It Feels Like Glass

It feels like glass cracking.  You know how glass cracks and cracks before it finally shatters?  That’s what it feels like.

You can feel it even if no one else can see or understand it, you know; you know in your heart of hearts this glass is going to shatter.

You’re going to shatter into a million tiny pieces.

The strong ones don’t get the luxury of shattering with sympathy, I’ve found.

We are the strong ones.  We pick others up.  We carry the loads.  We suck it the fuck up.

But just because we ignore the cracks does not mean they are not there, and it doesn’t mean that we don’t also deserve the love and forgiveness we so readily hand out to those we love because we feel the shards within ourselves poking through.  Yet, mercy seems to be something many stingily hold onto for the strong.

I’ve always been the one to stand up and speak when others don’t want to rock the boat.  I feel an innate NEED to defend those who are weaker than I am.  Yet it often feels that when I am weak, it’s an inconvenience to others; like a permission slip for some time off to fall apart that I failed to turn in to everyone I know.

I struggle a lot.  I fail a lot.  I internalize this a lot. I fake that I’m okay A LOT.  I don’t have time to fall apart.

Yet, the glass still cracks be it ever so slowly until I know, I know it will give way and I’m trying.

I’m trying.

I’m trying.

I’m.  Trying.

I shattered completely once before about 12 years ago.  Many things led to it, but all I remember of that day was it literally felt like a *ting* and the glass shattered and I couldn’t stop crying.  I had let it go too long.  I had not taken care of myself before others.  I shattered into a million tiny pieces.  Some pieces never found their place again.  Part of me was never the same.  It took me 2 years to put it back together again.  I never want to be in that dark place ever again.

And yet, I could feel the cracking of the glass.  I could feel things starting to give way again.  My anxiety kept me awake for days sleeping only a few hours here and there.  My tears came too easily.  My smiles were harder to fake.  My anxiety manifests often as agitation.  When I feel this I throw up the iron gates because I can’t let anyone watch me shatter.

I’m the strong one.  I’m the one who speaks up and stands up for others.  I’m the one who goes it alone in life and figures things out and makes things happen.   I can’t shatter and dissolve into salty tears.  Yet, here I was again.  Here I was again crying out to those closest to me, and again I was met with bewilderment and resentment and “pull yourself together, it’s not that bad!”  I’m even having those closest to me demand an apology for falling apart.

I’m sorry that I’m not indestructible.  I am.  You hate this?  I hate this more.

I hate this more.

Which is why I am doing what I need to do to fix it so that I don’t have to put it all back together again and lose pieces of myself.

All I’m asking for is a little bit of mercy and to not abandon me for being so tragically human sometimes.

Is that too much to ask?

It all comes down to a boy.

It does.  It all comes down to a boy.  So many of our problems as women come down to that, don’t they?  Or maybe they are just the tumultuous reflections of the inner inertia.

It all comes down to a boy, with me.

I woke up this morning in the quiet of the darkness, as light began to peek through the blinds and there was a stillness.  And I remembered you were not asleep on the couch in the living room.  You were not in the living room of my now 1 bedroom apartment, since I can no longer afford two bedrooms.  And there was such a sorrow that overcame me.  It is a sorrow that I thought 10 years after the fact would have healed even a little, but it hasn’t.

You’re gone again.  The separation begins yet again. And nothing I do between now and until I see you again can fill that emptiness you leave behind.  It’s like living with a ghost who comes to visit, and calls sometimes.  And in the interim I am left to fill my time and thoughts with distant memories of a happy child; one that I longed and prayed for. Or I  fog my brain until I can’t think anymore.  I can’t think of all the moments I’ve missed, and how I worry you don’t have a place to be yourself.  The guilt over this consumes me.  What would we have been like if you had been raised by me.  What if?

What if?

It all comes down to a boy.

You can call me beautiful a thousand times a day, and I don’t see it.  I can never hear it enough, and I will never see it.  All I see is the wretched childless mother.  And I loathe myself for not being able to be more grateful I am not a childless mother.  I loathe my selfishness in wanting you with me even though it would be more of a struggle for you and for me. I loathe myself for wanting you to myself. I loathe that I wasn’t strong enough to fight for you when it mattered the most.  I was too young and naive and blindsided by the whole thing.  I loathe myself for not having bounced back better.  Sure, I have a Bachelor and Masters of Art (masters soon enough), but I still struggle to keep my head afloat.  I loathe myself for not having my shit together better than this by now.

I loathe myself.

