The year I was getting a divorce I rear-ended two cars within an eight-day period. The first accident was the fault of a woman emotionally beaten down and overwhelmed by her new life circumstances (that would be me.) The second kerfluffle happened with the rental car in front of the collision center – as I was pulling in to pick up the car I’d wrecked the week before. Instead of calculating the distance it takes to stop when a light turns red, I had been mentally struggling with how to make ends meet. I couldn’t believe I had hit another fucking car. The police couldn’t either.
Scary Police Officer: “Do you know you just had an accident last week?”
What was there to say?
When I couldn’t find my insurance card, I called my soon-to-be-ex-husband for the information. He was jogging and told me to bugger off before I could even tell him what had happened. He takes running very seriously. Given my “record” (and the fact that hysterical women don’t do well in prison) the officer subtly suggested that I make “arrangements” with the man I hit to “settle things privately.” Fortunately, the nice man agreed. I’m pretty sure he’s never dating again.
I cried in the parking lot of the collision center for four hours. As the manager was locking up after hour three of my mental collapse, he knocked on the window of my car to ask me if I needed anything. I told him that I just needed to cry some more, and maybe throw up. He told me to take all of the time I needed. The police checked on me a short time later. I’m guessing that wasn’t a coincidence.
That year there were a lot of lows. The life I had built for 26 years no longer existed. My kids were grown with their own lives – two of the three of which were built out of state. Stress had me skipping meals, my autoimmune diseases had wound up for a grand slam flare, and at 94 pounds, I was subconsciously trying to make myself disappear.
They say that true growth begins when you hit rock bottom. At least that’s what they tell alcoholics. For me, like most of us when life sticks its middle finger up your hiney, real growth began because I had no other fucking choice. Trial by failure.
I had to get out of bed because I needed to keep my job. I had to keep my job because my dog hadn’t learned how to shit money. I had to have money because I needed a place to live. I needed a place to live because cardboard boxes don’t have plugs for blow dryers and curling irons. I needed hair appliances because, well, it’s my hair. Duh. You get the picture. Growth, baby.
Two years later after people thought I should long be “over it “and “happy,” I had tremendous highs, but the lows were bargain basement. I frightened my Fireman so badly one afternoon that he scoured the house for every pill I’d stashed from previous surgeries and back flare-ups. My life was a rollercoaster and some dumbass had forgotten to make sure the lap bar was secure.
Where I got overwhelmed was looking at the big picture.
Where will I live? How will I support myself? What will holidays look like? Will I die alone and be found on my sofa, mummified, after the kids forget to check on me for a year or two?
I began to take baby steps. This can be the smallest of goals. It can be taking a shower, waking up before noon or actually eating (and not drinking) dinner. When we’re born, we don’t pop out of our mother’s vaginas and hop on the bus for Kindergarten. Divorce is a rebirth. You have to learn to crawl before you walk, teethe before you have teeth. You start with liquids and progress to solids (unless it’s Pinot Grigio, in which case, solids should go first.)
I recognized that each loss is different. Avoid comparisons. My mom died in 1997 after 7 weeks in ICU from a double whammy of sepsis and a ruptured abdominal aneurysm. My dad died after 6 months of lung cancer in 2003. My mother-in-law was beaten, stabbed and murdered by a 16-year old kid in her own home on a Tuesday morning in 2001. And that’s just the beginning of the loss I’ve sustained. I thought I knew what loss was because I had survived it before. But, I didn’t understand why the damage from this was so different and resembled a bad Lifetime mini-series. I wasn’t patient with myself. How could I expect others to be?
When I gave myself permission to see and feel the reality of this unique pain (Yes, please…May I have another?) I began to allow myself grace by embracing my flaws, forgiving my many mistakes, and understanding that all losses were not created equal.
I learned to be naked and like it. I spent my wonder years petrified to appear less than my best self, every hour of every day. Perfect life, perfect wife. There’s something to be said about a dose of public humiliation to help your authenticity along. Pretense rolled away with the family grill when I sold all of my shit on the front lawn.
Suddenly, I was stark naked in front of everyone I knew, and I didn’t have the energy for it to matter. (It was a lot like one summer evening I spent in 1982 on the MacGregor Downs Country Club golf course.) Getting dressed from the ground up, painful piece by painful piece only added to the life experiences I could understand and relate to. Ultimately, it deepened the relationships with the fearless who remained and I came to like the feeling of the wind against my bare skin.
I started to take charge. Before my divorce, I had lost all control of my life. I felt eternally sorry for myself and had a tendency to let life happen to me rather than grab it and run in the direction I dreamed of going. My power belonged to my friends, family, and society. I was a “yes” girl and I stopped thinking for myself. Not a smart thing to do.
I had to accept I had fucked things up. (If you’re counting, I think that’s three fucks in this post. A new record. Sorry, ya’ll.) And then I had to figure out what the hell to do with all of this newfound freedom – and not screw that up.
“Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.” Matsuo Basho
Even in the 1600’s, Matsuo Basho knew what was what.
I found my bliss. You may feel like you’re still at rock bottom, even while you’re clawing your way to the top. But, trips are meant to be savored and breakdowns can lead to breakthroughs.
One morning I woke up and realized I was better than the day before. And the memory of those mornings held the hand of the days as they turned into months and the months gathered their strength and grew into years. Step by step, my low point brought me to who I am, and the years sustained me, leading me to what and who I love. Until I finally realized, I think I may be home.
And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.
J. K. Rowling