Steps…Hard Work but Beautiful Views

Have you ever climbed the steps to the top of a lighthouse? It is really tough climbing those steps. But when you get to the top, the views are beautiful. But those are not the steps I am writing about today.

Most of my girlfriends are divorced. The idea of their exes bringing a new woman into the lives of their children is scary. Every experience is different, but I can share mine…

I can remember when I came to terms with the fact that this new person was in my ex’s life, and would be in my kids’ lives. I can’t lie. I was angry, hurt, scared. How is it fair that some stranger gets to spend half of my kids’ lives with them? I am their mom. It is unfair that I only see them half the time. I was hurt that my kids accepted her into their lives. I was scared they would love her more, and forget I was their mom. Reality has a way of slapping you in the face.

I can also remember when she first started coming to watch my kids play sports. It was the hardest thing in the world. I would sit in the bleachers, quietly, with tears in my eyes. When my daughter would look up to her, in the stands, my heart sank. I felt like I was losing her. Like my fears were becoming reality.

My daughter started coming to the house with cute new clothes. Was she taking her shopping? It broke my heart to think another woman was taking on a maternal role for my kids. It was probably the scariest thing I have ever faced.

My first step to acceptance, being grateful that she was coming to support my kids in their sports. She must like my kids to bring her very young daughter out, close to bed time, to support my kids. My daughter, looking at her in the stands, means my daughter feels loved. It was a step forward.

But then my daughter said it…she called her her stepmom (they weren’t even married yet), and she called her daughter, her sister. Honestly speaking, those words were so hard to hear. The fear started sinking in again. I mean, the word mom is in stepmom, so I was being replaced, right? My insecurities said yes. It was time to regroup.

I had to step back and realize, I was in rough shape. I wasn’t capbable of having a meaningful relationship. It was clear in my insecurites when dating. All my baggage was stopping me from opening up to anyone. It was the same with my kids. My insecurity was toxic. I cried a lot. My kids had a hard time seeing me so unhappy. It was never supposed to be their job to make me happy. That was something only I could do.

At the time, I relied so much on my parents and my sister and her family. I really didn’t have anyone else. I had friends at work who I could talk with openly, but when I did talk, I would cry, and that was not condusive for working. So, I found some girlfriends…nope, a tribe. A group of other divorced women who were going through or had been through this. These friendships were so fulfilling. They brought happiness to my life. I had to step out of my comfort zone to meet them and I had to open my heart to trust them. But the reward was true happiness. I became a different person….

I became a person my kids felt comfortable to be around again. I become fun. I smiled, I laughed. By this time, my kids were both in college. But I could look back and see, I never lost them. They never replaced me. What I learned was that they did not have to replace me. Someone new was brought into their lives who respected me, as their mother. I can remember my daughter’s graduation party. Her little sister was so excited to meet her mom. Kids are funny. They can’t pretend. So, when she was so excited to meet me, and gave me an adoring look, my heart melted. All this fear of being replaced was silly. Not only was I not being replaced, but I was very much a part of my daughter’s life and the life of her sister. Not because she knew who I was, but because I was a special place where her big sister would go for a few nights. And the look she gave me, told me she felt it was a happy place. It felt pretty special.

When my daughter was struggling, emotionally, with her Lyme, it was her stepmom that had connections in State College to get her the help she needed. The reality was, my kids didn’t just have someone new around them. They had her, her daughter and family and friends around them. More people to love my kids. More people to look out for them. And I am so grateful to her for what she has given to them.

I have had friends that are in the same boat as I am. Thrilled for the kids to have someone new in their lives that loves them. Others are still coming to terms with it and still frightened. The climb up those steps is a long hard climb, but if the steps are right and you can figure out how to get to the top, believe me, those Steps can lead to something beautiful.

