I had something of a ‘Saul on the road to Damascus’ moment the other day.
Things are pretty good. I’m really beginning to feel that my life is mine again, and I am moving on from everything that has happened over the last six years. I’m learning to accept that it will never be fair, that E has and will continue to ‘get away’ with treating the kids and I like crap, ignoring us and not supporting us and that I can’t change that. People talk about Karma, but I think that E will probably continue to live a charmed life and suffer no consequences for his actions. As someone with a very overdeveloped sense of fairness this has been hard for me to accept, but I’ve had to learn to let it go – because if I don’t it runs the risk of dominating my life and letting E occupy a space in my head.
This is sort of summed up by something I heard on the radio the other day. A psychologist was doing a thought experiment – you had to picture yourself and your ‘enemy’ or greatest fear, you each were either side of a hellish fiery pit, each holding on end of a rope stretched over the pit, and your nemesis was trying to pull you into it. You’re pulling frantically back, trying to save yourself. The psychologist then said: “what happens if you let go?” and “how does that feel?”.
This, I think, is where I am with E. I’ve let go. I’ve refused to engage. The pit he was trying to pull me into is still there, still real, but, letting go of the rope means that I’m no longer in any danger of being pulled in. In fact, I’m now able to turn my back on him and walk away. I can’t change the fact that it’s unfair, that there are many wrongs that haven’t been righted, but I don’t have to trouble myself with it anymore.
All of this is brilliant. However, as I’ve begun to occupy the new space that’s now my life, I’ve been increasingly concerned with what I ‘should’ now do with this new freedom. Being me, and being a perfectionist, I have in my head a list of things I should do each day. This list dominates everything, from how much I should weigh and what I should eat, to how much I should read, how much time I should spend writing, what I should wear, what I should do at work, how much money I should spend, how much I should have saved by now, how often I should exercise, how clean my house should be, what I should do for the kids and how much time I should spend with family. At the end of each day, I have inevitably not achieved what I think I should have achieved. It’s emotionally and physically exhausting and this self-sabotage means I usually feel anxious, worried and out of control.
Of course, I know my list is a reaction to the trauma that I’ve been through, it’s a way of trying to control the world around me because that control was taken away from me in such a vicious way by E. Losing my home having no real financial security anymore, also means that I’ve permanently lost control of something vital, so I’ve been compensating for this by micromanaging everything else in my life.
My damascene moment came, when I realised that, like the fiery pit, my list of shoulds that was dragging me down so much, not only existed because I allowed it to, but because I’d created it in the first place.
I realised that, along with my need to regain some sort of control, I’d put even more pressure on myself to be perfect because I am the only parent my kids have. Apart from the odd 2am text, E now has no relationship with his kids at all. In some ways – for me, not them – this is brilliant. I have no competition. There’s no tug of love. There’s no countering something I’ve said with ‘but Dad says…’, there’s no comparing their 53-year-old Mum, with their inevitably more glamourous 33-year-old Stepmum, there’s no competing allure of E and P’s wealthy London life and lovely holidays, with a home where I’m scraping a zero balance on my bank account at the end of every month. But the kids having no other parent in their lives, also means that I feel I need to be better than ‘just’ me. I’m the only one they can turn to when there’s a problem, the only shoulder to cry on, the only place of safety that they have. Whilst this is an immense privilege, it’s also a huge pressure. I’ve felt it’s my job to fill the huge emotional rip that their Dad’s abandonment has created in their lives. This, I think, is also where my list of shoulds came from.
I began to see that I had done and was doing nothing wrong. That not achieving an unrealistic self-imposed goal was not a failure. I also had a ‘what if’ moment. What if it was ok to weigh what I weigh. What if there was absolutely no need to feel any guilt at all? What if I could just accept myself? What if there was no need to put myself under such stupid pressure? What if, WHAT IF, what I’d done all day (even if that was just watch Netflix in my pyjamas and do sudoku) was precisely what I ‘should’ have been doing and a brilliant use of my time?
Realising this has begun to free me from my list, or at least make me review it (I’ll always be a perfectionist and I’ll probably always be a little bit hard on myself). Not all of it – I mean you really should brush your teeth, recycle, be nice, and not murder people – but it has made me see what impossible standards I set for myself and to try and let go of them, just a little bit.
This, I think, my imperfection, and the fact that’s it’s not just ok, but brilliant to be imperfect, is probably the best example I can set my kids. I just need to make sure I don’t add it to any sort of list…