And Nothing But The Truth
"It doesn't matter if we are ready for an emotional adventure — hurt happens. And it happens to every single one of us. Without exception." Brené Brown, Rising Strong
The Canadian loop that kicked off our overland adventure was particularly idyllic, peaceful, magical and restorative to me for a number of reasons. I felt myself letting go, very tentatively opening up, and experiencing glimpses of happiness — the kind of emotional progress I had not felt in a long time.
For a number of his own reasons, Canada was the opposite for My Love. After completing the loop and returning to New Hampshire, we rested for three weeks at my parents’ home to strategize the next part of our journey, which we projected would take us south along the eastern coast of the U.S. and then west toward California.
We sat under autumn apple trees and fiery foliage in the quaint downtown of Peterborough, musing about what was next in the trip, in our lives and in our relationship. We discussed — at points through tears — all the possibilities we could imagine and agreed to explore all of our options, with the mutual understanding that ultimately, what will be, will be. It seemed the answers we needed were not far on the road ahead; we just hadn’t reached them yet. We needed to keep going.
With enough of a plan in place to soothe my protective mother alarms, and in a race against the dropping temperatures, we pointed the Great White and the Spriglet south again in late October to chase the sun.
But something was off from the moment we left New Hampshire. I couldn’t place my finger on what was going on, but I wasn’t present like I’d been in Canada. Operating our mission felt heavy and hard, and I lacked the excitement and enthusiasm for the trip that I’d enjoyed up north. My progress stalled and I felt a bit out of body, unmotivated to do even the most basic of tasks. Unable to articulate what was happening, I said nothing and allowed my subconscious to mull it over.
Until I blew up in Nashville, ruining our time in one of the cities I was most looking forward to visiting. Really, it all blew up in Asheville, right before Tennessee. But it was brewing from the time we left New Hampshire and truth be told, I could keep backing up this timeline to its true origin just over a year ago.
We lived in Jersey City then, but we were on a tour de travail — in Montreal, en route to Toronto and then Miami — when I discovered soul-shattering betrayal in my life. It pierced my heart, wounding and paralyzing me. It fractured everything I knew about myself — which after 18 months of first-time motherhood, wasn’t much in the first place. And it changed me, right then and increasingly more over time as I grieved.
Some things became blurry, while others came into sharp focus. What was in focus often interchanged without warning, like a wave turning over. Brené Brown describes it perfectly in her new book, Rising Strong, when she says, "I once heard a friend say that grief is like surfing. Sometimes you feel steady and you're able to ride the waves, and other times the surf comes crashing down on you, pushing you so far underwater that you're sure you'll drown."
I was paralyzed at first by a level of shock I’ve never experienced before. A post-trauma of sorts, I guess. So I overcompensated to make things normal. I pretended nothing happened —easy at first, as only my sister and My Love knew what had transpired — and I defiantly moved forward, shoving my feelings down like I do my hands in my jacket pockets in sub-zero temperatures.
That backfired, obviously, and the aftermath was ugly and very painful. My feelings bubbled out like a volcanic hot spring, a bit here, and a bit there, sometimes in anxiety, sometimes in debilitating sadness, sometimes in raging anger, sometimes in random but crippling mistrust, sometimes in a need to eat ALL THE THINGS, and sometimes in manic overcompensation to prove how “fine” I was. I tried to soldier on, but in the process I embarrassed myself in front of colleagues, friends, family, acquaintances, half-strangers, and even completely perfect strangers. It was clear I’m not well, it just wasn’t clear why. Because I couldn’t say.
Some people were told lies and others half-truths, in a halfhearted attempt to explain our sometimes-bizarre and at-all-times-unlike-ourselves behavior. Each lie, half or whole, carved out another tiny piece of me because you can’t be whole if you darken or dishonor any piece of your story by cloaking it in untruth.
Business and pleasure blurred together for My Love and I, as both personal and professional partners, which required me to keep a stoic face even when it was eating me alive. I couldn’t always manage to hold it together. On a business trip to Costa Rica earlier this year, I was having a particularly impossible time keeping face in front of close, but professionally associated, friends, so two of the three of us — my daughter and I — flew home early. As the Executive Director, My Love was trapped hosting the occasion and was unable to react emotionally in real time. That only made it much worse for me.
