Sunday, May 25, 2014

Losing What We Call Lovely

Photo attribution here.

The day before I started packing up to leave my Long Beach home I went for a walk on the beach. The Mr. had already taken a job in the next city over and was staying there, so I was alone. Of all the things I loved about that city, the lifeguard towers were one. There's something so iconic about them. They symbolize the best things in life--summer, sunshine, ocean, bare feet, vacation, spontaneity, freedom. But the summer was ending, and so was my marriage. I was a year in, but there was a part of me, just below consciousness, that feared it even then. It was a long and slow beach walk, and towards the end I climbed up on a tower and sat and stared.

Rusty metal. Chipped paint. The smell of salt. Cityscape to the right. Slow, lapping ocean. Gritty sand. Sunset. Losing light. 

I took a picture of myself in the lowlight, trying desperately to hold on to what was already, in a way, gone. I remember sitting there, trying very hard to be brave and positive, to have faith in God, in my husband, in my ability to pull it together, but in a place so deep I couldn't let even myself be aware of it I was terrified. Terrified of loss and terrified of the future. Terrified that I would never have anything so lovely as the early days of my married life in Long Beach, ever again. 

Last night I went to Waikiki with some friends for--are you ready for this?-- Spam Jam. Apparently Hawaiian residents consume some ridiculous number like 3 million cans of Spam a year, and just to prove we're proud, we have a whole food festival to honor this strange canned "meat". It was a group of girlfriends and I driving down together, busily chattering on about internships, secret crushes, embarrassing moments and frustrating school policies. When we got to "town", as we countryfolk refer to Honolulu, we disembarked and weaved our way through drum circles, fire dancers, a mime, a Michael Jackson impersonator and every Spamtastic abomination you can fathom. Spam tacos, Spam ramen, Spam burgers, Spam T-shirts, sports bras, hats, an entire wave constructed in cans of Spam, a Spam impersonator and the world's most unlucky puppy sitting with a can of Spam strapped to its head, victim to endless photos and an adoring public. 

It was fantastic. 

When we'd had enough of that we headed over to a frozen yogurt place. Here I purchased my first treat in one full month. On my list of thirty was the task of giving up sugar for one month's time, and it just so happened that the four weeks came to a close last night. Coconut and caramel flavored frozen goodness with fresh strawberries, toasted coconut flakes and a slice of waffle cone on top--heaven

I took my treasure across the street and the five of us lady friends climbed up the steps of a lifeguard tower to bask in echoes of Waikiki nightlife, the smell of salt and the familiar feel of grits of sand beneath our feet. A quick glance at the cityscape to my right and I was instantaneously transported to my Long Beach lifeguard tower. I was nose to nose with my old self. She was hesitating on the precipice of her headlong dive into the brutal years ahead. I looked back into the eyes of my pre-divorce self for that brief moment, and saw how desperately she was trying to peer into her fate. I saw so much fear in her eyes--fear that all the beautiful parts of our life had already come and gone. I realized that the Waikiki me was an absolutely unimaginable figment of a possibility to that scared little Imogen in Long Beach. That Frowfrow wanted her Long Beach life. She wanted her cranky, ill suited husband, half working cars, dead end jobs and a lifetime of bending herself in half to force a square peg into a star shaped hole. She clung to the life she was losing so desperately that she could see nothing else. She couldn't believe in anything better than the dismal path that lay before her, so she lied to herself and told herself it was all ok. It was what she'd always dreamed of. 

I've been addicted to sugar pretty much my entire life. (Stay with me, this is all coming together, promise.) I know it's not healthy. Sugar causes cancer, diabetes, heart disease, jacks up my blood sugar, is clinically proven to be addictive, messes with my depression, and is in no way an adequate substitute for human affection, no matter how much I lie to my subconscious. Did any of this matter? Not at all. Why? Because throughout my life I was scared. I didn't want to let it go. I needed it to numb and distract myself from all the turmoil incessantly churning in my stomach. If I have a stomach ache over Swedish Fish or Ben and Jerry's then I don't have a pit in my stomach about my parent's divorce, the homework there is no one to help me with, my relationship with my mama, my unanswered questions for God, the way I can't seem to choose a life path, a major or a career, my failing marriage or the lurking possibility that now that I am single again I will die a lonely cat lady weaving dream catchers out of my own hair to take to market. (That one was for you, Sassy McLadyBoots.) If I abuse sugar I can blame it and my addiction for my problems. I needed that distraction, at some points of my life more than others--the years before and after my divorce most especially. I didn't want to let it go, just like I didn't want to let go of the fantasy that my Long Beach life was all I could ever dream of. But then... I did. 

