October 20, 2016 § 1 Comment
It has been more than a year since the judge declared my marriage over, so I thought I’d write this up. Because given the divorce rates, chances are you know someone who’s going through it, and you’re not sure how to help.
My friends carried me through my divorce like an army of earth angels. So I can tell you what really worked for me.
- Listen. More often than not, they will just need someone to listen, someone who can just help them share the load in their head a little. Don’t offer advice or solutions unless they ask for them. Don’t give your opinion unless it’s asked for. Just let them sit on your couch and talk. Your job is simply to listen and be there.
- Treat them like someone has died. If divorce is anything, it’s a massive grieving process. Depending on which side of the divorce they are, they may be grieving the loss of someone they love very much, which hurts like hell. And then they don’t even have the closure that death brings – they will still bump up against that person in all kinds of unexpected ways, even if they don’t have children together. They’re also grieving the loss of a dream – their happily ever after. So be gentle, be kind, be comforting.
- Do small practical things. Going through a divorce means waking up feeling like small, bewildered child every day, and being sent to face an army of Goliaths with not even a slingshot to defend yourself. And while you are fighting that battle, you still have to go to work, keep things running at home, and if you have children, not just care for them, but hold their emotional health as they go through something that has nothing to do with them directly, but affects them deeply. And then there’s a crapload of admin and paperwork. You have no idea how interwoven your life is with that of your spouse’s until you have to disentangle, separate and pack into two separate boxes. So the simplest things – a packed lunch for the kids, a cooked evening meal, babysitting, washing the dishes, helping with a new household budget, mowing the lawn, helping with a school lift – those things can save your friend’s sanity some days.
- Accept that you probably can’t stay friends with both sides. At least not now while they’re going through it. Because you are going to hear the worst side of at least one or both of your friends. When the dust is settled, maybe some of those links can be rebuilt, but your relationship with both people will be changed. It’s unavoidable. Be there for whoever you are closer to for now, and don’t get caught in the middle.
- Call them on their shit when you have to. This is important. People going through divorces will tell you stories about what’s happened, and what the other party has done. But stories change every time we tell them. We emphasise certain details; neglect to mention other things – it’s just how human beings work. So take it with a pinch of salt and remember that no-one is all bad, and no-one is all good. And when you hear a friend being unreasonable, unnecessarily difficult or just plain obstreperous, call them on it. I see far too many people getting away with abominable behaviour, without anyone saying, “Hey. That’s not okay.” We all need to start taking more accountability for calling our friends on their bad behaviour – and not just in this context.
- Help them to do non-divorce things. Take them to dinner. Take them to movies or a show. Talk about art or music or sport. Talk about the rugby if you really must. But distract them for a little while from the all-consuming maelstrom of angst and anxiety. You may have to use your best persuasive powers to get them out of the house, but they will thank you afterwards.
Finally, if you happen to have a spouse of your own, learn from what you are hearing and seeing. Go home and tell them how much you love them: count the ways. Don’t take them for granted. Show them great affection. Remember again why you promised to love them forever. Make sure you really see them.
And then keep doing it every damn day for the rest of your life together.
October 12, 2016 § 5 Comments
This post comes with a disclaimer. I’m not looking for advice (take note, mansplainers), or attention, nor am I fishing for compliments. I’m not trying to be dramatic, either. I’m just kinda thinking out loud, here on the page, because that’s what I do, and sometimes it resonates with other people and sometimes it doesn’t.
Because tonight, you see, I am completely paralysed by self-doubt. Again. I’m vacillate between tears welling in my eyes and full blown crying, my jaw is tensed, my chest is tight with anxiety, and my self-flagellation game could get a starring role in a film about mediaeval torture.
And whenever this happens – which is often, I should confess – I wonder why I can’t get past this thing. Because believe me, I’ve tried. I’ve read books, seen coaches and shrinks, collected compliments I’ve been given, tried positive thinking… It’s a long list of interventions.
And I’ll be doing fine for a while, and then one little thing will set me off and send me all the way back, till I find myself in this place again.
