I’m Fine…

I’m Fine…

8 Minute Read

All I wanted to do was take a nap. It was the middle of a Sunday afternoon and the perfect time to turn off my phone, and the rest of the world with it. 

After playing endless rounds of a word puzzle that usually works like a tranquilizer, I was finally in that dreamy spot. You know, the accidentally-fell-asleep-sleep where you’ve already started dreaming kind of nap, then it happened…

What?! Is that someone at the door? Are you kidding me? Now? On a Sunday? Who the…Aaarrgggghhh.

I stop by the window and shift the shutters to peek out. I see two young adults standing on my front porch holding pamphlets. Ugh! I close the shutter firmly in a way that clearly states, ‘I am not thrilled to see you’.

This is obviously going to be about religion. I am not a religious person. I’ve been to many different churches in my lifetime, even studied religion in college. To each their own; whatever makes you happy. 

However, Me and the Big Guy…currently aren’t seeing eye-to-eye. He knows what he did. 

Needless to say, I have zero interest in the pitch these two midday, unwelcome strangers are here to deliver. As I head to the door, I am ready to tell these twenty-somethings that I am not in the mood, I’m feeling ill, I’m napping…Crap, there is a package on the porch.

I open the door just wide enough to retrieve it, which gives my barking little dog the chance he’d hoped for and he dashes out. Still barking, he presses his nose through the protective dog gate I installed after he revealed himself to be a mailman-ankle-biter.

See? This is an unfriendly house. Go away.

As much as I want to, I won’t be rude to a stranger much less this cute couple that’s apologizing for the interruption as they swelter in 90-degree heat, and irritatingly turn my ankle-biter into a hand-licking-traitor.

Okay, let’s hear it. Let’s get this over with so I can get back to my nap.

We are from (blah, blah, blah) and we have some reading materials (blah, blah, blah) the young man says as he holds up his booklet, which I obligingly glance at. 

On the cover, is a man standing in a beautiful graveyard at dusk. He is looking down at a headstone and his shoulders are slightly slumped. 

In bold print, “Is This All There Is?” grabs my attention.

I start tuning him in as he talks about types of loss, and how difficult it can be to move on. Some may feel swallowed up by it, or unable to see what life has to offer after experiencing loss.

For a moment, I wanted to ask, did my Jesus loving sister-in-law send you here? Where is she? She in the car? Around the corner?

 ___________________________________

The timing of this visit is a little too coincidental. It was just a week ago I was sitting in her kitchen and she was kindly giving me some encouragement to stop what some might describe as…wallowing.

It’s been 7 years since I lost my husband, her brother. It will be 8 years in December. We’d only been married for 1 year and 4 months; we were both 40 when he passed. 

I waited my whole life to meet this man, and in a breath, he was gone.

From the outside, I appear just fine. I did everything right. I stopped drinking for a year, so I wouldn’t add a depressant to my system. I kept busy, and returned to work immediately after the memorial. I packed up the house. I sold it. I started the Insanity workout and got into shape. I remained social. I moved into a small condo and smiledand smiledand smiled.  

I was so good at looking fine, sometimes I worried people thought I was a little too fine.

I read up on grieving and I followed all the rules. I dove into his family and was supportive and present. I hardly shed a tear in public that I couldn’t quickly breathe through and turn into a f-ing smile.

After a couple of years, at the urging of friends and family, I started dating because “it was time.” I’m sure I went out with many wonderful men who’d have been a dream catch for anyone else. Anyone who was in their right mind…but you see, I was not. 

I was incapable of loving someone else.

I moved out of state just before year four. I wanted nothing more than to be completely anonymous; I was so tired of smiling. I smiled everyday at work pretending until I could just go home, shut the curtains and crawl into bed until tomorrow. 

I smiled all the many times when I was at dinner with friends and someone crossed the room to tell me they just wanted to give me a hug, or how they knew my husband, or how sorry they were. 

Since my husband apparently knew everyone, this was happening constantly. Although it was sweet of them, to me, it just felt like getting kicked in the stomach over and over.

This may sound like wallowing, but how can it be when I didn’t cry or feel sorry for myself? 

