Thursday, 28 December 2017

2017, The Teacher

I'll cut right to it: this year has been intense. I got divorced, learned to be a single parent, fell in love, traveled to Europe, and watched my preemie twins turn four; I lost some family and friends, I made some new family and friends, and I learned more about myself than I ever would have thought possible in just twelve measly months. For the first time I began to really understand my goals, my needs, my desires, and my priorities; to shake off what I once thought I should care about and to embrace what I truly do. And I learned a few big lessons:

1. Time heals.

There have been so many moments this year where I thought I’d never find my way out of the darkness. Where everything seemed so overwhelming and terrible and I couldn’t imagine a future where it wouldn’t. Times when I watched people I cared about slip away as a result of my divorce, and where I worried endlessly that not only myself but especially my children would lose an entire half of their family. There were days where I was overcome with guilt about everyone I believed I was hurting, and where I was sure my girls would be eternally damaged by the break between their parents. Some days, I missed my ex-husband’s constant friendship so much that I couldn’t eat, or where being a single parent felt so lonely and unendurable that I was scared I’d ask to move in with my mother or my boyfriend just to avoid being alone. But somehow, it got better. As the months passed I felt myself settling into the strangeness, and adjusting to my new normal, where with patience, I found contentment and peace. But to get there I had to accept that…

2. You can’t band-aid a bullet wound.

I read that any time you feel the urge to rush into something− whether it’s a career choice, or a relationship decision like cohabitation or marriage− it’s actually your instincts telling you to either slow down, or get out entirely. But we often try to outpace this deep anxiety or uncertainty by making big steps forward, instead of taking a step back and allowing things to play out more organically. It’s our way of trying to exert control over a life we feel has become chaotic; for me, I’ve always fallen prey to this anxiety and leapt before I looked. But this year I decided to try something different, and it taught me that embracing my fears and releasing control loosened their control over me. In doing so I learned to face my grief and loneliness head on− as they say, the only way out is through. And in stumbling through that dark, I realized…

3. Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.

Cliché, but true. It’s natural in a divorce to lose people, particularly those on your exes side. And it’s also normal for everyone to have something to say about your choices, especially when they’re controversial. This year, I learned to accept and let go of that− it’s taught me who my real, honest-to-god, flesh and blood, non-judgemental, supportive, faithful-and-have-faith-in-me-friends are. The ones who’ve watched me break down and bawl and laugh and seek joy and recover and relapse, and have loved me through all of it. And though I’ve had actual relatives distance themselves because of my decision, I’ve also had some of my former in-laws step up and offer generous love, kindness, and support despite it. Regardless of our marital split, it’s always been my ex and my goal to stay a family, and many incredible people on both of our sides have helped us reach it. And ultimately while some might have offending opinions about our situation, this year I’ve learned it is absolutely none of my business what anyone has to say about me; at the end of the day it really doesn’t matter either. In that vein…

4. It’s important to forgive yourself, too.

I spent a good portion of 2017 (and 2016) punishing myself for my decision to leave my marriage. I felt that I was sinning greatly, not just against God, or society, or against my friends or family, but against the promises I’d always made to myself; the commitment to giving my children an intact home and never making them live apart from their father; the determination to break the pattern set by my parents and grandparents before me. It was a decision I agonized over for a long time before we went through with it, and one that continued to plague me even after the divorce was final. But now, I’ve decided I’ve practiced enough masochism for awhile. After all, I am only human, and a broadly imperfect one at that. All I can do is attempt to improve on my former self, to be better and kinder and more generous and more compassionate and not squander this opportunity to learn and grow as a mother, daughter, girlfriend, ex-wife, sister, and friend. And with that…

5. Life is precious.

This year has been tumultuous, but it’s also been magical, and it’s mine. As the months have passed I’ve begun to realize how much of it I freely gave away before; how I handed out intimate moments to strangers, or subconsciously believed that my relationships weren’t real unless they were validated by others. I used to put endless pictures of my husband and I online just to assure people how in love we were, when in reality our marriage was falling apart. I’d post happy family moments in an attempt to hide the desperate sadness, as though if I received enough likes, perhaps that fake happiness would become real. In the end, I thought that if enough people on Instagram liked our relationship, maybe we could like it too.

This time, I’m trying a different tactic. My current relationship is real, and lovely, and bumpy, and intense, and messy, and incredibly special, and because of this it’s not something I feel compelled to overshare. It’s tangible whether or not those on the outside can grab a hold of it; in fact, the more I clutch it to my chest, the more untouchable to others it becomes, and that’s a very good thing. Maybe this year has jaded me, or maybe I’m just growing up, but I’m beginning to have a real distaste for exposing the things I care most about to a voyeuristic lifestyle; after all, my partner and my children are not props in a production called “Happy Family”. They are demeaned by playing a role on the internet, by being reduced to characters with pleasing, digestible story lines for others’ consumption. Simply put, this year I’ve learned how important my family life is to me and how aggressively I’m willing to protect it, regardless of the cost. While I’m sure I’ll never stop blogging or using social media entirely, when it comes to my relationships I believe the good stuff is kept beyond a screen, and as I get older I’m realizing I don’t want to miss it. Whether big moments or little ones, like that leftover Christmas chocolate they’re too sweet to share.       

In the end, I'm still learning. I'm only twenty-seven after all, and I'm beginning to understand just how very young that is. As the calendar turns on this year and 2018 begins, I'm looking forward to big changes and even bigger growth, if I'm lucky. Though the future offers no guarantees, it will arrive regardless, and I finally feel strong enough to face it.