July 22, 2017

Hoppin' John

There's a tradition in the South to eat a stew of black-eyed peas and collard greens on New Year's Day. It's called Hoppin' John, and it supposedly brings a year of good luck and prosperity.

This year on New Year's Day, my son and I were in the South Carolina upstate, excited to walk the first of our 5K hikes for the year. My ex-husband was with us, and his welcome had been worn out long earlier. I was beyond ready for him to leave, to get back to what had become the regular, normal routine for Noah and me.

At the race start/end point, someone brought out a little crock pot full of Hoppin' John and invited everyone to partake. I took a paper cup and ladled a bit in; I'm not much for superstitions, but I'm also not one to avoid any opportunity to turn tough things around.

2017 has had its share of downs, but certainly more and more ups as the days and weeks pass. We went camping and hiking and explored so much of South Carolina, I finally got an offer for a new job that got me out of the South and out of a very difficult work environment, we got to see family, we got to go on the roadtrip of a lifetime with my mom, and now we're here in California.

California never fails to surprise me.

...

I met someone.

I've been thinking a lot about how to talk about this all, but I have struggled to come up with the right words. Me! Someone who can talk - and write - on and on and on ... and I'm at a loss. I try to be poetic, and I lose my entire vocabulary. I'm really amazed still, entirely in disbelief. Dizzy with excitement and hope, but also entirely sober regarding the realities of the bigger picture situation of my life. I'd like to think I've found a lovely balance of cautious optimism.

Daniel is incredible, with the sense of the word of being unbelievable. I keep finding myself stopped in my tracks, amazed that this is real, this is happening, this isn't a dream. I keep wondering if it's some sort of universal karmic re-balancing, because everything about him is entirely opposite of the man I divorced last fall. Kind, compassionate, respectful, affectionate, caring, supportive, sweet, gentle - just absolutely everything I have prayed for.

I promise, though - I'm staying level-headed. It's quite hard, because we get along amazingly well and our personalities are a terrifically complementary fit. One day at a time, I keep saying. Enjoy where we are, don't stress about anything but here and now.

Daniel knows I used to be heavy, and that then I wasn't, and that now I am again. And he's inspired by my ability to reach a goal I've set, and he encourages me to pursue my healthiest and best self - on my own terms. He doesn't make me feel like a failure for regaining weight, but rather, like someone who is capable of remarkable things. He sees the best in me here, now, as I am, rather than seeing what I could be if only I x, y, z...

I'm disoriented by being treated well, by having someone want to hold my hand and listen to every word of my story. I'm still in awe of his incredible respect and understanding - he knows I am incredibly hesitant about a physical relationship, that I was badly hurt by poor decisions in my last relationship and am exceptionally cautious to not repeat them. Is this alright? he asks before placing his hand on my back as we stand together at the grocery store counter, trying to decide on lunch.

Our dates have been wonderful - iced chai and talking for hours at a local coffee shop, a Mexican grocery store for produce and spices before cooking lunch together, a 3.75 mile walk and then playing a board game ... always fun, with terrific conversation and no pressure for anything other than an adventure.

Daniel knows I have a four-year-old, but they have not yet met - I am being very cautious with this as well. I will introduce them sooner rather than later - I want to make sure they get along with each other before I get too attached - but there is no pressure either way from him. He is very excited to meet the little boy I am always raving about, but reassures me that he wants it to happen when Noah and I are ready. He knows we are a package deal, and that Noah is not negotiable to me. He understands what reactions Noah may have, and he wants to make the introduction as smooth as possible. Noah knows I have been seeing someone while he is at school, and that he's a good friend of mine, and that he would like to be a good friend of Noah's as well.

I have no worries at all that they'll get along very well - my greatest concern is with Noah reacting to having to share the attention that has, as long as he can remember, been undivided - focused solely on him. I don't want to thrust either of them into too much too soon - something fun and low-key at first, then seeing how things go from there. One day at a time. One day at a time.

