Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Losing Control and Finding Me

I'm in the process of getting to know myself. I'm sure you've heard of this concept before. I’m trying to be comfortable in my own skin. Understand what makes me tick – and what ticks me off. I'm understanding how important it is for me to recognize who I am as a person and not as part of a couple. 

I read a book on moving from “we” to “me” for people that were widowed or divorced. How do you transition from that couple status to an individual? How do you define yourself? If you become involved with another person, what qualities do you want that person to have? How do you maintain “you” for the future and potential relationships.  Some parts of the book I didn’t care for. Some, it made me think, so that’s a good thing. The book did confirm that I need to continue to know more about me before I can think of any potential “we”. I don’t want to lose me again.

After 21 years with Ghon, I realized that I wasn't so sure who I was. I attempted to start this process, of figuring me out, or at least deciding I needed to, right before Ghon died. I put Ghon, the kids, and my job so far ahead of myself that the definition of who I was focused on my roles of wife, mother, and project manager. The biggest project I needed to focus on, the most neglected, was me. After my weight loss, I became an entirely different person physically. Mentally, there is a slow mind shift.

Shock and grief put a hold on all this. I needed to go through the motions, at least those of mom and project manager before I could focus on me. 

Ever see the movie Runaway Bride? I kinda feel like Maggie. I'm trying to decide if I really like my eggs scrambled, or if I like them scrambled because that's how Ghon ate them.

What are the things we did that I really enjoyed or would consider doing without him? Not too much. What did I like doing before him? I have no idea. I was 19 and in college. Before him I was, well, let’s just say I don’t want to be her either.

Signs of my own growth and development are sometimes slow. I am beginning to recognize that to an extent, I may be a control freak. As a parent, I've had to let that go and accept that there are things I can't control. That was easy. I do go with the flow a lot in that respect. One of the biggest things I teach the kids is control of our emotions. We are human and we are allowed to have feelings, any feeling we want. But it is our reaction, our response and behavior that we can control. That it's OK to be angry and hurt but it is not OK to throw or break things or use hurtful words. These reactions may give temporary relief but have lasting impact and not always a positive one.

On Monday, I had my own mini-epiphany along these lines. 

If you know me, you know I am a huge New Kids On The Block fan. Just six hours before show time on Sunday, my friend Brandi agreed to go with me to their show that night in D.C.  I didn't have tickets. Totally impulsive. It was exhilarating to make such a decision, then buy tickets in the pit, and go!! I’m a planner. I don’t mind spontaneity, but it’s not always easy. This was exciting!

I'll spare the concert details, but it was amazing. Then as we tried to leave, we couldn't. We missed the last Metro train home. Quick thinking and a call to another friend who was also at the show, we made it back to Winchester. Now of course, I had to figure out how to get my car from the Metro on Monday.   

Fortunately, yet another friend agreed to drive me nearly an hour and a half to the train station to get my car on Monday. It was early in that ride that my epiphany began.

Ghon had a 68 Pontiac Le Mans convertible. Driving that car was therapeutic for him. For me, unless we were driving in a city, and even then there were episodes, riding in the car gave me anxiety. He loved to drive it fast. Top down of course. And it scared the shit out of me. Is he going to stop in time? If we were rear ended, would I fly out of the car? What if we rolled? Oh my are we really passing a tractor trailer it's fishtailing I think I’M GOING TO DIE!

I couldn't ride on any highway in the car. In general, I drove almost everywhere we went (but never the Le Mans) except on vacations. If I was a passenger, I felt out of control, and that often extended to other people driving. Ghon may have been driving the same speed I would have, but I felt so unsafe. It was better for both of us, to spare my anxiety or any arguments from me yelling at him to slow down or announcing the presence of every stop sign, to just do the driving.

What does this have to do with getting my car? I was about to ride, not drive, in a Jeep with an open top and virtually no doors on the interstate. I almost panicked, but realized I didn't really have reason to. OK, I did mention once how this ride had anxiety inducing potential, but I shut up after that. I had no control over the drive, only my reaction to it. Take a deep breath and settle down girl…

So what happened? First, I enjoyed the ride. 

Second, I was able to view and appreciate the view around me. When I drive, I am too focused on the drive to appreciate the mountains, the valley, and thanks to an open roof this time, the sky and clouds. We live in a beautiful world. OK maybe at first I looked around and up to not look forward; but it was still refreshing.

Third, I realized what was happening. I was comfortable not having control of the vehicle. I was comfortable in the passenger seat, my hand not always in the vehicle  (don't tell the kids!), and just being present in the moment. I let go of control. I was content, relaxed, and combined with only 3 hours sleep the night before, I almost fell asleep.

