No weight loss or fitness update this week or next. I thoroughly enjoyed Christmas- one of the best I’ve had in a quite a while, actually- and I have no interest in worrying about the damage until I’ve had enough time to detox my body. Not with teas and herbs and things. Just with a return to my usual diet, coupled with several days of total body exercise and yoga to wring my system out and a week’s worth of regularly programmed workouts. There was a time wherein I would punish myself a bit, fitness-wise, to get back on track, but after the last several years of life-punishment, I have finally learned to cut myself some slack.
I mean, I was responsible for half the food I ate anyway, and I did a great job.
Today, I can honestly say that I did not utter a single word aloud until I sang in the bath about an hour ago. Literally. Not one word. With the children at their father’s for holiday visitation and Darrin rounding out a visit with his beloved oldest child and her family, I have been on my own today. I can even go so far as to say that the only communicating I’ve done at all is a handful of texts to Darrin just to check in off and on. Several other messages and emails are awaiting responses and have been read and shelved for now. Almost zero social media.
I believe this is what the young people would call “ghosting.”
And it’s a practice I picked up a couple years ago.
Rewinding four or five years, I can remember when being in total silence was terrifying to me. After all, I was born into a family with three children ahead of me, followed by another before my working memory really starts. We lived in a small house on a street in a subdivision full of other kids our age. I played soccer almost year-round from childhood and worked customer service on the weekend through high school. Rarely spent more than a few months between fairly serious boyfriends before I got married. After moving from my parents’ home to my husband’s apartment, I quickly produced our oldest child. She was followed by her brother and a townhouse with neighbors the following year. He was followed by his sister and house in the suburbs in the same area I had grown up in the year after. I had quickly mass-produced my own live-in village and constant “company,” if you consider a house full of toddlers companionship.
Years and years and years of noise and people and interaction. I didn’t resent it for the longest time, mistaking a great deal of it for affection and warmth. Being a young, married mother was hard enough with all the judgmentalism that accompanies the role. The more people I interfaced with, allowed into my daily life, the more of a buffer I had. However, that buffer also kept me distracted enough to continue putting some of the small, stifled voices floating around in my head into boxes, pushed to the back of the highest shelf in my closet. Any time one of the lids seemed to slide off, I quickly slammed it back on and duct taped it closed again.
No time for upsets.
As my marriage devolved (most rapidly after the birth of our youngest child), I found myself more and more unsettled. All the words from all the people with whom I had made a habit of regularly communicating started to sound empty. Tinny. Vapid, in some cases. I found myself crafting a persona that could easily be summed up in quips about parenting or a focus on fitness (which started to become a way to nurse my astoundingly low self-esteem), and in doing so, quickly limited the types of discussions I was most often having. I could quiet the mental discomfort by feeling somewhat satisfied with what I was emotionally gleaning from these interactions. The dysfunctional relationship with my husband was afloat due partially to the fact that I wasn’t being completely destroyed by it- I was receiving palliative care elsewhere in forms that counteracted the horribly toxic emotional abuse that was going on.
The plates were spinning, spinning, spinning, but I was running out of ways to keep them from falling.
A particularly nasty argument with a family member- arising from my attempts to corral my marriage and hide its toxicity behind new sets of boundaries and rules for interfacing- led to a mild breakdown that gave loud voice to all the thoughts I had tried to box away.
And that shit was terrifying.
I backed myself into the corner of my closet, door shut and lights off. Behind some sweaters I would never wear, I curled myself up into a ball and wept bitterly. Wailing, in fact, and railing against my own skin and bones while my kids played happily in another room. My head gripped on either side by my own white knuckles, I felt as though all those boxes I had taped shut were falling off the shelves all around me, all over me, spilling my own muffled fears and concerns about the floor. I couldn’t stand the noise, couldn’t make sense of all my own truths.