Some Days, I am a Porcupine

Life can deal you a pretty crappy hand sometimes. I was having a fantastic week, a little exhausted from a fun weekend, but still fantastic. Then, it hit. I left work yesterday, excited for a day off, playing golf with one of my favorite people. Days with him are always amazing. I got to my car and a flat tire. I was doing okay. Got roadside assistance and was able to take my car to the shop. They didn’t have the tires needed. Okay, I was offered cars. I was able to find a ride. But I was starting to feel overwhelmed. I wanted to be home early and get some much needed sleep. I was way overtired. It was already 7 PM.

Miscommunications and misunderstandings on my part led me to not have a car. Which led to lots of feelings. Mainly, the feeling of being alone. Since COVID became a thing, I have felt alone. It’s wonderful to see family. But there’s no more freedom. Wearing a mask stinks. I hate that feeling of not getting enough air. Of being really hot. But it’s most important to protect the ones I love. But watching everyone sit with their family, while I sit at a table alone, it’s just a reminder that I am alone. Normally, I can laugh and joke about it (doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt). But exhaustion changes everything.

I become a complete porcupine. My quills go up and I push everyone away. I’m a jerk. And I am a jerk to the people closest to me. I’m sorry for that. If anyone tries to be nice, my quills get shot out. I want to be alone. I want to push people away. And then, I back pedal. I regret it and I’m sorry for how I acted. But, when I apologize, I minimize my feelings of aloneness. Just because I’m sorry…just because I’ve gotten past it…doesn’t mean those feelings are gone. It just means I have tucked them away for another day where I am exhausted.

I am so blessed to have friends and family I can call on when I need them. In these times, it’s hard. The people I love don’t need to be put at risk and there will always be a bit of hesitation. But I know they want to help. I’m grateful that I have people that teach me that I really don’t need to be a porcupine. I know I don’t. And I try to work really hard on that. But, when I’m exhausted, I lose sight of all the things I’ve learned in the last few years. I can’t see past this insecure person I used to be. Old habits die hard.

To my mom, my sister and my favorite golf partner, I’m sorry for pushing you away and being a jerk. I’m so thankful to have all of you in my life and even more grateful that you recognize that I’m not really a porcupine. In fact, when it seems like I am shooting out quills, that’s probably when I need you the most. When I push you away, it’s not a test and it’s not meant to hurt you ever. It’s me hurting myself because my insecurities come flooding back. And I don’t want you to see that I’m not always that Wonder Woman I worked so hard to become.

Forgotten Purpose

I promise, this is not another pity party post. The last one was doom and gloom. We are all suffering through this pandemic. Social distancing and isolation (alone or with family) are tests of our spirit. Being told to stay home is difficult. My first thought was home projects. But, that requires trips to Walmart or Home Depot or Lowes. At some point, that may be essential to my sanity, but I am just not there yet, to take that risk. So, when I am home, I do some cleaning, but mostly, I stream shows and movies. And I think, there has to be more purpose to my life right now than watching TV and doing puzzles. This was a conversation I had with my girlfriends the other day, in our group chat.

One of the asked if we all felt we were losing a sense of purpose. The monotany of being home. Waking up and doing the same thing that day as you have done the past 30 days makes it difficult to see the point. But, another woman spoke up with, “just curious what you felt your purpose was when things were normal.” Wow!!!! It’s not a question I visited daily. Yes, I have thought about the things I have done in my life and thought about it. But, what this made me do is revisit what I was living my life for prior to all this.

What I learned is that what I saw as my purpose was on a much larger scale. It was very broad. For a living, I help people. I provide them comfort when they are seeking help for mental illness or substance abuse. I am a mother and a friend. I support the people I love. I did have a sense of purpose. And how are those things different than now?

For starters, I feel like I don’t always have the ability to support the people I love. We are all going through such different emotions. When I am down, I know I don’t have the capacity to actively help someone through their emotional valley. Not because I don’t care, but because I am clawing my way out too. Loss of purpose. I am considered essential at work, however, I can no longer see clients face to face and right now, very few people are calling in. The connection is not the same. Loss of purpose. My kids are in their house up in State College. I don’t hear from them very often at all. Loss of purpose. Dinners, game nights, drinks, dates (human connection)…all gone. Loss of purpose. But, are all these things really a loss of purpose, or do I need to rethink how broad my thoughts on purpose are?

