Monday, April 7, 2014

I want to go home.

Photo attribution here

My parents divorced when I was eight. My mom took my siblings and I out of school early one day after they separated and we left on a "vacation" never to return. We stayed in California for a bit with family, then moved to Utah for a year or two. After that, the siblings that hadn't chosen to move back to my dad's house, my mom, my step dad and new little brother along with two of my five step sisters moved back to California into a place where there are three types of people. 1. The law. (Cops who don't want to raise their kids in LA so they make the 2 hours commute daily) 2. Those hiding from their past or the law. (Can't tell you how many kids from my high school there have died of an overdose. So sad.) and 3. Members of the witness protection program. I wish that was a joke, but it's not. Rural and isolated don't even begin to describe the bizarre universe that was my home for seven years.

By the time I hit my late teens I decided I would be better off living with my dad again. On my 17th birthday I packed up and transferred schools in the middle of my junior year of high school. It was not a smooth transition. I kept telling myself that I was just going to leave for college soon anyway, so I didn't want or need to make any connections there. After that phase there has been ten years of bouncing from one idea, one place, one school, one beach to another. 

Being quite unlike most Mormons I know, but loving the gospel with gusto, I have always felt an intense longing for my people. This coupled with my transient past made for an intense desire to find my place in the world. The long story short of that saga culminated (or so I thought) in my marriage to The Mr. and moving into our apartment in Long Beach, CA. I had finally, finally, finally found my place in the world. For a short time I lived this moment where I was satisfied with the life I'd created. I had found my home. 

Part of grieving my divorce is reconciling the loss of that brief moment of my place in the universe being found. I spent last summer in California with Sassy McLadyBoots and, after my first day of work as a nanny for the summer, felt this intense urge to drive "home" as I had hundreds of times after my nanny job in the neighboring city during my married life. I braved the traffic and spent the 45 minutes in the commute I made daily as a wife. I pulled up and parked next to the apartment complex I left my heart in and sat for a time. I then spent an afternoon walking the streets of the abandoned foundation of my marriage. After that, I wrote this:

July First, Twenty Thirteen
I am in love with the city of Long Beach

This one time I was married to a man who couldn’t see me. I’m tall and bright and was standing right there, so by all accounts it doesn’t add up. When we married we settled in Long Beach, California. To him it was rough enough around the edges and equidistant from our places of employment. To me it was everything that’s right with the world. The third day of house hunting he told me to make up my mind already. God picked me up that day after work and set me down on the corner of 3rd and Junipero and in that moment, I knew.

Constructed in the 1920s, Spanish tile roof with hardwood floors, crystal doorknobs and quirky neighbors. When I brought him to it that night in spastic adoration the courtyard was lit with twinkle lights and inhabited by lovely lesbians sipping a red wine over cigarettes.

After moving in I at first mistook my enthusiasm for the city as just another element of the blissful sneaker wave of matrimony crashing down around me and turning everything upside down. This satiated longing in my gypsy soul explains at least partially why it took me so long to notice and accept that in the beginning he was just “tired”, then distant, then angry, then mean. He moved back to his neck of the woods, and in an ultimately self-sacrificial demonstration I pulled myself, kicking and screaming from the only place I could ever, in truth, call home.

Today I walk the streets heartsick and sobered, but inescapably on the verge of an orgasm of the soul at the sheer perfection that is my city. Ocean waves, calm and gentle lapping at the shore; kiss after kiss after caress the sea makes endless love to my city. Latin lovers have salsaed themselves into tree nymphs. Her leafy hair still holds the blossom. His skin on the branches that suspend her in perpetual elegance is smooth like glass. Stained glass in the windows of the churches of every denomination.  Tibetan Christians, Lutherans, Muslims. Thick air settles in your car, your hair, your skin – sticky, like a memory you just can’t shake.