The litany of complaints is long and brutal. I say things I would never say in a million years to another human being, to myself: I’m fat, I’m ugly, I’m clumsy, I’m useless. I’m too strict a mother, or I’m not strict enough. I’m lazy, I’m forgetful, and professionally, people are going to find me out any day now. I’m interfering and overbearing and weak. I cry too easily. I avoid confrontation. I shouldn’t back down so often. I’m too much a Jack of all trades. I’m definitely not a master of anything. I’m undisciplined. I procrastinate too much. I should read more… That’s just for starters. (I won’t bore you with the rest. I’m sure you have better things to do if you’ve even made it this far.)
And once I’ve finished listening to my own voice – which takes a while – I start to hear the other voices from my past, something a friend quite rightly admonished me for the other day. Because they’re in the past, you know?
But here’s what fascinates me. I do get plenty of compliments. People tell me I’m talented or clever or whatever. But the ‘whatever’ part should tell you what happens when someone says something complimentary about me. I say thank you, but I shrug it off. For the vast majority of the time I just don’t believe people. I think they’re just being nice.
Say something bad about me, though, and I will absolutely take it on. And I’m not talking about feedback or constructive criticism – I’m actually really good at working with those. I’m talking about insults – you’re untalented, you can’t string a sentence together, you’re stupid, your opinion doesn’t count, you’re lazy, you’re a poor example to your children – those are all actual things people have said to me, as examples. And I will walk around for days holding on to that insult, ruminating on it, and ultimately assimilating it.
Logically it makes no sense. I see that. I really do. But there’s a disconnect between my head and my heart. My brain tells me what I should be feeling; my heart has a mind of its own and clings to the old stories with a white-knuckled grip.
When I was in high school, I remember feeling that I really could do anything if I was prepared to put in the required effort. I remember feeling talented and clever andand attractive. I had the gift of the gab and confidence by the shovel load. And on nights like tonight, I wonder where it all went wrong, and where that girl has gone.
I feel her sometimes. Sometimes there’s a glimmer of her, and then she’s gone again, before I can grab her by the wrist and beg her to stay.
Because I really wish she’d return for good now. She was fun. I liked hanging out with her, and it’s been far too long.
* Reminder: please re-read paragraph one before commenting.
October 5, 2016 § 3 Comments
For complicated reasons, the drain that carries our grey water away, now makes quite a noise. When you take a shower or brush your teeth, you’re very aware of the water running away outside the bathroom window, and it has given all of us in the household pause for thought.
We’re in the middle of water restrictions thanks to a drought, you see, and when we first moved into this house, we were doing as many small things as we could to conserve water – a bucket in the shower, shallow baths, using said shallow bath water to flush toilets, and so on.
But over the last few months, complacency has set in. Gradually those measures have fallen away. We do adhere to the restrictions on watering with hose pipes and washing cars with buckets only, but we’ve not been actively conserving water as much as we were. My daughter remarked on this yesterday, and we have the noisy drain water as a constant reminder now, so we’re penitently reinstating all of those measures.
The water thing fascinates me. I’ve seen articles predicting that the next world war will be fought over water. Climate change scientists and other experts warn that water shortages are an unavoidable part of our future. And yet many of the people I encounter don’t seem to care. As long as they can afford to pay whatever the municipality charges them for their water, they shrug off the pleas for everyone to use water sparingly. I sat with such a man last week, who blithely bragged about his R9000 a month water bill. I’d thought him quite charming up until that point.
The excuses and justifications come thick and fast: water has been mismanaged by the government. Climate change is a hoax. The golf courses are still using lots of water. My garden is dying. My swimming pool will crack. It’s so much hassle to wash the car with a bucket…
They don’t seem to see that if everyone does something small – if we make a proper collective effort – it’s entirely feasible that so-called ‘water-shedding’ won’t take place, and we’ll all have access to water until the rains come again.
I try whenever possible to give people the benefit of the doubt. So perhaps these are people who’ve never had to walk to fetch and carry water, or bathe in a small basin. Perhaps they’re people who’ve never had to boil their water to ensure it’s clean, so they take it for granted. Perhaps they’ve never gone a day without water gushing merrily from a tap in their homes.
Or perhaps they’re just assholes who are only interested in looking out for themselves. Perhaps they don’t care a damn about anyone else.