Another friend very wisely said, “I have definitely had days where I had to go even smaller scale.  When you’re really challenged, and finding too many days of doing nothing, just say to yourself, what is my purpose today? Or before bed, on a bad day, plan your purpose for tomorrow.  Make it small and easily achievable, then build on it.” I have spent years working with clients and telling them to break their goals down to smaller ones. But I couldn’t see it for myself. I needed someone to tell me.

So, I have started breaking it down. What a difference that has made. Also, I have to remind myself that to carry out my purpose it may look different than a month ago. But the purpose is still there. So today, my purpose is to work from home and help those who reach out. I can also reach out to others, but sharing with all of you. My purpose as mom is to reach out to my daughter, who is celebrating her 20th birthday today. To make sure she knows that even though there are stay home regulations, just because she is out of sight, she is never out of my mind. I will reach out to my loved ones and make sure everyone is doing okay. I have a plan to do an online Zumba class, to stay healthy.

Our purpose is way bigger than today, or tomorrow or even this month. But, during a time like this, or any other time, when it’s hard to see the big picture, break it down. You do have a purpose, things may seem mundane right now, but they are not hopeless. We are not the first to go through quarantine like this. But we are the first to be fortunate enough to continue to have outside communication, with all the technology we have. I have learned that web meetings and video happy hours are absolutely no replacement for human contact. But that is what we have for now, and we are not alone in that. Our purpose, is to make the most of what we have right now. Learn from it. Take care of ourselves and to make sure the people around us are okay, when we have the capacity to do that. Be kind to yourself. If the day is bad, let others take care of you. That is still a purpose. People want to be needed. So, if you are down, you may just be helping someone else with there sense of purpose too.

So, be kind to yourselves and take care of yourselves. Stay home, stay safe. I cannot wait to see everyone when we come through this.

Fake It, Fake It, Fake It…(Screw it, I suck at faking it)

My kids told me once that they hated it when I said “fake it ’til you make it.” My thought was, pretend I am strong and eventually I will be. Don’t tell a soul what I am going through. Sweep it all under the rug and it will evaporate or dissolve. The truth is, sadness is not water, nor is it sugar. It won’t evaporate nor dissolve. I also learned that hiding my sadness created tension in relationships and increased my anxiety. My behavior would become passive aggressive and I found myself alone and just expecting people close to me to recognize something was wrong. I found myself alone and anxious.

To say that I have solved all those problems would be a complete lie. It would also be a lie to say that I don’t struggle with falling back into those patterns. It’s a constant internal battle. I find it so much easier, at the time, to say something passive aggressively, then to say the hard things, like why am I struggling. My thought process is that if I am putting it out there, I am being a drama queen or I am being needy. I never want to bring people around me down.

Basically, what I am trying to say is that my pride gets in the way. I want people to see me as strong and not as needy. It’s taken me a long time to learn the practice of humility. To come off my high horse and say, “I am struggling today. I might need some help getting through this. I might need a shoulder to cry on. I might need you to just hold space for me and hear my sadness.” So, give me a moment as dismount my horse named Pride…

It’s been a little over a week that I have been struggling. It’s no surprise, as the holiday season can be difficult for many. I have had my Christmas tree up since before Thanksgiving. There is not a single ornament up, nor are there any other decorations up in my house. I have some presents, but really no inventory of what I have nor what I need still. I have been working my day job and I have been working my Saturday job in the evenings, during the week. Between all the extra hours and the stress, my body hurts. And it’s not the good kind of hurt, like the day after a workout or after a good “playdate” with my guy. I feel as though I was run over. My legs are throbbing and my shoulders feel so tight it hurts to move. I cry at the drop of a hat and I feel like the Grinch. This will pass and I know it will. On December 24, when my family celebrates Christmas, I will feel my body sink into a chair and relax. All the stress and anxiety will leave my body. But that’s not for another 9 days. Let’s be honest. In sadness time, that is eons. Nine days of fighting my pride. Nine days of saying, “I am struggling.”

