TIME HEALS WHEN YOU GET A NEW MAN FROM POUNDLAND
When my husband of 23 years walked out on me in front of my elderly mother without any warning two days before Christmas 2014, I found myself on the receiving end of some well meant but ill judged pieces of advice.
These were offered out of the very best of intentions and by exceptionally well meaning people whose overwhelming desire was to proffer comfort, but what they actually did, as a general rule, was just underline to me the near hopeless situation in which I found myself, and got me thinking about the nature of the human psyche, that it feels the need to articulate solace in the form of insensitive platitudes which, when tested more thoroughly, do the exact opposite of what they are supposed to do; which is, bring consolation.
I have already discussed the number one ‘perpetrator’, “move on”, in a previous blog, so I shall start with the next guilty party, “You’ll Get Through”.
I had the great privilege of attending De Paul University in Chicago in February 2015, the university which we were ‘twinned’ with as part of my MA in Creative Writing at The University of Birmingham. Prior to the session which I attended at De Paul, I met up with two of the students who I had been in contact with since the start of our respective Spring Semesters, which focused on the topic of Editing, for a meal. One of the students, Stephanie, was editing my piece of writing, and a second, Marissa, was my ‘author’ and I was editing her piece.
This blog was born on that trip. In an innocuous, unobtrusive pizza house on North Street, in the Windy City.
Marissa was, like me, separated from her spouse. He was a serviceman in the US Army and had completed two tours of Iraq. When he returned from the second tour, he calmly announced that the marriage was over and left, almost instantaneously. Whilst it was clear that he was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and needed help, none of this aided Marissa in her understanding of the bewildering situation in which she suddenly found herself.
As we devoured a traditional Chicago pepperoni pizza, mixed salad and a dazzling array of wheat and citrus beers in snowy, sub zero downtown Chicago, she told me that the worst thing anyone had said to her was “You’ll get through”.
We ordered our second (or was it third, or fourth?) wheat beer and waved our forks around, adorned with bits of pizza crust and rocket drizzled in olive oil, whilst putting the world to rights, and Stephanie asked, with more than a hint of genuine curiosity “What exactly does that mean?”
Well, quite. Good question. What exactly does it mean?
I suppose one way of analysing it, is – what is the reverse, what is not getting through? Not getting through would be giving up, not getting out of bed, not washing, not peeing, not paying your bills, not eating. Not seeing to the dog. Not brushing your hair. Not doing housework. Not going shopping. Not switching on the news or Eastenders.
Well, it’s fair to say that I considered all of those things, and it turned out that Marissa had too. I have to admit to the following; if I had been superich (with a large enough pot of money to last me until I threw off the mortal coil without me shifting another muscle ever again), or hadn’t had Chrissie, my Elkhound, to see to, or hadn’t had a sufficiently good enough relationship with all of my students that I wouldn’t have felt guilty at leaving them hammering on the front door, clutching Bach’s Brandenberg Concertos and the ‘Les Miserables’ Compilation song book in bewilderment, I probably wouldn’t have ever got up again.
Or maybe not getting through is carrying on but falling into a pit of depression. Marissa had bordered on that. Curiously, I hadn’t, and I’m truly not sure why. Now, that’s not to say that there weren’t some dark days; there were many of those, many desperate hours spent analysing my financial future and seeing no hope for it, long stretches of time spent trying to work out how my life had suddenly imploded and how one person had managed, with one act, to completely decimate it. Many days were spent wondering what had prompted him to leave, and then when I discovered his sordid,turgid little secret, his double life, contemplating what prompted him to such action?
Maybe not getting through is committing suicide. I say that in all seriousness. 6,000 people a year in the UK take their own lives. There will be a range of reasons why they do so, but I would like to bet that a proportion will be because they find themselves in similar circumstances to which Marissa and I found ourselves.
Suicide can offer one vital thing which none of the other options can; total release from the futility and heartache of trying to continue living without that person by your side. Complete freedom from the constant worry of how you will manage to exist without your partner. Absolute liberation from the desperate attempts to somehow muddle through to the end of each day, and ultimate deliverance from the awfulness of climbing into bed, alone, with only dank and merciless thoughts to keep you company, and the dreadful prospect of knowing that the only certain thing is that you will wake up the next day (assuming you get any sleep) and will have to re-enact the whole sorry pantomime again.
