CUT!

Oh hey!

I wasn’t expecting to be here. Were you?

Life was picture perfect. Like a preppy Hollywood movie, with a generous serving of Pride and Prejudice for good measure.

I met the man (tall, dark and handsome). Dated him the appropriate number of years. Lived together, travelled, all that jazz. He got down on one knee with a rock so bright I had to squint to see what it was in his sweaty shaking hands.

I said yes.

I bought the dress, we chose the village church, the reception venue in the woods. We delighted over hog roasts and flower displays. The sun shone brightly as we said our vows, then kissed under a floral arch to rapturous applause. He was in a three piece suit with tales, I wore romantic lace. We had never known such happiness.

We added two beautiful bundles to the mix. That’s where the cracks began to appear. Soon enough they were enormous chasms. Impossible to avoid or ignore. Like a volcano, our marriage erupted suddenly, catastrophically, irreparably.

And now we’re here. Life. But not as I knew it. Life: Take Two.

Life’s a bitch bastard and then you marry one. — Anon

 

Universal Credit – the relationship I wish I’d never had

So I received that letter.

“Important: you’ve received more universal credit than you’re entitled to.”

No clear explanation why. No monetary break down. Just a couple of dates in between which they apparently didn’t file their paperwork correctly, yet I am the one to blame. And now I owe them an aching sum.

I didn’t declare everything. Yet I did. Numerous meetings. Numerous declarations. Photocopies. Scans. Uploads. Interviews.

In every other business transaction in your life. There’s the decorum to address you as a human being and explain what brought you to a certain set of circumstances.

But universal credit is immune.

For one month they sent me continuous threats that it was about to be suspended. Until they realised it was an error on their part. Various threatening messages received with no due cause, followed up by a callous explanation of a misunderstanding and a meek “sorry for the confusion.”. And now this.

Confusion? That’s not confusion. That’s groceries. That’s the rent that keeps my children off the streets. That’s what gives me the stability to carry on earning and eventually become self sufficient so I don’t rely on Universal Credit.

But right now, you’re the relationship I wished I’d never have. But I need you. You’re not marriage material. You’re a rebound. But I need you for my emotional and financial security.

Yet every few weeks you toy with it. So I never feel too settled or content. Lord knows how the world would cope with single parents who felt too stable.

I left one demeaning relationship to be dehumanised by the next. I was emotionally abused by my ex, but I’ll only feel free from it when I cut this tie too.

Universal credit/tories. One in the same. We are a number to you. But we are just people who fell on bad circumstances.

One day I will be stronger. When that time comes, I will do something about this. Universal credit is meant to get people back on their feet, but the lack of organisation, the communication devalues those who need it. We are more than a figure. We need more than finances. Money helps. But talk to us like we are humans.

We are vulnerable but we are trying.

Treat people like scum, and they will eventually behave that way too. For what is the point in trying when nobody is paying attention?

Pay attention. Money helps us temporarily. Emotional recognition could help us indefinitely.

When you’re gone

It sits like a stone in my stomach

but what is that searing pain?

My chest so tight.

I struggle to breathe.

My head feels numb.

I can’t see thoughts.

I just feel sensations.

Nauseous. Disorientated. Pained.

An ache which starts in my head,

sits heavily on my lower back,

and reaches my toes.

Limp.

Powerless.

Choked.

My insides are pulled out.

Hot tears erupt down my face.

A primal groan emanates from within.

A howl. A scream.

And now here I lie in foetal position.

Like you once did within me.

And I remind myself,

I will hold you again.

But for now,

I am powerless to grief.

 

Moana made me do it

We all have the crunch moment. That moment of no return. Moana inspired my divorce.

There’s a time when you look at your partner and realise there is nothing left to say or do. It’s over. You have exhausted every promise, heard too many “never again”s. But there was an again, wasn’t there?

And again, and again.

Separations often occur after Christmas, or during a period of immense stress, like a new addition to the family, and it’s also not uncommon for it to happen when there is a significant loss in the family.

