been two months of harbouring the secret, to get through Christmas, to work out the plan, to talk to social workers to understand how best to tell them. I wanted to do it right, if there’s such a thing. I’m still trying. It’s a constant pull between my hurt feelings wanting to lash out at their dad and realizing that doing so would jeopardize a relationship that was always held together by a string, strong as hemp rope on one end, but thinned out to the most fragile of threads at the other.

Our favourite social worker, the one our family still sees, suggested we present the information as a unified front. Under no circumstances were we supposed to give any hints or suggestions that we may get back together. It was over, we needed to stick to the storyline, because any window of wavering would be a forever open door for kids who just want their parents back together.

We ordered sushi, a family favourite, and talked happily during dinner. People always ask if the kids suspected. I will say that while they felt weird energy in the house during those two months, and caught me crying a bunch of times, they really didn’t see it coming. I never ever wanted to do this to them, as a kid who had suffered a (temporary) parental break-up herself. And I told my now-ex that once we broke their hearts there was no turning back.


He waffled over those two months, but whenever he’d say, “Why are we doing this?” I would ask him why he felt we should stay together. The answer was always (and is to this day), “Because it’s harder than I imagined.” Not, “I realized how much I love you and what you mean to me, and I can’t believe I put you through all that shit all these years.” Nope. Not, “I realize I can’t live without you.” Nope. Repeat: He does not love you the way you need to be loved, Maria. Breathe.

For years, during many late night discussions about the state of our relationship, I warned him about how this would affect the kids, how they would struggle in life while all their peers had (happily or unhappily) married parents. I knew first-hand what it was like, while he, with parents unhappily married for 50 years, only saw that relationship as a trap. His story, his narrative, always won out. He would dig in his heels and say, “The kids will be alright because it’s us. We’re not going to do it in a way that makes us enemies.” It turns out we were both right.

The kids are alright, but they have moments of deep sadness, or fear, anxiety, frustration. They are stuck on the why, but the why no longer matters. It just IS. We must accept it and move on. Theo was right, we would do it differently. I did a bit of mudslinging in early days, but through meditation, yoga, therapy and the buddhist practise of accepting impermanence, I have learned to let go of my anger and my sadness. Sure, they creep in sometimes, but I know to breathe through it, turn it into a joke and to resist sending that angry text.


This morning’s angry text was going to be, “Who the FUCK is that woman on your Facebook feed saying what an awesome family you have? Just because you made a fire on the beach, as if making a bonfire earns you Parent of the Year! Stop using your fatherhood to get laid, you piece of shit!” But instead, I went to yoga and thought my hamstrings were going to snap like elastic bands pulled too far. The kids joke that I’m becoming a Zen master, but maybe I’m just becoming an asshole who buys too many Buddha statues and is getting mature enough not to fire off texts before I’ve thought through the repercussions.

When the kids do express their sadness, we sit with it. I have, in some ways, become a better mother through this process. I’m not anxious about their fears and pains like I used to be. Or rather, I notice the anxiety and guilt rising up within me, and I take a breath and pivot to Supermom. Dad is Fun Dad, and there’s something good in accepting that. I can be too serious, talking them through mega heavy life topics, like drugs and abortion. Dad is just Fun Dad. He gets them outdoors. He pushes their physical selves into the physical world, taking them for hikes on the beach and then returning to his sad dad cosy basement apartment to watch a movie and eat something warm that he’s made for them. I am the keeper of their minds and their souls, he is the keeper of their bodies and their place in the outside world. We both approach their anxieties differently, and both are good.

When I think of us like that, it does make me wistful. It does make me want to get back together, but then I never ever saw our relationship as “that bad” until I got out of it. Sure I was unhappy, but wasn’t everybody? But then I remember that, regardless of whether I agree with the thinking, for him every fight was Hiroshima, every argument symbolizing the end of days. I love him, but I’ve come to realize that he’s a narcissist. He can only really care for himself. But maybe, just maybe, through divorce he is learning how to take care of the kids, too. I hope so for their sakes.


