Mike and Sarah share Sunday posts, as they are two widows who are in a new relationship together.
Today’s post is from Sarah:
This year, I’m feeling very much as if I’m in between seasons in my own life. I just turned 38, and as more doctors appointments and new aches and pains show up, I’m beginning to understand that I am between my young life and my middle-age. It’s a surreal feeling, especially because I still at times feel very much like that bright-eyed, ever hopeful 26 year old me. The one who didn’t know widowhood yet. I also feel somehow astonished I’m still alive and pretty much completely healthy to date (being in widowed circles does tend you remind you just how many people die each day – as does a pandemic).
As I lean ever closer to my 40’s now, and almost 10 years into widowhood, I am finding a reconnection with the little kid in me. I am rediscovering simple things that bring me joy. I’m getting lost in making art again in a way that I haven’t been able to in years. I’m giving myself more permission to do what brings me joy. I’m finding myself so deeply in love with nature, and appreciative of its presence in such a deeper way. I’m feeling the love in my relationships and friendships much more deeply. Through all this, I’m feeling less preoccupied with the future, despite my knowing that pain could happen at any time.
Maybe in part it’s due to the pandemic, and to all the many ways that we are all having to simplify our lives. Maybe it’s that I’ve spent most of the year in counseling, airing out some things that have needed airing out. Maybe it’s a phase of this age I am at. Whatever the case, I feel grateful for this internal de-cluttering and balance. To me, it feels like this dance between that little kid and the 38 year old woman I seem to be… a dance between passions and practicality that feels balanced in a way it hasn’t in years. It feels grounded, and light all at the same time. Beautiful.
Within this beautiful balanced feeling there is a certain amount of dread though.
A metaphor that my counselor used once was the idea of going into the jungle and getting attacked by a tiger. And the next time you find yourself in a similar jungle, you are consumed by the fear of the tiger to the point of running away… when there was no tiger around for miles. In fact, you might even be in a jungle where tigers don’t even live, but you’re still standing there scared of a tiger. This is what trauma can do to us.
It is these imaginary tigers that I am working on a lot this year. In part, because I remember this beautifully balanced feeling from the past. I had it very distinctly the week before Drew died. I found myself in this place of feeling content and balanced between all different parts of myself and my life… it felt like some kind of beautiful internal shift that I couldn’t really put words to. An overflowing gratitude for life. And then, within one week of that shift, a tiger showed up in my world. Drew’s helicopter crashed and he was gone, without warning, and that balance was ripped away from me. That, was a very real tiger.
It makes sense now that anytime I find myself in the same surroundings that feel the same way, I’m looking around for that tiger to show up again. It’s normal, but it can also take away a lot from us if we get lost in that fears. So this year, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to recognize those imaginary tigers, and remind myself that they are not yet real. That doesn’t mean they couldn’t become real, or actually appear in my life. All it means is that, right now, they aren’t real. I think it is helping me to quiet the dread during the good times.
It’s also bit like believing in a curse… that anytime I find balance – the universe is going to throw something at me or take something from me to pull me out of balance. That idea of “when will the other shoe drop?” is a very real fear that has run rampant in my life. To the point that I feel a need to call out any bad things that could happen potentially to ward them off… a bit like the “knock on wood” superstition that is so common, but to a slightly higher extreme. Most of the time, its a silly gesture that just helps to quiet my mind and put fears aside, so it is good for that. But sometimes, the fears are bigger…
Sometimes, I find myself in the jungle looking for tigers everywhere. Even when I write to you all here, I am simultaneously aware that literally my entire life could change tomorrow and whatever I wrote today could be this heartbreaking final statement of “my old life”. I will write about, for example, Mike and I getting married soon, and then immediately my brain will think “What if he dies tomorrow and later on I’m just sitting here reading all these terribly sad words from ‘before’?” When that happens, when it’s bigger than just silly superstitions… What do I do next? I stop myself right there, I try and recognize that an imaginary tiger has showed up in my mind, and I use that visual to calm myself down. I call out my imaginary tigers, and I remember that I am in control of my own thoughts and I don’t have to believe in them if they aren’t real. It has really been helping.
These are just a few tools that I am using, and learning to use, to acknowledge my own fears of trauma happening again. It is helping me to quiet my mind better and live more in the present… since after all, today is all I really know I have.