Daniel knows nearly everything about my ex-husband - I'm sure there are still stories to tell, but the heaviest secrets have been shared, and his reactions have made me intensely emotional. It pains him that someone in the world would talk to their wife that way, hurt her that way, make her feel so worthless ... and it's harder still for him to believe that it happened to the girlfriend he is incredibly smitten with. I told him about Matthew coming back for the first time after our separation - I asked if we were sure divorce was what we wanted, if we wanted to give therapy a try and see if we could work things out ... and his response was to tell me that being married to me made him want to kill himself. And Daniel cringed, and held me close, and let me cry as I told him, I keep waiting to wake up, because I'm still recovering from this traumatic relationship - I still struggle to believe that I deserve love, that someone could possibly want to be with you. I want to be with you, Mary. I want to make you as happy as he made you unhappy - and more, he says to me.

He knows I've been hurt, and instead of exploiting vulnerabilities like my ex-husband did, he wants only to help me heal, recover, and grow. And the tears come back, because I just can't believe that this is my life. And he lets me feel my feelings, but is also there to dry the tears.

You can count me among those who are happy to see you feel cared for, and you absolutely are. There's so much more that I want to say than I have the words for right now. You are amazing, you make me feel incredibly lucky and happy, and I want so much for you to be happy too.

I'm keeping my feet firm on the ground, which is incredibly hard when all my heart wants to do is dance all the time. I'm being careful, but also enjoying so much for the first time - sweet words, a hand that wants to hold mine, tender kisses on my forehead and cheek. It's unlike anything I've experienced before, in the most incredible way.

I'm so, so happy to finally be in the place I was meant to be all along - the little city in California, of course, but also - just right here, in this glowing moment of joy.

February 17, 2017

Helpless

A series of health problems over the last decade or so have my dad mostly confined to a motorized chair, and in dialysis three times a week.

My dad has a lot of physical health issues, but the greatest concern is mental - the trauma of near-constant serious health issues and hospital visits has translated into a lot of depression, and he is from a generation (or maybe just a particular family) where mental health care has always been stigmatized. The sixth of nine children, two of his brothers were diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in the 1970s, and another committed suicide in the mid 90s. What should be regarded as necessary self-care has instead been regarded as something negative, that if you need *that kind* of help, it's something bad, it's a failure.

Before his heart attack in 2006, my dad was diabetic. He didn't properly take care of himself, which lead to larger issues later on, neuropathy in his legs, loss of fingers. It's been hard for him to go through that, and it's been humbling, as his child, to realize the humanity of your heroes. Because before he was diabetic, he was strong. He was always big, but he was an athlete. Our childhood home had a portrait of him as an all-star football player hanging in the hallway. He was the strongest man we knew, and we never knew there was any struggle underneath.

In school, my dad's contribution to the athletics department were significant, so his teachers were happy to pass him along, with whatever grades were needed to maintain his position on the football, basketball, track and field teams. Street smart, athletic - but he deeply struggled with literacy. When his first child was born - me - he started reading to me from day one. He wanted better for his baby than he'd had for himself, and he knew this was the key. By three, I was reading on my own - an anecdote I'd heard my whole life but only now, as the parent of a three-year-old, do I truly understand how amazing the feat was.

I was the first in my family to go to college, and my dad's pride in my achievements has never faltered. When I got an interview for a job in California, before the interview even happened, he jumped right in his pick up truck and headed to my apartment in Chicago - "If you get the job, we'll move you out there; if you don't, we'll have some adventures in the city." Less than a week later, it was me and him, headed west with a truck full of boxes and powerful blind faith keeping us positive. Other than an address, we had no idea what we were driving into - but his belief in me was enough.

In my apartment in California, there was an exposed bit of nail in between the kitchen and dining area. One day I noticed a trail of blood drops through the house, and realized my dad had stepped on it but hadn't noticed, he hadn't felt it. He promised he'd see a doctor when he got back to Connecticut, and headed out a few days later. That was one of his last times driving, and the beginning of the end for his physical mobility.

I've never stopped feeling guilty about being away from my family. It's a little ironic, I suppose: they are proud of my academic and career achievements, while I always feel like a terrible child and sibling for the fact that those very achievements have brought and kept me so far away from them.

Days like today, in particular, that pain is heavier.