The buildings are corporate and creaking, stable and filthy, artful and average, because here in my kingdom by the sea, you can be anything you want to be. Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles and yoga in the park, open to the public and interrupted by a pickup game of soccer. A sexy, sweaty, stinky group of dark eyed Latinos at home scoring goals in my city.

The birds of paradise and palm trees are jazzercising in fluorescent purple, green and orange; sweating it out with the rest of us. The air is dirty and the cars are clean and glistening in the sun – or they’re not. The food is unapologetic in its -love me or leave me- essence and the freeways mock your impatience and lazily roar curses in stereotypically colorful language. Even the garbage cans lining streets are purple.

And everywhere I go in this town, so starkly juxtaposed, I see him and me. That endlessly awkward night at dinner. The time he slept in the car. The long walk I took down the pier when he started to change, desperate to clear my head of early signs of warning. The alley where we both giggled and kissed for the engagement shoot, and loaded up the moving van. The place I stared while we sat in our car and he told me he couldn’t love me if I couldn’t start being happy.

These memories, these blackened, charcoal, cancer coated moments growing stale in a dying corner of my mind—these are the only things I do not love about my city. These are the only things I would change.

I was married only a moment compared to the average divorcee, but I understand at least a taste of the sense of loss of place. I went to a support group once where a woman talked about the hours she'd spent driving around in her car, not wanting to return to her disrupted home and life. That's an element of this road we walk. Will I ever return to Long Beach to build my life again? 


Or maybe not.

So much there I love and so much there I can't recover. I'll tell you what though, wherever I end up, however it goes, I'll make a life worth loving. I'll find my hardwood floors and crystal doorknobs in a brand new city full of streets I haven't walked, food I've never tasted, challenges yet to be discovered, miracles I have not yet fathomed, dust that's never settled over my not-yet-discovered vintage treasures, and people I have not yet had a chance to love, but I will love them. I'm going to keep loving, looking for and building the good and the best. Because despite the way I've been hurt, that's still who I am. That's who I choose to be.  

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

It's hard not to have sex, said the Mormon girl.

Photo attribution here
And that Mormon girl would be me.

*Note: as you may have guessed, this post is about sex. It's not explicit, but it is direct. If that makes you uncomfortable, you probably shouldn't read it. 

Recently I got my first ever request for a post on a particular topic: post marital sexual deactivation. This is a post I've been wanting to write for quite some time because, frankly, I love sex, and it's really hard to go from having semi-regular access to it to zilch. Second, this is something every divorcee faces but no one talks about, and by now you know how committed I am to talking about the important things that make your average Molly Mormon/Peter Priesthood squirm. On that note...

First of all, I want to kick this off my saying that I know it's, like, a thing to run around saying we feel sorry for men and their ginormous sexual appetites and how it's not their fault and it's all evolution and they have a biological need to spread their seed and all, but I just want to throw it out there that there are many, many women--LDS and otherwise-- with healthy libido, and plenty of men I've met that can either take sex or leave it. So men, you are not alone in the struggle to fly solo after your companion has jumped ship. And women, you are not weird for liking, loving, missing and/or needing sex. So when we all got this letter tucked in with out divorce decrees...

Dear no-longer-married-person, 

Don't have sex anymore. Not with your former spouse, not with your (not yet married to) "future spouse",  not by yourself, not with an elf... Do not have sex here or there. Do not have sex anywhere. 

Good luck with that. 

Love, God's safe to say that men and women alike had issues.

We all have different attitudes, experiences and opinions about sex, but no matter where you fall on the spectrum, if you are recently divorced you will have to reconcile your sex life (or lack of sex life) in some way or another. We as LDS people have an interesting, complicated relationship with sexuality to begin with. We are taught to fear it, but look forward to it. We love it, but fiercely try to control it. We have rules dictating our sexual behavior a mile long and we are accountable for our actions. In fact, it is not only considered appropriate, but it's expected that our leaders will ask us probing questions about our sexual conduct at any moment. Our eternal salvation is perpetually at stake.

