Time: Friend or Foe

When Phil was killed, it was all I could so to get through the day. Sometimes I measured time by minutes. As the minutes lapsed into days and then weeks, I could tell you exactly how many days or w…

Source: Time: Friend or Foe

Time: Friend or Foe

When Phil was killed, it was all I could so to get through the day. Sometimes I measured time by minutes. As the minutes lapsed into days and then weeks, I could tell you exactly how many days or weeks or months it had been since life as I knew it ended. I no longer dreamed and I no longer had anything I looked forward to. Sure, I should have looked at the blessings in my life, but I just became a walking robot. I was afraid to feel because it hurt too damn much. In my cocoon, I langored staying busy and aloof. It was safer that way. While eventually I was able to let in girlfriends, I believed with everything that I was that the Linda who was capable of feeling, giving, and loving another was  I didn’t want to. It hurt to feel and it was easier to consume myself with business and giving to others. The weekends and nights loomed large and I stopped believing in a life where there were things to look forward to or in myself in a relationship with another. It was simply too hard.

I didn’t pray about it, didn’t hope for it, didn’t even consider another person. I just couldn’t consider letting another into my heart because to do so meant opening myself up to hurt again. I was the safe ship in the harbor hiding. When someone was persistent enough and offered a friendship that began not in being looked at as broken or a sensational story, I still couldn’t take the risk. It took time–two steps forward, one step back. I am still scared. Today, I realized that my first and last thoughts are no longer Phil’s, but of another. I literally gasped when realizing I couldn’t exactly tell how long it has been. I found myself reeling in self-doubt and insecurity because I recognize that I have begun dreaming and looking forward to new memories with this person. To dream means to be vulnerable. I feel incredibly vulnerable.

I stand exposed for I no longer have the ability to hide how I feel nor do I know how to play normal dating games. I am simply just standing and believing. I was married 23.5 years and Phil was the only man I dreamt of, wanted, stood with, and saw. That man has slipped away. I wonder what he would think. If he could even love me or the me I have morphed into. I wonder if my story and my journey of transparency is too much for anyone else. It is easier and safer to stay moored in the harbor, but today I realized, I am in the raging sea waters. I am afraid of getting it wrong and of believing in myself, another, us. I can’t go back to the harbor, I know I can’t, but I don’t know how to charter these roiling waves.

Being married for almost 25 years isn’t helpful. I know how to love a person through good times and bad times. I know adapting and giving when it isn’t easy. I know moving and aging with another. I do not know how to navigate the dating world, how to contain my feelings, how to make a relationship work at my age or in my situation. I don’t want to dream or to hope, but I am. I realize that in my vulnerability, I am risking an already scarred heart imploding again. Time is measuered in a new way (by shared races and months). Time looms large in the anticipation of another weekend together, but now time is something that I savor. That change is perhaps the biggest change in my year of striving to thrive versus survive. There is no thriving without risking the waves. Throw me a life line if you see me going under. Please?

The Finding of Me and A Breaking Point

The Finding of Me and A Breaking Point

In the past three weeks, I have been reminded in a cold water slap to the face just how public my life is. While I have chosen to live my journey publicly, there are limits to what I want to share, am able to share, and there is an end to what I am able to give.  Additionally, my journey is not my children’s journey, my friends’ journeys, or my guy’s journey.  It pains me that I even have to point out the obvious, but I do.  Events of late have shown me that there are some that want more than I can give.

When my journey started, I was the quiet shy PE/English teacher who was overshadowed by my Phil and by my children. I was comfortable as the athletic runner girl because nobody expected me to socialize or to share a whole lot about her life.  I was just the key spouse, the super mom, and the fun teacher.  From the start, I was thrust into a very public journey because the media knew before I knew about Phil’s assassination.  Imagine one’s worst nightmare and everyone knowing about the impending doom except for you.  The media camping outside of my school, my home, and my small Colorado Springs Airport before I had an inkling of what was to come was my reality.  Imagine flying to Dover to greet one’s spouse whose body was too broken to consider having an open casket, and watching the media glomming on to the story and to five children standing next to me—four in military uniforms.  Consider having a funeral the day after the weekend Osama Bin Laden had been killed and that one’s spouse was the first USAFA Professor killed like this.  I spoke to get the media off of my children so that my children could choose whether or not to speak.  My children were a product of Phil and I, but in the wearing of the military uniform, they were not afforded the opportunity to grieve normally.  They had to render proper courtesies and respect while their eyes leaked tears and their noses dripped.  I chose to speak and to get out of my comfort level because that is what a good mom does.  She circles the wagons and slays the dragons.