Today, my dad is in the hospital. He's been very lucky to have been in my sister's good care for the last year and a half, and the number of hospital visits has dropped drastically. What used to be a weekly occurrence is now incredibly rare. But yesterday, with a chill, and the feeling of a cold coming on, he left his room in the middle of the night to sit in the living room closer to the wood stove. Three feet away, he said, but when he woke up a little while later, his legs were burned. He hadn't felt it, because of the diabetic neuropathy.

He called me, and very quickly fell into tears. This may be it for me, he said.

He's already homebound most of the time, unable to drive himself around. While half his week is spent in dialysis, it feels like the rest of his time is just spent waiting for the next treatment. The amputated fingers make doing many things for himself difficult or impossible.

If I lose my leg, he said, and his voice trailed off before drowning in sobs. I have no life. I have no friends. I don't think I can do much more of this.

I'm devastated. The man who dropped everything to get me to California feels helpless, and I'm trapped in South Carolina. I can't just run up there and be at his side. I can't help my siblings with the care our parents need. I can't be there long-term to get him out of the house once in a while.

The strongest man I know feels terminally helpless, and I can't save him. It makes me feel helpless, too. And guilty. And sad. And angry. And a million complicated and painful things.

January 18, 2017

Renewal

Today is a really special day. A few months ago, I'd wondered about something ... quickly did the research ... then jotted down "January 18, 2017" in my planner.

Today is that day.

Today is the day that I've officially been apart from Matt longer than we were married.

614 days, or just over a year and eight months. Not very much time, but each set of 614 felt heavy and challenging for its own reasons.

Today is a happy day, and a sad day, and a strange day. An odd one to celebrate, I'll admit. But it's a good thing in the bigger picture, I think. It's nice to look at the time we were together and see the good and the bad, and to see the person I've become and the life I've established since then. It's interesting to look at how I fell apart, and how I've worked to piece myself and my life back together.

I saw a poem on someone's blog or Instagram a while ago, and never forgot it:

today my professor told me
every cell in our entire body
is destroyed and replaced
every seven years.

how comforting it is to know
one day i will have a body
you will have never touched.

Incredibly accurate. It's been such a deeply reassuring thought the past few months. We're not quite at seven years, but the significance of this date at least has me feeling fresh and open and optimistic.

January 13, 2017

Falling off

"You're falling off?" a co-worker said to me, as we walked into the office building this morning.

I didn't know what she meant, and in the moment between hearing it and asking for clarification, a million possibilities flooded my mind.

She can tell, I know it.

She can tell I'm struggling.

Falling off the wagon.

Having a really, really lousy week.

I'm wearing jeans and a tee shirt today, not terribly professional but I've spent the week slung between exhaustion and depression, neither of which helps the other, and I've avoided household chores in favor of early bedtimes as much as possible. This is what I'm wearing today because this is what was clean, and what feels comfortable after a few days of complete indiscretion as far as my eating goes.

I tried remembering mantras, I tried keeping my goals in mind. But, like I explained to my dad last night on the phone - in these depressed moments, I don't care about anything other than right now. I can't just go to the gym, because I've got my son at home with me. I can't just have a drink to take the edge off, because I've got an anxiety since the separation/divorce that as soon as I have a drink, there will be an emergency and I won't be able to drive or process the information properly. It's illogical - I've never been much of a drinker, I wouldn't plan on being deeply intoxicated. But I'm scared of even just one drink alone these days, so it's easier to stay sober. (Perhaps, also, I've got a deep concern about what one drink could lead to, knowing my addictive tendencies.)

It's perplexing to a lot of people how someone could lose a significant amount of weight and regain most, all, or more even. Those people wondering might not understand the significant difference between the general discomfort of a few pounds to lose, and the larger issues that cause other people to be in the position to need to lose significant amounts of weight to begin with. With my own experience, and those of people I've talked to, it's not about the food. It's never about the food. It's about trauma - small or significant - and needing to find a way to cope with it. Some people choose drugs. Some choose alcohol. Especially when the traumas are rooted in childhood, some people choose food.

I'm an eater.

