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Entanglements with the Earth
Unraveling a marriage that ended, childhood fears and learning to tell my own story.
Our story is not an illusion, as many would suggest. It is the ground of our being, the field for our soul’s transformation, a living vibration that echoes on, the mystery that threads right through our history. Story is where we come from. Story is what roots us in the present. Story is how we arrive at the next place intact. A spirituality without story is like a body without breath. Dead to the world.
The last time I taught a writing class I said to my students, what would it feel like to speak your truth out loud in the kitchen at 10 pm? What would it feel like to put pen to paper, and write down your own lived story?
In a recent conversation with a friend about the things I have been going through, she told me to write it down, even if I never shared it. I realized in that moment that even though I share little snippets of my life in my essays, in my poetry, it has been a very long time since I have stood in the kitchen at 10 PM and spoken my truth out loud.
My story (and therefore my writing) is how I am managing to arrive at the next place intact. It is an entangled vibration of sound, energy, thought that moves me through the world. These roots of experience are real and valid and part of who I am, even when they seem ugly or devastating. My story is still being written, I am still deep in metamorphosis, cellular expansion…I never wanted to share these parts of own history but here I am finally realizing I need to take my own advice and share my story, speak my truth and let my story root me in my own life. Be gentle with what you encounter here and remember we are all still writing our own stories.
I'm laying in bed, it's 6 AM. My mind is racing and my heart is so heavy. Lately every movement feels like I am dredged in thick mud, weighed down by an earthy deep sorrow that sinks deep into my chest.
In the room next to mine, two children sleep not knowing that their father has once again proven himself incapable of being a stable presence in their lives. Curled up next to me, my one year old sleeps quietly, not knowing (but perhaps sensing) how upside down things have become.
I’m not sure when it began, when things began to slide, somewhat like a silent landslide gathering speed.
No one wakes up in the morning expecting to discover that their partner in life, the father of their children, has become an entirely different person.
When we met, he was intelligent and funny. Well read and just a little rough around the edges and I loved all of it. We fell in love over books and coffee and dreams of music and earthships. We collected seeds and built garden boxes, sinking our hands deep into the soil, dreaming of building a simple and meaningful life.
Although we made it through the first year of new parenthood, we both experienced struggles. As a new mom, I struggled with postpartum depression and anxiety that went unnoticed by most people in my life for several months. I didn’t know at first that the strange and intrusive anxiety I experienced after my son was born was not normal (but that’s a story for another time). Stuck in my own little dark hole, treading water, I never saw the pit my husband fell into. He fell into old patterns of addiction and in his efforts to simply feel something besides crippling depression, he succumbed to even worse behaviors that I wouldn’t find out about until a few years down the road. He never told me how he was struggling, and while I do not hold myself responsible for his choices, I do feel sad that I neglected to notice the subtle shifts that signified how dark things were becoming for him.
There was a big revelation a few years ago - he landed himself in trouble and that was when I first knew that he was struggling deeply. At that time, I had a bigger well of hope, I was holding on to love, and I was pregnant with our second child. We tried a brief separation. I told him he had to get help, he promised me he would. We came back together, committed to reconnecting and seeking counselling for us both. We started marriage counselling and he saw a counsellor on his own for nearly a year. I was lost in my own sea of fears, clinging to love as if it would become a life raft that could carry us both out of rough waters.
Some of my fears stemmed from difficult experiences in my childhood.
When I was young, my dad became addicted to prescription painkillers after a terrible accident. There were times during what I recognize now as withdrawals, when he would ask for help to kill himself. On more than one occasion he asked me and my siblings to bring him knives from the kitchen. I remember him scraping sharp knives across his wrists hard enough to break the skin but not deep enough to draw much blood. I started hiding the kitchen knives after that. Sometimes when he couldn’t find knives he would wrap plastic garbage bags around his head until he started gasping for air. For a great many years in my childhood I feared my dad would die, and that somehow if I stayed strong and alert enough, I could keep him from leaving me.
I know that this carried into the way I chose to deal with my husbands mental illness as an adult.