What do I need during this time? Not much. There are times of sadness that we find we need to be carried through. This isn’t one of those times for me. I just need some open space to say what I am feeling. No advice, just safe space. If I tell you, “I’m fine.” call me out on it. That shouldn’t be confused with, “I will be fine.” I am very aware that what this is is temporary. A little extra hug, but if you see a tear, ignore it. Maybe some humor. Laughter is the best medicine. Just an extra message saying hey. My texts tend to get shorter, maybe a little colder, less fun emojis. I am not mad, I am not pulling away. But I am fighting dumping everything on the people around me. Ruminating on the feelings does no good, only perpetuates them.

I am so strong and have come through so much. But I still have a ways to go. We are all works in progress. I find that I write so much about strength and happiness. I don’t want to be a hypocrite and pretend my life is all that. I have tough seasons too. We all do. We can accept those seasons and learn how to run through them. And I don’t mean take a leisurely jog. Run through those bad mother fucking times like a defensive lineman runs through the O Line to get to the quarterback. Plow through that sadness. Straight through it. Own it. Feel it. Use the help of the rest of your line and break through. Sack that sadness and do that victory dance with your teammates. If that was only the first down, get back on that line and do it again. Look next to you. You are not alone on that line. It’s a team effort. Don’t let your pride forget you have a team. Be humble. Let them carry you when you need them. Or, let them just make the space for you. Whatever you need, use your team.

Don’t fake it. Own it. Say, “This shit is hard today!” My kids were onto something when they said they hated the saying. I am learning the power of owning my emotions and expressig what I need.

Meet the Real Me

Yes, my story is real, and the strength I have gained from my experiences in life is very real. But, my story…my trauma, my anxiety…they don’t define me. I DON’T HAVE anxiety, I live my life despite it. I am NOT a victim, I have survived through trauma. There is a huge difference, and for a long time, I let both define me. What I learned is that you get stuck in those definitions and it becomes who you are. It was incredibly freeing when I learned that I didn’t have to be defined by these labels.

Growing up I was a bit of a trouble maker. Just ask my parents or my sister, especially my dad. Boy did I know how to push his buttons. I was a happy kid. I had friends in the neighborhood. We were usually bouncing from playground to playground. I loved spinning on the tire swing, at the playground behind our house, and looking up at the sky as we spun really fast. And the regular swings. Remember trying to swing so high you went all the way around the top bar? We tried, but never succeeded. I used to ride my bike down big hills with my hands to the side, feeling the wind rip through my hair. And I would steal kitchen spoons so I could dig to China in the backyard. I never quite made it. I would have always preferred bare feet to my tennis shoes. But my parents always caught me. And dancing, oh how I loved to dance. I enjoyed the feel of the bass as it ran through my body.

My sister and I would build blanket forts. They were always amazing. We would build forts with separate rooms in them. We used so many blankets. But the minute my sister made me mad, I would yank that fort down. When we went to the local elementary school to play tennis, I would pound my racket on the ground if I wasn’t winning. In elementary school, my friends and I would walk to school. But we usually walked the way our parents told us not to. In school, there were many times I was removed from the classroom because I was causing trouble.

On the weekends, my friends and I would watch scary movies. My hands would be in front of my face and I would be plugging my ears at the same time. But we loved scary movies. I was me and I never apologized for that. I always wanted to be outside and, in the summers, I would stay out as late as I could, until my mom put the front lights on. I was a free spirit. It had a way of getting me in trouble. I didn’t like rules. But, when I look back, I really like who I was.

I let my fear of what others thought of me get in the way for a very long time. I let my anxiety define me. I let myself play the role of the victim and expected others to nurture me and take care of me. I thought that was who I was. I let my experiences define me. I stopped watching horror films because they increased my anxiety. I stopped trying to dig to China and I stopped trying to make that swing flip over the bar. And…I stopped dancing. Oh how I missed dancing.

