One Saturday night while in San Francisco attending a writers' conference, the man I had been chatting with said to me, "You like your lessons hard don't you?"
It took me back. I felt offended. I didn't respond. His comment had me thinking how sadomasochistic that sounded. Then I paused, took a deep breath, and realized the statement was accurate. Yes, I had to admit it. Yes, I used to like my lessons hard, and big, and emotional. There was part of me that relished the pain.
Pain was what I knew, lack was the language I spoke. I became addicted to the feelings of limitation and the cycle of relentless trying, trying for perfection, trying for love. It satisfied my need to feel in control. If I found that perfection I would find acceptance. the lack had to satisfy me in some way or else there is no way I would have stayed with my husband for 10 years. Our relationship was too hard otherwise. I am not saying I liked the blame and the shame. I simply thought I deserved it.
I felt guilty for not being enough. I knew I was not getting things right, whether it be my words, my actions or my thoughts. I just couldn't perform well enough. And since I wasn't perfect, I deserved to be punished. My despair, which became hopelessness, was my penance for never getting life "right". So my lessons were painful and in my mind justified.
At the same time, I did fight the pain and blame. I hated feeling so small and unworthy, so I would lash out at my husband and fight to have a voice. I would fight for my own dignity.
FLASHBACK EARLY 2012:
"Fuck You!! I HATE YOU!!!" I yelled at the top of my lungs, as I stomped up the stairs with lead feet.
The moment the words slipped out of my mouth I knew I was lying. I felt it in my heart. I didn't hate him. He was my husband. I wanted to love him and receive that love in return. No, I didn't hate him. Truth is I hated me.
I hated how I felt. I hated who I had become. It's had I created my life in the image of everything I ever wanted, a marriage, a house, a child together yet it was all a fucking sham. Hollow.
My 'dream life' was hell that I knew I had a hand in creating.
How do I reconcile that?
Part of me knew in my heart I should not be with him. I always knew. It was a simple knowing, that emanated from my heart, not my head. The message it just told me 'no', as if to say 'no he's not for you.' It was guidance, and I knew it, but I choose not to listen to it.
Well, I tried to listen to it. I told him 'no' for about a year, but my actions kept saying yes. "No, I don't want to go out with you", but I did anyway. "No, I don't want that gift of clothes", yet I go on the hiking trip they were purchased for.
I wasn't in alignment with my words and actions. I knew that the message said 'no', I simply couldn't find a way to follow it. No matter how I tried, there was something pulling me towards him.
It was the attention, the affection. My desire to love and be loved pulled me toward him. Yet I never felt whole. I didn't start from a place of love.
I needed him to fill in my gaps, parts of me that were missing, weak and needy. I came to him from a place of lack and he showed up and mirrored me perfectly. By this time we had been together almost 10 years. I had spent 3,500 nights betraying my soul, going to bed and waking with a knowing that my heart says 'no' to this partnership.
I felt stuck, as if I was in too deep. How could I leave after all we've been through. I mean if we have made it through this can't we make it through anything? It was the familiar thought I often used to rationalize staying with him. I mean we had already been through hell of losing a child. What could be worse than that?
FLASHBACK - July 2004:
The Hospital room smelled surprisingly sweet as I walked tentatively into the room where Riley lay. He looked so peaceful covered in a small mountain of blankets.
I sat on the edge of the bed and place my hand on his leg.
“Look at his feet” he said. The words shattered the impending silence that felt like doom.
Pulling back the heavy blankets I uncovered two feet that appeared to be two sizes to large for such a small child. “He is so warm” I thought, as I touched Riley for the first time.
The life had already been released from Riley’s body. Just a few hours before, while being held in his daddy’s arms, Riley’s spirit had made its transition.
I was told it happened during a light moment in this hospital room, a moment when the family that surrounded Riley was laughing and joking. One of those rare brakes in sorrow where a bit of light shines in, that is the moment Riley decided to let go of his earthly existence.
