Yesterday, my Facebook feed featured a memory from May 3, 2015 – my husband was at a conference in Italy and would soon be returning home. I posted a status that day, anticipating his homecoming with the hope that he would notice how I’d cleaned the house for us – decluttering and deodorizing and downsizing – as a surprise for him. A fresh start and what I hoped would be a poignant “Welcome Home” after his long flight and two weeks apart.
Tomorrow, that same husband, will be returning from the same conference in Italy, but instead of coming home to me, he will be coming home to a new significant other, who most certainly is anticipating his homecoming and planning her own “Welcome Home” that I keep putting out of my mind. I choose not to think about how excited he must be feeling in anticipation of their reunion.
Earlier today, I spotted our former marital counselor as she entered a crowded local venue where I was drinking a latte at the brunch bar. I had not seen her in 7 months.
I used to run into her often while my husband and I were in counseling with her. Since then, I have not run into her, and it was hard to resist the urge to walk over and say hello today. I was so happy to see her.
I thought to myself that if we passed by each other, I would smile and wave at her – she always used to say hi in the past. But, I felt unsure what to do, after all this time, and I realized, seeing her across the room, how much I have missed her, and how much I would like to talk to her, myself, one more time – to tell her what’s happened since we last met.
I did not make eye contact with her, or try to, as she spoke to the lady manning the hostess desk, and before I could act any further, she left the building and did not return. (I presume there was too long a wait for a table).
Letting go of the past is not easy, but in a small town like Athens, Georgia, it is much harder. Especially because a part of me is resisting letting go of the parts of my life that I love here, that I have not already lost.
Meaning the parts that are not my husband.
As of now, my heart has not yet let go of the idea of him, of who he is with her – which I unfortunately am being exposed to repeatedly – and of the idea of what our life together could have been.
Little by little, I’ve come to accept the reality for what it is – what is often called “radical acceptance.”
I was worried that I had lost all my ground three weeks ago. But, as my friend reassured me that Saturday night, when I felt like I was back at the beginning again, it is not taking as long this time around to accept that our life together is absolutely over – for good.
And yet – letting go and accepting the reality of the ending do not feel the same. I accept that I have to make hard choices – by myself – from now on. I accept that if I stay here in Athens, I risk running into him and his new love, and that great pain will inevitably follow. I accept that if I keep my house, I risk financial burdens I may not be wise to take on, and I accept that if I leave my house, I will risk a less than ideal living situation.
I accept that I am having as much trouble letting go of the life I love in Athens as I had letting go of the life I loved in San Diego.
Ray Charles’s “Georgia On My Mind” is playing on Pandora now as I write this – when I hear that song now, I feel like I’m home – and I sing along – with all my heart – it is mind-blowing how much I have grown to love Athens, Georgia – in such a short time.
I accept that I’m different than I was when I left California, and that I have a life here worthy of celebrating, filled with new friends whom I love, and who love me in return.
Most of all, I accept that I found a life of my own here, not because of my husband, but in spite of him.
Believe it or not, that is a gift that I accept, but the caveat is: it is now stopping me from letting go, when I know, in my gut, I will never get over the pain of our separation if I stay in this small city where I will always be looking over my shoulder, wondering if he’s there. Where there are memories everywhere I go. Where everywhere I go, I may run into people who knew us as married, who are his friends and colleagues – which has already happened, more than once.
I feel I am capable of letting go of the reality of him, because I already have, at least as far as leaving him alone to be with her, and to go on with his life without me.
But, letting go of him has not solved the larger problem of letting go of my home that I have built here – and when I say home, I do mean the house, but more so, I mean the full life I have built in this southeastern college town.
(There should be a manual on how to let go. I have heard of a book by Melody Beattie called The Language of Letting Go. I’m not sure what it’s about – now that I think of it, I may visit the bookstore this week and check it out – in case it fits my situation).
Before I left San Diego in 2011, one of my best friends tried to assuage my fears about leaving home by telling me that I would make new friends – he told me, “You’re bubbly and outgoing and friendly. You’ll make lots of friends.”
I believed him – it took a longer time than he predicted – 18 months longer – but he was right. And now, I don’t want to let go – I don’t want to say goodbye to them. It reminds me of exactly how I felt about leaving San Diego – the pain I felt in having to separate, geographically, from people who are so important to me.
What a gift though! What an unexpected gift! To have made wonderful friends on opposite coasts of the country, in two different states, in two different cultures.
Ten years ago, I never would have thought that was possible! I had a hard time leaving San Diego for cities within California that were a mere 300 miles away.
Athens is 3,000 miles away from Southern California.
I never imagined I would grow as much as I did – and I never imagined that I’d do it all by myself. I thought I needed him to show me the way, but when I look back at the last 7 years, I’m certain – I found my own way – to everything, and everyone, that I love here, that is part of my own life – not part of our marriage.
Letting go requires many layers – I’ve done it once, and someone once told me, anything you’ve done once (successfully), you can do again.
Someone else told me, if you do leave Athens, and you miss it, you can still go back someday. And this time – it would be on your terms, and your choice – not his.
And if you stay, same thing – it would be your choice, not his.
How powerful would that be!
The house is the hard part – I have been a homeowner now for long enough that letting go of that joy, that freedom, that independent life – where the choices are mine – is painful. Letting go of the house is going to be a long process – not as long as it took to accept letting go of my marriage, but longer than I have the luxury of giving myself to take. Life has to move forward – quickly.
What are the steps in letting go?
The first step is acknowledging that some choices were made for me, but that I still have choices that are mine to make. The outcome is not certain, but I get to make those decisions.
The second step is celebrating the bridges I’ve built, and grieving the ones that I burned, or that were burned by others.