A week later I found myself in the emergency room with My Love at my side. I was doubled over with stomach pain and nausea that hadn't subsided in 24 hours, but doctors could find no obvious cause. They treated my symptoms and sent me home. Maybe the doctors couldn’t find the root of the problem, but my subconscious knew it was heartbreak and stress manifesting itself physically. I turned to acupuncture, energy work, massage and an elimination diet to address my wellness myself. Depending how long you've been reading BURBS + a BBQ, you've witnessed part of that journey. The diet was somewhat involuntary. I couldn’t eat much without pain so I lost weight, but couldn’t bring myself to be excited about it. Again, I soldiered on.
It got worse soon thereafter, while we were hosting the third and most impressive installation of our advertising and design festival in Miami Beach. We flew home after that week in a cloud darker than any that had preceded it, and decided on that flight that we needed some space.
I left to New Hampshire with my daughter in tow for a few weeks, then returned to Jersey City to face life head on. We recognized that what was underfoot was killing us both, and with the last little bit of our strength, we resigned our professional positions and the materialistically comfortable life that went along with it. We packed and stored our belongings, bought the Spriglet, outfitted The Great White and planned an overland adventure.
As much as the plan was to see the world and explore the Americas, it was also about healing. It was about relieving the pressure for both of us, reconnecting as a nuclear family in environments that awakened us, and continuing to face life bravely — both in its moments of overwhelming beauty and in its moments of excruciating emotional pain. Every day, as we’ve explored mind-blowing, awe-striking destinations (and admittedly some underwhelming ones, too) we’ve been working to make ourselves, and each other, whole again.
That’s something that I talk about on The Blog fairly often; I’ve shared much of my wellness journey. But only to a point. A big chunk of the picture, and therefore the full context, has been missing.
By selectively telling our story on BURBS + a BBQ, I’ve been selectively processing it. Instead, I need to tell the non-censored story as I am called and compelled to share it. I need to face the whole, multifaceted, integrated story of my life and hear myself tell nothing but the truth so I know what to do next.
I’m still going to tell the tale of our travels to date. It’s just that the tale is deeper than I’ve been sharing thus far, and I don’t want to live on the surface of my life, or selectively tell this tale anymore. I’ll share not only what we saw from a travel perspective but what I’ve experienced from an emotional perspective. That means if I want to write about the weather in Austin, Texas today, awesome. But if tomorrow I need to be honest about what My Love and I are going through, because an emotional cloud is fogging up the vista in front of me, then I will process that through writing here.
Why? Because that’s what I do. Why here? Because in this personal journey, I need to be heard. I need to know what I think.
As Liz Gilbert recently brought to my attention in Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Joan Didion once said, “I don't know what I think until I write it down.” That’s me. My Love often says that reading my blog is a window into a person he finds he doesn’t entirely know, and that I write better than I communicate verbally. What makes that true are the countless thoughts are swirling around in my head at any given moment. They get caught up and jumbled somewhere between my brain and my mouth, but some inexplicable magic happens when I touch my fingers to the keys or pick up a pen. It opens up the conduit and lets it all out.
I also write differently on my Blog than I would in, say, a journal. I still journal, yes, but that’s to dump’n’draw my feelings at a particular moment in time. It’s important for me to take the next step after the info dump, and edit it. Because as Brown points out in Rising Strong, sometimes the first story we tell ourselves is not always a true story, especially if it arises out of our hurt, shame or anger. Sometimes the first story we tell ourselves needs to be rumbled with to get to a place of truth. In my own editing process, I comb thoroughly and sort vigorously until I feel I’ve accurately captured every frame in the picture.
“I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear,” Didion also said.
I find clarity and inspiration in those words as someone who, like Didion, also seeks to know what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear. To answer these questions honestly, and to save and restore my sanity, health and happiness, I need to comb and sort through the past three to four years of my life. I need to hear myself tell this story in order to move forward.
So here it is: I am back in New Hampshire. I flew back alone with my daughter on December 1st to spend the month and the holidays with my parents, her most beloved grandparents and Christmas magic-makers. After that, my tiny brown clone and I will fly to Australia to visit my pregnant sister and brother-in-law for the month of January. My Love will continue on with the trailer to California to work on a few projects throughout the next couple months.