When my son was around 2 years old, my husband started talking about how much he wanted to die. Sometimes he would talk about trying to find a gun and end it all, never in front of the kids, but out loud, too loud, to me. It brought back all the fear I had felt as a child, suddenly I was right back to 10 year old me, terrified of being abandoned, terrified of letting him down somehow, and becoming responsible for losing him. Now I had the added fear of trying to keep my own children safe from that mental load. We talked, I told him he needed to find help outside of me, but that I would do what I could to support him. I feared that if he felt totally alone, he would go through with his suicidal ideations. We talked to counsellors, but not as much as we should have because right about then a global pandemic hit. It paralyzed both of us in different ways. There was so much uncertainty in the world at large and so much isolation at home that we just couldn’t face anything but the pandemic for awhile. The intrusive anxiety I had experienced postpartum reared its head again and I genuinely couldn’t think clearly for the better part of a year.
Raising a family in what felt like a world ending pandemic took over and eclipsed everything else and I just held on to a little bit of hope that my husband was dealing with his own mental health himself. His psychiatrist diagnosed him with borderline personality disorder. Maybe schizophrenia too. Maybe sex addiction. Maybe this, maybe that. Disorder after disorder was discussed, he stopped talking about it to me and I stopped asking.
We made it through the pandemic and I unexpectedly found myself pregnant again. I wasn’t sure what the future held for my relationship and I didn’t mean to get pregnant again - but somehow knew that this baby girl was meant to be a part of my family. I had felt her spirit reach out and talk to me during my previous pregnancy and as soon as she started growing inside of me, I recognized her (another story, for another day). I can't really explain it but even in an uncertain time, I felt joy and comfort in recognizing the little soul that was joining our family.
The pandemic fears began to subside. We began to reconnect with the world again, little by little. I felt as if we could resume course, get back to building garden boxes and planning for a future together. I didn't know how quickly things would change again.
I was deep in the throes of difficult morning sickness when my husbands grandmother passed away. It sent him into a dark tailspin and he acted out - unforgivably. When I had first considered leaving him two years ago, pregnant with our second child, I was terrified of being on my own. I had imagined being able to be a steady at home presence for the duration of the kids childhood. I wanted to homeschool, to nourish and nurture their dreams, passions and skills. How could any of that be possible if I ended my marriage?
But now I had to acknowledge that I could not raise my children in a house of resentment, compulsive and rampant dishonesty and mental illness. I knew that even if I was home with them all their childhoods, that they would not make it through that kind of a home with their self-worth intact.
So, I left, just over two years ago now. I packed up my children and moved into my mother's living room. We stayed there for 3 months until I found a rental and a flexible job. I told my husband I’d be filing for divorce, and that the only path ahead of us was to work on being the best co-parents we could be. I told almost none of my friends or extended family what had happened. I felt too sad, too fragile to deal with sharing my story. I just wanted to get through another challenging pregnancy and find some peace and quiet.
I would drive two hours north most weekends to give the kids a chance to spend time with their dad. My son was confused and sad and the way his face would light up on Saturdays both hurt and warmed my heart. We lived this way for a full six months before their dad showed up at my door in the middle of winter, asking for another chance. He’d walked off his job on the spot and left his apartment with almost nothing. I told him he would have to find his own place, I would not consider reconciling but agreed that it made sense for him to live in the same town as his kids. I wanted them to have a relationship with their dad. I wanted to have a co-parent and someone to help with the bills. I genuinely wanted him to find his feet and be successful. I thought if I allowed him to stay connected to his family, the only family he had left, that it might give him enough hope to sort himself out.
He crashed on my couch for a few weeks then found his own place, found a job in town…it felt like we could settle into a good routine. A safe routine. I tucked my grief over the end of our marriage aside and we focused on family time together. We decided it would be better for our kids to have family time with both parents rather than to have to go back and forth between parents…to be honest, neither of us felt that my ex-husband was quite capable of being a parent on his own. I didn’t want my kids to ever go through what I felt when I saw my father trying to hurt himself and I kept my kids from spending time alone with their dad by making sure I was there, present and engaged all the time.
It was exhausting especially as we tried to navigate new boundaries and feelings of sadness over our broken relationship, but we managed to spare the kids those conversations and help them make good memories with their parents.