So, back to the original question; what is the definition of ‘getting through’? Presumably the opposite of all the above; not taking to your fetid bed and never re-emerging, not descending into desperate depression, not committing suicide. Not a very charming list, is it?
If you ever feel like volunteering this phrase as words of comfort, to those on the receiving end, that is probably what it will represent to them.
Let’s examine the other culprits.
“Time will help you to heal.”
Time doesn’t help you to heal. Savlon and sterry strips help you to heal. Fibrinogen and platelets heal. Time cannot heal because it does not contain a coagulant. Time passes, it doesn’t heal. Time is what passes when you watch a clock or a watch or listen to the chimes of Big Ben. Time is also the thing which hangs on your hands like lead; Time is what anybody who has been abandoned really doesn’t want around them at all. Time gives you too many hours to think, too many days to brood, too many weekends alone with a microwave chicken jalfrezi and a garlic naan bread for one to over analyse and over think.
“Forget him and get on with your life.”
Sure. That’s a bit like chopping off someone’s limbs and saying ‘Forget you had arms and legs, hands and feet. Now get on with the rest of your life. It will be dead easy trying to wipe your arse, get out of bed, drive, cook, walk, run, piss, brush your hair, have a shower, draw your blinds and write without your limbs.”
“Remember the good times. You loved each other once.”
Truly not sure whether this was genuine, intended to be ironic, or had been lifted from a Mills and Boon novel. When my middle sister Irene was knocked down outside our house by a drunk driver and ended up in the General Hospital in Nottingham, having had pioneering surgery on her smashed up leg, she had nothing else to pass the day but to read Mills and Boon books. Seventy seven, to be precise. Considering her literary claim to fame was having only read two books in her entire life, ‘Pyewacket’ and ‘Winnie The Pooh’, this was some feat; I remember skimming through the pages as I sat, bored and hot, next to her bed during that summer as she slowly healed and my parents wittered on about compensation, the irregular bus service between Wollaton and Mount Street (where the hospital was situated), and moving her bed downstairs until she could get upstairs again once she came home. These were the sorts of phrases which I recall jumped off the tiny print pages at me.
“You’re better off without him.”
Undeniably. Unquestionably. I was, unwittingly, living a lie, because of his actions. That does not fill me with unfettered joy. However, neither does it mean that it’s possible to just continue as if nothing has happened. You can’t have the heart ripped out of your life and not notice, on the odd occasion, that all your plans with that person lie in tatters, that your whole future is now one skewed mess of wondering how you will manage and what you will be doing in ten, twenty, thirty years time; one mind numbing round of meals for one and returning home to an empty house every night when you go out.
“You seem to have got over it, you’re always smiling and going out.”
This one is pretty mystifying. Firstly, you never ‘get over’ it. How can you ever truly recover from your whole world collapsing? If you think about an earthquake, the aftermath from that is far reaching, with homes being devastated and massive loss of life. Ok, I cannot compare divorce to losing your life, but it is certainly like a bereavement; it is something which alters the whole course of your life, and generally not for the best.
‘Getting over something’ is finding that Marks and Spencers have stopped stocking the cardigan you’d been hanging your nose over for the past month but never got round to purchasing. You’re pretty mad at the time, especially when the old cardigan you were going to replace it with falls apart in the washing machine, but you soon find another one in TK Maxx and thus the loss of the first cardigan is forgotten.
As for always smiling, what else is there to do? Really? How many times would friends and relatives tolerate you turning up on their doorstep or to a pre-arranged meeting/event, sobbing into a hankie, bewailing your fate? Not many, is the answer. How many work colleagues, or, in my case, how many students, would sit patiently whilst you banged on and on about how bad you felt, how frightened you were, how lonely you felt? Not many. How many times will friends endure seeing the endless Facebook posts moaning about how hopeless your life is and how depressed you are before they unfollow, defriend or block you? So what else is there to do but plaster on the ‘fake for folk’ smile, and tell everyone you’re fine, absolutely fine, thank you for asking.