Our paths have separated in this way because we’ve decided to take a break until we can figure out the best way to move forward in our relationship. It’s weird and uncomfortable and awkward to be apart, but it’s a loving, calm and mutual decision.
We’ve realized we don’t have the answers that we need right now to move the pebble that stands in our way. This single issue is able to stop us against a backdrop of an otherwise perfect (for us) relationship, but not for lack of trying. We’ve attempted everything possible in service of our relationship over the past year+: couple’s counseling; constantly brutal, honest conversations; one side extending extreme compromise and then the other; reading, watching and discussing everything under the sun that seems to relate to our unicorn of a situation, and more. We know more about each other, and understand each other better than ever before. Our love and desire to be together massively overshadows the pebble, but trying to force answers we haven't reached yet is hurting each of us, and we love each other too much to helplessly watch each other endure any level of pain. Love, it turns out, is not all you need.
We’re tired. Really, really worn out. So, as devastated and gutted as I am to separate — at times it takes my breath away and makes me lightheaded without my bearings — we know that this is the right move. Everyone is doing the best they can.
My daughter and I will visit My Love — yes, he is still that — in between our time in New Hampshire and Australia, as well as after we go down under. That structure to the next two months comforts me in this chaos and supports some continuity for our daughter.
I need this time alone to make myself happy and to truly and completely heal from the trauma that changed me. I need to forgive on my own time, in my own way, and to create a foundation that keeps my energy and sense of self intact because it is laid upon rules and values that make me feel safe and comfortable. I need to get to a place where I am able to assert what I want from this life, what makes me happy and where I can comfortably compromise in a relationship.
Part of that healing, I’ve come to realize, is owning my story instead of trying to hide it. To own the story, I need to tell the story. My Love agrees that this is necessary for me and even suggested the same without knowing that I was feeling called to do this. The most honest thing I can offer to anyone choosing to read my blog is to open my book and expose my wounds and give full context to the story I'm sharing. Anything less is inauthentic. But the story is completely mid-stream and totally in-process. I have no conclusion and sage advice to share, only my experience.
Again in Rising Strong, Brown writes, "... rarely do we see wounds that are in the process of healing. I'm not sure if it's because we feel too much shame to let anyone see a process as intimate as overcoming hurt, or if it's because even when we muster the courage to share our still-incomplete healing, people reflexively look away."
If you want to look away because this is not the pretty, fun, lighthearted travel story you signed up to read and frankly, it's all a bit too much to handle, that’s okay.
Conversely, if you can't look away because you are fascinated by others misfortunes (and this is a holiday edition, no less!), the type to rubberneck train wrecks and car accidents, that’s also perfectly fine. I’m not judging you. I can’t help but look at the wreckage either, even while praying for the best.
But know that I’m okay. In fact, everyone in this wreck is going to be okay. My daughter is very okay. She is surrounded and distracted by play and love and Christmas lights, spoiled rotten by people she adores. Including and especially her two parents. Thankfully, at two and a half years old, she only understands this to a degree. We hope.
She is at the center of our priorities, and the healing process has taken so long partly because of my desire to shield her from the experience of us walking through this to the other side. "It's seductive to think that not talking about our pain is the safest way to keep it from defining us," Brown says, "but ultimately the avoidance takes over our lives." The bottom line is there's just no more time and room for avoidance. If I want to raise a strong woman, I have to be a strong woman.
Lastly, this story is for everyone, and it's for no one, but I’m happy to offer all of it now unabashedly. Whether it is my sister and my mom tuning in or half of America is irrelevant to me as far as my motivation is concerned, but the support in feeling heard does mean the world. Thank you for caring to tune in, even today. If you want to stay in the car with me on what continues to be the road trip of a lifetime, we’ll go back to those three weeks in New Hampshire after we ended our Canadian loop and keep on from there. Coming?
P.S. And yes, just go ahead and prepare for a lot of Brené Brown references as I sort through this, because I've just discovered that we could all use more Brené Brown in our lives. Her sage words in Rising Strong have already grounded me immensely.