I didn’t announce to strangers what happened, and I can count on one hand the times I fell apart. Which for me means actual tears for longer than 30 seconds, but still less than a few minutes. 

I am just not a person that cries. 

Okay, sure, when I hear Sara MacLachlan start singing as they show SPCA animals in need of rescue do I run over to the TV and immediately switch it off? Of course, I am not a robot; she gets me every time. 

I cry at rom-coms, at sweet Olympic commercials – but I do not cry for myself. I am just not built that way. See? Not a wallower.

With very few exceptions…

I cried while getting a massage. It was given to me as a gift and I used it about nine months after his passing. The lady who gave me the massage was about my mother’s age. She was kind and had a nurturing quality about her. 

As I laid face down and started to relax, she worked the muscles on my back. It was the first time I had been touched since he died, and the feeling of being cared for was enough to break me.

I cried silently the entire time I was on the table. She graciously ignored the tears streaming down my face and let me weep.

I cried at coffee with a dear friend who asked how I was doing. Somehow my usual answer of ‘fine’ became choked up and I was embarrassed. It had been two years, I was so mad at myself! 

Why was I still crying, and in public no less? Get it together.

I cried the first time I was intimate with another man. This wasn’t my husband and I felt washed over with guilt and shame. I felt like I had betrayed him.

It seems that unless you have a new partner in your life, you are considered broken. 

I am blessed that my husband’s family wants me to be happy. They would love to see me find someone, remarry, and move on. I am fairly certain that if I just had a man at my side and went through the motions of appearing happy the entire family would believe… I am fine.

All, except my sister-in-law. She is like an emotional-ninja when it comes to really seeing people. She looks at me and sees I am hiding…

Hiding in my weight, in my projects, in my very anonymous, private, far away cave that I have come to love in a most unhealthy way. I can put on that smile and damn if she doesn’t see right through it. I really don’t like that about her. 

I don’t like that she used the word wallowing. That she told me to listen to an audiobook, Girl Wash Your Face, by Rachel Hollis, that as it turns out, is basically a woman who stole my life story, wrote a book about how we can all choose to rise above it all, and also uses that word – wallowing!

So this is twice I have had that word flung in my direction. Obviously, she suggested this book to me as a person whom she believes it can help. 

How dare she? Wallowing? My husband died.

He died and I didn’t allow myself to crumble. I didn’t go off the deep end, or have a midlife crisis and blame it on grief. I may have bought waaaay too many shoes and became a little addicted to the joy of finding an Amazon package at my door several times a week – but overall, I would say I did very well. 

I mean, I have heard stories of people turning to drugs, having blackout alcohol binges, random sex partners, and the doozy of all wallowing…filling Facebook with feel-sorry-for-me updates that cry out for constant attention. I deserve a medal for not losing my damn mind.

I kept it together, at least on the outside. Doesn’t that count? I am good at pretending, but as it turns out, I have deep roots when it comes to love. 

To this day I am still madly in love with my husband.

So in love, I haven’t dated anyone in years. I haven’t grown personally, or taken on a new outlook. I crave to be invisible, making sure not to make waves or even leave a mark. 

I am very still, and extremely close to disappearing altogether. 

Am I wallowing? I don’t think so; I am just, no longer here. I’m no longer even remotely similar to the social, vivacious, happy person I was when I met my husband.

As I recall, my sister-in-law said something about the “old me” as we chatted over the kitchen table last week. What was it she said? The first time she met me, how I was someone with energy, happiness…something like that. 

Now, it would seem, I am a person that receives audiobook suggestions and is talked to like a child who is not living up to their potential. 

What potential? I am forty-seven years old, unmarried, no children and frankly too old to start now. I have no amazing career or personal long-term goals to reach.

I was going to be a wife, a mother and a partner with the love of my life when suddenly my whole world was ripped apart.

I was left alone in the dark, and thrown into a hole so deep it has taken me seven years to start clawing my way out. I am still miles away from anything remotely recognizable as a life, and absolutely no idea which direction to start walking. 

So, did I want someone to magically show up, wrap me in a blanket, feed me hope, energy, love and strength until I burst out of it like a superhero and launch into the sky with my fist in the air? Yes!

