This weekend my family drove five hours down to Ashland, Oregon to visit me. My daughters are six and nine right now, so this is an event (the visit, the month without their mom) they will likely remember for life. It was an immense blessing to be able to see them, to hug and hold them, to sweep the hair out of their faces and talk on their level rather than through a screen. Don’t get me wrong, technology has made this separation bearable in ways it wouldn’t have been for future generations.
It’s been such a gift to get a break from being “Mom” and spend some time just being Ashley. Just being me. Finding out who and how I even am. I had my first baby at 22. I hadn’t a clue who I was then and I have to say the past decade has been filled with child-rearing and degree-completing and career-climbing and didn’t leave a whole lot of extra space to fully figure that out. I’m not what’s left at the bottom of the wine bottle. I’m not the size of my biceps or the slightness of my waist. I’m not the figure on my paycheck. I’m not the followers on my social media accounts. I’m not my bright and lovable children. I’m not even the pretty pictures I post. I’m somehow all of that and none of it. More than the sum of all parts. I’m interested in the space in between. What gets lost there and what might be found.
I have a pseudo-secret I’ve been carrying around for almost six months. Last fall I broke up with my husband. I sat him down one terrible night and told him I didn’t think I was in love with him and I wanted a break. I didn’t know what a “break” meant or would entail, but I knew I needed some kind of change, some degree of space and freedom, and I was willing to give up what I held most precious to figure it out. My marriage. My family. Maybe even my home. My stability and sense of security and known direction.
It was terrible.
It’s been terrible. We’ve spent months in purgatory, unsure what we are to each other, how to interact or react and what to present to the world and what to keep to ourselves. We’ve talked to our kids and some dear friends and family. And then, we went about life. We focused on getting through the holidays. And when January came, we looked at each other and still didn’t know what to do. He was waiting on some indication of direction from me and I was waiting on the presentation of some sort of option from him. Neither of us can afford to leave, financially or physically. We have two kids and two dogs and one house and at least three jobs. How could we even untangle that enmeshment? I don’t know where to begin.
We did the easy part: we took our wedding rings off. Other than that, we’re essentially married without any of the commitment or security such status should ensure.
He’s still waiting for direction from me. I’m still waiting for an option aside from playing married to present itself from the world.
And then I came here. Space. Time. Opportunity. Insight.
I’m not sure if I’m here to save my marriage or separate myself from it. I still have no clear direction to give. When pressed I have only been able to answer that I’m not sure I know what love is–how, then, could I be sure that I do or do not love someone else?
Yes, I’m here to get sober. But I’m here for so much more too.
So my family comes to visit. And they bring with them the love I do know, the roles I should embody, the hope I desperately need, the reasons they represent, and the pain and fear and hurt wrapped so tightly around all of it. The uncertainty and mistrust and searing sting of rejection. There is no such thing as a light family visit in rehab. Your family is your baggage, your driving force, your ball and chain, your chance at connection, and your roadblock to freedom, all at once. Wrapped in three lively bodies. Shaped to elicit the strongest reactions and most meaningful responses.
This is not my first time in rehab. But it is my first time being visited by this family. My new family. The do-over family of my own, where I get to work not to replicate the environment I grew up in. Nothing light about that.
The opposites of light are heavy and dark. Heavy is hurting the ones that you love. And darkness is living in a stuck place of uncertainty. This has been my current reality for months now. It’s no wonder I came to rely on substances to numb the feelings and propel me from one day to the next. As I let go of that crutch, I’m beyond grateful to be doing so in a safe space, where my daily problems are a muffled echo coming from a far away place. I have one more week of space and solace before re-entering the world where reality lives.
The unfortunate truth is that I still don’t have any answers. I can only feel into where my gut guides me and find within the courage to do the next right thing–and trust the path that puts me on. The next right thing for now is to stay the course here, trust the process and embrace the outcomes as they arise. It’s getting okay with the uncertainty and ensuring that continued sobriety is an integral part of the whole picture. The next right thing after that is still to be revealed.