“I’m Terrible, Thanks for Asking”

Ok. So…

No. I haven’t published a book. Or made it any further than where I ended in 2017.

Instead, to quote a political pundit (something I never have ever done in my life) my 2019-2020 has felt like our last national debate, “A Hot Mess, Inside A Dumpster Fire, Inside A Train Wreck.”

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

My buddy Dan texted me early in 2020, “Gosh, 2020 is rough.” I replied with, “Yeah, 2020 is just sorta shitty to compare to my 2019.” His reply “Good point.” And I don’t mean to compare maybe the worst year any of us have experienced in our lifetime, to what my own world felt/feels like…but yeah. I did.

Recently I’ve been listening to a podcast called, “I’m Terrible, Thanks for Asking.” And, I think it’s been helping me feel ok that I’m still grieving. And that how I’ve grieved has been messy. Not linear. Not clean. And full of one step forward two steps back. And I’m still stuck. While trying to recover my footing at the same time.

It’s been over two years since I’ve posted anything.

Let me go back before I go forward. And honestly, I am writing this for me. To process. To figure out how to grieve. Not to blame or shame or cause more pain (or to rhyme too much). And to maybe explain some of what grief has looked like for me.

Grief is individual. My story is not your story. And each story is unique and not meant to be compared. The through-line for grief is loss. And you don’t grieve a loss, unless its a loss of something or someone you loved dearly.

I lost my wife/marriage the end of 2018 through early 2019.

As much as grief is unique, the pain of divorce is also individual. I’m not here to debate if you think divorce is right or wrong. I believe it wasn’t what the Lord had for our marriage. And I’ve been deeply grieved ever since. And to be clear, my wife lost a great deal in the process too. I’m not asking for sides. I’m trying to explain that grief can look like a lot of things. And each person has their own loss list.

My marriage, the most important thing in my life. And the thing I always wanted to be the best at growing up. Came crashing down in rather fast and unexpected fashion.

I asked to step down from my best paying job ever because I couldn’t function during the pain. Had to move from our home. Lost some financial security. Lost an entire group of friends. Lost the hope of adopting with my wife. Lost future dreams of what our life would look like together. Lost sense of purpose/belonging. Lost a friend, lover, confidant, cooking competition rival, living room dance partner, etc. etc. etc.. Lost some faith and hope at times. Gained both back again at times. Lost parts of my identity I had tied to ministry and justice minded work. Lost confidence in myself and some trust in others. Lost 15 pounds in two weeks (not a great look for a skinny man).

And the loss list goes on and on…

I cried for 60 days straight. Like deep-belly-snot everywhere-fugly-crying. Everywhere and anywhere. No joke, was probably in a constant state of dehydration from crying. Crying At the bakery in the bathroom. At a coffee shop while typing. While driving. Anytime a song came on the radio about love or loss or hotline bling (not really). At the grocery store looking at food that seemed like something I would eat with my wife. And still cry. Randomly. Without much warning.

Psalm 6:6, “I am worn out from my groaning. All night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears.” I can relate.

Dude, I feel ya bud.

One time I cried in a full church service on the lap of my very large friend James – while he held me like a small baby child. I didn’t give two f’s (farts) who was looking.

I moved to Fort Collins once we signed papers. Luckily, I still had a large community of friends that were living in Fort Collins when I moved back. I went back at a bakery I worked at after college, making near minimum wage, because I just needed something simple. Something where I wasn’t in charge of helping run a non-profit, or church stuff, or whatever. Something that I have to be there at this time, and get done at this time.

It was easy and hard at the same time. Easy cause my co-workers/boss were fun, and light, and gave me crap, also encouragement, and free pumpkin chocolate chip bread, and friendship. Hard because I felt like a piece of shit most of the time. Like I lost most everything, or the one thing that mattered most to me outside of Jesus, and now I’ve digressed 12 years in my professional career to explain the difference between a cinnamon burst and cinnamon burst swirl bread. But I’ll tell ya, if you’ve lost something in your life, go work at a bakery. At least for a while.

Since moving to the Fort, I’ve lived in three places in a little over a year. So more transition and lots of change.

But places I am so thankful for. With friends that let me be really messy, all the time, in front of them, on a regular basis.

I’ve slept more than ever in my life. Had bad dreams over and over. Drank more than ever before in my life. Tried edibles to sleep or not feel what I’m feeling. And smoked more (no, not weed, but if I liked weed, I would have been all over that this last two years) than the ten years previous combined. Any many times, some of those things listed above all at the same time.

I’m not saying all my coping has been healthy. It surely hasn’t. But… it makes sense. And I sure have a lot more grace for folks going through trauma than I ever have before. And yes, if you don’t know yet, divorce is… trauma.

I was sick maybe eight times in less than a year. I had a hard time remembering stuff, concentrating or focusing. At times I just didn’t want to be around. Like on earth. Not in a suicidal way, but more in a way like…it would be ok if you took me now Lord. Or if I got sick or injured, maybe I could rest in a hospital bed for a couple weeks away from everything.

And yet, the world kept spinning, and kept moving.

All the while, I decided maybe I should try and go back to school to get into nursing. So I took accelerated classes to try to push the ball forward. Yep, I decided to work near full time, and do school near full time, to deal with divorce. I wouldn’t recommend it.

Pause.

If you are a family member. Friend. Or whoever. You may seem alarmed at all my struggles, and probably feel I am in need of immediate spiritual or mental help. Ha. Maybe. But please don’t do that.

Some of the best friends I’ve had during this time, have been able to sit in the mess with me, say something like, “Damn, that is so terrible nathan. And I’m sorry.” Or text me and ask me, “what do you need Salley. How can I be helpful.” Or maybe even sent me a word of encouragement without prompting without all the cliche’s attached to it.

