Monday, September 2, 2013

swinging and bending, part 6: the tempest of divorce.

"Love never dies a natural death. It dies because we don't know how to replenish its source. It dies of blindness and errors and betrayals. It dies of illness and wounds; it dies of weariness, of witherings, of tarnishings."

--Anais Nin

Read the first part of this story, here.  
the second part, here.
the third part, here.
the fourth part, here.
and the fifth part, here.

through my childhood, my parents had separated and spoken of divorce so many times that i grew to expect it.  each time they wouldn't follow-through with the threats of dissolving their marriage, i became more callous to the idea,  disconnecting myself from the tumultuous thunderstorms of their relationship in order to protect my heart.  i loved both of them deeply, and internally struggled navigating my dynamic with them as their child, while watching them hurt each other as spouses.

so when the separation and impending divorce was announced, i was taken by surprise.  the timing was off--they were through the most stressful parts of life, on the other side of child rearing and the growing pains of early marriage.  there was a lot of heartache in their years together, and i viewed them as either survivors and characters of a great love story, or two people who had learned to cope, settle and enable.  i guess when things grew quiet for them, reality set in and it was too much.

when we were told the paperwork for divorce had actually begun, my siblings and i were all grown, married, and living with our own families.  i naively assumed we would be left out of the gritty details we had been sheltered from as children.  instead, the underbelly of their relationship was exposed, bringing forth details of resentment and pain that had lasted for over three decades. i found myself questioning all i thought i had known--and felt tricked by a life of possible hypocrisy, being brought up in a home i was now being told was run by two people who, at times, were doing the opposite of what they had taught me to do.  i didn't know how to make sense of a childhood built on an idealistic viewpoint, unable to decipher truth from what was now being told to me through tears, humiliation, and gritted teeth that were searching for validation.

during their separation, i felt placed between two victims who wanted me to fight their battle and join their side--one thundering so loudly at times it was deafening, the other like lightning, striking quietly and randomly but leaving a singed scar.  emotionally i shut down, tuning out the conversation when it turned to character defamation and verbal assaults.  forming any type of boundary was extremely difficult for me during this time.  i loved my mom and dad, and wanted desperately to try to ease their pain and carry some of their burden.  when i couldn't, it tortured me to realize there was nothing i could do to stop the tempest between them that continued for months.

with my lack of boundaries, i felt like a ping-pong ball in a wickedly fast and angry game.  i continued trying to fill my role as the "good child" and be there for them no matter what.  this quickly took its toll, because you can't be the "good" everything to everyone, especially in situations like this.  my siblings were in the same boat, trying to navigate their love for them outside of the mistakes they had made toward each other and move forward in this new dynamic.  we couldn't find a smooth transition, and my parents' need to defend their own characters against accusations form the opposing side only made it more difficult.  i worried we were pawns in the death match of a 32 year relationship.

when ben and i accepted the job in north carolina, i felt relief with the distance of moving across the country.  i could no longer physically be put in the middle of their divorce, and managing the group home gave very little space for me to give to anyone else emotionally.  i could listen to details of the latest fight through the phone, and stay detached.

unfortunately, my older sister bore the brunt after i left, and i could hear from the despair in her voice how she was slowly being destroyed.  i felt guilty for abandoning her, and am just now realizing the full effect the year of my parents' divorce had on her and her family.

while we were in the group home, i was quickly learning two things:

1)  all about boundaries:

what they were, why they were healthy/necessary, that i did not know how to have them, and that i not only needed them in my relationships with the teenagers, but i needed to implement them in every relationship.

2) that i had true anxiety:

i knew i had issues with caleb driven by fear, but i assumed it was because of the trauma we had been through with him.  living in the group home triggered a deeper form.  i had been thrown back into an environment that was out of my control;  full of contention, chaos, and anger.  just like my childhood, i could not love them enough to make the madness stop.  i rarely slept, and when i did, i had terrifying nightmares.  there were moments of happiness and laughter, but my heart could not find peace.  when i finally brought my symptoms up to ben, i realized the environment in the group home was mirroring much of the environment of my childhood home.  i talked about the idea of therapy, but wanted to see if leaving the group home would help settle the anxiety inside.

once our year contract was over, we left for arizona to start grad school.  in between our moves, i stayed in utah for a few weeks to visit family.  during my visit, my little brother handed me a book that completely altered my course in life.


Rachel Chick said...

It's amazing to now read what was behind what I felt from you all those years ago. I love you.

Janelle said...

Gee, I think I could've written this exact post about my parents divorce 3 years ago. I too am the peacemaker in my family and was pulled fiercely on both sides. There were definitely times when I had to just step away from the situation and make them handle it themselves. It was a hard time, that's for sure. I was glad they got a divorce though, I was sick of the fighting and the sick feeling in my gut whenever I would call and wonder if they were getting along or fighting.

Janelle said...

Also, my parents sucked me in so much that I started to feel sick every time my phone rang or I heard the text message ring tone. I had to keep changing the ring tone because of the bad memories associated with it. It was mostly my dad who kept trying to get someone to side with him when really he caused the majority of the problems with his lying and deceit. It really sucked for about a year. I'm sorry you had to go through it too but it's nice to have friends who know what you've been through.

I also had very similar conversations with my Mom that you wrote about where I told her that she needed to demand happiness. I told her I didn't mind that she needed to get out of such a terrible relationship and find happiness. Luckily, hers has a happy ending with marriage to a wonderful man who treats her like gold. My dad is also getting married again in 2 weeks and seems to be happy again.