In 1971 the great feminist writer Judy Brady wrote an essay entitled "I Want a Wife." I was directed to this reading after a conversation with my writing instructor, and realized that it needed some updating. So, here is my version:
“I Want a Wife” (the 2014 version)
I belong to that classification of people known as ex-wives. I was a wife. And, not altogether incidentally, I am a single mother. Not too long ago a female friend of mine appeared on the scene fresh from a recent divorce. She had one child, who is, of course, shared with her ex-husband. Although they are supposed to have equal time with the child, she typically has the child more often so that he can work and provide for the child. She is not looking for another husband.
As I thought about her while I was washing dishes one evening, it suddenly occurred to me that I, too, did not want another husband, but a wife. Why do I want a wife? I have gone back to school so that I can be economically independent, support myself, and if need be, support those dependent upon me. I have gone back to school so I can upgrade my line of work someday. In the meantime, I want a wife who has already received at least an undergraduate degree and can continue to work and send me to school. I want a wife who can provide stimulating conversation and understand all the things that interest me. And while I am going to school, I want a wife to take care of my children. I want a wife to have advanced far enough along in her own career that when we have children, she has earned paid maternity leave. And I want a wife who is willing to work up until the time her water breaks; and, after delivering our children, will arrange daycare for our children and promptly return to work so she can contribute financially to our household. I want a wife who is a doctor or dentist, someone of importance with intelligence, but who is also my secretary since I am not able to make appointments for our children on my own and be expected to keep them.
I want a wife who will breastfeed our children. And when she returns to work, will return equipped with a breast pump and pads in case her breasts leak all over her nice work clothes. I want a wife who, once our children can eat solid food, will either grow or buy only the freshest organic produce then spend hours preparing it and mashing it so that our children will have a healthy start in life. I want a wife who will wash our children’s clothes, mend or replace them when necessary, and keep up with our children’s aggressive growth spurts by sifting through our children’s clothes and sorting piles for Goodwill.
I want a wife who has done all the research on the best school systems for our children, and who will go to all the school interviews for both of us, since I will be too busy. I want a wife who will be involved in the PTA, be a room mother, or volunteer driver for school field trips. I want a wife who will take responsibility for additional schooling for our children should they need additional attention, and shuttle them to all extracurricular activities. I want a wife who has a job that pays as well, or almost as well as mine, but offers her the flexibility to do all the above.
I want a wife who will arrange for all play dates, and make friends with all the other children’s parents. I want a wife who will be responsible for all birthday party duties involving our children, whether it be for our children’s party or a classmate’s. I want a wife who will be responsible for gift-giving, party details and invites, and thank you notes as well as chaperoning and hosting.
I want a wife who will take care of my physical and emotional needs. I want a wife who is prepared to deal with my ex-wife and be a step-mom, because I will be too busy to deal with either of these things on my own. I want a wife who will keep my house clean. I want a wife who will teach my children how to do laundry and pick up after themselves, and if she cannot teach them, I want a wife who will pick up after them and do their laundry, as well as mine. I want a wife who is a good cook and a good meal planner. I want a wife who will do all the grocery shopping, prepare the meals, and have the meals on the table at the same time every night, preferably after our children’s homework is done, and before I get home from school. I want a wife who will follow this exact same schedule every day, even when I finish school and go to work and my personal schedule changes. And it must change as I need a change of scenery.
I want a wife who will not complain about the lack of love or attention I give her. I want a wife who will not complain if I choose to spend time with my friends instead of her, or if I choose to take a trip without her. My life is stressful, and sometimes I just need to get away.
I want a wife who is sensitive to my sexual needs, a wife who takes good care of herself physically and emotionally. I want a wife who is willing to do whatever it takes to keep my interest whether it be to alter her weight or have a surgical procedure. I want a wife who makes sure that I am satisfied and can keep up with my demands and fantasies, even if they seem like something more suited for adult cinema. I want a wife who understands that if she cannot fulfill these demands, that I am entitled to search elsewhere to have these demands met. I want a wife who does not demand the same attentiveness from me. I want a wife who is loyal. I want a wife who will not question or be suspicious about emails, text messages, or anything else having to do with someone else and social media as I do not have time for jealousy in my life.
If, by chance, I find another person more suitable as a wife than the wife I already have, I want the freedom to upgrade my wife to a newer model. Naturally, I will expect a fresh, new life; my wife and I will split the responsibilities of the children, but it will be equal time and no different than what our responsibilities were while we were married.
My God, who wouldn't want a wife?
(To read the original essay by Judy click here: http://www.columbia.edu/~sss31/rainbow/wife.html)
This blog post has taken me 37 years to write. I am meeting with a writing tutor next week who is helping me develop my thesis paper to prepare for advancement. My thesis is surrounding trauma, but is still developing.
What is my trauma? For years I thought it was born in my childhood. Little did I know that because of my high tolerance for abusive assholes, I continued to add layer after layer of trauma well into adulthood. Until the roof finally gave out and collapsed. I suffered a bought of severe depression. I was hospitalized after cutting. I went through EMDR to heal. I made it through to the other side. My marriage was on track, my husband was finally supportive of my need to create, my children were happy and healthy. Surely my nervous breakdown was because I was weak. But no more. I was back to feeling like myself again after being absent for years.
