New Year’s Day: A Divorce History

On New Year’s Day 2011, the year I discovered that my NPD/sociopath ex-husband was living a double life, I woke up at a friend’s house with a hangover and the discovery that my her sweet puppy had died during the night.

After hot coffee and tears, we all trudged out into the January rain, probably a dozen of us, to bury the dog in a field behind the barn. I had no proper shoes, and my toes froze, and red Virginia mud covered my fancy party boots.

It was a grim beginning to a grim year. Back in the city, my ex-husband would become more elusive and stranger than ever, disappearing on business trips where hotel operators could never locate his name on their guest lists. Distracted by my two little children, I couldn’t keep up with all his lies. By September, things would reach a fever pitch, until the day I opened up his secret email account and everything became perfectly clear.

2011 was not a good year, and it was followed by several agonizing ones.

***

But by 2014, things started turning around. On New Year’s Eve, a friend turned to me and announced it was going to be a good year, and an interesting one. I smiled. “Perhaps, I said. Life is long and mysterious.”

Several hours later, at midnight, this same friend received some big news. Her 47-year-old bachelor brother had gotten engaged that night. This was an event no one predicted. “Life is mysterious,” we laughed.

For him, I suppose, it was a year filled with love and light. And for me, it was a good year, a good start to a good new life.

***

This year, New Year’s Day didn’t start out well  – my brother and his family left for a tourist attraction without us. I was packing our car to go home, and I took too long. They did not offer to help as I took trip after trip up and down the stairs of my parents old colonial, carrying my children’s suitcases and toys and hair dryers and stray boots. It took me forever to load our little SUV, and I got angry and furious and raised my voice and said some truthful but not very kind things about a certain relative or two.

I couldn’t fit everything into the car. I was furious.

But then I looked at my children’s faces, teary because they were missing this precious time with their cousins. I took a deep breath and pulled all the packages out of the car. I placed them on the driveway and slowly started all over again until everything finally fit.

We salvaged the day by skipping the tourist attraction and meeting my brother and his kids for lunch in the city before setting out for our long trip home.

In 2017, I will have to remember that sometimes we need a break. And I might need to redo the simplest of things – thankful that I have a second chance to make things right.

But also, I can’t depend too much on undependable people, even if I love them and my kids adore them. Make my own plans and stick to them if they are important. Sway, but don’t bend to theirs. Don’t agree to do things that make me angry and resentful.

***

But the drama wasn’t over yet. As we pulled into our driveway in the dark that evening, I noticed a light in our garage. I said something about it.

And then it went out.

We all gasped. We had been away for a week, the house should have been empty.

Very reluctantly and apologetically, I called the police. On New Year’s Day, I thought. What did this foreshadow for 2017?

One officer arrived, listened, and told me that others were on the way. Out here in the suburbs, the officers park up and down the block, no flashing lights, silent helpers in the dark. I started adding them up then lost count. They brought a dog. They fanned out across the yard and finally went into the house. I sent my children to a friend’s house. And I sat in the car alone and watched the flashlight beams in my house. Ah, they’re up in the attic, I thought. They’re in the basement. My bedroom. My closet.

And finally, laughter, as the officers came outside, ducking under the plastic sheeting protecting the newly painted door from the rain. For me, relief, and complete embarrassment.

Was someone in there? We don’t know. The officers were nice. Really nice. They told me I did the right thing. They said it could have been my painter, and I could have just missed him by a moment or two – the light stays on for exactly 4.5 minutes. Or it could have been a thief who slipped out the back door and jumped over our fence and into the darkness.

I thanked them, and it was over. My children came back, a friend came over, we poured wine and ordered pizza, and somehow the evening was saved in our bright, warm house.

***

When I think about our start to 2017, I will think about the helpers – those solid men and women in the night. I will marvel at the courage to walk into a house where danger might be waiting. I will remember that we all need help sometimes. And we are ridiculously thankful when people arrive to offer it, even if we’re also embarrassed.

For better or for worse, 2017 probably won’t be dull. I’m guessing another year of moving forward, falling back a bit, trying to do it myself, having to re-do it, and asking for help sometimes. Hopefully offering help too – and maybe even some happy endings.

