An Unexpected Birth-Day Gift

New Path

Not that I’m counting the days or anything, but it has been almost two months since I talked to him. It seems surreal, like an eternity. But at the same time it seems like yesterday since we had what I did not know at the time was going to be our last meal together.

I recently celebrated my 49th birthday. He didn’t acknowledge it; not even a text. I don’t know how I could have expected anything different, but it still hurt like hell. But I am discovering that what he did give me will last much longer than an empty birthday wish. At the end, it was the best gift of all with which to start fresh with a new year of my life – a new birth. It was his continuing indifference and cold criticism that finally pushed me to that moment of clarity when I could cut the cord; and it is starting to make all the difference.

The tide of grief is still washing over me and at just about any given moment I still might cry. It might be the trigger of a song or a phrase or a place – or nothing at all but a vivid flash of a memory. Watching the intimacy slide away so slowly was excruciating to feel, and when I miss his cute smile I need to remember how empty my arms felt as he become more and more unavailable to me.

But at the same time, something new seems to be emerging from the rubble – I am feeling this welling of a different kind of strength than I have ever felt before, and it is truly lifting me. Some of the worst soul-pain I have ever known has inspired me to new heights I didn’t know were in my reach to climb.

I am still grieving what I had hoped it would one day be – the enormous potential of us. I am mourning the partner I was to him, the half of a couple that made me feel validated when now I am starting to understand I never needed validation from him – or anyone.

I am grieving the dream of a once and future relationship that is now miraculously morphing into an amazing gift. It is a chance for transformation, an inspiration to invest the enormous energy and huge ocean of love I once bestowed on him on to myself. He couldn’t appreciate it, didn’t know how to handle it, didn’t care long enough to reciprocate it and chose to discard it – but that does not diminish the value of it one iota.

Now I am gathering all that love like a bundle of firewood and I will use it to kindle kindness to all the wonderful people in my life who deserve to feel the warmth. I am learning to relish the notion of discovering who I am – just me – alone but not lonely. How could I be lonely when I have so many great, wise and loving companions for the journey? (Sounds like I’m embarking on a new Hobbit movie – LOL)

It is true that nature abhors a vacuum and the cold draft of air I was feeling from his absence is now being filled with warm and wonderful treasures I had scarcely noticed before. Guess what? I have friends who think I’m really cool! Who knew? I have a writing voice that is strong and unique and irrepressible. Wow!

I have funny, kind and amazing sons who truly care for my happiness (and both called on my birthday – in fact one sang to me on my voicemail message), I have a four-year old grandson who is like a giant cheerleader for my heart whenever he inhabits my world.

I have sisters who are ready with listening ears, and the Hinson sister diner is open 24-7 for comfort food and conversation. I have co-workers who appreciate the enthusiasm and passion I bring to the table at my work. My church family loves me unreservedly and unabashedly, giving me the gifts of God directly through their voices, their kind and loving eyes, their big bear hugs.

I was chatting with a friend not long ago and plowing through another tear-filled, endless scenario of pop psychology trying to understand what happened in my broken relationship with this man, trying to understand his inconsistencies, his anger, etc. Another friend had shared an article about narcissism and so I asked my first friend, who knows him well, to read this article. “What do you think? Is this him?” I asked her in a message.

She responded ever so kindly… “Maybe some traits are like him, but overall I don’t think so. I think honestly he is just f– up. I know you are hurting and you want answers, but you need to just move on, honey.”

What she wrote stopped me in my tracks. I know I over-analyze, over-process things. But in the incomparable words of Taylor Swift, (God Help me, I want to hate her but I just can’t) I realized I do need to “Shake it off, shake it off!”

Instead of focusing on what happened and trying to understand things or people that may simply just be incomprehensible, why not focus on this new wide, wide world of Holly I have yet to explore? It is vast and open to whatever path is calling me. Thank you, God.

I love the k.d. lang song, “This” that has these lines:

With all good intent I come running, to give you a world full of me
and if then you find there is one thing, the one thing you want
this I’ll be

I always identified with this because when I really love someone, I do it with every fiber of my being – a world full of me. I don’t know how not to be that way, but in the song, it is the second and third lines that matter. This time around I want it to be different – it’s not about being what the other person wants you to be, not about sacrificing your desires or needs; it’s about being adored for exactly who you are, flawed and imperfectly wonderful.

I remember the exact moment I decided it was time to end the toxic relationship. I was very torn because my heart was saying “how will I survive without him?” But there was a distinct turning point when my heart just flipped over and it was suddenly all too much – and at the same time not enough.

I don’t know if there will be a turning point for this grief but I am feeling these flashes of joy. The other day I laughed out loud – not just chuckled but guffawed – and I hardly recognized the sound of it. But, boy it felt good.

