Life Designed Not Defined


My latest blog can be found on — Life Designed Not Defined

So I’ve seen the whole RHOBH season that dealt with Taylor Armstrong’s struggles with her now deceased husband.  Yes, I watch that crappy show. Why? Because as an intelligent human being with very little time for herself, constantly working, raising two ADHD children, my running, etc, etc, I need to turn my brain off at the end of the day and watch mindless TV. Come on, admit it, you do too. Anyway, back to the crappy show. This season actually struck a chord with me. I could relate to one of the characters.  I wasn’t sure if I should be ashamed or afraid. Taylor was me minus the big lips, Botox and crazy skinny body, oh and the extremely lavish lifestyle with the Bravo paycheck. You see her husband committed suicide and so did mine. He left her with a very small child to raise.  Mine left me with two small children. Taylor’s husband left her with a mound of debt, legal fees and secrets revealed.  My husband left me with the same thing. She is struggling to take back her life and find herself again.  I’ve been there, done that. Let me give you a little background.

My late husband was many things, charming, funny, intelligent, a good dad, a give-you-the-shirt-off-my-back kind of guy. However, he was also very sick: bipolar. I never knew what I was going to wake up to each day.  Would he be lucent? Would he be on a high and accomplish the laundry list of things that needed to be done around the house, at work, with the kids, etc? Would he start yet another project that would be left unfinished in the basement; another brilliant idea half realized? You see, I lived in constant chaos. I was his lover and his caretaker.  I was his verbal punching bag and his therapist. I was trapped. Thankfully my late husband never physically abused me.  He was too kind-hearted.  But when you become trapped or your reality is altered, you can’t see clearly.  You know that you’re living a lie but you try to wrap it up in pretty bows and sugared frosting so people don’t realize what is really going on inside your home.  And then you begin to believe the lie and deny reality because it’s just easier.

I was trying to give my children a “normal” life with a nice home, the mini van and the suburban dream. In reality, our family was falling apart.  My husband had lost his job three times in three years and had been out of work for nearly 10 months. I was working part-time to support the family but also be at home with the children because frankly I couldn’t afford daycare and didn’t trust my husband around the children. He was popping sleeping pills like candy and drinking a 24-pack of beer every two days.  We were bleeding money.  We were losing our home.  Our cars were eventually both repoed.  How did this happen to me?! I came from a wonderful, loving family.  I was a college graduate.  I was organized, efficient and good with money. What the hell was going on here? I was living a BIG lie. I was not a suburban housewife by nature, I hated mini-vans, I didn’t want to live in a big house. This was not the man I married, this was not the life I signed up for! However, I convinced myself I was providing my children with a good home. They had all of the creature comforts that their friends had. They didn’t stick out like sore thumbs in the homogenized world in which we lived. I was breaking my back to make sure our “perfect” life was intact. By the time our marriage had reached its 10thyear, I had completely devolved from what I was, a lover of life, fashion, the city, writing and history to a frumpy, sad, angry, lobotomized version of myself. I was in survival mode, hunkering down, my children under each arm.

New Year’s Eve 2008  My husband promised me 2009 was going to be different.  It was going to be a year of new beginnings.  The end of all of this nonsense. We went to dinner with the kids that evening.  It was full of fun but I noticed my husband was giddier than usual.  He was almost in an euphoric state.  It was troubling and annoying.  I couldn’t get him to focus on anything, like helping me get my 5 year old ADHD son in the car who was running around the parking lot. Once we got home, the kids were bathed and readied for bed.  My husband read them stories, kissed them goodnight and told them he loved them as he always did.  There is no doubt in my mind how much he loved his children. Afterwards we sat on the couch watching Dick Clark.  We rarely talked to one another anymore.  There was nothing to say.  Frankly, by the end of the day, I was too tired to think anymore. The energy it took to keep up with him, the kids and everything he did or didn’t do consumed me.  He retreated to his cave in the basement.  This was his realm. A dark, eery place that gave me the creeps. I didn’t go down there. 

