Last week I recorded a podcast for my friend’s SuperMum Podcast – it was about solo parenting and what can happen at the end of a relationship. (It’s out on 1st May – I’ll post the link when it’s live).
I didn’t want to go into what had gone wrong at the end of the marriage as, although there are parts I have told on this blog, as they are my story and it was important for me to share, what I didn’t want to get into was the ‘he said, she said, he did, I did’ side of things that all relationships can be prone to. Therefore the podcast focused on separating amicably, how to support children through the process and moving on with our lives.
The end of my marriage may seemed to have come about quickly and certainly knocked Stu for six, but the reality was that it had been a long time coming in the background. Again, I’m not going to go into the ‘he did, she did, we did’ stuff as right now, months down the line, they’re all historical anyway. What I can tell you is some of the stuff that I experienced and what influenced me.
In November 2015 a friend happened to mention that Liz Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love) was giving a talk as part of promoting her new book) in London and tickets were still available. I had liked the book so talked my sister in law into going with me and honestly, was utterly blown away by Liz. How she had gone from a chronic depression to taking control of her own life and influencing those around her and those she could reach, into living the best, most authentic life possible. After the talk I started to follow her on Facebook and Instagram, loving the community she built, the support she offered and by being part of her tribe, I was introduced to Glennon Doyle Melton, Brené Brown and Martha Beck.
I knew that my life wasn’t great long before I went to see Liz speak. I had an overbearing, narcissistic mother whom I worked for and who needled away at me every single day. When I got home from work my husband criticised me constantly from how much I weighed to what I said, how I said it, how I dressed, who my friends were, even down to how I rinsed my toothbrush! (True story we had 3 conversations over dinner where he nagged me about not rinsing my toothbrush the ‘correct’ way). I was aware that both my mothers and husbands’ behaviour was similar and that one fed into another – I had constant bullying at work followed by constant bullying at home. This is just how I thought my life would be and I got on with it as best I could.
During the last year I started to have anxiety attacks – I would feel as though I couldn’t breathe whilst driving, picking the kids up etc. I also started to be really attracted to the type of jewellery that is marketed to survivors of abuse – particularly the anti-suicide ‘my story isn’t over yet semi-colon’ rings and things like the bracelets that said ‘she needed a hero and so she became one’. I knew that I felt trapped but didn’t know what to do about it. My husband never left the house and used to hear all my conversations, whether they were on the phone or in person and criticise me for them afterwards so I couldn’t ever really talk to anyone about what was going on in my head. I’m not the most emotionally available person anyway and the only outlet I found was by following these strong women and absorbing what they said.
During the year Liz Gilbert had posted a long article on her FB page called ‘NOT THIS’ and it says about saying no to things and parts of your life that don’t fit and it’s ok to stand up and say ‘not this’. Which, much later on I interpreted as ‘this isn’t the life for me’ Once I had stopped working for my mother I saw a lot less of her and gradually the being bossed around, being squashed and uncared for lifted massively and the only negative area of my life was my home-life. Work was good, I was building good networks and doing the work I wanted to do but I was still having anxiety attacks, still feeling hemmed in and starting to feel that with every other area of life being good, it was the constant criticism of my husband (and the incessant involvement of his mother that was having such a massive affect on my life that I just couldn’t move forward without fear, anxiety and depression.
Separation is never easy and I’m not going to pretend ours was. I knew that my husband had been long term depressed (but flat out refused to do anything about it) and rather than abandon him, I held his hand through the experience and helped him to see that there could be a better life for all of us apart, than this dismal one we had created together.
You pretty much know the rest of the story as I re-started this blog roughly a week before he moved out.
During the last few months I have been utterly overwhelmed by offers of support and help. This may come as a surprise as I only blogged about the losing friendships side of things, but it’s true. People have offered to help with the boys, help with the house, help with school stuff etc. Initially I didn’t really accept any help because I just wanted to cocoon with the boys, get used to the new normal and see what our new life would be like which was completely the right decision for us. Now it’s a few months later, spring is definitely here, we have a new normal and it’s time to take up those offers of support, which for me, who never asks for help, is not easy. However, I have been doing it and slowly, kids are going on playdates where I’ve asked people to have them, people are helping me get my garden sorted, friends are remembering us when they’re packing up old clothes their kids have grown out of etc.
The real break through though is a very personal one. One that I didn’t know would ever really happen. As I said earlier in the post, I’m not good at being emotionally available. I try, I really do but having grown up in an unstable emotional environment then having 2 abusive relationships, I’m not very good at ‘showing up’ as Glennon Doyle-Melton calls it. It’s something that, in the end, I never really even tried to work on as showing up in my marriage or with my mother would have just made me more vulnerable with no reward.
During the last few months it has been a select group of friends who have ‘shown up’ relentlessly pretty much every day. They’ve been amazing. They know that it can take almost forever to draw me out, that patience time and caffeine are the way forward (or large quantities of alcohol in S’s case) and eventually I’ll get there.
This particularly came into play the other night….. I have a friend, probably my oldest friend, who I’m not very good at being open or vulnerable with. The other night we had a bit of a misunderstanding to the point that I couldn’t sleep for thinking about it and knew somewhere along the line that it was time. I had to (finally) show up and say something about this misunderstanding from my perspective otherwise emotionally our friendship had gone as far as it could go and we weren’t being particularly emotionally honest with each other. Oh and to complicate matters this friend lives abroad and there’s a massive time difference between us.
It was 3:30am and I grabbed Whatsapp and sent a voice note saying what the issue was and how it had made me feel. I know that writing it like that doesn’t make it look like anything but for me (and probably the both of us) this was such an enormous deal. I reached a point where I thought if our friendship changes because of me showing up and sending a vulnerable message then it wasn’t the friendship I thought it was and at least this way we wouldn’t be living a lie.
I sent the voice-note and waited. I felt relatively calm (and sick at the same time!) I knew that for me and my integrity, this was the right thing to do. My friend read it and responded. We messaged back and forth for the next couple of hours. That was yesterday morning.
Me showing up, in the way that Glennon tells us to, did change our friendship. I was right to think that it wouldn’t be the same after (finally) making myself vulnerable. You can’t make yourself vulnerable and put yourself out there and not expect things to be different.
What really surprised me is that after I showed up (then waited)… my friend showed up too!