The one month of living sugar free came as easy as a wave crashing on the sand. It just was. I didn't even really have to try. I just let myself acknowledge, I don't even like this stuff. It makes me feel like crap. I let myself eat an occasional PB&J, some yogurt or a granola bar, but the cookies, cakes, chocolate, ice cream and late night trips to the vending machines disappeared all on their own, and so did my obsessive desire to eat at every convenience. I just let it go, and when I did, everything was fine. 

I want to pull all this together now to say this: beautiful things will come. Sticking with something because we think we need it to survive, unhealthy as it may be; keeping a death grip on something out of fear that it's the best we will ever get; believing nothing else will come along for us and we will be left miserable; all of that is a lie. All that grasping, in the end, doesn't help. It doesn't make the good things stay, it just invites fear, and fear taints the lovely we do have in our lives. It paints it, so we don't recognize it for the glorious little moment of kite flying, balloon holding, baby smiling, first kissing, new learning, big laughing that it is. We miss it. So when we find ourselves panicked, desperately grasping, strong faced, but terrified in the soul, let's just remember this my brave friends: nothing we need ever dies.


And there is lovely in store beyond what you now see as possible. There will be more lifeguard towers. There will be new friends laughing, fresh flowers waiting, brand new favorite foods, hands to hold, freckles to kiss and lessons to learn, but we've got to learn to look for and see the good, not hunker down and brace ourselves for the next tragedy. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

"You're divorced? What happened?"

Photo attribution here

On the issue of telling people I am divorced, I have two opinions:

1. The incredible shame of going through a divorce in the church causes many to clam up about it. I believe it's because we're not talking about it that those not touched by divorce are not thinking about it, therefore they stand in judgement by default of our culture, and the shame remains. Opening up about what life is like in the post marital world is the only way to open people's eyes and hearts to empathizing with us. It's hard, but we can do it.

2. It's none of your damn business. Leave me the hell alone.

I often feel these both, simultaneously.

When you tell someone you're divorced they always want to know one thing--what happened? The reason I don't like this question isn't what you think. I have no problem talking about my experience. I find it pretty cathartic--as is evidenced by this blog, it's just that I have no good answer for the question that can be conveyed in a 20 second window. This is because when you are a Latter Day Saint, there is an unwritten rule that there is a short list of reasons that make it "okay" to get a divorce.

1. Your partner is beating you black and blue.
2. Your partner was unfaithful.
3. Your partner has an addiction - usually drug or pornography - that is negatively affecting your family.

And really, with the exception of number one, these issues are not a hall pass to the courthouse to file. As a people we favor reconciliation in pretty much every case, and while no decision regarding a marriage and family should ever be taken lightly, I think this, "There are three people in my marriage and as long as God and I are two of them we can get by," mentality is doing long lasting damage.

I need to reiterate to you here that I deeply respect the marriage covenant. My relationship with The Mr. would have passed its expiration date six months into the marriage if we had not been sealed in the temple. Three quarters of our time together was spent turning myself inside out to avoid the inevitable. In the end there was no other way to retain even a shred of my self worth or identity than to let it go, and still somehow I feel guilty for finally releasing the long dead weight of the relationship.

When people ask me, "What happened?" I have no concise answer. I have spent days and weeks of concerted effort trying to encapsulate into a simple phrase the kind of life it was being married to The Mr. "We got married too fast." "He wasn't kind." "He changed when we got married." "We were just too different." But none of it covers it, and I know--because before I crossed over into this no man's land I would have done the same thing-- that while people have sympathetic feelings and faces, many of them are ultimately trying to discern what I would be like to be married to and if the break up was my fault or his. Ultimately they want to know if I "tried hard enough" and if the break was justified. It's not really the individual's fault. It's a product of a religious culture that honors lists of dos and don'ts. Divorce is a don't. I know that, but to convey the nuance of all the different layers of hell that I lived for those two years is impossible in a 20 second window, or even 20 minutes. Knowing that someone could think I would tap out because I was too tired, that I would walk away when the going got tough, that I don't have it in me to be in a healthy relationship, that I made this choice out of selfishness, or that there is any part of my soul that feels okay about breaking a covenant with God is extremely painful and insulting to me. It leaves me feeling unknown and completely misunderstood.