Our time is so fleeting, and yet easily snatched away.  It can be rescinded with a simple whim.  I feel abandoned anew each time and worry you sees me as the one who abandoned. I worry you see me as they do.  I worry I see myself as they do as well.  Maybe that’s why I surround myself with others who speak the same shame into me- to punish myself for not being stronger.

It all comes down to a boy.

And some days I just can’t breathe, uncertain I can make it through the next minute.

The next hour.

The next day.

I feel his absence everywhere.

Everything that confuses, exasperates, enrages, or makes someone give up on me…

It all comes down to a boy and a sorrow so much a part of me, I don’t know who I am without it.

Faking It to Forgiveness

I passed my Master’s Comprehensive Panel last week.  While that is an exciting accomplishment on paper (and was met with much celebration from my friends), it was much more anticlimactic than I thought it would be.  I passed.  I had stressed and stressed and stressed over my papers, reading and re-reading them until they no longer made sense to me anymore, until finally I just turned them into my professor.  One click.  Sent.  In my program (Masters in Communication Management) you don’t have to defend your papers.  It’s not like writing a thesis.  I was given 3 topics to write about to show my knowledge of the subject.   I did them.  I turned them in.  I passed.  I’m almost done completely now.  Just one more very busy 10-week summer session sprint to Graduate Commencement.  I’m both thrilled and terrified.

There is a very real part of me that doesn’t honestly believe I’m smart enough to have this.  While I know I’m not average in my intelligence, I also don’t think I’m as smart as people seem to think I am.  I Google a lot.  Last year I received a departmental scholarship bestowed to Graduate students in the program who are “outstanding students”.    I honestly thought at first it was a mistake, but when I verified it wasn’t, my professors said it was “their pleasure to reward such hard work.”  I wish I could see whatever it is they see.  There is a part of me that is curious if I’m just really good at faking it?

This neurosis goes far beyond academia.  I would say it extends to almost every area of my life, honestly.  Don’t get me wrong, I know I have certain gifts and talents but they seem very ordinary.  They seem like the kind of thing that a lot of other people do.  For example, I love to sing, but I’ve never tried to do much with it or be competitive.  It’s just something I do well, but nothing more phenomenal than your average high school talent show winner type acclaim.  When I was in high school my voice teacher was out for a semester on maternity leave, and I was assigned to a very accomplished tenor who taught out of his home.  My grandmother paid for a 30-minute lesson, but he often asked me if I could stay longer because he loved to find random Italian arias for me to try to sing.  He once stopped me mid-lesson and looked at me and said, “your voice is really phenomenal.”  His wife once came into the living room area near the piano to ask if she could sit and just listen.  I was always very flattered, but I also didn’t quite get what was so great about listening to my voice lesson.

I wish I could hear what they heard.

About a year ago, I wandered into a Facebook group that I thought was a Meme group.  I saw a mutual friend from a common Facebook group was in it, and I figured that might be where he was getting all his savage memes.  I requested to join.  It was NOT memes. What ended up coming across my newsfeed from that group was a steady stream of poorly lit, badly constructed selfies from female members.  Some were very risque while some were very tame.  They all lacked a quality that I felt would draw a person in to it.   I was curious if I could do any better.  So I posted a photo and it received a HUGE response.  So I posted another, and within 5 days I pretty much had a following.  It was honestly overwhelming at the time.  Suddenly all these people wanted to talk to me and know me.  They wanted to know if I was a model.  That following grew to an Instagram account with 21K followers (now deleted because apparently, Instagram does that with accounts without reason or warning), a SnapChat with 3k followers, and having strangers reach out to me constantly on the internet to tell me I’m “their ideal woman”, “dream girl”, “stunning”, and “most beautiful”.  I’m not thin.  I’m not young (about to be 40.)  I’m not incredibly toned, and I don’t have a symmetrical face.  I have bushy curly hair and lines on my forehead.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I’m ugly, but I live in a weird world where I’m both this ideal beauty and neurotic hot mess that needs to lose 50lbs.

I wish I could see what they see.

And really that is Aphrodite in Real Life in a nutshell.  That’s how this idea occurred to me.  You think of Aphrodite, Goddess of Love in all her beauty and talents, but what is she like in real life?  Maybe she’s just as bewildered as me by all the attention.  Maybe if you got to know her, you would see she isn’t all that you expect.  Maybe some days she doesn’t want anyone to notice or see her.  Maybe when she looks in the mirror she only sees the 25lbs she gained in grad school, or how her hair doesn’t look right, or maybe she just wants to crawl out of her skin and be anyone else today.  I’m not perfect, so how can I be beautiful?  I’m not perfect so how can I stand out?  I’ve never been one to blend into a crowd, but where people tell me they see “star quality”, I see a magnification of all my imperfections–faking it until I make it, yet gripped with anxiety that I don’t really know how to make it.