That night, after sushi, we told them. Or rather, I told them. Because he was frozen in inaction, wearing a suit of cowardice, of his own making. We told them he was moving out in a week (which was the timing prescribed by the social worker). And the girl one laughed at first, because she thought it was a joke. Surely her parents who claimed they loved her wouldn’t do this to them! I’d promised her once, and she’s always reminding me, that her parents were never ever getting divorced, because I swore to her that I would do everything in my power to avoid that outcome. And I did. I did do everything possible, from therapy to allowing him to move away to another city for six months, to considering the open marriage he was asking for. But it wasn’t enough. I was never enough.

Why? They asked over and over again. I wish I could tell them. I barely understood it myself, but I HAD to secure my freedom. I could never tell them of the years of mental and emotional abuse. I’m sure their dad would probably say the same about me. How do you tell kids, “Your dad wasn’t strong enough to be my man”? He couldn’t handle that I was smart and funny and pretty and successful and well-liked by so many people, while he couldn’t seem to find his footing as an adult. He was a shrinking violet, scared to share his experience of the world around him, and he felt my strength was drawn by making him weak. I can’t say if that’s true, but it was certainly true for him. I’ve come to accept that, too.


I didn’t kill him when he stupidly said, “We don’t know. There’s a chance we might get back together.” But I did give him a death stare and a strong kick under the table. “That is not true,” I said stoically, trying to close a door that he was trying to keep open a wedge out of weakness, “Dad and I are over. We are never getting back together.” We all cried, and I can never forget the pain of causing my children such agony. I’m still trying to forgive myself.

Then I presented rose quartz necklaces that I’d had made for us all, to keep our hearts close. Then we played a board game. Everything is rather hazy from that time, like when that bad thing happened to you as a teenager and you just walked around with that sick feeling in your stomach for days, wishing it wasn’t true. I don’t know how we got through that week, but somehow we did. And what followed was a time of mourning, change and open hearts, a love bigger than I knew I was capable of giving or receiving.

A week from now will be the anniversary of the day he moved out. I’ll be back next Sunday to reflect on my memories of that story. Thanks for reading.

Stepping into Maria

I haven’t published any writing in weeks. Over a month, I think. And I’m sorry. There have been a few developments and my reasons are sound.

1. I started a writing club with a few friends and having three hours a week to write is glorious. However it means my creative energy flows into that project and the blog gets neglected. I’m working on that though.

2. My ex started working nights, so aside from writing club, I am with the kids every single evening. And truth be told, I don’t mind. I’ve dug myself quite a debt hole, going out to dinner and for drinks, sometimes 3 or 4 times a week when I don’t have the kids. Generally indulging myself when I feel sad. So being home is good because I’m finally having to face my financial reality post-separation. It’s painful but good, and I’m taking steps to fix my mistakes. But I’m not going to lie, it’s also scary as fuck.

Also, my babies (I know I don’t talk about them much here), well I love them. It the purest, most wonderful love I’ve ever experienced. I love making dinner and doing homework. Sure, I’m a control freak and part of that is that I get to quality control stuff. My way is the right way, blah blah blah. (What? You think HE was the ONLY reason we broke up?) But I also love seeing that light come on in their eyes when they really get a concept, or when I coach them to motivation or success or understanding. And the hugs and the love in return… I need it so much right now. Sometimes I worry that I’m too transparent with them, too honest with my emotions, too needy of their affection, and it scares them. But I gotta be me and teach them there’s no shame in that. Teach them that in spite of all the stress and worry, we have a good life together. I want to work hard to be someone they are proud of.

3. My new job (YES! I got THAT job!) is insane. I know it’s par for the course, but seriously, every time I start a new job I think, “Holy shit, you are so unqualified for this job!” And I talk shit to myself, because I’m overwhelmed and as a know-it-all it’s really hard to be in meetings where you don’t know what the fuck is going on. I say shit to myself like, “What do you actually do? What do you actually deliver? You can barely pay attention in meetings because you’re like a fucking grieving ghost. Where is your fucking brain? They are all gonna eat you alive.” So by the time I come home, do all the mom stuff, give my email and Facebook a cursory glance, all I can do is lay on my heating pad and watch This is Us. Fuck.

Anyway, no excuses. You twenty or so lovely people have invested in this story and I owe you an update.