AAarrrgghhhhh!

I admit it. I can see it now. What my emotional ninja, all-seeing sister-in-law was talking about…the wallowing.

Although I refuse to accept that word as one that describes me, and I know I may be repeating myself, but doesn’t it count that I never broke? That I never crumbled…that I did everything right? Wasn’t never allowing myself to cry in self-pity, the right thing to do? Wasn’t it?

Wasn’t getting up everyday, washing my face and putting that smile on the right thing to do? 

Would I be better today had I let myself give in and feel all of the heart-wrenching emotions I considered self-indulgent and weak? 

If all the times I looked up at the stars and moon and wondered if he can hear me, if he can still see me, if he is there… and didn’t give in to the tears… wasn’t that being strong? Because I heard those words, “you are so strong,” so many times I could scream! 

I pulled up my bootstraps and faced the world. I kept my back straight, a stiff upper lip and my smile ready until finally I gave myself permission to just STOP.  Then, I moved away; I needed to be somewhere I didn’t have to keep up the facade. 

Was that where I went wrong?

During the last few years, I have taken on any project, family crisis, or issue I could get my hands on. While I was busy taking care of others, I didn’t have time to concentrate on myself. I had no idea at the time what I was really doing, was hiding.

It didn’t feel like hiding, it felt like freedom. I stayed home, ate whatever I liked, wore pajamas all day if I wanted, and stopped working out. Over time, I gained 30 pounds, lost touch with friends and haven’t put on my beloved high heels since…I can’t even remember when. 

I told myself I was becoming more natural, low maintenance, less concerned with my appearance or the opinions of others. That I was growing up. This was me and I was happy. Well, happier…except somehow I wasn’t. 

Don’t get me wrong, I am a hermit at heart, and not having to face the world on a daily basis is for the most part, pure bliss. 

At least, until suddenly, I blinked and realized I’d lost the last seven years of my life. 

I’d gone into my self-induced coma and woke to find I am still in the exact same place, just older and heavier. Now I am here, and suddenly aware that I have work to do.

Will I one-day look back and feel that this phase has actually been my weakest? Is that what they all see?

I can no longer ignore that I am letting life pass me by and so I suppose if pressed, we may categorize this as something similar to wallowing.

______________________________________

I take the booklet. I surprise myself with the thought that I might actually read it. The interrupters leave, and I attempt to return to my nap, but now I am wide awake and wondering if the universe is trying to send me a message. 

I already agreed to listen to the audiobook, and so I will continue listening. I will set goals as my sister-in-law challenged me to do. Although doubtful I will do more than skim the booklet given to me by my nap-saboteurs, the timing of the message is not lost on me. 

Wallowing. I suppose at this point there is no other excuse for continuing to be stagnant except my own lack of effort. I am not sure what I would, or could have done differently. I never thought I would still be struggling seven years later and it should be noted, depression is not wallowing.

Depression is chemical and cruel, and its grip is strong. It buries itself deep down, and if you don’t seek help, it may very well take years to dig your way out. I have thought many times of giving up and joining my husband.

Sometimes it feels like I am just here…waiting for life to pass me by and I no longer have the energy to fight, much less care. 

I know though, it’s the depression whispering in my ear. I used to feel like people who felt that way were weak and selfish; now I know that is simply not the case.

I do admit, I needed this perfectly timed kick in the pants by someone who cares enough to wake me up from my fog and tell me I can do better. 

I believe that the grips of depression gave way a while ago, and I just didn’t bother to notice that the chains were no longer there. 

In my lethargy, I flat lined; I hadn’t tried in so long it didn’t occur to me to make an effort. I was…oh dear…wallowing.

Thanks to my sister-in-law and her blunt honesty, I have been given a much-needed dose of perspective. It took a few days, an audiobook that left me with no excuses, and a couple of well-timed strangers, but something feels different. 

I feel something inside of me I have not felt in a long time. 

It is like sparkles… bubbles in champagne. Whatever it is, it feels good.

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The Affair

The Affair

4 Minute Read

Strength doesn’t come from what you can do. It comes from overcoming the things you thought you couldn’t.-Rikki Rogers

It burned as it went down…I’d been here, in this place, before. It smelled and felt familiar. Like a knowing friend greeting me: but, there was no friend here. Never kind and never hopeful; only unrelenting in its demand for my full attention.