There is a metaphysical shop nearby where I live and sometimes I go there to poke around.  I like to look at the different herbs and crystals and candles.   The owner offers different services such as tarot readings, palm readings, and reading your aura.  I’m the type of person who finds those kinds of things fun, and have over the years had different readings from various strangers.  Over the years there has been a common theme among their messages to me: “Learn to forgive yourself for things that were not your fault” and “Quit denying who you are in the Universe.”  Last month, for fun I had my palm read and the reader again relayed to me those two messages.  Like those who came before her, she told me I cannot fulfill my destiny until I learn to forgive myself and stop fighting who I am.

The thing I cannot seem to forgive myself for is losing custody of my son.  It’s not my fault  I tried my best to keep it from happening, but I failed.  I lost the rest of his childhood because I made a mistake as a child myself and took the easy way out.  I trusted a man I shouldn’t have trusted.  It’s one thing for this to affect me, but the fact it has irrevocably changed my son’s life guts me.  I can’t change it.  It wasn’t my fault.

I don’t know how to forgive myself for that.  I’m not 100% sure I deserve that forgiveness.  So maybe I punish myself by rejecting all my gifts and talents because losing him is my Scarlet Letter.  It feels like forgiving myself is letting me off the hook for the one thing in life I couldn’t change; the thing in my life that was the most devastating. It feels like giving myself a break is acting like what happened wasn’t that big a deal.  It feels like forgiving myself is getting over it.

I don’t know who I am without that pain.

One other thing the palm reader told me before I left was to stop swallowing my words.  Anyone who knows me knows I’m rarely at a loss for words.  I’m also a very straightforward and verbose individual.  However, I think THIS is what she meant.  This blog.  These words.  So, I am attempting to stop swallowing my words and get them out even though they are painful at times.

Maybe if that happens, forgiveness will come.

Maybe with forgiveness, acceptance of who I am will come after that.

Baby steps.

 

 

 

 

 

Everything Until Now…

I had a panic attack yesterday.

It was the kind of panic attack that you can feel coming all day.  If you’re not familiar, for me at least, they start with this dreaded feeling like something is wrong, but you can’t put your finger on it.  I had woken up abruptly that morning with the thought, “You’re a terrible person.”  Odd, I know, but I’ve come to expect odd things from my brain at times.  As the day wore on, I felt moments of my heart pounding or fluttering.  It’s kind of like how you feel when something exciting is going to happen, only there is nothing.  Like the precursing tremor of a volcano about to explode.

I’m in graduate school and finishing up my second to last semester.  Between school and work and life and being a mom, I have a lot on my plate.  It doesn’t *look* like more than I can manage.  I’ve managed much harder things in life.  However, I’ve recently felt the pressure bearing down on me of my life and all that has come before now.  At times I feel myself hurtling toward a finish line into a new life that I both want, and fear.  I’ve never done well with uncertainty, in a life that has always been uncertain.

At any rate, as I sat there in class (on time for a change), I could feel it.  Everything felt louder.  It felt as though everyone was looking at me, even though no one was.  My chest was pounding.  Hot tears were welling up in my eyes, and as I felt myself begin to need to take multiple deep breathes I knew it was too late.  My instructor noticed.

As I stood in the breezeway of the building outside of the classroom with my professor, I fell apart.  I hate falling apart.  I sobbed to her that I was just dealing with anxiety and I would be fine and I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I just need a minute I have my comprehensive exams to write and two papers and a group project and I’m having trouble at work and looking to apply for new jobs with my new degree and planning my 40th birthday trip out of the country for the first time and I’m sorry I can usually handle this, I should be able to handle this…

But there was so much more behind all of it.

So much I don’t say.

So much I can’t say or try to not remember.

But I can’t fix a problem I fail to acknowledge is there.

So here I am.  Aprhodite in real life.

I think something I struggle with most in life is acknowledging the trauma I’ve endured.  I know that I haven’t had it as bad as some, and I am fully aware of my good fortune.  But the voice that whispered to me, “You’re a terrible person,” is one from my past.  It has been everything until now.

