For the first time ever, I am working from bed this morning. I have set up my coffee, journal, impulse / check-out line magazine purchase, stack of “currently reading,” notes for my open charts from clinic, an energizing candle, and I opened the window to hear the trains and the birds. I had to bring in a side table for reinforcements. It’s a good morning.
I recently broke up with someone I was with for 11 years. We met at 19 in undergrad and fell deeply for each other. Somewhere along that decade, we lost our joint path, and when I lost my own path a few years back I realized that actually we were on different paths, able to support each other but not able to rejoin. It’s the saddest, hardest, most gut-wrenching and life-altering act I have ever done (as a 30 year old) to end that relationship, and I mourn every day the loss of our friendship, companionship, morning laughter, evening reflection, and that feeling that even when apart “we are in this together.” I have a lot of guilt and anger, some directed at myself and some elsewhere, as well as a deep undercurrent of knowing that what I did was an act of love for myself and for both of us. For me, time is making it easier to function more, cry less, and patiently think about the future, but these are still hard days. I have a support system to rival all others in the form of family and friends, but those moments after coming home from a long and late and hard shift, walking into my own place, taking a breath, and realizing that 6 months ago my life was wildly different, those are hard days.
(and that’s one of the hardest paragraphs i’ve ever written.)
Readers of this page have reached out, lovingly, to speak of their own break-ups, and offer support and community. I have struggled, feministically, to resolve my self-frustration with feeling raw and uncertain in being alone, but it takes milliseconds for me to realize how un-alone I am in this world. And, just a slightly longer amount of time for me to think, “Fuck, you’re going through a shitty time, feel all the raw you want, Stephanie.” And, fantastically, I rejoice in my alone time for all sorts of reasons.
Importantly, part of this transition has made me realize that being alone, for the first time ever, as an adult is a fuck-all whirlwind of an experience. As a 31 year old, this would seem absurd, but when you meet someone as a teenager, life looks pretty different on the other side. I really wish there was an on-boarding, or a mentorship program, or a 101 step guide. For me, it would read something like:
- Yes, that really is just your mess. Take your time, it’s not going anywhere.
- No one cares how much you hate to do the dishes, they do actually pile up and sometimes the dishwasher is clean and you have to empty it. Clean dishes still fit the definition of “dishes.”
- Life doesn’t stop: your charts will pile up and your work will notice; your volunteer Board roles will hit all-time, record high levels of need at the same time and, despite the love of your co-members, the shit still needs to get done; your car will suddenly / actually you knew it was coming but ignored it / completely stop working at the worst possible time; you’ve run out of coffee.
- Dinner can come in many forms. There are only so many months when that form should be cheese/olives/crackers/wine or ice cream/ice cream before you realize there are new places your body gains weight in your thirties, one of which is your genetic trademark neck wrinkles and another are “back pelvis shelves” where your hands rest when you’re pissed off. That shelf didn’t used to be to be quite so comfy. Three months is a good place to stop.
- When you first move in: cry with the windows closed. Neighbors can only handle so much before the first time you meet them.
- Just because you thought the windows were closed when you were having sex doesn’t mean that they were. Perhaps check. See bullet point above. (Or just embrace it.)
I won’t dare go into my feminist rantings about my (very limited) online dating experience. On top of that, being someone new to dating who also is not planning to have children is its own adventure. For writing for another day.
There were months I have no idea how I endured while maintaining my job and my life responsibilities. It’s all a blur. What’s important to me now are some of the active choices that have had a huge impact, and recognizing the incredible privilege I have in my life (home / well-paying job / utilities / health insurance) as I have struggled emotionally and logistically. Despite fear of using bullets too much too soon, here’s a brief listing:
- I changed all of my passwords to be life goals. As a clinician who types in multiple passwords a bajillion times a day, to type over and over again “PhD” or “MSF” or “breathe” all of those bajillion times is affirming in its own way.
- I am visiting all of my inner circle of friends. I intentionally planned trips out to everyone who knows me and loves me and who was ready to watch me ugly cry at the drop of a hat. I have a few more left on the list, but that in and of itself has been a game-changer.
- I started seeing a financial planner, who I now affectionately refer to as my financial midwife. I have ugly cried in front of him more than I can say. And now I have life insurance and a long-term student loan payoff plan and knowledge about my retirement to depths I haven’t known.
- I am open about seeing a therapist. I almost shout it from the mountaintops at this point. I started seeing her when I turned 30 and for the first three, expensive visits I couldn’t even speak and I just cried. I wish someone would have shouted from their mountaintop years ago that it’s worth it even when things are great, so here I am shouting it now for anyone able to hear it.
- I buy myself flowers.
An alone home is also a quiet one. We are sharing the dog, so the quiet is even louder with the dog gone. Some days, like this morning, the trains and the birds are enough. Other days, I like the silence filled. Lately the silence has been filled with my love for podcasts: Only Human, Savage Love, RadioLab, Serial, Quiet (started from the book sensation), This American Life, and the newly released Radio Menea by one of my blog inspirations Radical Doula. Search for any of these in the “Podcasts” app or “iTunes” and you’ll be lost in all the best ways.
Instagram has provided a solace I did not expect from a social media platform. Perhaps that is ridiculous to some, but likely many others are nodding their head. As the daughter of an artist who was a photographer for most of my life, photos are comfort food for me. I’ve chosen to keep my @feministmidwife also as my personal account, as I enjoy sharing how my life overlaps with my writing and work. I follow poets (@nayyirah.waheed @yrsadaleyward @kat.savage), feminists (@feminist_tinder @feministabulous @jessicavalenti @thelindywest @femalecollective), outdoors inspiration (@wild.streak @pketron @paulnicklen), tattoo artists (@moganji @tindefiore @mary_tereshchekno), female artists (@frances_cannon @_lauraberger_ @favianna1 @fuckyeaherikamoen @repealhyde), @doctorswithoutborders, and my new favorite account, a woman who fingers fruit, @stephanie_sarley. It’s a lovely abyss of interestingness. Enjoy.
Books given to me and books bought that bring (or I know they will when I get to them) incredible comfort during this time: Anne Lamott’s “Help Thanks Wow,” bell hooks’ “Communion,” Cheryl Strayed’s “Tiny Beautiful Things,” and Monica Heisey’s “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Better.”
I live so close to the train tracks that when I sit on my balcony with a cup of coffee I can have a causal conversation with train conductors. I don’t fit into most of my spring/summer clothes I just unpacked. I have over $150k in student loan debt and newly acquired credit card debt. I only journaled one day and haven’t had the courage to start again. I’m late on pretty much every deadline I have right now, and late means LATE. I love the smell of the flowers and the photos of my nieces that grace my home. I have laundry piles that I tripped over on my way to the bathroom in the middle of the night a few hours ago. I have a chipped tooth and a great fear of the dentist and it’s been almost 2 years since I’ve had a cleaning. I filed an extension on my taxes this year. I am thinking about planning my next trip based on visiting wineries that make my favorite wine, if I can’t build up the financial reserves to do MSF first. I’m not sure I’m a great preceptor but I’m really trying. I miss my dog. I have had my PhD planned in my head for years but need to actually apply and enroll somewhere. I CrossFit to get out aggression so I can focus on being kind the rest of the day. I love my family. I know there’s a light at the end of this tunnel, and it’s much closer than it was a few months ago.
The best thing anyone said to me at the very beginning of my breakup is that I was someone who people would think could get through this with strength and beauty, and it was okay for that not to be the case.
The tree growing just outside my balcony started blooming this week.
Here’s to May, y’all.