After I snogged the second ex-colleague, the one who has been dating an old friend of mine for a year, I felt like a giant hairy arsehole. My guru and dear friend, Dr. X, messaged me from Spain and told me she was concerned I was going to get VD (or some other hip retro acronym that means “diseases from dicks”). And I had to concede that she was right, I was flirting with disaster and I was feeling terrible about it.

Case in point, one of the last times I saw Ali, right after my vacation, I came home and hastily took razor and scissors to my pubes. He’d already proved he was a bit porny in his 30-something sexual tastes and I didn’t want to go in full bush. Actually, full bush would maybe be ok. The ratty, half-bush situation I was sporting after a trip to the beach for just over a week was just not gonna work for either of us. And when I quickly chopped away with bad, 40-something eyes, I took off a science lab-appropriate piece of my labia. I had to put a bandage on my vajuj to stop the bleeding, and I texted friends wondering if it was wise to have sex with someone as slutty him (whom I now know to be a disgusting predator) with an OPEN WOUND on my lady parts. My inner voice was screaming, “Don’t fucking risk it!” But the other voice, the one that wants me to stop being such a worrisome goody-goody, said, “Go on, girl. Get it!” There’s a lot of things that happen before that condom goes on, ya know? Not smart. *Shudder* But yeah, I went over there and shagged him anyway. Amazing how you can ignore pain during sex.

So I decided to take a break from dudes and dicks and dating apps. Everything was changing (see #2 and #3 above) and I needed to focus. I prioritize for a living (though everyone I work with seems to suggest I’m bad at it — not true, for the record, but very few people I work with realize how fucked up the system I work in is), and the boy thing just got moved out of the roadmap and into the parking lot for now. It became a needless distraction that was sapping my energy from the two things I need to be really good at right now: kids and work.

Right before I decided this, I’d made a date to see Ali. But after TSTSHB (The Snog That Shouldn’t Have Been), I got completely demolished by a cold. And I took that as my body’s way of telling me that I needed to quit the boys cold turkey. No patch, no chewing gum, no elastic band to snap against my wrist to resist the cravings. I put new batteries in my vibrator, made a Soundcloud playlist (I love sex audio. I’m too picky about the visuals in p0rn, plus 19763 other issues I have with p0rn), and decided to cancel my date.

Now, I’d love to make you think that I had some sassy way of ripping off the bandage, but no. I had a wee, stupid relapse and when I messaged him to say that I was too sick for a shag, I responded to his, “Awww, too bad” with the suggestion that if he really wanted to see me, maybe we could catch a movie or something. Not sure how he got out of that one, but he didn’t bite. It was clear he doesn’t want to date me and I knew that I was so done with him. Because — data point! — I don’t JUST want booty calls! I think I’m getting closer to knowing what I want and need right now.

I should have known WAY earlier, obviously, that Ali had no interest in maintaining a friendship with benefits in the same way I did. Like when he lead me on that first night together and then proceeded to ghost me. Or when I fucked him for the first time and he didn’t even message me after. Or the fact that after our last tryst, every time I saw his green light on Facebook Messenger I would pause, because I realized I didn’t have anything to fucking say to him. Because, friends, he couldn’t volley.

Mid-September, I posted a pic or video of myself at a baseball game, during which my home team totally shit the bed. He messaged to flirt; wasn’t I the cutest bad luck charm ever? (They tanked the last game I was at, too, after which I’d gone to his place.) I came back with, “At least last time *I* scored!” And then it died, because he’s never going to be funnier than me. I believe he knows this. So with me not having anything to say and him not wanting to be with someone funnier than him, who is a little bit broken and messy and has a lot of rules around when she can actually go out, well… I can’t even say it fizzled out.

I wanted to wrap it up with something cool, like, “That was a fun summer, but we both know this isn’t going anywhere.” But I lingered on Messenger for days, typing and deleting, wanting to go first and then not wanting to go first, still kind of hanging on to the promise of that first night and wishing he would turn it around. And in my stalling, he got to go first. Or rather, she did.

“Svetlana Sunflower is In a Relationship with Ali Ahmed.” Her profile is that of an old, George Carlin-looking man shrugging. Maybe it’s a joke? I can tell I’m not the only one who is shocked. There are usually 12 other women, with whom the only mutual friend we share is him, who jump all over his posts and today they respond with open-mouthed WOW emojis. I unfollowed his updates weeks earlier, but I can’t resist this daily temptation to check his FB, which is how I see this. He is an enigma, closed and confusing, like your local shop on a statutory holiday. One week he’s buying plants with one woman, and the next he’s “in a relationship” with someone completely different. It’s gross actually.