I grew up the oldest child of three in the home of a raging alcoholic, and an enabling co-dependent mother.  When I was three my mother bought me the book “The Very Worried Sparrow” if that gives you any indication of how far back my anxiety goes.  I was a worried child.  I was terrified of messing up or doing something wrong.  My parents fed off each other’s rage and when their sights turned to me, it usually resulted in being berated or beaten.  I was a good student.  I was talented; funny.  I’ve always stood out.  My mother both loved this in public but chastised me in private over this.  My father was cold and distant unless he was drunk and raging.  So, while the attention I received from the outside world was positive, the attention I received from them was that I was a “show-off”, a “smart ass”, an “ingrate”, and my favorite and one of my most deeply held beliefs:  I was “too difficult to love”.

I guess in a lot of ways, I was difficult for them to love.  I never quite integrated into their chaos.  I always acknowledged the 800lb gorilla in the room.  I did have a smart mouth, but I primarily used it to point out what I felt were things that were inherently wrong in our home.  My father was a bully, and one of his primary targets was my mother.  So when I was older, and she would crumble into a pile of tears, I would take over the argument.  I’ve had my share of beatings, but I felt like I could handle it better than she could.  Besides, she doled out her own beatings.  Slaps to the face.  Hair pulling and dragging me by my hair.  Hitting me in the back of my head until I had headaches that would last for hours after.  But the beatings never quite hurt as much as the beratement. My parents have a black belt in that, which I hate to say I’ve become as equally good.

My father and I would get into hellacious arguments that usually ended with him telling me to pack my things because he was sending me to the “county home”.  He would stand over me as I sobbed and packed what I could into a suitcase, all the while telling me I would see what its like to have a really bad life, and maybe then I would appreciate the life I had with them.  He never sent me away.  When I got a little older, I would leave the house anyway with my bag.  Often standing at the foot of the driveway, sometimes in the pouring rain waiting for a friend to come pick me up.  The next day my mother would reach out to say that “Daddy’s sorry” and “would you please come home.”  And I did every time, even though Daddy never said sorry to me.  Many times I had called the police to come and intervene in one of his fits.  Each time I watched my mother downplay it until the police would leave.  Each time it was impressed upon me what would happen if my sister and brother and I were taken out of their custody and how much trouble that would cause me and them.  I never apologized either.

When I turned 18, I had my first taste of freedom.  I lived at school during the week and only came home to the chaos on the weekends.  During this time I met my ex-husband.  At 26 he was much too old for me, but I saw him as sophisticated and more worldly,  What I didn’t see was how controlling he would become.  He called me constantly.  Memorized my schedule almost immediately and would monitor when I was in my dorm room and if I wasn’t wanted to know where I had been.  I saw this as he just really liked me a lot.  I see now they were red flags of what was to come.

Then one evening, I had arrived at my parent’s house and no one was home.  I logged onto their computer and was playing around online (the internet was kind of new back then and still pretty exciting) when my father arrived home.  I’ll never forget the look in his eyes when he locked eyes with me on the stair landing.  “Why haven’t you been answering the phone!”  I had only arrived myself maybe 10 minutes prior and the phone had not rung.  He was drunk, and he was livid.  A fit of rage ensued.  He spewed every hateful hurtful thing he could imagine at me, and then he drew back his hand like he was going to hit me.  I stood there stone-faced and said, “If you do it, I will call the police.  I am 18, and you can’t hit me anymore.  And you know I will press charges.”  He didn’t hit me, but he told me to leave and never return.  And I never did.  Gladly.

My then boyfriend, future ex-husband, saw this as an opportunity to move in with him.  We had only been together for 4 months at the time, and I honestly didn’t want to move in with him.  So I made him ask my mother, thinking surely she would say no.  However, she saw him as a man of financial means who could take me off their hands and take care of me.  So she encouraged me to move in with him.  So I did.

I wasn’t happy with him, but then I hadn’t been happy before so I didn’t really see it as something I could change or needed to change.  He was controlling.  Monitored where I went and who I talked to.  He controlled all the finances and for the most part I wanted for nothing…but freedom.  We had horrible arguments.  Arguments that would get way out of hand.  The night before he proposed to me he had come home drunk and raging and punched a hole in our hallway wall.  Anyone in their right mind would have left, but being raised in chaos gives you a high tolerance for crazy.  When he asked me to marry him, I said yes, because that’s what I was supposed to do, right?  So much of my life was me waiting for direction as to what to do next.  Guilt me.  Order me.  Demand it.  I may fight it, but I would do it.  I always did as I was told.

The only thing I couldn’t do for him was stay 18.

