Many of you know that I have been quarantined to my apartment all week with a particularly virulent case of pneumonia. While I hate not being able to work or care for my children without assistance, it has given me some much-needed time to rest, recuperate, and reflect on how much my life has changed over the last ten years.
This has been a trying time for many of my friends. In the past year alone I have seen two amazing women have their marriages torn apart by infidelity, watched as not one, but two college friends started battling aggressive forms of cancer, and only last week I learned from an old friend that her son had recently lost his two year battle with leukemia. Each of these messages were delivered with a sense of anguish, and desperation, and each one bespoke a level of anger and confusion blissfully unknown by all those who have not experienced such emotional anguish.
Just the other night as I was lying on the couch feeling terribly sorry for myself in the throes of my illness, I got a private message on my Facebook account from a dear friend who is just starting divorce proceedings, arising from a spouse who feels she is spending "too much time" on their son who was newly diagnosed with autism. Her words cut me to the quick and snapped me instantly from my self-pitying reverie.
"I just want to curl up in a ball and die. I'm getting bullied about child support and today I am not strong enough to fight back. What did I do that was so wrong that I have to be the one to deal with this shit? I just can't do this."
I thought long and hard about how to respond to her, and to all of my other friends going through such horrible times right now. But who am I to give advice and solace? Who am I to understand their pain in relation to the pain I've been through in the past? I'm nobody, in the grand scheme of things. I can't make it better, I can't change the path upon which my friends' lives are travelling. . .I guess. . .I guess all that I can offer is the following; paltry and meaningless as it may seem...
Right now you are all facing a devastating loss. The loss of a marriage. The loss of a breast. The loss of a child. But first and foremost, a loss of your faith and idealism. That much I understand; but I also know a secret. . .all that you've lost will ultimately be returned to you. But let's slow down for a minute, because that's a lot to try to believe right now, I know. As Maria Von Trapp would say, "Let's start at the very beginning. A very good place to start..."
First of all, acknowledge your loss. This may seem obvious, but right now you're apt to be surrounded by people who'll want to "cheer you up" and "snap you out of it", or worse yet, try to belittle your pain by regaling you with how someone else has it "so much worse off than you", well I'm here to say in all kindness and honesty: fuck that noise. Your pain is REAL. Embrace it, sit with it, let it wash through you, understand that every emotion you're feeling right now be it sadness, anger, relief, confusion is NORMAL. You will feel each and every one of these in waves for months to come and there will be days it will make you batshit crazy but please do not avoid it. The only way to survive this fire is to walk through it; ultimately, the scars you bear will make you stronger as a result.
When I was going through my son's autism diagnosis, a horrific divorce and my battle to remain sober, I spent many hours playing the "blame game". If I had only. . .if he had only. . .if only. . .if only. . . It was in the course of one of these tear-filled rants that my all-knowing mother sighed, took me in hand, leveled me with her steely gaze and uttered the five words that changed everything:
"This is your reality now."
At first I was horrified and indignant, feeling she was demeaning my struggle and basically telling me to "suck it up, Buttercup". . .and maybe she was, in a way. But what my mom said finally rang through. My son will always have autism. I will always be an alcoholic. I am no longer a married stay-at-home mom. Those are absolutes, and all of the wishing, praying, and "if only-ing" will not change it. This is my reality now. It can not be changed. The only thing that can be changed is how I deal with it.
We have a saying in A.A., "One Day At A Time". That is because, for an alcoholic, the concept of never drinking again for the rest of our lives seems too daunting; so we celebrate the small victories, and take each day as it comes. I ask that you do the same. For most of us, the thought of a lifetime without our spouse or partner, a lifetime without our child, or for those of you battling terminal illness, not knowing how long that lifetime may be is a terrifying and exhausting concept. So, please, take it one day at a time. Every day, tell yourself you will make it through this one day with strength and forgiveness. And every night, remind yourself: "I am here. . .I am alive. . .I made it." Celebrate each day. Each one is a personal victory.
Now, let me state for the record that accepting your reality does NOT mean agreeing that your reality is in fact acceptable. It will never be OK for a spouse or partner to be unfaithful. It will never be OK for a mother of three to be battling a terminal illness. It will never be OK that 1 in every 88 children in this country will be diagnosed with autism this year, and it will never, ever, EVER be OK for a mother to bury her own child. Accepting your reality does not mean you believe it is "God's will" or that it "happened for a reason"; accepting your reality means facing the truth. This is how it is now. So, what are you going to do about it?
Most of the people I've talked to going through a major life change such as addiction recovery, loss of a child, divorce, etc. state the similar emotion of feeling as if their whole world disappeared. But what they, and I gradually realized, is that none of us truly exist in a singular "Real World". Rather, we all exist in multiple lands that make up a singular world; like some metaphysical Disney themepark. Some of us live in the Land of my Mother Died, some of us in the Land of Addiction. I have many friends in the Land of My Child Has Autism, and even more in the Land of Divorce. There is the Land of My Child Died, the Land of Depression, the Land of Unemployment, the Land of Domestic Violence, the Land of Mental Illness. . .some of us live in one of those lands, some in two or three, some in more. But the most important thing to remember is, that as in any other country or province, you are NOT the only inhabitant. Find your people. They are on the internet in chatrooms, in local community groups, in your church, at your school, through local service providers. There are people living right there in whatever land you inhabit, in various stages of the same journey you're travelling. Find a traveler on the same leg of your journey who can share your load and commiserate with your story. Then find a world-weary traveler, for I guarantee they will have the most to teach you. Find your people. They are out there.
So, that is my advice to you, stilted and meaningless as it may seem. Ignore it, embrace it, tell me to go pound sand, that's all OK. Just promise me you'll remember three things.
(1) This is your reality now. Only you can decide how you deal with it. Deal with it like a badass.
(2) Find your people. They will be invaluable on your journey.
(2) Find your people. They will be invaluable on your journey.
(3) We're all going to die.
OK, that may have taken a turn for the macabre, but hear me out. Regardless of our health status, our financial situation, or our faith in a higher power, each and every one of us comes with an expiration date. So, regardless of what pain you've endured, or how your trust has been shattered; don't be afraid to love. Love wildly, love freely, love even if you no longer believe it exists, love without guilt or shame that you are somehow dishonoring someone's memory by doing so. Love because it is the only thing that keeps us sane and that makes sense in a world where nothing else does. Don't be afraid to use the words "I love you" to your family and friends and partner. Holding back those words makes our hearts and spirits wither, and allows the pain and loss an entry into our souls. So don't be shy, or embarrassed, or terrified by love. We're all going to die, so scream those words from the mountaintops. I love you. I love you. I LOVE YOU!!!!!!
And I do love all of you, my friends. And I am holding you in my heart right now and sending you all of the hope and healing I can muster. You are my people. This is your reality now. Make it spectacular.