This week I am in America at a writer’s conference in Northern California. Myself and three other crazy, fabulous people smooshed ourselves into a car and drove from Edmonton to San Fran and then back north to Redding earlier this week.
A realization just hit me; we have to still drive back.
I think my arse and hip flexors just started a picket line.
**Word of advice**
Don’t train legs HEAVY the day before you go on an epic road trip. If you do, you will quickly learn how to roll out of a small hatchback and start a stumbling run at gas stations in an effort to gain momentum for walking.
- And yes, people stare.
Part of the conference was a writing contest that ended on May 24 with the winners announced during the week. In true form, I didn’t submit my 1200 word essay on ‘Grace’ until the last possible moment.
Due to fear, I nearly didn’t send in a submission.
While hemming and hawing in my office at 5 am on closing day of the contest I remembered that it is my job to do the work, show up, and not be tied to the result; to risk and put my heart on my sleeve for the world to see and experience.
For some reason I decided to send in something raw and vulnerable from my ‘Bookloree’ that I hadn’t shared with you or anyone else for that matter.
I think it only fitting I share it with you after going on stage Thursday morning to receive first place and having it posted for the few hundred conference participants to read.
My heart started running towards the front of the stage before they were finished reading my bio. My feet followed in hops and skips as soon as my name was called. I think I even squealed with joy.
Here it is, in all its vulnerability….
Apparently I am going to die at the age of 58
The term ‘midlife crisis’ suggests you have arrived at the middle of your life when you experience an epic, personal crisis about who you are and what you are doing.
I don’t want to die when I’m 58.
At the age of 10, I was often found wearing a blue leopard print unitard complete with matching spandex pants and leg warmers. Confidence was not an issue when I was in the 4th grade. I had no qualms about looking someone straight in the eye and letting them know I was going to be a brain surgeon who saved lives in Africa. At the age of 29 the blue leopard print girl was nowhere to be found.
Survival is a lame life goal.
My midlife crisis had been brewing for about 9 years when it arrived on the scene. After getting married at the age of 20 and realizing that marrying the nicest man on the planet doesn’t solve all your problems, in fact relationships make life messier, a downward spiral began. Instead of ‘happily ever after’ my marriage consisted of fighting about toilet seats, milk being left out, and how to spend time and money.
My wifely inadequacies stung whenever we went out with friends. In an attempt to feel better, I decided they were all lying about their happiness and were secretly as miserable as I was.
Keeping up with life and struggling to be a good wife while finishing my degree and working 20 hours a week didn’t leave time to develop my inner Martha Stewart. Nor did the 1963 original gold shag carpet in our one bedroom apartment inspire me to homemaking greatness. Finding curtains and bedding to disguise the ugliness was impossible. I decided to not decorate and told everyone to keep their shoes on when they came over. The carpet scared me.
Actually, life scared me
Instead of moving my life forward and honoring the vision of the blue leopard print girl, I sat in the middle of the road and let life run me over.
In an effort to fix myself, I paid a woman named Jenny $150 an hour watch me cry and gasp for air. After $450 of hyperventilating, I decided counseling wasn’t working. Talking to someone about all the ways you are broken is not encouraging. A sad woman costume had been super glued to my body and there was no escaping it. No matter how hard I tugged, it refused to come off. I shrunk down and became as small as possible to avoid touching it.
My husband, whom I made the scapegoat for all my pain and frustration, observed my lack of dedication to counseling.
“You’re not going to see Jenny tonight?” He asked on a Thursday night, the night I had selected to get perspective on how broken and miserable I was.
“Why? Do you think I need more counseling? Am I so messed up that I need to go every single Thursday? What if I am not going? Then what?” Asking a man more than two questions in a row without letting him answer the first one is not fighting fair, but I didn’t care. I felt like an abused zoo animal who had been backed into the corner of her cage. Putting your hand in was dangerous. A ‘Do not feed the disillusioned woman’ sign hung over my head.
Luckily for me and not so lucky for him, he rarely followed instructions.
“You aren’t messed up. You are amazing. But you are angry and stressed out. I want to help, I want you to get help.” I stiffened into a statue as he came in to hug me.
“Are you done yet?” I hated being touched. A hug could break me and my brokenness was something I couldn’t face with someone else watching. A stiff elbow brought the display of affection to an abrupt end.
“Fine. Don’t let me love you. But it doesn’t change anything, I love you.” He was angry. Hurt.
“I don’t need your gift of ‘love’. I am fine. In fact you should probably find a better woman to love. One who appreciates your love and doesn’t make you eyebrows run into each other. An amazing woman who can do everything and love you in all the ways you want and need. Just go.” My voice peaked with unshed tears.
“I don’t want an amazing woman. I want you.” He responded, confused.
“So now I am not amazing? You just said I was amazing. So what is it? Am I amazing or not? You need to decide what you want. I am tired of your confusion.” I nearly offered to leave the marriage again. Threatening to leave was my emotional trump card.
He left the kitchen shaking his head.
Picking up his socks and underwear is not his forte, but fierce love is.
Accepting love without fighting to have the person take it back was a skill I did not have. I pursued him to remind him of all his faults. When you’ve backed your husband into a corner, no one wins. My internal voice was screaming ‘STOP!’, but my need for control was stronger than my need for relationship. It felt good to turn my hatred onto someone other than myself, even if it only lasted a minute.
Words bring life or death. I brought death that night; death in my marriage, my husband, and my self-esteem.
With tears streaming down both of our faces, he responded. “I don’t know what you want from me, but I won’t stop loving you. I won’t leave, but you need help; help I can’t give you.”
All of the fight left my body. I slid down the wall and curled up into a ball of broken woman. He left the room and I sat alone with my broken dreams, shame, and pain.
You teach people how to treat you.
I am a good teacher, but luckily for me he refused to learn.
When I was completely spent, my husband came back into the bedroom. Crouching down to eye level, he handed me a piece of paper. “Call Paul. Please. I don’t care if it is Jenny or someone else. I just care that you get help. Go get help.”
My mascara streaked face wrinkled up in confusion. “Who is this man?”
“He’s a life coach. Try it. Please. He’s the man you heard talking the other day at church when you came to get me. The one that you told me makes sense and doesn’t cause you to rub your forehead in pain. Just once. Please. Promise me you’ll go see him once.”
“How about I email him and we’ll take it from there?” Negotiating for control was my forte.
“Email him but go see him at least once.”
Not knowing what else to do but accept the grace given to me in the form of a business card, I drafted an email to Paul, the life coach.
Pressing send, I shut my MacBook and went to bed. I tossed and turned until the morning alarm forced me to go another round in the ring of life.
This week has confirmed that I must continue to write and share; even if I have to squint my eyes shut and take a deep breath while I do it.
If even one person finds hope and a way forward from my struggle, the pain of being vulnerable will be more than worth it.
- Breathe deep and be amazing today friends.