Losing Control? by Conlee Ricketts
It’s a silly little fairy tale we tell ourselves. The concept of being in control of our life is just this comforting idea we have (and we believe in wholeheartedly) while our life goes on smoothly with no upset. Then one day your husband tells you he no longer loves you, or your mom dies, or you wreck the car, gain 20 pounds, break your wrist, on and on and on the list goes. This list describes the last three years of my life with the exception of the divorce and my Mom which were five and eighteen years ago respectively.
But so what? The notion that I am in control of my life is my preferred vision—right up until the moment I am not in control. That’s the way life is sometimes. You have everything under control until you don’t. Divorce is one of those times. Since I’m a problem solver by nature, and an idea generator with a fair amount of experience with disappointment, I seem to be the perfect person to come to for a set of judgment free ears.
“I don’t know how you are so OK!”
I’m told this by a friend whose husband just left her; together they have three teenagers and she comes to me wanting concrete answers:
How long did it take you to get over it?
Was it ok that I did that?
What do you think I should do?
Was that right?
Did you do that too?
She bombards me with questions and I smile and support her as best as I can during her completely unique situation. I can’t stress this point enough—each situation is unique—and my way of handling things isn’t going to be the cookie cutter answer to resolve her pain, especially where divorce is concerned.
In the grand scheme of things I had a “fabulous” divorce. Did my heart break? Absolutely, I was heartbroken, but I had my own way of healing myself. My friend wants to pick up a book similar to What to Expect When You’re Expecting—the divorce edition, but it doesn’t work that way, sorry.
Divorces have themes sure, they have descriptions “friendly,” “contentions,” “ugly,” etc. but they are each different according to the two souls doing the divorcing. There are a couple of things I’ve learned because of my own experience and by listening to others that I think are safe to call “normal” when my friend asks me how I handled things.
First, it seems common to go back and replay things and think, “If only I had been more open, more intimate, more this, more that, etc. Then he wouldn’t have left—it’s all my fault” But I ask myself, “Do I want to be more anything? Can I behave more … fill in the blank?”
I was pretty sure that I would eventually turn right back into myself—postponing the inevitable—the fact that he would leave. That was my situation, not universal, just mine.
That’s not a way to live— being untrue to the real you. Who you really are when you aren’t putting on your A-Game and trying to be the person you think he wants.
Be yourself and be free.
Second, I think we tend to focus on the scary and the negative because it’s easier to believe the negative sides of things. It comes more naturally to me to focus on my flaws and ignore the things that others see in me as my gifts. I was stuck here for awhile too and I see my friend focusing on the fears and the what-ifs and worrying about the things she cannot possibly control. It’s easier. It’s easier to keep your mind busy in the panic mode because then you won’t call the lawyer, you won’t file the papers, you won’t pack up his things. It feels almost more comfortable, it almost makes you feel in “control” to have things stay as-is, even if “as-is” is completely destructive emotionally.
I did all that too for awhile but it has to stop at some point and as painful as it is, it isn’t a situation of shame to be ending a marriage that has become dysfunctional. In my mind it’s only unhealthy when you take it out on your children either directly or indirectly.
My gift is the gift of compartmentalization. I am a pro at keeping my emotions in a tidy gift wrapped box until the appropriate time to let it explode out all over me. Not everyone can do that. My advice is to find a place or a person where you can let your fears wash out all over the place. Find another trusted adult to trouble shoot. That is what I do for others. My friend comes to me with a list of fears and I walk her through the steps, options, and most importantly the realistic probable outcome based on logic and experience to demonstrate that the things she fears most are illusions her mind has created to keep her stuck and motionless.
If you find yourself in a pit of fear reach out to someone for a helping hand. This leaves you with a rock to lean on while you put on the brave face for your kids—and yes, teenagers are kids too, they don’t need to be saddled with your decisions and worries while they are busy navigating their own world and trying to be “grown up” for you. That is not a child’s job.
That has been my soapbox while guiding my friend to find her own answers. Your children are not designed to be your support system. The constant piece of advice I gave my friend over and over again was to filter all her words and decisions through this question: “Is this in the best interest of my child?” If you are about to say something or do something “shitty” guess what? The answer is “No, this is not in the best interest of my child” so keep it to yourself.
No one handles the end of a relationship perfectly. I know that I made mistakes, my friend made mistakes, and countless others make mistakes handling the gut twisting demise of a marriage—but what I know for sure is that sometimes relationships end—period. The only control I really have in this entire world is how I choose to react. So I pray that the little eyes constantly watching my every move will look back one day and say, “Damn Mom! You Rock!” or maybe a polite little “I’m proud of you Momma” is the more realistic response.