In my case, I started to assess things seriously on an afternoon when I was watching Moana with my 3 year old and 1 year old. I received a phone call which interrupted the viewing. I received the news that my Grandmother had gone into intensive care. It didn’t look good for her. I knew she had little time with us left.

My daughter loved Moana, so we watched it repeatedly. The relationship between Moana and her Grandmother often made me tear up as my Grandmother was also important to me. She was my biggest advocate. I always felt like unlike many others, she truly “saw” me.

“Sometimes the World seems against you

The journey may leave a scar

But scars can heal and reveal just where you are

The people you love will change you

The things you have learned will guide you

And nothing on Earth can silence

The quiet voice still inside you

And when that voice starts to whisper

Do you know who you are?

I am Moana Song of the Ancestors

The person I loved had changed me. I didn’t recognise myself or my husband anymore. Our relationship was competitive and bitter. I constantly felt on guard, I was regularly judged and attacked by him. Whenever I objected to how he spoke to me, he told me off for being “sensitive” or a “feminist”.

I’ve lost count of the times I tried to approach the relationship “afresh” or the number of e-mails I sent begging him to be kinder. But there was that quiet voice inside me. The one that knew I deserved real happiness.

I was about to lose the only woman who had ever shown me unconditional love. Unreserved pride. An abundance of kindness. Without her on my side, I knew I’d need to become my own cheerleader. I had to learn to love myself the way she loved me, or I would be ground down until I was too weak to remember who I once was.

It didn’t feel like that was such a distant prospect.

It wasn’t at this time that I asked my husband for a divorce. But we did separate. The Disney lover in me hoped somewhere inside him was a Prince Charming, ready to reveal himself – ready to pull our relationship in rather than letting it cast adrift. Instead, he pulled off what remained of his mask, and found a way to constantly remind me why I was leaving him.

Every time I hear the “Song of the ancestors” from Moana, I am reminded of the empowering moment I told myself I deserved more. When I watch the end, I am reminded of how little there was of myself left, but I still knew who I was.

Enough to realise I deserved better.

“They have stolen the heart from inside you, but this does not define you. This is not who you are. You know who you are.”

 

 

My two word mantra

“Fuck ’em.”

Yep, that was my 2018 mantra and I’m rolling it into 2019.

Some people need to be taught a lesson in kindness and empathy. I am not one of those people. I’m overly sensitive. Some have even said gullible. I always look for the best in everyone. You’d think this would make the world a softer lovelier place.

It doesn’t.

It means I’m often taken advantage of. Walked all over. Unless I surround myself with like minded individuals, it often works against me.

My ex and I had blazing rows, but one thing he would never dispute was the fact that I am kind. Also quick to forgive. I often forget too. Life’s too short, right?

Wrong.

My ex and I were arguing like cat and dog in the lead up to our wedding. It was (at that stage) the most stressful period of my life. That in itself should have been a red flag. But one sweet smile from him, a loving squeeze, and I went back to believing in the “good version” of us.

I will never make that mistake again.

My ex uses the “fuck ’em” attitude on a daily basis, to his own detriment. He completely lacks empathy. He always puts his own needs first, and uses other people to facilitate him in getting whatever it is he is after.

But enough about him. Softies like me, we need the “fuck ’em” mantra.

Us softies often put our own needs last, particularly once we’re parents. We’re people pleasers. We thrive on making others happy. We give up our seat on the bus. Smile at strangers on the street and cry at nappy adverts.

We’re soft people in a hard world. That is special and to be celebrated. There are many advantages to being intensely in tune with not only your own emotions but those of others. But where we share in joy we also share in others suffering.

Worse still, narcissists and abusers latch onto empaths. They love bomb us, charm us, then gradually work on grinding you down. They can’t resist it, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

Unfortunately regular communications with an ex (due to shared childcare) can give them a further opportunity to manipulate and exert control. New found single parenthood can also make you feel self conscious – which is daft considering how many there are of us.

