The day of my divorce came and went.
Life moved on at an annoyingly quick speed. It seemed fair that everything would come to a halt at least for a few weeks or days. That we should be allowed to lay in our beds all day to process or cry. That we should be allowed to skip work and school.
While my kids sank deeper into their sadness, for the first time in almost two years, I started feeling the first bits of relief. I had already worked through so much of the loss of my marriage before it actually happened. I had been stretched so thin in that last year. I had forgiven so many nights with other women. So many major infractions of marital vows. So much abandonment. So many insanities such as homelessness and desperation, all while he looked on and did nothing to help. And now, I had done what I needed to do so that I could survive. So that I could parent as a well person and not someone who was constantly puking up her dinner because I was so heartsick that I could not hold it down.
And in many ways, I knew that this is what Brian needed as well. Brian needed to deal with the absolute and final loss of me. He needed to know that unless he hit bottom and reached up for help, that none of his messes would be magically cleaned up by someone else. That his next DUI’s would be his to deal with, not mine. That his next girlfriends would not injure me, they would only injure him. That the full weight of his actions would fall one hundred percent on him, not on me. I would no longer be his savior. And if saving is what he decided that he wanted, this time, it was him who would have to cry out for it. It was him who would have to turn himself inside out to find it.
I find that this is something you can’t fake, ya know. You can’t pretend that you’re really at that point and that you’re finally going to stop being codependent and that you’re going to stop rescuing them. It’s too strong of an impulse. Well, it’s an addiction really. And until the pain of creating a new life is less than the pain of staying where you are, no amount of willpower will help you stop doing the things that perpetuate your pain.
But when you do get there, you’re really there. The train starts rolling and hell can’t stop it.
Back when I was seeing Keith for our weekly counseling sessions, he told me this would happen eventually. When I was unwilling to make some major change or consider some big task, he would say, “Well, I guess you’re not in enough pain yet. Don’t worry. It will come.”
It made me upset, but deep down, I knew he was right.
“One day, Heather, you will wake up and realize that you’ve had enough. I can’t get you there any quicker. It’s totally up to you. So until you are in enough pain, you’re going to stay right where you are, and you’re going to keep giving chances. But one day, yes, you will say ‘enough’s enough’, and you’ll do what you need to do to create a new life.”
I reached “enough’s enough” that day when we were admitting him to rehab and he kept Melissa’s number as an emergency contact. After that, I no longer had to fake it. When I said, “I’m not doing this anymore”, that’s exactly what I meant.
People had their own ideas. Their own narratives. Their own version of how things went down and how they wanted it to go down. They didn’t like my timeline, and they didn’t like my decision. But I was in enough pain to say, “You know what, I’m the one living this hellish nightmare. So unless you’re going to step in and live it for me, it will be me making the decisions, not you or you or you.”
There were times when I would simply put my head down and charge through. No matter what obstacle I was facing, no matter what sort of rejection or harshness, I would just press through it. It was almost as though I had to shove my fingers into my ears.
I knew what I had to do and no tears, no anger, no rejection, no opinions… nothing was going to stop me.
Living in that little Section 8 house in the bad part of St. Cloud was the first time in my life that I truly owned my life. I was broke as heck and living on food stamps and welfare, but I was not afraid. I was happy. And I cried when I needed to cry. No one’s actions dictated my life but my own. No one was out there drinking away entire paychecks and making it impossible to pay the mortgage. My electricity and phone service would not be randomly shut off because of non-payment. I was not dealing with monthly traffic/DUI court for the first time in seven years. I was not afraid of Brian killing himself behind the wheel on a daily basis.
I believe that when you are in the process of moving from a terribly toxic life to one that is healthy, there is a void that you must pass in the middle. You are not yet who you are going to be, and the old you hasn’t yet completely passed away. It’s like leaving one room and entering a long hallway that will lead you to the next. And in the hallway, you might make some of the errors that you used to make, but thankfully, the hallway is long enough that by the time you make it to the other end, a beautiful metamorphosis will have taken place.
You might drag boxes and furniture from the old place into the first few yards of the hallway as you desperately try to hang onto what you held so dear. But soon, you discard the heavy things and only keep the knick-knacks of that life.
The further you travel, you start to notice other things lying on the floor. No longer is it the baggage of your old life, but it is the first glimpses of your new life. It’s not the spillage from the Old Room but the spillage from the New Room. It is the outcroppings of a new and healthy life. And when something catches your eye and you lean down to pick it up, you realize that you must set down the things you are still entangled with from the old place in order to free your hand to hold something new.
A lot of the time in your in-between is spent sitting. Contemplating. Releasing. Letting go. Setting down. It’s not something that happens in a moment. In fact, it takes years.
Relationships that you clung to from the old place might make it into the hallway, but most of them won’t make it to the new place. They were formed and forged in the old place. The way those relationships work and exist is now something that is passing away. It was a part of you that is being done away with – being made new and being reborn.
Behaviors that were commonplace to you in the old place suddenly feel ill fitting. They don’t serve you, and suddenly, you are aware of it, for perhaps the first time. You might notice a new and shiny behavior lying on the floor of that hallway that is right outside your new place and want to try it on for size. But in order to do that, you must release your grasp on the behaviors of before.
And so, it is a process of a thousand, nay a million, replacements. This friend for that friend. This behavior for that behavior. A “no” where a “yes” was the only thing allowed to exist. A boundary where a free pass used to be. A moment of bravery where only cowardice used to exist.
Pretty soon, you’ve made it all the way through the middle. In your rearview, a life’s worth of decisions and friends and trinkets lie strewn on the pathway. Ahead, the floor is cleaner. Brighter. Safer.
The old is becoming new. It is being washed away like dirty tar stuck on your heart.
The new place is hard work too. Nothing is familiar. Constant adaptation is necessary. You might even run out of the new room a few times and sit by your old crap in the in-between. You might toy around with the old things lying around and might even nurse a secret nostalgia for What Was, but it only takes a few memories to bring you back inside What Is Now.
There is no pass on the hallway either. No warp speed or fast forward. Everyone who truly transforms must walk it. Many start the journey and change their mind halfway through because it is simply too hard.
The middle – the in-between – is painful. In a way, it is like a fire. It burns off the things that did not serve you in your life before. In that way, it prevents you from bringing those things into your new life. And if you can endure the burn long enough, it will eventually cease because the work is done. The bad stuff will be thoroughly burned off. But truthfully, there aren’t many that can’t endure it. And so, they wring their hands and run back to the dark place and continue to live there forever. Not knowing that their metamorphosis is incomplete. Not knowing that they are now doomed to repeat their sad story lines because the lessons were not learned.
One of the best indicators that you’ve made it to the new place is that huge parts of your old life will begin to fall away. Like a worn-out garment, they will fall off. Sometimes, in a moment of relapse, you’ll grab them and try to hang on, but you are no longer fitted for those things. And so they refuse to stick. They fall to the floor.
And when that day comes, you’ll be so far into the new room that you can barely believe you ever lived anywhere but here. You’ll be so healthy that you’ll be in awe over the fact that you were ever lame. Disabled. Broken. You’ll remember the process that was necessary to get you from there to here, but you will remember it with a certain sort of fondness, knowing that, without the mercy of that pain, you would still live in the old place with all of its machinations of sadness and despondency.
The hallway – the pain – is your friend. It is your teacher. It is the Great Place of Unlearning.
Like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis, it is the struggle that gives you life. Cutting it short brings certain death, for all the strength you will build there will be necessary to hold you up in your new atmosphere. As if some cosmic weight is added in the new place, you will require the muscles grown in the hallway.
So don’t run from it. Don’t hide from it. Don’t wring your hands and run away.
Sit still in your pain. In your metamorphosis. Turn the pieces of your old life around in your hands until you’ve studied them enough that you no longer need them. Then set them down with gusto and intention.
Become a master at releasing. Anger, bitterness, fear. Self-loathing, fear of what others think of you, control over anyone’s life but your own.
Say new words and try on new behaviors.
Get new friends. A few of the old ones will stick, but not many, and it’s fair for you to know that. In fact, some of those closest to you will be the ones to slide their sharpest daggers into your back for they will simply not be able to abide with so much newness abounding in you.
Do not fear the in-between. You will get past it one day. But there is no getting There without a time Here.
Stop fighting it.
You are being remade.