Thursday, March 5, 2015

Why Hello There, Me

I have been separated for six months now.

I was married for fifteen years, and we were together for twenty three.  I can't remember much about my life before him, as a single person.

Perhaps that is because I can't remember a time I have ever truly been single.

In high school, I dated the same guy for five years (one year into college).  We were voted 'class couple'.

I dated consistently in college, and married the guy I was dating my junior and senior year three months after graduation. It wasn't a good marriage, and we were divorced after only a couple of years.  I was already good friends with my next husband-to-be, and we starting dating very shortly after my divorce was final.

I have always had a roommate, even when I wasn't seriously dating anyone.

I have never really been alone.

I'm good at being someone's other half.  I spent most of my life focused outward; trying desperately to make the people who I love, love me back.  It didn't matter how many times they told me they love me, I always felt I had to be doing more, becoming more, to ensure they stuck around.  It's both rewarding and exhausting, living like that.  I would mold to fit the interests of whomever I was with; if he liked mountain biking, so did I.  If he liked classical music, I listened to classical music.  If he liked a neat home, I tried my best to keep it clean.  You get the picture.

When I got sober the first time, in 2007, I remember thinking that first year that I was very grateful to be married, because I was terrified of being alone and knew he was an added layer of security to help me stay sober.  I knew he would leave if I relapsed, and being alone was the only thing more frightening than being newly sober.

My husband and I made it through very, very tough times.  Relapse. Death (my father's).  Cancer.  Another relapse.  I thought we were bulletproof, even though niggling doubts, deep below the surface, were whispering to me that I had lost myself somewhere along the way.

I ignored those whispers, because although maybe I wasn't as happy as I could be, I was way too afraid of the unknown.  Better to be with him and try harder to make it work than to face the world on my own.

And then, a year ago, what became the final straw: another relapse.  A long stay in treatment.  And he asked me for a divorce.

That was last summer, two weeks before I was discharged.  I remember thinking that we'd come around, we'd make it work.  After all, we always had before.  I had been with him more than half my life. I expected to be with him until one of us died. I wanted it to be me who died first, so I wouldn't have to live without him.

Of course that is not how things turned out.  He was done.  He saw our relationship for what it was: two people who were having to work way too hard to be happy together.  I was blasted out of denial, and into reality:  the two of us were over.

Despite all the difficulties of the past few years, the prospect of being without him was the most frightening.  Last time I was in early sobriety, I had his eyes on me at all times, and the threat of his leaving me to keep me on track.  I had his steady presence in my life; a shoulder to cry on, another set of hands and sharp mind to help me navigate the daily waters of parenthood.  A lover and a friend, right there next to me when I needed him.


The first couple of months were a blur.  It was surreal, and scary, and I spent a lot of time bargaining with the universe.  The universe listened patiently, sighed, and then went on its merry way, as the universe is prone to do.

Sometime around Christmas, acceptance started to creep in.  Up until then, I would have taken him back in a heartbeat if he had asked, even if I knew it wasn't the right thing to do.  I hated being alone.

I realized, finally, that I was not only okay on my own, I was thriving.   I wouldn't say I was happy - even now happy may be a stretch - but damn if I didn't have more peace of mind.

I was learning to love myself, love my life, just as it is.

God, The Universe, A Higher Power (whatever you want to call it) was doing for me what I couldn't do for myself: clearing my path to make room for an authentic, brutally honest fresh start.

I lost my license a year ago this week.  I haven't sat behind the wheel of a car in over 365 days, and it will be at least July before I get it back.  At the time, the prospect of being without a license was unimaginable, just like being without a husband was unthinkable, too.

Here is what I have learned:  not being able to drive is one of the best lessons I have ever learned.  I have to ask for help.  I have to be super organized, and rely on good friends to get me and my kids where we need to go.  I can't run around like a nut just to avoid being in my own skin.  I have to just, well, BE.

There are moments I ache for grown-up attention.  I crawl under my cold covers at the end of a long day, and there is nobody there to download with me, to affirm my decisions or offer advice.  It is very lonely at times.

But here's the rub: for the first time in my life, I have ME.  I am able to be within my own skin, and be comfortable.  I pray, I meditate.  I sit with myself and feel all the feelings.

And I am far from alone.  I have an amazing support network.  I have people in my life who help me when I'm having a hard time helping myself.  And I ASK for help.  This is new.  I was always an "I'm Fine" girl; I'd rather help you with your stuff than look at mine.

The Universe has shown me that I not only can't do it alone; I don't want to.

I have always had a man in my life to define my self-worth.  That was comfortable for me, and easy.   If our relationship was okay, I was okay.  If he was happy with me, I was happy with me.

I am free from that, now.  It's scary, to be sure, but it is also exciting.

And there is a big difference between being alone, and being lonely.  Lonely for me, I have found, is a choice.  I can now be by myself and be totally content.

And it turns out I hate mountain biking.  I am not a fan of classical music.  My house is in some form of constant disarray, but that doesn't make me a morally corrupt person; it makes me a busy mom of two.

I value my time alone.  I crave it now.  Getting to know me has been a terrifying and wondrous experience, but it turns out I like me.

And importantly - maybe most importantly - I am staying sober not out of the threat of being left alone, but because I am enough of a reason for me to stay sober. Of course I want to be sober for the kids' sake, but I have learned the hard way that recovery is an inside job, and no amount of love from others can keep me sober long term.

I have to be enough of a reason, to myself, to stay sober.

And, finally, I am.