About four months ago, I found myself parked in front of my old house, staring straight ahead and unable to move.
The house is full of stories, of memories, of utterly soul-crushing heartache that has led me to the happiness and peace I have today, but sometimes my brain takes a step back and I get stuck on the “utterly soul-crushing heartache” part of the journey.
That night four months ago was a Friday night, and my kids would be with their dad and stepmom. I could feel the discomfort wedge its way into me as the night crept nearer. Most nights they’re gone I can find a way to deal with it, but some nights I simply cannot.
I first found myself weeping in a parking lot of a grocery store, motionless, staring into the distance at nothing in particular.
I tried to drive home but found myself parked at a tennis court, watching the ball go methodically back and forth, soothing my catatonic brain, tears sliding down my face.
I texted my husband that I was trying to come home, but I just couldn’t. The sadness was too heavy. He offered to come get me, but I wasn’t ready.
And I have no idea why.
After watching the night-time tennis match with glazed eyes, I started to make my way home, but I ended up at my old home, the home where lives a bundle of so many emotions that I wonder if I’ll ever be able to sort through them. It’s been years, for goodness sake.
I parked my car in the cul-de-sac and stared at that little house, which, by the way, nearly bumps up against my current house.
I examined the scene, forgetting to breathe, eyebrows furrowed, wondering how my life could have quickly changed so dramatically without it conquering me.
I wondered about the family inside now. Could they feel the laughter that was once there? Could they feel the despair and fear that followed?
I thought of happy times—because there were loads—and felt guilty that I should ever think of those times again since I’ve moved on from that life, but then I realized it’s probably okay to have good memories from a marriage. It would be more disturbing to have very few happy memories, right?
As I sat in my car, I squinted my eyes and pictured my kids who were tiny when we lived there, romping through the grass, blowing bubbles, and making up games.
My heart clenched at the fact that the divorce means time apart from them, and I was forced back to the present, of wondering if they were tucked in, what books they were reading, or if they were missing me.
I hope they never miss me, and in the same breath, I hope they do.
My brain flipped through a barrage of non sequitur memories ranging from the times we all giggled in the yard to the day I found a woman’s sweater in the backseat that wasn’t mine.
As I move towards healing, at times I don’t know what channel to land on: sadness, grief, jealousy, regret, relief, joy, or gratitude. So instead that night my soul, body and heart all chose being flat-out overwhelmed and defeated with zero answers. Maybe sprinkle that all with a dash of “poor me” as well.
At times it’s a tornado of emotions that I assumed left when my love for him left, but healing is not so cut-and-dry. Healing is hard, ugly work with lingering wounds and questions we can either make peace with or let consume us and any chance at current contentment.
Rarely is healing tied up in a lovely pink bow and a definite end point. Just when you think you’ve reached an end point, the journey might start all over again.
One day I can feel as if I’ve got this all figured out, and I can check healing off my list. Divorce? Over it. What’s next?
Then the next day, new emotions I’ve long ago addressed and buried will crawl up out of the rubble and challenge me with new obstacles and what-ifs.
What if I were just cute enough to keep his interest? What if I don’t know how to love anyone well? What if I’m just an idiot who’s meant to die alone?
These self-loathing internal questions are my least favorite part of the path to healing, but we can’t always pick and choose what the nauseating journey looks like.
I was brought back to the present when my husband texted again, asking if I was okay. I needed to let more of the dark tar out of my heart, so I stayed a bit longer. I knew it wasn’t the healthiest place to be, but facing it felt cathartic and brave at the same time, like I needed to do it to eventually breathe easier.
We’ve all heard that we have to let the past go to focus on today, and yes, that is absolutely the truth, but if you find your past with its hands around your neck, don’t pretend it’s not there and doesn’t bother you.
Park your car, stare at it, dissect it, and allow it to kick your butt for a while if you have to. But don’t stay there.
Take from it the good it delivers to you today.
As I took in the view of our old house one last time, I reminded myself to put my all into this marriage and to look at today in the other house right down the street–not this one. This one is in the past. It doesn’t mean the happiness and joy didn’t exist, but it does mean I am allowed to step over the junk that came after the happiness and joy.
I can leave those ghosts there. The memories of giggles and chubby babies can stay with me.
I allowed myself to wallow and stare for about a half hour in all. I finally started the car, took a deep breath and drove home, knowing full well I just might end up in this exact same spot, staring at the past again one day because healing is not a linear path, and sometimes to move forward, you have to take a trip to the past and look it in its nasty face.
Does the past ever sneak up on you and clobber you on the head? How do you face it without dwelling on it? What have the challenges of yesterday taught you about who you are today?
Rebecca Rine is a nonfiction writer and creator of JaggedJourney.com where her writing focuses on encouraging everyone to embrace an imperfect life. After having been in 3 body casts, she is no stranger to knowing how to see the beauty in life’s nauseating obstacles. She is a freelance writer for Dayton Daily News and an on-air commentator for public radio. She is currently writing a self-help guide to surviving divorce called “Face Your Divorce Poo.”
Image courtesy of Alexandre Chambon.