 

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Mastering Crow Pose, Mastering Divorce

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I would like to write that I have conquered crow pose. For a few exhilarating hours I believed I did.

But then I realized that my arms aren’t straight yet, and my knees are too far apart.

I’m just not there yet.

Not this week when my son has a second concussion, I’m missing deadlines, I suddenly and mysteriously gained weight, I am annoyed by the person I’m dating, and am dead tired.

Someday I know I’ll master crow position. But I don’t know if I can ever truly master this divorced, single, working, homeowning, volunteering, mom, friend, dating world. It’s stinking hard, and true balance seems beyond reach. Happiness and joy – I got those, often. But balance and mastery are still out of reach.

 

The Issue of Time: A Divorced Mom

A leadership and time management class offered at work.

First thought: Excellent, I need that, BAD.

Second thought: Oh shit, it’s going to take up three days, and I can never fall that far behind. 

And so it goes, the life of a single working mom with nearly 75 percent custody. A mom with two children playing on multiple sports teams and other activities, at a school where every other parent seems to be able to drop everything and show up – all the time. A homeowner, a dating mom, someone who likes to spend a lot of time with other friends, a bit of a runner and a bit of a yogi, a cook and a cleaner and a bill payer, a single mom who doles out discipline and hugs and hopefully some important values and life lessons along the way.

But it’s okay. It has to be. Because if I can’t embrace the craziness of this, I’ll miss the joy of these years.

So, everything gets stripped back. If my kids don’t send thank-you notes (I know – it’s bad – sorry!), if we’re late to practice, if I can’t attend evening work events, if I don’t make it to Girl Scouts (EVER), if I don’t change the oil in my car on time, if we don’t make it to church (almost ever), if I bring my kids out for pizza (AGAIN), if I am last on carpool line, if I can’t remember anyone’s names – it’s going to have to be okay.

But moms like me need to take care of themselves, because if I’m not in good shape, I cannot be a good mom to my kids. And they need me. So here are the things I am going to make necessities going forward: doctors appointments, hot yoga even if it’s at night when my kids are home, running, coffees with old friends to catch up, time with the person I’m dating, hair appointments (yes, I meant that!), a little bit of meditation, and a lot of home improvements since my home is my biggest financial asset.

And FUN. Fun with my two children who are growing up so fast that it takes my breath away. Because one day they will no longer want to hang out with me, and I never want to look back and regret missing this time with them. That would be the ultimate cruelty: the divorced mom who missing out on the joy because she’s scrambling so fast just to keep up.

 

They Always Come Back 2

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Mr. Perfect is back. The first man I dated after my divorce – a man who looks great but shares a lot of extremely undesirable traits with my ex husband.

Like lying.

He started popping up last spring with short perky texts asking me to go for coffee. Most of me was annoyed, but a teeny part of me was thrilled that he just couldn’t stay away, and finally I relented out of curiosity and maybe a little bit of hubris.

But then he tried to switch coffee to a different day. And I remembered who he really was: an unreliable and not trustworthy person.

No thank you, I wrote, and I’m going to be very busy for a long long time so I will not be able to go to coffee with you, Mr. Perfect, not for a very long time in the foreseeable future.

Or ever.

But now, several months later he’s sending texts again. My memory is short these days (Is this the effects of my single working mom life, or too much social media, or just being in my forties?). But I distinctively remember Mr. Perfect looking at me in the eyes and lying to me.

So he’s back, like a bad penny my grandmother would say.

I looked up the expression: Proverb. a bad penny always turns up. A person or thing which is unpleasant, dishonorable, or unwanted tends to appear (or reappear), especially at inopportune times.

I hate the idea of someone being mad at me, or not liking me, especially someone with so many overlapping social ties. But I did nothing wrong. He did.

Should I ignore or block or write a blunt note back? I haven’t decided, but it’s time to get rid of my bad penny for good. I’m finally ready.

Be Present: Yoga and Divorce

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We set an intention in every class, just as the heat begins rising through the room and everyone rises together into the first upward facing dog.

