Warning: It's long, and not the lightest stuff ever.
Also, let me disclaim: (Not a word, I know I know) As with any time I discuss my marriage, I'm talking about things I am working through and dealing with and it has little to do with John at all. For those of you who think I'm too hard on myself or taking all the blame, please understand that it's not that...I'm just holding myself accountable for my own issues. There's no sense in my wasting time on worrying about what he did, because we're not together. Plus, his actions are his to deal with.
How do you measure personal growth?
Can you grow in the wrong direction?
Does it still count as growth if no one else notices?
Does saying "growth" a lot make you realize what an odd word it really is?
I don't know the answers to most of those questions, but I know that last one...growth is a weird word.
John and I were having one of these conversations the other day delving into lots of the marital issues we had...we tend to have these talks relatively regularly. He was talking about how much better we get along now than we did when we were together and how much better off we are apart. After making a joke about how we were, like, totally besties and asking him if he would french braid my hair, I said that we weren't getting along better because we are apart, we're getting along better because we're making the effort to get along and find things in common with one another. As a result of that effort, we actually are talking more than we did in the last several months of our marriage. We talk about stupid crap we both did, what we could have done differently, and we joke about tons of things, most of which would shock you since they don't seem funny or like appropriate joke fodder at all. Sometimes we talk about nothing at all. We've found some strange kind of balance where I get through most of our conversations without bawling like a baby and he gets through most of them without being unnecessarily mean or vindictive. We're making progress...we're growing.
Of course, timing is everything, and ours sucks. Our divorce will be final in the next couple of months, which makes most of it a moot point. It's ironic, since there's a good chance that if we had laid it all out on the table like we have in the past few months before everything happened, we could still be together. Although hindsight is 20/20, and it could be that neither one of us would have been open to making the changes that would have been necessary to rebuild our life together. I won't say it doesn't frustrate me to no end that the things that he and I have worked through are going to help him keep from making the same mistakes in his new relationship, because it does. That's definitely a con, but the pro is that he and I can interact, do things with the kids, hang out without wanting to gouge our eyes out with colored pencils from the craft box. On the way to lunch a few weeks ago, Ava yelled up to us "Hey! Is that laughing I hear? Are you having a good time, or what?!"
And we were. Thankfully, since we have to deal with each other for a very long time and I get tired of ruining my make up crying so much. Growth. We no longer want to kill each other. Do you hear that? I think someone is singing the Hallelujah Chorus.
Of course I've grown in a negative way, too...I don't always like how calloused I am to it all now, divorce, splitting up. It worries me, makes me wonder if I'll ever be able to think of marriage as a truly holy and sanctified union again. I thought I would hang on for as long as it took, throw myself under every bus I could to make us a family again, but it turns out everyone has their limits, and believe it or not, you can only throw yourself under the bus so many times before you start to wonder if you really want to be on that bus after all.
Who knows if that's God telling me I can rest, that I've done my best, or Satan trying to get me to give up on keeping my family together. I don't know anymore, can't make heads or tales of the signs and leadings and ups and downs and ins and outs of my life for the past several months. This time, as miserable as it has been, has easily been the most stringent, growth filled period I've ever gone through in my entire life.
Of course, not everyone sees that or buys into it. I was talking to John one night and my temper came up. I've always had a bad temper, and John has always known exactly how to push every button I possess, which is probably the case in most marriages...you know all the good things about them, but you know the bad things too, and you can choose to influence them in a good or bad way. When we argued, John would shut down and I would flare up. It always followed a predictable pattern. The more he shut down, the more angry I would get, and there were times during our marriage I got so frustrated that I would swing at him blindly, trying to get him to react, talk, communicate with me.
So not okay, on any level. And as I bet you can imagine, it didn't work very well at all. Granted, John literally weighs twice what I do, is a head taller and much stronger than me. In most cases my lashing out ended in him simply holding my arms still until I calmed down. I don't think I could have actually hurt him one bit, but it didn't change the fact that he was incredibly emotionally hurt by it all. By the time I realized the harm I was doing and took action to resolve it for myself, he was beyond noticing, or caring, that I had changed, had been making a huge effort for months. In fact, when it came up recently, it turned out he hadn't noticed my personal growth one bit.