One of the hardest and most heartbreaking aspects of the end of my marriage was when I would show up at The Padre's house, completely distraught, bawling my eyes out, trying so hard to convey what was going on. The Padre and Lady Pants are sympathetic people, but they are (fortunately for me or I would be the last one standing in the family) very active in the church. While they have both gone through divorce, the counsel they gave me was essentially--So sorry this is happening to you. He's just a young guy. He shouldn't treat you like that, but he is your eternal companion. I hope you two can work it out. And off I would go, back to the vortex of my marriage to see again if I could make sense of it. I can't really blame them for not being able to give me what I needed in those moments. They were doing their best, I'm sure, and couldn't know the full extent of what was going on behind our closed doors, but what I needed was for someone to tell me it's okay for me to think of what's best for me. It's okay to own up to how horrible things had gotten. It's okay to put myself first this time. It's okay to say enough is enough.

Because my relationship didn't fit into scenarios one through three, there is a small part of me that refuses to die off that still says, "It could have worked out. I should have tried harder," and I don't think that's fair. I don't want anyone else to have to live with that feeling. My life with The Mr. was full of half working cars dangerously jerry rigged, camo shorts and black socks, beard hair trimmings left in the sink, a tragic lack of social skills or understanding, his inability to settle on a career path, a constant fear that he was going to get fired, pressure to have a baby when I wasn't ready, discontent at my desire to complete my education, lack of spiritual connection or involvement, and a complete dismissal of any element of me that slightly resembled an artist. In the last couple months I've seen three plays, started a student activism blog, joined the music club with a trip planned to the symphony, hand crafted a pitcher that looks like a whale, made the perfect salad bowl in ceramics, started juicing, planted an herb garden with fresh mint, made plans to launch a vintage inspired clothing line, and learned to properly capture a human likeness in charcoal.

The Mr. and I do not belong together.

He didn't hit me, cheat on me, turn to porn or pot or suddenly develop an affection for Neil Patrick Harris, but when I was with him, all that I loved about me hid itself away in a deep, dark corner of my soul for fear that it would continue to go unnoticed, unappreciated, dismissed and rejected. He was not good to me and I was not right for him. We are better off apart. As clear as God speaking to Moses, night following day or the human body needing oxygen, that is the truth. Can't that be enough?

As a culture we are endlessly looping through this idea that a list of dos and don'ts will be what saves us-- that it's somehow an all inclusive package to salvation. This mentality is how we end up criticizing those who drink coke but have no qualms serving brownies with every meal. It's why we can feel justified telling ourselves that home and visiting teaching members of our faith alleviates us of the opportunity to better the world at large or to reach out to our non-LDS community. This mentality disconnects us from the Sprit and our core knowledge of what is right and wrong. It creates a blinding hyper focus on a fear that we are somehow deviating from the list.

When we do what we do out of fear--fear of losing, fear of disappointing, fear of punishment or falling short-- it is not the same thing as when we do it out of love. The point of this existence is to become changed beings. Fear does not transform us for the better. The right thing for my parents to do in that time was to reiterate to me that the destructive elements of his behavior were absolutely unacceptable and help me remember to value myself while I was married to a man who couldn't find anything about me to love. The right thing for me while I was in that relationship was to say, "I will not allow you to treat me or anyone this way. You are not being a good husband and will not make a good father to my children. If this is the life you choose, you choose a life without me." The right thing for any of us to do in the myriad of situations life throws at us is to look inside, connect with that voice that never lies and is never wrong, and follow it--end of story. The dos and don'ts are guidelines. The voice is a lifeline. Pushing it aside for the sake of the list doesn't bring us closer to salvation, it alienates us from direct revelation. It separates us from God.