When I started living on my own, I realized, who the hell cares what others think of me. I liked the kid I was growing up. Maybe not everything was perfect about her, but she was actually pretty awesome, and she was a force to be reckoned with. I started taking yoga. While I was no longer trying to flip that swing over the bar, I was doing some incredible poses that I thought I would be way too old to do. And, I got to be barefoot while doing it. Growing up, I knew exactly how to push people’s buttons. I believe some of that was because I could read people pretty well. I do not try to push buttons anymore. Instead, I use my ability to read people to support them and put a smile on their faces. I don’t try to dig to China, but I feel very excited about my new love for travel and hope I get to take a ton of trips. I enjoy watching scary movies again (just not by myself). And dancing…I love to dance again. I go out and dance, I stay home and dance, I cook dinner and I dance. I am the person that I am and I make absolutely no apologies. If I offend someone, it’s okay. They don’t have to like me. But I won’t apologize.

This is the real me. Not my trauma, not my anxiety. I returned to the person I used to be, only, more grown up. I like who I am now. I am more than happy to share my story with others, but I realized it was important for you all to know who I really am. I do understand that a lot of my strength comes from my experiences and I don’t discount them. I live with anxiety and I am a survivor, but really, I am so much more than that.

Fall…My Favorite Time of Year…But…

Fall is my absolute favorite time of year! I love the colors, the crisp air, the crunch of the leaves when you walk on them. And don’t even get me started on pumpkin spice and apple cider.

But…I have a secret to tell…this is when I find I struggle. I am still strong. I still put a smile on my face and now I will make it through the season. But, boy do I struggle. I haven’t seen my kids in almost 2 months, it gets dark earlier, when I wake up in the morning it’s still dark, the holidays are coming up (which I tend to dread), and I really don’t enjoy my birthday much.

I have missed my kids like crazy. Talking and texting with them a couple of times a week is not near enough. And as my time with them coming home for breaks gets shorter and shorter, I just want to hang on for dear life and enjoy the moments I have with them. Being a parent, and letting them grow up is one of the hardest things I have had to do. I try to give them space, but, at the same time, I want to make sure they know I am always there if they need me. I do hope they know that.

When I was younger, my anxiety used to get so much worse when daylight savings ended. The sky looked so ominous, and I felt like the world was coming to an end. I don’t feel that way anymore. But the feelings I used to get have really stuck with me, and it’s easy to get caught up in those memories. They consumed my life for so many years and I do believe that, while I don’t have that anxiety anymore, I still anticipate it. The sunshine always seems to make everything better.

Holidays, well, we’ve all heard that holidays tend to be the toughest time of year for some people. I am no exception. It’s a time for family and love. Don’t get me wrong. I have an absolutely amazing family and so much love in my life. But it’s so hard to be with intact family units by myself. I feel pretty alone, and no matter how much I anticipate those feelings, it’s still tough.

And my birthday, well, I have not enjoyed it for a long time. My family does everything to try to make it special. No matter how much I tell myself that I know they are not trying to make it special out of pity, it always feels like my own personal pity party. My kids aren’t home to celebrate. I get a happy birthday text and a quick phone call. My co-workers recently told me I am supposed to take my birthday off and celebrate. It just struck me, what am I celebrating? Years of feeling like I wasn’t important enough to celebrate? Honestly, every year I say I am going to celebrate me. And every year, as it gets closer, I start to feel that dread and insecurity, and just decide to try to spend the day acting like it’s not even a thing.

The thing is, I think most people have a time of year they dread. Whether it’s a birthday, the holidays, another type of date, or a whole fucking season…it’s okay. Take the time to really acknowledge your feelings. I tend to invest in extra tissues and take some extra time for myself. The most important thing, during these times, is to know it isn’t forever. You see, once I get through all the dread, I start getting excited for the first good snowfall. The brightness of the snow. Watching the dog leap through it like a kangaroo. And even shoveling snow. The darkness is not here to stay and I know that. I will continue to walk through life with a smile on my face and maybe a few extra tissues (I don’t recommend tissues with Vick’s for tears), because I know the light will return and I will feel so much better. If I hide under the covers, because I am afraid of the dark, how will I know when the sun is shining.