While there is value in understanding and examining how you function in relationships so you can learn what unhealthy patterns you may be playing out, dwelling endlessly on why the two of you didn’t work out is just futile and painful. In the final analysis, it doesn’t matter what happened to the wonderful and loving relationship you treasured in the beginning. Try to extract the happy moments from it and move on.

Maybe these gifts just are not meant to be ours forever. We just get them for a little while and we may want to cling to them or long for them to come back but that is just exhausting – for God’s sake girl, let it go. I believed in the beginning he was a complement to my pretty happy life, but somewhere along the way I let him define my happiness, and it’s way past time to reclaim it.

I am starting to reconnect with my own heart, my own zest for life. I looked out my back window and saw the hush of the new-fallen snow the other morning and did not immediately go to my unhappy place, thinking of him, ‘I wonder where He is, and if he is enjoying it, and if he is thinking of me, too?’

Instead I thought, ‘Look at the wonder of this winter – the glimpses of grace in these snow-laden trees, this old man humming to himself, walking his dog in frigid temperatures, look at the ruddy faces of the children on the hill, shouting and playing in the snow.’

Instead I thought, ‘Look at the love and gifts all around you – let them be the boat that carries you over the tide of grief to uncharted, peaceful and potentially much happier shores.’

How I keep from repeating my relationship disasters has very little to do with my next potential partner and everything to do with me – my attitude, my confidence and my love for my own kind but imperfect self.

I have to give credit to Christian minister Andy Stanley for this next statement – and proclaim my love for it. Focus on becoming the person that who you are looking for is looking for. Think about it. Think about it some more.

Not that I am looking right this minute; in fact I am taking a year off from anything resembling dating, but hey … in the meantime, what a great concept! And while I am working on that wonderful new “becoming,” I need to exorcise the ghost of that person who was once beside me.

I need to step out on my own knowing that me, and just me, is enough; in fact, more than enough, to fill that void.

I am starting each day with this short mantra that is all I need right now: (thank you, Harry Pickens)

The real secret: Breathe. Pray. Love. Serve. Repeat.

Amen.

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Holly Adored

adore me box

 

The package comes monthly in a plain black box and when I saw it on my porch last week I have to confess it made me really sad. You see, now that I walked out on my man and the toxicity that was happening there, I am a bit conflicted about Adore Me, the lingerie of the month club that has provided me with exquisite, lovely, reasonably priced sexy attire for several months now. They even pay shipping for unlimited exchanges until the sizing is just right.

The title is cute and even though I no longer have someone else to “adore me,” I think maybe it could be empowering to do that for myself. Another side of me believes it would probably make sense to just cancel the damn membership, but at the same time, hope springs eternal, as they say. Although I am pretty confident by the time I have sufficiently pieced my heart back together to show anyone but myself any of these bras and panties and teddies,  A) I know I will have a huge stockpile and B) I hope to God by that time to be too thin to fit in any of it… Like I said hope springs eternal.

But it got me to thinking about one thing I truly miss about the breakup– (Warning: this may be TMI for some of you) and that is the great, occasionally even mind-blowing, sex. In my almost 49 years, I had never felt that intense, soul-connecting, OMG-I would-do-anything-for-you kind of passion.

I had never been big on lingerie in the past, not even fancy panties or anything. But when my ex made it abundantly clear how sexy he thought I was it gave me such wonderful confidence. He not only enjoyed my curvy shape, he reveled in it, gloried in it. Anyone who has ever struggled with their weight and/or body image knows what a huge deal this is, no pun intended! It made me bolder, loving, and sometimes I even felt like the femme fatale for once in my life

In the last five years my hormones have also been aligned in a way they never have before and I have been more sexually attuned than I can ever remember. Lingerie, “fun” DVDs, toys … I was never that uninhibited, but the combination of being truly in love with someone and my pre-menopausal hormones had me positively humming. So now what?

I’m not going to go out and get laid just for the heck of it. First of all, it’s not safe, and secondly, I do have standards, and thirdly, I know what a self-esteem killer it can be to sleep with someone you don’t really care about. Hello? Calling my teens and 20s? If I know anything about myself, it is that I am firmly a relationship person. Another option some would say, hmm how to put this delicately? is to “help myself.” But until I can do that without prompting another round of gut-wrenching crying, I have given up on that for the time being.

There have been long abstinence times in my history, like when my ex-husband was fighting in Iraq, for example, so I know I will survive Really, it’s only been seven weeks, Holly- calm yourself, citizen! Maybe what I need to think about is why this seems so important to me to be desired. All these years of keeping the secret inside that I never felt good enough would disappear for a little while whenever I felt validated by some attractive man’s attention. But guess what? A 49-year-old woman, even a relatively cute and cool one, is virtually invisible to most men these days. They are looking for younger partners or someone to cook and clean and go live in the country and go fishing with them and out on their ATVs.