His essence was in the spirit realm now and his body was here on earth.
I gently held Riley’s foot and wept.
I felt relief in finally meeting the child I would have called my son. I felt grateful to be in this space, finally allowed to meet Riley. I was glad to be here to support my partner in his sorrow. I felt deep sadness for the loss of this precious child whom I did not know.
You see, I was “the other woman”, the man I was here to support was still married to, Riley’s mom. Postponing the divorce allowed Riley to have the insurance coverage that had paid for so many of his treatments.
Riley had been battling blood cancer, a form of leukemia with an 80% cure rate. Riley was 4 years old when he passed away and had been battling cancer for over half of his short life.
I was not allowed in the hospital room when Riley was alive. I was not even welcome in the waiting room on the 6th floor where Riley was being treated. It was too painful, the divorce, the leukemia, the whole situation was messy and raw.
And it’s not that Riley’s mom and I hated each other. Riley's older sister, Rebecca, had recently spent her first grade year with my partner and I in California. She lived with us, at my parents house while Riley his mom dealt with the cancer treatment in Chicago, that left him in isolation for months, with a severe risk of infection.
Although we had not met, Riley's mom and I had already created a certain level of trust and dependence upon one another.
It was a thin trust, like the brittle layer of ice that first covers a pond. You can walk across it slowly, moving carefully, step by step slowly, adjusting your weight, as you hear the ice crack beneath your feet, reminding you that the icy water is just an inch below. You were acutely aware it could all fall apart at any moment.
So this separation at the hospital was how we held our boundaries. This moment with Riley, in the hospital room, a few hours after he passed, was my one and only moment to be with him physically. It meant the world to me. To say hello and goodbye in the on moment we had together.
Can't we make it through anything? Haven't we already? I wondered as I climb the stairs after yelling at my husband. My heart felt like a storm, churning and pounding.
He began to follow me. I turned to a window on the third floor and right there in the hallway, I beat my fist against the window, hoping it would shatter. Perhaps then he would stop. I beat the window with my fist over and over again. I kept on until my hand became numb, red and swollen. I walked into my bedroom, dropped to my knees and looked at my hand and began to cry. I knew why my hand hurt. It made sense to me. I had beaten my fist against glass.
The knowing was in stark contrast to the hollow ache in my heart. I had no evidence as to why my heart hurt so badly. I knew my hand hurt because I tried to break a window, but my spirit ached and I did not know why.
I had not yet learned that there are things in life that we cannot control and trying to control what is out of your control leads to suffering. Thats what I was doing, suffering. I had learned to commit to relationships. I had learned that I had power to influence others. I had been taught by my religion that love conquers all, so I was trying hard to do the very best I could to change this situation. to give it more love even when giving more love, and giving more forgiveness wasn't a safe choice. I'd give anyway. That very action was leading me deeper towards devastation.
I kept being asked to give when I was empty, and I would find a way to give more or to open up again. Soon after i would feel as if all the love I conjured was thrown into a bottomless pit or a black hole. I was left worse than before. And that became my pattern of abuse.
We would move in cycles that lead me deeper down into depression and eventually to hopelessness. Hopelessness is an easy word to say, the word sounds harmless, but when you feel as if there is no hope it is no joke. Hopelessness to me was feeling as if the pain I knew was the only thing left in the world. the despair was all consuming. Nothing matters including my own existence. There was no point to anything. To me hopelessness is quite literally hell on earth.
I didn't stay hopeless for long, but I did visit that hell a few times in utter desperation. Hopeless was also complete surrender. I was not in control (of the things that were never mine to control) and I knew it.
My emotions confused me. I couldn't identify at the time that the anger, rage and confusion I felt were messages to me that this relationship was not a fit. I didn't realize that not being honored as an individual was abusive. I didn't really know what verbal or emotional abuse was. I didn't realize safety was necessary in a relationship. I didn't know that there was another way, so I stayed.