With that magnitude of significance and consequence lacing our biological, God given desire to procreate it's no wonder that we get spazzy about sex. As for those of us who have experienced sexual intimacy, we find ourselves in an even more complex position where we did our best to transition from forbidden to sacred and bonding (or at least just plain fun) and now, not only are our souls torn up from the dramatic shifts in our lives, stress levels high, moral compasses whacky and ideals all in question, we have the task of un-familiarizing ourselves with a notoriously relaxing, pleasurable, relieving, happy making activity we once enjoyed. Oh yeah, and we're so lonely we can't watch an insurance ad without bawling.

All that is to say, I hear you! I know. It totally sucks. I hate it, and I'm sorry. Unfortunately, this, like many other things in our lives right now, doesn't have an easy answer. God loves us, is aware of us, grieves with us and ultimately, so far as I can tell (because there really is no literature on this that I've been able to find) doesn't make any moral exceptions for us. We are commanded to be abstinent once more. That's the long and short of it.

That being said, I do have a few thoughts and tips for those of you who feel similarly to the way I do about this issue. Having made it nearly 18 months now without a gentleman caller knocking at heaven's door, this is my advice:

1. Embrace and accept it. It is what it is. No amount of suppressing, avoiding, fixating, indulging, blaming, guilting or denying will make this go away. Craving sexual intimacy is not weird, it's not wrong and while it will likely vary in intensity from time to time, it's not going to go away, and that's okay. This is a moment in time. Sometimes the best thing we can do is to step out of its way and let it happen.

2. Remember that acting on impulses will likely bring momentary relief or enjoyment, but ultimately, when that fleeting experience is complete, we are where we left off, but with less of God's Spirit. I think we can all agree, we could use as much of God's Spirit as we can get these days. Premarital sex is still (now to me, having seen first hand what the bonding power of sex can do) terrifyingly dangerous, especially in the state we're in, and pornography is a cheap counterfeit that sincerely has the capacity to dramatically distort our view of this sacred thing we crave. (Click here for a great website with more on this.) Ultimately, no matter how much emotional pain and turmoil we're in, it's just not worth it. It's just not. 

3. Closely related to #1, try not to beat yourself up about it, because things do happen. Guilt serves one purpose and one purpose only: to motivate us to change. If it's not motivational, it's just another tool in Satan's kit. Accept and love yourself, no matter what you're going through and how close you currently are to following Christ's gospel perfectly. The love of God is endless and cannot be withheld from you if you will look up.

4. Do your best not to dwell. We all have memories of the past and hopes for the future, but letting them run rampant in our minds can only bring us down. Acknowledge that there will one day again be a time and place for that, and allow your mind to be freed by any one of the following:

-Climb a tree and see what you can see.
-Dance with a child, or have her tell you a story from her imagination.
-Take up a sport or some sort of physical fitness hobby. There's more than one way to release endorphins ; )
-Look outside yourself to see the needs of those around you. Help someone in some small way.
-Read a (wholesome) book that takes you somewhere new. The library is full of cheap vacations.
-Make a bucket list and start crossing off adventures.
-Write out how you feel. Sometimes just writing it out, then chucking it will get unhelpful things out of my system.
-Make new (platonic) friends.
-Join a club - hunting, knitting, cycling, dancing, you name it. The more foreign to your regular routine the more brain capacity it takes to learn, the less brain power you have to spare for unhelpful pining.

You get the idea.

I'm not saying it's easy. Heaven knows the struggle I've had and still have with engaging fully in the present life I live. So much time missing and wishing. I am saying, however, there is a high road. In all of the deluge of confusion, pain, grief, frustration and heartache that comes with the end of a marriage, I have found that the most long lasting satisfaction comes when I do my best to take the high road. It's hard, but we can do hard things.

Keep your chin up. Like everything else it gets better with time... sort of : )