I had no reason to be anxious or fearful. My previous reactions were likely a result to the fact I'd been in a car accident while Ghon was driving, and the continuing anxiety and need to find control while in a similar situation. I hadn't felt that, and when my brain tried to remind me that I was in an open vehicle on an open road and I needed to breakdown; I denied the fight or flight response. I controlled it. The reward was insurmountable. 

Control. It’s power and influence over another person’s behavior. It sounds so heavy and negative. In my past, it was control of, well, almost everything. Schedules, meals, shopping, activities, laundry, finances, you name it, I ran and did it. Ghon and I didn’t always have a balanced at home life. Sure, he’d help here and there, but 90% of the time, it was me. I’m not so sure it was so much that I needed the control as much as it was that someone had to do it, and that someone was me. The one thing I had no control over was Ghon. Influence maybe, never control. And I wouldn’t have wanted it.

The first weeks of losing Ghon, I had no control. I just went where nudged. Did what I thought was right or was told was. Slowly, I attempted to regain control of my life, of the kid’s life. Attempt; as sometimes it still seems a little chaotic. Maybe this is why I have such a hard time asking for help. I’ve been wired to do it all with no help. I control the who, what, when, where and how. There are many days and situations where I wish I could give some of that control over to someone else. Not to a Stepford wife level of course.

For now, I will attempt to keep focusing on doing what makes me happy, outside of my kids and career. Is there anything I want to change or improve when it comes to who I am? Who do I want to spend my time with? What do I enjoy doing? I want to try new things so I can decide whether or not I like it or not. Knowing I’m not into something is just as important as knowing I am. To be open to learning from people that have lived different lives so I can see what life is like outside of the “we” I lived for so long. I know I like to help people. I know I like to do things for people. I like to take care of others. I like yoga, massage, acupuncture and exercise. I like the beach, but don’t like sand anywhere but on my feet. I love live music, chocolate, and the sun. I don’t like kale, snakes, and rodents. I don’t like little cars, negativity and scary movies.

And apparently, I can now appreciate and enjoy long rides in vehicles with no roofs and open doors.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Rollercoaster of Tears

It hit me like a ton of bricks tonight.

I really don't know what it was, or how it came about, but it hit. Hard.

I had a wonderful weekend. Every last bit of it. A decent day at work. The kids are spending their first week of summer vacation with my sister, so I had no time commitments after work. I headed out to do a little shopping and start checking off more to do list items. Things to do  in general, things to do while the kids aren't here, things to do before the mini-memorial next Sunday.

Out of nowhere, the wind left my sails.

I left the store I was in, got in the car, and cried. Not a lot, but a few tears. I drove to the next store, went in, got everything I needed and as I loaded the car, I felt all wrong again.

I've never smoked anything, let me repeat, anything, in my life. Suddenly, it felt like a good time to smoke a cigarette.

I got in the car.

Maybe, tonight would be a good time to have a drink. And I don't mean water.  No, no, that wouldn't be good either. Head to the next store. Grind my fresh peanut butter, check out, back to the car, what the hell is wrong with me? Change the song on the iPod.
The rollercoaster ride's a lonely one
I pay the ransom note to stop it from steaming
Hey, what are you looking at?
I was a teenage girl when he met me...
(slightly edited...)
 I listen to Sour Girl the entire 35 minute ride home. I cry, the entire 35 minute ride home.

I'm wailing along to the song, tears streaming down my face. I don't know why I'm crying so bad. I get goosebumps, completely up my arms.

What the hell?

Is it because tomorrow is the one year mark from Ghon's surgery?

Is it because today when I went for a walk, I looked at that little meadow and wanted to sit down, right there in the middle of the sidewalk and reason with it? Tell it why it was special, why I loved the flowers and why I hated them?
The girl got reasons, they all got reasons
Damn if I know what the reason is. Hell, I don't even know if I care what the reason is. I just know, that tonight I cried the hardest and the longest I have in weeks.

I wanted to come home and get something accomplished. I debated in my head the merits of doing as much as possible, sleep be damned, stay up all night versus crawling into bed and not doing anything. Let sleep win, or lay there and wait, and wait, and wait for sleep to take over.

By the time I got home, unloaded the car, washed the makeup off my black teared face, and changed, it was really to late to do anything. I washed today's lunch dishes, prepared tomorrow's breakfast. As I debated, I could hear the words of the this post taking shape.

No, I won't start drinking or smoking. I will write. Writing is cathartic, at least when  you can see the screen through the tears.