Umm, no.

In fact, I know dozens of lovely, amazing and smart women virtually ignored by the opposite sex.

It probably sounds shallow to talk so much about looks, but hell, look at how our entire culture makes us feel about it. Standards for women’s beauty are impossibly high, and we spend millions on cosmetics, fashion, Botox, even plastic surgery to continue the dream of a youthful image. What does it all mean, really? Does being attractive give us wisdom, compassion or character? Of course not. I guess I am also equating looking good with sex, when there is really no correlation. As Bette Midler once wryly put it, “Ugly girls have vaginas, too.”

On the other hand, there is no denying that regular good sex had a positive effect on my physical, mental and emotional self, even my energy and strength. Was it the love that made it so good, or was part of it just “scratching an itch?” Is it immoral of me to think about sex for sex’s sake? I am liberated – hey, I watched Sex and the City. But am I sufficiently mature and intact that I could do no-strings-attached and walk away without emotional repercussions?

If I’m honest with myself, my answer is probably no. After all, in my heart I do believe that lovemaking should ideally be the exquisite and endearing expression of caring between two people who will be there for one another in the morning – and beyond. Anything else cheapens it.

So, I guess I will bide my time, not worry about shaving my legs for now, focus on personal growth, find my mojo and learn to love myself. For now, I’ll take on the sometimes thankless task. I’ll rise to the challenge. I will Adore Me.

Holly Ascending … not Holly Accommodating

A lovely view from Hopscotch Farm in Prospect, KY

I’m going to pull myself together, put on a new face, climb down from the hilltop, baby, get back in the race.

Dreams I’ll Never See – Molly Hatchet

 

Sometimes I feel truly incompetent and wonder how I’ve managed to get through this life so far. Last summer, when I moved into my new house, my son had to show me how to start a lawnmower. The first time I had to use the new weed eater I held it upside down, and for a good long while too, because my son had changed the setting to edging and I didn’t realize it.

I still struggle to change my toothbrush head or put together the simplest of items or remember to change the furnace filter, but there are times when I do remember I really am strong. I walked out on an alcoholic husband to start a new life with two small children in tow. I had never even had utilities in my own name. It took me nine years to get my college degree because I worked full-time and was raising two kids, but walking across that stage I was exuberant. It was one of the proudest and strongest moments of my life. I may not be handy, but I know how to persevere.

Another time, I had to take a job as a waitress at 40-something because my third (and last!) ex-husband walked out on me and moved to another state weeks after returning home from a tour in Iraq. I lost that marriage, my good job in my career field, and my house all in about the space of a year. The crowning touch was when I learned through the grapevine that my ex was re-marrying rather quickly. His betrothed was a soldier he had a secret affair with on one of his missions in Iraq. And guess what?  She was also pregnant with his child.

So …I know that I can survive the pain of this heartbreak and learn to live without this man I loved so much in my life. It will eventually get easier, and I do know there is light on the other side. It is just those little things that suddenly tighten your chest when you see or hear them.  A line in a song on the radio the other day that reminded me, “No one has ever hurt as much as you.”

Wow, it hit me like a brick, and my eyes pricked with tears, remembering a love so fierce that for me it became transcendent while for him, it merely began to fade away a little more with every step I took closer.

Is that the problem – that I always want for more ? … to be closer, to share more, to have a deep intimacy? I am afraid that maybe I will never be satisfied, never have enough love – but ah hah that is the key, is it not? The love must be inside of me, a part of ME so no one has control of it or can take it away. It needs to live inside of me the way I believe God’s spirit is within me,  a love that will never abandon me.

I want to embrace this new path of self-discovery as ardently as I once embraced the person whom I thought was the love of my life. My friend told me one reason I struggle so with this is that I have this great big love in my heart and in my personality,  and without someone to direct it to,  to shower it upon,  I feel lost, and she’s right. I have a great need to give, for someone to be the recipient of my caring. I have too often squandered the gift of me on men who were undeserving or incapable of the deep intimacy I crave. I do understand that I need to love myself; it’s just not always easy to break patterns and to put your mind around what they really mean.

My therapist told me I am overly accommodating to what other people want or need – it’s not called compromising if I don’t get any of what I want – that is capitulation. For some reason, examining who I am or what I want too closely is self-indulgent, uncomfortable, and frankly, kind of scary.

With some perspective, I can see that I care too much about what others think, that I seek approval from men of my sex appeal (such as it is) because desire is proof that I am wanted, and I have always wanted to be somebody’s “someone,” so I have jumped from marriage to marriage and relationship to relationship so I never have to be alone.