Then came the next round of pummeling. My husband told me he was gay. I asked him to leave. I was completely heartbroken. All I did was ask him to spend a little time with me. Not a date night, not a trip, just to go for a walk with me. But he said he couldn't, because he was gay. I went through every cycle of emotion. Anger, humiliation, grief, then finally peace and serenity. I became supportive. I became his cheerleader. I adopted the idea that maybe we weren't supposed to be married after all. Maybe our role in each other's life was to be supportive friends. But it wasn't easy.
I watched the kids on his nights so he could go to LGBT functions. I watched the kids while he went on dates with men. All the while I cried over the break up of my marriage, our loved ones congratulated him for being strong enough to live as God had intended. Poor him. Having to live his life in the closet all these years. All of a sudden I felt that my entire marriage had been one big sham. What had all this been for 12 years? A month after our split he found a boyfriend. I saw his photograph, knew his name, I was with my husband shopping for our kids when he bought his boyfriend a Christmas gift. I was hanging on to a ledge by my fingernails looking into the razor-toothed mouth of depression...again...
So I enrolled in graduate school, and got accepted, and decided that no matter what, I could not slide backwards. At the very least, I would stay on flat ground and produce art to stay busy. Returning to my alma mater was like running into outstretched arms. My exhale was audible when I stepped into the building again for my first day of class. Two months into singledom down. But how many more to go before the pain stopped?
It was two months in that I had the wind knocked out of me yet again. My daughters told me their dad said "I love you" to someone on the phone. Ouch. My response was that it was probably to his mother because she had been trying to call him. They said no, but that it was to another woman. Impossible, he said he was gay. He said he would never be with a woman again. He made fun of our girl parts in front of me and our daughters. I asked him to leave because he was using me as a crutch to avoid stepping out on his own. He was being co-dependent and I refused to be his cover. I asked him, expecting him to correct the kids. But he didn't. He told me he was in love with a female co-worker and they were getting married.
That was when the rage erupted. "I am not gay, I was never gay," he confirmed. "I just never loved you." Words I will never forget as long as I live. And the trauma continues. How do you move forward when those words have branded your heart? It is no longer an open wound, but not yet a scar.
So I paint and write and draw, over and over. I am hoping to expel the demons that hover over me like vultures waiting to attack my soul. The night before my final critique, I spent the night in my studio finishing my work for the semester. I threw out all my ideas of what the pieces were "supposed" to look like, and I worked from my heart. And I cried. I had not cried that hard since the first day I asked him to leave. I put my earphones on and cried. I couldn't hear myself, and I didn't care if anyone else heard me. And they did. I didn't notice my concerned studio neighbors peering in to check on me, then leaving when they realized I was okay and needed to get it out. It is hard for me to write this now without shedding a couple of tears. I hurt for the woman I was even just a month ago.
I try to remember good times, to remind myself that not everything could have possibly been smoke and mirrors. My children certainly aren't. My art isn't. Maybe that's it. I'm finally okay with that. Do I miss him? No. I have no feelings about him whatsoever, and that is genuine freedom. The situation still shocks me. If I spend even a minute thinking about it, I'm left scratching my head thinking, "what the HELL was THAT?" I am still mourning the loss of myself all those years.
Today I told someone this story that did not know my personal life. She asked me how I was today. In all honesty, I like myself more today than I have in the past 37 years. I love myself. I love my girls. I love my work. I love my friends. I love my life. I would not change it for the world. I am emerging a beautiful and strong person. I may not be happy as to how this transformation came about, and the growing pains hurt like hell sometimes, but it is happening and I can't stop it. I document everything in some fashion. Mainly journals and paintings. Influenced by an artist that showed all the good, bad and ugly in her life, I took the picture above in my studio on the night before finals to document the face of trauma. I also took it as a reminder to myself how far I've come since then.
I won't lie and say I'm "great!" I won't give you a huge smile and say everything is okay. But I can see the parts in my life that bring me joy and happiness, and when I smile it is from deep within my heart, it is genuine. I can love again with an open heart. I am alone, but I am not lonely. When I see the picture above, I look at her, the sad woman in her studio, and say, "what happened really sucked. You deserve a good cry. When you're finished, get up and get back to being amazing."
What do toe tags from a morgue and a wedding dress have in common? Maybe nothing to the average and sane person. But for me, they are the elements that have kicked off my grad school work as I stumble towards a master's degree. In school we explore materials and concept, and soon I will be expected to have an artist statement somewhat representative of what my final work will be in order to graduate. Currently I am playing around with a few different depictions, but keep coming back to dresses...always dresses. Some of you may have read the wedding dress blog post from awhile back. Well, you will be happy to know I am getting use out of my actual dress finally. It is hanging from a coat rack in my studio at this very minute serving as inspiration for my sculptures and paintings. To catch a glimpse of how this body of work is developing, be sure to swing by the Levy Gallery at Buckman Performing Arts before my show closes later this month. The mixed media and encaustic paintings are illustrations of the idealized image of married life as served to many young girls through the lens of a homemaker from a 1950's perspective while living in the current decade. I use collage elements from a 1955 Better Homes and Gardens Magazine to show how silly, ludicrous and even sad the expectations posed upon women used to be. Thank goodness we are no longer made to feel less than adequate if we don't vacuum with rolled hair and red lips! Still stuck on making "pretty" paintings, I am trying to push the boundaries a little more with my sculpture work. Stay tuned, as there is lots more to come!!!!
My artwork is a depiction of the ideal home-life I felt
conflicted to build as a result of my upbringing. I feel as though my mother was part of a generation that had a unique responsibility when it came to raising children. She was raised by a 1950’s housewife who served as a mirror of what was expected of her. My grandmother lived her life for her children and her husband. During the time in which my mother was raised birth control was developed, formula took the place of nursing, and the sexual revolution was beginning. Women were no longer expected to dedicate their lives to their children and families, but had a choice to have a life of their own. They had the choice to get an education, they could have sex freely, and did not have to be tethered to babies. The fathers could have more of a hand in propping up the success of his wife and children instead of having the responsibility of being the sole financial supporter. But when you have nothing to use as an example of how to “have it all” successfully, and not sure whether that even exists, how
do you raise your children? Do you raise them to have it all?
When I was growing up I received mixed messages. My mother stayed at home
and put her life on hold for her family. Although my mother seemed content with
it, she always encouraged me and my brother to get an education and to have a
life outside of our families, something that she did not. She encouraged me to
have something for myself. I admired her parenting greatly, so I felt confused
at times and saw my life in cycles…one day I will get a college degree. Then I
will work and get married and be the kind of wife my mother is. Then I will stop
work to have children and be the kind of mom my mother is. Then I will stay at
home and raise children. Then when my children are old enough I will return to
work. It sounded so simple, until I got divorced.
Even though I was the stay at home mom that was conflicted being there
for my husband and children and doing something for myself, I was under stress
daily to do the right thing and “have it all.” The work in this show will evolve
over the next several months. Right now it is highlighting the myth of the
“happy housewife,” and the great lengths the ads from Better Homes and Gardens
went to in order to promote what we “should” have. It is only a snippet, but
something I feel many of us, men and women, can relate to. We all have females
in our lives that struggle with many of these issues, and if we don’t, we can
look back and laugh at the idea of vacuuming in our prettiest dress.
I have a show coming up at Buckman Performing Arts in Levy Gallery in September focusing on my encaustics. I found some old magazines from Flashback I'm incorporating into the work. I brought them over to my parent's house yesterday thinking my mom would get a kick out of the ads from 1955 Better Homes and Gardens. We laughed and laughed, but it really opened up a dialogue on how she was raised vs. how I was raised vs. how I raise my girls. All the ads showed women doing housewife work. One woman even won an award for "Best Homemaker of the Year." The pictures were hilarious, but the language was between funny and disgusting. One ad said, "Do you come home to a companion, or a tired and stressed housewife?" I don't even know what it was advertising, but I am hoping it was for a spa service for the tired and stressed housewife! My guess is that it was for an appliance that would make her work easier. Another ad said, "Imagine ME telling my husband about air conditioning!" How dare she be educated on home cooling systems! Who would have thought she was smart enough to do that? Funny yet sad. My mom and I got to talking about the "traditional marriage" and traditional roles women play in marriage. I was raised with Dr. Laura on the radio. I listened intently growing up, and as a result of the morals instilled in me when I was a child through my own upbringing as well as the influence of this radio host, I stayed in a marriage way past the expiration date. My first thoughts whenever I examined divorce were, I can't divorce, then I've failed at marriage. I'm a failure if I can't make this work. I have failed my children and disappointed my parents and grandmother.
I believe in the family with man and wife as partners in child-rearing, but how can I say that this is the BEST way to raise a family when my own family is broken? Why would I put that stigma on myself as a divorced mother? Then it sort of makes me feel obligated to go out and find a replacement "dad" as soon as I can. Which I refuse to do. With all that is going on with me today, I think it has opened up my mom's eyes as well to the changing roles of women and how marriage itself has evolved. My mom and my mother-in-law both know all the gory details of my marriage as it crumbled, and BOTH of them gave me permission to leave. It makes me sad that I needed permission, but I needed to know I was going to be okay in a non-traditional family. They both gave me permission months before I actually pulled the trigger, so when I did, neither one of them were surprised, and both of them stepped in to comfort me in separate but equally endearing ways. I tend to see it as it being their generation that was one of the last to conform to the stereotypical "stand by your man" housewife mentality. My mom is an RN, one of two choices in careers her own mother gave her to pursue. My mother-in-law has a high school education, and that's it. Both are highly intelligent women. Both could talk to you about air conditioning, as well as the stock market, saving for retirement, what might be wrong with my car, and how to decorate my home on a budget. But both at times were very unhappy in their marriages. My mom would have left years ago if she felt confident she could take care of her children financially, during the time my dad's drinking was out of hand. But as a housewife what is she professionally qualified to do? She stayed, and it seems to have worked out because they generally have a great relationship. Not to mention, she has the courage now to step outside of her housewife role and work another job. She also puts her foot down now and tells him when she won't cater to his demanding ways. Dinner on the table at 5pm? Not always an option when you work in retail. My mother-in-law was stuck in a city she didn't know, with a family that didn't accept her, and raising four children. At times five children when she would take in her nephew. When she hit a rough patch with her husband, she couldn't leave. But as she got older, she compensated by finding other interests outside her home and began volunteering. The woman can clean a kitchen unlike anyone I've ever seen, so she put her talents to good use and did this in an assisted living facility. Both women are amazing and I admire them very much. But because of their own experiences, and knowing that I did my best to exhaust every effort to make my marriage work, they gave me thier approval so I said "enough."
Today my daughters ask a lot of questions. How do they avoid getting divorced? How do they avoid being hurt? They are little girls raised by Disney Princesses, and have a notion of Happily Ever After that fuels the Happy Housewife lie. They have boys at school that they "like," or are their "boyfriends." My oldest daughter once told me that she is now #2 on the list of girls that a boy likes, and she is sticking around until she is #1. It got me to thinking, that is what I am in my marriage, #2. I told her, "honey, don't EVER be somebody's #2." That weekend when my husband spent a three day weekend biking and running with his best friend for a total of 10 hours, I asked him if he could go for a walk with me that evening. Just around the block. He said, "I can't walk with you, because I will never be able to give you the kind of love you need. I'm gay."
I asked him to leave the house for good that night. This was 9 months ago and he is currently with another woman with two little girls. Good for them. I wish them luck and a life that is drama-free. As for me, I am working on setting a good example for my girls as to how they deserve to be treated and what opportunities lie ahead for them, and to be prepared when something happens to them that is out of their control. My daughter's crush did indeed become her boyfriend, and they were "boyfriend and girlfriend" the entire school year up until the last few days of school. My daughter told me she wanted to break up with him. I knew this little boy would be devastated, he had been glued to her for months. When I asked her why, she said that he was too clingy and getting too serious. And that she wanted a chance to play with her friends at school, and he wasn't allowing her space to do that. I can't help but feel that as a divorced mother of two girls the actions I took to take care of myself emotionally are being absorbed by them now, and in a healthier way than ever before. I was proud of her for recognizing her needs and taking care of herself, and thrilled that she asked for my advice and I gave it to her. Most importantly instilling in her that it may hurt in the short term, but in the long run it is the right thing to do.
There is much more to the story of my marriage than what I will share in this post, and maybe I will someday. I can't dwell on the "why's" and "how's," but I do know that I feel more empowered than I ever have, that I'm a great artist but terrible housekeeper, and that my girls are healthy and happy and don't look for happiness in roles they are expected to play. They don't seek happiness from others, they are learning to find it within themselves. And I am proud to say that I no longer feel the need to live up to a certain ideal, but am happy for the woman I am, and proud that I can impart words of wisdom to my children as well as live by example.
On a final note, we finally told my grandmother about the divorce. I was terrified and expecting a lashing on keeping the family together at all costs. To my delight she said, "well, Lisa, you are a strong woman and I have no doubt you can do this on your own successfully."
My first semester back at graduate school is slowly creeping to an end...or rather screeching to a stop...in about one week. I have had the most amazing time working with other grad students in our studios downtown, I've also learned a lot from working with the undergrads in sustainable sculpting. I began the semester working with cardboard, and have watched it evolve into a carousel, learned how to turn cardboard ball bearings on a lathe, made paper pulp from cardboard and have learned paper and plaster casting. Right now I am building a cardboard interpretation of my wedding dress (yes, the one from the story several blogs ago). The whole process has been very healing while I navigate the waters of being a single mom, and basically starting the rest of my life over again, a little older and wiser. I toe the line between being extremely bitter and hurt, and feeling rejuvenated and inspired. I've picked up golf again thanks to a very supportive companion, and I am learning how to fly fish! On the other hand, I am still cleaning out my attic, office space, basement, and backyard, all places where my ex keeps his things as storage space. I trip over them regularly as they make my house feel cluttered, and yet I am constantly reminded to ignore it all and "move on." Sometimes this "moving on" makes me feel like I'm on a carousel going around and around and around. I am trying out so many new things in school, and yet it is apparent that I revert back to safe places...pen and ink, plaster, wire...so I work on figuring out different ways to use these materials and what I can do that is complimentary. On top of this, I am developing concept. The dresses keep popping up. Now the wedding dress story holds so much more significance for me. After the wedding our minister said, "You wore the cloak God chose for you," referring to my rehearsal dinner dress. But now, I'm sort of thinking maybe God was sending me a warning not to marry him to begin with and I just didn't pay attention? No matter, everything has a reason, and I know that my two girls are the most important thing to come out of this broken union. So I continue to work on dresses. I sculpt them, I draw them, I paint them.................... There will be more to come, but a friend just reminded me how long it's been since I've put something out about what I am doing, so I thought I would share. I am fine, just deep in thought and in creation. I will take the opportunity though to focus on the positives in my life, aside from my fantastic girls, new people of significance to me, and new work, my baby, The Junkyard is rolling along nicely still. We have many more people involved and I couldn't be more thrilled at the direction in which we are heading. One day at a time. I was a finalist for the Guggenheim Grant, although it was not awarded to me, it gives me great hope that I got as far along in the process that I did. I can't wait to apply again with a fresh portfolio.
Aside from that, I am just working away! Hope everyone reading this is making lemonade out of lemons, and enjoying all that you have. It's hard to focus on the positives sometimes, but necessary. Have a great day and I'll write more soon!
I am not a blogger. There, I said it. I think bloggers are narcissistic and shameless self-promoters. When I began to structure my art business like a small business I found out that of all the artwork I create and present to the public, only about 3% of you will ever actually see it in person. Which means most of you will only ever see it online or in print, which means I have to drive traffic to my website to get more of you to see my work. Sending more of you to see my work, equals more sales, and more sales means I get to continue to do what I love every single day. And when I get to do what I love, and it touches someone, well, that's what life is all about. I won't get into statistics, because it bores me unless I'm actually looking at those cool zig-zaggy lines. And I hate reducing you to a number. But I have to drive a certain number of people to my site before I make a sale. And for some reason, my blog seems to bring people to my site. I am astounded that people actually read what I write. I am humbled when what I write actually moves someone, such as the suicide post did, and I have started to realize the importance of these posts.
That said, I will always only write what is in my heart. Especially as it pertains to my art work. My work is a direct representation of what I am going through and what I am feeling at the time. I usually won't say it while it's happening, but you can bet it will eventually show up in my work. Remember the suicide post? I was working on a series of six paintings during that period. I didn't realize how dark I was feeling, but had to laugh months later when I revisited the photographs of the paintings because they were all of messages in bottles. I was playing The Police's Message in a Bottle on repeat in my studio. Save our Souls, Save MY soul was what I was really saying, and I didn't even know it! Ha!
During one memorable critique with my mentor, he focused on the changing subject matter. He asked me where it came from. I told him most of the time I kept a sketchbook by my bed and as I woke up with a racing mind I would scribble the image. A moon holding a net, a floating figure that was about to drop to the jagged rocks below, a figure whose sleeve was skimming the flame of a candle, a figure who was sinking into a pond, lily pads, lots of lily pads. He asked me if I had ever consulted a dream dictionary to figure out what I was painting. The imagery was very intentional even if I didn't know why I was painting it. I said no, but after that I began to dissect every painting. It was scary, powerful, and intimidating because it was so accurate.
I recently critiqued a good friend of mine and had her do the same thing to get her to open up and be able to talk to others about her work. She was shocked by what she was painting. Mainly images that pertained to fertility, and her own struggles with conceiving. And here she thought she had just picked some random uplifting images to work with. Nope, we all have hidden intent whether we recognize it or not.
The most important thing I am learning throughout the marketing and promoting of my work (which I HATE, and I am fairly confident I am in the same boat with most artists), is that at least my work is being seen and collected by people I feel are handpicked by me. Art is about connecting, and if something I've said has connected you to me, then you are in the right place and I am happy you are here. If I've created something that speaks to you, as it spoke to me while I was creating, then we instantly share an emotional connection, and I treasure that connection dearly. You are purchasing a piece of my soul, and I find great joy in sharing. If you are just reading and looking at pictures and are part of the 97% that will never own or see a work of mine in person, then I hope something I've said or painted resonates with you and you will continue to come back and read and enjoy.
This is a very huge moment in my life. I am growing in ways I never thought possible, and am absorbing every minute no matter how sad, eye opening, or delightful it all is. I can say for certain that it isn't boring and will provide me with LOTS of new material and subject matter for the spring! So be prepared!
Thank you for continuing to come back and visit. You guys are great. I cry with your stories, I laugh with your comments, and I am inspired through inspiring you. I'm looking forward to my best year yet, and can't wait to share it with you!!!
Ooooohhhh, my life is so exciting right now I could write about so many different things...but what to choose, what to choose...hmmm. When I was little my dad traveled all over the world and brought me back a doll from each destination. My favorite was an alpaca and farmer from Columbia. I kept all of my dolls in a case that my grandfather made. My parents have downsized their home and given me the doll case for my girls. But neither of them collect dolls so I've kept the case in the dining room for the time being trying to figure out what to do with it.
While taking a break during the reorganization of my home (some of you may have fallen victim to the albums I've come across as they are too fun to not share on Facebook), we went out to watch the kids' final soccer games. As I approached the field, I saw HIM. You know who he is. The overly angry soccer dad who showed up to the field pissed off before the game even started. We had a run-in with one of these last year. Another mom, who happened to be a friend, had a daughter on the field who was painfully shy about playing and would hardly participate. Each week she would get on the field and play a little more. The parents stood on the sidelines and cheered equally for everyone. Except one dad. He threw his hands up in the air and stomped around. He couldn't understand why the seven year old wasn't aggressively attacking the ball. "Wake up number 7!" he shouted. My friend cringed. "What are you doing out there? Sleeping?" he shouted again. My friend looked at me about to cry. I turned to look at Chris, and he promptly stepped into action, "Hey man, lighten up. It's about progress, not perfection." Perfectly put, I thought. At least it worked and the man finally shut up.
This dad was no different. The kids were a year older. The field was a little bigger. The goal post a little higher. The season was a little more challenging. Lilly begged her coach to be goal keeper. Defense was a little weak, so she quickly became a star as she blocked several goals her very first game. She had found her position. I told her how that position always scared me and I admired her courage for volunteering to try it. She was hooked and by the end of the season was even diving for the corner blocks. But she doesn't always block the ball. Sometimes they get by her. I am so proud that she never lets those misses get her down. I test her a little and ask her how she feels. Then I tell her, if she didn't let some go by once in awhile how was she ever going to know what she needed to do to improve, so thank goodness it happens. Because of this, she works extra hard. And she takes her position as keeper very seriously. She has set a standard of excellence for herself. And no matter what happened this season, she knows she worked as hard as she could and therefore met her standards.
I felt really sorry for the kid of the dad from hell. He threw his hat down on the field (mind you, these are 8 year olds and it's a YMCA team), he sighed out loud, yelled at his kid, yelled at our kids, yelled at the coach. Questioned the coach. By the looks of it (and the horrible coaching he was giving) I am guessing he has never actually played the game himself. But he sure knew how to bark orders and insults. I don't know what he was expecting exactly...that they were going to win every game? That they step onto the field knowing all there is to know about the game? That they are super athletes fully developed? On numerous occassions I turned my head to shout something at him, and quickly had my mouth covered by caring family members who didn't want to see me thrown off the field. Eventually, I just moved to a different side of the field.
The whole experience made me glad I deleted the word "expectation" from my vocabulary. When I place an "expectation" on someone...they will never meet it. If they are lucky and they happen to meet one expectation, they are sure to fail somewhere else. It's sad to see someone who has been battered by years of failing to meet expectations. Seems like eventually they just stop trying. It also seems controlling to me. I "expect" you to be this way, do this thing, be this person...who am "I"? God? The Dalai Llama? Batman? I'm one person. A nobody.
I decided that instead of setting expectations on people in my life (that is just way too much work to keep up with all the people who wrong me or are on the "in danger of wronging me" list), I am now only setting standards. When I set expectations I am controlling someone else. When I set standards, I am only responsible for me! Whew! What a relief! That is a huge weight of responsibility off my shoulders! In turn, I try to teach my children how to set standards for themselves. And when they meet those standards, they seem to be naturally driven to exceed them for some reason. 100% of the time when they exceed their own standards they are already so far above what my expectations would have been, that I don't even bother with those annoying details anymore. I love when my children come bouncing off the field, win or lose, and just high five and kick the ball around talking about how much fun they had. And I never seem to have trouble getting them out the door for practice.
And the poor guy who spent an hour belittling a bunch of kids who were much smaller than him? His kid came dragging off the field, compaining about playing, complaining about losing, complaining about running...complaining about everything. I guess that is what happens when you don't meet someone's expectations. Makes me think what a sad life this poor dad had, that he probably failed to meet someone's expectations too.
The girls came home with a couple of soccer trophies to wrap up the season. And it dawned on me that I knew just the perfect place to display them. I look at the trophy case in my dining room now thinking, wow, I have lots of active kids in this house (Chris included), and we piled all our awards in the case...now instead of dolls, the case has soccer trophies, pageant trophies, a tiara, a crown, swimming ribbons, running medals, and awards from work. It has become the family trophy case I never expected!
I hate that the reason I am writing this is because I have lost a friend. Someone that I don't know well in the sense that her friends and family knew her, but very well in a completely different way. Here is my story...
The first time I fantasized about suicide was when I was in fifth grade. The first time I engaged in reckless behavior hoping that it would result in death was in high school. The first time I attempted suicide was two years ago, at the age of thirty-four.
What was my childhood like? Everyone wants to know. It had points of greatness, and points of tragedy. But it doesn't matter, because during all of the darkest moments in my youth I always had someone else I shared them with, and that was my brother. And for some reason, he grew up just fine, and I grew up an emotional basket case.
How does that happen? Because I suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. My brother may or may not, but either way, he was functioning when I could not. He could let things roll off his back. I was called "over-emotional" because I seemed to wear my heart on my sleeve and everything made me sad.
I had the perfect adult life to the outsider. A handsome husband, two beautiful girls, a project people were excited about, community action projects that kept me busy, I was a marathon running coach for charity, and I worked on my art. I remember on the night I graduated from The Leadership Academy, a friend approached me and said, "you must be so proud of yourself. You have accomplished amazing things." I glanced around, embarrassed, to make sure he was talking to me. Nobody understood that when I said I wasn't proud, it wasn't because I was humble. It was because I really wasn't proud of myself. I was the girl who grew up in dysfunction, and instead of succumbing to addiction in the chemical sense, I became addicted to overachieving. The danger being that it is not only an acceptable addiction, but also encouraged and celebrated.
