Strong

A woman is like a tea bag.  It’s only when she’s in hot water that you realize how strong she is.  ~Attributed to both Eleanor Roosevelt and Carl Sandburg

In one of the highest compliments ever paid to me, my mother once told me I am the strongest person she knows.  I have never forgotten it, and never will.  I have repeated this to myself thousands and thousands of times, as a matter of survival.  I can withstand anything, I am strong.

This compliment has been repeated to me by other people, in different forms, but with the same central meaning.  My friends tell me with admiration how strong I am to have endured things I have endured in silence for years.  In a rare moment of honesty, my ex husband admitted to me that I am stronger than he ever was, something I have always known and he now denies ever having said.  I have always looked at strength as a positive character trait in anyone, but most especially in women, the supposed “weaker sex”.  These days, I’m not so sure I do.

What I have found is that the more strength you display, the stronger you allow yourself to be known to be, the more strength is required of you.  With every obstacle overcome, every challenge faced head on, the faster they seem to be thrown.  Still, to be considered a woman of strength, we face them all, and rise to yet another challenge, and reconstruct badly damaged and bruised egos and souls.  We may be strong, but to say that we are not permanently changed by each and every blow, physical or emotional, would be a lie of the darkest kind.

In the past year I have found myself wishing often that I wasn’t  strong.  I wish sometimes that I could retreat into alcoholism, or drug addiction, or mental illness and not have to keep going every day.  That is not the way I am made, and honestly, most of the time I am grateful that I’m not.  Still, at my lowest points, I sometimes fantasize about how easy it would be to have an excuse to give up, even if it was only for a while.  I hear about people staying in bed for a year after the death of a child, or having a mental breakdown that incapacitated them after years of physical and mental abuse is heaped upon them, and I don’t blame them.  I get it, I really do.  I just wonder sometimes about the human mind.  Why some people keep going, while others get the time to recharge.

I’m getting divorced.  Tomorrow morning, I will be in a lawyer’s office, dissecting the last 18 years of my life, and hopefully be given the tools to start rebuilding.  Starting over at 42 sucks.  It does.  I hate dealing with the process of disentangling my life from my ex.  I hate the vulnerability of doing all of this alone.  I hate all of it, and I know that it is going to get really messy from here on out.  everyone tells me I’m strong though.  I guess we are about to find out if they are right.


The Things I Carry With Me

Ten years ago, I carried a two year old little girl. She was loving, adorable, and instantly loved by everyone who saw her. Her two older sisters and one older brother were with me constantly, not carried, but attached none the less, with sticky hands and firm, sturdy arms. I carried a diaper bag, too. It held spare clothes, cheerios, boo-boo tape (band-aids) and blankies.

Today, that two year old is a beautiful, blonde, older than her years twelve year old. She has compassion, and a strong sense of right and wrong. Her oldest sister is now far away from us, living her own life, and missed terribly by all of us. Her other sister is now a mom with a diaper bag of her own, and her older brother has somehow changed from my beautiful little boy into a handsome, quiet teenager. They have been joined by another brother, now eight years old. My diaper bag has been replaced by one of many hand bags, depending on my mood, and the cheerios have been replaced by mints and gum, but they are still carried mainly for them, just like the cheerios.

Ten years ago, my son died. I carried the grief of his passing clearly, the pain raw and exposed, probably to the point of making other people uncomfortable around me. His name was spoken in whispers around me, kindness showed to me by caring people afraid to open the wound that had not yet begun to heal. I remember thinking at the time that it never would heal.

I was right. That kind of wound never does heal fully. After experiencing pain that deep, that all consuming, you are left forever with a void. The void can not be filled, not with more children, sex, alcohol or drugs. The pain, however, does lessen. One day you wake up, and you realize that you can breathe, that life has been going on all around you, and people are depending on you, looking to you to help them with their grief and pain. It is always with me, and always will be. The pain has changed me, and carrying it has made me stronger, I think, and so appreciative of my children it’s hard to let them grow up sometimes.

