I’m wide awake, and not just because I’m still not sleeping (see previous post).
Despite the lack of sleep, (yes at least one of my children is still in, or coming into, my bed at night), despite my exhaustion, I’ve never felt so awake.
Because in the midst of all the struggle of the last few years – caught up in the sandwich years of losing and caring for my mum, supporting my dad, raising my girls, figuring out a career, dealing with a challenging marriage and now finally dealing with the end of that marriage, I have emerged from the bomb wreckage rubble with slightly frazzled hair and a slightly more bewildered look my face, but with a clearer view.
I have always struggled with the need to fix and care for others. I still want to do that, but now I know I can no longer do it at the expense of myself.
This year, in the midst of terrible grief, and emotional upheaval, when instead of having some much need duvet days, I painted furniture, decorated rooms, wrote, worked, worried. I have tried to negotiate the end of a marriage while trying to keep together a family. I thought I could do it on my own. I thought we could have a family without a marriage. But what I want and what I need are two different things.
I have tried to write a book. I have written a book! But it’s been like the homework that never ends… always there at the beginning, middle and end of every day.
I have tried to care for my Mum and support my Dad.
I have tried to keep myself together while my world is falling apart.
I have tried to wrap my children up in love and protect them from all the stuff that is hurting them, while trying to parent alone and pick up their endless piles of dirty knickers and make endless meals and packed lunches, and it’s been a real challenge. They’re emotional, I’m exhausted and sometimes there have been tantrums. They’ve been upset too.
Like many women my age, I grew up being told I could ‘have it all’. And so I strived for that. But like many women my age, really, all I ended up with was the feeling that I was ‘doing it all’. So what I have realised is who wants to have it all? All the work? All the responsibility? All the guilt? All the pressure?
So this year, I feel I have been going through an awakening (perhaps it’s a deranged, sleep-deprived hysteria?). Either way, as I hit the half-way point of my life, coming out of a marriage, I am coming into my own.
I realised that having it all, was not the answer if it meant doing it all. I have been giving it all, but giving it all away. I was giving nothing to myself.
So over the course of the last few months I have armed myself. I have relied on my friends and family and allowed them to look after me more than I ever have done before. It was hard for me to do because I am normally the carer, but it feels good. But I’ve gone a step further. I cannot do it all alone. I cannot fix everyone else, care for everyone else, if I don’t find a way to fix me, and care for me.
So I found a wonderful solicitor who’s first words were “I will protect you” – words I haven’t heard in a very long time. I no longer need to negotiate this separation by myself.
I have an amazing counsellor who tells me “care for yourself” – words I really need to heed. I no longer have to keep it all to myself.
And I have found a parenting expert (who skypes me from New Zealand!) who says “here are some tools to help you help your girls” – words that would allow me to finally sleep at night (if I didn’t have so many visitors). I no longer have to figure it all out by myself.
Helping my children through this time has been a big job. And someone is now guiding me and helping me reach them and it is making all the difference. It is a revelation. Instead of shouting and being the Commandant, I am learning to openly communicate with the girls in a way that gives everyone a voice. I love my new voice. It is the kind loving voice I always knew was there. It is the voice of my adult self, and not my inner small child self. It’s the voice my children need. I still have at least two children in my bed every night. But for my eldest, now that I understand her fear, I have told her she can stay as long as it takes. I’m going to write a whole blog about peaceful parenting soon, because it is amazing – not just for them, but for me.
My own counselling has helped me enormously. I now think about my feelings rather than avoid them. If I’m sad, I don’t run away from being sad. I allow myself to be sad. When I feel good, I’m not afraid of that either. I try to live every minute of feeling good. And most importantly, now when I feel uncomfortable and not able to be myself, I ask myself why. Its amazing how much I have been doing that does not make me feel comfortable. So I don’t anymore. It is such a relief.
It’s my 11th wedding anniversary today. I’m a bit sad, but not as much as I thought. Last year I was still married but miserable. This year my marriage is over and I’m sad but not miserable. In fact when I think about this day 11 years ago, I mostly think about (and miss) my Mum, and what a gorgeous morning we had getting ready. I think about my best friends and my dad and my brother that morning, all drinking champagne with me. I think about staring out at the crowd and seeing so many people who loved me. And they all love me still. I have learned a lot about myself over the last 11 years, I have three amazing girls, and all those people who made that day special are still making my life special. I’m not going to focus on what I’ve lost. I’m going to focus on what I’ve gained. This is me and my Mum 11 years ago. How lucky was I?
Nobody loved me like my Mum, but now that she can no longer care for me, I have to start caring for myself. In the midst of parent-care, child-care, home-care, work-care, ex-husband care, I am finally learning about self-care.
And so I’m investing in three areas of support: legal advice- someone who will take sure I am protected and safe; a parenting expert who will guide me to make sure my children are protected and safe; and a counsellor to make sure I know how to make my self protected and safe.
I’ve reached the middle of my life, but I’m not having a mid-life crisis – I’m having a mid-life opportunity. C.S. Lewis once wrote: “Nobody ever told me that grief felt so much like fear.” I have felt so much fear over the last few years. But I’m done being afraid now.
Tonight I will share the evening with friends and we will drink wine and be merry. Eleven years ago I got married. Tonight I am still surrounded by love and friends and I am not afraid.