The third step is making the most of every day – with every person. And trying to overcome the fear of grieving by running toward the joy to be found in the open arms of true friendships.
The fourth step is embracing gratitude – gratitude for who I’ve become – because I am stronger and more resilient than before.
I am a richer person in character, and in wisdom, and in relationships. I’ve been blessed in these last 7 years, in spite of what I have lost.
I was blessed with two perfect dogs that I called mine for 9 years. I was blessed with the honor of being part of a group of writers for 6 years who challenge me, and support me, and inspire me. I was blessed with the opportunity to be part of other local groups, and to enjoy many events and festivities and restaurants and gardens…and so on…and so on…that I would never have known if I had stayed in California – if he had left me behind, as he now wishes he had.
The fifth step is to pull myself together, as best as I can, with all my injuries – internal and external, emotional and physical, large and small, and make a plan. Adjust as needed. Keep moving forward. At least one thing a day – one of my friends told me. That’s something. Accomplish something every day. Toward the future.
The sixth step is to be open – open to new possibilities. And – to be open in communication with the people here I love – to tell them how much they mean to me, how much I will miss them, how I will do whatever I can to keep in touch so that our friendships continue to grow.
And when I come to visit, which I hope I will, it will be as if we were never apart. For that is how it has been with my close friends out west when I see them, or even when we just talk on the phone.
I have to believe letting go does not mean that I can never go back to Athens at all. It only means I can never go back to him, to the house I lived in with him, to the life I lived with him.
Most of the time, in my rational brain, I accept that. But then, there are days like today, where I am reminded he is coming home, from one of his trips, but not to me. Not to our house. Not to our life.
Letting go takes time.
There will always be reminders, even back in San Diego. We met there. We fell in love there. And our best years, as brief as they were (2 1/2 years), happened there.
It is a bigger place, with more people, and it has also changed since we left. We have not been back there, together, at the same time, since December 26, 2011. That in and of itself is a buffer. I don’t know that I will ever be able to go to see the Christmas tree at the Hotel Del Coronado, where he proposed to me, without feeling consumed with the pain of the loss. Or visit the Grand Del Mar where we got married. There are other places – UC San Diego, where we both were working when we met. The condo in Renaissance La Jolla Capri where we lived together as a family with our 3 dogs. Those are the places that will bring up memories of the happiest times we had together…once upon a time.
But, mostly, it feels like the bulk of our life happened here, just now, just yesterday. Another place, even if it is where we once loved each other, may be what I need, right now, in order to truly, and fully, let go…
I fight the feeling of anger, but lately, I do still feel anger about the unfairness of the past year. The unfairness of being the one who did all the hard work for 10 years, only to have someone else take my place in his life – potentially for the rest of her life – body, heart and soul – without making any sacrifices at all.
But – then I remember – it’s not helpful, and it’s not that black and white. I have to try to let that go, too – for my sake. I’m only hurting myself, not her, and certainly not him.
Letting go of dreams – I have not figured that out yet, not completely. I had so many dreams here. With him. Before we came here, that I did not have, or at least, I did not allow myself to have, before I met him. In fact, I told him so in my wedding vows – I told him how much it meant to me that he had opened my life to dreams that I never would have thought possible to realize.
Now – letting go of those same dreams – or having to drastically change them to fit the life of a divorced middle-aged woman – has become a battle I keep fighting. It’s like hitting my head against a wall that won’t budge.
Letting go does not have to be hard in every way – and I have found that the silver lining in the clouds is that I have let go of all that small, insignificant crap I used to dwell on. None of those little things matter anymore. That’s a good thing. Letting go of stuff that weighs you down and doesn’t matter is a good thing – in fact, it is a great thing.
I wish it did not come at the cost of letting go of the big things: love, marriage…home, family…him…but it does.
It has also taught me that I need to let go of people who do not feel that I have a place in their life – now that he and I are apart. There are six degrees of separation in a world as small as Athens, and UGA, as big of a university as it is, is still a small world.
I am learning how to let go of people who did not choose me, and to be okay with that. To wish them well with no hard feelings – and to understand that it is not about me – they just feel closer to him.
I was at Barnes and Noble a couple of hours ago – where I go to relax when I’m anxious or stressed. Bookstores are my sanctuary.
A man and his little boy approached the counter in the cafe where I was waiting to order a drink. Taylor, the guy manning the register, pointed out to the gentleman that I was there first. The father seemed flustered and said he was sorry, he just wanted a cup of water for his son. I told him not to worry, that I was not concerned. I knew he was not cutting in line (and I thought to myself, even if he were, did it really matter? No, it certainly did not!).
About 10 minutes later, the father found me wandering the aisles of the store and apologized to me again. I felt so bad for him at that point because being that he was a person of color, I wondered if he was hyper vigilant to being chastised or criticized…or worse. I reassured him that I was not worried at all and that he did not need to worry about offending me.
It made me wonder how I would have felt in that situation several years ago, and I realized, sadly, I might have sweated it, in some cases – not this one. He was just a dad getting his little boy a glass of water. But in other cases, I might have. I used to have a “stick up my ass” as they say – my own version of hyper vigilance.
I’m happy to let go of that in the wake of bigger things, of multiple losses, of straightening out my priorities.
I still battle anxiety. I still struggle with the brain changes that arose from trauma, especially Adverse Childhood Experiences ( A.C.E.) I still struggle with ADD and the challenges that brings. Lately, I am struggling with Major Depressive Disorder from losing my two dogs, and my husband, all in the same year.
Letting go has been, and will be, a process. Grief is a process. It is a maze. It zigzags. It has dead ends, and U-turns, and potholes, and sand traps.
And that’s okay.