Once my third child was born I struggled deeply with postpartum depression again for a few months. I tried to hide it, all my life trying not to be a burden on anyone else. I came to rely on my ex-husband a bit more for a few months, he would come over and clean the house and cook supper, help me put the kids to bed, and I needed it. Initially I failed to realize that my depression was deeply impacting my self-worth and my ability to reason clearly. Anyone who has lived with depression can tell you how cognitively impairing it can be. In that sense at least, I can understand my ex-husband to a degree. Although in all other areas, I still remain bewildered and dazed.
One day I discovered this beautiful heritage home by the river had come up for rent. I reached out to my ex and asked him if he would help me get into the house, help me give the kids a beautiful summer by the river. He did - and he stayed with us for six months. For six months we co-parented, living separate and apart in our own home. I felt that we became friends, that we had hope for being successful in this co-parenting dynamic we'd built. He had some deeper bouts of depression but kept assuring me he was working through it.
Eventually he decided to move to a city again. He wanted to start dating again, he wanted to move on his life. So did I. It seemed like a good thing to do at the time. Now I sit here at 6:27 AM on a Sunday morning wondering if he has some kind of internal self destruct setting, and somehow he pressed it, leaving him with no move but to completely devolve.
Instead of building a stable base after he moved, he bounced between jobs. He got into trouble. Eventually he ended up doing horrible things I didn’t even know he was capable of.
There’s nothing like the shock of having someone call you to tell you that the father of your children has been arrested and is going to jail. The pain and numbness that follows knowing he had the capacity in him to act this way is unlike anything I have experienced.
I have already grieved the end of my marriage. It has been over for years. But now I find myself facing a new kind of grief.
Up till now, he’d always been at the end of the phone to help when my daughter wouldn’t go to sleep for the 4th night in a row - singing her to sleep over the phone or driving out to hold her until she passed out.
Until this moment, he’d always been able to send me regular money to help with the bills. He never missed sending everything he could spare each month. I could always count on him to fill my car with gas every time he drove out to see the kids.
Until this moment he’d always been there to come out and take his son for a bike ride, to talk to him about robots and computer chips and answer all his questions about the world.
He’d always been there to come out a couple times a week and read stories to them, to reassure them that he loved them, to help them out of trees and teach them to swim in the river.
His actions recently have revealed to the entire world how broken he is, and taken him irreparably farther away from his children. For a few weeks now, I have struggled to even manage leaving my home plagued by my own stupid racing mind, worked up about what people must be assuming about him, assuming about me. Unfortunately I’ve even been on the receiving end of judgements, deemed guilty by association, but I am and never have been responsible for his actions.
He gave me the best of himself when he gave me his children - and he tried I think to give them as much love as he could. He failed to overcome his demons and the ricochet of his actions has deeply hurt many people. I am not unaware of that, I carry immense pain in my heart every day as I think about the ripple effects and the amount of people he has hurt.
This is my story. I never wanted to tell it. When people started trying to tell it for me I realized my voice here is the only one that matters - even if I’m only telling my story to myself, my own voice matters.
I fell in love with a deeply broken man. I had three children with him and I tried to do what I could to allow my children and their father to have a loving relationship. I am not ashamed of any of those things. My children are the best of both of us, and deserve to feel loved by both their parents no matter how broken their dad is. They deserve to feel love for their dad without being made to feel ashamed of their own bodies because they share DNA with a man who failed to be a safe and stable human being. I did what I felt I could to facilitate that. I won’t be held responsible for the insane actions of another human being, I worked hard to protect my children and preserve their relationship with their dad. I don’t regret that.
I only regret the racings of my own mind and my own questioning of my self-worth the last few years. I regret only not believing more in myself. I regret only not opening a window into my story sooner because perhaps the last few years wouldn't have felt quite so heavy.
Today, I wrestle with this new grief, trying to decide what to do with it.
Do I grieve a person who never existed? Or do I grieve a man who existed briefly and then chose to take dark roads away from his family?
Do I grieve a friend? Someone I used to call for parenting help and advice? Am I allowed to feel like I’ve lost something, even though I should feel glad to be rid of him?