As time went on, my blogs became a positive way forward for me. My grief journey became a platform for the cost of wearing the military uniform.  My writing, speaking, and advocacy became a very positive way forward and it became a game changer.  I developed a voice and my way forward and I never regretted it until a few weeks ago.  It should be okay for me to have a bad few weeks, to question myself, and to wonder what next without people telling me I am a public person and that people need for me to be strong all of the time.  I am not.  Three weeks ago, I had a major event happen that included an assault, and ending of a friendship that was important to me, a family issue, and the hits kept coming.  I didn’t know which way was up and yet people expected me to be strong and to show the world my resiliency.  I needed to lick my wounds.  Part of resiliency is in the choices that come next.  I needed to run to the people in my life that were important and I needed to feel bad when my brokenness caused a speed bump in a relationship that means more to me than anything.

The problem was that people still wanted me to do more. I have little division between work, volunteerism, my personality which is to be everything to everyone, and the fire I carry.  People started crossing lines.  There are only so many ways I can be pulled.  I have said from the very start that I do not understand the fire that I have to speak and tell my story.  My choice to fall into my faith from the start has been my barometer.  I know where the skills, the courage, and the opportunities have come from.  I have only felt compelled to teach and write on my journey, the military issues.  While there are many people doing great things for the military, it does not mean that I have the fire for it.  When people want to use my name, my story, my heart, they have to realize that I may not be being called to do the same.  When they reach out to my family or my friends or my guy to get involved, I feel violated just as I feel violated when I am told that I am not being resilient enough.

I realized just how few boundaries I had when I chose to sign out of Facebook because I needed to lick my wounds and to fall into my faith. I didn’t know exactly what I would be able to see and not see if I signed out, thus I put a message in a private group and I put up one on Facebook.  I didn’t know how long I would be off, I just knew I needed to pray and to consider what next before I sabotaged what was important to me.  People assumed all sorts of things.  I was not suicidal.  I was not breaking up with my guy (and I wouldn’t publicly do it on Facebook anyway).  I just needed to know the direction God wants me to go.  I needed to know what my limits are.  I know them now.  I am not perfect.  I have a wicked sense of humor that isn’t always appropriate.  I am a flawed individual.  I struggle with feeling bad at times and I struggle with knowing what next.  I am in a relationship that took be by surprise and I am trying to figure that out too.  I am considering what next in terms of working and living.  I fall down and drop my sword sometimes.  It is not indicative of being fragile.  It just means that I am human; I am not Super Woman.

In that vein, I am setting boundaries. I am comfortable doing what I am doing right now.  My children and my guy are off limits and they always will be.  I may believe in a cause, but I may not be involved in a cause because at the end of the day, I want to be more than my story.  That story defines who I am, but it isn’t all of who I am.  I am a simple girl who wants to feel like she can be real.  I am a simple girl who loves her children enough to find a voice, and I am a simple girl that shouldn’t have to explain to the world why I am involved in some things and not others.  I am a simple girl trying to navigate and figure out someone who is really important to me, a someone who encouraged my writing and speaking so that others can see that they are not alone, and a someone that is supportive of my journey, but who is not a public entity.  I am just a girl who wants to have a normal life and not feel like I have to be on all of the time.

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A Pivotal Birthday

As I take stock of a pivotal birthday, I know that the life I am living is nothing like I planned or could have imagined. My 50’s are not supposed to look like this. I should still be living in Phil’s shadow and the shadows of my five children. I should still be the girl afraid to go into the teaching lounge because I did not know where to sit. I should still be the girl who always ordered to go versus sitting alone in a restaurant. I should be that girl, but I am far from that girl now. Granted, the choice was not given, but demanded. I am proud of the girl I have become. I like the girl looking back in the mirror.

