I was speaking last week with an excellent friend about stages of grief. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross gave us a handy chart of all the stages we can expect to go through when confronted with life-changing events (she specifically addressed the grief that accompanies death and dying, but I’ve been assured it’s perfectly appropriate to apply this to my pathetic little situation); I’ve been making a mental inventory of my progress.
Denial: Yep. Even after Matt physically left the premises, underwear and socks in hand, I refused to believe it meant anything significant. Duh. This stage is hideous yet necessary, and hopefully receding. I have, after all, changed the outgoing message on the answering machine, reclaimed closet and drawer space, and moved ever-so-slightly towards the middle of the bed. Still, when I discuss the events and emotions of the past year, I don’t always believe that I’m talking about myself. About my life. I think I was blinded by the certainty of who I was, of what my journey was. When another version presented itself, I refused to accept that I was being edited so severely. My denial took its power from the fact that the person I trusted the most had found the worst way to hurt me. How do I avoid denying that? It’s humiliating. It exposed me as weak, unworthy, unlovable. Which leads us to…
Anger: Hell yes. Possibly the most defining stage of this whole process. I had never been this kind of angry before. I actually saw red — in great, amoebic splotches that projected onto every surface. Darkness boiled, necessitating absolute vengeance. “Beshrew the heart that makes my heart to groan.” I wanted everyone involved in my misery to suffer as I had. My fists were in a perpetual clench; I constantly fantasized about punching someone, perhaps that midwestern chippy and her accomplice. I took it out on my friends, family, and worst of all, my son, who asked me once if I was “ever going to stop yelling.” Anger is ugly. It’s the worst of all toxins, and the stage most likely to come back and bite you in the ass. All that whining about “why me?” is a waste of energy and emotional resource. I understand that I was, that I am, entitled to a bit of anger about what happened, but when life became a constant stream of vitriol, when I constantly sought to invalidate Matt’s resentments by establishing prior resentments of my own, creating a cycle by which all grievances in the marriage could be traced to whomever fucked up first, I mostly just made a nuisance of myself.
Next comes Bargaining, closely followed by Depression. For me, these two stages were one and the same. I reached what I hope was the zenith of the crisis after the New Year; after waking up and realizing that I was going to have to continue to wake up, I started making deals with myself about how I was going to get through all of it. A friend who went through something similar told me that she would look at the expiration date on a carton of milk in the refrigerator; if she could just make it to that date, she’d be okay. That’s what it was like. I’d approach each measure of time with the determination to just get through this one day, this one hour, this one minute. If I could just cook this fucking chicken pot pie for Calder, I could sit down and cry. If I could finish folding the laundry, I’d be able to climb into bed and stare at the ceiling for as long as I wanted. Later, I started believing that if I did these things, if I went through the motions of normalcy, I would be happy again, I would get my family back, it would all be okay. Marriage is elastic! Our troubles will fortify us! Depression is soporific enough without all the deal-making and -breaking that goes on, when you start bargaining for every little pinprick of false hope, it becomes downright exhausting.
The last step, and the only one that seems even remotely positive, is Acceptance. Crawling out of the black hole. Somnambulistic as I was, I did finally manage to start putting distance between old and new. My habitual impulses lost their target. I found other outlets for energy. I escaped the vacuum of spiritual malaise. I found validation in the most unlikely (or perhaps completely likely) of places. I am, however, reluctant to accept that I have achieved Acceptance. My fear is about what comes next. It’s been a little over a year since all of this started, and I worry that I’ve rushed things. Feeling good, feeling happy — it seems a little selfish, considering. I still get white hot bouts of anger from time to time, but they remain personal and silent. I am still overcome with sadness at the loss of an extraordinarily significant person in my life, but the sadness is dull and distant, not debilitating. I still wonder sometimes if I had only done this or that differently, things might not have fallen apart, but then I recognize the awesome opportunity to start over. Exogenous factors notwithstanding, the road seems fairly open.