When I woke the morning after Christmas, it hit me again. The bruised shadows trapped by our drawn blackout shades laid heavy on my chest. I felt frozen in place, in time. I just can’t do this anymore. The words swirled sharp in my head, in my heart and the sting of tears began to well in my eyes. I wanted to go back to the dream I just woke from. I can’t do this anymore…
The dream started out and progressed like any other anxious dream. Mine often include something or someone I’m running from, and it repeats on a loop, over and over. I’ll be running through a building, its details shifting slightly with each loop until finally I learn whatever I need to learn and poof! I’m standing in a garden somewhere in another dream.
That night’s dream, however, didn’t poof me anywhere. As I ran through this building to the roof, yet again, I slowed down and instead of going through the door for another round in the loop, I thought, “Wait, where am I going?” And that’s when I noticed a bright restaurant off to the side and found myself moving toward it.
A woman stood at the entrance and ushered me in. It was large and completely empty except for a group of maybe 20 women just hanging out, mingling around tables butted up against one another. My guide walked with me over to them, as if she was showing them to me. Something about this place, these women; I felt free. And just as quickly, my guide began walking me back out. I wanted to stay, but I knew I couldn’t. I felt the pull, like gravity, back out to the roof and the door and the loop.
That’s when I woke, staring up at the ceiling, at the darkness, feeling its heaviness, feeling the weight of my husband beside me, and the loss already thick in my throat, in my gut, as if everything was blown out of me. And that’s when I knew; even if this made me a horrible person, there was no way I could do anything else. I felt the cold tickle of a tear roll from the corner of my eye and puddle in my hair.
“Jay? Are you awake?” I stared harder at the ceiling.
“Yeah… Been awake about an hour.”
I didn’t look at him. Everything in me spun all at once. There were still parts of me that didn’t want me to say it, but there was no other way. I took a deep breath, “We need to get a divorce.” More tears rolled to the sheets.
“I know,” was all he said.
This moment of waking from that dream pushed me to wake from the dream I was living in. Dreams come in so many forms. We live them while asleep, but we also live them while awake. And in either case they can be anything from magnificent to horrific. Whatever they are, they drive our motion.
Our early relationships and exposures to life and stories are the ingredients that build our waking dream narratives. These are what dictate our expectations, our goals, and what we do and don’t accept from others as well as from ourselves.
We all have dreams of what we want for our lives, of how life is supposed to go, of what makes a good person, a good marriage, a good parent, a good life. And sometimes those dreams, while they can help drive us towards a satisfying life, they can also obstruct our view and drive us far from it. Dreams need to complement reality. But in my case, and in many other’s cases, the dreams overshadowed it.
So what, exactly, was I waking from? What led to this moment? This was the closing of a circle, but it was one that began well before I ever even met the father of my children.
My dreams, which were sewed in childhood, included the story that the only way I would ever be loved is if I was an appendage, an extension of whomever I happened to be with, agreeing and going along with whatever they chose.
This way of living wears on a person, but I believed the story so deeply I didn’t even see that it was a story at all. What I saw was the fairy tale that we were supposed to be, that others believed we were.
“You two are soul mates,” his mother said to us on the tails of a conversation about her two broken marriages. But she wasn’t the only one who believed we were characters in a beautiful love story. Our families, his friends, they compared themselves to us and held us as the ideal while their marriages rocked and swayed. And we believed it too, patting ourselves on the back, “We fight, but we work through it… They just need to…” We had all the answers. And yes, we fought and worked through it, but the fight and the working through wasn’t what you might imagine.
Just because you talk and listen after a fight doesn’t mean you actually work through anything. It doesn’t mean you come to a mutual and respected understanding for one another, a compromise that considers both. And a fight should never cause fear or damage to property or self-esteem. It should never cause a person to be afraid to speak their mind or hold a boundary. Our pattern went in circles and it would end with me agreeing that I was wrong. I allowed things I don’t believe in. I agreed to do things I didn’t want to do. And these shifts often occurred after my protest or as a preemptive measure to prevent an uproar.
If you read my stories about our relationship, you’ll get a flavor for how things would go and how I worked and he worked to get us on a smooth path. You’ll also read about the moment when I suddenly realized that I was powerless over him and our marriage. I was at a crossroads. I had to either accept him as he is and our marriage as it is, or I had to walk away. It was crystal clear that after 21 years of marriage, he was not going to change and neither was I. We were totally incompatible in just about every way.
At this point, you might be wondering how we got together in the first place if we’re totally incompatible. That’s a story for another time, but to put it simply, we each had dysfunctions that fit perfectly together. I was an active alcoholic for the first 8 years of our relationship, the first 6 years of our marriage, and I was in a dream, running away from something and not realizing I was even doing it or where I was going. His was the next door I ran through.
By the time I woke from the dream that morning after Christmas, I had become aware of other options, just as in that night’s dream I saw another world I could be in. I didn’t have to continue on this panic-stricken loop over and over. And it wasn’t my fault, it wasn’t his fault, it just wasn’t where either of us should be.
There’s a lot about my marriage that I still need to emotionally work through, things I didn’t allow myself to see or acknowledge while it was happening. It took time to get to the place where I could let go. I hit bottom as surely as I did when I admitted I was powerless over alcohol over 17 years ago. This marriage, this person, this life, was another form of the drink. And it was hard as hell to put down.
I didn’t want to give up after working so hard for so long. I didn’t want any of the reality to be true. I wanted the fantasy, the dream I had worked so damn hard to make a reality. But there comes a point where we have to acknowledge that if we dream of riding an elephant, it doesn’t matter how many times we climb a tree, that tree will never be an elephant. I realized that my dream didn’t have this marriage in it and I couldn’t force this marriage to fit into that mold. It wasn’t because I was a bad person or because I didn’t care or try hard enough. I wasn’t cruel or selfish. I was awake. I was accepting what was right in front of me, what was always right in front of me.
If we worked on things and saw true progress, if I didn’t dread him coming home from work or our going on vacations together, maybe we would’ve kept at it. Marriage is not supposed to be easy or without rough spots. But we were running on a loop and I was tired. It was time to accept that while we loved one another, we did not fully love each other in partnership as we are or this relationship as it is. I was trying to change a tree into an elephant, and looking back, it’s clear that he was trying to do the same with me. It took me two years to finally accept these things. And I cried for another two, mourning the loss of that fantasy, but that’s also for another story.
When I got out of bed that morning, I felt the cherrywood floor cool and solid beneath my bare feet. I stood and regained my balance. I opened the black-out shades on both windows, letting the morning sun wash over the room, over us.
It’s been two years since I said those words to him, two years since I woke up and opened those blinds. And these two years, while they’ve been a rollercoaster of emotion, they have truly been the best of my life. I feel alive, human, solid. I didn’t realize this was possible.
I ran in the Philadelphia Marathon for the first time, and only 6 months earlier, I ran my first race ever. I’ve reconnected with friends, family, recovery, and my self. I went to a comedy club last night with a handful of my closest friends and I’m cultivating new, real, friendships for the first time in so many years. I’ve excelled at my job, and I’ve even had an amazing year-long relationship and felt things I never knew existed.
This is life on life’s terms. It’s messy, it’s textured, and it’s beautiful beyond my wildest dreams.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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