I eat because it feels like love, it reminds me of joy, even though the feelings are fleeting. I eat because it's something that gets me the high feeling without the cost or consequence of drugs or alcohol. Once upon a time, I used to get that joy from running - but that's also out of the picture right now, in a cyclical problem I'm struggling to get out of. Right after the separation too, I went for a little run, then had a major panic attack worrying that if I got injured, I'd be in terrible trouble. With no partner, no family, and no close friends in our town, an injury that kept me from driving would be rather serious. So for a few weeks after he left, we stayed home a lot - and not just home, but inside. I didn't wrap my son in bubble wrap, but I probably would have, if I'd had any on hand.

Eventually, we got back outside. Eventually, I started walked, and I've lightly jogged a few times since then. But I still have so much of that anxiety. And right now, in the week after my ex-husband retreated to the midwest, I am feeling back in that post-separation mood.

He stayed too long, he stayed too close. And I didn't have enough recovery time between his visit and the start of my new semester, which is difficult and challenging even without having him around over the break when I needed to rest after my fall courses and prepare for my spring ones.

Every time he visits, I fall back into this depressed funk and remember exactly why I was so eager to leave him. And after he leaves, I'm always upset with myself for not immediately snapping out of it - like, he's gone, so get it together, girl.

But every time he leaves, it's like the first time. Like the Big Leave. And I feel that anxiety again: I'm alone here. I have no help here. I am overwhelmed with no end in sight. I don't get a break from this. I am anxious 24/7 with no one to share the burden or even to cry to.

I need - need, need, need - I need to be gentle to myself. I'm good at recognizing patterns in my life and my behaviors, and I think recognizing that the struggle of his visits doesn't instantly end with his departure is a pretty significant breakthrough for me. It'll help me in the future, so I can set up a system for recovery that anticipates these feelings and my responses to them. For this week, I am taking a few more deep breaths, do my best today, weigh myself in the morning, and start a fresh new week from there.

Deep breath, and I looked at my co-worker. "I'm sorry, what?"

"Falling off ... I mean, you look like you've lost a bit of weight! It's falling off."

Not recently, but yes. And again, soon.

January 6, 2017

Cultivate

A few weeks ago, returning from one of our hiking trips, I was extra grateful for Noah's tendency to fall asleep on rides home. It was an hour or so between the park and our apartment, and I cried most of the way back.

There are now (and I suspect there may always be) the ghosts of people I've known - friends, and otherwise. Songs I can't break from associating with a person, or places I've forever connected with someone. People who came and went in my life for one reason or another, but who have forged permanent residences in my memories.

On road trips, without question, I think the most about Matt. That was kind of our thing - which is silly to reminisce about, kind of, because I didn't usually love them until they were done. Driving to Montreal with a six week old baby was honestly the last thing I wanted to be doing at that time, but once we got home and could rest, the sentiments softened.

We put thousands and thousands of miles on the road together, and between that and his loves of history and maps, it's hard not to think softly of him and admit that this journey to visit all the state parks and historic sites is something he would have absolutely loved.

On that drive home, I cried. Even with how angry I am with him so much of the time, there's still a lot of grief and sadness. And I resolved to take him along with us on our Christmas cabin camping excursion - to share something I knew he'd love, but also ... just to share something again.

I was certain it was a dead relationship but still, I felt this need to hold a mirror up to its mouth and make sure - really, truly sure - it had ceased breathing. After Thanksgiving, I had a lot of doubt in my mind - I wanted to know what he meant, what he wanted ... and I wanted to make sure I knew what I wanted, too.

I know, it's as strange as it sounds. This man hurt me. This man betrayed me and lost my trust. This man was an even worse father than he was a husband. We'd had a simple divorce on paper but it came at the end of an incredibly different year and a half of separation. But I just ... needed to be sure.

Today, a long - too long - visit later, and I'm sure - really, truly. Ending things with him was the best possible decision for me, and for my son.

Don't get me wrong - Christmas was really nice. It was nice being all together, it was nice camping in the cabin and kayaking and hiking. But a week and a half later - a road trip later - too many nights in a hotel and too many meals at restaurants later - and I remembered why I was so anxious to end things between us.

It just wasn't fun. It doesn't always need to be fun in a relationship, but the parts that are supposed to be ought to be enjoyable. And with him, even the "good" times didn't feel all that good. It reminded me of when we first moved to South Carolina and we decided to visit (and blog about) all the mini golf places in Myrtle Beach. And it was fun at first, but after a while, it was frustrating. He just wanted to rush through and get them all done as soon as possible. The last one we visited, I putted first, and I was walking over to wait by the hole when he putted. I wasn't even off the green and he hit his ball. I was carrying Noah and could've slipped on the ball - but of course, he hadn't considered that.