I grew up.  We had a child and I grew up.  I realized one day that I did not, in fact, love him.  I realized that I had never loved him.  I had crumbled under the pressure to be who he wanted me to be.  Attractive.  Subservient.  Quiet.  Often in groups, I would “hold court” as my sister sometimes referred to it.  I could get a table laughing with my stories or wit, and my husband hated me for it.  After a while, I got tired of being harangued over the fact I outshone him intellectually and socially.  I got tired of him referring to everything I liked as my “little friends” and my “little hobbies”.  I got tired of being subjugated.  I got tired of being shoved and pushed when he was angry.  I got tired of his tantrums.  I felt my soul dying with him.  Still, I did everything I could to try to negotiate with him a life I could tolerate.   Eventually, life became intolerable.  I broke.  I broke into a thousand tiny pieces.  I wanted out.  I wanted a divorce.  I didn’t love him.  I had never loved him.  The guilt I felt over this was unfathomable.  It was honestly almost too much to bear.  I had failed.  I couldn’t be what he wanted, and I wanted out.

I recall shortly before the final break between us weeping in my therapist’s office.  I was wailing to him in between gulps of breath, “I’ve wasted his life.  He loves me so much, and I don’t love him.  I’ve wasted his life.”  My therapist looked at me like he was looking into my soul and asked me, “Why does your life not matter?”

And I blinked back at him through tears thinking, “Wh-what?”  I had never thought of my life before.

The divorce was contentious and that is putting it mildly.  I could literally fill pages with all the horrible things he did during our divorce to make it a nightmare, but I won’t.  I honestly can’t.  It’s hard for me to go there, and going this far into my history is hard enough.  As he saw himself losing control he tightened his reins and went to any length imaginable to either get me back into line or deter me from leaving.  But I was leaving.  So he threw all his energy into gaining custody of our then 5-year-old son.  He lied.  He manipulated.  He raged.  He terrorized.  He paid.

He won.

And I returned back home again with empty arms, leaving behind the only unconditional love I have ever known.  Losing custody of our son at that time felt like a death of sorts.  I’ve always tried to put it into perspective for myself that it was NOT a death, and that there was still pages for my son and me to write.  However, it was the death of my dream of having a family.  It was the death of every hope I had for the future experiences of raising my boy.  The first two years after my divorce was the darkest in my life.  About 6 months after the divorce was final, and visitation had been taking place my ex decided to take me back to court to revoke my visitation.  I didn’t do anything to cause it.  He was still just too angry over all of it, he didn’t want to deal with me.  He wanted me to disappear.  I didn’t physically see my son again for 10 months.  During that time I searched and searched for a way to get representation to go back to court.  The divorce had financially ruined me.  I had been left with all the debt from the marriage and a lot of financial obligations to my ex that took most of my minimal income.

I eventually realized there are no white knights.  No one was going to swoop in and fix this or rescue me or make my ex-husband do the right thing.  So with the help of friends who had some legal expertise or connections to those who did, I figured out how to represent myself.  I also had to wait for the original judge in my case to retire before I could get a fair trial.  So I waited, and I researched.  Even handling a case pro-se requires funds.  I took a second job, briefly, as a waitress.  I hated it.  It was a lot of extra work for minimal tips.  I needed access to cash, and quickly.  So, even though it may not have been for the right reasons, that’s when I decided to go back to school.  I could use some of the funds not paying for classes to fight to get my visitation back.  So that’s what I did.

After several attempts, I finally got a new hearing and eventually had my vindication in court.  That is also a long story for another time, but I had finally won and I did it myself.  I knew he would never come back to live with me, but I could see him and that’s all that mattered.

That was 7 years ago, now.  I still live under the control of my ex-husband, though he is much more subdued.  His anger has calmed.  We have our “new normal”.  But now, I stand at the precipice of a new beginning.  I’m turning 40 soon.  I’m finishing grad school soon after that.  My freedom is so close I can almost taste it.  I often feel like a prisoner who is *almost* up for parole.  I’m setting the stages now for my new life, even though I won’t be truly free until I’m 43.

But I’m moving forward with a life that I’m not sure what it holds for me.  There is every possibility unfolding before me.  It’s exciting and terrifying, and I want to embrace it fully.  So I have to find a way to let go of everything that has held me here in this place.  My guilt over not being able to change what happened with my son.  My guilt over stupid decisions made as a child who didn’t know any better and had no business getting married.  My deeply held belief that I’m not good enough to be loved by anyone.

I know it’s not true.  At least I think it’s not.  Maybe.

So here I am.  Aphrodite in real life.  Perfectly imperfect.  Beautifully broken in every way.  Everything until now has led me to this place.

And now a new journey begins.