Grieving someone still living, someone you can still talk to is a strange, strange thing.
I am so tired. Tired of pretending I know what I’m doing. Tired of pretending to the entire world that everything is okay. Tired of holding my story inside, tiptoeing around the opinions and judgements of other people. Tired of the questioning astonishment when people exclaim, how could I have not known?
I am tired of grief. I am tired of loss. I am tired of feeling like my life is a patchwork boat, held together with paper clips and Band-Aids, leaking all my hopes and dreams into the dark water below.
In my weariness, I am also proud. I am proud that even in the darkest of times, we managed to give our children memories of rich and full summers being held by both their parents. Even in his darkness, he loved his children and gave them memories of stories on the couch, walks by the river. He built them their own shelves and tables and chairs. He taught them how to use a hammer and worked on projects with them as if they were equal to him in skill and intelligence.
I am proud of myself for taking the space I needed and leaving when I needed to. I am proud of myself for carrying on through these great, devastating losses with some measure of hope preserved.
I am proud of myself for somehow still trying to build a life where I am able to be home with my children as much as possible. Through my writing and the kindness of fellow business owning mamas, I am able to be home with my babies and still earn some kind of living. Through the generosity of friends and my siblings, gifting me time and extra groceries, I am able to carry on staying mostly home with my babies who need me desperately right now.
I am proud of myself for (finally) reaching out to people and bearing my heart and asking for (and accepting) their help.
I am proud of myself for not getting lost, for not losing faith. My belief in God may look very different to others these days, but I have not lost my capacity to have faith and hope.
A friend wrote to me recently after learning about my ex-husbands recent troubles:
Dr. Estes often says that truly, if everything could be understood, everything could be forgiven. Not that there has not been real harm, but the idea that people's lives are often so tragic that it would take Herculean strength to recover from ---- and when people don't have that strength for whatever reason, shitty stuff happens. She worked with a lot of war vets, many of whom did "bad things"; i.e., atrocities. She also has a huge teaching (in Women Who Run With Wolves) about forgiveness --- that it's NOT "oh everything's fine now, let's just pick up where we left off" NO! But a process where victims and perpetrators can somehow get on with life, and be better and do better.
This dear friend has also recently written a book that I think probably everyone should read, and you can find it here: Wildflower Seeds: the Beauties of a Reflective Life
I am proud that I have not lost myself in anger or bitterness through of all this. I have not excused the senseless and destructive behavior of my ex-husband, but I have not gotten lost in hating him, or feeling resentful for what I have been going through. Some days are exceptionally difficult and full of anger sure, but I do not get lost in it. I am not sure I would say I forgive him, some days I feel pretty damn abandoned by him, and yes, it makes my bones ache in sadness, but I can see that he doesn’t have the Herculean strength he needed to break through his own darkness. I am learning to be okay with that. I am learning to get on with life and do better.
And I am still determined to homeschool my kids, to write all the books and poems that are inside of me, and to share what I consider to be my gifts, with people who need them.
I am weary, I am not broken. I am achingly sad, but still struck by joy. I still believe that everyone has a little bit of good inside of them and that good things can be found even in the middle of the darkness.
If we don’t transform our sorrows and longings, we can end up inflicting them on others via abuse, domination, neglect. But if we realize that all humans know — or will know — loss and suffering, we can turn toward each other.
I still believe in supporting people in uncovering the wonder and magic in the bittersweet, in the sadness, in the mundane. Using poetry and creative practices as a way to gently hold the multifaced nature of being human in a sometimes terrifyingly dark world.
Everything we experience is real, it becomes a part of our story and it is all worth it in the end, the good and the bad. I have to acknowledge that the greatest darkness in my life also brought me my greatest light (my children) and that can be bittersweet and beautiful.
Life heals and life hurts and the only magic recipe for life is to just.feel.it.all.
My art, my writing helps me ride the waves of grief and delight in a way that always leads me home to myself, no matter how lost I may become.
So I carry on writing, dreaming, and opening myself up to whatever God has in store for me on the other side of this, because I know that there will always be more to experience, more to feel, more to become entangled in, because that is the nature of being human.