But regardless, we look at the adverts with nuclear families and can’t help but feel inferior. When these moments attack my sensitive low self esteem, I mutter out

“Fuck ’em”

Not angrily, I have no anger towards happy families. Obviously. We’re a happy family too. I say it with joy.

“Fuck ’em” can be interchangeable about “fuck it”. The main emphasis is on the fact – none of it really matters.

It doesn’t matter what that judgemental woman on the train scowling at your kids behaviour thinks. It doesn’t matter what your ex Mother-in-law says about you. It doesn’t matter if your ex is prioritising his new found squeeze over your kids.

YOU HAVE NO CONTROL OVER THESE THINGS.

We do have control of how we perceive things though, so turn those perceptions around after mumbling “fuck ’em/it” under your breathe.

We make our own stories. We write our own narrative. We create our own reality. We choose how we shape our world. Nobody else cares about our business, or has walked in our shoes. Most people are more concerned with themselves.

You owe nothing to anyone, and nobody owes anything to you. It is nobody else’s duty to take care of you. Make things better for you. We are responsible for our own self care. We don’t wait for others to suggest we do something for ourselves. We need to always fill our own cup first.

As a single mum I am more aware of this than ever. If I am not strong, if I am not happy, I have less to give my kids, my boyfriend and my friends. My sanity, my wellness matters. I’m everything the kids have most the time, falling apart is not an option.

And what helps me from not falling apart? Fucking it all off.

And repeat after me “Fuck ’em”.

 

Let it go

Let it go, can’t hold it back anymore.

Separation is a funny thing. It’s akin to grieving, emotions hit you in waves. Christmas was hard, as it is for many single parents. Despite that, I whooped January’s ass. I stopped drinking, did a vegan reset programme, got myself all the health supplements I could possibly think of and jumped on the CBD oil bandwagon.

I read more. Listened to funny podcasts. Gave myself more completely to a fledgling relationship and allowed it to blossom. There were the odd healthy tears I shed at night, still allowing myself to mourn. But I finally felt in touch with myself. I felt strong, positive. I was glowing.

The February half term loomed. Not only would I be spending most of it without the kids, but I was going to have to visit my ex in the country I used to live to collect them. I’d found out recently he had a new partner.

Despite being in a blissfully happy relationship myself (and I really mean it, he’s amazing) I was livid. In some ways I still feel some odd obligation to my ex, and like he should to me.

I felt strangely guilty for meeting someone new, knowing he wasn’t seeing anyone. Yet when he did meet her, I was equally perplexed. Partly because she seemed so similar to me. We even share a lot of the same friends from my time there.

When we parted ways after signing the separation papers, on our final evening together he criticised me for not taking care of myself. That I didn’t wax my legs often enough (I shit you not). He didn’t see the flip side of this. That I was investing so much time into our toddler and baby that I had little time for myself.

When I saw on her facebook profile (I couldn’t resist) references to her being a feminist, who wrote a dissertation on black female rights, I couldn’t help but feel a little sick. When my ex was secretly seeing someone behind my back, she actually dumped him for sleeping with a black prostitute on a rugby tour. I only mention her skin colour as he purposefully chose to sleep with her to know “what it was like to sleep with a black woman”. Not just a pig, but a racist one at that.

My stomach turned at that story then and it still turns now. He claims it’s not true, yet he’s also told me many other lies – and unfortunately it sounds disturbingly like something he’d do. He did before we were married, so why not now?

I look at their relationship and I pity her. He’s great at romancing and love bombing. He’s fantastic at manipulation. But he’s a controlling husband and a lazy father. If she truly is a feminist who believes in women’s rights she’s going to have an interesting time as he begins to reveal his true self and sniggers at her “silly ideas”.

I guess I’m also offended that despite dumping me for numerous things, he’s got together with a woman who has all the traits he said he disliked about me.

Why? Why does this bother me? I once said I felt no anger. In that moment, that was the truth. But it’s bubbling over now. I’m letting it. It needs to come out.

I promised myself I’d never write this type of blog post. But heck, it feels good.