The father of my children found me and took up leaning against the door frame with a look of frustration. To him, I think it appeared like an over-reaction. Theatrics. I tried, between gasps and snot, to explain to him the enormity of what just happened (namely that trying to keep bad things compartmentalized led to a huge blow up that just de-compartmentalized a bunch of other bad things), but we never did communicate on the same plane. My words carried no weight, and I felt completely inept, shattered, and overwhelmed. He gave up and summoned the most support he could find in his body to watch the kids so that I could shower, get myself straight. I might as well have been shouting into a vacuum.
I wanted to launch myself back into my domestic life with my children, to make myself feel better by focusing all of my energy and emotion into their soft, pudgy bodies. I wanted the raising of them to be enough for me, to magically heal my hurts and give my life meaning. I wanted to snuggle them all close to my face and feel the love and connectedness that was beginning to be notably absent in my sphere of existence.
I wanted my motherhood and my identity as relational to those in my sphere to set up some clear definitions in life so I could feel purposeful.
But when I tried, when I allocated all my efforts toward an external focus to find internal peace, it didn’t work.
For years leading up to this, and, indeed, through the thick of it, I had a very good friend who was gifted with quite a bit of patience. This person was direct like I so wanted to be (and later found preferred to be, as frankness feels much more natural to my personality) and had a gift for sifting through various sorts of wreckage in the world. The tough love was a stabilizer, a sounding board, a constant in my life which seemed to regularly get turned upside-down and inside-out. The more often we communicated, the more diverse and in-depth the conversations started to become. Though they often had very little to do with the details of my life, it was comforting to have someone walk down those winding mental pathways with me. Over time, my friend was my co-conspirator in the explorations of all the gray spaces in life that fascinated me while also becoming an adept mentor in discernment for the very real crises in my life. Together, we opened and sorted all the boxes and all the noise I cared to address, putting them neatly in the appropriate places.
I was finding myself. In things, because of things, around things, away from things, above things…as if we had dropped me into a four-dimensional space and charted my exact location. As years wore on and it became apparent that I was headed for the climax of my current plot, I felt confident that the work this dearest friend and I had done had set me up to manage well enough. We had found my voice, and the more of it we both heard, the more satisfied we were in its weight. While I was anxious and slightly frightened by the knowledge that I was likely looking down the barrel of a divorce (which, for a mother who had not worked in six years, had no degree, and no means of supporting herself or her children, meant significant and difficult upheaval), I knew- and was often reminded- that one cannot live with one’s head in the sand.
During this time, I was also keenly aware that each epiphany led to the creation of new behaviors. My social (media) life slowed down quite a bit and narrowed in its scope. My long work outs were as much about self-esteem as they were for legitimately training my body for challenges or theoretical situations, indicative of my new, powerful mindset. I set out to learn new skills, ranging from survivalism to weapons systems to religious interpretation and discernment to the psychological development of children, all based on a new directness and intentionality. I began bluntly advocating for myself, delineating clear lines in the sand for my personal treatment. I read books covering a rather large scope of topics and view points, and I picked up the parenting slack to fill the gaps where the father of my children was often missing.
It felt like a Renaissance as much as it felt like preparations to ride out a hurricane.
And while I was self-assured enough to clear out my buffer zone, I was still terrified of the stillness when it wasn’t filled with either purposeful pursuits or the presence of my darling friend, who, despite having been so integral in growing my independence and sense of self, had also become a routine escape in their own right. Who else knows how to handle you so well? the joke went, and given that my blooming seemed to have taken place in the safety of that shared sunshine, it was hard to argue that anyone could- save my sister, on whom I had leaned (and still lean) for both parenting and personal support, and who also witnessed the growth of my character with similar respect and deference.
I was so much better, so much stronger, in quite a few ways, but akin to the way roses may bloom beautifully as they climb up a trellis, they’re still bound to and structure-less without it. My life was on a collision course we could clearly see, but beyond the impact, it was impossible to say how things would shake out. While the harbor we had metaphorically created provided still waters for people like us (it wasn’t all about me- my friend lived through a few things to which I could contribute levels of peace), a harbor is meant to be a temporary stay. It took me longer to come to this conclusion, and so when I was described as “a boat with no sail,” I was initially wounded. I remember trying to argue that I would soon sail away on my own course that I could control, that I knew I couldn’t always be docked in the harbor, but that we would always have it, just in case.