At midnight, I shouted down the basement stairs that I was going to bed and would really like him to join me this time. We didn’t sleep together often. He was a night owl and was up until 3am most evenings. He would make it to bed if he didn’t fall asleep on the couch in the basement.  He promised me he would come to bed soon.  That was the last time I heard his voice. The next morning I woke up alone, furious.  He was always breaking his promises! The night before he had promised the children he would make them pancakes.  Oh no, mister, I thought! You aren’t letting them down again! Storming downstairs I was set to give him hell. It was too late.  He had already taken his life in the night. I found him in the basement. The place I hated; his retreat. No note was left, no apology uttered, no explanation given, just dark silence. 

Over the course of several months, I questioned what I could have done to save him.  I went through all the emotions, anger, grief, denial, but anger was the one that seemed to stick around the longest.  Acceptance was not going to be easy. I blamed him for leaving me with two children to raise, not a dime to my name, a foreclosed house. I blamed him for slowly chipping away at my true self until only the shell of me remained. However, in the midst of all of my anger, I was finding myself again. I was becoming stronger. I lost the 20lbs I had gained in the three tumultuous years leading up to his death. I began to run again. My clothing was revealing the tale I had to tell. My love for all things shoes finally expressing itself again. My way of making lemonade out of the sourest of lemons returning. Laughing all the time. Enjoying life to the fullest. Loving my children the way they were meant to be loved. It was the road to acceptance. The road to letting go. The road that lead me to realize he was not to blame, but was very sick. The road that would eventually lead to me.

I have learned many things over the last three years, this truth being the most important, I can’t live my life for other people, not even my own children. The old adage, “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy” is so true. I was not going to let his death destroy us. I was determined to be the Rocky of our family and make a triumphant run up those stairs of life, carrying my children on my back all the way up to the top. Counseling, a supportive family, fantastic friends, church, and a positive attitude have allowed me to regain who I was and bring my children into the light with me. And although 2009 was one of the hardest years of my life, it was also the year that brought me back to center. Don’t get me wrong, I am not making light of my late husband’s death. But I can’t change that reality. I chose to respond to his death by finding myself again. Teaching my children life is for the living and to never apologize for who you are. My children are my proudest accomplishment, my greatest creation.

New Year’s Eve 2009 I sat in the mountain cabin my Mom and I had rented watching Dick Clark while the kids slept in the next room. My Dad, who had been my rock throughout the first 6 months following my late husband’s death, passed away suddenly of complications from a stroke in June. Here we were, two widows, mother and daughter. Drinking our wine, we talked of how our lives had changed over the course of the year, she still grieving her partner of 39 years. I told my Mom I was ready to forgive. I was ready to move on to the next chapter in my life. She smiled and nodded, affirming my decision with motherly acceptance. And with that, it was midnight, 2010, another year, the year that set in motion the rest of my life, the year I met my soulmate. In May of 2010 I met the man I would eventually marry 7 months later. I told myself, when we began dating that I was going to let our relationship evolve organically. I wasn’t going to allow myself to be sucked back in to societal rules on how a widow should or shouldn’t behave. I wanted to experience every moment of this new life I was leading. I make no apologies for how fast or slow our relationship developed. It is what it is, pure and simple; love.

New Year’s Eve 2010 I danced with my new husband, Paul, at a local bar. Happy, healthy, healed. A year that saw the completion of my evolution back to self. A year of discoveries and truths revealed. My marriage only three weeks old, I reveled in the friendship I respected, a love I cherished. 

New Year’s Eve 2011 I happily sipped champagne with Paul by my side watching the ball drop with now Ryan Seacrest. He’s no Dick Clark, but life moves on. You can’t help but evolve. Paul always says, the minute you stop evolving, you die. That was true for me for a long time. I stopped evolving, forgot who I was and slowly died inside. But my tragedy doesn’t define me, it designed me. I was given a second chance in life and in love and chose to transform rather than disappear. Now I am living in the city in a small home with my 4-door sedan and loving every moment of my active, vibrant life. I am in the Spring of my life. I am writing again, living simply, a fashionista to the core and enjoying the excitement of making a go of my writing career. My children are happier than they have ever been and have grown to love and accept Paul as their Dad.

So to of all the Taylor Armstrongs out there, grasping for any semblance of themselves, have faith, I was once where you are. An end is just a beginning. Don’t let tragedy, life’s hard knocks, whatever is holding you back from being yourself define you, let it design you. Let it evolve you. Let it bring you into yourself.