Then the perfect family I created crumbled. I was not invincible after all. No matter how perfect I was, it didn't stop dysfunction from creeping into my perfectly protected world. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was in for a very rough ride, and one that not everyone recovers from.
For years I was the strong one. Reliable. I was the one that everyone knew could keep it together. They didn't mind piling all of their drama on my shoulders because they knew I was their voice of reason. However, once my armor was cracked, it was a complete shatter. I used to run to escape and as a way of self punishment. One time on a trail run something slapped the back of my calf. It felt like a cat clawing at me. My friend, who was running behind me, said, "wow, look at you! You got scratched pretty good there! Still running like it didn't even phase you, you're so tough!" I stopped to look at my calf, and blood was crawling down my leg and seeping into my sock. I laughed. It didn't hurt, and I still had several miles to go.
But something happened that day. When a trauma happens, we form a core belief about ourselves. That moment triggered something in me that associated blood with strength. So when I picked up a box cutter while taking a bath, and practiced pushing on my forearm to see how bad suicide might actually hurt, I found it liberating when I broke skin. The pain of cutting was much less than the pain I was feeling inside.
I practiced this several times. Drawing lines all the way down my arms. Getting deeper and deeper each time. A calmness fell over me and I could breath again. I did this in secret, in the privacy of my bathroom, while my family was asleep. Then the next morning I would wake up and pretend to be supermom. Drop the kids off at school. Then climb back into bed and cry the rest of the day. Pick them up. Put on my happy face the best I could. Then back to the bathroom I went, taking the box cutter with me. When I was in a desparate state the cuts were deeper and faster. I was getting really good at it. And the stripes were slowly moving down to my wrist. My level of bravery was increasing.
During all this time my whole family knew I was suffering. From phone calls in the middle of the night to my mother, to screaming matches with my husband begging him to help me, to quiet sobbing in front of my kids where they just hugged me and kissed my head. But what I got in return was, "you are just having a bad day, everyone has those from time to time," "tomorrow is another day," "look at all the people in this world who are suffering, there are people out there who have it worse," "look at all the great things you have going for you, what could you possibly be sad about?" The truth was that I had no idea. I was just sad. I can't explain the level of sheer despair you feel in depression. It is not like anything I had ever experienced. Complete and utter hopelessness. Over and over I was asked, "what can I do to help?" Hell, if I knew that I would be doing it for myself. But I just kept saying "I don't know," and it just made my family lose patience with me.
So I quit talking to them. Suddenly everything was "fine, really, I'm fine." And they were satisfied with my answer. I felt some relief, because it made me realize that I had power over this. I was gaining some control. I could control the burden I had become on my family. As long as I was "fine," they weren't worried, and if they weren't worried, they were happy, and I was more concerned with their happiness than my own. I decided that I knew what needed to be done in order to detach from everyone, so I slowly began to separate myself and isolate. I quit returning phone calls. I quit answering messages. I didn't make an effort to visit friends. I quit calling family. And aside from the occassional, "hey girl, where are you? what happened to you? call me!" nobody seemed to notice. Once in awhile my best friend would leave work if he hadn't heard from me, and come into my house to get me out. He would take me to get coffee. Or just tell me to get out of bed. But my husband always down-played it, "she'll be okay, she's just in a bad mood."
If he ever thought it was more serious than that, I had no idea. He never told me. He took the kids out to dinner when I quit feeding them, and removed them from me so they didn't have to see me slipping further and further away. They were on the way to the park one day when my daughter came running back into the house after I thought they were gone. She started panicking when she saw me sitting on the toilet seat with a towel under my feet covered in blood. I had cut my forearms several times, exposing tissue, and blood was streaming down my arm and dripping off my fingers, and I just sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. She ran out to get my husband. After scolding me like I was a disobedient child, he pulled me off the floor and put me in the car and drove me immediately to a psychiatric hospital. I was furious with him. He wasn't taking me to help me, he was taking me in order to get rid of me. I had become the burden I didn't want to be.
Sitting at the hospital during evaluation felt like an interrogation. The woman asked me about my thoughts of suicide and my "practice" cuts that were becoming deeper, more erratic, and had moved down my arm closer to my wrist. I told her very matter-of -factly that it was my intention to commit suicide. I was in fact okay at that minute, technically, because I was a little in shock about being in the hospital. I didn't think what I was doing was that big of a deal. Everyone thinks about suicide, don't they? Everyone plans and obsesses about it, right?
The hospital didn't agree. The nurse assured me that my husband was not over-reacting, and that I was exactly where I should be, which was sitting in her office. She gave me the option of staying and being admitted to in-patient, or going home for Easter and coming back in 24 hours to begin partial in-patient...meaning I would spend every day there and sleep at home with my family. I chose the second option, on the condition that my situation was stable and at the slightest hint of trouble I would admit myself. I agreed. And with this came some level of comfort.