The difficulty with the going out scenario is that people generally believe that you must be completely alright if you’re going out. It suggests that you spent time in a kind of social ‘purdah’ at the beginning,when the other half first left, but the fact that you are out and about now must mean that you’ve ‘forgotten all about him’ and are ‘getting back out there’. What it actually means is that you grasp at any opportunity just to get out of the four walls which remind you so much of the person who has gone and the life you shared together. You will say “Yes” to pretty much any invitation, because it means that, just for a few hours at least, you can forget about the misery and the stress and even believe, just for bit, just for few precious minutes or hours, that maybe it isn’t really happening at all. I’d have accepted an invitation to go clay pigeon shooting with Saddam Hussein or camping with Osama Bin Laden if it had meant relief from my inner most thoughts for a while in the early days.
‘You’re living the Life of Reilly.’
I have researched who Reilly, or Riley, was, and what the origin of the phrase is. It is thought to have originated from the Irish communities who emigrated to America. The first printed citation of it is from the December 1911 edition of The Hartford Courant which states ‘The famous wild cow of Cromwell is no more. After “living the life of Riley” for over a year, successfully evading the pitchforks and the bullets of the farmers, whose fields she ravaged in all four seasons…….’
It is unclear who he was or what prompted the coining of this phrase, which means ‘living it up’, having a wonderful, carefree lifestyle, so it is impossible to know if I am actually re-living Mr Reilly’s life or not. I suppose the assumption is, if a cow can live it, so can I, but I’m still not quite certain how I am deemed to be doing so; as if going out somehow means that I am completely ‘rehabilitated’ from the awful event which has happened. A bit like recovering from an operation; you’re housebound at the start but as your recuperation continues and you return to full health, you are able to start going out again with confidence, unaided.
‘Have you got a new man yet?”
No. Poundland had run out and weren’t expecting any more stock in for the foreseeable future. Amazon did have some in stock but I had to sign up to Amazon Prime to ensure next day delivery and it didn’t seem worth it.
“You can move forward now.”
You can do that if you’re playing chess or Monopoly, unless you’ve not got the correct pieces or your top hat/dog/sailing ship is ‘In Jail’.
“You can draw a line under it now.”
You can draw lines under the title to a piece of writing or underneath numbers when doing maths homework. It’s impossible to ‘draw a line’ underneath having half your life on the planet obliterated by your partner indulging in an on line affair and then lying about it for 6 months.
“You’re strong. You’ll survive.”
What is not surviving then? Unless I purposely deprive my body of nourishment in the form of food and drink or throw myself in front of the 09.56 London Midland service to Dorridge as it pulls into Solihull station, then of course I’ll survive.
Strong is a different matter.
Strong: Adjective. ‘Having the power to move heavy weights or perform other physically demanding tasks.’.
Strong: Synonyms. Powerful. Muscular. Brawny. Well built.
So unless I’m in training for the weight lifting event at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, I am not strong. Describing someone in this situation as ‘strong’ is as unfathomable as me starring in Japan in lycra shorts with bulging muscles and an armful of tattoos, whilst squatting down and lifting an impossibly large Olympic barbell above my head.
2 people have already told me that they are now reviewing the things they say to people who tell them that they have suffered something dreadful i.e. bereavement/illness/divorce. It is good to know that the message is getting across, however slowly.
It is not that people in this position wish to be left alone, for friends not to call or to cross the road when they see you coming, for fear of not knowing what to say. It is not that we wish people to clam up or feel unable to articulate anything, or to stop texting, or messaging, or caring. It’s just that some phrases, which are genuinely meant as comfort, can be interpreted as highly insensitive and can cause real pain. It is as much about the psychology of the human form as about bringing solace; as much about the need to say ‘something rather than nothing’ and to inadvertently cause hurt by trotting out an overused and well worn platitude as about providing succour.
So instead of choosing one of the above phrases, try admitting that you don’t know how your friend/relative is feeling but you’re happy to listen and provide endless cups of coffee and slices of red velvet cake while they explain how it really is. It really helps to hear that someone is sorry to hear about your current situation and is hoping that a glass of wine and some nibbles with a few friends will relieve your unhappiness whilst you chat about who has got which part in the local Panto this Christmas and where you’re all going on holiday in the summer.