And honestly, I think many people who grieve or experience loss, don’t know what they need. I sure didn’t and don’t sometimes.

Good friends also haven’t tried to jump steps in the grief process with me, or try fix me, or tell me move on, or that “there will be others,” or try to get me date their third cousin once removed (didn’t really happen), or that “the Lord must have something He’s going to show you or use in your story.” And while that last one may be true, it’s just not super helpful in the moment when people are grieving.

A few weeks after finding out I was being divorced, I got sick. I went to the after hours emergency room to get some meds. They asked me a number of questions on a scale of 1-10 how I felt emotionally. I think I put a 1 on all of them. Next thing I know, they are asking if I’m suicidal. I tell them no, and that my pain makes sense based on what I’m going through. They agree. But then still offer drugs to lighten my emotional pain. I ask, why would I want to do that? Pain is going to find a way to come out of you healthy or not. And unresolved pain often leads to bitterness or victim mentalities. I would rather feel what I’m feeling then put a mask on it.

Months later, I’m pretty sure I had a mini heart attack one night. After being sick, then getting a flu shot, and having a broken heart. My BP spiked at 200/110, with chest, neck, and jaw pain for 45 minutes. I called my friend who was a nurse, my buddy who does heart stuff, and let my housemate know it was happening. They all suggested I go to the hospital. I felt like I had spent so much money on health stuff that last year that I didn’t want to spend more. Dumb. I know. Spoiler alert. I didn’t die. Cause I’m writing this. And as I like to joke with friends, it’s hard to kill me (cancer survivor joke).

Pain is real. And at some point in your life, you will experience it in a way you haven’t before. People say the only things for sure in life are death and taxes. I would add pain to that equation. Pain doesn’t care if you are a Christian or Muslim or like essential oils and rocks.

John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Listen, I’m not telling you all this so you feel bad for me, or want to fix me, or even want to help me. I’m telling you all of these honest, vulnerable, and embarrassing stories to say…these are all fairly normal responses to grief. To loss. To pain.

I would go further to say there are more normal responses to pain and grief than there are not. And better understanding those list I think will better allow us as friends and family to sit alongside of those in pain.

Emotions I’ve Felt During Divorce: Shock, numbness, denial, disbelief, disorganization, confusion, searching, yearning, anxiety, panic, fear, explosive emotions, anger, guilt, regret for how I handled some things in marriage, sadness, depression, physical symptoms, lacked confidence/courage, lots spiritual questions, loneliness, like my feelings and emotions are too much for people… and I’m sure other emotions I’m not quite sure how to name yet.

Maybe you can relate to some of this list above if you’ve experienced loss of a similar kind.

And I’ve beaten myself up to all the unhealthy ways I’ve responded to pain. But that’s exhausting. I can’t tell you how many friends or family members have told me to be kind to myself. I even had some random dude walk into the bakery one day, that was a self professed monk, and out of seemingly no-where told me…”be kind to yourself man. Be fuckin kind to yourself. You gotta be fuckin kind to yourself. I mean it!” And there. In the bakery. With the monk-who-liked-to-cuss. At the register. I began to cry… again.

Why do we/I feel like I have to lie when people ask us how we are? Like I should at least fit in the box of, “I’m doing fine. Or I’m doing a little better.” Like we always have to be doing better or something is wrong with us. Grief and pain and loss suck. A lot.

And those feelings I imagine don’t ever go away… fully. More than likely, the wounds turn to scars. Scars have memories of things that happened. Good and bad. And to celebrate my marriage is to see both the things that felt hard and the things that were so beautiful. And for me at least, I have a catalog of beautiful moments. Moments that have changed me for a lifetime. Moments I felt seen, heard, known, and loved like I never have before.

We talk about grief in stages. And yes, I’ve felt all those stages. But more in waves. Or all of them all at once. Or popcorn style. Or one stage for three months. Or back to stage one but then on stage five. And am I missing stages? And I did they just added a stage or finding meaning again? Shoot. I don’t know about all the stages. But I do know how I feel. Or how I want to feel.

I think Americans suck at grief. And many Christians as well. And Christian Americans, oh man, we can be the worst. The amount of trite things we tell others in loss is clickbait for Health and Wealth Prosperity Gospel. Like if you do the right things and follow Jesus he’ll answer all your prayers like the genie from Alladin.

When in reality, the Bible is full of loss and grief and pain.

All.

Over.

The.

Pages.

Isaiah 53:3, “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.”

My story isn’t over. And yours isn’t either if you are experience loss of any kind. Whether death of a loved one, or divorce, or cancer, or fill in the blank here.

I hope you feel heard. I hope you feel seen. And I hope you feel ok to feel all the feels. I’m right there with you.

And as much as I’ve probably become the Debbie Downer meme of my friend group. I still feel loved. And encouraged by many of them to keep moving forward…and backward…and forward again. And that I’m doing a good job. And it’s ok to feel what I’m feeling. And makes sense. And may take a while to get back to my old self. And that I may never be the exact same I was before.

If you are still reading this. Thanks. I’m sure some folks (family/friends) might feel like, “oh no, Salley, you shouldn’t say all that.” It’s not a good look for you. But I’ve spent many years of my life trying to have it all together. To look good. To be good. Constantly trying to improve. So it’s time to give myself permission to be messy. Cause I despite what instagram photos I might post, I don’t have it all together. And my guess is, you don’t either. And that’s ok.

These days, sometimes I have good days. And yes – sometimes – if I was being completely honest – “I’m doing terrible, but thanks for asking.”

And mom. And dad. If you are reading this. “Don’t worry. And it’s ok.”

Better to process than to bottle.

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