My friends have been so validating of me.  They say I am cute, smart, funny, spirited, lively, loving – I just want to say to them, “So why is that not enough for me, to know how much I am loved?  Why does it have to be a romance with a man when in nearly every instance those have turned out  poorly for me?”   Jeez oh Pete, you would think I could learn a lesson at some point, huh?

But I am trying not to beat myself up about the past – but I sure want to stop repeating it. I need to remember that it is exactly the sum of these experiences that have brought me this far – that have made me the wonderful person I am. This moment in time is exactly where I am meant to be – there are lessons to be learned, and I am ready.

I have decided I have to start starring in my own story.  This time I am the lead role, not the sweet, funny, helpful best friend.

I want someone to be completely captivated by me and chase me – want someone to sweep me off my feet, I deserve that. But I also wish I was the kind of person who could keep themselves more intact.  Someone who doesn’t rush to judgment or become enamored too quickly if she is given compliments or kind words or kisses.

In the empty corners of the evening, my heart drops as I remember. There are places and times when I miss him so keenly I feel like inside I am just dying with longing. I can see him – peeking at me from behind the shower curtain and scaring me to death, miss the cute little way he dances,  him holding my hand in church, sitting beside me quietly on the cliffs overlooking the lake at Green River,  watching the sunset beside the willow tree in my backyard. I miss the way he would bounce in to my house, big smile, happy to see me, hair still wet from the shower. I miss being his honey. I miss the sweet face of us.

But I also know I romanticized the relationship and took the spare threads of his affection and attention and tried to make a blanket out of them to keep me warm. He was loving in his way, but it was always just in his way; often not the way I needed or wanted. I was always a sideline, an option to exercise whenever he wanted. I let him treat me this way, let him dole out the breadcrumbs of his love and then lapped them up like a dog always eager for more. In reality, we lived in different worlds, and we were running parallel with no real future or connection happening down the road.

I think he wanted to be the man I tried to make him out to be. For a while he was able to play the role, to keep up the façade of the loyal boyfriend there for family functions, there to fix things at my house, or to mow my lawn but somewhere along the way it began to change.

He stopped spending the weekend or even spending the night; sometimes he chose drinking over making love. He once told me that my happiness and my full rich life were what he was attracted to about me. But in my mind, he began to be intimidated by those same things because he doesn’t really have his shit together – and in his heart he knows it. So he started lashing out, picking fights about nothing and everything,  saying he was merely expressing his opinion, or we were debating. But upon reflection he was extremely patronizing, dismissing my arguments as not worthy of his time, berating me, making me defend not just my beliefs but also attacking me as a person, the very core of me.

I sure wish I could understand why I always seem to gravitate to men that have a hole that needs mending – who need to be taught how to be in a relationship – men that in my deepest heart I must be thinking – “But they just have not had someone like me to love and nurture them – with my extra-ordinary love and ebullient spirit – I can mend them, I can lift them up.” In other words I want to rescue emotionally unavailable men. My sister said it less charitably, “I take in strays.”

Here in November it is time to think of giving thanks, and I am so grateful. I am blessed to have a remarkable life – one full of faith and friendship and family. I have two great sons and an adorable four-year old grandson, who never fails to give me joy in abundance whenever I am around the miracle of him. My mom and dad are both passed, so I am lucky we are a tight-knit family, and I am close to my sisters (all five of them!). I am graced by a rich variety of wise and wonderful women who I am honored to call my friends. I have my writing, my incredibly loving church family who are as beloved and warm as my favorite pair of jeans. I go to plays and the ballet,  and I have books. Thank God for books.

I saw it written recently that it is both a blessing and a curse to feel everything so very deeply. I thought about how my tendency to give myself over to relationships so completely has resulted in searing heartache. But then I smiled, remembering one of the family stories my sisters love to tell on me that always used to embarrass me, but as I get older I feel more pride than regret.

When we first moved back to Louisville from Oklahoma City, I was just starting seventh grade. On a frigid night during Christmas week, I was trying to convince my family to go out for an impromptu Christmas caroling around the neighborhood, but they were having none of it. So, I simply decided it was too important to me so I went by myself. I just wanted to feel some of the spirit of the season, so I literally went Christmas caroling door to door by myself. The neighbors answering their doors were a little startled to see me caroling alone, but mostly they smiled at this girl singing her heart out, off-key and cold, but so determined to be merry anyway.

I am still so determined, and I am slowly, slowly learning how to revel in my own unique and open-hearted self. I can laugh at the audacity of that singing girl, but she is teaching me something.

You don’t see people for who they are, you see people for who you are.

I will pick up the pieces of my heart, I will discover who I am without a romantic partner by my side and stop letting others define my value.  I will seek out even more of the kind of people with whom I want to surround myself.

After all, this blog is not called “Holly Accommodating.” It is Holly Ascending.