Oh the Places You’ll Go

I used to struggle from horrible anxiety. In 2001, after 9/11, it was so bad, that I was afraid to leave my home. That was my all time low. My anxiety overpowered every other aspect of my life. But I love adventure. There are so many places I have always wanted to visit (Amsterdam, Spain, Germany, Nepal, Alaska, Australia, and the list goes on), however, I have always been afraid to fly. I actually find I’m kind of an adrenalin junkie who has always been afraid of everything around me.

A lot of counseling and one divorce later, my anxiety has completely disappeared. I cannot be certain what, exactly, caused the anxiety to disappear, but I can take a pretty good guess. The day I was separated, I felt no anxiety. I felt a lot of fear about what would be next, but no anxiety. It took some time, but I realized all my adventure lies ahead of me.

So far, my adventure has been limited, but it’s still been amazing. I’ve done things I may have never thought to do. Maybe nothing wild and crazy…okay, some things have been, but not a lot of traveling. I did go to Sedona, AZ. That was amazing. It was on my bucket list and every bit as stunning as the pictures. I’ve done a girls’ weekend with my tribe. That was amazing too. We went boating (okay, we were tied to the dock, but it was still an adventure). I drove to Disney with the kids. They helped a bit with the driving, but not a lot. I never thought I could do a road trip like that as the only adult.

So, where am I blogging from? Beautiful Montecatini, Italy. Never, in a million years, did I think I would have the nerve to get on an overseas flight. While my fear seemed to have disappeared, I wasn’t sure how I would do with knowing I would be taking an international flight. I never lost sleep worrying about the flight. I didn’t have to take medication for anxiety. So I am sitting in Montecatini keeping up with my blog and enjoying the beautiful sites of Tuscany. Florence, Lucca, Siena, Cinque Terre. In fact, what I am finding is that I am excited to come back to Europe and explore other countries. The world is open to me now and I love that.

I really don’t know what the actual cause of the anxiety was. But I truly believe that when you are in the right surroundings, sometimes that makes all the difference. Clear your mind of the what ifs and the I can’ts. Do something wild that you only thought you could dream of, not actually do. Enjoy life. Anxiety can be so paralyzing that it’s so easy to forget that we need to live. We have one shot at this life. Make the most of it. Be kind, be happy, be brave and seek out adventures.

“You’re off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So…get on your way!” -Dr. Seuss

Misery Loves Company, Happiness is Contagious

***I want to start by saying I do recognize that there are many people with mental health issues that cannot just simply change their thought process. Maybe this will be helpful and maybe not, but I am in no way minimizing your personal struggle. I’m simply sharing my journey for going through storms in my life.***

Yawn!!!!!! Did you just picture someone yawning? Do you feel like doing it now? Seriously, I am yawning now, as I am typing. If yawning is that contagious, just think about all the other energy we put out. It’s contagious too. And some people emit the energy much more than others.

When I used to work at the shelter, I always said, one person can change the entire atmosphere of the shelter. I had clients who were nice as can be, however, when I would walk out of my office and see that person, all the energy I had was sucked out of me. It’s wild how one interaction can do that. As an empath, I am able to really feel the emotions of others. Sometimes it is a gift. But I have also learned that my energy can be pretty strong too. If I’m down, the people around me will know it. If I surround myself with happiness, that will be very apparent also.

Have you ever noticed that when you sit around with friends and one starts talking negatively, most will follow suit. There may be jokes and laughing, but that underlying negativity is still there. Facebook is a great example. Someone posts something and someone argues. All the sudden, the conversation is about the negativity, not the post. People get sucked into drama. I don’t know a single person who truly enjoys having drama in their life. Yet, we surround ourselves with drama (tv shows, gossip, politics…).