We went to a couple of state parks, and it felt just as rushed. It wasn't enjoyable the way it was when it's just me and my little guy. His father's impatience and quickness to become frustrated was noticeably upsetting Noah, who likes to poke around and stop every few steps to pick up an interesting looking stick or notice a little detail that you might only see if you were under four feet tall (and under four years old).

The next few days, we just drove around - "sightseeing," but it was foggy weather and we were just putting miles on the car for no reason. Noah and I just kind of sat in the car frustrated while Matt drove and drove. When we *did* stop, I just wanted to eat myself numb. I didn't drink enough water. I slept like garbage. And I was just a depressed mess.

There are a lot of other details, little things that were frustrating and upsetting, but it's not worth getting into. It's just like our marriage - it wasn't really anything big that ended the relationship, but it was the sum of a million little issues that snowballed into a giant mess of frustration and despondency. I just feel like a naïve fool for thinking he could have possibly said something and meant anything other than his usual something selfish.

The best news in all of this is that after a few tough days with him ... he retreats back to Chicago and we get our lives back to normal here. With him here, I remembered how every day felt like that - road trips and family vacations, but also grocery shopping and dinner and weekend afternoons ... every day with him, I felt like garbage. I remembered how lousy it felt to be with him, and I was immediately so grateful for all the tears and frustration of 2015 and 2016 that ended up with a signed divorce and that incredible feeling of liberation.

Last year, I posted a New Year's post over on my old blog - it was the first post after an extended divorce/fear-based silence, and I was standing up for myself and my space. I'd regained my way up to 332 pounds and was just angry - depressed, sad, frustrated, disbelieving, and angry.

I decided my word for 2016 was reclaim - to take back my space, and to take back my joy.

It wasn't a perfect year in a lot of ways, but I couldn't be happier with the progress I made. I got divorced, which was an incredible relief after a long and challenging separation, and finally my finances are on the mend. My last weigh-in had me at 279, and even though I'm back up a few after our long weekend of traveling, that's a 53 pound loss for the year. I visited 16 parks with my son, and besides the great exercise, we've made terrific memories and really enjoyed our adventures.

I've got big goals for 2017, believe me. My word for the year is cultivate, because as much as 2016 was about recovery and regaining myself, 2017 will be about growth and progress.

My goals for 2017:
  1. Keep a one-line-a-day journal to remember the good in every day.
  2. Continue on our Ultimate Outsider journey.
  3. Keep working on being a more patient mom.
  4. Find a new place to live.
  5. Get to onederland.
It's a simple list, but also not - onederland is a big goal, since I'll need to lose about 85 pounds this year to get there. BUT, I did 53 last year, and most of the year I wasn't even actively losing. This year, I want to cultivate my healthiest self, and that means committing to making choices consistent with my goals.

Moving is also a big one. I don't know if it'll be out of town, out of state, out of the country ... I've applied for a few jobs all over. But there just aren't a ton of positions in my field right now, so most likely, we'll be staying put in South Carolina. But I just want to downsize our space - we're still living in the apartment we lived in as a family of three, and I want to get rid of the ghosts in the apartment, too. I want less space so I can declutter my house and my brain a little bit.

Patience is an ongoing challenge. I feel guilty so often because I get frustrated or snap at Noah - when it's early morning and we're trying to get out the door and he's dragging his feet, when it's bedtime and he asks me his millionth question to postpone sleep ... and I want to work on snapping less and vocalizing more. Being firm but calm, even when I'm tired, even when I'm sick, even when I am angry at his father for never being here to help. It really, really sucks that I never get a break or a helping hand. But that's not Noah's fault, so I need to respond to my frustration in a way that isn't taking it out on him.

Keeping up with the hiking and the line-a-day journal - those will be easy, for sure. Good ones, fun ones. Enjoyable ones! I'm very excited about 2017 and all its potential for growth.

What about you? What have you resolved for 2017? What's your word for the year?