Ten years ago, I carried an engagement ring and a wedding ring on my left ring finger. They were symbols to the world, and to myself, that I belonged to someone. I wore them proudly, and in really bad times in my marriage, would look at them and tell myself they meant that I was okay, that I was loved. Ten years ago, I carried with me a deep, all encompassing need to be loved no matter what. I truly believed that if I was loved, if I was “in love”, nothing else mattered, I was complete, a whole person. I could overlook anything, as long as I was “in love”.

Today, my left ring finger is empty. My rings were taken off, and my marriage is over. They were replaced, briefly, wrongly by other rings, on two separate occasions. Not wedding rings, but symbols none the less. I was “in love”, someone loved me, so therefore, I was okay. I no longer carry that need. Today, I feel that the word love is so highly overused, and so misused, that I don’t believe in being “in love” anymore. It is a big realization for me to come to, that I don’t believe in love. Of course, I love my children, but the other love, the intoxicating, you complete me, you had me at hello, love? No, I honestly don’t believe in it anymore. That is kind of sad, I think, but it’s okay for now, I’m good with that.

Ten years ago, I carried a secret. I hid this secret from everyone, guarding it with everything in me. I hid it, most especially, from myself. I thought about it sometimes, during long, sleepless nights. I would quickly force myself to think of something, anything else. To reveal the secret to myself, to open it up, lay it out and examine it, would mean questioning everything in my entire life. It would mean questioning my motherhood, my marriage, my role as a daughter, a sister, a friend. Doing that would require a strength almost super human, I thought, although I knew that many, many people had. I applauded them silently, in some hidden corner of my heart even envied them, but I knew, no matter what, I could never be like them.

Today, that secret is still with me. It isn’t as guarded or protected anymore, shared with trusted, loyal friends and, finally, myself. The amazing thing is, I didn’t die! No one has turned their back on me, no one has stopped talking to me, no one has told me I am no longer welcome in their life. I am humbled and saddened that I didn’t give these amazing people the credit that they deserved from the beginning. Because of their openness, their acceptance, their love, I have been able to slowly, timidly, but with growing confidence, open my circle and share my secret with more and more people. People like me, people like you, people willing to turn a light on dark places, and prove, once and for all, that their is nothing so scary in the darkness. I lack the words to express my gratitude to them all.

My load was pretty heavy ten years ago, and I am so grateful that is is so much lighter today. There were a lot of bad things, a lot of painful, scary places that I wouldn’t want my worst enemy to go through. I wouldn’t change any of it though, looking back. All of the things I carried then have brought me to the place that I am now. While far, far, from perfect, I am in a pretty good place today, and for the first time in my life, I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Trust

“I don’t trust you.”

You say those words to me every single time we speak these days. I can’t help but find that amusing. YOU can’t trust ME?

When you held me, suspended off of the ground by my throat, my only thought a desperate prayer that my child wouldn’t see my dead body on the ground, I trusted you when you said it wouldn’t happen again.

When, years later, you begged me not to leave for 6 months, and promised you wouldn’t call me the horrible, nasty things you called me anymore, I trusted you. When, at the end of those 6 months, I was 3 months pregnant with our fourth child, you swore life would be better. I trusted you.

Later still, after knowing how unsatisfied you were with my weight, and my appearance, I lost 100 lbs. I felt confidence I never experienced before. When you told me I could lose 100 more pounds and it wouldn’t matter “because you can’t lose ugly” I trusted you.

After years of sobriety, when you started drinking again, and I again lived through the physical abuse that comes with your drunken anger, I held to the promise you made to me, that our family would always come first. We lost our home, because you would rather drink than pay bills, and still, I trusted you.

Finally, after years of ignoring bruises and hurtful comments, you told me you hadn’t loved me in years. I had worked my absolute hardest to be a good wife, and you told me that my best wasn’t good enough. I trusted you.

I know that I have done some things that seem unlike anything I would ever do. I know that I hurt you, and that you are confused by my actions. I am truly sorry that I hurt you, I really am. I don’t even try to use your past actions and behavior to justify myself, because I am not about making excuses. I don’t expect you to understand me, I don’t ask you to like me, but you don’t TRUST me? I’m sorry, you have one Hell of a nerve!