Sunday, April 17, 2022

Just Enough

We've all heard the analogy of the frog and the boiling water, right? How a frog put into a pot of water that's slowly heated until it's boiling won't jump out because he's only barely aware that the water is getting hotter. It's happening so incrementally. Yet, if a frog is dropped into a pot of boiling water, he'll leap out with a "yikes, no way" (assuming frogs can talk). 

How many of our marriages are slowly boiling water? How many of us are oblivious frogs?

How many of us stay because it's Just Enough for us? 

How many of us, when our husbands stop showing up for us, turn to girlfriends, to sisters, to work, to hobbies? Maybe to less healthy relationships, like food, over-exercising, booze or drugs?

Just Enough.

A lot of us are queens of Just Enough. 

Just Enough keeps us confused but stationary.

Just Enough might have us occasionally wondering what's wrong but all too quickly blaming ourselves.

Just Enough is believing him when he says he's working late, that he's stressed, that he doesn't know what we're talking about, that we're just acting jealous, or crazy. 

We hang our entire lives on Just Enough.

What if, instead, we imagine ourselves, a decade ago, being dropped into the water in which we're in right now? Would we stay? Or would we jump the hell out? Would we scream no way!

Would we second-guess ourselves? Or would we know we already know, deep down? Something's wrong. I don't like this. I can't live in this situation. It is harmful to me.

Would we demand the truth, even after he insists he's giving it to us? Would we insist on seeking outside help, even if he says we're being ridiculous? Would we pack our bags because if no matter what he says, this isn't okay for us, this isn't healthy for us? 

What changes when we conclude that Just Enough is a death sentence? Either for us or our marriage?

Just Enough is our warning that we're in dangerous waters. That something has to change in order for us to thrive, to be our best, to parent well, to live well. 

The change can be us, it can be him, it can be our marriage. Ideally, it's all of those things. Because Just Enough is actually Not Enough At All. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

My Overly Defended Heart

I wrote the title of this blog post on my phone and then emailed it to myself. That's how I keep track of interesting phrases, or quotes, of tidbits of info I want to Google later when I have time and when I don't have to strain my aging eyes reading things on my phone.

I don't know where I saw the phrase "my overly defended heart". Maybe BrenĂ© Brown's new Atlas of the Human Heart, which my son gave me for Christmas. (If you're not watching her TV series based on the book, please do! It's wonderful.) I do know that when I saw it, when I still see it, it feels true. It is true. My heart. It is overly defended.

I wonder if yours is too. It would be reasonable, of course, when our heart has been shattered, to build a wall around it. To defend it. To guard it from any threat.

And yet, I believe – with my whole heart – that what Nick Cave says is true when he tells a young reader, fearful of heartbreak,

"to resist love and inoculate yourself against heartbreak is to reject life itself, for to love is your primary human function. It is your duty to love in whatever way you can, and to move boldly into that love — deeply, dangerously and recklessly — and restore the world with your awe and wonder. This world is in urgent need — desperate, crucial need — and is crying out for love, your love. It cannot survive without it."
Heady stuff, huh? To imagine that the world wants, indeed needs our love! Nobody could blame us if we say 'no' to that. If we decide to stay small, to refuse to expose our hearts to more pain, more injury.

My therapist once told me how resilient I was. She pointed to the all the ways in which people had harmed me, from when I was young. Look at you, she said to me, urging me to see myself as strong. I pushed back. Surviving isn't strength, I insisted. I was tired of being resilient. Sick to death of forcing myself back onto my feet when what I wanted – what I thought I'd earned – was rest, solitude, to be left the fuck alone. Never again, I vowed. I would stay married because I couldn't imagine telling my children that their parents were divorcing. That wasn't strength, as far as I was concerned. That was exhaustion. I would build fences – walls! – around my heart.

It hasn't exactly turned out that way. For one thing, my default setting is a soft heart. It didn't seem to matter whether there was barbed wire around it, my heart wouldn't harden enough to make me invulnerable to pain.

My guess is yours won't either. But the good news is, you don't want it to.

Because an overly defended heart isn't one that doesn't feel pain, it's one that can't feel love. I know, I know. The two feel inextricably linked right now. Lovepainlovepain, all wrapped up in a ball of confusion.

