How often it is, still in this day and age, that we define ourselves by the role we play in other people's lives. Perhaps women are more prone to this than men - many stereotypes still remain and we have internalized so many of them - often we don't even realize the beliefs are there. We pity our unwed friends, it must be awful being so lonely! So, we try to set them up with someone, so they too can find a soul mate and happiness. We quietly question whether our friends without kids are fundamentally selfish, or just barren (agh shame!) ...have they tried IVF? ...have they thought about adoption/ surrogacy.... we really want to help!
My personal turning point was when my husband had a massive stroke on Women's Day 2016! My entire world imploded. I discovered only then, that my husband* had got us into about 750K of debt (and this excluded money owed on the bond, and both our cars!). Wine Club cases of wine kept flowing in, he'd just paid a deposit on a fabulous three week holiday in Kommetjie, we were eating out regularly, he'd just booked his place for his 10th Ironman race.... and truly (shamefacedly, I confess) I was clueless! YES, I was "that woman" - secure in my marriage and comfortable being taken care of. I didn't work (except for lecturing a part-time course in basic Counseling Skills at UJ, and a very rare odd job freelancing in advertising). I was a philanthropic visionary, most of my hours were spent doing voluntary work, whether it was counseling; fostering/rehabilitating/ training/ rehoming rescued dogs from the township; designing free webpages for animal welfare NPO's, or my Paws for People therapy dog work. I was comfortable, happy and fulfilled! It was the stroke that opened Pandora's Box... Nothing like a huge crisis and HUGE CHANGE to spit one right out of that comfortable rut into the Ocean.... Once one is there, a huge voyage of discovery is inevitable. Our relationship was shaken to it's foundation.... and couldn't withstand the seismic activity that started with the stroke. My entire being (self-esteem and self worth) were laid bare. I exploded (a LOT) - vitriolic anger! ...And I imploded - utter heartbreaking despair! I literally lost everything - I lost WHO I WAS, and was forced to reinvent myself.... that process is ongoing!
So often people (perhaps women especially) choose SECURITY over freedom. Little do they know the sacrifice that they are making, often it is insidious, and slowly they become more co-dependent, enmeshed and trapped. If two people become one person, you are just left with two half people! Often it is the woman who lands up taking way less than even half (of her share) of that co-joined identity or personality. She too often also shares herself/ splits herself, with her kids. Slowly that comfort zone, that security net tightens to become a noose, a cage, a trap... Maybe slowly they start to feel they are suffocating or drowning.... or suddenly (out of nowhere) they have a panic attack. Perhaps there's a midlife crisis, or an affair.... suddenly acing out to find personal meaning and affirmation. Perhaps there is just depression or anxiety.... an existential angst! They may feel that "this can't be it..... there must be more to life!" Many, far too many, live in this state of muted despair, lethargic comfort, paralyzing security for most of their lives, just like Margaret's Bird.
Margaret's Bird, as told by Kain Ramsay
Months on, and despite two suicide attempts (one resulting in resuscitation and weeks of hospitalization), with much introspection and self-reflection, and study, I have come to recognise that my husband's stroke has in fact landed up being a STROKE OF GOOD LUCK for me! At the time, anyone who tried the lines "everything happens for a reason", or "every cloud has a silver lining", or "time heals all wounds" would have been dismissed (or more likely decimated).
I have learnt, and it has not been an easy lesson... Freedom and flying solo, is terrifying to most people (particularly women perhaps).... With freedom comes great risk and responsibility.... you don't have a fall back position, or anyone else to blame.... there is no safety net, when you fall off the tightrope. You also learn that many people are risk-averse, and sometimes the ones you expect most to offer encouragement, are themselves paralyzed by fear. They become the ones who feed into your insecurity rather than helping you strengthen your wings to take to the sky and fly. The are full of caution and worst case scenarios and the need for Plan's B to Z!!!
Take heart though, going it alone, has NOT (at least for me) been lonely. It was more lonely in my first long term relationship where I was enmeshed and co-dependent in a relationship where I gave my all to a very needy and insecure man. I lost all my very close friends as I became the centre of my (exceptionally needy and possessive) man's universe. I sacrificed everyone and everything else to be his EVERYTHING! And guess what, I could never be enough! I thought I broke that mould with the man who became my husband (he was an endurance athlete who'd done 10 Comrades Marathons and just done his 9th Ironman a few months before he stroked out)... He'd been a bachelor and lived alone most of his life. What I took for independence, strength and confidence landed up being cocky arrogance and self-centeredness. He in actuality was pretty much an egotistical, narcissistic M.S.P. and I was little more than his cheerleader! It was a safe, secure, seemingly happy, sterile relationship.... until it wasn't! His stroke resulted in him getting a huge disability payout and the group company benefit pays him a very comfortable monthly income. I'm not sure he'd see it as a stroke of good luck, since he has had to sacrifice his first love (his endurance sport). Soon after he was paid out, he sent me a summons for divorce. Ironically, he has come out of this wealthier, but I have come out ENRICHED! He is now dependent on full-time care, but I have learnt self-care and independence. He is disabled and disempowered, I am enabled and empowered.
There is liberation in learning that validation and affirmation can be found within, they are not the reflection you see in your beloved's eyes! Will I ever get intimately involved again.... never say never, I suppose.... For now though, I am more than GOOD ENOUGH, I am enjoying finding me, being me and being FREE!
* Of course it is very immature and irresponsible to assign blame. I too benefitted from this lavish lifestyle, and the fact that I hadn't either contributed to the income, nor did I take any interest in or responsibility for our financial well-being, really is no excuse. Ignorance and apathy are NOT bliss, as I learnt the hard way, when days after my husband's stroke, people were coming to measure our marital home in order to re-possess it or auction it off...