It whispered with certainty, “You will not win, not today. You don’t have the courage, the strength. All you have is me. I own you.”

_______________________________________________________________

Slam. The door closes jarringly in the hallway. My husband’s home. I’m pulled from my thoughts as he passes through the kitchen.

“Hi! How are you? How was your day?” I ask with too much fervor and excitement. I can tell he knows, but pretends anyway.

“Oh good. You know, just another day. What’s for dinner?”

“Oh right….dinner! Yes! I was just getting it started. The boys are upstairs playing. So I’ll just go check on them and then…yeah I’ll get it going!” 

“Whoa, 5:30 already? ” I rush by him, looking down, avoiding eye contact and any physical touch he may try to initiate.

I make my way up the stairs. I say something to the boys, loud enough for my husband to hear. To know, I’m still there.

“Hon? Do you want to change and shower before dinner?” I ask hopefully. Say yes, please, pleassse, say yes…

“Umm. Sure, I guess so.”

He stops in to see the boys on his way up while I rush by, “I need to start dinner!” I say a bit too loudly. Trying to explain what I imagine he must be thinking, “why is she avoiding me?”

_______________________________________________________________

It’s chasing me, or maybe I’m chasing it. I can’t tell anymore.

We circle one another. Like sharks smelling for first blood. Who will break first? Me. I always do, I remember.

I find myself alone with my thoughts again. I know I don’t have long before they boys will be down, asking about dinner.

Will you ever figure this out? Doubtful. 

You’re too weak and incapable. Just throw the towel in now. Accept this. Accept me, you need me.

Like a master and his slave, I can’t tell if my thoughts are my own anymore. We’d become one, and I was burdened into a slavery that I could not escape.

_______________________________________________________________

We’d met many years before, in my early 20’s, I was at once enamored. I’d never experienced such shiny and glamorous things in life. I was funnier, more confident and self assured. The relationship brought me contentment and offered new opportunities.

At first, it was just a fling; just being reckless and young. Soon, it turned into something more serious and then, controlling and abusive. 

Before I knew it, I was wrapped up: nothing else mattered. Once a relatively prudent and thoughtful young woman, I found myself throwing caution to the wind; all for this new relationship.

Through a series of events, it became clear this, I, wasn’t healthy. And so, we parted ways. I was met with a sneering, “you’ll be back.”

But, I didn’t return. I met my husband, we married within the year, had two beautiful boys and built a remarkable life together.

Something happened though. A life change. Suddenly and unexpectedly, I found myself at home, alone, with two small children. 

Day after day, the same routine. It pained me to admit, I was bored, dying, and uninspired. And so, I found myself going back to my old fling.

Let’s be real: I wasn’t the victim. I knew how unhealthy the relationship had been. 

What would make it different now? Not to mention how unfair it was to my husband, my marriage…my boys.

Familiarity breeds contempt. Indeed, contempt is what I felt. I hated this path I’d found myself wandering on again. I couldn’t break the chain; I’d become a slave again.

_______________________________________________________________

Some like it sweetened for disguise, others like it on a hot summer day, still some prefer it in the cold of a winter night.

I preferred mine straight from the bottle. In the middle of the day. Brad Pitt once said, “I can drink a Russian under the table with his own vodka.” 

Me too.

For months I tried to disguise it. But eventually, like all things, it started to show. I had to have a little more each time to numb the pain I was running from, the person I couldn’t stand to see in the mirror. 

Before I knew it, I was going through vodka like water. “You need me…” it would whisper. Cunningly and deceivingly, “you might beat me someday…but not today.”

_______________________________________________________________

This second time, the consequences were much deeper; more significant.

The trust I’d lost with my husband, slowly had to be rebuilt. The partnership and deep union we’d once felt, had started to crack at the foundation. 

The ramifications of my choices, I’m afraid, may never fully heal.

Like most “affairs”, my decisions were made emotionally and recklessly. And as a result, the most important relationship to the health of my family suffered at great consequence.