I feel fortunate that I have met a beautiful kind and giving soul who has helped highlight the toxic rotten creature I was once married to. It will be a real celebration when the divorce papers come in early next year.

It’s so hard to coparent with a man I have no respect or trust for. I have to remind myself of how happy he makes the kids and how important that relationship is to them. I need to learn to focus on what is immediately in front of my nose. My unconventional little family which pretty much has a fourth member at this stage.

And we’re loving it, we’re loving him. I may not have the family I dreamed of, but the one I have is perfect because it’s full of love, the way all families should be. And that love is only growing as we all share more experiences and special moments together.

If it weren’t for the mistakes I’ve made in the past, I might not have recognised when I’d hit jackpot. Where I’m unfortunate for having a shitty ex, I do have an exceptional boyfriend. I guess it’s better that way round.

I’m choosing to be positive. I’m far away from the car crash that will be my ex husband’s love life. If he learns to be a better partner, good for him. If he doesn’t, more fool her. The most important thing, is I’m a long way away from it all.

The difficult thing about divorce (with kids) is that you can never use the term “free”. As long as we share custody and he has financial responsibilities to me, I can never feel free. As someone who likes to actively remove toxicity from my life, this is a hard pill to swallow.

I plan to learn coping mechanisms. I plan to focus on the now. On the future. On the beauty immediately around me. Nurture it. Let it grow. Let it blossom. Let it envelope me in so much wonder, that the ugliness pales into insignificance. I’ll be in such a strong place that I’ll only be able to pity him.

Today I already feel a little better. Tomorrow will be better still. One hour, one day at a time.

I can’t do Mum Groups

There. I said it.

I just can’t!

Mum: Today my lazy husband did this *****. He’s driving me mad!

Me in my head: If he’s making your life that crap then leave him.

Mum: “Oh, but he’s so lovely when…”

Me in my head : *eye roll* “Just shut up already…”

And repeat.

Another variation of it.

Smug mum post.

Moan about privileged middle class life.

And repeat.

I just feel so out of touch with it all. So on the outskirts. One moment I was grumbling with the best of them. Asking for tips as to where to go for romantic weekends.

Then all of a sudden, just like that, I was an alien.

I can’t relate to them. I highly doubt they can relate to me.

Once in a while you get the odd “Hats off to you single mums, I solo parented all week and it was so hard, the kids had to have pizza one night!!!”

Where’s my tiny violin?

They ain’t got a f**king clue.

It’s weird how your marital status can affect so much, but it just does. Maybe there’s some resentment on my part.

Most likely, let’s be honest.

That whole #firstworldproblems is kind of how I feel when I see someone moan about an itch in an otherwise happy marriage.

Maybe one day I won’t resent all you happy buggers. Maybe I’m just feeling bitchy because I saw my divorce lawyer today*.

But urgh. What I’d do for an incompetent husband over an evil almost ex husband sucking all the funds out of my bank account.

What I’d do to not feel like an outsider. Most the time I embrace my fresh start on life. But those groups give me an insight into the life of people who are settled and content and, I won’t lie, it stings..

*highly likely

Grief and booze

On February 3rd I made a decision to let Dry January over spill into February. Perhaps even into March. As long as I feel happier and stronger sober, then that is how I will remain.

This wasn’t a fast or simple decision. But I know it is time I grieved.

My ex and I broke up in August 2017. We legally separated March 2018 and we’re yet to divorce. We have been waiting to tick the “two years separated” box. It’s been the hardest year and a half of my life. So I decided to be kind to myself, but was I really?

As I was stuck in (and still am stuck in) most evenings with my children asleep in their rooms, I turned to the bottle as a source of comfort. At first it felt strange to drink alone, yet whenever I’d message or speak to friends, the first thing they’d say was “God you’re having an awful time, sounds like you need a drink!”. Even my therapist told me a medicinal glass of wine at night was better than taking antidepressants.

I told myself it was just a short term thing to numb my nerves, and numb my nerves it did. But it also numbed my brain, any feelings of joy, and any motivation to push on with my life. It made me irritable and cranky and my IBS worse.