The suspense killing me, so I go to his Instagram and search his followers for “Svet” and I find her. “Summer goth,” says one photo. Another proves they were together a few weekends earlier. She is so fucking young, with crazy milky skin and perfectly thick eyebrows and a dark sense of humour that isn’t quite jaded yet. White flag. Ugh.

But I didn’t want him anyway, right? Still…

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The upside of all this is that I learned the lessons quickly. I didn’t spend two decades wondering, “Why isn’t this working? If he would just ______ it could be so great!” Done, and some of that deciding was not up to me, but I think I was catching on. An improvement in the algorithm. I’ll take it.

The other brilliant nugget from all this is that I’m happy now. Well, I’m still working through the feeling that I’m going to be fired every day, but generally, I’m happier. I feel a sense of purpose that I haven’t felt in some time. “You are stepping into Maria,” says Dr. X and she’s right.

After my child had a terrifying illness, major surgery and unexpected complications four years ago, I was fucked up. Really and truly fucked up. For a long time after, I would tell people that I felt like a skeleton wearing a Maria costume. I really don’t know how else to put it. I knew I was supposed to be Maria and say Maria things and shine my damn bright shiny smile on everyone so they’d feel better about the fact that my child almost died and our future was uncertain. But I was running a shitty Turtle program and the world had moved on to JS Node and it just wasn’t cutting it. RT 90; RT 45; Repeat 15. I think I fooled people for a while, but it didn’t last. I had a permanent anger at the world, pissed that I kept getting pissed on. I wasn’t fun to be around anymore. The processor on the Commodore 64 was not fast enough, and there was a constant hamster wheel running behind the angles on the screen.

I’m still working through this anger. It burbled up on the weekend, on a girls’ weekend away where I felt like a bit of an outsider. A perceived injustice, a slight, set me off. It comes when I feel like I’m on the outside, which I have to be careful of at work, too. And then boom, the dark cloud crosses my face and occupies mission control in my mind and there’s no turning back. The consequence is almost always regret. This weekend it was the hurt feelings of the other party, and I suspect that rift is not going to mend anytime soon which is sad because my relationship with offended person has been the longest of my life.

Then there’s the sadness. Some days, I throw a real pity party and rehash all the absolute shite things that have happened to me since I had my first child and I collapse under the weight of “This is just not fucking fair.” It feels so heavy, having to do it all, afford it all, rely only on myself. Some days it’s just too much. I also don’t know when the grief is going to hit. Sometimes it’s just hanging in the background, humming an annoying low buzz. Then, WHAM, I’m sobbing outside a brewery in a small town, because a flight of beers and a Radiohead song made me miss Theo, my ex.

I have a hard time being around couples and women in healthy relationships, too, depending on the day. Some days I can be so happy for the couple, and I thank them for showing me that healthy relationships do exist. Other days, the couples or women are just a searing reminder of what I’ve lost. And this sends me spiralling down the rabbit hole of shit-talking myself.

But I’m “stepping into Maria” and that’s gonna take time. And reflection. And the thing that is not quite happening right now is making time for reflecting. That’s gotta change real soon. In the meantime, I’m touching the rocky bottom here and there and knowing I don’t want to spend much time down so low. But there’s something to touching the scary place with the tip of your big toe and not turning away from the discomfort but sitting with it. I’m trying to do that more, to stay with the uncomfortable feeling, because there are lessons there. We are so used to turning away when things feel icky, and with social media and TV and the internet and phones— it’s just so easy.

I’ve been not occupying Maria fully for so long now. Four years at least. Maybe in my next post I’ll focus on what I’ve learned about her this year. Maybe, if you know me IRL, you could chime in with suggestions in the comments, and I will weigh each of them with a simple meditation of “Is that true?” Asking this question is a good place to start. When you shit-talk yourself, stop and ask, “Is that true?” And then sit with it. Heck, I should re-read this whole post with the “Is that true?” lens.