True, I can hardly recognize her and to be honest, I have fleeting thoughts of wondering if Phil would recognize and even like the Linda I have morphed into. I was once quite shy and I ran far from conflict. While it still gives me pause to be in groups and I truly cannot sleep when my relationships aren’t right, I am able to walk into a room and quietly sit until I am comfortable. I can speak up–not so often–but with a quiet shaky voice if it is important enough. Phil’s and my relationship worked because he didn’t take advantage of my personality, but make no mistake, I knew I was even as the queen of my house, I lived in the shadows of a man that lived larger than life and five children who far surpassed their mama. As a military spouse, I knew better than to get too attached to a house, friends, or a job. Uprooting every 2-4 years erected walls of distance and detachment more than any other factor. I stood strong for my family.

When Phil died, I didn’t know where to turn. I was gripped with a paralyzing fear and forced to make decisions that I didn’t feel capable of making. The military gave me one year to figure out where I wanted to live. In essence, I lost my husband, my children (who had all left the house), my dog (who died that year also), my house, many of my friends, my job, my status, and my community all at once. The fires of hell consumed me. The only constant was pain. I spent my 50th birthday in a fog of indecision and wishing I was the one that had died.

Yet, in the decision to get up and lace up the running shoes, I found a tenuous way forward. While I could barely breathe, I made myself run. I gave myself permission to pursue my dreams through running. When Phil died, I had run 42 marathons. I had a dream of running 55 marathons by 55 and to complete all 50 states. The deal Phil and I had was that once I finished the 50 states, my running would be limited to local races so that we could travel together. Running was just my thing and I pursued it alone–he just let me be. As I stare down this pivotal double nickel birthday, I recognize that decision to keep putting one foot in front of the other has been the impetus for all that has followed. I have found my footing in the miles covered.

Running has always been my place to fall into my faith and to be real. Running is the place that I am able to work through pain and extreme emotions of any kind. In the miles, I am able to unravel what next. When Phil died, I started running a lot of races as a way to avoid staying at home on the weekends. I could keep myself really busy during the week with work and volunteering, but the weekends and holidays were devastatingly lonely. Through the races, I was able to briefly connect with people. I was able to disappear into a crowd of being anonymous as I carried on. While I still do not like eating or going out alone, running forced me to travel and engage with people.

As time went on, I began to make decisions based on what worked for me. I am always afraid of making the wrong decision–or at least I was always afraid. I fell down a time or two, but I began to fight for figuring out happiness and figuring out what next. I often grow weary because my decisions were so far out of my lane. Sometimes I fell and sometimes I misstepped, but my confidence in my ability to make decisions, big decisions grew. I started to look ahead versus living in the world of shattered dreams. Maybe those choices aren’t choices that others would make, but they are working for me. I decided early on that the assassin wasn’t going to get my life too. I decided to doggedly pursue my Bucket List. I knew that I would face much more than the financial component. The hardest part of pursuing my dreams? I had to force myself to push past the pain and the constant fear. Running the Boston Marathon as marathon 100 meant I had to push past the nightmares to take back my finish line. China meant that I had to travel to a country I had never been to, didn’t understand the language, and to be with a group of people I didn’t know. I literally got sick every time I thought of it, but I knew that if I could just keep stepping, I would find a part of me I needed to find. I did….on that Wall, on that trip, and in that marathon.

So, what next? I started another Bucket List because I recognize that my life isn’t over. While there are still a few destination races on my list, the next Bucket List is about living, loving, trusting myself, and most of all believing in the power of me. I added once inconceivable item to that list–an item that would have sent my fleeing in fear and disbelief because I recognize that my life has room–my heart has room–for more. A Bucket List should never be completed, but it should be about living one’s dreams. It is funny that Phil’s sudden and traumatic death brought me to the point where I feel more, see more, want more, and love myself and others better than I ever had. It is disconcerting to look back to six birthdays ago when I wished that it had been me that had died and to realize that for the first time, I want to really thrive and live. It only took a pivotal birthday for me to look in the mirror to see that while I have the earned lines etched onto my face, I truly like the girl in this skin, this body, this heart, this voice. I want more for me because I see that there is still room for this girl to grow. I believe in me and I believe that in the facing of my fears, I still have room to grow. As I face the candles and take a deep breath to blow the bonfire out, I will continue onwards knowing that the best is yet to come.