I think it's the loneliness. It just hit me - at the weirdest time.  Just like on Mother's Day. Now if you know me well, and where I live, this isn't an open invitation to come rushing over here. Yes, I know, there are some of you I can call. But in the middle of lonely, I don't want company. Lonely has it's purpose. Lonely makes me feel whether I want to or not. Lonely doesn't hide.

Or maybe, it's when I'm lonely, that I'm reminded that I'm not really alone. Because it's then that I think even more about Ghon, and eventually, I'm OK. Perhaps those goosebumps, were my reminder of his presence. I'm reminded that there are people I can call if I really need it. But yea, you know I won't.

I knew there would be some whacked up emotions leading up to the first anniversary. Today, was the first nosedive. Hopefully, I can keep it together a little better the next few days. My to-do list isn't getting any shorter.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Getting Better

I'm back to squishy feely, at least for tonight.

Today, I reminded the world (AKA Facebook) that my mood swings the next two weeks may induce whiplash. While I apologize for that, it was also a reminder for friends to not only understand what I'm going through, but for me to remember what I'm going through.

In just 13 days, 365 days will have past since I last held Ghon's hand. Since I last laid beside him. Since I last kissed his lips. Since I last tried to make him better, like I'd always done. But this time, I couldn't.

If I can't make him better, there's only one person left to make better. That person can be strong-willed, temperamental, needy, determined, weak, driven, and may operate without focus. She can build walls of protection as fast as she can tear them down. She often doesn't know what she's protecting herself from or why. Most days, she doesn't even know who she is.

But I know her. She's fragile. She's lost and afraid of being found. She's confused, she's tired. She will fight for what is hers, for those she loves, and for what she believes in - when she knows what that is. She is loyal; she is fierce. And stubborn. I can't forget stubborn.

There are days I'd like to throat punch those responsible for putting me on this journey. Not so much for my sake, but for me kids. They are doing OK, but grief rears it's ugly head from time to time, as expected and it's hard. I want to run and hide from every Father's Day advertisement, corny t-shirt or coffee mug, and father-son matching clothing. I don't want to insulate the kids and never give them opportunity to feel and remember. I want them to do it on their terms. Their grief is their love for their dad.

Any advice for when your child says they don't really want to look at a chicken leg bone, because it reminds them of how Daddy used to chew off all the extra pieces they left behind?

I didn't think so.

This mind dump though isn't supposed to be so angry sounding. Insert that whiplash warning again here.

Because grief is a journey, it is a process; I know we (myself, the kids, and those of you reading that knew Ghon) will be traveling this road for a long time. But I've felt change coming. Despite the anxiety brewing over making it through the anniversary, things really are getting better.

Let me pause and reflect on the mess of emotions one feels when saying that things are getting better.

Better doesn't mean I don't still love Ghon. Better doesn't mean I don't miss him. Better doesn't mean there are days that absolutely hurt.

Better means I'm surviving. It means I am working on saving that girl. Trying hard to figure out who I am instead of who we are. Better means most days, I manage my chaos than I used to. Better, means knowing that I have, and will, continue to live my life as I choose to define it.

This house. This massive house would have been filled by Ghon's laughter, by his anger, by his passion. His energy is still here. But it's not stealing pies from the kitchen window like he'd planned. The kids are begging me to either shoot, or let them shoot the groundhogs in the yard through my bedroom window with Dad's .22, just like he used to do.

Getting better and living my life - it's part of the process. I can't do the things Ghon planned. I can't do the things we planned. I have to make my own plans and do those. They may be originals or adaptations from our plans - but they are mine going forward.

Getting better is feeling slightly more confident in who I am.

Getting better is acknowledging that I may need help - and getting it.

Getting better is understanding that distraction and lack of focus is a coping mechanism and it too shall pass.

Getting better is remembering Ghon, telling his stories, and not breaking down in tears every single time.

Getting better is taking care of me for a change.

Getting better is tearing down walls so I can see who is on the inside waiting to come out. Tearing down walls that keep me living in the past. 

Getting better is still making lunch on a Sunday afternoon, eating on the porch, and not freaking out that your husband isn't beside you - according to plan.

Getting better is taking selfies in the mirrors at Wal-mart again, because you know you looked that good today. (Seriously, she is vain some days.)

Getting better is looking at the field where you last took pictures, and it isn't as pretty as you thought it was.

Getting better is taking off the rose colored glasses.

For tonight, I'll feel, well, better. As for tomorrow, I just have to wait and see. Live with minimal expectations. Let the life that is to be, with the memories I'll always have, carry me forward. Can't promise I won't kick and scream or cry some days, but I'll keep moving forward.

This girl is too stubborn; too fierce; not to.