After seeking individual and marital counseling (something we should have done earlier), my husband and I have almost fully healed from my choices.

We work daily to guard of my past affair, just as we do with other situations in our life that may lead to unhealthy behaviors on either of our parts. 

Today, I dance a careful dance with the “tiger” that is alcohol. It lives in a cage in my life, and we are learning to co-exist with one another.

By the grace of My Savior, I can say with full conviction and confidence, I no longer am a slave to sin. I was given a renewed spirit and a second chance.

As painful as it is to remember those moments in my life, I force myself to come to terms with them each day. 

As a result, now when I look in the mirror I am proud of the wife and mother I have become, and the marriage I am continuing to build with the man I love so deeply.

_______________________________________________________________

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If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or mental or emotional health, I Do Part Two encourages you to reach out and call a trusted loved one, friend, co-worker or member of your church or visit:

SAMHSA’s Helpline: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services  1-800-662-HELP (4357) or www.aa.org: Alcoholics Anonymous


Three Simple Words

Three Simple Words

3 Minute Read

“Cuddle with me so I can put my freezing cold feet on you and probably use you as a pillow and steal all the covers.  K.  Thanks.”  (Pinterest)

On our wedding day 28 years ago, my husband’s father and our best man, implored us in his toast that the THREE MOST IMPORTANT words in our marriage to come would be these:  Pirates.  Penguins.  Steelers.

I can’t say he was entirely wrong.  Having been raised in the Steel City, my husband IS all about these black and gold teams that grace the small city of Pittsburgh. 

Little did I realize the sacrifice he was making on our honeymoon when his precious Penguins were in the Stanley Cup final (that’s the Super Bowl of hockey) and I was completely oblivious (and possibly admonishing) to Allen’s frantic search for a newspaper some mornings to find the score of the game the night before (this was during those olden days without internet or cell phones)! 

Happy to say they won their VERY FIRST CHAMPIONSHIP that year and don their team name on the trophy!

Heeding Allen’s father’s advice, I have embraced these three words (well, two of them fully and one of them only if I can get to a live game because watching baseball on TV is akin to watching golf…not heart-pumping enough for this wiggly, mile-an-hour girl).  They have been a tremendous plus to our marriage, and as many of you know, I am now almost a bigger Steelers fan than he is!

Fast forward.  Four houses.  Four kids.  Four jobs.

Unhealed, hidden selves (very hidden on the day we said “I do”) bubble to the surface and bump up against one another.  As our marriage clock tick-tocks, the bumps get stronger and louder and more painful.

Words of defeat and shame are uttered (by me).  “Are we going to make it?”  “What is wrong with me/you/us?”  “Is there any hope?”

THREE choice, sacred, life-giving, hope-gathering words are voiced (by my husband).   “WE’RE STILL LEARNING.”

I am taken aback, the words bouncing around like a super ball, uncatchable.

“But,” I whisper to myself, “we’ve been at this for a long time.”  Defeat and shame creep back over and over, sometimes kept hidden inside, other times shouted in anger and most often, spoken desperately alongside tears of fear.

Again and again, time after time, the three words of life and hope and healing pour from my husband’s mouth.  “WE’RE STILL LEARNING.”

These simple THREE words:

  • allow grace to cascade over us like a waterfall in the middle of a marriage drought
  • bring mercy to the unhealed selves that keep banging into each other
  • remind shame (in no uncertain terms) to “GET OUT of our house and our lives and our marriage!”
  • spark forgiveness as we stop demonizing and begin humanizing each other
  • usher discovery, newness and life into what seems unchanging, decrepit and even dead
  • grant bravery to our fearful parts, allowing for a life-long journey of change, growth and healing
  • energize our hearts to experience freedom from the past and anticipation for the future
  • breathe desperately-needed and longed for HOPE to the deepest parts of these two souls and bodies, uniting them again and again in ways previously unknown

Today, on our anniversary, we headed on a hike through a windy, periodically smooth, sometimes unmarked, gloriously scenic, often rocky, difficult-to-navigate in spots, kind of scary, breath-taking trail in Allamuchy Mountain State Park. Our favorite part of all was two swans (did you know they mate for life?) with their babies!

