I’ll be honest, this started off a short piece about Mothers Day and how it’s perfectly OK to be alone if that is what you need. Then as I wrote I realised that being alone at any time is OK too yet, for some, it is the scariest thing they can imagine and I started to tell a story about how I spent a part of my life alone and how, maybe, it wasn’t such a bad thing. So then I found myself here, not where I intended to be at all, but once the words came I let them and we have this long piece on being alone at points in your life and why that’s not such a bad thing sometimes.
A long time ago in a galaxy far far away, actually I’m assuming that sentence is heavily copyrighted so all credit to George Lucas for helping me out with an opening sentence, mine was simply’ a long time ago’ and it didn’t have the drama. So we continue. Let’s say roughly 13yrs ago, my life was so very different to how it is today. I hadn’t learned how to tame my hair (all hail hair straighteners), I dressed in twinsets (this actually happened) and I was married to a man who really wasn’t for me. That’s a polite way for saying emotionally abusive. I actually typed ‘borderline’ emotionally abusive then realised I was doing it to keep the peace still, so let’s just call it what it was.
I was 21yrs old, I had 2 small children, I didn’t drive and lived in a village with incredibly poor transport links, my only friends were the elderly people who would shout hello to me through their windows as I walked the boys around the village in the stroller. There was a toddler group but honestly it was one of ‘those’ toddler groups and I was most definitely not welcome there. Let’s not even mention my crushingly severe lack of self-esteem, not helped by constant assertions that I was really very stupid and could do nothing alone.
Honestly at 21yrs old and trapped in a village, you really do believe crap like that. It breaks my heart when I think of myself back then. I was scared that this was it, this was as good as it would ever get for me. I had to let this man run my life because I could never do it alone. I know there are people out there right now who are terrified for reasons of their own. You are partly why I ended up writing this. Keep reading. Please.
I could go in to detail about how I got a job in the village, how this built up my confidence that maybe there was more to me, about the slow realisation over a year or more that this couldn’t be it. There could be more. About my terror of how you could ever end a marriage, my desperate unhappiness and my hideous attempt at an exit that hurt more people than was necessary. I could. I could write a whole book about it,but in summation, in shitty marriages, shit happens and one day a small door opened for me.
The threat of divorce that was used as a weapon in an argument came around again and that tiny part of my brain that was rooting for me came rushing forward and operated my mouth before my fear could and it said, ok. Let’s do it.
Holy hell Batman! Have you ever felt that gut churning fear where something has gone out there and you know, no matter what, you can’t take it back now. You have to go with it? Absolute terror.
Am I losing you yet? I told you this was a long one. Keep swimming. That’s another stolen line. Tell nobody.
I would love to tell you that after my mouth made the words let’s do it, it was that simple. It wasn’t. Of course it wasn’t. A person can’t go from having total control over another to just backing off and letting go we aren’t made that way.
When he drove me around at high speeds and told me he would ensure I would never see my children again, I climbed out of that car terrified and more determined.
When he told me I wasn’t worthy of anyone ever loving me again I broke my heart in private and resolved that if nobody ever loved me again it would be for the best.
When he stood at my back door sobbing and begging me to reconsider, that this was my last chance, I nearly wavered. Life would become so much easier if I just did as I was told. But I stayed silent and he left.
I was there alone, financially destroyed and terrified and yet somehow it felt like the first time I had been able to take proper breath in years. In those first 5 minutes I stood and waited in that kitchen. I waited to see if the world would come to a crashing end, if he would come back through the door and stroke my hair and say, stupid you, I told you you couldn’t do it all by yourself, and I wondered if I would let him if he did and agree.
But nothing happened. Not a thing. No disasters, no catastrophes. The babies carried on sleeping, the world stayed calm and I just stood and breathed.
While so far I’ve put a lot more detail on how I ended up alone than I ever intended to write I needed you get a sense of just how hard it was for me to get to that point in the kitchen. The fear, the tears, the desperation. I wanted you to realise and know what it took to be there. This isn’t a story about my marriage and divorce really at all. It’s about what happens next, when I am alone with my boys. The point so many people are scared to reach.
I had never been alone in my life. I left home at 16 to be with my husband. I spent my last teenage years with him growing up, I had 2 small boys to be responsible for and I had no idea what I was doing.
It was a steep learning curve.
The mortgage was a mystery to me, one which solved pretty quickly when I discovered it wasn’t actually being paid. From that I learnt about the benefit system and housing. I learnt that many landlords do not want a family who are claiming help, I learnt that within a matter of weeks myself and my boys were going to be put in a hostel due to the hideous shortage of anywhere to home us and from there I learnt to not give up. I called every single landlord in the town to plead my case, I travelled miles on buses to meet people to assure them we wouldn’t destroy their homes we simply needed one of our own and one day a week later someone called me back and said ok, you can live here and I learnt I could do it. I could provide a roof for my family. My self-confidence took a nudge forward and with every box I packed I started to feel just that little bit more like I had this. I could be the parent my boys needed. For you it could be a whole different thing that starts to build that foundation, that starts to give you that, I can do this feeling. It will come though.
But with all the learning and growing there is a weird side effect to splitting with someone that nobody will ever tell you about. No matter how much you know it is absolutely the best thing you ever did, in the dead of night when you are lying there. When the euphoria of achieving something else you never thought you would do wears off, you are alone.
You will cry.
You will wonder if you have made a terrible mistake.
You will remember how easy it was to give in and be told what to do.
If you have kids you will start to think you should go back and give them a ‘proper’ family.
Sometimes you would give anything to just be hugged and told it’s ok.
Then the morning will come around and a new challenge will start. For me I had to find schools, learn how to budget on a severely restricted amount, make new friends and learn to drive. All things I had never really done. All things I thought I was too stupid for. Everything I had always been told I would fail at I was thriving at. For you maybe it’s different again, maybe it’s as small but significant as getting up and leaving the house that day, the challenge is always there in one form or another.
I was lonely, scared more often than not and poor as anything but bloody hell, I was doing it.
When you find yourself alone the small things become the big things to celebrate. When you pick the colour of your new bedroom without anyone else’s input, that’s a moment right there.
When you decide exactly where you want to put that chair, that’s a moment too.
If you want to eat dinner from the can on the floor in front of the television, nobody can tell you not to.
When you decide you don’t want to clean the house today, so you don’t, that’s your choice and your moment.
Each time you have to face something you find it inside you and you do it and the next time you have to do it the fear is less and less. One day you realise that being alone isn’t as huge and scary as you thought it was a year ago and that nobody can tell you what to do anymore.
When you find yourself at your lowest point and you are thinking, I can’t do this, I wanted you to know that you really can. If you are a snivelling terrified wreck, you can and you will and I know this because I was that wreck and I did. We can find ourselves alone for a million different reasons and I promise you it’s never as scary as you think at the very start.
One other prediction that failed to come true was that nobody would ever love me again. That too was way off the mark, someone does love me, very much, and I love him. In a twist it was watching my strength and my independence that drew him to me and his willingness to let me just be me that made me fall for him.
We are together because we want to be, not because either of us is scared to be alone.
Being alone gave me the push to fall in love again and being alone gave me the strength to be the person I am.
I couldn’t have done it without me and I have total faith in you too.