I did get a glimmer of longing though, this past weekend. A realization that perhaps I don’t want to be alone and self-sufficient forever. That sharing happy and sad moments and experiences with someone who gets you is a good thing. The challenge will be replacing the person who has been that for me for two decades. Because the biggest realization of late has been our co-dependence. I’ve gotta stop enabling Theo, and I’ve gotta stop relying on him or reaching out to him for emotional or other support. And that, my friends, is gonna be the focus of the next few months. I can see true independence in the near future. I’m getting there. Stepping into Maria is like being born again. It’s painful and it’s beautiful, and at the end of the tunnel, there’s life.

 

Love me now (like it’s all I have)

So there’s a new boy in my life. Well, a new-old boy. Someone I’ve known. Someone who would pop into my thoughts from time to time, but now I. Can’t. Stop. Thinking. About. Him. Sigh.

It’s actually, rapidly becoming a problem, because I don’t know if I want this – the thought stream. I want the boy. I want his hands on my body and his mouth on mine. I’d like to see him with his clothes off. But I do not want to see myself like this. Needy. I don’t want to become infatuated. I don’t want to overthink everything, or get too far ahead of myself. Because that’s not solving this problem that I’m on a journey to solve. The goal right now is “I gotta get right with me.”

But today, while meditating, I realized that this, too, is a lesson. Because constantly checking your phone to see if someone has texted, or updated his Facebook, or liked your Instagram photo—it’s the same nutty, distracted thought pattern that occurs with all social media. It’s a form of seeking external validation and also has to do with impulse control. You are bored, or uncomfortable, or just not liking yourself for a moment (you may not even be conscious of this), so you flip to social media (or if you’re on a desktop, one of the 376 tabs you may have open). “Let me see what everyone is doing,” you think. Or, worse, you’ve posted something and then it’s, “Let me see who likes/loves me,” you think.

You need that zing, because we are all addicted. Our brains are wired such that we often get addicted to some kind of zing: that 2 p.m. coffee, the after work drink, picking at your cuticles, buying something with Amazon 1-click, binging something on Netflix when you know you should exercise or sleep. I’m currently reading/listening to The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg and the key, according to the book, is to replace bad/unproductive habits with good ones. You’ll never really change the impulse, but you can change the action using a system of cues and rewards. Let’s park this for a moment.

Then I read this today, after it came through my Medium email and Kris Gage totally nailed it. Most of what we think is love is bullshit. It’s us trying to love ourselves using outside influences, rather than work through the shit in our minds and learn to love ourselves from within. Those who have reached enlightenment will say that it’s because we don’t really know what we are. That because we fill our lives with noise and don’t make time to let the divine in, and as such, we can’t truly understand just how loved we are, right from the source.

I find the idea of divine love very appealing, frankly, and I don’t care how crazy-Oprah-woo that makes me seem. Because I don’t mind being vulnerable. I’ve spent my whole life trying to beat everyone to the punchline. I am learning not to mind being judged. How I choose to experience and perceive this life is up to me. And how I feel about me is up to me, not due to anything anyone else says. But this takes PRACTICE.

The new-old boy and I have had just one date (that I didn’t even know was a date), so really, when I feel like texting, “Just had jerk chicken and thought of you,” that’s just me looking for a bit of something to boost me up. That’s me seeking a, “You’re so hot” text in return. I mentioned my current obsession to my friend and unofficial guru, Dr. X, today, to which she smartly replied, “Don’t be infatuated. Take each moment, each happening in the present moment. Stay grounded and enjoy.” Awesome. Great. But how?

So this week, I’m going to work on that. Every time I start to check my phone to see if I got a bite on my last cast of the line in the lake, I’m going to take a moment to love myself instead. It’s gonna take a mantra of some sort. Something like, “I offer myself kindness.” Or, “I offer myself love.” It’s certainly no crazier than checking my phone 1000 times a day to try to get a little lift in my mood. Or, I’m going to come here and write until the urge to be loved by others passes. Because writing, for me, is loving myself. It’s tipping a respectful hat to who I am, feeding my passion, grounding myself in the present by synthesizing my thoughts. And heck, it seems like a good habit to replace the bad one.

Besides, we have date #2 pencilled in for later this week. And this one, I am completely sure, is a date. Which will lead to more snogging. Oh god, here we go again…