We talked about our favorite memories of this marriage we’ve shared. 

Two things we noticed:  most of them were hiking of some kind and lots of them were when something didn’t go quite as we planned (like the time we ended up in some woods filled with mosquitoes and we had to sprint from one end to the other, laughing and swatting as we went).

Marriage is like hiking

It’s windy.  It’s periodically smooth-sailing.  It’s unmarked in places.  It’s gloriously scenic.   It’s difficult to navigate in spots.  It can be scary.  It definitely takes our breath away at times.  We need hope every single day. 

We need all that these three simple, yet profound words speak to. 

Today, this best gift of my husband, “WE’RE STILL LEARNING,” wash over my soul afresh, hope and life breathed anew.

Here’s to AT LEAST 28 more years!

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Shoulder-to-Shoulder

Shoulder-to-Shoulder

Jason and his wife, Ann, walking Shoulder-to-Shoulder at his daughter’s wedding.

3 Minute Read

It’s taken time to understand and recognize, perhaps years if I really think about it, but something amazing happens when you get “shoulder to shoulder” with a loved one.  

In my case, it’s been with either my wife of 25 years or one of our 20-something daughters.  

Conversation and communication unfold with a depth and authenticity that doesn’t happen any other way.  

Living in a house full of lovely women, there’s rarely a lack of conversation. As a mild introvert, I haven’t always been central to the conversation; I was never excluded but neither did I always include myself. Fortunately, that’s changed in a monumental way.

When our daughters became teenagers, my wife and I discovered an openness and honesty our girls conveyed only during our “shoulder to shoulder” runs.  

Something changed as our gaze looked ahead and our breathing became more and more distressed.  

Real stuff started coming out of their mouths, stuff neither of us had heard from them before.  Stuff that mattered: hopes, dreams, fears, concern, you name it, it came out on those runs and they volunteered it!  

I loved, and still do love those runs. I would learn more about my daughter(s) in 30-60 minutes, than in a month’s worth of everyday interactions.  

What was going on, how they felt about it, what should they do: questions they sincerely wanted mom or dad’s advice and opinion on.  It was the opening for real conversation that every teenage parent hopes for. 

Could the same principle hold true when it came to conversations with my wife?  

Without making any direct efforts to apply it, I discovered this to be absolutely true. Evenings spent walking our dog around the neighborhood, have turned into significantly important connection time.  

Over the course of our well-worn route, amazing conversations take place.  All the stuff married couples MUST talk about: kids, jobs, plans, money, and schedules.

We’ve found that we are able to talk and connect at a deep and focused level.  For me, it’s being able to really listen without any household, device or family distraction.  

Just my wife’s words, her tone, her inflection without the eye-to-eye contact.  It enables me to talk, and my wife to listen and respond openly and honestly.

It’s my experience, being “shoulder to shoulder” creates a very safe environment to converse with a loved one.  

In our marriage, intimacy and trust already exist, so gazing forward together has empowered us to be vulnerable, while avoiding the eye contact that might make us feel hesitant to share what’s really on our mind. Eye contact that has, at times, been unintentionally passed and received as judgmental.  

Certainly, I am not saying we don’t or shouldn’t look each other in the eye- that’s critically important.  What I am saying is that walking with your spouse, maybe hand-in-hand, allows a level of authenticity that we might be uncomfortable with when we are face-to-face.

Sometimes the walks are impromptu or one of us will say, “Let’s walk the dog tonight.” Planned or unplanned they have become an amazing way for our family to connect in the deepest and most meaningful way.

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These Are The Moments…

These Are The Moments…

Early morning flight

2 Minute Read

At the airport, very early this morning, I ran into two wonderful couples. 

One on the way to see their daughter play volleyball for her college, and the other taking their son to visit one.

They were excited, expectant and looking forward to a great time together in spite of the ungodly hour.

We had just minutes to exchange pleasantries. 

These are those little moments as a couple, that sometimes get lost in the hustle. Those times when we-are-on-the-same-team.

They’re the kind of moments we’ll reflect on years from now and realize they weren’t so little after all.

The moments we wake up at 4am….and remember we wouldn’t want to run this race with anyone else.

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