I have learned that for me, it’s easy to be negative. That’s the easy way for me. And, if I am miserable, I typically find someone who will join me in my negativity. I mean seriously, if you aren’t happy, do you really want Happy Harriet coming up to you and saying, “Look on the bright side,” or “just think of the good that can come out of this.” Honestly, I would want to punch her in the face. But here’s the thing. If Happy Harriet can get past my negativity and keep being positive, that happiness will most likely start to rub off on me, and me negativity will soon turn into happiness. And, while it’s not as easy for me to let happiness take over, it feels better. So, I have tried to make a conscious effort to let happiness drive me.

In the last couple of years I have focused on keeping a smile on my face and trying to find humor in things that would normally bring me down. It has made such a huge difference in my life. I used to think I was a Negative Nancy…well, I was a Negative Nancy. But I also thought I was surrounded by negativity. It turns out I may have been bringing out the negative in the people around me.

As I started having a more positive outlook, my conversations became less and less negative. I began to laugh so much more. I forgot how good it was to lauch and let my dirty sense of humor out. I could feel weight just falling off my shoulders. And suddenly, the people around me were smiling and laughing too.

I used to say “fake it ’til you make it.” My kids hated that saying. I didn’t really believe it either, until I felt it. You can fake happiness until you find it. Happiness is so contagious, that it can put a real smile on your face. Now, I walk into a room with a smile on my face. Because, if I have a choice to bring people down or help them stand tall, I will always choose to help them stand tall.

You’re Only as Old as You Act

My ex-husband used to say this all the time. I never understood what he meant until we separated. When I was in high school, I had a good time. I went to parties, I flirted with boys, I would sneak out of the house (sorry Mom). But then I started dating my ex. It was amazing! We would go to the movies and to Harper’s Ferry. We took trips to the beach and went camping. But we were old. We went to bed before the sun went down, we didn’t go on trips with friends. It was mostly just us.

Soon, things began to shift. When I look back, they started to shift in college. I started having horrible anxiety in my 3rd year at Radford. I can remember lying awake at night terrified that I was dying. My stomach would hurt and I would just lie in bed. In class, I would almost feel like I was outside of my body looking down. I couldn’t focus. The anxiety was all consuming. I kept the anxiety to myself for months. Finally, I had to tell someone. So, in the middle of going to the bathroom (please don’t judge), I called my ex in to share my fears. He was pretty amazing about it. But something changed in me. I started feeling my self-worth declining. While mine was declining, his seemed to be increasing. I started feeling like I was lucky that he wanted to be with me, as opposed to us being lucky to have found each other. I love to dance, but we never went because he didn’t like to dance. I am close to my family and wanted to visit with extended family, however, it was always too far out of the way (although we did go way out of the way to visit a hunting buddy of his). Story behind that. The cousin I wanted to visit, she was only about an hour, each way, out of the way. She was several years older than me, but was always so good to me. I would always get excited when I knew I would see Debbie. Everyone else thought of me as a brat (I was). But she never treated me like that. I will always regret sitting back with my mouth closed when he said it was too far. Right after we separated, I started talking with Debbie about flying out to see her. It never happened. She passed away suddenly. My heart broke. I never got the chance to really tell her how much she meant to me. How amazing she made me feel. I never felt like this young kid just tagging along. She always made me feel welcome with her.

I found that I started letting my life revolve around him. I’ve already told the story. I didn’t nurture friendships and it all came crashing down when we separated.

But, while it felt like everything came crashing down, did it really? The moment my ex left the house for the last time, my anxiety disappeared. Yes, that anxiety followed me through our entire relationship. There were many sleepless nights and tears. And, I felt old. My ex had started training for marathons and taking care of himself. Me…I was too afraid that if I didn’t support him 100% and ask for no support in return, he would walk away. I was overweight, feeling old, and completely forgot who I was before I let myself be controlled.