Today it’s Be Present.

The class makes you focus – through sweat and music and dim light and all the fit bodies moving in unison. It forces you to be present. Otherwise you will miss a pose, lose the flow, fall out of step.

Time slows down in this room.

There’s no room in your head to worry about work or lacrosse carpool when you’re trying to keep up and not fall on your face during eagle pose. It makes you fully present and engaged. For sixty minutes, you have no expectations for what will happen later, after they turn on the lights and turn down the heat and this class is over.

Lying in shavasana, taking the last few breaths of class, I think about divorce.  Be Present. It’s what comes long after the trauma, long after the fight, long after the fear and adrenaline and shame have diminished. You focus on the present, no expectations for what comes next. The person you are dating may or may not be your forever person. Your ex may or may not lose his job and stop paying child support. He might or might not do something awful and go to jail. You may or may not ever regain the financial comfort you once enjoyed. You may or may not achieve Great Things in your post-divorce career.

And you realize you can live with this. You’ve learned to be present in this strange new world. No expectations, because after all, you once entered into a marriage with the best of intentions and the highest of hopes only to have them trampled. You’ve learned that expectations are usually false, and that life is way more like some temperamental bucking wave than a straight line. You have to learn to bend and balance and breathe so you don’t get toppled over.

And so you suddenly find yourself present. And calm. And content.candle-light-yoga

Divorce and Yoga: Stability First, Then Expansion

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Warrior pose, swivel foot, triangle, warrior pose, swivel foot. My hips, wonky from running, don’t like it. But I push it because I want to get good at yoga – really, really good. And so I reach. And reach. I’m not certain if my swiveled foot is really stable though. And are my knees still lined up with my hips? Not so sure, but I reach more. And I feel a warm searing sensation before I crumple.

I get back up and try again. But this time I accept the correction from the instructor. She is in her fifties, with gorgeous skin and a perfect body, and at that moment I want to be just like her. She lines me back up, and I try again, slowly, not reaching until I feel stable.

Another wonky remnant from past injuries is my stiff shoulder, something that I can normally hide from the world. I reach up, but it hurts. My instructor is there again, correcting my arm, pulling it towards the front of my body. It hurts, but it’s done correctly, so it hurts in a good way.

The next time I do it, I reach to the same place, but I correct myself. The instructor spots this, and congratulates me. “See, you corrected yourself. See that?!?”

I smile. I did see that.

. . .

Step by step, with lots of help, we build stability again. When we try to rush things, we fall. But we can get up again, and hopefully we are a little stronger, more stable, and more resilient. Each fall teaches us something.

I wish I could be a yoga expert in six months. I wish I could rush through my recovery from my high-conflict divorce, my serial-cheating, NPD ex-husband. I don’t like the middle parts of things – because, as author Brene Brown says, this is the hard part, this is where the hard work must happen. But it is necessary, and so I guess I need to slow down and do the work.

Stability first. Then expansion.

I think I finally got it.

Trust After Betrayal: After Many, Many Many Betrayals

“Trust is like a mirror, you can fix it if it’s broken, but you can still see the crack in that mother fucker’s reflection.” ― Lady Gaga

And after a marriage to a serial-lying, serial-cheating, narcissistic personality disordered person, how does one learn to trust again? Like back in those innocent days before you met your ex-spouse, when the world was simple and good, and people generally told the truth?

Dating after divorcing a NPD is a minefield. A casual conversation about infidelity in Europe can quickly devolve into lunacy. One moment you are laughing and enjoying your scallops at a fancy restaurant, and the next moment your face is flushed, your chest is tight – is that a heart attack? – and you can’t breath or remember what you just said.

And the person you are dating looks at you like he has never looked at you before and quietly says, “I think you are making me sound like a bad guy. And I’m not.”

And then you catch your breath and wonder what just happened, and he says the unspeakable: “I think we should wrap this up and go home.”