But, as best you can, let yourself heal from this in a way that keeps your heart unguarded enough to enjoy the good stuff, too. As my therapist also explained to me once, by refusing to feel the bad stuff, you also numb yourself to the good stuff. Your heart can't be selective. It's either all felt, or none of its felt. 

Besides, Cave makes a compelling case. "To love the world is a participatory and reciprocal action — for what you give to the world, the world returns to you, many fold, and you will live days of love that will make your head spin, that you will treasure for all time." Love, he tells us, means we're alive. He concedes that heartbreak often comes with love, something he hardly needs to tell any of us, right? 

We are not given guarantees. Surely we know that by now. And yet, we act as if we can stop pain. We act as if we can insulate ourselves from bad things.

What we must do, the only option really available to us, is accept all that life brings our way. This is not the same as saying it's okay to treat us badly. It is never okay. We get to choose who gains entry to our day-to-day lives. But it is to refuse to let pain, our wounds, harden us against life's joys, because joy exists too. It is an act of self-preservation to stop and notice. Joy might be easily overlooked right now but it's there. The first spring flower. A brilliant blue sky. A puppy. A child climbing into your lap. A really good cup of coffee.

It's all there for our hearts to take in. But only if we haven't defended our hearts so thoroughly that we miss it all. 

Friday, April 8, 2022

Nothing, of course, happens fast enough

Nothing, of course, happens fast enough and we just want to be returned to that uncomplicated life we once had – we want stability restored – but it is not to be. Now we have a new life; unchartered, uncertain, beyond our control, and that we are on some level undertaking alone, even within the company of the ones we love. Our worlds are still raw and new. They hum with suffering, but there is immense power there too.

~Nick Cave, The Red Hand Files

Nothing, of course, happens fast enough...

On the one hand, our days blur into nights blur into days and it feels as the world should have stopped entirely and yet it's not, it is turning turning turning.

On the other hand, time crawls. It is 4 a.m. and we wonder how we are going to survive the remaining darkness until morning gives us some reason to at least try and stand, to find some way to make ourselves useful, to try, at least, to feel part of the world.

We just want to be returned to the uncomplicated life we once had. Nick Cave is, for those familiar with him and his work, talking about the death of his son. And I know it's so tempting for us to gasp and hold ourselves back from relating because, after all, we didn't lose a child, nobody has died. How dare we think our grief compares?

But Cave himself, and anyone who has truly felt their grief and the way in which it connects them to all suffering, everywhere, doesn't monitor the door the grief club – letting in only some and not others. Rather, they – we – learn that grief is grief is grief. That it is, as Cave says, tidal. Washing over us, threatening to pull us out where we can't possibly survive and then depositing us again and again, a bit stronger each time, back on the shore

It has been many many years since I felt that grief as it related to my marriage, to my husband's betrayal. It has been months since I've written here. I have used the years to heal myself and my marriage, to rebuild a relationship with the man who has spent his time earning back my trust. I consider myself lucky to be with him still. He remains my best friend, one of the kindest people.

I have more recently spent months working on a new project, a magazine focused on climate solutions. And that is where I am becoming reacquainted with grief. I had taken a break from much of my writing on environmental and social justice issues because it sometimes felt as if I was bashing my heart against a rock. 

But the focus this time is different and, bear with me, not unlike my approach to healing from betrayal. This time, I am focused on solutions. I am no longer interested in trying to convince the unconvinceable about the climate crisis. (Just as I long ago abandoned the idea that I had to defend my choice to stay in my marriage.) Instead, I write about the incredible ways people are addressing climate, the ways in which they are using their bruised hearts to heal the earth, to connect with others.

But still...Ukraine. Trans youth. Book bans. The list, of course, goes on.

And with it, grief.

Know this, all of you whose grief around betrayal eclipses all: You are down but you are not beaten. You are stronger than you know. Grief is a normal human response to pain, to injustice, to inhumanity. It is a normal response to betrayal. Let yourself feel it. Trust that it will not strand you. You will find yourself, as I do now, years down the road, having survived. Having rebuilt a life that may or may not look like the one that feels annihilated right now. There is suffering indeed, says Cave. But there is immense power there too. 


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