I went home, furious with my husband. Scared to death of a diagnosis. I didn't want my life to go on as it was, but I didn't want to be committed either. It still never crossed my mind that I was as bad off as everyone was acting, and I knew for certain I was not one of the "crazy" people that should be hospitalized. So I cried some more, I yelled and cursed, slammed doors, stomped around the house, ignored my husband, who at this time had conspired with my best friend to remove all the knives from the house as though I was a danger to myself, and decided that I just wasn't going to take this lying down. Then I became exhausted of fighting.
24 hours later I checked myself in for the beginning of a three week stint. However, I was the sane one out of all these crazy people. I had lunch with a schizophrenic author. Surely he was way worse than I was. Lunch was provided by the hospital, but we had another lunch waiting for us. A Thanksgiving style feast prepared by a woman suffering from OCD so severe that she stayed awake all night to prepare the perfect meal. Not really for us, just because she was too anxious to sleep. What the hell was I doing here?
It wasn't until two days later when I went to my first suicide prevention class that it finally sunk in. The teacher, a surivor of several suicide attempts, showed us pie charts and statistics. He also showed us the links throughout our lives that got us to that point, and also, explained the science of suicide. What does the brain look like? How is it functioning? What is missing in our chemistry? To see it broken down in terms of genetics was powerful. It made it much easier to swallow and accept. I can't help that I'm "crazy" or severely depressed. It was the combination of a perfect storm. The conditions were just right. From that moment on I took my hospitalization, treatment, and recovery very seriously. I finally found self-compassion.
Some of the things I learned in class: there were high rates of incidents of suicide for sufferers of PTSD. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is caused by-sexual abuse, covert sexual abuse, verbal abuse, mental/emotional abuse, physical abuse, and witness abuse-witnessing someone else being abused or witnessing violence or losing someone as a result of a violent trauma. PTSD or "shell shock" is not like "remembering something sad." It is a physical reaction you have to a "trigger." A trigger could be as complex as a memory, or as simple as a smell or sound. But the physical pain you feel from a trigger is very real. Your body does not know the difference between the original trauma and the trigger. So you are in just as much pain thirty years later, as you would have been during the initial trauma.
It sounds as hopeless as it feels, but it isn't. I made progress with EMDR-eye movement desensitization and reprogramming. It's taken baby-steps, but I can now talk about the event without experiencing the entire trauma again, or detaching like it never happened. Now I have a natural reaction. I can get sad without getting depressed. And I can rationalize that the sadness won't last forever. It will pass. I also learned that allergy sufferers are especially susceptible to suicidal thoughts. Suicides are highest in the spring. And from the moment a sufferer makes up their mind to do it, it only takes five minutes or less for the action to take place. I hope that people can understand how quickly these things can transpire and go downhill. Not to mention, someone who commits suicide doesn't actually WANT to die, they just want the pain to stop.
Today the thought of suicide doesn't even cross my mind. My life feels manageable, and I feel optimistic. Even during my sad times, I know I am experiencing them in a healthy way. I didn't thank my husband until my friend took her life. I no longer care what his motivation was for taking me to the hospital, I am just grateful he was as fed up as I was.
As far as what loved ones can do for those that are suffering...say the word. SUICIDE. It's NOT a bad word. It MUST be said. It MUST be asked. If anyone had asked me if I was suicidal, I would have shouted YES!!!! at the top of my lungs. It seems insane to me that my mind was ever in that cold, dark place. SUICIDE. Ask someone, and it may just save them. The word "sad" does not even begin to cover all the emotions someone who is suicidal feels. Embarrassed, hopeless, angry, resentful, bitter, depressed...yes, but not just sad. Asking us to "talk" to you about it won't do any good either. We don't want to talk, we don't know how to explain. Ask us open-ended questions. We will talk. Don't tell us to call a doctor, deliver us to a hospital. We need to know it doesn't have to be this way. That things can and will get better.
Most importantly, take care of yourself, it is the ONLY way you can help us. People who are suicidal take a LOT of work. We rob our family of time, energy, and patience. We can be selfish at best, and demons at worst. And when we are silent, and you think the storm has passed, we know we are really in the eye of it and it is going to get worse. And some of us won't make it through. Know your boundaries and what you can handle. You can't fix us. You can't say something to take the pain away. More than likely you can't do anything either, because whatever you do will only last temporarily. But you can deliver us to someone who can protect us from ourselves. A professional. Someone who looks at us through a non-emotional lense. And someone who we won't feel like we are burdening. And more than likely you aren't burdened by us, it is just in our own minds.
This is my story, I skimmed over some details I didn't think were important in order to get this message out. But I felt it was an appropriate time to share for all those who are left asking, "why?" We can't comprehend that anyone loves us, because we don't love ourselves. You don't know what you don't know, as family and friends you do the best you can, and the only thing you know how to do. And we are fully aware of that and accept it.
I hope this helps some of you. If you are offended or feel guilt or shame from my words, I apoligize. That is not why I wrote this. And of course if you have questions, please ask, or if you want to share your own feelings, I would love to hear them.
Take care my friends. Be proactive. You may save a life. But the only way to know for sure is to ASK!!!