And you know you have just moments to make big decisions. But your brain is still acting in the way it needed to act for more than a decade in order to protect you. It can’t suddenly catch up and admit that it overreacted. It starts searching for ways to make him the bad guy. It starts scouring memories for slights, suspicions, imperfections, and quickly comes up with a laundry list of faults and problems.

But despite the crazy in your head, you manage to excuse yourself and text a dear friend in the restroom, and she tells you to Scale It Back. In no uncertain terms. I think her first text was, “Oh boy,” like she fully expected this sort of behavior all along from you. And of course she did because she has seen it countless times from you before – and perhaps she has even experienced a bit of it herself, given that she too divorced a NPD.

And so you march out of the restroom, knowing that at least your friend understands, and you pray that the person you are dating will understand you too.

And you apologize. You may not remember exactly what you are apologizing for, but you try your best.

And it’s okay again. At least it’s okay again on the surface, but it will be hours before he will start to relax in your presence, before he comes back to being himself. It will be tomorrow afternoon before you start truly connecting again. You will walk through the city together, hand-in-hand, and you will both laugh, and all will be okay again.

But you cannot truly relax, because deep in your heart and chest cavity and gut, you know he has limited patience for this sort of scene. And that you’ve used up probably two of three strikes already. And you feel helpless because you still wonder about this man, this handsome and calm and disciplined and kind man who is devoted to his children and who comes over to cook you dinner and drive you everywhere and fix your gate. Yes, you wonder come crazy things, and some things that might be less crazy.

One suspicion in particular seems to resonate. All day. You know it is not healthy. But suspicion kept things in check in your marriage. They kept an insatiable and sociopathic NPD in check, albeit briefly.

Suspicion kept you safe once.

And then you remember when you asked your therapist if she thought you could do this – if you could have a healthy relationship with this man, at this time. And she turned to you and said, “I know with certainty that you can have a healthy and successful and loving relationship with someone at some point. I can not promise it will be with this man right now.”

And you realize again that you are broken. You are humbled, and scared. You feel a slight thrill that she believes you can do this, eventually. But then you start mourning the end of this relationship as if inevitable. Then you summon up all your resilience and you rumble forward, hoping against hope for happiness.

When No One is Looking

I brought my son to sleepaway camp yesterday. Even though he loved it last year, he panicked yesterday on the long drive, suddenly saying that he didn’t want to go.

Twenty miles away from camp, he told me he was scared, and he was sad that only one friend going this year instead of two. He didn’t like the showers; he didn’t like the darkness; he missed his home and bed and sister and mom and friends.

So we stopped at a rest stop in the middle of nowhere for a treat, and as we walked back to the car, he suddenly took my hand – my little big ten-year-old who just started wearing men’s size shoes. I teased him to lighten the mood: “SO, you’re still not too old to hold hands with your mom!”

He looked around quickly: “Well, there’s no one here I know.” And he held my hand firmly.

And so it goes. My sweet son, caught in between childhood and tween-hood, in a place where no one really knows anyone or what comes next.

As we drove up to camp, those clouds that were following us turned very dark, and suddenly were were driving through pelting rain. My son begged me to take him home. Pretty desperately I babbled about other topics, future vacations and sports and playdates – an lame old coping mechanism left over from my terrible marriage. Sure enough, it didn’t really work.

Then we went around a curve and suddenly heard the singing of the teenage counselors standing up on a covered porch. My son started yelling that he spotted his last-year counselor among them. I noticed that through the rain, it was still sunny, and I started looking for a rainbow.

We stopped for parking directions, and suddenly my son’s window was open. He greeted the counselor and asked if they would have a big, huge surprise welcome-to-camp-game that night. He explained that this was his second year at camp.

The older boy smiled as he told my son that he wasn’t quite sure, and even if he knew, he couldn’t tell. And then he winked, welcomed my son back, and explained the parking, and the bags, and sign-in procedure. My son told him he knew it all from last year – and he did.

And so I let my little boy run the show and go off into the great unknown without me. He didn’t need me at all until the very end, when he jumped down off his top bunk to give me a huge hug. And I knew all was well with my little-big boy who didn’t huge me for two years during the Great Divorce.

He’s on his way, my boy.