Tear Down These Walls

Tear Down These Walls   From just before my 8th birthday until Phil’s death, I didn’t cry.  Not once.  I had made a conscious decision to guard my feelings and my tears based on something that…

Source: Tear Down These Walls

Tear Down These Walls

Tear Down These Walls

 

From just before my 8th birthday until Phil’s death, I didn’t cry.  Not once.  I had made a conscious decision to guard my feelings and my tears based on something that had happened on a family outing with my dad.  I was the oldest child—the responsible, reliable, perfectionistic, fix everyone daughter.  It was difficult growing up in my house and hiding my feelings and my tears became one of the few things I could control.  At seventeen, I prided myself on being a rock—an island that needed no one. Phil certainly broke through my walls, but he could never handle my needing to be the weak one.  I was always the strong one.  I say this not because it was a good thing, but because so many years had passed that I had a few walls that I just couldn’t tear down.  Part of that was needing to be self-sufficient and deal with multiple long time deployments.  Part of it was the walls that erected over time, and part of it was what my weakness did to Phil when I was my weakest.

 

Our marriage was a good one, but when I was 37 and developed a major medical crisis that I thought would take my life, he told me he couldn’t be my friend.  That statement wounded me deeply and showed me that I needed to maintain certain walls.  He had been damaged as a youth and I got it.  This statement was made at the 12 year mark and we fought to come back from it.  We had 11 more years, arguably the best years, but I always had a little worry about what would happen if I needed him in a time of total melt down.  He deployed; I was strong.  He didn’t call that often or e-mail every day.  I was lonely, but did I speak up?  If I had, I believe that Phil would have responded, but I convinced myself that it was enough.  I was okay with being the afterthought because I knew that he loved me, was loyal to me, and that when we did have time, it was more than most people ever get in a lifetime.  I knew his eyes still lit up when I walked into the room and I knew that he ran to me when he needed someone to lean on.

 

When Phil died, I changed.  My heart shattered.  The devastation and scarring continues as I grapple with my life.  I am fighting to thrive versus survive.  In the aftermath, I was too broken to keep those walls up, and in my brokenness, vulnerable transparency emerged.  I wept often, sometimes publicly.  People reached out to me and offered themselves.  I didn’t even have to ask.  I became a better friend because I began to recognize other hurting people afraid to let down their walls.  I had begun to think that I was strong enough that nothing would bring me to my knees again in terms of needing and wanting a safe harbor.  I was wrong.

 

This week was a terrible week on many fronts.  I broke.  I reached out and asked for help for the first time ever.  My words were wrong.  The timing was wrong.  While I am fighting back to regain my footing, there is that thought that has come up.  Maybe I am too broken.  Maybe I am not lovable if I am needy.  Maybe I need to hide, to run, to become a rock again.  I am a runner awayer in terms of checking out and fleeing.  I don’t give warning.  I just go.  In that realization comes the impact of recognizing that I don’t want to run away any more.  I don’t want to always have to be strong.  I don’t want to keep my walls up.  I think that there is beauty in the vulnerable transparency because I am a strong woman who can weather many a storm by herself, but sometimes, sometimes, I need a life line.  I may not know how to ask and I may not need to ask again, but I have discovered that I cannot go back to being the island that stands alone if I want to thrive versus just surviving. Tears and an aching heart show me that I am capable of feeling, of loving enough to hurt, and they are a barometer to my own growth.  I may not know how to ask and my timing might be off, but I recognize the strength of two standing together to weather the storms.  I recognize the depth of what can be felt when vulnerabilities are exposed and two endure together.  I recognize that certain relationships are worth fighting for instead of running away from, so maybe all I have to do is stand in the buffeting seas until the lifeline is offered.