I’m a writer. I like words. A few months ago I stumbled across a great one:
In transactional analysis, metanoia is used to describe the experience of abandoning an old scripted self or false self for a more open one: a process which may be marked by a mixture of intensity, despair, self-surrender, and an encounter with the inner void.
This . . . spoke to me, let’s say. I’m undergoing one of those life changes that involves a house move, paperwork, plenty of stress on my bank balance and a complete re-alignment of my life. You know what I’m talking about: divorce.
Reading around and asking around, I find that the mid-thirties divorce is practically required of western white ladies nowadays. It’s a natural, albeit hideous process, like a caterpillar liquefying itself in the chrysalis. You may emerge as a butterfly, but you’ve got to go through a period of turning to soup in a dark, cramped pod first.
Everyone experiences this “encounter with the inner void”, and usually more than once. It is necessary and important. One of your purposes in life– and I do mean you, the person reading this– is to be of service to others. Experiencing life’s lows and enduring its crises equips you to empathise with others, which is necessary for helping them.
It’s hard to see this particular silver lining when you just want to eat nachos and drink rum while rolled in a blanket, however.
For me, this episode of metanoia has very high stakes. I’m not the only one affected by it. First, there’s the man I was married to for ten years. He’s the reason I live in England, and he’s been my closest friend for nearly a third of my life. Even though we no longer function as a couple, I care about him and want only good things for him.
And of course, above him and before him, there’s the Child.
She’s seven. She’s ASD. She likes ponies, zombies, superheroes, swimming, and ice cream. She doesn’t like loud noises, P.E., or most vegetables. The first thing she does in the morning is reach for a pen or crayon and begin drawing pictures. It’s her coffee:
She is funny and kind and clever. She is so loving and so trusting. I couldn’t bear the thought of tearing up her home life and causing her pain or confusion, or in any way tarnishing her shine.
But I also couldn’t bear staying in my marriage. I felt trapped, and trapped animals lash out. They gnaw off their legs and scratch out their hair. Luckily for the people I care about, I’m not just an animal– I’m a rational animal.
Last spring, once the reality of our situation had crystallised in my mind, I knew that I would have to find a way out of this trap that didn’t involve using my teeth and claws on my loved ones. Instead of busting through the bars, I would have to painstakingly take the cage to pieces in order to preserve what was still good about our family. It was going to involve a lot of patience, discretion, dignity and honour.
The latter three I’m pretty good at. The first one, not so much. There have been times when I wanted to punch someone, start fires, buy a plane ticket anywhere, run off with someone, even step in front of a train. These were violent, howling emotions; powerful urges that came from some part of me I didn’t know about and didn’t want to know better.
How fortunate for me that I have a place where I can turn these feelings into fuel.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that the people of Second City CrossFit have saved my life on a daily basis over the past eighteen months, often without even being aware they were doing it. My family and friends at home are wonderful, understanding people whom I love with all my heart, and they have given me generous aid and reassurance from a distance of three thousand miles.
But they know as much as I do that if I didn’t have my gym and my gym family, I would be locked up on a ward somewhere. There have been days when the only reason I got out of bed was because I knew there was a workout to go to at the end of it– and it would be a literal working out. I would go in to the gym wound up tight, practically suffocated, and come out breathing freely again. I would go home and set about doing what needed to be done.
Beyond the therapeutic benefits of hauling iron, the moral and material support I’ve been blessed with through my gym has cleared my path considerably. I am typing these words in a flat rented to me by a gym friend, with furniture and bookshelves that were assembled and arranged by gym friends, who hauled the furniture here using a van owned by a gym friend’s partner. They also did it in record time, without so much as a single dish chipped.
Among all these friends, I have to single out Gemma Tomkinson. She’s SCCF’s in-house physio, and ever since the day I burst into tears on her massage table and told her everything about my marriage, she has been solidly in my corner.
At all significant periods of my adult life, a Blonde has appeared– a friend who takes none of my shit but believes in me completely (hi, Kate and Yelena!). Gemma is that Blonde now. Thank you for all the hugs, houseroom, and commiseration, Gem.
The gym is also where I met these two:
Building this web community with these two women is one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. We haven’t been at it very long, but the creative outlet it provides, the people we are meeting, the challenges we are setting ourselves– I don’t know if it’s of any service to you out there, but it’s definitely of service to me.
Thanks for joining us and sharing with us– especially Eva and Keri and Yasmin, Nicole and Heather and Jodie, Jade, and Peach, who’ve written such amazing stories.
The Work Continues
This whole process is still unfolding. I’m mainly soup in the chrysalis at this point, although various limbs and structures are beginning to take shape. I don’t quite know what will emerge.
I have my fears, of course. In about eight weeks’ time, when the courts have digested all the fees and paperwork I’ve fed them, I will be a divorced woman, pushing forty, with a special-needs child.
Will a man come along who can look past that, embrace us both, and build a life with us? Will I ever have another chance at more children? I wanted that so badly: for Eve, who would be a wonderful sister, as well as for myself. It seems about as likely at this point as my being sent to the moon.
Finally, I have fears for Eve. Will she realise what’s happened someday and be damaged by it? Will she resent me for failing to make the marriage work?
For a long time, I let these fears hold me back from making the decision about my divorce. They haven’t gone away, but somehow, at some point, I stopped allowing them to rule me. I became open to them as possibilities, not inevitabilities. Becoming more open is what this metanoia thing is ultimately about.
I am in my own space now, and it’s going all right. I wanted to unwind my marriage, not destroy it, and with the understanding of my ex, that is happening about as smoothly as it possibly can. Another partner, more children– these depend on the choices of some other person I’ve probably not even met. I can’t control that, so it isn’t worth worrying about. Someone will eventually make himself known.
As for Eve being damaged– well, look at her:
She’s going to be fine. And so am I. If this is the bottom of my life, I am just about the luckiest person who ever lived. If it isn’t, I am pretty sure I can handle what comes next.
At least as long as my gym membership isn’t cancelled.