December was a hard, sweet month. Hard for the busyness, the book, the surgery, the time-crunch of the holidays. Sweet for a special get-away we had, touching moments, a loving Christmas, and much closeness. But hard again for the anxious countdown to January.
Bob moved out of our house in early January into an apartment. It was an upsetting time for both of us, a wrenching apart that we knew must happen, even as we’d been relating to each other in new, more honest and tender ways. Living apart is something we both agree will help each of us, individually and together, in the growth we want to happen. Knowing that doesn’t make it any less painful, this big change after 26 years.
A month before he moved out, I was tossing and turning one night, angry and anxious about life, and wanting to find a way to empower myself in the face of such hard times. I didn’t want to just sit in a corner, crying and bereft after he left, a mournful victim (even though that’s kinda how I felt). That night, an idea flashed through my mind like lightning. I would have a party (you can read the invitation here).
I wanted to make something new.
We have a small hallway in our house where 5 doors come together. It’s had crappy, boring wallpaper up there since we moved in almost 24 years ago, some of the last remnants of the previous owners (who wallpapered everything). I’ve wanted to do something with it for a long time but didn’t have the energy.
But what if I had a party, inviting people to come over and paint those walls with words or images to cheer me up? What if I wore minimal clothing and let them paint me too, to give me some armor for the challenges ahead? What if people brought poems or jokes to share, and everyone could be cheered up by this party, since January and February are such tough months to get through in Minnesota?
This idea felt so exciting to me, full of a creative spark and a silliness that are essential elements of my personality –elements that I’d unfortunately buried deep inside myself for too long out of fear and insecurity. Now I wanted to uncover them. I planned my party for the week after Bob’s move, giving me something to look forward to.
Divorce Lesson #7: Re-(Blank)-ing Myself
Re-(Blank)-ing Myself? What kind of a title is that? It reminds me of Match Game, the old game show from the 70s, which Bob’s comedy troupe Vilification Tennis hilariously reprises on stage during some of its performances. Imagine Gene Rayburn saying, “When Theresa’s husband moves out, she suddenly feels the need to Re-(Blank) herself.”
I chose this odd title as I was searching for a word to describe this stage of my life. What am I endeavoring to do with myself? Re-discovering? Re-designing? Re-making? Re-creating? Re-defining? Re-building? There isn’t one term that seems adequate. It’s all of the above, and then something more.
It’s throwing off the masks and the burdens, the fears and the numbing to uncover myself, to dig down deep and remember who I really am underneath all the crap. As Bob says, I’m learning to validate myself and not need anyone else to do it for me. I like that. I have a ways to go to get there.
I’m thinking of the girl I was before the age of 10— excited, silly, funny, smart, creative, happy, imaginative, playful, generous and kind. She had a spark to her, an excitement about life, eagerness, believed in magic, loved to play and make things, and make things up.
And then the hammer came down. She started hearing messages that she was fat, stupid, lazy, wrong, and that she needed to change to be acceptable to others. She started believing it all and worked hard trying to change everything that was “wrong.” Being liked and loved by others became more important than liking/loving herself. She waited for others to validate her, and eagerly bowed and bended and reshaped herself to become pleasing to others. She stopped really being herself, unable to express feelings and thoughts unless she was absolutely sure others would approve. She lost herself, for a long, long time.
I want her back. I want to let her be free, even if it’s scary to be open and vulnerable, to risk others not liking it. I want to let her shine through me again, for it seems like she holds my essence. I can feel her. She is beautiful.
And so, inspired by her, my Paint a Happier Mood Party was born. It’s the first party I’ve thrown all by myself. I worked hard prepping walls, cooking, shopping and getting painting supplies.
On January 10, thirty people came over and joined in the spirit of the moment, giddy to paint my walls and paint me, sending lots of love my way. I think we really did cheer up the winter. It was a fabulous day and I’m so grateful for all of it. Now I have these wonderful walls to look at every day. That little girl in me is pretty pleased.
Enjoy the party slide show below, with photos courtesy of Ayanna Muata and Bob Alberti.
**Want to catch up? You can read previous Divorce Lessons by clicking on the titles: