Thursday, January 6, 2011

Grocery aisle redemption for those struggling to look ahead, not back at the train wreck

Sometimes little things come around and bite you in the ankle when you're least expecting it. Such was the case with the box of Honey Nut Cheerios in the cereal aisle at Winco. Shopping alone, I decided to checkout the 100-calorie snack items as possible additions to my diet plan, which calls for eating small amounts of food several times a day. As I turned in the aisle rows of cereal boxes caught my eye. There they were, the Honey Nut Cheerios, the one cereal I try not to look for, the one cereal I don't want to find. There it was...that stupid happy bee smiling right at me. I hate that bee.
I stopped, sucked in my breath and thought about my ex-husband who never ate anything but Honey Nut Cheerios. How many boxes of that stuff did I buy him over the 18 years we were together, I mused. Is his new lady friend buying Honey Nut Cheerios for him? Is he still with her?
I wondered how he was in his parallel, invisible life somewhere else in the world. I wondered if he was happy. Maybe so. By then things were sort of spiraling downhill into that abyss that at one point in my life was all consuming grief ...right there in the middle of Winco.
Yes, I've moved on from the break up and year-long divorce. My life now by nearly ever measure is darn good. I have my health and enough retirement money to live on. I have a new wonderful man in my life. We've taken some fabulous trips in the past year. We enjoy each other's company in the most comfortable and satisfying ways...conversations, cooking, travel, books, even politics.
So why do I let myself go back to that dark and dismal place of grief over a lost marriage?
When the spiral is under way, I try to stop it by telling myself, "Don't go there," but revisiting the grief can be triggered by all kinds of innocent objects and incidences when I am least prepared or least expecting them. It's a difficult grief. It burns in my chest, I feel my face tightening and I know the anger still is there over what happened.
And here's where grief over the death of a long-time spouse as compared to the loss from abandonment after a long marriage, differ. The dead spouse can in some way be idolized, excused (even for dying) and remembered to family and friends in positive ways, right out there in the open.
When someone leaves, his grown kids try to hang in there with you, but it isn't the same. They don't want to hear bad things about their father and you don't want to hear anything at all about him. Your own kids may blame you in some subconscious ways for the breakup even though you may have not wanted it. And even worse, they may resent it when you find someone new, leaving them with their own disappointments and loss.
Abandonment is complicated, says researcher Susan Anderson (no relation).
"The fear of abandonment is one of our most primal fears. Its pain is often overwhelming, and can leave its mark on the rest of your life," she notes in her book, "The Journey from Abandonment to Healing."
Those determined to recover from abandonment must work at it every day. And it takes time.
For me it's been about getting on with my life. Some might say, I've tried too hard but I've always worked to overcome my disappointments, to let go of the anger and move forward. I've never been reluctant to seek out competent counseling and to give myself permission to believe in love.
I've worked hard to live in the moment and give love to everyone who enters my life. I try to respond to what life asks of me, to put things in perspective...to assert my place in the world, as Anderson puts it. What I've learned is that we can find love almost every moment of the day in the relationships we already have. And when we find someone new with which to share life, it makes that sharing all the more enjoyable, all the more valuable and even treasured. So here's to Honey Nut Cheerios for reminding me of a life that I lost but also for giving me a moment, right there in the middle of the Winco store, to reflect on how far I've come and how good life can be for having endured the losses.

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