I was perpetually exhausted and anxious. I looked forward to the kids bedtime as I knew I would feel better once I opened a bottle of wine. There would never be any left by the time I went to bed.

I felt lost, I would drink until my throat burned and my cheeks stung from all the tears I’d cried. I found myself enjoying not having company in the evenings as it was an opportunity to drink until I ambled back to bed bleary-eyed.

Funnily enough, despite all of the above, I didn’t recognise that alcohol was becoming a problem. It creeped up on me gradually.

I felt wretched by the end of December. I’d developed a large short patch of hair on the back of my head from where I’d been anxiously pulling at it. I’d noticed my hands starting to shake the morning after drinks. My eyes were dark hollows. My gut was so bad that I was nervous to eat at all. The misery of the previous year had physically manifested itself within me. I had no choice but to look after my health.

Dry January it was. So many people do it, why not?

To fully embrace the spirit of Dry January I decided to listen to “The unexpected joy of being sober” by Catherine Gray. I also downloaded the Alcohol Change Charity Dry January app so I could track my success. I didn’t make it until the end of January. I drank on the 26th, 27th, 30th, 31st of January and then 1st, 2nd February.

I couldn’t help but look at those little black squares on the calendar and recognise a problem. I wasn’t drinking in moderation like I had planned to. I could feel my drink cabinet beckoning me on a daily basis again.

When I first started listening to Catherine Gray’s audio book I thought we had little in common. She had a real drinking problem with regular black outs, excessive spirit consumption, the list goes on. However it didn’t take me long to realise, there is no solid definition of an alcoholic/alcohol dependency. Essentially if alcohol is a problem for you, it is a problem. In my case, even one glass feeds the black dog. It needed the boot.

Aside from being depression’s evil accomplice, alcohol was also getting in the way of a proper night sleep. After listening to Joe Rogan’s podcast with Matthew Walker on the science of sleep, I realised not only was alcohol stopping me from sleeping properly, it was also stopping me from emotionally processing/compartmentalising my experience of separation. Even in my sleep I was preventing myself from moving on.

What’s worse, your body needs to catch up on that REM sleep, and it will make sure it does. Hence the terrifying nightmares many people experience as they detox themselves off alcohol. Fortunately it doesn’t last for long, but for about five days I was afraid to go to sleep.

Today I read a tweet by Rob Delaney which really resonated.

Rob Delaney Sobriety

“Sobriety allows me to grieve fully, and grief is an expression of love.” Rob Delaney

In his case, grief is an expression of love for his son. In my case, that love is the love I need to show to myself. When I left my ex, I didn’t just leave behind a 9 year relationship, but the place and country I’d called my home for 8 years, my friendship groups, my career. Everything. In many ways, it’s nice to have a fresh start in a new place in a new city – the chance to reconnect with old friends and make new ones.

But still. I left behind a lot. A lot of sadness, but also many happy times and many good friends as well as a career I loved. I also had to abandon the dreams of a happy marriage and a nuclear family. I had never considered my life in any other context. I was a victim to Cinderella syndrome. I really did believe marrying my ex meant I’d have my “happy ever after”.

In my post on anger, I mentioned the importance of sitting with one’s feelings. It’s easy when you’re caught up in the adrenaline of the fight to leave someone, then the fear of the unknown, the need to be strong to support your children – to quash those vulnerable feelings or to forget them all together. Yet the process of grieving is vital to feeling truly happy in yourself again.

One can never move on if we don’t allow space in ourselves and our lives to grieve. Since being sober I have cried a couple of times. It felt so different sober. So raw, so real, ever so slightly terrifying. Yet when I was done, I felt a relief wash over me, which I never did when I was drunk.

One and a half years later, I am finally allowing myself to grieve. It’s not frightening like I imagined it would be, it’s empowering. For every unresolved feeling I find a space for, the more I open myself up for contentment. Being able to leave the past behind means I will be able to fully embrace the present, without fear and sadness tarnishing life’s potential.

Watch this space.