The moment he left, the ton of bricks became feathers that floated off my shoulders. I was free. I’m not saying I was instantly happy. The separation and divorce were a horrible roller coaster that I would not like to repeat. However, I started reaching out to people and making friends. I love to dance. I found friends that would go out with me and dance. Live music…I love it. I had never been to the Tally Ho before. Not only have I been to the Tally Ho, but I got dressed up in my best 80’s gear, without being told how stupid it was. Slowly, but surely, I was finding myself again. And I began dating. And I found out that people liked me for who I really was. I don’t apologize for who I am. I don’t tend to make plans, I just do what feels right. I see myself as a free spirit. I enjoy my life immensely now. I’m having a blast. And I don’t feel like an old lady anymore.

My ex was right. You’re only as old as you act. I had to let go of that relationship to realize just how old I was acting and that my life was not over. I’m realizing now how young I am and how much living I have left to do.

The In-Between Moments

Just a couple weeks ago I went and saw Bohemian Rhapsody. What a movie! There was a moment, when Freddy Mercury was talking with his future lover, Jim Hutton. He said he was afraid of life’s “in-between” moments. Before that moment, the movie showed his wild and lavish lifestyle. On the outside, it appears as though he has everything. But the movie shows him in his mansion, with his cats, all alone. He has no idea what to do with himself. My heart broke for him. And I understood exactly what he meant by those “in-between” moments.

When I first got separated, I remember the first night my kids spent away from the house. I was alone. Sure, I had friends. But when all your friends are marriage friends, it gets pretty awkward. And these friends were not ones I felt like I could call or text when I needed someone. I never nurtured my friendships to create that type of a relationship. So, those “in-between” moments, well, they were all the time. I would get anxious just anticipating them. I felt alone, even before the house was empty, just knowing the torture of it. My family was amazing at checking in on me. But I lacked those friendships we all need. No friends were checking in on me. I felt as though I just didn’t matter.

So, I filled that alone time? I drank a lot and I went on dating sites trying to find someone to fill that void. Really, what I found, was that the dating was mostly rejection with some dates that ended badly because I wouldn’t sleep with someone on a first date. The “in-between” moments were still there, only much worse. I had the rejection of dating and still no friends to check on me and see how I was. Clearly, drinking and dating were not the answers.

On a whim, I searched for local divorce groups. I found this amazing group for women going through separation and divorce. We all had something in common. It took time to nurture those friendships, but it has been amazing. As a group, we try to get together fairly regularly. It can be tough, as everyone with children has different custody schedules, but we make it work. Normally we meet out somewhere, usually a restaurant. We’ve gone to concerts as well (and I danced so much I could barely walk the next day). I had my first get-together at my home with this wonderful group of ladies. Okay, so the get-together was supposed to be a game night, but we never opened a single game. I did a take two of game night, but still, no games were opened. But the company was great.

Apart from the group activities, I have made some amazing friends who I have come to rely on and enjoy spending time with. Some of my “in-between” moments are starting to be filled with brunches and movie nights and impromptu drinks. I got a text the other night “I’m bored. Let’s get a drink!” It was out of the blue, but it made my day. Coming home to an empty house doesn’t feel nearly as alone anymore. I don’t need to have someone on the couch next to me, nor do I have to have someone constantly texting and checking in on me. I have some pretty amazing friends, that I know have my back. And they know I have theirs. I have an amazing family and they are my rock. It has taken me a long time to realize just how much I have in my life, but I’m so grateful for all of it.

I do still have some pretty torturous “in-between” moments. And I feel sorry for myself. And I’m pretty miserable to be around. But picking myself up from that is much easier. And each and every day, I like myself even more. That’s the ultimate key to being alone. Finding yourself again and learning to like what you see in the mirror. It’s still a work in progress, I will always be a work in progress. But with the help of amazing friends and family, I make many more steps forward than I do backwards.

When those moments of torture get the best of you, reach out to a friend or family member. Find a group and make the most of it. Step out of your comfort zone to meet new people. It’s not going to happen unless you make it happen. But when it does, girlfriend, you are going to soar!!!!!!!!!