There was one argument we had towards the end of our relationship that I remember very well. We were talking, standing by our closet, and he was saying something that was making me completely crazy. I don't even remember what. I do remember feeling so angry, that same feeling I would feel when I was about to lash out at him. I remember looking up at him and saying "Can you please leave the room? I really want to break your nose right now." I didn't touch him at all, in a positive or negative way. In fact, I remember my hands being on either side of my head, clutching my hair, the classic pose of the incredibly frustrated person.
John remembers that fight, too. But we remember it very differently. I remember that fight because I didn't try to hit him while he remembers that fight because I told him I wanted to.
In fact, to him, saying I felt like I wanted to hit him was the same thing as actually doing it. To me, I was waiting for brownie points, a pat on the head, recognition for using my words. I mean, just because I say I want to take off for Mexico on a bad day doesn't mean I would up and do it, you know? But because his outlook was different from mine, he didn't see the growth at all. I've probably been guilty of the same thing, I can't be sure.
So which is it? Did I grow or not? I think I did...I think I've grown intensely over the past year,when I started to take responsibility for myself, in a million ways. My anger was a big issue, and while it's hugely frustrating that I had already gotten control of myself before he left and he couldn't see it, it doesn't mean that it wasn't still a great thing that I worked through it for myself. I had a lot to be mad about, really, and I pretended I wasn't mad most of the time, like I wasn't still mad as hell over Eli or angry that I felt like I was getting cheated out of every having a good pregnancy, mad that I was not the wife I wanted to be. Truthfully, probably mad over things that happened long ago before I ever met John or had my first child. Believe it or not, pretending not to be mad doesn't work very well. The mad finds a way, it always does. If you deny it emotionally long enough, it will turn physical, whether you want it to or not, because our bodies just aren't meant to operate under such high levels of tension day in and day out.
It feels so much better not to feel that way anymore. Not to feel like I'm a victim of my own anger, to be able to make the choice about whether to laugh or cry or scream. It wasn't a choice for me before...all the anger in me would just come pouring out when I was arguing with my husband, mostly because he felt like a safe place, someone I could direct it all at without worrying about them leaving me to my own devices because I was being an ugly version of myself. I hate that I did that to him, took everything out on him. I am truly sorry for every time I tried to hit him. Well, not every time. I'm not at all sorry for the head butting incident, honestly.
So I guess the point is that in my opinion, you can grow even if no one acknowledges it, that sometimes, the big things, the huge growth, goes largely unnoticed, while the little things make light bulbs pop over your head.
When I opened my mailbox and saw another card from the jewelry store John and his girlfriend visited, addressed to John and _____ McCall, I froze for a second, and it felt like time stopped. What was about to happen? How would I react? Would seeing their names together like that, her name in place of mine, send me on the same tailspin I went on last time? Would I spend three days sick to my stomach, throwing up everything I ate, bawling for roughly 12 hours out of the day and angry the rest? For a moment I didn't even know what my own reaction would be.
Then, in slow motion, I watched myself roll my eyes, toss the stupid thing back in the mailbox (my preferred way of dealing with mail I don't like), and text John, telling him to either change his address or get his freaking name off that freaking mailing list, STAT. I may have thrown in a few choice phrases, too. I can't rightly remember.
Now you tell me that's not growth.
Sometimes we grow in ways we can shout from the roof tops, and sometimes our growth just barely brings us to the surface of the water for a single breath. But it's all work, it's all progress, and it's all worth talking about. Would it have been easier to say that things are just fine, just the same, going good? Oh yeah. It'd be easier to say I was already perfect. that butter wouldn't melt in my mouth. But without the valleys you don't get the peaks, either, and I'll put myself right out there and say, God, have I ever been in some deep valleys. Have I ever felt out of control and helpless and scared! And because of that, because of the lows I have hit, I am so grateful, so thankful for these highs that in any other circumstances may not feel like highs at all.
Growing is growing is growing. Own it, and no one else can.