I missed the point.
After the decision to divorce was made, and slightly before the father of my children moved out of the house, I remember listening to The Way We Used To and finally catching on to one of the last truths I had not addressed.
We must learn to venture alone in our personal evolutions, to build for ourselves, of ourselves. Even our most beloved guides only know part of the way. At some point, trying to sync personal journeys may end in one partner not arriving in the destination designed for them, and so we must listen to the queues and wish them well when the time comes, though we can hope to see them again further on. The only constant guide is a divine one.
My whole life had been a changing of hands from one “caretaker” to the next. I had not built for myself. I had determined my route based on the noise in the buffer around me. I had failed to realize that the buffer I actually needed was a stillness to discern for myself and travel alone. “No man is free who is not master of himself.”
I needed to address my fear of loneliness, learn to comfort myself, and build a life that was truly my own. In so many ways, I had missed or refused to see the signs that my evolutionary journey was on its outset and needed to divert away from my crutch of an accomplice whose own way I was beginning to impede. Looking at the situation with broader strokes, I think this is something humans do naturally. How many times do we latch on to someone (or something) to help us through a difficult time, and then wonder why things aren’t working the way they used to after some time has passed? How much of our buffer zones are filled with noise and superfluous distractions? Even our most cherished and dearly loved buffer-buddies may, at some point, require an exit.
And in order to actually find my own purpose, this meant I really did have to cast off alone and face true silence.
I spent several nights, in the months that followed, battered by the ticking of the clock on the living room wall. Broken by the emptiness of my house once the children started spending scheduled visitation days with their father; discouraged by several interviews that went nowhere, leaving me still financially beholden to a man who had already publicly moved on; and bereaved from the loss of my favorite confidant, I wanted so badly to scream, Mulligan! and undo everything I had done. Surely, the pit I was living in was more do-able than where I was, and I would have forsaken a great many steps toward progress to find my friend in the harbor again, waiting for me.
I took up a thousand trends for about forty-five seconds before feeling like a ludicrous coward and abandoning them.
I tried working out, only to be further upset because, as I quickly learned, I can’t work out for shit when I’m emotionally off-kilter.
On and on, I both attempted to embrace the silence, learning to deal with myself and sort my own thoughts, and tried to beat the silence into submission. Forward- I learned how to balance productivity with rest. Back- I’d get emotionally overwhelmed from the kajillion difficulties I was facing and allowed myself to be distracted by pointless text conversations, company I wasn’t really up for, or the attention of men who were never going to fit. Forward- I started to recognize patterns of behavior and created better coping mechanisms. Back- I heard something/saw something/felt something that put me back into a late night revelry, and I cried all the way to work. Forward- I learned not to force quiet time into any sort of rubric, but just to go with my inclinations, unapologetically, and feed my soul. Back- I purposefully read/creeped things not conducive to acceptance.
I alternately wanted to high-five myself for doing something I knew was responsible and necessary to my functionality as an adult…and eat an entire bag of Snickers while crying into one of my cats while listening to Kings of Leon.
Fast-forward to the present, and while I have my occasional set-backs, in the aftermath of the destruction of my former life and confrontation with true alone-ness, I came to terms with my purpose and learned to “do small things with great love” while quietly and steadfastly working my way there. I have finally learned to appreciate days of utter silence and utilize them to check in with myself, to right the sails I have since fashioned. Though my mind is ever-active- a pot boiling over, at times, with thoughts and ideas- the opportunities for introspection, discernment, and accountability have aided me in mastering myself and enjoying my own company. Additionally, I have learned to enjoy company and guidance through its natural duration and not to mourn its moving on, as we are all evolving into our own somethings. I would be remiss to say that this wasn’t a messy process (because it super freakin’ was), but the battle has been worth the spoils I found.
On the mornings I wake up to silence now, or in the hours that are occasionally gifted as stillness, I just think gently to myself, It’s time to begin, and say hello.